Category Side Dishes

What to Do with Acorn Squash

Thanks to our CSA box, we are awash in squash. I was considering trying Smitten Kitchen’s acorn squash with chili-lime vinaigrette. Have any of you tried it? Do you have any other fabulous squash recipes up your sleeve?

A Yotam Ottolenghi-inspired Sweet Cole Slaw

You couldn’t call it seasonal cooking, but one of the first recipes that I plucked from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Plenty was Sweet Winter Slaw. In characteristic Ottolenghi style, its flavors surprise — from the slightly sweet, slightly spicy dressing to the buttery crunch of caramelized macadamias, this is unlike any cole slaw you’ve ever tasted.

winter cole slaw

Or almonds, as the case may be. Since blogs are allowed to be confessional, I’ll confess that I took more than a few liberties with this recipe — using almonds rather than macadamias, nixing the mango and papaya altogether, and forgoing the fresh red chili because I’d bought a dried one by mistake. (Even Julia Child wasn’t perfect.) Next time I’ll also leave out the mint, an herb The Professor dislikes and that I found cloying in this dish — perhaps the missing fruit left the mint flavor hanging?

But to the rest of the recipe I was true, and it delivered a bright, flavorful slaw that would delight in winter, when the colorful, sweet vegetables of summer are many months away. Citrus flavors (from the lemongrass and lime juice) brighten the dressing, maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness, and chili flakes raise the heat. The combination nicely balances the ribbons of slightly peppery red and mild Napa cabbage.

I know what you’re thinking. Did The Professor like it? Well he didn’t grade the slaw per se, because he doesn’t grade side dishes — just entire vegetarian or pescatarian dinners. But he found the slaw interesting and full of flavor.

Ottolenghi suggested serving the slaw with Chard Cakes (a recipe in Plenty that I haven’t tried) or roast chicken (not for me). I served it with black bean tacos, a recipe I want to work on before posting. The Professor deemed it “good” and felt nicely satisfied, but it could use some improvement. So you’ll be reading about it again soon.

Mark Bittman Grills Melon

Don’t miss Mark Bittman’s article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine about grilling watermelon and, of all things, cabbage. Several of the recipes sound like interesting and relatively easy side dishes: Vietnamese-style Portobello Mushrooms, Teriyaki Cabbage Steaks, and Curry-Rubbed Sweet Potato Flanks.

Ana Sortun’s Beet Tzatziki

I love Ana Sortun’s beet tzatziki. Love it. Think about it when I don’t have any, which is most of the time. And then sometimes run over to Sortun’s cafe, Sofra, to buy some. Forget about The Professor for the moment, who has an aversion to dill. I could eat a pint of Sortun’s beet tzatziki straight. And actually, I might have, because I craved it when I was pregnant last year and eating … robustly.

In any case, my CSA box from Siena Farms this week included beets and Ana’s tzatziki recipe! Now, at the very least, I’ll be able to satisfy my cravings without waiting in line at Sofra. And I might even be able to tweak the tweak the recipe (replacing the dill with a mix of parsley and basil maybe?) to make it more popular with The Professor. He does love beets, after all.

Ana Sortun’s Beet Tzatziki

2 tsp fresh lemon juice or to taste

1 tsp finely chopped garlic

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups yogurt or labneh

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill

ground pepper

1 to 1/2 cups cooked shredded beets

Combine the lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, olive oil, dill, and pepper. Fold in the beets and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

David Tanis’s Pan-Roasted Spiced Cauliflower

David Tanis’s new column about Pan-Roasted Spiced Cauliflower with Peas caught my eye. The recipe looks tasty and, unlike so many Indian or Indian-inspired dishes, it doesn’t involve a dozen spices and a spice grinder. Which is good because I broke my spice grinder (or, to be accurate, The Professor’s coffee bean grinder) making chick pea flour for last week’s Spinach-Chick Pea Burgers.

In any case, I will definitely try Tanis’s recipe soon. Both The Professor and my almost-four-year-old like cauliflower, so I serve it fairly often — usually roasted. Though there was that Cauliflower Cake … and a pasta with cauliflower and walnuts that I’m trying to master. In any case, I’m still adjusting my recipe for chili-lime roasted cauliflower (which you can see below, served with salmon cakes), but look for a post on that soon.

Fresh Corn Salad with Chipotle Sauce

Yesterday I set out to make stuffed poblano peppers in chipotle sauce — and ended up with a corn salad. What can I say … my peppers didn’t cooperate, a mad dash to the grocery produced no more poblanos, and so The Cook played inventor. But let me start from the beginning.

As you may recall, the poblanos are stuffed with quinoa, black beans, corn, and mushrooms. I’d made the dish once before and earned a B+. I was hoping my second effort would produce an A. To improve my chances, I planned to serve it with the popular creamed corn.

I roasted the poblano peppers, peeled them, and then cut a small slit in the side in order to scrape the seeds out. I don’t know if it was me or the poblanos, but my seed-removal efforts left the peppers with multiple rips and, I realized, in a truly un-stuffable state.

So I improvised. I cut the kernels off of the cob. I diced some red pepper, some shitake mushrooms, and one of the poblanos; minced some garlic and sliced a shallot. While those ingredients were sauteing, I followed the very easy recipe for the chipotle sauce: puree one clove of garlic, one chipotle pepper, salt and water in a food processor; add cilantro and pulse once. I served the corn salad with roasted salmon, drizzling both with chipotle sauce.

Maybe it was just relief that my poblano plans hadn’t ended in disaster, but I thought the corn salad was delicious. Next time (and by “next time” I mean tomorrow) I’ll add another shallot and perhaps some more mushrooms. And I might toss the corn salad in the chipotle sauce, treating it more like a dressing, But for a first-time, by-the-seat-of-my-pants effort, I was pleased.

Of course, what *you* want to know is what The Professor thought. Well, he liked it. He thought the corn salad could have been warmer. And that, while the salmon was cooked perfectly, it wasn’t the best piece of fish.

“The corn salad might pair better with a white fish,” he added. “We haven’t had halibut in a while.”

Given the quality of the salmon and the adjustments I want to make to the recipe, I didn’t ask for a grade. But look for one soon.

Roasted Red Peppers — aka Betsy’s Peppers

Yesterday The Professor reminded me that it had been a while since I’d made Betsy’s Peppers — the red peppers, stuffed with tomato, olives, garlic and basil and then roasted. Given his initial suspicion of the dish, I felt a pleasant rush of yesIwasrightness, and decided to indulge his craving.

“I have two red peppers and all of the other ingredients, so I could make them tonight,” I offered.

“I might want more than two halves,” he responded.

So I drove to the grocery to buy more red peppers. On the way I thought about the recipe and what to serve it with. The last time I had made the peppers for dinner, I’d thought of them as a side dish and paired them with a leek frittata and a salad. But once I realized just how much The Professor liked Betsy’s recipe, I started to wonder whether roasted peppers could be turned into the star of the dinner plate.

Since then, I’ve cooked two different recipes for stuffed red peppers and served them as entrees. (You can read about those efforts here and here.) Now was my chance to give Betsy’s Peppers a shot at entree status.

I devised a two-pronged strategy. First, I served the peppers with polenta mixed with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.

Toasting Pine Nuts

I also made two additions to the recipe. First, I added toasted pine nuts to the stuffing mixture. Partly because my going-on-four-year-old loves pine nuts and I thought it might encourage her to eat more. And partly because pine nuts, olives and garlic seemed like a classic Italian combination. Continuing the Mediterranean theme, I sprinkled feta on top of the peppers just after removing them from the oven.

Red Peppers stuffed with tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts

The pine nuts, it turned out, were over-powered by the strong flavors of the olives and garlic, and didn’t add much to the dish. But The Professor did like the addition of feta and loved the polenta … almost too much. As he put it, “the polenta was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the meal.”

The peppers alone, he said, were strong on taste and interestingness. But he felt they lacked on substance and gave the overall meal a B+. “The chick peas in Giada’s peppers made them more substantive,” he said.

I reminded him that he’d described Giada’s peppers as “kind of bland,” but I took his point. And, to be fair to Giada, the feta idea had been hers. So I’ll consider chick peas. Maybe that will push the meal of Betsy’s Peppers and Polenta into A- territory.

Creamed Corn

I was as surprised The Professor when, one day last summer, I decided to make creamed corn for dinner. Harold Dieterle’s Creamed Corn, to be exact — a recipe that I had come across at Design Sponge. (Dieterle is a former Top Chef contestant and the chef at Perilla in New York’s Greenwich Village — and his mother doesn’t just think she’s Italian, she really is.)

Quite wisely, The Professor didn’t offer any skeptical opinions. The Cook was seven month’s pregnant and quite possibly exhibiting signs of heat-induced temporary insanity. So instead of saying “My mother used to serve us creamed corn from a can and I despised it,” he said, “OK, honey.”

Harold Dieterle's Creamed Corn

I’m not sure why I was inspired to cook creamed corn. Perhaps it reminded me of a beloved dinner of my childhood: Stouffer’s Corn Souffle. Perhaps it was the photographs on the Design Sponge site. Perhaps it was the fact that while I love the taste of fresh sweet corn, I don’t like thinking about tooth floss while I’m at the dinner table.

In any case, I made it. And then I made it again. And again. In short, The Professor loved it. It was sweet and satisfying. It was just creamy enough. Every bite delivered a few nice pops of flavor, because some of the kernels are added towards the end of cooking, after you’ve pureed the mixture.

I made the dish once during the winter using frozen corn. Don’t bother. Wait for the arrival of summer’s fresh corn. It’s still a bit early in the season, but yesterday I bought a few ears and cooked up a small pot of creamed corn. It was as good as I remembered.

It works well served with grilled fish. (Last night I served it with grilled tuna.) But sometime in the coming weeks I plan to serve it alongside these stuffed poblano peppers for a vegetarian meal.

You can see Harold Dieterle’s recipe here. A few notes: I use whole milk instead of cream, and my cherished immersion blender instead of a regular blender.

Setting aside the flavor, The Cook appreciates the recipe’s limited number of ingredients (shallots, garlic, corn, olive oil, milk) and how quickly they come together. You don’t even have to finely mince the garlic and shallots — just slicing will do.

The hardest part, if you haven’t done it before, is cutting the corn off of the cob. You’ll find the kernels tend to go flying. To minimize the mess, I hold the corn at an angle, slicing the kernels off of the side facing the work surface and rotating the ear until I’ve run my knife over each part. That way most of the kernels fly right into the cutting board.

Asparagus and other Delights of Spring

Our lilac is blooming. A small basil plant has taken up temporary residence in a sunny spot on our kitchen island, waiting until it is warm enough to move outside. And it’s raining.  In other words, spring is here!

The season brings fresh peas, fava beans, and fiddlehead ferns. It also brings recipes for asparagus. Every magazine, newspaper and cooking blog seems to be offering its take on the quirky vegetable. (I guess asparagus is to May what turkey is to November!)

Over at The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine, Mark Bittman recently offered a dozen recipes, with options for steaming, roasting, grilling, and stir-frying. Some of his suggestions seem worth trying — steamed asparagus served with home-made aioli or a fried egg, for instance, or asparagus roasted with carrots and drizzled with soy sauce. But none of the twelve feel substantial enough to be the main course of a vegetarian meal.

Deb, the cook and writer behind the lovely blog Smitten Kitchen, has a recipe for Ribboned Asparagus Salad, and I’m dying to try it. The salad isn’t main course material, but she also offers a recipe for Shaved Asparagus Pizza — a dish The Professor will be sitting down to soon.

Over at food52, a recipe for Absurdly Addictive Asparagus rose to the top of the site’s Your Best Asparagus Recipe competition. The recipe calls for cubed pancetta, though I’m going to try a vegetarian version.

Do you have a favorite asparagus recipe? If so, send it to me. In the meantime, I’ll be cooking up Deb’s asparagus pizza and will let you know what The Professor thinks of it.

Roasted Carrots a la Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman actually calls the recipe “Roasted Carrots with Scallion-Ginger Glaze,” but words aside, the carrots were delicious. Packed with flavor and easy to make. I served them with a simple roasted salmon and spinach sauteed with olive oil and garlic.