Category Vegetarian Entrees

Food52’s Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili

I found the recipe for SpiceBoxTravelsSmokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili soon after the food-blogger posted it on Food52, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In part, I was fascinated by the beans themselves: no boring brown, the Vaquero is dappled in black and white, patterned like an Appaloosa horse.

Vaquero beans, chipotle, orange pepper, onion, carrots, spices

But the recipe also got me thinking: Given The Professor’s focus on taste, interestingness, and satisfaction, a good chili would be an easy A+, right? Mouth-tingling flavor? Check. Belly-filling beans? Check. And this recipe, with its surprise ingredient, seemed to check the interesting column too.

I had to try it ASAP. So I Googled myself to heirloom bean-grower Rancho Gordo‘s website to order some Vaquero beans, waited a week for UPS to deliver the beauties, and started them soaking.

Then I diced and sauteed and boiled. And boiled some more. And a few minutes more. Finally the beans were done and I stirred in the surprise ingredient: dark chocolate.

Food52’s tester had noted that “Adding the melting chocolate at the end more than compensated for the depth meat would have added, and rounded things out for a great balance of flavors.” The tester also mentioned that she had adjusted the spice, adding just one of the chipotles in adobo sauce that the recipe called for and only a pinch of cayenne.

So with the kids in mind, I added just one chipotle and nixed the cayenne altogether. I also cut down on the chocolate — a little. And there my problems began. For the recipe to work, the sweetness needed to balance the smokin’ heat. Yet I hadn’t added much of the spice. So the result was too sweet for The Professor and me, and yet still too spicy for the kids.

The Cook will try SpiceBoxTravelsSmokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili again in a few years, when her eaters are ready for more spice. In the meantime, any curious cooks out there should try this recipe. As The Professor said, “The chocolate makes the recipe very rich.” And when a meat-lover calls a vegan dish “rich,” that’s saying something.

You can find the recipe here. Note: I had to cook the beans much longer than the recipe indicates.

Pasta with Gorgonzola and Spinach … and Pear and Walnuts

One afternoon last week I opened the fridge, looking for inspiration. I didn’t have a dinner plan and didn’t feel like going to the store. Moreover, having put a lot of effort into cooking a new recipe the night before, I wanted something quick and easy. I found a hunk of creamy blue cheese, left over from a dinner party, and some fresh spinach and thought, why not make a pasta? A Google search led me first to The Passionate Cook and her recipe for pasta with gorgonzola, spinach, walnuts and … single malt.

I didn’t follow her recipe per se — The Professor is serious about his single malts and I didn’t think my four-something would appreciate the flavor in any case — but it convinced me that the idea wasn’t insanity. And I liked the idea of adding walnuts, both for their nutty flavor and for the crunch that they would add to what might otherwise be a rather soft, dare I say “mushy,” meal. One thing I’ve learned about cooking vegetarian meals for meat-lovers is that you can’t ignore texture.

I also decided to top each bowlful of pasta with diced pear. The cool, crispness would, I thought, add yet another texture. And as for taste, blue cheese and pears are a classic combination.

Bringing it all together was delightfully easy. While the pasta was cooking, I wilted the spinach in a saute pan with a touch of olive oil and some salt. Meanwhile, I tossed the blue cheese into a saucepan with some milk, stirring it occasionally as it melted. When it had, I poured it into the saute pan with the spinach, added the cooked pasta, mixed and served, topping each bowl with chopped walnuts and crisp cubes of pear.

The Professor, in his reserved way, was enthusiastic. Though he suggested trying the dish again with Gorgonzola, a sharper blue than the one I had used. The Cambozola, a sort of “blue brie,” was a tad too creamy and subtle (if you can use the word “subtle” to describe a blue cheese).

So last night, I tried again, this time using a Gorgonzola, and the dish earned an A-. The Professor, in agreement with conventional wisdom, thought the flavors worked well together. And the crunch of the walnuts and the crispness, not to mention sweetness, of the pears added welcome texture and complexity to what otherwise would feel like, as The Professor put it, “pasta with cream sauce.”

Even better, my picky four-something ate it. Or most of it — she picked around the spinach but gobbled up enough of the unused diced pear to make it a vitamin-rich meal.

Ingredients

1 lb pasta

1/3 lb gorgonzola

1/4 cup whole milk

5 oz baby spinach (or more)

1/2 pear, diced

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

 

Directions

1) Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta

2) Put Gorgonzola and milk in a small sauce pot set to medium-low

3) Toss spinach and a tsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a large saute pan over low heat.

4) If you haven’t already diced the pear and chopped the walnuts then you could do that now.

5) Don’t forget to stir the Gorgonzola

6) When it is melted to your liking (some prefer a creamy sauce, others like to to keep a few bites or bits of solid cheese) pour it into the saute pan with the spinach and stir

7) Add the cooked and drained pasta to the saute pan when it is ready.

8) Divide the pasta into bowls and top each with chopped walnuts and diced pears

 

Deborah Madison’s Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables

After cooking Deborah Madison’s delicious lentil minestrone soup yet again last week, I decided to go back through her best-selling Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in search of other recipes. I cracked open the book one morning and 609 pages later, I had several ear-marked pages and my menu for the night: Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust and a side of Catalan-Style Greens.

Vegetarian Pot Pie

And yes — you would be right to think that after 609 pages I might have found a recipe that didn’t involve nine of the same ingredients I’d diced, minced and tossed into the lentil minestrone. Spicy stir-fried tofu with coconut rice, anyone? Wild rice with walnut and scallions saute? But you see, I am still trying to earn ten A’s and I knew lentils had typically done well by The Professor. Plus, it gave me a chance to use my ramekins, which would otherwise sit in the basement until blueberry season.

Deborah Madison's recipe for stewed lentils

The recipe is straightforward and you can cook the lentils and vegetables ahead of time and let the flavors blend, which only makes the dish tastier. I did make a few adjustments to the recipe: I used black Belugas, which, like the French green lentils the recipe called for, hold their shape better than regular brown lentils. I added a several sprigs of parsley and thyme to the lentils, tying the herbs up with the bay leaf in a bouquet garni. I mixed a tablespoon of vegetable bouillon into the lentil’s cooking water. And, because I am genetically incapable of using just one clove of garlic in any dish that calls for it, I added two.

When I returned to the kitchen at 6:00, I spooned the lentils into the ramekins, topped each with puff pastry, and put them in the oven. While they baked I sauteed the spinach.

“So we’re having an experiment for dinner?” The Professor asked, as he entered the kitchen.

“Yes — it’s lentils and vegetables topped with puff pastry,” I told him.

“You mean like a lentil pot pie?”

I didn’t really like the sound of it though I had to admit it was a more straightforward description and I offered a grudging, “Um … sort of.”

In any case, the dish came within a lentil of earning an A-. “If the beans had been a little bit juicier …” The Professor said, as he delivered the B++. “The lentil stew was tasty and the flavors worked well with the pastry, which helps with its interestingness,” he added. Of course, anyone who’s eaten a pot pie already knows the magic of marrying savory and buttery. Not to mention the cubes of sweetness delivered by the carrots.There’s a reason pot pies are called “comfort food.”

In any case, next time I make a “lentil pot pie” I’ll add more stock, which I think will push both taste and satisfaction grades into the A range. And I’lll try a different side — The Professor, to my surprise, didn’t like the Catalan-Style Greens, aka spinach sauteed with pine nuts and golden raisins. Which left him hungry after eating one ramekin clean but not hungry enough to dig into a second. Instead he ate the remaining lentils with wine-glazed carrots out of the pot.

Based on Deborah Madison’s Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups French green lentils, sorted and rinsed (I used black Beluga lentils)

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 celery rib, diced

2 garlic cloves, mashed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter or EVOO

2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

puff pastry

Directions

1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water, vegetable bouillon (if using), 1 teaspoon salt, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the vegetables are browned — about 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Add the wine, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is syrupy and the vegetables tender — about 10 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Stir in the mustard and add the cooked lentils, along with their broth.

7. If the mixture is too soupy, simmer until the stock is reduced.

8. Stir in the butter or olive oil and season with pepper.

9. Spoon the lentil mixture into four ramekins.

10. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick and cut out four pieces, each just a little bit bigger than the ramekin. Make a few small cuts (for the steam to escape) in each and put them on top of the ramekins.

11. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.

The River Cafe’s Pasta with Kale and Lentils Earns an A-

The River Cafe comes to my rescue! The short days and downright cold nights of the last week reminded me that autumn in New England is really two seasons: it begins as the glorious end of summer, with blue skies, brilliantly colored leaves, and warm temperatures; and ends as the beginning of winter, with dark, gray afternoons. Afternoons that make me long for a warming dinner like this pasta with kale and lentils.

The recipe comes from Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of the River Cafe in London (not to be confused with The River Cafe in Brooklyn, NY, where a handsome assistant professor once wooed me). And to be accurate, the recipe is for “Pappardelle with cavolo nero and lentils.”

Cavolo nero, as my “Italian” mother would call it, is a green with many names. It is also called Tuscan kale and lacinato kale, or dinosaur or black kale. And while I love this kale variety, you could use most any dark leafy green. When I cooked the dish last night, I used baby red Russian kale, because that’s what had arrived in our weekly CSA box, and, natch, I nixed the pancetta.

I also used black beluga lentils rather than the Castelluccio or Puy lentils that the recipe called for. All are members of the prized family of small lentils that tend to hold their shape through cooking.

And …. drum roll … The Professor gave the dish an A-!!!

In terms of taste, The Professor liked the combination of flavors. The garlic and onions did some of the heavy lifting, he thought, but the lentils helped too, adding a “not quite meaty” taste.

He thought it was more satisfying than my kale pasta, where the kale and garlic were doing all of the work. And more interesting: “Sometimes vegetarian pastas are too one-dimensional,” said The Professor. “But each ingredient in there is adding flavor to the dish.”

I’m sure you’ll hear about this dish again as I try to improve its grade from A- to A+. But in the meantime, happy Thanksgiving.

Ingredients:

3 heads cavolo nero, stalks removed, blanched and roughly chopped

1 small onion, peeled and finely sliced

1/2 head celery, stalks and leaves chopped

1 tsp rosemary leaves

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 cup Chianti Classico wine

2/3 cup vegetable stock

1 cup cooked lentils (see note below)

1 1/2 pounds fresh papardelle

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and the stock in a small saucepan.

2. Add the onion and celery and cook until they begin to color. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook briefly until it is reduced.

4. Add the lentils, stir, and cook to combine for 3-4 minutes.

5. Add the cavolo nero and enough stock to liquefy the mixture. Season with salt and pepper and heat through.

6. Cook the pappardelle, drain well, and add to the lentil mixture along with the parmesan.

NOTE: Rogers and Gray boil their lentils in water for 35 minutes, with a celery stick for company. I’ve come to like Cook’s Illustrated’s approach, developed to produce lentils that maintain their shape and “firm-tender bite”: The most important step in making a lentil salad is perfecting the cooking of the lentils so they maintain their shape and firm-tender bite. There turns out to be two key steps. The first is to brine the lentils in warm salt water. With brining, the lentil’s skin softens, which leads to fewer blowouts. The second step is to cook the lentils in the oven, which heats them gently and uniformly.

AND ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve just realized that I never wrote a post about Cook’s Illustrated‘s Lentil Salad with Carrots and Cilantro! I must have made it during my blog sabbatical. More on that soon!

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?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous

Yotam Ottolenghi, introducing his recipe for “The ultimate winter couscous” in Plenty, wrote that when he first published the recipe in his Guardian column, a reader complained about the long list of ingredients. And indeed, the list is long: from apricots to vegetable stock, the recipe calls for 23 ingredients.

A tagged and soon to be splattered page from my copy of Plenty

So lets start with a confession: I left out the half cup of dried apricots, and the preserved lemon too. (For reasons too boring to explain, I’d had to come up with a new dinner plan that afternoon and didn’t have time to buy the two missing ingredients.)

Did it matter? Not too much: The Professor liked the dish, giving it a B+/A-. Although when he heard about the missing apricot, he was curious, so I will include it next time. And based on The Professors comments, I think it could improve the dish on each of the three grading dimensions.

For taste, he gave it an A- and said that it was “good, but a little bit one-dimensional.” For both satisfaction and interestingness, he gave it a B+, and suggested adding a side of sauteed greens to make the meal more satisfying.

While I’m glad that he didn’t suggest a side of sausage, I wonder if the sweetness of the dried apricot might have deepened the flavor of the dish, satisfied the corner of our brain that loves sweet things, and made the dish more interesting.

A second confession: I’ve made the dish twice, and both times, i replaced the couscous with a small round pasta that is often called Israeli couscous. The second time, I didn’t have enough Israeli couscous so I added some quinoa.The Professor isn’t exactly a fan of health grains, so I didn’t tell him before the fact. But after the eating was done and I’d come clean, he said that the quinoa added to both the taste and texture of the dish.

Confessions done, next time I make Ottolenghi’s ultimate winter couscous, I’ll include the dried apricot. And maybe even the preserved lemon.

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.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

My copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook Plenty, bought just over two weeks ago, is already splattered and some of the pages are sticking together. And I haven’t even tried all of the recipes that I marked with Post-It Notes. Before I go  on about Ottolenghi’s best-sounding dishes, I need to apologize. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. The Professor must eat, after all. But I’ve had a few too many projects. And a few too many dishes in a row turned out …. just OK. And it left me feeling a bit uninspired. Until, that is, I opened Plenty.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ottolenghi, he is the co-owner of four eponymous restaurants/take-out joints in London. He is from Israel, and his creative partner is from Palestine, and the two are united by their love for bold flavors and interesting ingredients from all cultures.

The Cook here at the Roasted Beet admires Ottolenghi especially because, while he wasn’t a vegetarian himself, he wrote a popular column for the Guardian‘s Weekend magazine called “The New Vegetarian.” (Plenty includes some recipes from his column, and some new ones — all vegetarian, and roughly half vegan.) Because he wasn’t a vegetarian, he approached vegetarian cooking with a focus on taste and flavor, which is the same way that this cook approaches vegetarian cooking for The Professor. Every dish needs to be yummy in its own right.

While a handful of the dishes sound delicious but familiar — a recipe for black pepper tofu, for instance, or one for mushroom ragout with a poached egg, that reminded me of this dish — many are inventive and surprising: chard and saffron omelets, savoy cabbage and Parmesan rind soup, soba noodles with eggplant and mango.

So far I’ve tried the stuffed portobello mushrooms with melted Taleggio cheese and the sweet winter slaw — both of which you’ll be reading more about soon.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Feta

For a couple of months now I’ve been fiddling with a recipe for pasta with cauliflower, walnuts, and feta that I came across at Smitten Kitchen. Deb, that site’s cook and author, had initially found it in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables.

It almost seems like a dish born of necessity — as if Alice Waters, in the midst of a snow storm, had opened the refrigerator to find a head of cauliflower and some feta, pulled the last walnuts and some pasta from her pantry, and  made a meal of it. Of course, Waters lives in Berkeley, California, where it doesn’t snow, and even in a storm her kitchen would surely be well-stocked. In any case, The Professor and my preschooler both like pasta, cauliflower, walnuts, and cheese, so I figured it was worth a try.

And indeed, The Professor never failed the dish. Though he has, shall we say, offered constructive criticism.

First, the recipe calls for whole wheat pasta, which he just couldn’t get behind. The next time I made it with white pasta, which was, all agreed, too bland. Most recently I made it with a fresh cilantro lime pasta. The quality of the pasta matters a lot in a vegetarian pasta dish, we decided, and the high-quality fresh fettuccine definitely improved the meal. But any cilantro-ness just disappeared into the sauce.

Yes, the sauce. That was the second big change. I decided we needed something to bind the ingredients together. So I whirled some some feta, walnuts, and a touch of olive oil in the food processor; and tossed that with the pasta before adding the cauliflower, onion, and walnut mixture. The Professor liked the sauce.

“Even if you take a bite of pasta alone, without the cauliflower and other stuff, it doesn’t taste bland,” he said. “I’d like even more of it next time.”

He continued the critique with a few more suggestions. First, the dish needed some heat — and, indeed, The Cook had forgotten to add the red pepper flakes. Second, it needed some color: “Thin strips of jalapeno, which would add spice and color?” he offered. “Or chopped parsley?” And, finally, although it hurts to type it: “The cauliflower itself didn’t have much flavor. Some spots were nicely caramelized. But maybe you could cook the florets with some spices.”

I ignored the comment about the cauliflower. I had to. I’d been working on this dish for months. I’d been trying to perfect roasted cauliflower for more than a year. I’d served The Professor cauliflower in myriad forms over our years together and now … now he was suggesting that the cauliflower tasted too much like, well, cauliflower?!

Instead, I heard “heat” and “green.” And next time he’ll get that. Although I may wait until autumn — peak cauliflower season. I think The Professor needs a  break.

BBQ’d Ribs and Black Bean Burgers

What is a mixed couple to do on July 4th — the biggest grilling holiday of the year? BBQ’d ribs and shrimp, grilled salmon burgers, spicy black bean burgers and chipotle corn salad. In other words, something for everyone.

While The Professor was tending to the grill for hours on end, I mixed up a lemon-herb marinade for the shrimp, made a spicy corn salad, and tested my Aunt Karen’s recipe for black bean burgers.

The corn salad suffered from bad corn, alas. (The Cook won’t be suckered by “Six ears for $2” signs any more.) But the black bean burgers were a success! They had a nice flavor and weren’t too dry or mushy. Of course, you can’t take my word for it. So I’ll cook them up for The Professor soon. Just not on a night when they’d be going head to head with ribs!

Karen’s Black Bean Burgers

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella)
About 1/4 cup panko or whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 medium jalapeño pepper finely chopped (I used 2 tsp adobo sauce)
2 large egg whites or 1 large egg

half onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Saute onions and garlic for a few minutes
Place beans in a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Adjust the amount of panko so you can make a patty that isn’t too sticky.

Shape into 6 patties and place on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat the tops with cooking spray and bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, carefully turning once.

My Aunt Karen serves them with or without a bun with either mango salsa or for more of a hamburger taste with ketchup, mayo, tomato and pickle. But her favorite is on a good bun with blue cheese, cole slaw and a good tomato.