TEDx Boston’s FoodSleuth Adventure

Just a head’s up for The Roasted Beet’s local readers: TEDx Boston is planning a fun food adventure on Saturday November 5. Here’s the description from the website:

Team up with others who love food to scavenge for ingredients in little known haunts in Boston or at amazing farms in the greater metropolitan area, as your schedule permits.  You tell us your availabilit, and we will match you with a destination and team you up with other scavengers.

Ask the questions you’ve always wanted to at the source, and share your ingredients and the story of your journey with the other adventurers at the final dinner, which will be staged by the participants at Clover Harvard Square with assistance from Clover staff. Take part in revolutionary discussion around food production and consumption, contemplating your role in the food chain.

You can apply here. I’d love to see you there.

Hello again …

I know what you’re thinking.

The Professor must be really hungry.

But let me assure you that his belly is quite full. And the kiddos are cruising up the growth charts as well. So despite my …  sabbatical, shall we call it, from The Roasted Beet, The Cook hasn’t stopped cooking.

I’ll be writing about many of the new recipes I’ve tried soon … as soon as I find the time to master Photoshop. For you see, last summer, in an attempt to raise the quality of The Roasted Beet’s photographs, I started shooting in RAW, a format that allows for lots of tweaking and polishing and generally produces better images than those shot in the more basic JPEG format. If you know how to convert the RAW files, that is. And, ahem, I don’t. So for the immediate future, it’s back to JPEGs.

But enough photo-jargon. Next up: a write-up of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous.

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.

Martha Rose Shulman’s Spicy Tunisian Carrot Frittata

I’ve thought about making Martha Rose Shulman’s spicy Tunisian carrot frittata at least a dozen times. Whenever I paged through her book, The Very Best Recipes for Health, the frittata’s brilliant color smiled at me and its spices winked.

Martha Rose Shulman's Spicy Carrot Tunisian Frittata

But I could predict The Professor’s enthusiasm — or lack thereof. “Another time,” I’d tell myself. Well that time finally came — last weekend, when friends  were coming over for brunch.

After I’d pureed a pound of carrots and mixed them with the eggs, and made some harissa (using a recipe I found online and making a few substitutions for ingredients that I didn’t have), I began to worry. Home-made harissa? Carrot frittata? Why was I serving my friends such an experiment? My mother would never be so foolish. Damnit.

Batter for the spicy tunisian carrot frittata

But there was no turning back. And I’m glad that I didn’t, as my guests asked for seconds — and The Professor gave the dish a “B+ verging on A-.”

This is not your average frittata — a wedge of eggyness studded with vegetables, cheese, whateveryourpleasure. The spices give the dish some surprising zing (surprising for a frittata, at least). The heat of the harissa nicely balances the sweetness of the carrots, and the flavors suffuse the dish.

“On taste, this is nice,” said The Professor. “The flavor is good, and it’s certainly interesting.”

The frittata’s only weakness: satisfaction. I’d served it with a salad and a baguette, and split the 10-inch pie four ways.  “It’s OK for brunch,” he said. “But for dinner I’d want something more — even if it’s just some good bruschetta.”

So I’ll be thinking about something else to serve with the frittata that would push it over the fence into A territory.

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.

How to Grill Vegetables

The July/August 2011 issue of Cooks Illustrated includes an “Essential Guide to Grilling Vegetables.” The piece covers everything from how different vegetables should be prepped (skewer cherry tomatoes, rinse but don’t dry green beans, and no need to salt eggplant as you would if you were using any other cooking method) to a list of “Top 5 Vegetable Grilling Principles.” (Note: You need a subscription to access most of the recipes, but you can sign up for a 2-week free trial.)

It’s definitely worth a read. We, by which I mean The Professor, followed the Cooks Illustrated advice last night to grill some zucchini. In my experience, a crisp zucchini can quickly turn into a soggy side dish. Not this time. Following the advice to slice 1/2-inch planks and cook them at medium-hot heat for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, our zucchini  turned out “crisp-tender” — as promised.

I served it alongside a spring risotto with fava beans and roasted rainbow carrots.

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.

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.

How to Roast Peppers

A couple of months ago, I posted a story about making stuffed poblano peppers and how, after roasting the peppers in the oven to loosen their skins and then baking them with the stuffing, they had come out too soft. Shortly thereafter, a dear former colleague passed me a tip: put the peppers straight onto the stove-top burner, rotating it until all of the skin is charred.

I tried her method when I was roasting poblanos for a corn salad, and she’s right! It’s much faster — and probably more energy efficient as well.

I haven’t made those stuffed poblanos again yet and I must do it soon. They were tasty and if I can prevent the peppers from getting too soft, they might earn an A!