Tag vegetarian cooking

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.


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



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


Winter = Soup Season = Great Vegetable Stock

Winter is soup season. OK – every season is soup season. But still, even if you aren’t trudging through snow to get home, a warming soup is a the best welcome home on a cold day. And I’ve cooked a lot of soups this winter: Deborah Madison’s lentil minestrone; Martha Rose Shulman’s pureed butternut squash and white bean soup (more on that soon); Mark Bittman’s sweet potato chowder (ditto); Yotam Ottolenghi’s Savoy cabbage and Parmesan rind soup (ehh …); and an utterly forgettable parsnip soup. Some have done well by The Professor;  others not so much. But here’s what I’ve learned: in most cases, the stock more than matters – it’s the deciding factor in whether a vegetarian soup is truly satisfying to a meat-eater. So what is the best vegetarian stock?

One year ago, I spent the better part of a day gathering, peeling and chopping ingredients (17 in total, including collard greens and lemon grass) to make Cooks Illustrated‘s Ultimate Vegetable Stock. The recipe’s creators were aiming for “a nicely balanced, robust vegetable stock recipe that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would consider making.” And the stock was certainly more complex and flavorful than any packaged option.Though 5 hours and 17 ingredients better? I’m not so sure.

Since then, I’ve been using a stock based on Superior Touch’s Better Than Bouillon, embellished with a few teaspoons of soy sauce. In general, The Professor has been happy with the flavor that it adds, but I keep wondering if there is a simple home-made alternative. If you have a great recipe for home-made vegetable stock, send it to me and I’ll include it in my vegetable stock taste test.

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.

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!

Slow Fast Food at the Clover Food Lab

The Slow Food movement may be trendy and growing, but yesterday I had 30 minutes between meetings in Harvard Square and I needed to find some lunch in a hurry. So I headed to Clover Food Lab — a lunch-counter with ample seating that bills itself as “a new kind of fast food.” Clover aims for speed, and the menu lists the number of minutes each item takes to prepare. But unlike McDonald’s or Wendy’s, Clover’s food is local, seasonal, made-to-order, and organic when possible. It is, if you will, a Slow Food version of fast food.

It is also, I might add, a vegetarian restaurant — one that often has a line stretching out the door. (And honestly, how often can you say that?)

My favorite Clover sandwich is the Chickpea Fritter, a parsley and cilantro-laced falafel, served in a pita with cucumber and tomato salad and pickled cabbage. Though I admit that I’m curious about the Barbecued Seitan. Given how often Clover sells out of food (see photo below of the menu, snapped on a day when only soup and rosemary fries were still available), I feel confident in saying that Clover’s offerings are consistently delicious. Though I realize you don’t read The Roasted Beet to hear The Cook’s opinion. So one of these days I’ll take The Professor on a date to Clover!


Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

I recently stumbled upon Lukas Volger’s Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful & Healthy Vegan & Vegetarian Burgers Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns & More.

Despite the ridiculously long subtitle, the cookbook is small, focused, and filled with appetizing photos. I’m serious. Volger’s patties — from his Sweet Potato Burger with Lentils and Kale to his Chipotle Black Bean — look nothing like the frozen discs you find in the veggie burger section at the grocery. I couldn’t decide which one to make first!

Ultimately I settled on Spinach-Chickpea Burgers, in part because I thought I could make smaller, crab-cake-sized patties and “sell” them to The Professor as being “like falafel.”

And well … err …

My Spinach-Chickpea cakes could have used more garlic (which the original recipe didn’t even call for!), but flavor wasn’t really the problem. They were just a bit or maybe a lot dry. An aioli I made for The Professor and a spicy yogurt sauce I mixed up for myself helped, but didn’t change the basic problem. They were dry — in part because the smaller patties needed less cooking than the 4-inch burgers the recipe called for, but how much less I wasn’t sure.

“I think it’s worth trying again,” The Professor kindly said as he helped clear the table. “Though maybe make the patties a bit bigger next time.”

I will make the Spinach-Chickpea Burgers again, and I will make them bigger.

In fact, I’m thinking about instituting a weekly “burger night” over the summer, so that I can try all of the recipes from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way that I’ve tagged. Armenian Lentil Burgers. Thai Carrot Burgers. Beet and Brown Rice Burgers. And more. Maybe I’m just experiencing a heat-induced burger fetish. Maybe The Professor will put his foot down. But that’s my plan.

I’m also adding Lukas Volger’s web site to my blog roll. He’s someone I need to be reading regularly, as he writes about more than burgers. His about-to-be-published book is called Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. And it sounds right up my alley.

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.