Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stir-fried Pea Shoots and Cucumber

West Indian gherkins. Are they cucumbers? Cacti? Alien pod people?
The world may never know.

Regardless, you can use them in this recipe, in place of more boring, humdrum, normally-shaped cucumbers, if you're feeling like your life is in need of a few more eccentric vegetables.

Cucumbers of some variety
Pea shoots
Olive oil
Seasoned rice vinegar
Crushed toasted peanuts (optional, but I suspect they would be great)

Peel and slice the cucumbers, then place in a bowl and douse liberally with seasoned rice vinegar. Refrigerate for 10-30 minutes (to marinate, and because it makes the cucumbers crispy).

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over high heat. Add the pea shoots and stir fry until just wilted. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Use the pea shoots as a bed on a plate, then arrange the cucumber slices on top of it. Sprinkle the whole thing with a bit more rice vinegar, and top with crushed peanuts.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dandelion Greens with Golden Raisins and Caramelized Onion

For any vegetable adventurers out there who can't quite bring themselves to like bitter greens, here's a way to try dandelion greens that takes out almost all of the bitterness with the addition of sweet golden raisins, caramelized onion, and toasted almonds.

A handful of sliced almonds (optional)
Olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
A handful of golden raisins
1 bunch red-stemmed dandelion greens, chopped, rinsed well, and dried in a salad spinner
Salt & pepper

Toast almonds in a pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside. Adjust heat to medium-high, add olive oil, then the onion. Saute until golden, stirring, then turn the heat down to medium and cook a little longer until it smells very sweet and starts to brown. Add the raisins and stir a few times, then add the dandelion greens and a pinch of salt and saute until wilted. Sprinkle with a little black pepper and serve, with or without toasted almonds on top.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Popped Baby Corn

I think I am starting to develop a slight nervousness about corn.

As if the movie "Signs" wasn't enough (which it wasn't, because I didn't see it, but anything about aliens rustling around in corn fields can't help but create a general predisposition to corn-related uneasiness), I finally started reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, the first quarter of which is a deftly-written investigation of how and why an unbelievably large proportion of the calories we consume on a daily basis come from corn. Only the way Pollan writes it conveys quite clearly that it's not so much a story of humanity conquering corn as it is a tale of corn conquering us. Our country, our food chain, and ultimately our bodies have pretty much been colonized by corn. It's slightly unnerving. Still, I managed to hold it together until this morning in the shower, when for some unknown reason no doubt directly related to my as yet uncaffeinated state, I found myself reading the back of my bottle of shampoo. (I know, there are about a thousand more reasonable things I could have been doing with my time, like putting the shampoo on my head, but I tend to move very slowly in the mornings and get overly transfixed by things that are directly in my field of vision, which this was.)

Anyway, here's the thing: There is corn in my shampoo. Or more accurately, there are various processed permutations of corn in my shampoo, and I strongly suspect they are there not because they actually help clean my hair in any way, but because of this crazy system of corn overproduction we've developed that seems to be bad for just about everyone but the corn. And the huge corporations processing it and channeling it into our food and drinks and, apparently, shampoo.

In the face of this increasingly unsettling sense of an invisible and encroaching tide of processed corn everyone around us, I am trying very hard to remember that processed, industrial corn is very different than local, whole corn, a point helpfully underscored by the locally-grown, dried, and poppable (!) baby corn that recently appeared in our CSA box.

After shucking it, we stuck it (one earlette at a time) in a brown paper bag, placed it (vertically) in the microwave, and zapped for 2-4 minutes until the popping stopped. At first, we thought it hadn't worked, because the corn stayed on the cob...but then we bit into it, gingerly at first, and then gleefully. It was amazing. Turns out you can eat both the popped and the unpopped, toasted kernels. (The toasted ones tasted like corn nuts, only way, way better. We rubbed it with just a little pastured butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper.)

So corn, if you're out there listening (no ear puns, please), here's the deal: as a general rule, I refuse to consume you as 40% of my daily calories. But for popped baby corn on the cob, I would make a blissfully reverent exception.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

We made this fairly quick-and-easy dish last night, adapted from this recipe, and it was lovely, both taste-wise and looks-wise.

Olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 chili pepper, minced
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 plum tomatoes, diced
A little vegetable broth
1 bunch red Swiss chard, stemmed & coarsely chopped
1-2 pinches lemon zest (preferably Meyer)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Ñora pepper, salt, & freshly ground black pepper

Saute onion in a generous glug of olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to brown, turning the heat down a bit if necessary. Add garlic and chili pepper, stir for 10-20 seconds, then add tomatoes and saute for a minute. Add the chickpeas and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 4-5 minutes, adding a little veggie broth if necessary to keep it moist (there should be a little liquid -- not too much -- in the bottom of the pan). Next, add the swiss chard, a pinch of salt, and a little veggie broth, and cover the pan to let the chard wilt a bit in the steam. Uncover, and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Add the ñora pepper, black pepper, lemon zest, and lemon juice, turn off the heat, and serve.

Serves 2 (with something else, if you're making it for dinner).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Melon with Moscato

We found a "farmer's wife melon," apparently from Russia, in our CSA box last week. The insert that comes in our box suggested filling it with dessert wine, which struck us as a brilliant idea (filling things with wine usually does).

A farmer's wife melon (or another smallish melon)
Moscato (e.g., Trader Joe's 2009 late harvest Moscato)
Mint (optional)

Halve the melon and scoop out the seeds. Fill each half with Moscato and let sit in the fridge for a few hours. Garnish with berries and mint, and serve with a spoon (or add the berries into the moscato-filled center, as we eventually did with ours, which was amazing).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Rice and Tomato Salad

We made homegrown chickpeas the other night to revisit this recipe (which was fortunately just as delicious the second time, or I would have had to sorrowfully revoke its title), and had a few left over in the fridge, along with some wild rice and the lemon basil from our CSA box last week. And a basket of grape tomatoes. Clearly, the thing to do was to throw them all in a bowl and eat them. We didn't particularly expect it to be good enough to make again, but we would...if you have leftover chickpeas and wild rice (or probably even brown rice) on hand, this is very fast to make, and was surprisingly addictive. You could also add a little cucumber for crunch.

Olive oil
1/2 onion, cut into wedges and sliced into thin, 1-inch strips
1 clove garlic, pressed
A basket of ripe grape tomatoes, cut lengthwise into quarters
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
About 10 lemon basil leaves, chiffonade
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little goat cheese or feta

Saute the onion in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to turn golden. Add the garlic and a little more olive oil if necessary, turn the heat down to medium-low, and saute for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Combine the chickpeas and tomatoes in a salad bowl. In a separate, small bowl, whisk together a few glugs of olive oil and about a third as much balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper, then pour about two-thirds of the dressing over the chickpeas and tomatoes, and stir to coat evenly. Add the wild rice, pour in the rest of the dressing, and stir again. Add about half of the basil chiffonade and the onion-garlic mixture, stir, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Crumble a little cheese over the top and sprinkle with the remaining basil before serving.

Serves 2 (it's lighter than it looks, so you'll want something else with it).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beluga Lentils with Yellow Squash and Mushrooms

Found in our CSA box this week: Mystery squash, which were small and round and yellow and apparently a type often used in Indian cooking. This dish was not Indianish at all, but the squash were stars nonetheless.

Olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 + 1 cloves garlic, pressed (divided)
1 spoonful of Aleppo pepper (or a bit of hot pepper, minced)
1 cup beluga lentils, picked through and rinsed
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp sherry vinegar 
8 unidentified small yellow squash (could use pattypan squash or any summer squash), sliced into thick, half-inch pieces
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, brushed clean and cut into quarters
1-2 handfuls baby arugula
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a glug of olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, and saute until reddish brown, turning down the heat a bit if necessary. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to dry. Quickly add three of the garlic cloves (pressed) and the hot pepper to the pan with a bit more olive oil, stir a couple times, and add the lentils, broth, and 2 cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and turn down heat to simmer rapidly for 20-35 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan over high heat, add a little olive oil, and lay the squash slices out in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Cook until browned, shaking the pan from time to time to make sure they're not sticking (if they do, you can add a little more olive oil). Turn the slices over, turn the heat down to medium, and cook until the second side is well-browned and the slices are just tender (you want them to be browned without being at all mushy. If they're browning too quickly, before they've had a chance to cook through, you can either turn the heat down a little or cover the pan for a couple minutes). Remove from pan and set in a bowl near the stove so they stay warm.

Add just a little olive oil to the same pan, adjust heat to high, and add the mushrooms. Saute until browned on all sides, turning down the heat a little if necessary and adding a little more olive oil after they've started to brown, if they look a little dry. (To get your mushrooms to actually brown, make sure not to crowd them too much in the pan -- they should only be a single layer thick -- and don't add salt until after they're done cooking). When they're nicely browned and tender but still firm, push them to the side of the pan, turn the heat down to medium low, add a little olive oil on the empty side, and saute the last pressed clove of garlic in it for a minute or so until it softens. Stir into the mushrooms. Add a bit of the parsley and the arugula, stir once, and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir a couple more times as the arugula wilts.

When the lentils are tender, sprinkle in a couple liberal pinches of parsley and turn off the heat. Add the sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in layers: lentils at the bottom, then some caramelized onions, then a layer of squash, then mushrooms, then a few more onions and a sprinkle more parsley if you'd like.

Serves 2.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Toasted Polenta Addendum: Black Beans with Cilantro

If you were thinking of trying something like this recipe from a couple weeks ago, these black beans are a perfect addition.

Olive oil
1 can Eden Organic black beans, mostly but not completely drained
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 small sweet pepper, chopped, or a more spicy pepper, minced
A pinch or two of ground cumin
Salt & pepper
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped, plus a few extra leaves for garnish

Saute the onion in some olive oil over medium-high heat until it begins to soften. Turn heat down to medium, add the pepper, and saute until soft. Add the garlic, saute for another minute, then stir in the black beans. Bring to a simmer, turn heat down a little, and cook for three or four minutes, stirring occasionally (you can put a lid on the pan if it looks like it might start to dry out). Add a dash of cumin, a little salt (Eden Organic beans don't have salt, so you'll have to add a couple pinches...other brands often have lots of salt, so check before you add any more), a little pepper, and the chopped cilantro. Stir, and serve over the polenta before topping with the cheese, tomatoes, and avocado. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Toasted polenta topped with black beans, green heirloom tomatoes,
avocado, and pepper jack, served "to go" in a tiffin

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sauteed Dandelion Greens

There have been dandelion greens at our coop for about two weeks now.

Every time I near the vegetables, I see them out of the corner of my eye and quickly turn the other way out of a sudden and overwhelming interest in the carrots. I've been on a mustard greens kick, I think primarily because they're the leafy green most distant from the dandelions. I almost reached for collard greens the other day, then thought better of it...too close to the dandelion greens; too obvious, if I picked up one, then I would have seen the other.

But yesterday, they had been moved. Despite my carefully averted gaze as I edged past the lettuces, it turned out I had averted straight at them. Front and center. Dandelion greens. I had definitely seen them. They were new. So far this summer, I have fearlessly (or, let's face it, fearfully, in several cases) picked up every new, untasted, uncooked vegetable that has presented itself and cooked it. I bit my lip. I furrowed my brow. I glared at the guy who was giving me a weird look.

Was I going to be cowed by a weed? Was it fair for a weed to be engaged in such a decidedly unvegetarian-sounding activity as cowing? Was I overthinking this? And was it just me, in my agitated state of vegetable-induced anxiety, or was there actually not one but several happy, hippy voices around me singing merrily along to the Simon and Garfunkel song currently playing in the store?

Lulled by the sense that a truly satanic vegetable couldn't survive a surround-sound onslaught of a remarkably on-key, chorused tune of "Feeling Groovy," I picked up the dandelion greens and deposited them in my basket. I took them home. I told myself that my deep and abiding hatred for dandelions was related solely to the demonic dandelions entrenched in my lawn that can somehow regrow from the millimeter of root the inevitably snaps off when you're spending large portions of your otherwise quite tolerable life weeding them in a fruitless attempt to keep them from completely overtaking life as we know it, and had nothing to do with the red-stemmed leaves sitting on the kitchen counter. I told myself no, seriously, I mean it. I told myself cooking and eating them was the only possible way to get the upper hand -- it would be like weeding them, only with more of a victorious feeling. I cooked them. I ate them. I feel, yes, slightly victorious.

Olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic
1 bunch dandelion greens, sliced crosswise into strips, rinsed well, and dried in a salad spinner
Salt & pepper

Saute onion in some olive oil over medium-low heat until it smells sweet and begins to take on a little color. (The sweet onion offsets some of the bitterness of the dandelion greens, so make sure it's good and caramelized.) Add garlic and saute for another minute, then add the dandelion greens. Turn the heat up a little and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and serve.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Miniature Pumpkins with Goat Cheese and Sage

Two baby pumpkins arrived in our CSA box last week (they called them miniature Chinese squash, but as far as we can tell, they're the same as the mini-pumpkins you see around Halloween time). Never knew you could eat them before. Something tells me we shouldn't try this on the two from last fall that we still have left over from Thanksgiving decorations. (Something also tells me we shouldn't still have Thanksgiving decorations out, but another, larger, lazier part points out quite reasonably that it would be wasteful to throw them out now when we're so close to an appropriate season again.) These are pretty easy to make (it took us only a few minutes to prepare them, and then they just sit in the oven for awhile), and, you know, they're cute.

2 miniature pumpkins
Olive oil
1/2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 leaves of sage, halved lengthwise and then sliced crosswise into ribbons
A few pine nuts or some crumbled pecans
2 pinches lemon zest (preferably Meyer)
Salt & pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg (or a pinch of ground nutmeg)
Grated parmesan
A little goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tops off of pumpkins (save the tops) and scoop out seeds. Rub insides and the underside of the top with olive oil and garlic, then sprinkle with sage, nuts, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.

Put the tops on the pumpkins, and bake on a cookie sheet or baking pan for 40-50 minutes or until tender. Uncover, sprinkle with nutmeg and parmesan, and add goat cheese. Leave tops stem-side-down on the sides of the pumpkins, and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the cheese is hot and the pumpkin feels soft when you poke it. Let cool for a couple of minutes, and serve.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pizza Chronicles, Continued: Potato Pizza and A Glimpse of Crust Perfection

Potato pizza has long been a (rare but beloved) favorite of mine, and we had a particularly delectable version at Pizzaiolo in Oakland recently enough that it's been on my mind. That one came with an egg on top, which is the most amazing thing ever and which I think is relatively common in Italy and Australia but tragically uncommon here. Clearly, our next pizza attempt had to involve an egg. And potatoes. And something to give the crust a bit of flair.

Crust (adapted from the NYTimes recipe):
1 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
5/8 cups stone-ground whole wheat bread flour
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp plus one pinch salt
3 pinches chopped fresh rosemary leaves (2-3 sprigs)
2 pinches lemon zest (grated on a microplane, else very finely minced)
Coarsely-ground cornmeal
Olive oil for brushing on the crust at the end

1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
Cheese, ideally from pastured cows (e.g., jack and parmesan, or goat gouda might work well here)
3 medium-sized red, white, purple, and/or yellow potatoes
1/2 red onion, sliced
Leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary (left whole)
1 egg, from a pastured chicken

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water, add the sugar, and stir gently. Let sit 3-8 minutes until it looks a little foamy. Add the olive oil.

Combine the wheat flour, white flour, salt, minced rosemary, and lemon zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to mix. With the machine running, slowly add the yeast mixture in through the top, and let it keep mixing until the dough forms a ball.

Lightly sprinkle a wooden cutting board or other flat surface with flour. Dampen your hands with a little water, then remove the dough from the food processor. Knead on the cutting board for 3-4 minutes, sprinkling more flour if necessary (you want the dough to be smooth and not sticky -- a little tacky is fine, and you want it to stick to itself when you fold it over, but it shouldn't stick to your hands). Form the dough into a ball.

Lightly grease a bowl with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl so that a smooth, round side faces down, then turn over so that this side is up (you want the top to be smooth for the dough to rise properly). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 80-90 minutes until doubled in size. (An ideal rising temperature is around 80 degrees. If your house is on the coolish side, turn the oven on for literally just 2-3 seconds after you hear the burner come on, then leave the bowl in the slightly warmed oven.)

Meanwhile, gently boil the potatoes in a small pot until just tender (about 10-20 minutes, depending on their size). Drain, run under cold water to cool slightly, and slice.

Saute onion over medium-low heat until soft. Set aside.

When the dough is ready, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush the flour off your cutting board and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Take the dough out of the bowl and gently form a ball, then place on the cutting board and begin gently pressing and stretching it outward to form a flat pancake. You want to end up with a flat disc that's about 12" in diameter (the outside crust should not be raised or pinched or anything -- the whole thing is flat).

Rub the dough with the minced garlic, then sprinkle with enough grated cheese to lightly cover everything but a ring around the outside. (If you're using parmesan, you might grate a little into the outside crust as well).

Lightly oil a pizza pan or baking pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. Gently transfer the pizza to the pan, using your hands or a spatula. Next, arrange the potato slices in concentric circles on top of the pizza, then sprinkle with the onion and top with the rosemary leaves. Make sure the center of the pizza has a flat spot (potato slices are fine, just be sure they're not overlapping here), and carefully crack the egg onto the middle of the pizza.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack for 10-15 minutes, until crust starts to turn golden and egg white is white. 

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and brush the crust with a little olive oil (you can add a small pinch of lemon zest to the olive oil if you love lemon zest -- this will make the crust taste delectably close to a lemon bar -- or a little minced garlic). Slice creatively to avoid breaking the yolk (think parallelograms), and serve.

Serves 2 with something leafy and green on the side.

Good enough to dream about. Not that I necessarily did. But if one were prone to dreaming about food, one might select, as a centrally featured topic one night, this pizza.

Or, you know, just eat it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


This has to win some sort of prize.

I have, in the palm of my hand, a small, silvery, innocent looking packet of snack mix, obtained on a Horizon Airlines flight.

It is called Northwest Nibbles (first eyebrow raised) and is manufactured by some corporation called Delyse. The back of the packet has a little metallic pink fleur-de-lys, next to which is printed in cursive: "J'adore Delyse" (oops, there went the second eyebrow).

It contains -- are you ready? -- no fewer than forty-four ingredients. That's counting the ingredients-within-the-ingredients (the parenthetical ingredients, as it were) rather than what I guess you would have to call superordinate ingredients (the things that the ingredients-within-the-ingredients make up). For example, one superordinate ingredient is Ranch Rice Triangles. But obviously that's not an actual ingredient, so they have to list the actual ingredients within that ingredient, like so: "Ranch Rice Triangles (Rice Flour, Yellow Corn Masa, Safflower Oil, Ranch Seasoning (Buttermilk, Salt, Dried Onion, Garlic and Tomato, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Toru a Yeast, Corn Syrup Solids, Nonfat milk, Whey, Soy Grits, Dried Cheddar Cheese (..."

I had several thoughts while transcribing that small portion of the ingredients list, which I put below in chronological order of occurrence. I would have put them in parentheses as I went, but there seemed to be a run on that particular punctuation mark at the time. Speaking of which:

1. I'm pretty sure you're supposed to close the parentheses, once you open them. You can't just keep parenthetically listing subingredients for all time. It's unfair to the grammarians of the world, and to the expectant reader who continues on, word after word, in increasing confusion about which sub-sub-sub-subingredient is being listed now. I thought there might be a collection of lost closing parentheses at the end -- something like "...Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Salt) ))))" -- but there was nothing of the sort. I feel disoriented and linguistically distraught.

2. This thing must fail every single food rule that Michael Pollan has in his book of that name. It is like the Anti-Pollan. I wonder what would happen if they collided. Possibly a new project of interest for CERN.

3.  I'm not generally prone to paranoid thinking, but why does the internet disconnect whenever I rest the packet on the edge of my laptop?

4. Why is "Garlic and Tomato" one ingredient?

5. What in the world is Toru a Yeast? Surely that must be a typo? A typo for what?

6. Why does Corn Syrup Solids merit capitalization for every word, whereas Nonfat milk only gets a capital N?

7. They still haven't closed the parentheses??

8. Ew.