Archive for the ‘Vegetarian’ Category

While I still believe that there is nothing better in August than fresh corn-on-the-cob with nothing more than butter and salt, this smoky-spicy-limey-salty butter makes a really nice change of pace for corncob slathering.  This would also taste great on bruschetta (however you pronounce it), grilled vegetables, roast chicken, steak… Hell, I’d eat this on an old shoe and come back for seconds.

I remember my grandmother making chili-lime butter for corn-on-the-cob one summer day.  I think I was too young to appreciate it then, but I hope she would approve of my addition of fresh garlic (and a lot of it, because the only thing as good as fresh August corn-on-the-cob, come to think of it, is garlic butter) and of my substitution of Spanish smoked paprika for the chili powder.

serves 2, but let’s be realistic—you’ll want to make more of this

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 T butter, softened
  • 1 lime
  • 1 t pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika, preferably the hot stuff)

Chop up the garlic.  Add it with a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle; pound to a paste.  Add in the butter, and pound the garlic and butter together.  Juice the lime; add the lime juice and pimentón to the garlic butter.  Stir to combine.

Serve slathered generously over anything you desire.


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One of my favorite brunch dishes is salade lyonnaise.  Building off the theory that everything tastes better with bacon and a poached egg on top, it is one of the greatest salads around, but perhaps not one that is fit for weeknight dining, and certainly not one that is vegetarian-friendly.  Removing just the bacon for the non-meat-eaters or removing just the egg for the oophobes would throw the entire salad out of whack:  Bacon’s smoky saltiness complements the rich creaminess of eggs beautifully.  After all, bacon and eggs go together like, well, bacon and eggs.

I wanted a simpler, vegetarian salad that still highlighted the bracing bitterness of frisee with notes of smoke, salt, crunch and creaminess, all tied together with a tart vinaigrette.  Nuts were a no-brainer substitution for the crunch factor; blue cheese provided welcome creaminess and replaced some of bacon’s salt and savoriness.  To balance the blue cheese with some brighter notes, and to add the missing smoky element, my eyes turned to the bowl of cherries on the counter.  (I find myself making a lot of recipes with cherries and pecans, and that’s because they’re so damn good together.)  Ever since I got Seven Fires by the Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, I’ve been wanting to grill, sear and char everythingCooking fruit and incorporating it into savory dishes might be my new favorite culinary trick, and it works here:  The smoky charred cherries mingle beautiful with the vinaigrette and add bright treble notes to offset the bass of the blue cheese.

Best of all, it’s a much simpler salad to make than salade lyonnaise.  The pecans and cherries can be cooked in the same skillet, and that’s the only pan to wash up.  I’m not saying this will be the featured dish at a special brunch, but it can certainly be served as a quick and fast weeknight dinner, as well as a delicious side dish to heartier fare.

  • 1 head of frisee (and/or escarole)
  • 2 handfuls of pecans
  • 1 bowl of cherries (about 2 handfuls)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil, as needed (about 1/2 c)
  • 2 oz. excellent blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, etc.)

Cut the root end off the frisee.  Wash and dry thoroughly.  Tear into pieces into a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Heat up a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the pecans and toast carefully, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they become fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Watch them carefully:  You don’t want burned pecans.

Add the pecans to the frisee.  Return the empty skillet to the burner and set the heat to medium-high.

Tear the cherries in halve and remove their pits and stems.  (I find it easier to tear and pit the cherries with my fingers than to cut them with a knife.)  When the skillet is good and hot, add the cherries cut side down.  Don’t touch them for a good 2 minutes:  Let them get a nice sear on them.  When they have some char on them, flip them over with a spatula and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes.

While the cherries are cooking, make the vinaigrette:  Mash the garlic and a pinch of salt into a paste with the mortar and pestle, then stir in the mustard and the vinegars.  (I’m just about over balsamic vinegar, but here it adds a little sweetness that rounds out the dressing and bridges the cherries with the blue cheese.)  Whisk in enough olive oil to form a creamy vinaigrette.

When the cherries are ready, add them to the frisee and pecans.  Add the vinaigrette and toss the salad.  Crumble in half of the blue cheese and toss the salad thoroughly.  Transfer the salad to a serving dish, making sure some of the pecans and cherries end up on top of the salad, then crumble on the remaining blue cheese.  Serve.

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You might have to wait until next summer to make this dish, but if your zucchini or summer squash are flowering, grab the blossoms and use them for some of the tastiest vegetable fritters you’ll ever have.  Squash blossoms are just begging to be filled with stuffing:  A simple puree of soft cheese (ricotta, chevre, mascarpone) with any of your favorite members of the onion family (chives, scallions, shallots) is just right.

This is one situation where deep-frying—or, at least, battering the blossoms and pan-frying—might be safer than simply sauteing:  Without a protective coating of batter, the blossoms splatter furiously in the hot oil.  As with all fried foods, season them right out of the oil and serve immediately.

serves 4 as an appetizer

  • 12 zucchini (or other squash) blossoms
  • 3 scallions, washed and trimmed, or handful of chives
  • 1/2 c ricotta
  • 1 c flour, separated
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c or more club soda, enough to thin the batter

Wash the squash blossoms inside and out, being careful not to tear them.  (Do check inside the blossoms, though, in case the random errant insect is hanging out in there.)  Pat dry.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan with deep sides, add olive oil (or other vegetable oil) to a depth of 1 inch and place over medium heat.

Meanwhile, you can either mince up the scallions with a knife and stir them in with the ricotta and a pinch of salt and pepper, or you can throw everything into a food processor and give it a few pulses.  Check for seasoning.  Carefully spoon in about a tablespoon of stuffing into each squash blossom:  You need to open the blossom with one hand while spooning carefully with the other hand.  Again, try not to tear the leaves too much.  (If they do tear, just sort of mash the torn edges into the stuffing:  The ricotta will act like glue to keep everything together.)

Divide the flour evenly between two mixing bowls (one medium and one large).  Add salt and pepper to both bowls and whisk to combine.  Add the egg to the large bowl and stir to combine.  Using a whisk, stir in enough club soda into the flour-egg mixture to form a batter; it should be the consistency of a thin pancake batter, or of heavy cream.

When the oil in the Dutch oven is hot (a drop of batter will bubble vigorously and immediately rise to the surface), dredge four of the stuffed blossoms in the seasoned flour, making sure they are thoroughly coated; shake off any excess.  Put the dredged blossoms in the batter and turn to coat completely.  CAREFULLY (I recommend tongs or a slotted spoon for this) add the battered blossoms to the hot oil:  Start at the back of the pan and work your way forward.  Fry over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, until the edges of the blossom are golden brown and firm.  Using tongs, carefully flip the blossoms:  Again, start at the back of the pan so you’re not reaching across spattering oil.  Fry for 1-2 minutes more until the second side is done.

Remove the fried squash blossoms to a rack set over paper towels (or brown paper bags or old newspapers or whatever).  Season immediately with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve hot to your eagerly waiting friends as you cook the next batch.  (A slice of lemon or perhaps a little marinara sauce and a dusting of grated Pecorino Romano would not be unwelcome accompaniments.)

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My mother-in-law recently gave me Seven Fires, an encomium to grilling over live fire by the Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann.  Seven Fires passes the crucial test of any cookbook:  It makes me want to cook.  Particularly, this book makes me want to cook an entire cow over a bonfire by a secluded lake in Patagonia, but, barring that, it makes me want to grill anything, anywhere.

So, the recent World Cup match between Argentina and Germany seemed like the perfect pretext for starting a fire at 7:00 AM and testing Mallmann’s infectiously presented philosophy that everything tastes better when grilled.

Since we don’t happen to own a grill (or a TV, for that matter), and since we are already in the habit of exploiting the generosity of our good friends, The Bearded Quaker and Nurse Lanois, we decided to host the game at their place.  They seemed a little taken aback when I showed up at their house the night before for the pre-game slumber party armed with clarified butter, crêpe batter and a dozen sausages, but, good friends that they are, they have learned to roll with my various eccentricities.

I figured that if I could grill panqueques, savory crêpes to be filled with dulce de leche, I could grill anything.  While I was out there, I might as well throw some sausages on the fire; there was no Argentine chorizo to be found, but some German bratwurst seemed like a noble and diplomatic concession to the opponent.  (My Lovely Vegetarian Wife is also of Polish heritage, so some kielbasa had to find its way on to the menu as well.  She would have been bitterly disappointed without it, I am sure.)  To round out this menu, I had been dying to try Mallmann’s recipe for burnt oranges with rosemary, a dish that he strongly urged should only be prepared outside due to the prodigious amounts of smoke it was sure to create.

Cooking, like all crafts, can be an act of self-discovery when it calls upon our resources and ingenuity to their fullest extent.  There were many uncertainties about my plans for an asado para desayuno (including whether my in-laws would disown me for coining absurd Spanish phrases like that):  Would I be able to fire up a grill at 6:30 in the morning?  For that matter, could I even wake up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday?  Would I be able to adjust the coals sufficiently under a cast-iron skillet to control its heat?  Could I do this while also grilling sausages?  And would anybody else be awake to make me a cup of coffee??

The answer to all of those questions was “Yes”.  The crêpes cooked almost instantly and got gorgeous crispy edges; the oranges were sweet, jammy, nicely charred and herbal from the rosemary; the sausage was sausage (i.e., the single greatest food known to humanity).

The game, alas, did not go nearly as well as the breakfast.  According to my wife, we have banished this game from our collective memory.  It is not to be spoken of.

We drowned our sorrows with mimosas.

Panqueques con Dulce de Leche

serves a dozen hungry soccer fans

  • 1 1/2 c butter (Don’t worry—you’re not going to eat all of it.)
  • 3 c flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 c water
  • 2 c milk

Make the panqueque batter and the clarified butter the night before, or at least 1 hour in advance:  Melt all of the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Combine 1/2 c of the melted butter, the flour, eggs, water, milk and a hefty pinch of salt in a blender; blend on high speed until thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate.

Finish clarifying the butter:  Skim off and discard any foam from the top of the butter.  Carefully pour off and reserve the melted butterfat, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the pan behind.  Discard the milk solids.  Refrigerate the clarified butter; it will solidify in the fridge.  If you want to melt it before using it, simply microwave for about 20 seconds.

Using charcoal (or, even better, hardwood), build a hot fire.  Pile the coals to one side of the grill so that they reach up almost all the way to the grill rack.  Place a flat cast-iron griddle on the grill rack directly over the coals.  Cover the grill and allow the griddle to preheat for about 10 minutes.  (Alternately, simply heat up the griddle indoors over medium-high heat.)  When a drop of water evaporates instantly on the griddle, it is ready.

Stir up the pancake batter in case it has separated.  Put a tablespoon of the clarified butter on the griddle, spreading it around to coat the griddle evenly.  Ladle about 1/4 c of the batter onto the griddle, spreading it around with the ladle to form a thin layer over the whole griddle.   The panqueque will cook very quickly:  When the edges are brown and firm, flip the crêpe.  Cook for about 15 seconds more on the second side until the pancake is cooked through.

Transfer to a plate.  Put a heaping spoonful of dulce de leche on the panqueque and spread it around.  Roll up the pancake like a jelly roll.  Repeat with the remaining panqueques, adding more clarified butter to the griddle before each one.  Serve with…

Naranjas Quemadas con Romero (Burnt Oranges with Rosemary)

  • 6 oranges
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 sprig of rosemary

Preheat a cast-iron griddle for ten minutes over a hot wood or charcoal fire (or, if you have a stove with a powerful exhaust fan, heat the skillet over high heat).  Meanwhile, peel the oranges and slice them in half through their “equator”.   Place the sugar on a plate.  Strip the rosemary leaves from the sprig and add them to the sugar.  Press the oranges, cut side down, into the sugar.

When the griddle is hot (a drop of water will evaporate instantly), put four of the orange halves, cut side down, onto the griddle.  Add a little more of the rosemary-sugar mixture to the griddle between the oranges.  Cook the oranges over high heat without moving them until the edges brown and start to blacken.  Carefully flip the oranges and cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more.  Serve along side panqueques con dulce de leche and grilled sausages for brunch, or with a little sweetened yogurt for dessert.

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We interrupt these self-indulgent ramblings to bring you an actual recipe.  Enjoy.

  • 1 small seedless watermelon
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 oz. feta
  • handful of chives
  • olive oil, the best you’ve got, as needed

Using a sharp knife, remove all of the peel from the watermelon.  Cut the watermelon into 1-inch thick disks.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut half of the disks into 1-inch-thick lengths, and then crosswise into 1x1x3-inch blocks.  Place a handful of watermelon blocks in the skillet and sear.  (Do this in batches; don’t overcrowd the skillet!)  When the first side gets a nice charred crust, about 1 to 2 minutes, flip the blocks and sear the second side, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the unsliced watermelon and the red onion into thin slices.  Add to the mixing bowl with the seared watermelon.  Crumble the feta into the bowl.  Mince the chives and add half of them to the salad.  Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the salad and toss to combine, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining chives on top.  Enjoy!

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If they called it “mayonnaise”, you would never eat it.  But since it’s called “aioli”, you can’t get enough of it.  It’s been so ubiquitous on restaurant menus over the past few years that I propose that the last decade be renamed the “Aioli Aughts”.

Aioli (or, by the Catalan spelling, allioli) is simply mayonnaise with a lot of garlic added to it; mayonnaise, in turn, is simply an emulsion of eggs and oil.  I can think of no better example of cooking-as-alchemy than making mayonnaise:  Can you imagine anything less appealing to eat than raw eggs and a cup of vegetable oil?  But when mixed together correctly, they form a rich, flavorful sauce which doesn’t look anything like its constituent parts and which is light years better than Hellemann’s (or any other jarred mayo).  The addition of garlic—a lot of garlic—and using olive oil instead of a neutral vegetable oil are no-brainers; throwing a little pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) into the mix provides a ton of flavor and great color.  Serve this with potatoes (sweet or otherwise),  sandwiches or any sort of fried vegetables.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 T Dijon mustard (preferably Maille)
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 t pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), plus more for garnish
  • 1 c (or more) olive oil

Roughly chop the garlic and place in a mortar-and-pestle with a little salt.  Pound the garlic into a puree, then add to a blender with the mustard, lemon juice, egg, pimentón and lots of black pepper.  Blend over medium speed until thoroughly combined.  With the blender running at medium, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a nice creamy emulsion forms.  (You may need a little less olive oil, or a little more.)  Taste for seasoning and serve with a little extra pimentón sprinkled on top.

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I must be ready for summer, because I’ve been cooking with tomatoes a lot recently.

This is a great recipe for less-than-perfect tomatoes.  An added bonus is that they’re delicious hot, room temperature or right out of the fridge.  I like them best as part of a light alfresco dinner, perhaps with some goat cheese or mozzarella, a few olives, a little prosciutto…

  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1/2 c cooked cracked wheat or quinoa
  • 1/2 c bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 c fennel fronds (or other herbs), finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • olive oil, as needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the tops off the tomatoes; reserve.  Using a spoon, scoop out all of the tomato seeds; put the seeds in a mixing bowl.  Put the tomato shells in a baking dish.  Set aside.

Into the bowl with the tomato seeds add the cracked wheat, bread crumbs, Parmigiano, fennel fronds shallot and a drizzle of olive oil.  Mix thoroughly to combine.   Add salt and pepper to the filling to taste.

Pack the tomato shells generously with the filling; it should be piled above the top of the tomatoes, just on the verge of spilling over.   (The top ones in the picture below are going to get more filling; the bottom ones are just about right.)

Drizzle a little more olive oil on top of the tomatoes, then bake for 15 minutes.  Put the reserved tomato tops back on the stuffed tomatoes; drizzle the tops with some olive oil.  Bake the tomatoes for about 10-15 minutes more.  The tomatoes should be tender with wrinkly skin; the filling inside should be warmed through.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until later.

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