Chickpea Piccata

One of my favorite things about the post-Christmas week is that I get to try out the new cookbooks that I've invariably been given. This year, the first new book I'm exploring is Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the same lovely lady who gave the world my favorite vegan cookbook, Veganomicon.

This new book is different in that the recipes are intended to be more health-conscious. I love Veganomicon with every fiber of my being, but a lot of vegan recipes tend to be heavier on the oil and carbs, making them less healthy than what I want to eat regularly. This new book resolves that dilemma, and from what I can tell, it does so very handily.

This chickpea piccata is a delicious recipe that I would definitely make again. It was fast and flavorful, and I didn't feel gross afterwards. Perfect for a post-holiday meal.

Chickpea Piccata
From Appetite for Reduction
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A generous pinch of dried thyme
  • One 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup capers with a little brine
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 big lemon)
  • 4 cups arugula
  • One box of spaghetti
 Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Saute the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes, until golden. Add the bread crumbs and toast them by stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. They should turn a few shades darker.

Add the vegetable broth, wine, salt, pepper, and thyme. Turn up the heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and let the sauce reduce by half; it should take about 7 minutes. Add the chickpeas and capers and let heat through, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat.

Place the arugula in your pasta bowls. Place the spaghetti over the arugula and ladle the piccata over the spaghetti.

Variations: Use mashed potatoes instead of pasta.

Orange and Thyme Scented Chili

Joe's been called out of town for work for the second week in a row. Last week it was rather sudden, but this week I had advance notice, so I was able to plan my meals accordingly. Predictably, I reverted to my law school living-solo strategy of cooking a large pot of something for myself and then eating it for every meal until I can't stand it anymore. This is not a strategy to which I would ever subject another person, but I find that it works quite well for my lazy self.

So last night I made a big pot of this amazing orange and thyme scented vegetarian chili. I was a little worried it would be too sweet from the orange juice, but the flavor is totally subtle and it's not sweet at all. In fact, it's balanced really nicely by the spiciness of the chili powder. Overall it comes together beautifully, makes the kitchen smell incredible, and is one of those recipes that I just know I'll be making again.

It tastes better than it looks...

Orange and Thyme Scented Chili
Paraphrased from One Dish Vegetarian Meals
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 14-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • One 10- to 14-oz package of frozen veggie burgers or sausages, thawed and crumbled
  • 1 cup mild or medium salsa
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and jalapeno (if using), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 7-10 minutes or until softened. Stir in the chili powder, thyme, paprika, and brown sugar. Add the tomatoes, black beans, veggie burgers or sausages, and salsa. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Add the orange zest, orange juice, and enough water to get it to approximately the consistency that you want. Cover again and cook for another 10 minutes, then serve.

Variations: You could try tempeh instead of the veggie burgers/sausages, or for all the carnivores out there, this would be equally delicious with ground turkey or ground beef substituted.

Butternut Saag

This yummy Indian-inspired meal is a great Sunday dinner. This was my yesterday: Cold, rainy afternoon. Football on TV (Bucs/Redskins, of course). A butternut squash roasting in the oven. Oh, also, a dog chewing out his stitches and needing to go back to the vet, but that's another story.

Anyway, saag is Indian-food-speak for a spinach dish. A couple months ago I made a tofu saag; this one subs out the tofu for butternut, which makes the whole thing slightly sweeter. (The original recipe I was using called for sugar pumpkin, but my grocery store didn't have any; the butternut worked great, but you could also use acorn or kabocha squash.) It's a great variation that's well worth trying.

Butternut Saag
Adapted from Veganomicon's Pumpkin Saag
  • Medium to large size butternut squash (or a sugar pumpkin if you can find one)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Large onion, diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch cayenne (or more to taste)
  • 1 cup water
  • A 1-inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled
  • Two bunches of fresh spinach, washed well and coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Cooked rice (basmati would be best, though I used long-grain white since it was what I had)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice off the top of the squash to remove the stem, then cut the entire squash lengthwise into halves (be careful!). Remove the seeds and scrape out the stringy squash innards with a spoon. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a fork can easily pierce the flesh. Let the squash cool completely, then peel away the skin and chop the flesh into 1-inch chunks.

Preheat a soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions in the oil for about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes more, or until everything is golden brown. Add the pumpkin and cook until heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and salt, and grate the ginger directly into the pot (using a microplane grater if possible). Add the water and cook for about 5 minutes, mixing often. Use a masher or the back of a spoon to mash the squash up a bit -- I mashed mine pretty smooth, but you could leave large chunks if you prefer.

Add the spinach in batches, mixing well after each addition. Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring often. Add the lime juice; taste and adjust salt if needed. Serve with hot cooked rice.

Tip: Roast the squash a day or two in advance so that you can throw this together in a hurry. Just wrap the baked squash in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Curried Lentil Soup

My dog had surgery yesterday. He had this nasty mass on his chest that got really infected a couple weeks ago, so the vet decided he should have it removed entirely. When they cut it off him and looked inside it, there was a thorn in there. A thorn. Seriously? That is the world's most expensive thorn. An $1100 thorn, to be precise.

So last night was kind of hectic as we dealt with our drugged-out dog lurching about the apartment slamming into walls, crying, and oozing blood all over the carpet. Fortunately, I had planned to make a soup last night, so it worked out well. When you have a sick patient in the house, soup just seems appropriate, you know? I did the prep work ahead of time, and then after we picked Walter up from the vet, I just let it simmer on the stove while we tended to his crying and oozing. Not my ideal Friday night, but the soup was really good at least.

Curried Lentil Soup
From Bon Appetit
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) curry powder
  • 1 cup lentils (recipe calls for French green but I just used the regular brown kind)
  • One 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter (vegans can omit this)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add half of chopped garlic; stir until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 4 minutes longer. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lentils and 4 cups water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree chickpeas, lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and remaining garlic in processor.

Add chickpea puree and butter (if desired) to lentil soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder, if desired. Add water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency. (Soup can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Rewarm before continuing.)

Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle with thinly sliced green onions.

Bonus picture: Walter in his post-surgery tee shirt (so he doesn't chew his stitches out...)

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Beans and rice are such simple food, but they were always one of my favorite things growing up. In Florida, Cuban food is a big part of the culture. (I bet you didn't know that the Cuban sandwich was actually invented in Tampa.) My mom used to make something similar to this version on a regular basis -- it's not fancy, but it's so good, with the smokiness of the cumin, the acidity of the vinegar, and the crunch of red onions on top.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Two 15-ounce cans of black beans, one undrained and the other drained and rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Lots of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 medium lime, cut into wedges
  • Chopped tomato (optional)
Prepare rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add all but 1/2 cup of the onion and all of the pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the can of undrained beans with their liquid, the drained and rinsed beans, and 1/2 cup of water; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for flavors to blend, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar and salt to taste.

To serve, spoon beans over rice; sprinkle with remaining onion and lots of cilantro; squeeze fresh lime juice over top. Serve with some chopped tomato if desired.

Healthier Eggplant Parm

Sorry for the long hiatus! I could go on about how Thanksgiving happened, and then I had to go to New York for a stupid legal training class, and the holiday season is just so crazy, but I'll stop myself here and say that I have dearly missed you, my (silent but) faithful readers.

I made this a couple weeks ago but am just now posting about it for the aforementioned reasons. Eggplant parmesan is one of those classic vegetarian dishes that everybody loves but is actually really horrible for you due to the frying and the cheese. Fortunately, it's not hard to lighten it up by baking the eggplant slices and using the cheese a bit more judiciously than you otherwise would. Even more fortunately, the dish is still delicious when prepared this way.

Healthier Eggplant Parm
  • Cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs, Italian-style
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or a mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and/or thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 medium raw eggplants
  • 3-4 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups canned tomato sauce
  • 1 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a medium-size bowl; set aside. Remove skin from eggplant and trim off ends; slice eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Dip eggplant first into egg whites and then into bread crumb mixture. Bake eggplant on a nonstick cookie sheet until lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once.

Place a layer of eggplant on bottom of prepared baking dish, then add 1/3 of tomato sauce and 1/3 of mozzarella cheese. Repeat with 2 more layers in same order. Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes.