Chickpeas & Chard with Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

I've had a string of bad luck with recipes lately. Well, not really "bad," but I've made a few things over the last week or so that were disappointingly bland and not worth blogging about. I will share some pictures, though, because they were both kind of pretty! The first one was this Kerala-style edamame curry recipe from Vegetarian Times. I was so excited to make it, but it ended up having very little flavor.

The other one was this eggplant compote tossed with pasta and topped with a poached egg. I think this recipe came from Bon Appetit? It was also disappointing because it just tasted kind of boring. (I always love a poached egg, though.)

These recipes were both kind of complicated in their own ways. The curry had a lot of whole spices going on, and the pasta dish involved poaching eggs (something neither Joe nor I have managed to quite master). So last night I was just kind of fed up and felt like making something really simple that wasn't going to be spectacular in any way but that was just going to taste good. Not crazy good, but plain and satisfying good. I ended up throwing together this simple recipe from (appropriately enough) Real Simple magazine, and it fit the bill pretty well. Simple flavors, fresh ingredients, unfussy preparation. Sometimes that's just what you need.

Chickpeas & Chard with Pan-Roasted Tomatoes
Paraphrased from Real Simple
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided (if you're using a nonstick pan -- use more if using a regular pan)
  • 4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • One bunch chard, washed thoroughly, thick stems removed, leaves torn
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • One 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cook the rice according to package instructions. In the meantime, heat one teaspoon olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan. (Use more oil if not using a nonstick pan.) Add the tomato halves, cut side down, and cook 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until starting to brown. Flip tomatoes onto their "backs" and cook 1 more minute. Remove to a plate. Add the other teaspoon of oil to the pan and lower heat to medium. Add the chard, garlic, raisins, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of black pepper. Cook, stirring, until the chard wilts, about 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas and lemon juice and heat through until warm. Adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Serve with the rice and tomatoes.

Pickled Peppers & Eggplant

A guest post by the wonderful Joe Fray...

Recently, Becky and I found a fun, delicious hobby. We've begun to pickle. Becky found an article in one of her plethora of food mags with what appeared to be simple pickle recipes. We made a batch of pickled cucumbers and carrots. It took twenty minutes, they were ready the next day, and they were delicious. We got a little more daring and pickled some brussel sprouts and sweet peppers. Both came out perfectly again. After that we were hooked.

I've taken the lead on doing most of the pickling because I get some sort of dorky pleasure out of it, and I'm painstakingly precise in my measurements, often to Becky's annoyance. So, for Christmas Becky got me a pickling recipe book (from which the two recipes below were taken), and our pickling has since reached new and interesting levels. We've pickled onions (excellent with bread and a sharp cheddar), cauliflower (one batch was yellow, the other pink), watermelon rinds (probably won't be making those again), and eggs (surprisingly good, though I need a better method for peeling hard boiled eggs). I've also just started my first batch of fermented pickles (sour through natural fermentation in saltwater rather than from vinegar), but I'll have to update you later on how those turn out.

Pickling is as simple as mixing a fresh or very lightly cooked vegetable with seasoning and vinegar.  That's it. All you need is the ingredients and a jar.  The jars are easy to find; we have a mix of screw top jars from Sur La Table and flip tops from Ikea and the Container Store.

The two recipes below are incredibly easy and are definitely our favorites so far (batch two of the peppers is just about gone).
Refrigerator Pickled Peppers
From The Joy of Pickling
  • 1 pound bell peppers, preferably of mixed colors, cut into strips
  • Half a celery stalk with leaves, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pickling salt (a.k.a. fine sea salt) (if using kosher salt, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon -- do not use iodized table salt)
In a large bowl, toss the peppers with the celery, garlic, and fennel. Pack the vegetables and seeds with the bay leaf into a quart sized jar. Combine the water and vinegar, and dissolve the salt in the liquid. Pour the brine over the vegetables. Close and refrigerate the jar. The peppers will be ready in a week. Refrigerated, they will keep well for 6 to 8 weeks. 

Quick Pickled Eggplant with Basil
From The Joy of Pickling
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt (a.k.a. fine sea salt) (if using kosher salt, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon -- do not use iodized table salt)
  • 2 medium-large eggplants (about 3 1/4 pounds), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
In a saucepan, bring the water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add half the eggplant cubes and simmer them for about 5 minutes, until they are tender. Put them in a colander and cook the remaining eggplant cubes in the same way. Add them to the colander and rinse and drain all of the eggplant. In a quart sized jar, mix the cooked eggplant cubes with the vinegar, basil, pepper, garlic, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. (There will not be enough liquid in the jar to cover all the eggplant, but that's okay -- just shake the jar around whenever you get a chance.) Cover the jar and refrigerate it for at least 8 hours. The eggplant will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator. Just before serving, stir in the olive oil.

Banana and Yam Stew

Two summers ago I had the amazing opportunity to go on a wildlife-viewing safari in Tanzania with my mom. Going to Africa to see the animals was one of her lifelong dreams, so it was a pretty unforgettable experience for her as well as for me. We saw some incredible things and I got the chance to take some great photos.

While we were there, we also had a great time talking to our guide during the long car rides between the Tanzanian national parks. He and all the other guides we met were so nice and always willing to tell us about everything we wanted to know, from Swahili words to Tanzanian history lessons to tidbits on Maasai culture.

While we were in the central Serengeti we spent a couple nights at a private camp where we could hear the wildlife moving about outside our tent. The last night at the camp, we asked the guides to cook us a traditional Tanzanian meal. They made a huge feast for us, but the thing I remember best was a coconut milk-based stew with yams and green bananas and all sorts of spices.

This recipe, from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, is really similar to that stew. I don't know if it's exactly the same, but it's really good and brings back great memories.

Banana and Yam Stew
From Linda McCartney on Tour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, divided
  • 2 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped roughly
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon each ground cloves, cumin, and turmeric
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 quart vegetable stock, plus another cup of water if you prefer
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 green bananas, sliced
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the yams or sweet potatoes and cook until slightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a plate or bowl. In the same pot, heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium heat and add the jalapeno, cilantro, onion, tomato, carrot, garlic, and spices. Cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves and lower the heat to a simmer. Stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the bananas and yams/sweet potatoes. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Serves 4-6.

Asian Vegetable-Rice Bowl with Fried Eggs

There's a definite division of cooking labor in our apartment. While I handle most food preparation tasks, Joe is the go-to guy for anything involving eggs: scrambling, frying, hard-boiling, even pickling. That's not to say that I can't cook an egg, or that Joe isn't great at cooking all sorts of other things (he is); it's just that he has a comparative advantage in the egg preparation category.

So last night I did most of the legwork for this very yummy meal: manning the rice cooker, prepping veggies, mixing up a sweet-spicy Thai chili sauce. But I saved the very last task for when Joe got home from work -- frying four eggs, which he did to the perfect degree of doneness. And then our meal felt like a collaborative joint effort, which added to the deliciousness in an intangible, but definitely real, way.

Asian Vegetable-Rice Bowl with Fried Eggs and Chili Sauce
From Real Simple
  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • 1/3 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 3-4 teaspoons Sriracha or Asian chili-garlic sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 bunch broccoli, florets broken apart and stalks sliced thinly
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable/canola oil
  • 4 eggs
Cook the rice according to package instructions. In a small bowl, combine the sweet chili sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, and vinegar; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450 F. After the rice has been cooking for about 20 minutes, place the broccoli, bell peppers, and carrots on a large rimmed baking sheet; toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Roast, tossing once, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook, covered, 2 to 3 minutes for slightly runny yolks. Serve the vegetables and eggs over the rice and drizzle with the sauce.

Lemony Chard Stuffed Shells

This is one of my favorite veggie Italian dinners. It's got everything a great meal needs: pasta, protein, leafy greens, tomato sauce, a lemony zip... Plus, people tend to be kind of impressed by stuffed shells even though they're not very hard to make.

The last time I made these, I served them with some spaghetti squash, which was great because it goes so well with tomato sauce. This time, my grocery store was out of the squash, so I just cooked up a quick side of zucchini sauteed with lots of garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some fresh basil. As you can see from the picture, it's not the most beautiful meal I've ever assembled, but it definitely hit the spot anyway.

Lemony Chard Stuffed Shells
From One Dish Vegetarian Meals
  • 12 large pasta shells
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, washed well and coarsely chopped
  • 1 block of firm tofu, blotted dry and crumbled
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or soy Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, homemade or store-bought cans
Preheat oven to 350 F. Cook the pasta shells according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the chard and cook until wilted, about another 5 minutes. Place this cooked mixture into a bowl and add the tofu, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Using a teaspoon, stuff the cooked pasta shells with the filling until well packed. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish, arrange the shells on top of the sauce, and pour the remaining sauce over and around the shells.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until hot.

Variations: Add 1 cup of chopped mushrooms, if you're into that kind of thing (yuck). Just add them to the pan at the same time as the chard.

Ricotta and Roasted Tomato Baked Potato

I've been on a fair number of diets over the years, most notably the Atkins Diet (back in my carnivore days) and the South Beach Diet (easier on vegetarians, though not by a whole lot). The first lesson I learned from them is that carbs are downright evil, and no carb more so than the sinister baked potato.

Well, the second lesson I learned from them is that those diets don't really work, at least not in the long run. Nobody can resist those evil carbs for long without going completely bonkers. Plus, a calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from carbs or protein or fat, and you can lose weight and eat heathily while eating carbohydrates, as long as your diet is balanced.

Anyway, I'm glad that those silly diets are far behind me and that I can enjoy delicious (but still healthy!) meals like this one. I grabbed this idea from Real Simple, and it's so easy and yummy. If I were still a meat eater, I probably would have this with a grilled steak or something, but since I love cows I just paired it with a nice, light green salad.

Ricotta and Roasted Tomato Baked Potato
From Real Simple
  • 4 medium to large russet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta (more if you like)
Heat oven to 400 F. Rub the potatoes with the teaspoon of olive oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning occasionally, until tender and easily pierced with a paring knife, 65 to 75 minutes. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with the tablespoon of olive oil, thyme, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and about a quarter teaspoon of black pepper. Fifteen minutes before the potatoes are done, add the tomatoes to the oven and roast them until they burst, 12 to 15 minutes. Split the potatoes and, dividing evenly, top with the ricotta and the tomato mixture.

Roasted Garlic Mustard

I'm a firm believer in making things from scratch when it's practicable to do so. But only when the homemade version tastes better than the store-bought version. (Let's be real, homemade ketchup is never going to beat out Heinz, amirite?) But making things yourself has a lot of benefits. Sometimes it can be cheaper. Also, you avoid eating all the random chemicals and preservatives that are found in commercial products. And making stuff at home is actually really fun.

This whole-grain roasted garlic mustard was my project for the weekend. (Joe, on the other hand, did some pickling, which he's really into these days. Perhaps a pickling post is in order?) It was completely easy and well worth the trip to the health food store to pick up some bulk mustard seeds. This is going to be awesome on sandwiches and wraps, as a dip for chips and pretzels, and in salad dressings and marinades.

Roasted Garlic Mustard
Adapted trom Eating Well (I cut the recipe down, as the magazine version made 8 cups -- this makes 1-2)
  • 1/2 cup whole yellow mustard seeds
  • Scant 1/4 cup whole brown mustard seeds
  • 5/8 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/8 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1-2 T pure maple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
Combine mustard seeds, vinegar, and 3/8 cup water in a large bowl; cover and let stand at room temperature until the liquid is mostly absorbed, at least 6 hours (or overnight).

About an hour before you're ready to make the mustard, preheat oven to 400 F. Rub off the excess papery skin from garlic without separating the cloves. Slice the tip off the head, exposing the cloves. Place the garlic on a piece of foil, drizzle with oil and wrap into a package. Place the package directly on the oven rack and roast until the garlic is very soft, about 45 minutes.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze about a quarter of the cloves out of their skins into a blender. (Squeeze the remainder of the cloves into a small container and save for other uses, like soups and pasta sauces; the roasted garlic will keep in the fridge at least a week.) Add the mustard seed mixture to the blender and pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary and adding water by the tablespoon as needed to facilitate blending, until some of the seeds are coarsely chopped and the mixture looks like grainy mustard. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in maple syrup and salt.
Spoon the mustard into a jar and refrigerate. It'll keep in the fridge for about a month.

Israeli Couscous Tagine

Joe and I lived together for the first time in 2008 during our second summer of law school. We sublet an apartment in the Chinatown area of DC (which incidentally is one of the most pathetic Chinatowns you've ever seen, but that's another story). I was really excited about this turn of events and had been hoarding recipes for months in advance so that I would be fully prepared to wow him with my culinary skills. One of the recipes was torn from some magazine that I don't remember, and it was a recipe for a dish involving Israeli couscous. The only problem was that when we got to DC, I couldn't find Israeli couscous anywhere. Both grocery stores we regularly went to failed to stock it. Whole Foods had a spot for it on the shelf, labeled and everything, but I checked every single week and it was always maddeningly empty. Over the course of the summer, I became steadily more obsessed with Israeli couscous, but I never found it. Sadly, I was never able to impress Joe with my Israeli couscous, but I guess it worked out okay because he agreed to live with me again after we graduated (whew).

Well, it just so happens that our Harris Teeter in Arlington does carry Israeli couscous, and when I discovered this, I eagerly bought a box the second I saw it even though I had long ago thrown away the recipe I wanted to make that fateful summer. Fortunately, I found another recipe and finally got around to making it last night. It's from Mark Bittman's awesome compendium How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and it was delicious. Joe, I hope you were wowed.

Israeli Couscous Tagine
From How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Half a head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, and some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the broth, apricots, tomatoes, chickpeas, zucchini, cauliflower, and carrots. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the couscous and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the couscous is al dente. Remove cinnamon sticks, adjust seasonings as necessary, and serve.

Smoky Split Pea Soup

I'm pretty sure smoked paprika is the most beloved spice in our household. Yeah, there are a lot of other great spices, ones that we can't live without. I'd probably die if I went three days without using cumin, cinnamon, or curry powder. But nothing gets me quite so excited as when I find a new recipe that calls for smoked paprika (and hopefully a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which just compliments it so well). If you don't have smoked paprika in your home, please do yourself a favor and buy some now. (And make this Moroccan pot-roasted eggplant dish that's Joe's absolute favorite.)

So, yeah, this soup was really great. It's not going to win any beauty contests, but it's super easy and tastes awesome when sprinkled with a garnish of fresh thyme from your Aerogarden and scooped into your mouth with a big crusty hunk of whole wheat bread. Which is how I ate it, in case you couldn't guess.

Smoky Split Pea Soup
From Appetite for Reduction
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • A few twists of the pepper grinder
  • 4 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 1/4 cups dry split peas
  • 4-6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions in the oil until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, and salt, and saute for another minute. Add the paprika and thyme, and stir continuously for about 15 seconds to toast the spices a bit.
Add the carrots, split peas, and broth. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, the lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until the peas are creamy. Stir occasionally to prevent the soup from burning at the bottom. If necessary, thin the soup with water. Add the lemon juice and taste for salt and seasonings. (I had to add about another teaspoon more each of salt and smoked paprika to get it tasting super delicious.)