We just celebrated the Summer Solstice so summer is definitely here. Zucchini is one of the first summer vegetables that appears at the farmers’ market. Fritatta is a popular Italian dish and also is my favorite way to prepare zucchini. Italians often make it for ‘lunch on the go’ because it tastes good as it is … it does not have to be reheated and is an interesting and unique dish. If you have eggs, cheese, onions, zucchini and olive oil you can make zucchini frittata. The secret is in the preparation.
So let’s look at those secrets … no worries it is not a difficult dish to make. The main secret is to cook it slowly. It is kind of a ‘slow food’ meaning that it is cooked slowly on low heat starting in cold olive oil. This was rather a hard concept for me at first because I always heat the oil before I put onions in a pot … but once you taste the dish, you will understand. Also, it prevents the olive oil from burning- I’m guessing. Another secret is to not dry it out so basically don’t over-cook the eggs. And that is about it other than the usual, use good ingredients.
The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Essentials of Clasic Italian Cooking.
So let’s look at why we should incorpoate zucchini in our summer diet. The watery zucchini is cooling and refreshing and is great to overcome the summer heat. It has a tender texture with a slightly sweet flavor and pairs nice with something a little more robust like eggs and cheese. It is also packed with nutients and is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B and C.
Oh and I can’t forget about the basil, the other main ingredient. It is in the mint family along with the other remarkable Mediterreanian herbs like oregano, mint, rosemary. It is not an accident that Mediterreanian chefs use basil on a regular basis. The aromatic basil is used in cooking for making food taste better and has numerous health benefits. For more information on basil, please check out this article.
1/4 cup of cold pressed olive oil, divided
1 large onion (1 cup), finally chopped
2-3 medium sized zucchini
5 large eggs
1 Tbsp dried oregano
a handfull of fresh basil leaves
2/3 cup of freshly graded Parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp of butter
Put half of the cold oil, and the onion in a large pan. Turn heat onto low heat, (not simmer) and cover. Cook until the onion wilts and becomes greatly diminished in bulk for about 20-30 minutes. Then uncover and continue cooking until the onion gets a nice golden brown color. I turn the heat a notch up here. This is going to be a lengthy process but it is an importamt part of the dish.
Meanwhile, prepare the zucchini. Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes to loosen the dirt. Scrub and wash off any dirt. Cut off both ends. Slice them thin.
When the onion is nice and golden brown, add salt and the sliced zucchini. You can put the sliced bacon in here if you plan on using it. Turn heat up to medium high and cook them until they are softened and have a light nut brown color. Stir frequently.
Making the fritatta. Melt the butter gently, add the whisked eggs with the torn-up basil, freshly ground black pepper and the cheese. Cook carefully until the eggs have set and thickened and the bottom has a light brown color (not burnt) and only the top is runny. Turn the broiler on. I use the low broiler for 3 minutes.
In the United States and Europe, rhubarb is known as the pie plant and in fact we tend to use it in sweet dishes. However, in Asia, it is more used in savory main dishes. Today, I’m presenting a savory dish that was inspired by the following blogs: ( blog 1 and blog 2). The rhubarb gives the sour taste that is balanced out nicely with the sweet and hot Chinese sauce and the bitter bamboo shoots. I chose broccoli as the main vegetable for the dish. Traditionally, pork is used but is replaced here with the tofu. In the original recipe, the raw rhubarb is blended in the sauce but I made it more traditionally sautéed like the rest of the vegetables.
The sauce: 5 cloves garlic, 3 Tbsp honey, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp ginger, 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste).
Vegetables: 200g (3 medium sized) rhubarb stalks, 1 large onion, 2 heads of broccoli, 1 can of bamboo shoots.
Toppings: handful of chopped peanuts, 4 scallions, small handfull coriander, soy sauce and limes.
The rice. Make the rice of your choice. I used sushi rice.
Cut up the tofu so it is about 1 cm / 1/2 inch thick. I made triangular shapes but rectangular or square shapes are fine too.
Mix the ingredients of the marinade in a small bowl and pour it all over the tofu. Cover and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Make the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix to get a nice sauce. Set aside.
Take tofu/marinade out of the fridge and strain off marinade. Pat dry tofu with a towel. Sautee tofu slices in small amount of oil for about 5 minutes on each side. Cover and set aside.
Cut up the vegetables. Thinly slice the onions, cut up the broccoli flowers. Cut rhubarb diagonally in 2-3 inches length. If stalks are bigger, cut them in half first.
In a larger pan or wok, heat seasame oil, add rhubarb batons in a single layer and cook for abot 1-2 minutes while stiring to make sure all sides cook well. Make sure you don’t over cook rhubarb, they should be firm and not mushy. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and cook for 1 minute. Take off heat and set aside.
On medium high heat, sauté the sliced onion for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add the brocololi and continue sautéing on medium high heat for about 5 minutes or until it is soft but still crunchy. Add the sauce made earlier. (Quickly whisk, then pour it into the pan). Add the rhubarb (that was set aside from earlier step) and the bamboo shoots and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for three or four minutes. Add the tofu and toss and coat well and cook until the fofu is warm.
Serve on rice with chopped cashew nuts, chopped scallions, cilantro, lime wedges and soy sauce.
I have been making lasagna recently quite a bit. It is not too hot outside yet so I can turn the oven on but we want something on the lighter side too … so this dish seems to fit the bill. Of course, you can make this dish any time of the year. Lasagna is an Italian specialty. Traditionally, it is made with layers of tomato sauce based ragu, cheese and béchamel sauce. In this dish, I replaced the meat with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. I served it with red wine that seemed to compliment it very nicely.
Spinach is a great vegetable for the spring, it is hardy and nourishing for the liver.
Of course, an important part of the lasagna is the pasta. The best is if it is home made but good, high quality packaged pasta will do too.
Also, the cheese is also important. Try to get the best quality you can afford. Honestly, when I was in Italy, the first thing that I noticed was how tasty the cheese was in their dishes. I like to use a mixture of cheeses, here I used fresh mozzarella cheese balls, feta cheese and Parmesan cheese.
I make my own Italian seasoning but of course any store bought mix would work too. I think this is a nicely balanced mixture of spices grown in Italy. They are carefully selected herbs so one herb will not overpower the other. Also, they all are carminative therefore will help with digestion. Historically, we can thank the ancient Greek doctors who added these herbs to dishes so people can get their benefits all year along.
The warming, aromatic oregano is the key ingredient in pasta dishes. I like to use it because it gives a nice, distinctive flavor to Italian dishes. The sweet fennel seeds are acrid and compliment the strong aromatic oregano in the dish. The delicate basil is probably the most loved and popular spice used in Italian cooking. If you can, try to use the fresh plant instead of the dried. Its aromatic flavor is a nice addition to any Italian dish. The pungent chili pepper is not a big part of the Italian cuisine but Italians enjoy adding a little to their pasta dishes. The oregano and the fennel seeds both can offset the heat of some stronger spices.
2 TBSP (6 tsp) dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil or handful of fresh basil
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp hot red pepper or to taste (optional)
Serves 6-8 people
lasagna pasta (I used 10 strips)
10-16oz spinach (frozen is fine too)
4-8 oz chopped up mushrooms
2 slices of bacon (optional)
1/2 cup of tomato sauce + (more for the top and the bottom if needed)
1 cup of Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for the filling, 1/2 cup for the Béchamel sauce)
8oz (100g) fresh mozzarella balls
8 oz (200g) of feta cheese
1 Tbsp of Italian seasoning plus more for the top
handfull of fresh basil leaves (if you have them)
3 cloves of garlic
1 egg, lightly beaten
About 4 oz grated Mozzarella cheese for the top
Bachamel sauce ingredients
5 Tbsp of butter
1/2 cup of flour
2 cups of milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 egg yolks (optional)
Rosso Piceno wine. Bottled by Saladini Pilastri 2018 (optional) It is the best and not expensive!
parsley leaves (chopped)
Start boiling the water for the pasta (omit if your pasta does not need to be boiled).
Preheat the oven to 400F and have the rack in the middle of the oven.
Making the filling: In a pan, sauté bacon (optional) and mushrooms in a little oil for 5-10 minutes. Transfer into a bowl. Meanwhile wash and take stems off the spinach. If using frozen spinach of course no need to do it. Sauté in a little oil and water. Remove and try to drain off water. Chop spinach well and transfer into the bowl. Add mashed feta cheese, tomato sauce, 1 egg, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the Italian seasoning (see recipe above). Mix.
Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard, just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 5 Tbsp of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/2 cup of Gruyere cheese (optional) and 2 egg yolks. Last time I forgot the eggs and the sauce was still fine. So I will add here that it is optional especially if you are already adding cheese. Mix well. I use a double boiler but is not necessary.
Prepare the lasagna pasta according to its directions. If you need to boil the pasta, put it in the boiling water that was started in the first step. Proceed according to its instructions. When done take out of the water and try to make sure they don’t stick to each other. I like to cook the pasta more at the end to prevent sticking. So try to make sure you have everything ready before the pasta is ready so you can start assembling the lasagna.
Assembling the lasagna: Put a thin layer of the béchamel sauce or tomato sauce on the bottom of a 3 Qt size baking dish. (2Qt size will work ok too). Place 1 layer of the pasta strips on the bottom of the pan. Put the filling on top of the pasta, followed by the fresh mozzarella balls (cut up if using the larger balls), pour the béchamel sauce and top it all with another layer of the pasta. Spread some pasta sauce and the shredded mozzarella cheese on the top. Sprinkle some Italian spice on the top.
Turn the oven heat down to 375F and put the lasagna in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown.
Serve hot with a little grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on the top. I really enjoyed a glass of red wine with the dish. I felt like I was in Italy! I would recommend this bottle of red wine if you are looking for one to try (please see details above in Ingredients).
Chana masala is a delicious Indian dish that would be great for the spring. I still vividly remember the first time I had chana masala at a friend’s house. He had us over for dinner when his parents came to visit like 25 years ago. I did not even recognize the chickpeas … I actually thought they were chestnuts. I never got the recipe but his mother gave me some tips. (Thanks to the internet I found this recipe on line and I think it is very close to what we had that night).
Chana means garbanzo beans and is the main ingredient in the dish. IMO it is crucial to prepare these beans properly. I remember our friend’s mother told me to cook the beans for a long time. They should be cooked for 3 hours or you can use a pressure cooker according to its instructions, of course. Cooking for this long will soften the beans and let the flavors come out. So if time is not an issue, I would recommend home cooked chickpeas instead of using the canned ones. The canned beans will not have the same results for sure.
Garam masala is the main spice in the dish. It is not just one spice but is actually a cleverly chosen mixture of a few spices: fennel seeds, star anise, mace, black cardamom. It is nicely balanced so one flavor will not overwhelm the dish. You can blend it yourself or you can just buy it. (I ended up buying it at the store).
This is a common dish that people in India make on a regular basis for lunch or dinner. It has an interesting flavor, taste and texture. It can be made less spicy, if you don’t like spicy dishes, just leave out the green chili. So chana masala is basically a chickpea curry cooked in an onion tomato sauce with the spices. I always wonder how poor people in India get by on very little money and still eat well. This dish might be one of their secrets …
-I doubled the recipe
serves 3-4 people
1 cup of dried chickpeas or 1 (15oz) can
3 cups of water
Ingredients for the tomato sauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil/ghee
2 large onions, finally chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch ginger piece, finally chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2-3/4 TBSP of red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
Ingredients for the chana masala gravy
1 bay leaf
1 inch cinnamon stick (If you double up the recipe, you will not need to add another cinnamon stick)
2-3 clove pieces
3 green cardamom pods without the shells.
1 green chili pepper, chopped (optional)
1-1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
2 pinch mango powder (amchur) (optional)
fenugreek leaves (optional)
Clean and soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours. Pour off soaking liquid. Add fresh cold water and cook for 3 hours. Less for pressure cooker. Save cooking liquid. Omit if using canned beans.
Directions for the tomato sauce
Sauté the onions in oil or ghee until golden. Add the chopped ginger for 1 minute, stir.
Add red chili powder and turmeric. Stir for 1 minute. Add garlic quickly, stir.
Quickly add chopped tomatoes and little salt, stir. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until there is a nice sauce. The onions should not taste raw.
Let this mixture cool. Add 1 tbsp liquid from the beans. Make a thick gravy with a blender. Set aside.
Directions for the Chana masala gravy
Dry heat the spices (cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cardamom, clove) in a pot for 1 minute until you can smell the aroma of the spices. Stir. I grind the cardamom as some people don’t like them in their foods whole.
Pour the blended tomato sauce mixture from the previous step back into the pot, the chopped green chili pepper, coriander and garam masala powders and the spices.
Mix and cook for a few minutes until ingredients are mixed nicely.
Add the cooked chickpeas and the cooking water. You might have to add more water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-6 minutes.
Taste the mixture and see if you need more garam masala. Boil and simmer for 2 more minutes if spices were added.
Take out the larger spices like bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves.
I also added salt here.
Keep it covered until served.
Serve hot with cilantro, yoghurt, lemon, rice, vegetables and roti.
This tasty soup is a fun twist to the regular chili soup. The difference is that the beef is replaced with turkey or chicken and the chili beans are replaced with black beans but otherwise it is very similar to the well known beef chili soup … just even better in our opinions. Of course, you can add all your favorite foods that you would otherwise add to a chili soup.
The biggest change in the recipe is the meat. Many people prefer the lighter turkey or chicken meat. The chicken or turkey is very nice here, the thigh gives more flavor and is cheaper but the breast would work well too.
Maybe it would be more accurate to call this soup black and white chili soup. The white makes sense with the white meat but I used black beans instead of white beans because I think it has more flavor. Of course, you can use either.
EDIT: I decided to make a minor change to the title to better reflect what this soup is all about so I added black bean in the title. I have been calling it the white chili soup for years so I did not even give it much thought when I posted the recipe. I apologize but this will be more accurate otherwise it is still the same tasty soup recipe.
I decided to post this recipe now because beans especially black beans are great in the winter. The warming black beans have a sweet flavor and nourish the kidneys. They are antibacterial, anti-parasitic, detoxifying and have high levels of disease fighting antioxidants, numerous vitamins and minerals, protein and fiber. In addition, it has heart, skin protecting and anti-cancer properties. It also improves digestion and is great for overall health. It is native to the Americas and have been used for thousands of years. No wonder the natives ate it with almost every meal.
I like to make up my own chili spice, please follow the recipe below or you can use whatever you have on hand or buy it in a store already made. It is cheaper if you buy it in bulk vs buying in a jar and has no additives either.
You can experiment with the vegetables of course, I added corn, carrots and green beans. In the summer, I like to add zucchini too. But please feel free to add whatever you would like.
Vegetarian readers might be wondering if this soup could be made vegetarian. The answer is yes! – you can take out the meat and just use vegetarian stock and I also added eggs. I have made it without meat, it is tasty.
Surprise your guests at a party or just treat yourself. Honestly, we believe that this version is even tastier than the original soup.
1 large onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 strips of bacon
1 lb ground chicken or turkey thigh or breast
29 oz canned chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp of tomato paste
5 tsp of chili seasoning (please see recipe below)
2 garlic cloves
3 medium sized carrots, sliced
8 oz corn (frozen)
8 oz vegetables. I used green beans. Also zucchini would be fine
2 cups of uncooked black beans or 28 oz of canned beans
salt and pepper
yellow cheddar cheese
Chili seasoning ingredients
1 Tbsp (3 tsp) chili powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Wash and soak beans in cold water for 8 hours or overnight. Pour off the liquid and wash well. Add cold filtered water and cook for 2 hours or until soft but not falling apart. Omit if using canned beans. The home-made beans are well worth the extra effort though, they taste so much better.
Make the stock. Omit if using ready made stock.
Heat oil in a large pot with a large surface area. Add the chopped onion, celery and the chopped up bacon, sauté for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent and render the bacon.
Add 5 tsp of the chili seasoning, mix. Add the crushed garlic cloves, mix.
Quickly add the tomatoes, stir. Add the tomato pure and stir. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes make a nice sauce.
Add the carrots and enough stock so the liquid covers the soup well. Cook for 1 hour or until the carrots are soft.
Add the corn and the vegetables at the end so they can be cooked for 10-15 minutes.
Add the beans with its liquid and more stock if needed to cover everything.
Hope you all had a lovely Holiday and got to eat lots of delicious food. Now I feel that it would be nice to eat something refreshing, more cleansing though … and turnip is a tasty vegetable that could be used. I always think of the Russian folk tale, The Giant Turnip when I hear the name, turnip. Also, the Russians have many sayings that include the word turnip like “this turnip seems to be as sweet as an apple for us” (“Нам и репка за яблочко кажет”) means that people do not need a lot of wealth to be happy. In fact, turnip is an important staple in the Northern countries like Russia. So let’s go to Russia and get their famous recipe for stuffed turnip.
This is a very simple dish at its best. The main ingredients are the nutty buckwheat, the earthy mushrooms and the pungent turnips that mainly create this special dish. There are no exotic ingredients or spices. Honestly, I only used thyme, salt and pepper to flavor.
I got this recipe from a website called http://www.Russianrecipebook.com but I made some minor changes. I cooked the buckwheat in stock instead of just water. I also reduced the amount of the mushrooms in my recipe. In addition, when cooking, you need to be careful with the turnips as they cook fast. They need to be boiled for only about 10-12 minutes to get the right consistency. Otherwise, it is a very easy and quick recipe. This dish is more like the everyday people’s food. I also like to make the stuffing with 1 cup of buckwheat (rest of the ingredients should be adjusted) so I can have some on the side as well.
Wonder if we had cooked tasty dishes like this in my Russian classes, I would speak Russian now …
Turnips have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. A cold climate loving vegetable, it is native to Northern Europe and is still popular today. Turnips have many beneficial properties. They are great source of vitamins, minerals, anti oxidants and fiber and may be used among others for indigestion, detoxification, diabetes, jaundice. In Chinese Medicine, they have a neutral thermal nature and have pungent, sweet and bitter flavor at the same time. They are considered to be useful for their dispersing abilities in lung ailments; however, this quality is only available in its raw form. They are also used for improving circulation and remove damp conditions in the body. The green top is also valuable.
Serves about 2-4 people. – I cooked 1 cup of raw buckwheat to have some on the side (adjust other ingredients accordingly).
4 smaller-sized turnips or less if bigger
4 oz fresh mushrooms (I used crimini)
1/4 cup uncooked buckwheat (1/2 cup of cooked buckwheat)
1/2 cup of bone or vegetable broth or water
1/8 cup shallots or half of a small onion (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated cheese (mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, or parmesan for extra flavor)
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil and/or butter
1 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme (optional)
Preparing the buckwheat
Clean buckwheat kernels and soak for a couple hours.
In a medium sized pot start boiling the stock or water. Add them to the boiling liquid and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until they are soft but not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preparing the turnips
Clean well and peel the turnips. Boil them for about 10-12 minutes or until they are just soft enough to scoop out the insides. The bigger ones will take more time. This is the most difficult part of the recipe. You really need to keep an eye on those turnips, they should be somewhere slightly cooked. Try not to overcook them. When done, take out turnips and let them cool. You can put them in cold water.
Cut off enough of the bottoms to create a flat surface that will allow them to stand upright on a baking sheet. Save the cut portion. With a spoon and/or a small knife, scoop some of the flesh out of the top end to form a cup. Save the scooped flesh as well, they are so tasty. (You can scoop the inside of the turnip out with a watermelon scooper or a measuring spoon).
Preapring the stuffing.
Sautee the onions or shallots in some oil for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile thoroughly clean the mushrooms and chop them up. Add them to the onions and continue to sauté them for about 10 more minutes or longer for some wild mushrooms and then let them cool.
Add the cooked buckwheat, bread crumbs, grated cheese and the saved chopped turnip pieces. Mix well. I would like to invite you to take a bite of the stuffing, it is so delicious.
Stuffing the turnips
Preheat oven to 375°F.
On a well-greased baking sheet, arrange the turnips in an upright position with the scooped-out wider portions facing up (like cups). (I used tomato sauce for the bottom of the pan). Fill the turnips with stuffing. Ideally the stuffing should heap above the surface of the turnips, although this will depend on the size of the turnips, and the amount of stuffing.
Put a small piece of butter on top of each turnip and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, until the turnips are heated through and crusty on top. The turnips should not be raw but nicely baked. If it is still raw, just bake it a little longer.
Mushroom sauce recipe
4 ounces of mushrooms
1 tsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp dried sage or 2 fresh leaves
1/4 tsp of dried rosemary crushed or 1 fresh spring
1 Tbsp oil
1 cup of stock
1/4 cup of creme
While the stuffed turnip is baking, prepare the mushroom sauce. In a saucepan, warm oil over medium heat, add rosemary for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and mushrooms are well browned. Stir frequently. Add thyme, sage and let cook for one minute. Add stock, stir, and let simmer for 10 minutes and reduce heat to low.
Transfer half of gravy to a blender and puree until completely smooth. Add pureed mushrooms back into mushroom mixture and stir. See if you like the consistency. If not thick enough, puree a little more of the mixture.
Serve turnips hot, with sour cream and mushroom sauce. Decorate with parsley. I also made additional stuffing to serve on the side.
I love this savory dish … it has a lot of the quintessential foods that I enjoy eating in the fall. The tasty squash is filled with rice, lentils and fall vegetables and all mixed in the melted cheese. It is wonderfully aromatic and tasty.
Squash is one of the main foods in the fall. We are so lucky to have all these different varieties available in the US. They are sweet and have a neutral flavor that make them ideal to accompany fall dishes.
Squashes are native to the Mexico region and may have been around for 10,000 years. They tend to be high in natural sugars, carbohydrates and vitamin A. In general, they all are mildly sweet, have a luscious nutty flavor and have a creamy texture but each variety comes with a unique characteristics and with different vitamin and mineral contents.
Ancient Chinese Medicine considers them to be highly nourishing and warming for the digestive system, anti-inflammatory and help move the Qi, the life force in our body. If we talk about squash we have to mention its seeds as they are equally valuable for health. They are rich in heart friendly dietary fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, and in addition, protein, minerals, and vitamins. They contain tryptophan that is responsible for increased motor decision speed and blood sugar regulating effect. The seeds are also used for remedying intestinal worm problems. They can be roasted in the oven on low heat at 250 F.
Serves 4 people
2 medium sized squash (Choose squash that has a firm outer shell with a scoop friendly inside like acorn, delicata, carneval, sweet dumpling).
1 cup of uncooked wild rice (rice will work too). Wild harvested preferred.
3 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)
1/3 cup of shallots, finally chopped
vegetable oil (sunflower)
handful of earthy mushrooms (crimini, shitake, portabello)
1 celery stalk
1 slice of bacon (optional)
couple of fresh thyme sprigs or 1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup of uncooked lentils
1/4 dried cranberries or raisins
2 Tbsp of chopped pecans
100g or 4 oz of feta cheese
1/2 cup of hard cheese like gruyere or parmesan cheese and more for the top
salt and pepper to taste
red hot pepper (I just used a little piece)
little freshly ground nutmeg
Turn oven on to 375 F (190 C). Bake cleaned squash on a baking sheet for 40-60 minutes or until you can easily put the blade of a knife through the flesh of the squash. When done cut in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds can be saved and roasted.
Clean and soak lentils for an hour. Place lentils in a medium pot, add water, thyme spring and bay leaves. Cook for about 45-60 minutes or until they are done, soft but not mushy. When done let it sit in its steam and add more water if needed. Add salt.
Heat the oil on medium high heat. Sautee the shallots for 5 minutes. Then add the sliced bacon, sliced celery for 5 more minutes, stir frequently. Add 1 cup of wild rice, 3 cups of stock, sliced mushrooms, thyme and bring to a boil, stir and simmer over low heat with lid partially closed for a 35-55 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender.
If using regular rice, cook rice seperate, follow the cooking directions for the rice of your choice. Prepare the vegetables as written above. When ready combine.
Set oven to 375F (190 C). In a bowl mix the lentils and the rice mixture. Add the feta crumbles and and the hard cheese. Add the salt, pepper, hot red pepper and freshly graded nutmeg to taste. Mix. Also you can sprinkle salt, nutmeg and pepper inside the squash. Put the stuffing in the inside of the squash. Sprinkle the top with cheese and bake them in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Serve with other vegetables brussel sprouts, beets, cranberry sauce etc.
If you have left over rice, feel free to serve with the meal.
Brussel sprout recipe
1 lb of brussel sprouts
1/2 cup of stock (vegetable or chicken)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat up some oil in a frying pan. Wash and clean the brussel sprouts, cutting off the ends and yellowish leaves. Cut them into halves. Brown the brussel sprouts for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked but not mushy. Actually brussel sprouts need to be more firm so keep an eye on them. Remove and place into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Enjoy this delicious and easy vegetarian eggplant dish. The eggplants are browned and cooked briskly with some tomatoes, pungent spices, onions and garbanzo beans and then served with rice/couscous and yoghurt sauce. It is not exactly the perfect fall dish but I still had some eggplants and the weather is still more summery this week. I also added sweet mama squash that complemented the dish nicely and made it more suitable for this ‘going from the summer into the fall’ time period. With the warming spices and the baked squash, it will be a great meal for the entire week. Not only that it suits the weather but it is delicious … honestly my family can’t get enough of it. I might have to go back to the farmers’ market tomorrow to get more eggplants.
Garbanzo beans. Soak overnight and cook them for 3 hours. You can use a pressure cooker. They need to be cooked slowly for a long time until they are nice and soft. They can take up liquid after they are cooked so add more water if needed. Add 1 tsp salt when done.
Preparing the eggplants. Wash and cut eggplants into cubes. Salt them and put them into a colander for 30 minutes to let the liquid drain. Pat dry.
Frying the eggplants. In a wide skillet, on medium low heat, slowly brown the eggplants in some olive oil for about 20- 30 minutes or until soft. They will not cook any more so make sure they are soft and well cooked before you add it to the sauce. Stir frequently. Make sure they don’t burn. Set aside.
Caramelize the onions. Brown the sliced onions in a separate dish in oil with care, it takes about 30 minutes. Stir frequently. Set aside.
Making the sauce. Crumple the saffron between your thumb and index finger and add hot liquid, stir well (optional). Otherwise you can just put whole saffron strains in the dish. Set aside. On medium high heat warm up 1 Tbsp oil and add the ginger for 5 minutes. Then add the paprika, cumin, garlic and stir for 1 minute to activate the spices. Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir well. You can add a little water here too. Cook the tomatoes for about 5 minutes until they have become ‘saucy’. Add the saffron, cinnamon stick, freshly graded nutmeg and hot pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Cook for 10 minutes on low medium heat. Add a little water if needed. Add the browned onions, eggplants and garbanzo beans from eariler. Cook for 5 more minutes covered. Let the dish sit for 15 minutes so the flavors can come together. Take out the cinnamon stick and the hot pepper pieces. Add salt and pepper or anything else that needs to be adjusted.
Serve with cilantro, rice or couscous and yoghurt sauce. I also added some baked sweet mama squash slivers and they nicely complemented each other.
Warm up to the fall with this delicious squash soup. My recipe is made with a little Midwestern twist. I added wild rice, a Midwestern staple but it can be served with some hearty bread like rye bread instead. I enjoy squashes in all shapes and forms. Many of us think of squash when we hear the word fall cooking so I will start off my fall recipe collection with a squash dish.
As the fall season is arriving, I feel like a little squirrel trying to get ready for the colder months: eating the great variety of fruits and vegetables, storing up foods, making last minute repairs and just mentally getting ready. By now we are aware that summer is gone and a new season is coming with all its beauty and challenges. It was the Autumnal Equinox a couple of days ago, when the days and nights are equal and from now on the days are going to get shorter and colder as well.
The warming sweet butternut squash is simmered with the white onion, garlic, potatoes and is balanced with the bitter celery root and the lovely pungent spices. At the end, it is topped with cream and the sweet almond slivers for a bit of crunchiness.
1 medium sized butternut squash- about 3 lbs
1 medium sized Russet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 finally chopped large onion, white is the best
vegetable oil (sunflower)
2 slices of smoked bacon (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, about 1 inch long
1 tsp paprika powder
1 smaller celery root, peeled and chopped up into 4 pieces
stock (vegetable or chicken)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 thyme spring
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 cup of heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
red hot pepper to taste
1 cup of almond slivers
1 cup of uncooked wild rice or rye bread to serve
Preparing the squash. Peel and cut squash lengthwise, take out the seeds. Cut them into cubes. Warm up some oil on medium high heat and brown the cubes for a good 10-15 minutes.
Make the soup base. Have 1/2 cup of cold water ready. Warm up the oil. Sauté the onion, and the bacon(optional). When translucent and you can smell the aroma of the the onions and the bacon, add the chopped ginger for a few minutes, stir. Add the crushed garlic and 1 tsp paprika, stir for 30 seconds to activate. Add the little cold water that you had set aside earlier, stir.
Put the browned squash, potatoes, thyme spring, the freshly ground nutmeg and the celery root in the pot. Add the stock, enough to cover by about 1 inch above everything and cook for 30 minutes.
Cooking the wild rice (optional). Cook 1 cup of wild rice with 3 cups of water, partially covered for about 20 minutes or until the rice is soft and crunchy.
Roast the almond slivers. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet and spread the almond pieces evenly on the sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn it. Serve on top of the soup.
When ready, let the soup cool for about 10-20 minutes. Add the cream and black pepper. Stir.
If you want the soup to be a little chunky, set aside about 20% of the cooked squash pieces. Use a hand held blender and puree the rest of the soup. Make sure you blend the celery chunks. Transfer the whole pieces back to the rest of the pureed soup. (If you prefer a smooth soup, just puree everything).
Check to see if more salt, black pepper, red hot pepper are needed.
Serve with wild rice/bread and the almond slivers.
I am excited to present my new recipe the Vegetarian moussaka. It is a vegetarian dish but is not only for vegetarians! I have to admit I was a bit nervous before I started experimenting but it was a fun challenge at the same time. I really like how nicely the soft polenta works with all the other ingredients.
We are going to venture into Europe again on our virtual journey. We think of Greece when we hear the word Moussaka but most likely it originated somewhere in the Middle East. It is a popular dish across all the Balkan countries and can be easily made in the Midwest of the United States. Well, I have to admit I have never been to Greece or the Middle East for that matter but have eaten traditional Moussaka before in Croatia… and it is mouth watering.
When we were in Croatia we happened upon this fabulous dish in Pula at the restaurant Konoba Bocaporta. It sounded really interesting so my husband and I both had to try it, while the kids ate something with seafood from the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t have the recipe but I tried to recreate it here at home. I still feel the flavors in my mouth, I hope you will like it as much as I did.
It is a complete vegetarian dish and all the ingredients seem to work well together. Often when meat is taken out of a dish, the substance and the flavors are removed as well, so when I created the recipe, I tried to make sure that the substance and the flavors were both kept. The meat is replaced with the lentils, mushrooms and the cheese. I replaced the potatoes with the polenta because they work well with the other ingredients. Mushrooms are traditionally used with polenta and they complement each other nicely … and everything is pulled together with the fragrant spices of the region.
This recipe can easily be made gluten free. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use the yoghurt sauce. This is a pretty authentic replacement as Croatians use a yoghurt sauce for the top. Béchamel sauce is not Greek but is in fact French. The Béchamel sauce was added to Moussaka by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis in the 1920’s when he was trying to Europeanize Greek cuisine. I actually use this yogurt sauce quite regularly to make simple lentil dishes but the Béchamel sauce is a nice treat for sure.
FUN FACT: One thing all the countries in the Balkan region agree on is that Moussaka is a fabulous dish.
I developed this recipe so if you would like to post it you will have to contact the author at twincitiesherbs.com.
Serves 4-6 people
high quality olive oil
1 medium size eggplant
lots of garlic
1 tomato- canned is fine
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp oregano
4-8 oz of mushrooms – Portobello mushrooms or any heavier, earthier tasting mushrooms but regular white button or crimini mushrooms would work nicely too
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups of hard cheeses: I used 1 cup gruyere and 1 cup parmesan
1/2 cup of polenta grits
1/2 cup water
1.5 cup of stock or you can use water with bullion of your choice. ( The chicken stock will give a nice flavor but if you don’t want to use meat, add some bullion).
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup of uncooked lentils
red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of butter ( 1 stick)
2 cups of milk
2 egg yolk
3 fresh springs of thyme
freshly ground black pepper
yoghurt (important part of the dish)
Quick overview of the ingredients as a group
Lentils: 1/2 cup of uncooked lentils, oil, 1 large tomato, 1 Tbsp of tomato paste, 1.5 cups of chicken stock or water, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp paprika, bay leaves, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp all spice, smaller stick of cinnamon (about 1 inch), 1 fresh thyme spring, 1 tsp salt and red pepper flakes (optional).
Polenta: 1/2 cup of polenta (corn grits), 1.5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or water+bullion, + 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 thyme spring, 1 cup of hard cheese ( 1/2 cup of greyere, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese), 1 Tbsp butter and 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Mushrooms: Portobello mushrooms or equivalent, oil, crushed garlic and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.
Eggplants: 1 medium sized eggplants, 1/4 cup of tomatoes sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp oregano, salt and black pepper.
Béchamel sauce: 1/4 cup of butter, 1 /2 cup of flour, 2 cups of warm milk, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and ground pepper, 1 thyme spring.
Yoghurt sauce in place of Béchamel sauce: 1.5 cups of yoghurt, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 garlic clove, cucumber slices.
Wash the polenta removing any foreign particles. Soak in water for a few hours.
Wash 1/2 cup of lentils and soak for a few hours hours.
Cooking the lentils. Remove soaking liquid and add 1.5 cups cold water or stock. Cook for 1 hour or until lentils are soft. Take off heat and let lentils stay in covered pot for about 20-30 minutes so they can soak up more liquid. Add more liquid if needed. Drain before adding to the polenta. Set aside.
Prepare the sauce for the lentils. Chop up 1 large tomato. Warm up some oil, when warm sautee the onion for 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp oregano, fresh thyme springs, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp all spice and the crushed garlic. Stir well and quickly add the 1 chopped tomato and 1 Tbsp tomato paste. Cook until tomatoes become ‘saucy’. Add cinamon stick. Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium heat. Cook for 10 more mintes.
Drain the water off the lentils and add the cooked lentils to the tomato sauce. Take out all the larger spice pieces. Set aside.
Preparing the eggplant. Slice the eggplants and pan fry them. Please, check my previous recipe Eggplant Parmesan for directions. (You can also bake the eggplants in the oven if you prefer). Set aside.
Preparing the polenta. Pour water off the corn grits and add 1/2 water, stir. Bring 1.5 cups of liquid to a boil. Add the polentawith added water slowly while stirring constantly. Add 1 thyme spring and cook for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is creamy. Stir frequently because it can burn easily. When done add 1 Tbsp butter, 1tsp salt, cheese, thyme and stir. Set aside.
Preparing the mushrooms. Slice up mushrooms. Warm up some oil and sauté the mushrooms until soft. At the end, add a little crushed garlic, freshly ground pepper and 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Stir and turn off heat. Set aside.
Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 1 stick of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grade some nutmeg. Add 1/4 cup of Gruyere cheese, thyme, salt and 2 egg yolks. Mix well. Set aside.
Yoghurt sauce in place of the Bechamel sauce. This recipe can easily be made gluten free if you you prefer. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use 3 cups of yogurt, 3 lightly beaten eggs, garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2-1 cup cheese.
Mix the polenta and the lentils. I believe they will taste better together.
See if you need to add salt, red hot pepper and black pepper to any of the dishes.
From here, everything is easy! Preheat oven to 350 F. I used a 2QT size baking dish (8×11.5×2 in). Coat the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Start layering: polenta with the lentils, mushrooms, eggplants, the béchamel sauce or the gluten free yoghurt sauce and parmesan/Gruyere cheese on the top. Put the dish into the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Wait for at least 1 hour to let the flavors melt into each other. The dish should not be runny so you might have to wait longer until it sets.
Serve hot with yogurt sauce, scallions, parsley.
Seasonings, seasoning and seasoning!!!! This dish needs a lot of seasoning and salt added. Don’t be alarmed when you see the amounts.
The smaller portobello mushrooms are nicer … they are easier to cook and will be tastier in the meal. The crimini mushrooms are very nice too.
Also I find the smaller/medium sized eggplants are easier to cut and are tastier in the dish as well.
This is not a quick dish, it takes a long time to make like any casserole dish but it is not difficult. It is usually made for occasions because of the complexity of the dish but you can treat yourself/family/friends to it anytime.
This is my version but please feel free to experiment and let me know what you did. If you post it, please reference this blog.