Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another VBF: Dill

So here's another summer green that's seriously good for you, mighty tasty, and perfect for favorite summertime foods that are health enhancing: dill.  It looks airy fairy but it's tough and powerfully nutritious. It is surprisingly rich in critical calcium, iron, and manganese. It ranks high with sulfurous garlic as a bacteria regulator that won't let the bad ones win, and it's at the top of the antioxidant cancer cell killer list.  Its name comes from the old Norse word dilla which means "to lull," reflecting dill's traditional uses as a stomach soother and  insomnia reliever. In other words, you get more than a lot of bang for the buck you spend on a bunch. So get some dill: your life could depend on it.

Traditionally dill is used to flavor beets, salmon and potatoes because it's native to southern Russia and grows in the cold of Scandinavia where those foods also abound. It's now equally popular in Greece and Turkey especially for stuffed grape leaves and tsatsiki, the local raita.

Here are a few other deliciously easy ways to get dill into your diet right now.

 Leek Soup with Feta and Dill
This is a popular home cooked dish in Turkey

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 med/lg leeks trimmed, chopped and washed
1 med red onion, peeled and diced
2½ cups vegetable broth or water
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
1 cup milk
½ tsp salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. fresh feta, crumbled
Smoked paprika or ground chipotle chili powder or paprika for garnish

Heat oil and butter in a heavy pot over med heat. Add leeks and onions. Sauté them until soft, about 10 minutes. 
 Add 2/3 of the dill and broth or water. Blend all ingredients. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. 
 Cool slightly and puree soup. Add milk, remaining dill, salt and pepper. Heat on simmer until warm. Do not boil.
 Ladle into serving bowls. Top each with crumbled feta and paprika or chili. You can also add any extra dill fronds or minced flat leaf parsley.
GERMAN CUCUMBER SALAD for 4 (This is in How to Fix a Leek...the book)
1 lg. or 3 sm. cucumbers                 1 red onion, thinly sliced in rings
3 tbsp. oil                                          2 tbsp. freshly chopped dill
5 tbsp. vinegar                                 Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sugar

Using a mandolin or the slicer side of a handheld grater, very thinly slice cucumbers into a glass or ceramic serving bowl. Cut the onion rings in half and add. Season the vegetables with salt and fresh black pepper to your taste. Combine oil, vinegar and sugar and dress the salad, stirring to blend.  Stir in the dill.  Chill covered at least 2 hours before serving. (You can make this in the morning for dinner.)

Cabbage Crisp
This recipe of mine is in the book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. It's two colors of cabbage combined with sourcream, dill and other soft spices into a pie topped with Kashi. Perfect for summer lunch or brunch. Just as perfect beside grilled fish or chicken.
Carrots with Dill and Ginger, Indian style
for 4
Peel and thinly slice 4 large or 6 smaller carrots into disks. Grate or mince 1/2" piece fresh peeled ginger. Mince one green chili.
In a medium skillet, heat 1/4 c corn or sunflower or other vegetable (not olive) oil over medium flame. Add 1 tsp ground cumin or 1/2 tsp cumin seed, ginger and minced chili. Sauté 1-2 minutes until fragrant and add carrots, 1 tsp ground coriander and 1/4 tsp ground turmeric. Stir. Sauté about 2 minutes. Add salt to your taste and 2/3 c or 1/2 bunch chopped dill fronds. Cover, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes or until carrots are tender to a fork. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and serve with a light sprinkle of freshly chopped dill.  Optionally also a sprinkle of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
GREEK STYLE FAVA BEANS for 4-6 (This is in How to Fix a Leek...the book)
3 lbs fava beans                    1 tsp sugar
6 scallions, sliced thin            1/4 cup chopped dill
1 cup olive oil                         4 oz thick yogurt
Salt and black pepper            hot water

Shell beans, wash and drain. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm oil and sauté scallions until soft, 60-90 seconds. Add beans, salt to your taste, pepper, sugar, dill and just enough hot water to barely cover everything. Cover and cook until beans are tender and water has almost evaporated. Pour into a serving bowl and top with yogurt.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs 
This is something I made up that's been wildly popular. Figure 1 egg per person because people are gonna love it. Hard boil and peel the eggs, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the yolks. Put them in a bowl and for every 4 eggs add 2 scallions minced or 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives, 1 tsp drained capers, 1 1/2 slice smoked salmon cut into bits, 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill, 1/4-1/2 tsp prepared horseradish to your taste, salt and pepper to your taste and finally 1 or if needed 2 tbsp whipped cream cheese or cream fraiche or even sour cream to bind everything. Fill the eggs enough to cover the whites entirely and sprinkle chopped dill on top. Serve on a platter with cherry tomatoes. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Your New Best Friends

Here's to herbs, the greens of summertime. Forget that fey sprig of parsley desultorily garnishing your plate and go full tilt green: chop half the bunch into your salad or main dish. You'll be rewarded with color, zip and memorable flavor.  Farmers' markets have gone green with parsley, mint, cilantro, basil--the surprisingly nutrient rich, tasty greens Mother Nature wants us to eat right now.

It's sharp, cooling flavor is a burst of freshness in summer heat or beside a hot spicy dish that's making you sweat. It brightens fruit salads and yogurt, adds zest to ice tea and zing to make salads special. It's got hard to find manganese, copper and vitamin C. It seems to kill bad gut bacteria and definitely calms a queasy stomach. It's thought to aid breathing for asthmatics.

You can chop mint into Greek yogurt with minced cucumbers, salt, pepper, a minced clove of garlic and a squirt of lemon juice to get a cooling condiment or side dish known is South Asia as raita.

Back in May I posted a terrific recipe for a fresh pea and mint "hummus" that makes a perfect crostini with a dollop of soft goat cheese on top.

One of my favorite summer salads for 4 right now is 4 large handfuls of arugula, 4 fresh dates pitted and chopped, a large and firm black plum pitted and sliced thin, 4 scallions diced, 1 tbsp chopped walnuts, 2 salad turnips quartered and sliced thin for crunch, 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan and 1 tsp minced fresh mint leaves--all tossed together. Dress with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp good fruity olive oil, a small garlic clove smashed, salt and pepper. (Use only as much dressing as you like.)

Last March in Nepal I learned to make a delightfully tasty sauce that surprises the tongue by chopping together a bunch of mint, a bunch of cilantro, a small green chili pepper, sea salt and black pepper. In Nepal this was thinned into a sauce with water; I've been using olive oil. That turns this into a fantastic dip for, say, roasted baby new potatoes or fresh baby carrots or skewers of grilled zucchini and eggplant; a terrific sauce to put over roasted soy beans or roasted eggplants, even pasta when it's a side dish for grilled meat.

Raw parsley is a natural breath freshener because it neutralizes stomach acids. It’s high in iron and vitamin A, folic acid and Vitamin C so it should be high on your list of everyday food.

Parsley is the essence of Green Sauce used in Europe on mussels and chicken: recipe is in How to Fix a Leek...the book.  Parsley is also the essence of Middle Eastern Tabouli: properly made tabouli should have as much parsley as bulgur.  Parsley should provide a really green backdrop for those chopped tomatoes because this dish was originally created to cool and water the body in the sweaty heat of summertime.

Parsley's also the essence of the beloved South American sauce known as chimichurri. Put this together in a bowl and serve with your grilled steak to make it heavenly: 1 c chopped parsley, 2/3 c good olive oil, 1/3 c fresh lemon juice, 2 tbsp minced fresh garlic, 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste.

One of the easiest tastiest summer salads/antipastos I know is Italian Tuna Bean Salad that can quickly be made by opening cans: a 7 oz can of olive oil packed tuna and a 13 oz can white/cannellini beans drained.  Combine them in a bowl with a half bunch of fresh parsley chopped (about 1 cup) and a small red onion minced. Add salt, pepper and optionally a tbsp capers.  Dress with the juice of 1 lemon and fruity olive oil and dig in.

Often called Chinese or Mexican parsley, this peppery herb will put kick into anything you want to serve. I've taken to chopping the leaves right into lettuce salads to add unexpected zip that perks the taste buds.  (See earlier post for American Fattoush.) I also use it instead of basil to make a southwestern flavored ratatouille, substituting a red bell pepper for the green and yellow squash for zucchini. A full recipe is in my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking available at bookstores or via Amazon or as an e-book.

Cilantro makes a powerfully peppery pesto. The people in Mongolia went wild for it on spaghetti. I've had it stuffed into memorable ravioli.  Just substitute cilantro for basil in any pesto recipe. Sometimes I also substitute toasted sunflower seeds for pine nets just to do something different--and cheaper. You can freeze pesto although the garlic flavor will disappear so when you thaw, add garlic.

See the mint section above for another cilantro sauce.
And finally here's a Moroccan cilantro mix that's divine for baking fish or roasting chicken parts:
for 4, mix together 2  bunches cilantro roughly chopped, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 2 smashed and minced large garlic cloves, 1 serrano chili minced, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 2 tbsp paprika, 1/2 c olive oil and the juice of a large lime. (I actually pile everything into a food processor and zzz quickly.) Slather this all over a thick piece of white fish or chicken parts. Let them sit an hour on the counter or overnight in the fridge. Bake the fish at 400º 12-15 minutes; the chicken 30.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Zucchini: what to do with it all

The name, zucchini--a plural, says it all: there's always lots of this squash when summer comes. But that's okay because there's lots of tasty ways to enjoy it. And here are a few:

1. Zucchini Pie
This is in How to Fix a Leek....the book; it's fast, easy and so delicious it's probably the most requested recipe I have.

2. Mexican Zucchini Strata
This is more complicated and time consuming but not hard at all and very inexpensive while glamorous. The components can be made ahead and assembled to bake just before supper. It's a super vegetarian main dish with, say, a side of tomato salad.

Serves 6-8

3 medium/lg zucchini (1½ lbs)
  tbsp corn meal
2½ tbsp butter
6 oz shredded cheese (Jack, Muenster or Mozzarella, like that) room temp.
3 large eggs, separated,
¼ tsp salt
4 Poblano peppers
1 medium onion
3-4 tbsp corn or olive oil
2 lg or 3 medium ripe tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
½ tsp sea salt
pinch of cinnamon

Heat oven to 350º. Use ½ tbsp butter to butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle on the corn meal

Core and seed the Poblano peppers, then slice them into ½” wide strips that aren’t longer than 3”.

Slice the onion into the thinnest rings possible.

Heat the oil in a small covered skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, lower heat slightly and cook without browning 3 minutes or until onions start to soften.  Add peppers and continue cooking another 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time so nothing sticks.

While this is happening, puree the raw tomatoes (skins on is okay) and garlic.
Add to the pepper pan with the sea salt and continue to cook over medium low heat about 15-20 minutes until the sauce is not watery. Cool as much as possible.

While this is happening, slice the zucchinis as thinly as you can. Put them in a pot of boiling salted water and cook until just tender, maybe 3-4 minutes. Do not get them soft or mushy. Drain well and cool as much as possible.

Whip the egg whites into very stiff peaks. Add ¼ tsp salt and then the egg yolks, one by one, beating to keep the whites stiff. 

Cut 2 tbsp butter into tiny bits.

To assemble the strata or layers:
Make an even layer of zucchini on top of the cornmeal.
Cover this with ½ the tomato pepper sauce.
Cover this with 2 oz, or 1/3, of the cheese.
Cover this with 1/3 of the beaten eggs.
Sprinkle a few butter bits on top.

Repeat this format one more time.

For the third layer:
Make a layer of zucchini.
Cover this with the remaining egg mixture.
Sprinkle on the remaining butter bits.
Top with the remaining 2 0z cheese.
Sprinkle the top very very lightly with cinnamon.

Bake at 350º about 30 minutes until the eggs are set, the cheese is melted and the top is nicely browned.  Eat right away.

3. Indian Aloo Dum with Zucchini instead of peas
This pairs the squash with spices it doesn't normally hang out with.
Serves 2-3
1 lb potatoes, diced into large bite sized pieces, 
2 tbsp corn, mustard, canola oil
2 fat cloves of garlic, smashed and finely chopped,
1 onion, thinly sliced,
1 red chili, finely sliced, or a pinch of chili powder,
½ tsp ground turmeric,
1 tsp ground cumin,
Pinch of salt,
1 1/2 -2/3 c chopped tomatoes
1 large or 2 small zucchini, quartered and chopped
Few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped for garnish

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they just start to resist a fork; don't cook until totally soft.  Drain.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic and potatoes. Add spices and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes until onions are soft and potatoes start to brown.  Add zucchini and tomatoes and simmer for 15 min. 

Garnish with finely chopped coriander. Add a dollop of plain yoghurt if you want to cool the chili down.

4. Ratatouille southwestern style
 The standard French version is made with basil, parsley and green bell peppers and no heat.

Serves 6-8

1 lb firm eggplant (any kind will work except the small Thai egg-like eggplant)
1 lg Poblano or pasilla pepper, roasted* and skinned
3 lg tomatillos, roasted*
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp cracked or freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Optional: pinch ground chipotle pepper (for smoky flavor)
1 lg red onion peeled and cut into thin disks
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground coriander
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 lb zucchini, cut into thin disks
1/4 lb yellow or crookneck squash, cut into ¼” thick disks
1¼ cup chopped tomatoes with juices (boxed is okay)

*Roasting here means in an oven at 450º  for 10 minutes (less time in the smaller toaster oven) until the skin cracks and starts to char.

Wash the eggplant.  Slice it into thin disks and if the disks are much larger in diameter than 1”, which they will be from the common bulbous eggplant, cut the disks in half.  Place on a baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with ¼ tsp salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. Cover and roast at 425º for 10 minutes.

Seed the pepper and cut into thin strips. Cut extra long strips into 2” lengths.

In a medium heavy gauge casserole or large saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat.  Add black pepper, ½ tsp oregano, optional ground chipotle and bay leaf. Sauté 30 seconds.

Add onion disks in a layer and top with garlic, poblano and red peppers. Do not stir. Continue to sauté 3-5 minutes until onions are soft. Sprinkle 1 tbsp chopped cilantro on top.

Lower heat to simmer. Add eggplant as a layer. (Pieces might be two deep if the pot is not wide.) Sprinkle on ½ tsp oregano, ground coriander and ¼ tsp salt. Add 2 tbsp chopped cilantro. Cover pot and simmer 2-3 minutes.

Add a layer of zucchini, then zucchini and yellow squash and half the remaining chopped cilantro. Pour tomatoes into the pot. Sprinkle ¼ tsp salt over the top layer. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the squash starts to soften.

Slice roasted tomatillos into thin disks or any small pieces you can manage. Add to the pot as the top layer. Cover and simmer 3-5 minutes until the squash is soft (not mushy) and the juices are bubbling. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf. Add remaining salt if desired.

Serve hot, at room temperature or cold, garnished with the remaining chopped cilantro leaves.

 5. Zucchini Au Gratin (a Mousse)
This pairs zucchini with dill and nutmeg.
6 med zucchini, grated
3 tbsp unsalted butter
5 scallions, minced
1/4 c fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to your taste
2/3 cup sour cream
4 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese

 Preheat oven to 375º.
Steam zucchini 10 min to soften. Drain carefully and pat dry with a towel.
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet. Sauté scallions over medium heat until soft. Stir in zucchini, parsley, dill, nutmeg, salt, pepper and sour cream. Cook 4-5 minutes.

Lightly oil (olive oil) a 1 1/2 qt casserole or baking dish and spoon the zucchini mixture into it, leveling. Top with the breadcrumbs, then cheese, then 2 tbsp butter in bits. (At this point you can tightly wrap and freeze this for later, say, in winter.) Bake at 375º 30 min.(If frozen, do not thaw: bake at 375º 75  min) Then place under broiler 3-4 min to brown top. Serve hot.

6. Pasta Sauce
Use spinach pasta for a delightful color effect.

You don't have to measure too carefully to make this.
Coat the bottom of a heavy gauge pot with olive oil and 1 tbsp for the pot. Heat on medium.
Toss in 1 purple onion finely diced, 1 tsp dried oregano, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sauté this over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add 3 smashed and minced garlic cloves, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley and about 2 large zucchini quartered and chopped. Cover pot and cook over med/low heat until the zucchini is soft, maybe 15 minutes. Stir occasionally and add olive oil by the tbsp if the pot is drying up.  When everything is soft, pour the pot contents into a processor or use an immersion blender and puree. Now season heavily with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt and 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Serve over any form of spinach pasta with a handful of toasted pine nuts, a drizzle of fruity olive oil and a tbsp per person of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Optionally, you can toss in warm chopped pimento at serving time to add tantalizing bright red color.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Last word on the roots of summer: Japanese style vegetarian soup

Summer Roots and Noodle soup
About those Hakurei/salad/Tokyo turnips and scallions, I forgot to mention an easy, tasty, change of pace summer soup you can make of them.  And quickly thanks to Trader Joe's Miso Ginger Broth. I get this boiling and then toss in 2 turnips chopped into quarters and sliced into little pieces, 3 small carrots peeled and thinly sliced, 4 scallions diced and a slice of ginger grated. When I can find burdock root--a blood purifier, I peel and thinly slice it and throw it in too because this is a Japanese style soup and they use burdock root.  Add a tbsp Tamari or soy sauce, reduce heat to low and let cook until the roots are soft, about 12 minutes.  Now if you have any other veggies on hand, like say a few extra shelling peas or broccoli florets, or a few extra greens like kale, spinach or broccoli rabe, toss them in now and cook another 3 minutes. (Also, if you like tofu you can put it in with the extra veggies.) Turn off the heat.

Make noodles according to package instructions, drain and put into your soup serving bowls. Ladle the root vegetable soup over them, garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and enjoy. Lo cal, hi nutrition and a different taste.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Roots of Summer

Now before all the juicy nightshades arrive in the north--the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, it's prime time to talk about the roots of summer: scallions, radishes and salad/Tokyo/Hakurei turnips. Green garlic has already gone by and beets are a subject unto themselves. These three don't get the respect they deserve, so here are some easy ways to appreciate them.

Also known as green onions since they're the first phase of those big slicers. They can be white or purple, like onions. They're piquant but not as much as their grownup relatives, so they're easy to eat raw in egg or tuna salad or to incorporate into deviled eggs. I'm fond of mincing scallions into a summer salad of baby shrimp, fresh peas, crumbled feta and shell pasta with a light pesto dressing (dilute the pesto slightly with olive oil) or sometimes a mint pesto dressing.  My recipe for fresh pea hummus, perfect right now, calls for a large bunch of scallions (6-8).

A recipe for Chinese scallion pancakes is in How to Fix a Leek....the book, on the June scallion page. Here's a slightly different and even faster recipe for a Korean version. Difference: this has an egg. It makes a great brunch or lunch addition or can be used as "bread" with an Asian main dish.

Korean Scallion Pancakes
makes two large ones which when cut into wedges serves 4-8 depending on how you use them

1 cup unbleached flour
1 large to jumbo egg, beaten
6 scallions with a bit of their green stem, halved lengthwise and chopped into bite-sized pieces
pinch of Chipotle chili or cayenne powder
pinch of sea salt
Corn, mustard or canola oil for frying

Whisk the flour, eggs, chili powder and salt together. Slowly add 3/4 cup water and whisk to blend without lumps. Gently fold in the scallions and let the batter sit for 10 minutes.

While you're waiting, make a dipping sauce by combining all ingredients below in a small bowl:
3 tbsp Tamari sauce
1 tbsp + 1 tsp  rice vinegar
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 lg garlic clove grated
1/2" piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Coat the bottom or a 10" skillet (nonstick is optimum here) with oil and heat over medium flame. When it's almost sizzling, pour 1/2 the batter in, swirling the pan so it gets to the edges evenly. Use a spatula to push if it doesn't. You want an evenly thin pancake.  Cook about 4 minutes until the pancake is golden brown on the bottom, then flip it and cook about another 3 minutes until it is matching golden brown. Remove and put on a paper towel to drain any oil. Cover to keep warm and cook the second pancake.

To Serve: cut the pancakes each into 8 wedges and serve with the sauce.
 A word about those purple "scallions" in the first photo
These are more "small new onions" than scallions at this point. You can only get goodies like this from a farmers' market and they will be worth all the effort. You cut off about 2/3 of the stalk, cut off the root and put them on a baking sheet with a spritz of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Then you roast them in the oven at 425º for 10-12 minutes until they are soft. Serve immediately and savor the sweet piquancy. They are terrific beside grilled meat or fish, great with an omelet.

Hakurei/Tokyo/Salad Turnips
These beautiful white bulbs that look like a white beet are known by all those names. They are the sweetest turnip that ever came out of the ground, yet they still have the mildest little nip that adds delightful pungency to green salads, and color when you need it. These are turnips you can eat raw and you should. I've previously posted in June a recipe for a Farm to table salad that includes them with radishes, arugula and cucumbers under buttermilk dill dressing. I sometimes grate these turnips into a summer slaw with grated carrots of at least two colors, kohlrabi (another mild turnip with helpful nutrients), white or green cabbage, lots of chopped chives and just a bit of chopped tarragon for a hint of licorice.  I use a cider vinegar--no mayonnaise--dressing that's more or less 2 parts vinegar to 1 part olive oil with a small garlic clove smashed and minced.

The turnips can also be quickly and deliciously cooked if they are thinly sliced and sauteed in Asian sesame oil on medium heat. This will bring out their sugar and get them golden and crispy at the edges. Season lightly with sea salt to serve.
The greens are equally delicious sauteed in sesame oil with sesame seeds and maybe a tsp of soy sauce until soft--maybe 12-15 minutes. If they start to burn add 1 to 2 tbsp warm water.  For a colorful, tasty presentation, put the greens on a serving plate and mound the turnips on top.
The exact recipe is in How to Fix a Leek...the book.

These red balls of fire don't have to be as ho hum as we've made them.
I slice them into my Farm to Table salad, recipe posted in June.
I also put them into a colorful French salad with green beans and pitted black olives, recipe on the June radish page of How to Fix a Leek...the book.
I have also written on this site about how magical the cylinder shaped rose colored white tipped French radishes can be when they are rolled in soft butter or goat cheese and then rolled in sea salt.
And finally, the Shakers used to cook radishes. They sauteed them first in a bit of butter to soften them up and then added a cream sauce to the pan. They served the finished dish, creamed radishes, over spinach. Nothing boring about that.