February 28, 2012

Shiitake Pad Thai

So I know ... its almost the first day of March and most everyone has given up on their New Year Resolutions and my harping about mine is getting kinda tiring ;-) .... oh well!! So here on forward, I'm just going to call it my New Veggie Resolution instead of New Year Resolution #2!! So New Vegetable #13 - Shiitake Mushrooms!
Shiitake Pad Thai
Prep Time: 20 min.

  1. 10-12 fresh Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced.
  2. 1/3 cup carrots
  3. 1/3 cup broccoli florets
  4. 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  5. 1.5 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  6. 3 tbsp Annie Chun's Pad Thai Sauce*
  7. 1/2 pack Annie Chun's Pad Thai White (or Brown) Rice Noodles, boiled.
  8. 2-3 tbsp crushed peanuts 
  9. salt and pepper to taste.
In a skillet on medium heat, add vegetable broth and ginger-garlic paste. Allow to cook for a few minutes and add carrots and broccoli. Allow to cook for a few minutes to allow the veggies to cook just slightly and then add mushrooms, Pad Thai sauce and salt to taste. Cover and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Uncover, add boiled noodles, toss well. Allow flavors to blend for a couple of minutes, the top off with crushed peanuts and freshly ground black pepper. 

My Assessment: LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE PAD THAI!!!! I've been craving this dish for a few days and it was totally worth it!!! I loved the meaty texture of the mushrooms and they blended really well with the Pad Thai sauce. I didn't realize before today how healthy Shiitake mushrooms really were. I sure will be using a lot more of them as compared to some of the less nutritious (white button) varieties. 

* Annie's Pad Thai Sauce has fish sauce (made with anchovies), so this recipe is not vegan! I found this out after the fact as well .. 

Veggie Fact of the Day

The Super-Healthy Shiitake

Shiitake mushrooms are considered a symbol of longevity in Asian cultures because of their health promoting properties. The Chinese have been using them in traditional medicines for over 6000 years. 

Shiitake have been shown to help protect against atherosclerosis by reducing production of immune cell adhesion molecules (which make cells sticky and cause plaques on the arteries). Shiitake are known for high Iron bioavailability (compared to other plant based sources) and hence are protective against Iron-deficiency anemia. Shiitake have also been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties (help boost levels of Interferon). The polysaccharide Lentinan in Shiitake has been demonstrated to have anti-cancer properties, that when combined with chemotherapy, has the potential of extending survival with certain types of cancer. In fact, some of the health benefits of Shiitake are so widely studied that even hospitals such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center discuss the benefits on their website. 

 In addition to all the health benefits, Shiitake also have environmental benefits. They are highly amenable to sustainable agriculture and are often grown on sawdust blocks in forest farms, and are hence more readily available in grocery stores as compared to other more exotic, wilder varieties. The mushroom has a more meaty texture than some of the others I've tried and a very robust smoky flavor. I also noticed that they were more leathery under the knife. They have known to contain up to 18% protein, various B vitamins, and minerals (Iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous).

February 27, 2012

Veggie Fact of the Day

Celeriac or Celery root is not just the root of the celery we buy in stores. Celeriac is a variety of celery (turnip-rooted celery, or knob celery) that is grown specifically for its underground tuber. It has a mild celery taste, and is crisp and fresh. It is an excellent source of Vitamins B6, K and C and several minerals (phosphorous, manganese, molybdenum and potassium). Unlike a lot of other tuberous vegetables, celeriac only has about 5-6% starch (versus ~22% in potatoes). Celeriac is quite commonly used in French cooking.

Cleaning & Prepping Celeriac: We've all heard "beauty is only skin deep" ... well in this case, Ugliness is only skin deep!! There are several videos on youtube.com showing how to clean Celeriac. I used a combination of several. I first rinsed the outside really well under running water to get rid of as much dirt as possible. Cut both ends to make flat bases so that you can hold it flat while shaving off the thin skin. I used a chef's knife to do the coarse shaving and then used a small paring knife to get the little bits/eyes that were left behind. Then, I washed it again, under running water, and then cut it into large chunks for this recipe. It is slightly tougher than an apple, but not as tough as some of the squashes out there. 

Celery Root w Chickpeas & Saffron

Vegetable #12 for New Year Resolution #2 - Celeriac (aka Celery Root). I picked up one of these at the store this past weekend and quite honestly, everyone at home thought I'd gone nuts. It looked like a dead, shriveled up brain. Yikes!!

Braised Celeriac with Chickpeas
The recipe I used today, Braised Celeriac with Chickpeas & Saffron was out of the recipe archives of Vegetarian Times.  Of course, me being me, I adapted it some. I used vegetable broth instead of olive oil, I used only a fourth of a gram of saffron (as opposed to a whole gram which I though was quite excessive). I didn't use capers or red pepper flakes, and used a half of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder. The other modification I should have made, but didn't this time, was to add salt to the broth before adding the veggies.  Adding it at the end left the insides a tad bland. 

Prep Time: 20-25 minutes

Sure cleans up well!
Cleaning & Prepping CeleriacWe've all heard "beauty is only skin deep" ... well in this case, Ugliness is only skin deep!! There are several videos on youtube.com showing how to clean Celeriac. I used a combination of several. I first rinsed the outside really well under running water to get rid of as much dirt as possible. Cut both ends to make flat bases so that you can hold it flat while shaving off the thin skin. I used a chef's knife to do the coarse shaving and then used a small paring knife to get the little bits/eyes that were left behind. Then, I washed it again, under running water, and then cut it into large chunks for this recipe. It is slightly tougher than an apple, but not as tough as some of the squashes out there. 

My Assessment: I think Celeriac tasted a lot like this vegetable we ate occasionally in India (kadam ka saag) which was also a tuberous vegetable with celery like stalks. Although I'm quite sure they're not quite the same thing, the taste was quite similar. The recipe itself was phenomenal. The sweet smell of Saffron is still on my hands and it blended really well with the Celeriac as well as with the chickpeas. 

I do want to try making Celeriac in the "saag" way (wilted greens), for which I'll have to mix the finely diced tuber with chopped up greens. It'll take a few tried to come up with the winning choice of greens. 

February 26, 2012

Veggie Fact of the Day

Bok Choy is also called Pak Choi or Chinese cabbage.  Although it looks like romaine lettuce, it is actually a kind of cabbage that is a distant relative of broccoli and cauliflower.  It is also sometimes referred to as "soup spoon" because of the shape of its leaves/stalks.

In Chinese, bok choy means white vegetable.    Bok choy is a popular addition to Asian cuisine and most of us have eaten it in Chinese take-out without even realizing we've eaten in.  Bok Choy is an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, K and B6 and several minerals (iron, calcium, and potassium to name a few).

Stir-Fried Bok Choy w Ginger & Garlic

Another weekend, another opportunity to try a new vegetable for New Year Resolution #2. This week, the first one to make the list and to receive the honor of being Vegetable #11 is Bok Choy. I used an adaptation of a recipe I found on the Food Network website.  I used vegetable broth instead of Olive oil, ginger-garlic paste instead of the fresh ingredients, and only a tablespoon of soy sauce as I only had 4 small baby bok choys.  See picture below for the lovely end-result!! 

My Assessment: After a few weeks of trying different vegetables (some that were quiet 'so-so'), I can honestly say that I loved it. What I mistakenly thought was celery stalks in Chinese takeout is actually bok choy. This recipe was so incredibly simple and the result was quite extraordinary. Four baby bok choys wilted down to one healthy serving for dinner. I had it as a side with my hummus/spinach/tomato panini

All in all, an A++ Sunday night meal!!

February 23, 2012

Veggie Fact of the Day

Porcini literally means "piglets" in Italian because of their plump little bodies as they are found on the forest floor. They hold a prime spot in Italian cuisine (often being called the king of mushrooms) and fresh mushrooms are quite heftily priced. The porcini have a high protein content, making them an excellent meat substitute in vegetarian/vegan dishes. They're supposed to have a chewy texture, and a strong nutty-woody meaty taste. In the US, its primarily found in small bags in dried form.  

Buying and Reconstituting Dried Porcini MushroomsSo here's what I've learnt about buying dried porcini from my research. Make sure that the bag has large chunks of porcini and not old crumbly pieces. Also makes sure that the bag has no holes, or signs of worms or mold. When I opened the package at home, there was a really strong, almost pungent, mushroom aroma that rose from them. If there is no smell, there is likely no flavor in them either.  To reconstitute, bring half cup water, or vegetable broth to a rolling boil.  Add mushrooms, swirl, cover and set aside for about 15 min.  Remove mushrooms with tongs and set aside. Strain the steeping liquid through a fine mesh strainer, or cheese cloth. This liquid will bring a lot more of the lovely earthy flavor of the mushrooms to the recipe.   

Spinach & Porcini Mushroom Risotto

I love mushrooms and will eat them in almost anything. Salads, Pilafs, Curries ... whatever. Historically, I have pretty much stuck to the usual varieties - white or brown button mushrooms and Portabella, which were commonly found in India and are also quite commonly found in grocery stores in the United States. One of the recent "Happy Herbivore" newsletters talked about how healthy mushrooms are and it suggested we try to make a variety we haven't tried before. So, when I was at the neighborhood Kroger, and saw that they had small packs of various exotic varieties of mushrooms, I picked up a pack of Dried Porcini Mushrooms as Vegetable #10 for New Year Resolution #2, even though they're not strictly a vegetable. 

Porcini Risotto
Prep Time: 30-45 min.

  1. 1 small pack (0.5 oz) dried Porcini mushrooms
  2. 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  3. 2 tsp minced garlic
  4. 1 tsp dried oregano
  5. 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  6. 1 pack (12 oz) Mori-Nu Silken Tofu (firm)
  7. 1 cup soy milk
  8. 4 tbsp (heaping) Nutritional Yeast
  9. Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. 
Buying and Reconstituting Dried Porcini Mushrooms:

So here's what I've learnt about buying dried porcini from my research. Make sure that the bag has large chunks of porcini and not old crumbly pieces. Also makes sure that the bag has no holes, or signs of worms or mold. When I opened the package at home, there was a really strong, almost pungent, mushroom aroma that rose from them. If there is no smell, there is likely no flavor in them either.  To reconstitute, bring half cup water, or vegetable broth to a rolling boil.  Add mushrooms, swirl, cover and set aside for about 15 min.  Remove mushrooms with tongs and set aside. Strain the steeping liquid through a fine mesh strainer, or cheese cloth. This liquid will bring a lot more of the lovely earthy flavor of the mushrooms to the recipe.   

I used a modification of Lindsay Nixon's Instant Vegan Alfredo Sauce today. I used a lightly different spice mix and also used fresh onions. Also, I didn't use any vegan cheese. In a skillet, bring the steeping liquid from reconstituting the mushrooms to a rolling boil. Turn down heat to medium and add garlic and onions. Once the onions become translucent, add baby spinach, oregano, salt and pepper, and half cup soy milk. Cover and let simmer for a few minutes. Meanwhile in a bowl, whisk silken tofu and remaining soy milk together to as fine a paste as possible and add to the skillet. A food processor seemed like too much work for me (I might end up buying a stick blender for quick jobs such as this one). Separately boil rice and when the sauce begins to thicken, add rice and sprinkle nutritional yeast on top. Cover and let the flavors blend for a few minutes before serving.  

Nik's Reaction: None. He's recovering from a gentle bout of stomach flu and when he didn't show interest in eating rice, or anything much at all for dinner today, I didn't push the issue.  

My Assessment:  I really really enjoyed this dish. I'd read that dried porcini have a concentrated flavor and aroma and that was indeed very true. The whole dish has that lovely mushroom flavor and I'm glad I made enough for my lunch tomorrow as well. 

February 21, 2012

Mushroom & Red Pepper Tacos w Salsa Verde

Tomatillos - Vegetable #6 for New Year Resolution #2 - Take 2!! The last time I made Roasted Tomatillo Zucchini and really liked it. I had 3 tomatillos left behind and wanted to use them before they went bad. It was interesting that a google search brings up hundreds of recipes for Salsa Verde. So I decided to try it out today.

Mushroom & Red Pepper Tacos w Salsa Verde
Prep Time: 20 minutes overall.

  1. 3 medium tomatillos, husks removed, halved
  2. 1 small red onion, quartered.
  3. 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  4. 1 small fresh jalapeno (optional)
  5. 2-3 tbsp lemon/lime juice
  6. 1 large red bell pepper, diced or sliced
  7. 2 Portabella mushrooms, diced or sliced
  8. 1 medium tomato, diced
  9. 1/2 cup greens (baby spinach, spring mix or romaine!)
  10. 1 tbsp soy sauce
  11. 1 tsp cumin powder
  12. 1-2 tbsp taco seasoning, to taste.
  13. 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  14. 2 tbsp (heaping) Nutritional Yeast
  15. Soft shell tacos (flour or corn).  
  16. Salt and pepper to taste. 
Place tomatillos, cut face down, red onion and a whole jalapeno in a baking dish and broil on HI for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven, and a couple of ice cubes, let stand for a couple of minutes. Then mix in the cilantro leaves, lemon/lime juice, jalapeno pepper and salt to taste and transfer to a food processor, blend until smooth. Add more salt, or lemon/lime juice to taste. 

While the tomatillos and onions are broiling, dice bell pepper and mushrooms. In a skillet on medium heat, bring vegetable broth to a boil and add cumin, taco seasoning and soy sauce and mix in veggies. Mix well and cook down until almost dry. Transfer to a bowl and add nutritional yeast. Assemble tacos - layer greens on the tortilla, add peppers and mushrooms, sprinkle fresh tomatoes and top off with salsa verde. 

My Assessment: Something was missing. I could not tell 100% what was off about this dish today but it seemed like I was missing some vital ingredient. I'll have to try it a few more times until I get it just right. This was my first time using nutritional yeast. I had no idea what it was until I read about it in a blog post by Lindsay Nixon (www.happyherbivore.com). I'd read that it was similar in taste to cheese and could not agree more. It is an excellent source of Vitamin B12 which is probably the only vitamin not available in a plant-based diet.  I plan on using it on a regular basis. 

February 20, 2012

Curried Brussels Sprouts

Vegetable #9 for NYR# 2 - Brussels Sprouts
The vegetable of the day, and the vegetable receiving the honor of being Vegetable #9 for New Year Resolution #2 - Brussels Sprouts!! I can honestly say that prior to this year, and this lovely new year resolution, there was nothing ... absolutely nothing that made me think of Brussels sprouts in a favorable light. I never had a desire to try them, especially since I read a long time ago that according to a 2002 survey, Brussels sprouts are the most hated vegetable in Great Britain. That's some accolade, there!!  

Total Prep Time: 20 minutes.

  1. Brussels sprouts - 1 lb
  2. 1 small red onion, diced finely
  3. 2 medium tomatoes, diced finely
  4. 1-2 tsp minced garlic, to taste. 
  5. 1 cup vegetable broth**
  6. 1 tsp mustard seeds
  7. 1/2 tsp ground asofoetida
  8. 1 tsp cumin seeds 
  9. 1 tsp grown cumin
  10. 1 tsp turmeric powder
  11. 1/2 tsp black sesame seeds
  12. 1-2 tsp ground coriander seeds
  13. 1-2 tsp yellow curry powder, or garam masala
  14. Red chili powder, to taste (optional)
  15. Salt to taste
Preparing the curry ..!
To prepare Brussels sprouts, remove any yellow leaves, trim stems and wash well. Cut each one into two halves or quarters depending on its size. In a lidded stock pot, bring half the vegetable broth to a boil and add onions. Reduce heat to medium, and maintain a simmer to allow onions to reduce. And all dry spices, mix well and add diced tomatoes and garlic, add another splash of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, and again reduce heat to medium, and maintain a simmer to allow tomatoes to reduce and blend with the onions. Add salt to taste and the curry is now ready. At this point, keep heat on medium and gently fold in the sprouts. Cover and simmer, mixing occasionally for even cooking.

Add a splash of vegetable broth, as needed, throughout the cooking process to prevent burning at the bottom.

Gently fold in sprouts & simmer ...!
The finished dish is very moist, but not runny. I served the curry with and over steamed Jeera (Cumin) rice and ate it Indian style - without a fork, and with my hands. This is such a part of my identity, and I don't do it often enough. There are a lot of people who are appalled at the thought of not using silverware. It is such a wonderful sensory experience. Check out this recent article that came out in the New York Times (Mind Your Manners: Eat With Your Hands). 

* If you don't have all the individual spices listed above, just increase the quantity of curry powder, to your taste. When buying curry powder, check to make sure that it either doesn't contain red chili powder. That way increasing the quantity of curry powder allows you to increase the flavor and aroma, without the added heat from the red chili peppers.

** This recipe has no added fat. But you can use 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in place of vegetable broth to prepare the curry as well. Heat oil on medium, add all dry spices and once the aromas are released, add onions and tomatoes. Add salt so both vegetables release their juices. Cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Once the curry is ready, just proceed with the rest of the steps. You can still add a splash of vegetable broth if it starts to get too dry, or you can add a splash of water.

Ingredients for Jeera (Cumin) Rice:
  1. 1 cup Basmati Rice (brown or white)
  2. 2 tsp Cumin seeds
Rinse rice well in ample quantities of tap water. In a deep sauce pot, bring to a boil with ample quantities of water. Reduce heat to cook rice at a rolling boil, until tender. For the last 2 minutes of cook time, add cumin seeds to boiling water. Drain.  

Nik's Reaction: Tony had made bowtie pasta with chicken in garlic sauce today. Normally, Nik inhales that. For some reason, he wanted nothing to do with it despite our attempts at scolding, bribing and cajoling him to eat his dinner.  I didn't think he was going to eat to be interested in Brussels sprouts at all .. and he wasn't but the moment I sat down, he said "I want that ... !!". He ate a good serving of Jeera rice with curry (no leaves, mom!). 

My Assessment: I really liked this preparation. I was fully prepared to NOT like Brussels sprouts as most people I know do not like them. But I was pleasantly surprised. They had a flavor similar to cabbage, much milder, but far denser than cabbage. I had read before that Brussels sprouts were sometimes bitter to taste and I did not get that sense at all. Overall, I would say I'd eat them again. 

Veggie Fact of the Day

Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts - The vegetable gets its name from the city of Brussels, Belgium (Duh!) which is where it was first grown in any quantity in the 1600s. Thus, when written, the vegetable is always plural and is always capitalized. Brussels sprouts belong to the cabbage family (another duh!). The interesting facts about Brussels sprouts are that they contain glucosinate - which has been shown by researchers to prevent colon cancer. They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are super rich in Vitamin A (1122 IU/cup), beta carotene (670 IU/cup), and Vitamin C (80% of RDA per half cup). According to a 2002 survey, Brussels sprouts are the most hated vegetable in Great Britain. That's some accolade, there!!

February 19, 2012

Leeks & Black Eyed Peas

Leeks & Black Eyed Peas
Another week off from picking new veggies, another weekend to go grocery shopping at leisure and find things I haven't tried before. The honor of being Vegetable #8 for New Year Resolution #2 goes to Leeks

Here's a vegetable that is much ignored and often mistaken for its cousin, the Onion. One of the most popular uses for this lovely mild flavored vegetable is for adding flavor to vegetable stock. Leeks have a very mild onion taste and are mildly fragrant like the onion as well.  I first read about Leeks several years ago in the book "French Women Don't Get Fat" where Mireille Guiliano raved about the benefits of detox'ing with leek soup over a weekend. Two pounds of leeks are simmered with ample quantities of water and that is all that is consumed for the entire weekend. I must admit that I read the book several years ago and have still not given into the lure of the magical leek soup.  However, the lovely leek did make it to the top of my "New Veggie list" this morning when I saw the store clerk stacking fresh leeks in the produce aisle.   

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes depending upon the black-eyed peas.

  1. 2-3 thick leeks
  2. 12 oz pack of frozen black eyes peas.
  3. 1 can (14-16 oz) No-Sodium Vegetable broth
  4. Salt & Freshly ground pepper, to taste. 
In a stock pot, add black eyed peas and three quarters of the vegetable broth and simmer on medium for 15 minutes, or until tender.  Wash leeks, trim off the tough dark green parts, remove the outermost leaves from each bulb, cut each in half and julienne. Transfer to a deep bowl, fill with water and rinse well to get rid of any grit, drain and let stand for a few minutes to drain completely. When black eyed peas are done, in a separate stock pot, add remaining vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add leeks. Cook gently until leeks are nicely fragrant and translucent. Add salt to taste and mix well. Then add the cooked black eyed peas. Cook for a couple minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Add freshly ground black pepper and enjoy!!  

My Assessment: I LOVE LEEKS!!! This recipe was so simple. All it has in terms of seasoning is salt and black pepper. Black eyed peas have such a nutty, earthy flavor and a buttery texture. The mild flavoring of leeks enhanced that flavor. I also liked the little bit of crunch added by the barely cooked leeks. I ate these tonight with steamed brown rice which really enhanced the nutty flavor of the black eyed peas.

This is most definitely a recipe that will be repeated in the near future!! 

Veggie Fact of the Day

The Mighty Leek
Leeks are the national emblem of Wales. The Welsh pin a leek on their hats on March 1st (St. David's Day). Preserved leeks have been found in Egyptian tombs. 

Most interesting fact about leeks - the Japanese believe that they're effective in curing colds - leeks are heated over an open flame, wrapped in gauze and actually placed around the neck to help treat colds. Now that's not something I'll be trying anytime soon.

February 16, 2012

Baby Spinach and Hummus Sandwich

While I love salad, and baby spinach is probably my preferred choice before any kind of lettuce, sometimes its just important to bite into a satisfying sandwich. Today was just one of those days. I didn't want just spinach in a bowl with some salad dressing. So, here's what I had instead ...

Baby Spinach and Hummus Sandwich with a side of Veggies
Prep Time: 2 minutes

  1. 2 Slices of bread (any kind)
  2. 2 tbsp plain hummus
  3. About half a cup of fresh baby spinach.
Liberally apply hummus to both slices of bread. Stack baby spinach, and slap 'em slices together!! Voila!! I had it with a side of Mushrooms & Green Beans. You could also toast the sandwich for a delicious Panini.

Nik's Reaction: 
... from afar: Is that my sandwich, mommy?
... up close: No. I don't want leaves. You eat it!!

Update February 17th, 2012: Other sandwich fixings, suggested by friends are ... 
  1. tomatoes 
  2. ripe avocados and thinly sliced apple 
  3. falafel 
  4. thinly sliced cucumbers.

Mushrooms & Green Beans

This is a great side dish, but also works as the entree!! With a prep time of only a 10-15 minutes, it's great for a quick meal on a week night too.

  1. 1 cup fresh frozen french cut green beans
  2. 1 cup white button and baby portabella mushrooms
  3. 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  4. 1 tsp minced garlic
  5. 1 tsp whole mustard seeds
  6. 1-2 tsp Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning
  7. salt and pepper to taste. 
In a deep skillet, heat up the vegetable broth and add garlic and mustard seeds. Once the broth comes to a boil add the green beans and allow to cook for a few minutes. Then add mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on the individual size, and add seasonings. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until the broth is almost gone. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. I served this as a side dish with my sandwich for dinner, but I plan on eating whats left, by itself, for lunch tomorrow. 

Nik's Reaction: He shoveled the green beans in about as quickly as he could swallow 'em. We're still working on the fungi ... !!! 

February 11, 2012

Braised Fennel w Red Onions & Sweet Peppers

Braised Fennel with Red Onions and Sweet Peppers
Vegetable #7 for New Year Resolution #2 - Fennel Bulbs

Prep Time: 30 min

  1. 2 medium sized Fennel bulbs, in eighths. 
  2. 2 small red onions, quartered.  
  3. 6-8 spring/green onions, finely diced.
  4. 1 large Sweet (red) pepper, sliced vertically or diced finely.
  5. 1 tsp minced garlic.
  6. 1 tbsp Olive oil
  7. 1 cup vegetable broth
  8. 1-2 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
  9. freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  10. sea salt, to taste.
Remove fronds from the fennel, trim root, wash well and cut each bulb into eighths. Save some of the fronds for the garnish and make sure the root is left intact in each eighth. This will keep the leaves from falling apart. Keep the root intact for the red onion too. I used a cast iron skillet for this recipe to get the most out of the braising technique. Heat oil to medium high and when the oil is just beginning to smoke, add the red onion and fennel. Allow a few minutes for the quarters to sear on their first side. Then turn over each piece over to allow the other side to sear as well. Once the onion and fennel are looking nicely browned, add the diced spring onions and red pepper. These need a much shorter time to get the same browning as the tougher fennel. After a couple of minutes mix in  garlic and vegetable broth. Given the heat in the skillet, it should begin to boil almost immediately. Reduce heat, add freshly ground black pepper and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes until a knife glides through the fennel. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with a couple saved fronds of fennel. 

Nik's Reaction: None! He wasn't in the mood to eat anything but his crescent roll for dinner.

My Assessment: Although I enjoyed the flavors, I wasn't super impressed by fennel. At least in this concoction, it tasted a lot like onion to me. Maybe a tad sweeter. Also, I didn't have any fennel seeds at home today, so maybe the flavors were milder than they should have been. I think fennel would be great in recipes which use celery. I'm going to have to try that. 

Veggie Fact of the Day

Fennel - In India, fennel seeds are used in cooking (as a spice) and are eaten raw as an after-mint because of fennel's digestive and medicinal qualities. Fennel seeds boiled in water are also used for reducing colic in babies. In Italian cuisine, and other cuisines from the Mediterranean, the bulbs and fronds are used in side dishes, salads, pastas, pizzas and risottos. Fennel seeds are also used in Italian sausage and meatballs. Fennel seeds are also used in Northern Europe in rye breads. 

Roasted Tomatillo Zucchini

Roasted Tomatillo Zucchini
So after another week off from finding interesting new veggies, I've got 2 this weekend. Vegetable #6 for New Year Resolution #2 - Tomatillos. While I've had roasted tomatillo salsa before at mexican restaurants, especially when I was living down in Texas, I'd never used it for cooking. Tomatillos (or tomate verde) are a staple in Mexican cooking, often used while still unripe (green). In fact, a quick Google search revealed more recipes for roasted tomatillo salsa than anything else. I wanted to use these more as a vegetable, rather than a condiment. I had some fresh Zucchini sitting in the fridge, so decided to modify one of my older recipes (Roasted Zucchini), to incorporate roasted tomatillos. 

Prep Time: 20-30 minutes

  1. 2 medium Zucchini Squash. I prefer to pick the smallest and thinnest ones I can find in the store. Each one was washed, dried and cut into 8 wedges, lengthwise. Or larger chunks if you prefer. 
  2. 1 or 2 medium tomatillos, husk removed, and halved
  3. 1-2 tbsp McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning
  4. Toasted bread
Preheat oven to 375F. In an oven safe dish, place a single layer of parchment paper to prevent the veggies from sticking. Place the tomatillos, cut sides up, on the dish and pre-roast tomatillos by themselves for about 2-7 minutes. You can also use the broiler on HI for 3-4 minutes to hasten the roasting process. Remove the dish from the oven, move the tomatillo halves to the center of the dish and place a single later of zucchini wedges or chunks around it. Sprinkle liberally with seasoning. Bake for another 10-12 minutes until the zucchini begins to soften and starts to brown at the edges. As before, you can use the broiler on HI for 6-8 minutes to quicken the roasting process. Make sure you toss once, halfway during the roasting period. Also at that time, I remove the parchment paper as the salt makes the veggies sweat and there are enough juices in the dish to prevent the veggies from sticking. Once done, toss really well and make sure you get all the flavorful juices out as well to sop up with bread. While the recipe itself has no added fat. I was craving buttered toast today, so I ate my serving with crisply toasted sour dough bread, with Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Overall Reaction: This was a great modification of my standard roasted zucchini recipe. Zucchini is such an adaptable vegetable. It tastes great with the just lemon-pepper and this variation was along the same lines. The roasted tomatillo added just the right bit of tanginess and also added to the juices in the pan. The charring on the outside of the tomatillo added a lot of flavor which also enhanced the Zucchini flavor. I liked it!!   

Veggie Fact of the Day

Tomatillos belong to the same family as Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). 

 Belladonna has been used since the middle ages as a medicine as well as a poison. To the common man, this family is also known as the rather mundane family of potatoes, capsicum (bell peppers), eggplants and tomatoes. 

A tomatillos is a rather small fruit enclosed in a papery husk (calyx). It resembles an unripe tomato on the outside. Once cut, a tomatillo looks more like a gooseberry than a tomato, it is white and much meatier than a tomato.

February 10, 2012

Mushroom, Beans and TVP Pilaf

Made a modification of an older recipe today. Made the Mushroom and Onion Rice Pilaf but added TVP chunks (sold under the brand name Nutrela® at Indian food stores) and fresh frozen green beans!

Instead of using cooking oil, I used vegetable broth to saute the onions and release essential oils and aromas from the spices.  Quick & Easy & Yummy if I may say so myself!

Nik's Reaction: Not so great today ... he doesn't seem to be a big fan of mushrooms or TVP. He did eat some rice and green beans :)

February 8, 2012

Saag Beans (Spinach and Beans)

Here's another recipe for comfort food from the Indian subcontinent. Saag (made with any kind of green leafy vegetable) is a staple during the winter months. A lot of people associate "saag" only with Spinach although Dill (soya), Fenugreek leaves (methi), Mustard Greens (sarson), Turnip Greens (kadam ka saag) and Radish Greens (mooli) are all used quite routinely in North Indian cooking.  Saag is often eaten with rice, or with Makki ki roti (flat corn bread).

Saag Beans
Prep Time: 20 minutes with a pressure cooker; 40 minutes on the stove;

  1. 1 pack frozen black eyed peas
  2. 1 can of dark red kidney beans
  3. 1 cup fresh or frozen baby spinach
  4. 1 large fresh tomato, or 1 can of diced tomatoes
  5. 1 small red onion, diced
  6. 1 can Low Sodium Vegetable broth
  7. 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  8. 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  9. 1 tsp ground cumin or cumin seeds
  10. 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  11. 2-4 bay leaves
  12. 1-2 tsp garam masala, or curry powder.
  13. salt, black pepper and red chilli powder, to taste. 
In a pressure cooker, or stock pot, heat a third of the vegetable broth to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and mix in ginger-garlic paste and all dry spices. Bring back to a slow boil, add remaining ingredients. Cover and pressure cook for 10-15 minutes, or simmer in a pot for 25-30 min.   I served mine over a small bed of  brown basmati rice. Umm Umm Good!

February 6, 2012

Acorn Squash w Tofu & Brown Rice Stuffing

Acorn Squash was Vegetable #2 for New Year Resolution #2 just a few days ago. My previous recipe was quite traditional and very predictable: Maple roasted Acorn Squash. While I enjoyed that sweet and spicy preparation a lot, I wanted to try a savory version today.  I found a recipe at Tasty and Meatless that I liked the concept of (tofu and brown rice stuffed) but I didn't have all the ingredients and I'm not a huge fan of parsley (this recipe called for a 1/4 cup of it!). So I modified it to my taste with far less parsley and no-added fats.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Spinach & Almond Side Salad. 
Prep Time: 50 minutes

  1. 1 medium Acorn Squash (when buying make sure its hard to touch and the skin is free of blemishes)
  2. 1/3 cup Brown Basmati rice (boiled)
  3. 1 fresh small Zucchini, grated
  4. 1 small red onion, diced
  5. 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  6. 1-2 tbsp McCormick's Montreal Steak seasoning
  7. 1 pack (12 oz) Mori-Nu Silken Tofu (firm)
  8. Salt and pepper to taste. 
Preheat oven to 375F.  Rinse the squash really well and cut into 2 halves (vertically). Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and place upside down on parchment paper in an oven safe dish. Roast uncovered for 30 min until a testing needle pierces the skin without effort. In the meantime, boil brown rice in ample amounts of tap water, drain and set aside. In a deep pan on medium heat, add the vegetable broth and add diced onions. Add salt and half the steak seasoning. Mix well, bring to a boil. Cook down onions and then add zucchini. Mix well. Heat for a couple more minutes until almost dry. Turn off heat and transfer the onions and zucchini to a large mixing bowl. Add boiled brown rice and crumbled tofu and toss well. Taste test the mix and if necessary, add more steak seasoning. Once the squash is done, turn over and transfer to a fresh oven safe dish. Spoon the mix into the hollow squash and heap onto the top as well - pressing/pat it all down into a nice rounded top. Return the stuffed squash to the oven (350F) for about 10 minutes. I then turned on the broiler for another 5 minutes to give me the golden brown crispy top.

I served mine with a spinach and almond side salad. I really enjoyed the nutty flavor of the brown rice, the fresh zucchini and the caramelized acorn squash. Overall, if I may say so myself, this one got an A+.