Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant

For my birthday I received the cookbook Plenty, the vegetarian brainchild of Jerusalem author Yotam Ottolenghi. This cookbook could not be more up my alley. Organized into sections by vegetable type, each recipe expertly showcases its main ingredient, yielding dazzling and vibrant dishes abounding with Mediterranean spice and zest.
The entire cookbook looks spectacular, so picking which recipe to tackle first made for an extremely difficult decision. After much thought, I settled on Ottolenghi's Lentils with Broiled Eggplant. And if all of his recipes are great as this one, I am seriously going to pull a Julia & Julia and concoct a new recipe every single day until I've gone through the entire book. (Rachel & Yotam has a nice ring to it, don't you think?) I'm that hooked!

I settled on this particular recipe because I wanted something hearty and warming; a seasonally appropriate winning main dish as opposed to a side. As I examined the recipe, I was thrilled to see that Ottolenghi recommended executing the slow-cooked eggplant—one of my favorite things in the world—via gas stovetop and then oven-broil. As a NYC dweller who constantly pouts over my inability to own a grill (despite loving my gas stove), this was a dream come true: perfect smoky, char-grilled taste achieved sans grill! The secret, Ottolenghi writes, is cooking the eggplant directly on the flame; burning the skin immediately and then letting the flesh oven-cook slowly inside the charred exterior so the flavor seeps through.  It is SO good. My only critique of this recipe is to double the amount of eggplant, because you're definitely going to be wanting more.

Although it's clearly the eggplant that shines in this recipe, the lentils are its perfect foil. Simmering in a homemade stock of onion, carrot, celery and thyme gives them a rich base flavor, while 3 kinds of fresh herbs and crunchy chopped vegetables really make them pop. The lentils are finished with tangy red wine vinegar and smooth olive oil, a lovely acidic contrast to the smoky eggplant.

Last but not least, don't forget the final step: topping the entire concoction with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt. The thick creamy yogurt drizzled with EVOO really brings the whole dish together: a blissful trio of textures, flavors, and fine fettle.

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant (from Plenty)
Serves 4
NOTE: Make sure to pierce the eggplant before broiling to prevent exploding. 
2 medium eggplants (I suggest using 4 large)
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy or Castelluccio), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish (I only used 2)
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 tbsp crème fraîche (or natural yogurt, if you prefer)
1. To cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop, which is the most effective way, start by lining the area around the burners with foil to protect them. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. For an electric stove, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife in a few places. Put them on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.
2. Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used an oven broiler, change the oven to its normal setting. Heat the oven to 275°F. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and only then season with plenty of salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar.
3. While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stalk into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay leaf, thyme and onion, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for up to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away the froth from the surface from time to time. Drain in a sieve. Remove and discard the carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and onion and transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside somewhere warm.
4. Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 3/8-inch dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, the sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender but still firm.
5. Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt. Finish with a trickle of oil.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mancha Manteles (Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit)

Now that it's the New Year, all the grocery stores are featuring a main display of some type of cleanse: everywhere I go bottles of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper teeter in a corner, challenging us to get moving on those pesky resolutions we so adamantly declared last week. Here's the thing though. A cold spell is fast descending on the Northeast, and as flurries whirl for the first time this season, it truly feels like winter. And despite how unwaveringly you committed to losing those extra lbs in 2015, a thin lemon juice for dinner is the last thing you want in the face of these subfreezing temps. You're basically asking for a cold! So let's stick to the weight-loss goals, but ditch the cold press for healthy via whole. First thing that comes to mind? Warm-me-up soups and stews.

Do I have a great one for you. This recipe for Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit, or Mancha Manteles, translates to "table-cloth stainers"; aptly named for it's chili and tomato based rich red tones. If you're me, you can expand the list of items stained from table-cloth to the entire kitchen, because I lazily used an immersion blender in my shallow skillet instead of a blender, causing a 360 degree whiplash effect of tomato drops on the wall, counter, and stove. (Oy, my new kitchen!)

However, it's the blended part of this recipe that elevates the stew to it's superior class. Yes, the tomatoey, cinnamon and chili spiced sweet potato, chicken, pineapple, apple, and banana concoction would be tasty enough on its own—kind of like a sweeter chili variation. But its the pureeing of onion, red pepper, and toasted almonds that deepens the flavor and texture palate significantly, adding a nutty, Romesco taste and substantive consistency for a truly phenomenal winter main.

The stew takes some effort to make—not a ton, but it isn't something you can just throw in the pot and come back a few ours later and it's done—but lends itself perfectly to that big batch cooking style worth the time commitment. Feel free to eat it for the week, serve a crowd, or freeze for later. Each ingredients offers a cold-repellent health benefit, from the nutrient-rich fruits to the superfood sweet potatoes; it's not calories here that will fill you up quickly, but rather the plethora of fiber-rich ingredients. This is hearty and healthy at it's finest—with each bowlful heat curls into the air, radiating spice and relish—and I promise you this is the best way to dive into winter's weather woes while feeling powerfully health-charged for the New Year.

Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit (Mancha Manteles)
Originally from Betty Crocker International; courtesy of My Mama
Serves 4 to 6

·      2 tablespoons vegetable oil
·      2 pounds chicken legs and thighs (can substitute breasts)
·      1 medium onion, chopped
·      1 green or red pepper, chopped (I recommend red)
·      ¼ cup whole almonds
·      1 can (8 oz) low sodium tomato sauce
·      1 can (8 ½ oz) sliced pineapple, drained (reserve ¼ cup syrup)
·      ½ cup water (more may be needed to increase liquid)
·      2 teaspoons chili powder
·      1 teaspoon salt
·      ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·      2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
·      2 apples, sliced
·      2 bananas, sliced
·      Parsley or cilantro
·      1 ½ cup whole-wheat couscous


  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven or 12-inch skillet until hot. Cook chicken over medium heat until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. (If using breasts, this will take about 7 minutes.) Set chicken aside.
  2. Cook and stir onion, pepper, and almonds until onion is tender. Place onion, pepper, almonds and tomato sauce in blender. Cover and blender until of uniform consistency. (You can use an immersion blender, but be warned of the splatter!)
  3. If using dark meat, drain fat from Dutch oven. Mix tomato mixture, reserved pineapple syrup, the water, chili powder, salt and cinnamon in Dutch oven/skillet. Add chicken and sweet potatoes.
  4. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary—the sweet potatoes and chicken should be mostly covered in liquid.
  5. Cut pineapple slices into halves; add pineapple and apples to chicken mixture. Cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. 
  6. Prepare couscous according to package directions.
  7. Add bananas to stew. Serve in soup bowls on top of couscous; garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Penguin Olive Dirty Martini

Happy Holidays.
I'll keep this short and sweet. It's only fitting that I end the year with a vegetable-centric festive cocktail—and a stiff one at that. After seeing a segment featuring this Penguin Olive Dirty Martini on the Today Show this morning, I knew I had to make it, despite the fact that it was only 11am. (I only had a few sips, but I did eat the turnip— probably the only person in the history of imbibing to do so. The penguin is fully edible, but it was just too cute; I couldn't bear to consume it.) Whether you're celebrating in Antartic temperatures or mild humid rain (hello, New York), here's something to keep you warm, at least on the inside, during our traditionally chilly holiday season.

Seriously, how adorable are these little guys?! They're just straight chillin' (that was so bad, but I couldn't resist.) This will be my last post in 2014; I'll see you again in the New Year. What do you have in store come January 1st? I am moving, and finally achieving my dream of an island kitchen! I think 2015 is going to be a good year :)


Penguin Olive Dirty Martini (from Jeanne Benedict)

For the dirty martini:
3 oz. vodka

1/2 oz. dry vermouth
Splash Martini green olive brine

For the penguin olives:
Small and jumbo black olives

1 – 2 large carrots, peeled

Cocktail onions

Sliced turnip, peeled, brushed with lemon juice

Rosemary stems


1. Make the martini: Add vodka, vermouth, and olive brine into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass.
2. Make the penguin olives: cut a slit into the side of pitted jumbo olive and stuff with a small cocktail onion. (It may be necessary to pull a layer off the onion so it fits snugly inside the olive.)
3. Place a pitted small olive on its side on top of the body for the penguin’s head. Stick a toothpick down into the head and through the body to keep him together.
4. Slice a peeled carrot into ¼-inch thick rounds and cut a wedge out of the rounds for the penguin’s feet. Place the penguin body on the feet and push the toothpick down to keep it all together.
5. Cut carrot slivers for his beak. Insert the beak into the X on the olive head, (as opposed to the wider hole in the olive).
6. Insert penguin and rosemary into turnip slice. Place penguin olives in empty martini glasses and fill with Martini.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Smoked Trout Salad Sandwich

Smoked fish is my chicken soup for the [hungry] soul. Sheepishly i'll admit to taking detours in Fairway just to gaze at the corner lox and sable display, and I firmly believe that any problem can be temporarily solved in three steps: Brining some fish, dousing it in mayo, and slathering it on a bagel along with sliced tomato and onion. Upon receiving said problem-solver with contentment I will purr, my heartstrings thoroughly warmed via my belly. Then, I will bloat like a blowfish.

Because, #WhatJewEating? That would be fat, salt, salt, salt, and salt. But isn't the fish healthy? On it's own, absolutely. But shrouded in sodium, mayonnaise, and sour cream? Not so much. Usually, I happily accept this nutritious-naught fate as I dive into my open bagel sandwich topped with a meticulous crafted mosaic of egg, tuna, white fish, and salmon salad. I mean, as a high holy day Jew,  I'm only blessed with a Zabar's spread a few times a year—one must take advantage! But sometimes on days that aren't Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, like yesterday, I want to nourish my old Jewish soul, my truest comfort place. Ergo, I want me some smoked fish. Leave the bloat on the side?

Call me Rosie the Riverter, because we can do it! My pupils transfigured into hearts when I discovered canned smoked trout in canola oil at Trader Joe's (woot woot Omega-3's) for a budget-friendly $3.29 each. Using plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and reduced-fat sour cream instead of mayo, ample herbs to season, and fresh horseradish and lemon juice for bite and tang, I succeeded in making a pretty healthful—and certainly delicious—version of my beloved bagel topper. Then, I took it a step further and forfeited the bagel for whole wheat sourdough, adding as many cucumber and tomato slices atop my open-faced creation as I could. And guess what? It hit the spot. I felt heartened yet healthy; soothed yet svelte. I had finally married Jewish food and nutrition—a union I had deemed incapable of fruition long long ago.

You can substitute any canned fish in this salad that you wish. Though trout is my personal favorite, I imagine canned salmon would work very well here too. Whole grain rye and pumpernickel make great bread alternatives. Serve with a quick salad of arugula tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, or red pepper slices and carrot sticks.

Smoked Trout Salad Sandwich
Makes 1 Sandwich

1 3.0 oz can smoked trout in canola oil
2 scallions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp freshly grated horseradish
2 tbsp plain nonfat Greek yogurt or canola oil/reduced fat mayo
2 tbsp light sour cream
1 tsp dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 pieces hearty whole-grain bread, such as sourdough, rye or pumpernickel
1/2 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
1 small tomato, thinly sliced

Drain trout to remove excess oil. Transfer trout to a small bowl, mash with a fork to break up fillets. Add rest of ingredients, mix thoroughly. Toast bread and serve sandwiches open-faced style, piled high with tomato and cucumber slices.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish

I love squash with a fervent ardor. If you see a girl at the Greenmarket trying to transport a giant gourd under each arm muttering to herself that it's really time to switch from 3 lb weights to 5 lb weights at the gym—but grinning like an idiot as she ungracefully continues the struggle—it's probably me. Hey, it's a labor of love! Because once I finally lug those child-sized cucurbitas home, that's when the real work begins. Peeling, seeding, chopping, and roasting for a minimum of 40 minutes—many times over an hour—until it's finally ready to eat. No Whole Foods, I will not give in and by your overpriced, pre-cut, time-saving containers—I treasure those extra three dollars, thank you very much.

Like any regular vegetable zealot weirdo, I have OCD tendencies about the preparation of my squash. Butternut gets cubed and roasted, often added to a chunky minestrone or pureed for a soup of it's own. Acorn is sliced into wedges, drizzled generously with maple syrup and eaten just so as a snack or side. Spaghetti squash is the go-to pasta substitute, heaped under a thick tomato sauce or winter stew.

But then I discovered a game-changer: delicata squash, featured in this Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish recipe.  Similar in size to a kirby cucumber, these guys can easily be bought by the half-dozen without undertaking an accidental arm work out.  Furthermore, they don't need to be peeled—or even roasted! In this recipe, the delicata are cut in half-inch rounds and pan-sautéed for a total of 4 minutes. Unstrenuous squash: who knew!

Because delicata is cylinder-shaped, it sliced into rounds, which transforms into rings after the seeds are scooped out. The shape is super fun, like onion rings or dried apple rings or gummy rings, and make for quite the artistic presentation too: while the recipe is deceivingly simple, the presentation is artistically beautiful; echoing the flavors' sophistication.

Grounding the dish are the squash rings; earthy and heat-kissed, perfectly bronzed and blistered. Lime zest and juice add an unexpected but welcomed tang, while the cider-based relish is juicy and thick; dissolving like candy on the tip of your tongue. This side will standout anywhere, so consider a delicata debut on Thursday's Thanksgiving table!

Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish (By TheWimpyVegetarian)
Serves 4

Crispy Delicata Rings:
  • 2 delicata squash
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 lime
1. Slice the ends off of the squash. Slice into ½" rings and remove the seeds with a spoon. Reserve the seeds for another use or roast them with some cayenne pepper, salt, and cumin and sprinkle over the finished dish.
2. Lightly salt the squash and let sit for 30 minutes. Completely dry off with paper towels, removing the salt. Heat enough oil to coat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly salt the squash rings with fresh salt and add them to the pan. They should sizzle the moment they hit the pan. Don't crowd them or they'll steam more than they'll brown. Sauté until lightly browned (about 2 minutes per side).
3. Remove to a plate and add lime zest and juice (use grate and juice of ½ lime per each delicata).
4. Top with the Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish and serve warm. Optional: add spiced roasted squash seeds or fennel fronds.

Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish:
  • ½ cup dried currants (can substitute raisins)
  • ½ crisp apple, peeled, seeded, finely diced (e.g. Pink Lady)
  • 1 fennel bulb, outer layer removed, finely diced
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados (can substitute regular brandy)
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer over medium low heat until the cider is reduced by half. Strain and sprinkle over the Crispy Delicata Rings.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction

The original title of this dish is actually Hunter's-Style Chicken. The "hunter" refers to the stew's semblance to chicken cacciatore; both share a commonality of braised chicken, tomatoes, herbs, and wine. But here's the thing. To me, a hunter's stew sounds like a combination of all things meager and scarce: the scrappy, peasanty fruits of a disappointing bow-and-arrow labor in the woods.  (Maybe I'm just picturing myself out there.) Is there deer? Quail? Regarding the mushrooms....wouldn't a more appropriate name be Forager's-Style Chicken? At any rate, the title of the stew wasn't doing it for me, so I renamed it Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction. Because this stew is like Iggy Azalea. It's fancy. 
The "culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater," this chicken stew is sumptuous and soul-warming, hearty to the core. It begs to be eaten in the depths of winter (or next week, if you've been keeping track of this bomb cyclone business) alongside a cozily-light fireplace and glass of full-bodied wine in hand. How convenient—you'll have an open, almost-full bottle of vino after step 5!
Rich healthy food seems like an oxymoron; indeed, upon seeing a recipe for mushroom-wine sauce my eye immediately scanned for the butter, cream, and fatty red meat to follow.  In this stew, however, full-flavored ingredients define the richness—heaviness is nowhere to be found. Earthy, buttery porcini and crimini mushrooms reach a truffle-like caliber, while the fruity, aromatic red wine adds its own cornucopia of fragrance and frill.  Fresh holiday herbs like thyme and savory give feasting character, and quality tomatoes (try for fresh Campari, canned San Marzano, or both) complete the base of the robust stew. The original recipe called for skin-on chicken parts of meat both light and dark, but the sauce is so wonderfully decadent on its own that you can absolutely stick with boneless, skinless chicken breast and be fine.  It also suggested layering the stew over creamy Parmesan polenta, but in keeping with my rich-yet-healthy theme, I served mine on top of brown basmati rice with a side of steamed broccoli.
My alternate title for this post was "Lazy Hunter's-Style Chicken," because I took a few shortcuts.  After simmering on the stovetop, the stew is supposed to be transferred to the oven and baked for an hour, but my pan wouldn't fit in my tiny apartment oven. So on the stovetop we stayed, with a perfunctorily thickened sauce. (If you can, I would try to bake it—I bet the consistency would be out of this world.) I already mentioned that I substituted chicken breasts for darker skin-on pieces; but when cooked correctly, the latter is fall-off-the-bone tender: it's up to you which parts to use.
Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction (adapted from Food52)
Serves 5-6

5 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts or 1 3 to 3 ½ lb. chicken, quartered (or an equivalent amount of skin-on parts of your choice)
Kosher or sea salt
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound crimini mushrooms
2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 ½ cups chopped white or yellow onion
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 cup)
3 cups chopped ripe Campari tomatoes or canned peeled San Marzano tomatoes; drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
a pinch of red chile flakes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as fresh thyme, savory, and flat-leaf parsley)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.* Arrange the chicken pieces on a plate and pat dry. Season well with salt and set aside.
2. Cover the porcini mushrooms with 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for a few minutes until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, and set aside as well.
3. Warm 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat.  Brown the chicken parts in batches, skin-side down, until all chicken is browned and crisp-skinned. (If using boneless skinless chicken breasts, cook each side until they begin to bronze.) Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but a thin layer of the rendered fat (if present).
4. Trim and quarter the crimini mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook until browned on all sides, then add the chopped porcini and the red vermouth, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
5. Add the chopped onions to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until soft and opaque. Add the carrot and toss through, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chile flakes, wine, and reserved mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.
Toss the chopped herbs with the mushrooms and return to the pot, stirring through. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, being sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated. 
6. Cook until chicken is tender and red wine reduced on stovetop or in oven: 
FOR STOVETOP: Simmer pot for 15 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered, turning chicken once, until chicken is cooked through and sauce slightly reduced.
FOR OVEN: Cover the pot with a parchment lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is falling-apart tender and the sauce thick and reduced. 
7. Add salt to taste. Serve over grain of your choice with a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf parsley or thyme sprig on top.

*Only complete this step if you plan on baking the stew. If keeping on stovetop, skip.