Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

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Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

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While I teach others how to make dinner, I rarely sit down for the meal myself. See, when you are in the business of food, you’re usually working during most usual mealtimes. I grew up sitting down to a square, hot meal at 6pm each night, but nowadays, it’s leftovers from the fridge at 9. This is real life.

Last week I found myself home at dinnertime, hungry and with a bit of time to tinker around in the kitchen. Going back out into the world to food shop was just not going to happen. A pantry meal it was.

I recently taught an Ancient Grains class at SLT and everyone was obsessed with the Quinoa Fritters, a recipe riffed from the wonderful Ancient Grains for Modern Mealsl by Maria Speck. Topped with tangy lime mayo and smoked salmon, they were altogether satisfying, the perfect balance of crispy/gooey/cheesy/salty/creamy. I swapped the quinoa for millet, a couscous-like whole grain popular in parts of Asia. You cook it the same way, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. It has a mild flavor and a pleasant softness that’s unusual for whole grains. It’s also gluten-free, a nice bonus in this day and age. I’m kind of obsessed.

A plate of these millet fritters with a bowl of spicy, creamy dip was just the thing for my night-in supper. The new square meal.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

Inspired by Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Fritters:

1 cup millet*
2 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese (or feta)
1/2 cup flour*
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
2 green onions, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive or grapeseed oil, for cooking

In a medium saucepan, combine the millet and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combined the cooled millet, cheese, flour, chile powder, paprika, green onions and eggs. Fold to combine. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few swirls of olive or grapeseed oil.  Form the millet mixture into patties (I used an ice cream scoop). If the mixture is not sticking together, chill for a bit longer or press the mixture into a ball with your hands. They will be delicate, but will firm up when cooked.

Fry the fritters in the skillet for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve with a dollop (or three) of Spicy Lime Crema.

Spicy Lime Crema

1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt or mayo
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Chipotle hot sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients, adding more of everything to taste.

Notes:

*Where do you buy millet? Check the bulk area or ethnic section. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand worth seeking out.

*I’ve made these with white all-purpose flour and also millet flour (I had some lying around, definitely not necessary to go out and buy it). I suspect almond flour may work, but the mixture may be a little more crumbly. Stick to a somewhat neutral, light flour here – this is not the place for nutty buckwheat or whole wheat flour.

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

It’s currently 90 degrees in NYC. It’s so hot I actually look forward to riding on the air-conditioned subway. I saw an ad on the train the other day for Seamless that justified ordering takeout as an alternative to sweating it out in the kitchen. Fair enough, Seamless. I cook in hot kitchens on the reg for my personal chef clients. When I come home, the thought of cooking something (anything) for myself on the stove is just…no. I’ve been doing a lot of salads and far too many smoothies. But alas, (wo)man can not live on salad alone.

Let’s talk gazpacho. It’s soup, but it’s cold. It’s exotic (does Spain count as exotic?) It requires no cooking whatsoever.  Not convinced yet? Check out this beaut:

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That’s right, I went ahead and made this Spanish street food into a full-fledged first course. It’s as easy as making a smoothie, but it tastes kind of like a salad. #Winning

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

Inspired by Relish by Daphne Oz

Makes about 10 cups

Ingredients

For Gazpacho:

  •  5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cups watermelon, chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For Lime Yogurt Crema:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher salt

For serving:

  • Torn basil and mint (optional)
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, red onion, watermelon, cucumber jalepeno, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add red wine vinegar and salt, to taste. Chill for a few hours before serving.
  2. For the lime yogurt crema: stir together the yogurt, lime juice and a bit of salt to taste.
  3. Ladle cold soup into bowls (I like to freeze mine for extra refreshment!) Top with a dollop of crema, basil, mint and a drizzle of olive oil.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha and Honey

 brussels

Isn’t it funny how until just a few years ago everyone hated brussels sprouts? They were passed over like iceberg lettuce, simply not worth the worry. Like hairstyles and skirt hems, everything goes in and out of fashion. Food included. What, you’ve never heard of this phenomenon? Martha thinks it’s worth mentioning.

While I don’t use the word ‘trend’ lightly, there has been a big shift towards big flavor infused into unassuming places. Click through this list of Smorgasburg vendors and you’ll get the idea. Old standbys like ice pops, donuts, pickles and even mustard are being reinvented. While I think some things are best left alone (I’m not sold on artisan mayo yet), I welcome change and even improvement on a classic.

Like these brussels sprouts.

No, they’re not lightly dusted with pecorino or drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. They’re deeply roasted, then doused in a fiery, funky sauce. They’re confident in their ability to be at once sweet and savory. Cilantro adds a bit of controversy. Which is never a bad thing when it comes to vegetables.

Despite what the calendar says, it’s still winter in NYC and at the market. Take advantage of the season while it lasts.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha and Honey

Adapted from Food52

1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved if large
2 teaspoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sriracha (or more, depending on how hot you like it)
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce (or tamari)
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Directions

Heat oven to 400F. Arrange brussels sprouts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil, tossing to coat. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes or so until brussels are deep brown and crispy, about 30-40 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sriracha, honey, garlic and fish sauce. Drizzle over roasted brussels sprouts and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Vegetable Coconut Masala

I am a relatively new coconut oil convert. Full of omega-6 fatty acids, extra virgin coconut oil has been touted to support health (check out this Huff Po article.) Its delicious flavor and aroma is a cooks best friend, lending itself to Thai, Indian and Carribbean dishes (to name a few). It’s high smoke point is a dream for stir-frying. Liquid at room temperature and solid if cold, coconut oil is generally sold in tubs; I like Whole Foods 365 brand Expeller Pressed Virgin Cocnut Oil, a steal at $9.50/16 fl. oz. Yes, this is a little more expensive than say, Pathmark brand corn oil, but the flavor and versatility are unmatched.

This veggie-packed curry is keeper because cauliflower and sweet potatoes are available year-round. In the winter, simply sub high-quality canned tomatoes for the fresh. Curry in a hurry!

Vegetable Coconut Masala

Ingredients

  • 1 T. coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 T. Garam Masala or high-quality curry powder
  • 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes (or 1 15-0z. can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • Sriracha or other hot chile sauce

Directions

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut oil. Add the onion and ginger and cook until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and Garam Masala and stir to toast, about 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes and sweet potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes (use a spoon to lightly mash the tomatoes). Season with salt. Add the cauliflower and stir to combine. Add the coconut milk and cover the pan. Cook until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Season to taste with salt and Sriracha. Garnish with cilantro.

Southern-Style Shrimp and Grits with Roasted Tomatoes and Bacon

Ring the dinner bell – shrimp n’ grits are served! I’m a fairly new convert to grits (or polenta en Italiano). Thick, creamy and cheese, they play an outstanding supporting role to, well, just about anything you put on top. Shrimp and grits are a Southern staple and here I amped the party up with smoky bacon and a little heat courtesy of red chili flakes. As a bonus, this dish is ready in Yankee time – about 25 minutes start to finish.

Shrimp and Grits with Roasted Tomatoes and Bacon

Serves 2-3

 Ingredients

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock OR water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup grated sharp cheese, such as Parmesan or Cheddar
  • 1/2 lb. medium to large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 slice applewood smoked bacon, chopped
  • Red chili pepper flakes, to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes collapse, about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  3. Bring stock (or water) and milk to a boil. Add grits in a stream and whisk. Bring back to a  gentle boil and cook, whisking occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Cover the grits to keep warm.
  4. Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Render the bacon in a large skillet over medium-to-low heat until crispy (this may take a while, do not turn the heat up). Remove bacon and drain on paper towel, leaving drippings in pan. In the same pan, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink. Add garlic and saute a few minutes. Add bacon and tomatoes and stir to combine. Season with salt, pepper and red chili to taste.
  5. To serve, spoon grits into a serving bowl and top with tomato and shrimp mixture.

Vietnamese Bánh Mì Sandwich

Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches are very popular here in NYC. In my neighborhood alone, I know of at least 3 places that serve up this ‘Saigon Sub’. This tasty sammie is traditionally made with pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, chili sauce, mayo, soy sauce and choice of protein (pork, chicken, beef, tofu) between a toasty French baguette. While I usually stick to tofu, a lot of places offer “fake” meat – not my favorite.

Don’t shy away from the long list of veggies! Any leftovers can be transformed into an Asian-inspired salad with a little store-bought miso-ginger or peanut dressing. This sandwich also stores surprisingly well for a picnic or workweek lunch. Just press and wrap tightly in plastic wrap (be sure to keep cool until ready to eat).

Vietnamese Bánh Mì

Ingredients

Makes 1 large sandwich (2 servings)

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. honey or agave
  • 1/2–1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup shredded radish
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 French baguette, split in half lengthwise
  • 1 Tbs. low-fat mayonnaise or Vegenaise
  • 1 tsp. red chile sauce, such as Sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 block extra-firm tofu, drained well
  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • Handful cilantro
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced (optional)
  • 4 lettuce leaves, torn

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar, honey or agave, and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Add radish and carrot, and stir to mix. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Slice drained tofu lengthwise into 1/4-inch pieces. Sandwich tofu between sheets of paper towel and gently press until fairly dry. In a large skillet, heat 1 T. canola oil over medium-high heat. Saute tofu until golden brown and crispy.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place baguette on baking sheet, and crisp 5 minutes in oven. Cool 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Spread mayonnaise on both sides of bread. Sprinkle with red chile sauce and tamari or soy sauce. Fill with tofu, cucumber, and cilantro. Drain carrot-radish mixture, and spread on sandwich. Top with tomato and lettuce, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Press top half of baguette on sandwich, and slice sandwich in half.

Source: Vegetarian Times

    Spicy Sesame Peanut Noodles

    Garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar are the building blocks of many Asian specialties.  These noodles are a cinch to make and way faster than waiting for take-out. The ingredient list may seem long, but it’s mostly pantry staples. Use any veggie you have on hand – broccoli, green beans, carrots – go wild!

    Make extra dressing and use as a dip for chicken or tofu satay. I love these noodles hot or cold!

    Ingredients

    1/2 pound buckwheat soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
    2 T. smooth peanut butter
    3 T. rice vinegar
    1 T. honey
    2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
    1/2 T. toasted sesame oil
    2 teaspoons crushed red pepper OR a few drops of Siracha (my favorite)
    One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
    1 large garlic clove
    1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (or other veggie)
    1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
    1 lime
    2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
    2 T. sesame seeds, toasted (for garnish)

    Directions

    In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the soba or spaghetti until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water until cooled.

    In a blender, puree the peanut butter, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, crushed red pepper or Siracha, lime juice, ginger and garlic. Add a few tablespoons of water until it reaches a smooth consistency.

    Transfer the peanut dressing to a bowl and toss with the noodles, sliced red pepper, scallions and cilantro.

    For warm noodles, gently heat peanut sauce in a large skillet and add noodles until warmed.

    Garnish with cilantro and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with lime wedges.

    Transfer the noodles to bowls and drizzle with the remaining peanut dressing. Top with the celery and serve with lime wedges.

    Slow Cooker Sweet Potato and Black Bean Mole Chili

    Happy Super Bowl Sunday!!!

    ‘Slow cooker’ sounds so much more lovely than ‘Crock Pot’, no? Over the past year I have grown rather fond of this old-school appliance. While I usually gravitate towards flash-in-the pan weeknight recipes, the weekend calls for dishes simmering low and slow. Vegetarian chili has many variations and is an economical (and tasty) way to pull together a meal out of your cupboard. As many of my friends will attest, I LOVE sweet potatoes (most notably in the French style…fried. Yeah, not so healthy). These orangey tubers are an unconventional addition to a your basic pepper-onion-bean chili. A dash of chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and cocoa (!) and this chili is elevated to mole status.

    Sweet Potato and Black Bean Mole Chili

    Ingredients

    1 medium red onion, chopped

    1 green bell pepper, chopped

    1 red bell pepper, chopped

    4 garlic cloves, chopped

    1 T. chili powder

    1 T. cumin

    2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

    1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

    kosher salt and black pepper

    1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

    1 15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

    1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

    1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

    Directions

    In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker (Crock Pot), combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), beans, sweet potato, and 1 cup water (or low sodium vegetable broth).

    Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7 to 8 hours  or on high for 4 to 5 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).

    Serve with chopped scallions, sour cream, tortilla chips or cornbread.

    -Recipe adapted from Real Simple