Meatless Monday

RECIPE: Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad


 
FENNEL MAKES ITS FALL APPEARANCE at the farmers’ market along with apples—a great tart/sweet flavor combo, especially when set off by a citrus dressing.
 
Variations: For the fresh herb, you can always substitute 2 tsp of chopped tarragon or mint for the parsley—experiment with your own favorite flavors. Asian pear (I learned this from my mom) works well in place of the apple. Or you can skip the apple, and instead, add segments of 1 red grapefruit and ¼ cup of pitted Niçoise olives. (I tried the olives with the apple combo but decided I preferred it without.)
 
This salad also makes a wonderful salsa to serve over simple grilled or roasted fish.
 
Serves 4
 
1 crisp, tart apple (Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin), peeled, quartered, cored, then sliced into matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, shaved on a mandoline or sliced thinly lengthwise (so the pieces form semi-circles)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp piment d’Espelette (a delicate crushed dried pepper from the Basque region of France)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves or 2 tbs chopped fresh mint or 2 tbs chopped fresh tarragon
 
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and piment d'Espelette in a small bowl. Combine the fennel and apple with the parsley or other fresh herb in a large bowl.  Add dressing. Toss gently to combine. 
 
Tip: Once you’ve cut the apple, you’ll want to go ahead and make and dress the salad right away, since the apple will turn brown if left too long. 

Meatless Monday Cure for Thanksgiving Feast Hangover

 
AFTER THE CORNUCOPIA OF COMFORT FOODS shared at the Thanksgiving table (and in the days that followed), I was in the mood today for something clean and crisp and refreshing. This Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad was the perfect answer. The tart apple and the fennel were fabulously crunchy, and the lemony dressing gave it a nice zing. You can substitute your favorite flavors into the salad. I used parsley today; next time I’ll try a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon or mint. And instead of apple, my mother uses Asian pear in her fennel salad—delicious indeed.
 
 
Fennel is popular in the traditional Mediterranean diet—particularly in Italy, but also in France and Greece. It’s full of nutrients—vitamin C, fiber, potassium, as well as various antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Florence fennel is what you’ll see in markets here, with a big white bulb, topped by long stalks and fronds, all of which can be eaten.
 
I think the first time I ate fennel was when my mother served her fennel and pear salad to us on one of my visits home. It’s not a dish she made when we were growing up; she’d learned it later on, from a friend during a long stay in Italy—making it her own by adding the Asian pears. Fennel is very versatile—eat it raw, as called for in the salad here, or steam, braise, grill or roast it (it caramelizes beautifully). Add it to soups and stews, serve over pasta or bake it with fish. This salad, in fact, works wonderfully served over grilled fish.
 
Wild fennel, a different plant, grows all around the Mediterranean; apparently it’s found on this continent in California, British Columbia and in other locales, too—perhaps where homesick Italians have planted the seeds. Once established, wild fennel is prolific. Wild fennel pollen, once known only in Tuscany, is prized by chefs like Mario Batali and Sara Jenkins (who uses it in her porchetta) for the flavor and aroma it brings to a dish.

Meatless Monday Gets Chefs to Dish for Thanksgiving

IF YOU’RE STILL LOOKING FOR IDEAS for the un-meat part of your Thanksgiving meal, Meatless Monday has invited its favorite chefs and cooks to share their favorite recipes. How about Mario Batali’s Sicilian rice balls, Martha Rose Shulman’s cranberry orange relish, or Dino Mash from Kim O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook? Check out all the recipes here. 

Best Med Diet Dish at...Maoz Vegetarian

HERE’S SOME FAST FOOD WITH MED CRED, available at five locations around the city—including high-traffic areas like Times Square and Union Square. Maybe one is near your office? A couple more branches are opening in the next few months, including one in Hoboken. 
 
My pick from the Maoz menu is the falafel whole-wheat pita sandwich ($5.25), with veggie toppings from the salad bar—roasted cauliflower, diced beets, tabouli salad, Moroccan-style marinated carrots, and so on, plus various sauces, including cilantro, garlic, tahini, chili. If you dine in, you can refill your pita as many times as you want from the salad bar, piling up those veggie servings with the greatest of ease.
 
 
Last time I was at Maoz, I bought an extra side order of falafel ($3.50, made from chickpeas) to take home, where I combined it with my own salad and tahini later. Yum. Maoz’s falafel made SeriousEats.com’s top 7 falafel sandwiches in New York City earlier this summer. The white pita lost it some points. I found the whole-wheat pita pretty tasty. 
 
The first Maoz restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 1991 and soon attracted local customers and travelers alike. The menu emphasizes fresh produce and, although it doesn’t use olive oil, the Med diet favorite, it does use zero trans fat vegetable oil. For only $1 extra, you can get freshly squeezed carrot, apple or orange juice instead of soda with the sandwich meal deal. If you’re interested in more nutrition details, check out the Maoz website.
 
Meatless Monday Deal:At Maoz Vegetarian, every day is meatless but on Mondays you get 10% off the Salad Meal Deal ($9.95)—a box of greens with falafel plus two add-ons (hummus, eggplant, etc.), salad-bar toppings and freshly squeezed juice.
 
Maoz Vegetarian
 
558 7th Ave (corner of 40 St)
New York, NY 10018
212.777.0820
 
59 East 8 St (between Broadway and University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
212.420.5999
 
38 Union Square East (between 16 and 17 St)
New York, NY  10003
212.260.1988
Order online
 
2047 Broadway (between 70 and 71 St)
New York, NY  10023
212.362.2622
 
2857 Broadway (between 110 and 111 St)
New York, NY  10025
212.222.6464
Order online
 
Opening Soon:
683 8th Ave (between 43 and 44 St)
New York, NY 10036
 
315 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ  07030 

RECIPE: Eggplant Slices, Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

THESE BAKED EGGPLANT SLICES are excellent on their own, but add the pomegranate vinaigrette and the cool yogurt sauce, with its tastes of garlic and tahini, and the dish has some of those big-flavor contrasts that make Mediterranean cooking so interesting. Pomegranate molasses is made by boiling down the juice into a syrup; it’s used in quite a few Eastern Mediterranean dishes to add depth and a tart-sweet flavor. This is the first recipe I’ve used it for—I look forward to trying others. I found it (and the tahini) quite easily by heading straight for Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Street in Manhattan. You should be able to find it at any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer. 

Serves 4-6, as appetizer or side dish
 
4 medium eggplants, cut into ½" rounds
1 tbs pomegranate molasses
1
 tbs red or white wine vinegar

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing eggplant 
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

(I use half Greek strained yogurt, half regular yogurt; either works fine)
1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbs tahini
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

 
Preheat oven to 475°F.
 
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and lightly salt them. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake, turning once, until they're tender and a little brown, about 30 minutes. Arrange on a large plate.
 
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar and 2 tbs olive oil.
 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, minced garlic and tahini. 
 
Brush the top of the cooked eggplant slices with the pomegranate vinaigrette, then spoon yogurt sauce over them and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
 
Adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon 

 

Meatless Monday: Eggplant Emergency

 
A FRIEND CALLED TO SAY that house guests had come laden with farmstand fare this weekend, and the whole crowd had eaten lovely meals from it. Trouble is, not enough lovely meals, because now Monday was here and she still had a small boatload of eggplants sitting on her kitchen counter. What to do?
 
Well, in case any of you have had a similar culinary challenge (haven’t we all?), here are some ideas:
 
Think Turkish. Turks love eggplant and have dozens of different ways to cook it, many involving olive oil and tomatoes. One of the most famous dishes is imam bayildi, or the imam fainted, which is eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions. Clifford Wright, author of The Mediterranean Feast, gives the scoop on the name—and a recipe—here. Perfect for Meatless Monday. Or any other day for that matter.
 
Another famous Turkish eggplant dish is karniyarik, also a stuffed eggplant. I’ve made it quite a few times recently but I’ll go into that more another day because there’s too much to talk about already and besides, one of its ingredients is lamb.
 
So, back to Meatless Monday. As the eggplant rush gathered force at the end of the summer, I began making a dish with pomegranate, yogurt and tahini. I found the recipe one day when I was in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, browsing through some of the many cookbooks I don’t own. They have quite a collection, and what a splendid setting it is for transporting yourself to other places. The Lebanese eggplant recipe is from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born cookbook writer who is credited with having revolutionized Western attitudes to Middle Eastern cooking with her classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in 1968. She’s a lively passionate writer, so I look forward to delving more deeply into all her books.
 

Today’s Meatless Monday treat at our house is this Algerian Eggplant Jam, from Joanne Weir’s From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the MediterraneanIt makes a delicious snack or appetizer on crostini (toasted baguette) or crusty bread.
 
Of course, one of Mediterraneanista’s enduring favorites when it comes to eggplant is ratatouille. I usually make a big pot, because there’s nothing tastier or easier for quick lunches or dinners, and you can always mix it up, so to speak, by serving it with grilled Italian sausage one day and couscous the next. Or you can try one of ratatouille’s many cousins, each with its own distinctive style.
 
Finally, you can never go wrong with Martha Rose Shulman’s suggestions in her Recipes for Health column at NYTimes.com. The recipes are conveniently organized by ingredient, and she often spends a week on different ways to prepare a single vegetable or grain. Here’s some of her eggplant repertoire to the rescue. 

Tomato Sauce, Batch 2

LAST WEEK READER JOHN FROM TORONTO passed on his great you-can-do-this method for making tomato sauce, which he learned from a Sicilian friend in London. He made another batch this week and sent some photos. The tomatoes he’s using look so beautiful and not at all like the giant hard waxed Romas you often come across in grocery stores. (I learned this week that Italian families in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, source their Romas in central New Jersey. Need to tap into that pipeline!)
 

Now doesn’t this make you want to stop everything and make tomato sauce? 

Eat Less Meat: Sure, But How Do You Get There from Here?

 
BY EATING THE TRADITIONAL MEDITERRANEAN WAY, of course. By now Mediterraneanista’s loyal readers know that the Mediterranean diet includes a lot less meat than many of us are used to. And we know it makes sense, this eating less meat, for all sorts of good health and environmental reasons. But what is less? And how do you get there from here?
 
I remember as a business editor one of the many managerial concepts that floated across my desk was “chunking”—a strategy for managing a big project by, well, breaking it into chunks. If you’re an enthusiastic meat eater who’s interested in moving in the direction of a more Mediterranean diet, “chunking” may be a concept worth reviving. Let’s face it, many of us have eating habits that were formed in households where the dinner menu was Meat Plus (you fill in the blanks, but it often involved potatoes). We may need a little aide-mémoire to adopt a different way.
 
 
So here are some chunks to get you closer to the Mediterranean way:
 
Meatless Monday, which I’ve written about here before, is a great example of a manageable chunk. You have six days to plan for one day of meatless eating. Since standard dietary recommendations call for no more than 18 oz. of meat a week, Meatless Monday works out perfectly. Three ounces a day, which is a portion or serving size, plus one day off. And you get the week off to a good start. (The Meatless Monday organization reports that “studies suggest that we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.”)
 
Learn to cook two or three meatless main dishes you love, so they become second nature, just the way the Meat-Plus concept once was. Most important, this flips the idea around from denying yourself meat to treating yourself to a different kind of delicious meal—a joy-of-eating concept Mediterraneanista likes a lot. I didn’t start out with the goal of “eating less meat.” I just became seduced by the adventure of discovering just how delicious and satisfying the traditional Mediterranean way of eating could be. Roast vegetables is one of my simplest favorites. If you enter “vegetarian” in the Mediterraneanista search box at right, you’ll find others.
 
Be a vegetarian before dinner. Over the long term, this is much easier to keep top of mind than tracking your meat intake meal by meal. (I don’t know about you, but I find the whole tracking thing gets tiresome pretty quickly, although it can be useful as a way to learn exactly what you are eating or spending now.) Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has written about how a mostly-vegan until dinner approach works for him in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. He’s never doctrinaire about it, and makes it seem doable and adaptable.
 
Chef Mario Batali, who offers vegetarian dishes for Meatless Monday at all his restaurants, recently surprised a few people when he said he was working on a vegetarian cookbook and is now “vegetarian all day until dinner, and I try to eat no meat whatsoever on Monday and Tuesday.” Perhaps that helps explain why there’s 45 pounds less of him—and counting. Actually, his cookbook Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking very much reflects a traditional Mediterranean table and includes a lot of fabulous meatless dishes in it already.
 
Make meat a secondary ingredient on your plate, not the centerpiece. That helps the portion size make a lot more sense. Because, yep, as I wrote yesterday, 3-4 oz. is actually the suggested serving of meat to be eaten at a meal. That’s a piece about the size of a pack of cards, a useful way to visualize it, I find, when I’m eyeballing meat purchases for a family dinner or dinner party. Some of you are probably thinking, 3 ounces of meat could look pretty lonely in the middle of a plate. True, if it’s at the center of that plate. Instead, think of a stir-fry, for instance, that’s three parts vegetables, one part meat. Or a whole-grain rice pilaf for four in which ½ pound of ground lamb adds fabulous meat flavor. Last week, I made a Turkish eggplant dish (more about that soon) that used ½ pound of lamb in the stuffing for four eggplants. Delicious!
 
Use legumes—beans, lentils—and grains like farro to give some of the textural and nutritional satisfaction of meat—they’re high in fiber and protein. Throw them in soup or salads or stews. I’ll write soon about how to make this super easy. I’m branching out from my favorite farro salad to learn more ways of incorporating this incredibly tasty grain into more meals, and I’ll keep you posted on that, too. 

Bon appetit—Mediterranean style! 

Tomato Sauce—Yes!

 
Reader John writes:
At this time of year all over Toronto, a huge harvest of Roma tomatoes hits the streets. In all the Mediterranean neighbourhoods, every corner store has bushels and bushels (and bushels) of ripe, beautiful Roma tomatoes, filling the sidewalks and ready for processing. Having done a bit of this myself I can only marvel that people drive away with 2 or 3 bushels at a time. That’s factory work! My modest efforts, however, still provide me with a winter’s worth of great tasting tomato sauce for pasta. I learned how to make the sauce from a Sicilian friend while on holiday in London, not the likeliest place to discover these things. It’s more a method than a recipe and has served me well over the years.
 
Buy a small amount of tomatoes (20 to 30, depending on size). The idea is to avoid scaring yourself into inaction. Wash them and with a very sharp knife, dice them finely (1/4" or so). This makes it unnecessary to peel the tomatoes. Place them in a large pot and heat as slowly as possible, stirring until enough juice is released. Add finely chopped garlic, fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste. Add a finely chopped carrot or two (1/8" cubes) for taste and colour. Add a very generous dollop of your best extra-virgin olive oil. Stir gently and enjoy the aroma while cooking for a couple of hours at an extremely low temperature. Adjust the seasoning, perhaps adding a pinch of sugar if it tastes too sour.
 
After cooling I put them in small containers (like a single serve yogourt container) and freeze them. Perfect Friday night dinner! Thaw the sauce in a microwave, serve over pasta and enjoy with spinach or a salad. Fresh, pure and simple.
 
Each year I make 2 or 3 small batches within several weeks, partly not to get intimidated by the work and partly to vary the taste slightly. It’s easy and very rewarding, both during the cooking and during the eating.         
I’m inspired!  John’s sauce sounds delicious and I like his anti-intimidation tactics. Get me some tomatoes! I haven’t found reasonably priced Romas in bushel basket quantities in NYC, but I’m sure I must just be looking in the wrong places. Anyone know where to buy? 
 
My (English) mom and (Polish) dad used to bottle Roma tomatoes, especially after we kids left home, when they had more time for such things. They usually broke up the work over a few days, my mom was telling me recently, working in a two-person assembly line, peeling the tomatoes and bottling them whole, ready to use in all sorts of recipes. The supply lasted through the winter, and I was the beneficiary of a few jars whenever I went home or they came to visit. I still remember the summer-ripe taste.
 
I was reminded of this recently when my son Chris, who spent the summer doing moving jobs in Toronto, told us how he was feelin’ the pain because so many of the Italian households he was moving had cold storage rooms in the basement (as in, the level reached by a long, steep, narrow staircase)—filled with the vital supplies of a Mediterranean kitchen: preserved tomatoes (how about 10 boxes, each filled with 12 Mason jars?), massive tins of imported olive oil, big glass containers of wine at various stages of production. Even a curing ham hanging from the rafters in one place (more interesting than heavy, especially since the owner offered the movers samples before they left). Ah, Italia.

Running Late? This Sauce Could Save the Day

WHEN I SEE THE TWO NAMES Deborah Madison and Clifford Wright mentioned together, I sit up and pay attention. I still remember being swept off my feet by the first real gourmet vegetarian meal I’d ever eaten—it was at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, where Madison was founding chef. In the years since then, I’ve cooked some unforgettable dishes and meals from her cookbooks. (It will soon be the season for roasted squash, pear and ginger soup again!) Clifford Wright is a scholar of Mediterranean food and culinary history—and a wonderful writer (see his column at Zester Daily) and book author.
 
This afternoon, thanks to an article that caught my eye at food website Culinate, my plan for the day has been tossed aside and here I am suddenly making “Cliff Wright’s Yogurt Sauce”—at Deborah Madison’s suggestion.
 
 
I ate the yogurt sauce over lentils, because Madison’s description was irresistible:
I had gone to visit my friend, the cook and historian Clifford Wright, and I was ravenous when I got to his place. I knew I had to eat a little something, even though the hour was not an eating hour; it was 4 o’clock, and a wonderful dinner would be coming soon.
 
But Cliff, who is a world traveler, understood that travel takes its toll on appetites and their timing, so with no fuss at all, he served up a dish of lentils and set it down before me, along with a bowl of yogurt sauce.
 
I spooned the yogurt into the lentils, inhaled, then dove in. At that moment, those lentils and that yogurt were the most delicious foods I had ever eaten.
They were delicious in the middle of my workday, too, when all of a sudden it was afternoon and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet.
 
I’ll be making sure I have some of this sauce around (or at least the ingredients for making it) because I believe it when Madison says it works with everything: drizzle it on pita sandwiches, add it to a plate of beans or grains or sautéed greens or vegetables or grilled fish. Sounds perfect for when hungry Mediterraneanista is feeling lazy or has suddenly noticed it’s time for dinner. Oops, just saw the time—might be eating yogurt sauce twice today.
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