vegetarian

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. 

Move Over, Turkey

MUCH AS I LIKE ROAST TURKEY at Thanksgiving, I’ve always liked the side dishes even more, especially when combined in a crazy spill-off-the-plate sort of way. Now Tara Parker-Pope has a great series going, over at her Well blog at NYTimes.com: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving. Vegetables (and fruit) are the stars in dozens of fabulous recipes, some homey, some knock-your-socks-off chef’s masterpieces. She’ll add new dishes daily until Thanksgiving. Lots for Mediterraneanista to like here. How about Martha Rose Shulman’s Orange-Scented Sweet Potato and Fruit Gratin or Tom Colicchio’s Caramelized Tomato Tarts? The recipes are all so tempting, I think Thanksgiving will have to be a month-long celebration this year. That’s OK— I do have quite a lot to be thankful for. What about you? 

 

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 

 

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.

RECIPE: Spicy Turkish-Style Yogurt Sauce (Açili Esme)

 
THIS SPICY YOGURT SAUCE is great over lentils, sautéed greens, beans, grains, fish or grilled meat. And it makes a delicious dip, too.
 
1 tsp sea salt
2-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled
¾ cup high quality full-fat yogurt
6 tbs strained yogurt (Labna or Greek-style)
½ tsp cayenne pepper (I use a scant ½ tsp)
1 tsp chopped dill weed
extra-virgin olive oil
 
Pound the salt and garlic together in a mortar until mushy, or mince the garlic cloves in a press and then mix thoroughly with the salt.
 
Blend with the yogurt, labna, cayenne and dill. Turn it into a bowl and swirl olive oil over the surface.
 
Adapted from The Mediterranean Feast, by Clifford A. Wright. 

RECIPE: Fresh Cherry Tomatoes with Pasta

Serves 4 (unless you’re carbo-loading for a bike ride and then all bets are off)
 
WHAT COULD BE SIMPLER than a dish that requires no cooking except boiling pasta? With a raw sauce like this, the key is to choose the best ingredients—tomatoes at their absolute ripest and sweetest, fresh-picked tangy arugula and herbs. Chopping the greens (and other ingredients) helps make sure they’ll be evenly distributed throughout the dish. Small pasta shapes, such as orrechiette and fusilli, seem to work best. 
  
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves (or 1 large), minced
4 tbs basil leaves, chopped or slivered
1 packed cup wild arugula, roughly chopped
sea salt
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
¾ lb pasta (I particularly like orrechiette, which like wild arugula, is typical of Puglia)
¼ cup grated Parmesan (or more)
 
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (cool time-saving trick here) and put in a beautiful bowl (yes, that's part of the recipe) big enough to hold the vegetables and pasta. Add the minced garlic cloves, basil leaves, wild arugula and olive oil. Mix and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or more. Taste and adjust seasonings.
 
Cook pasta al dente, drain and toss with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top.
 
Variations:
Add 1/4 cup of olives cut in half.
Add 4 scallions chopped thinly.
Use mint instead of basil.
And so on...
 
Adapted from The Very Best of Recipes for Health, by Martha Rose Shulman. 
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