Posts Tagged ‘Recipes’

It’s one of those “dark, leafy greens” we’re supposed to be eating like 10 times a day. And you may have eaten it before and wondered why someone was serving you stringy weeds that taste bitter get stuck in your teeth. But I promise Swiss chard can be really tasty. Delicious in fact. The first few times I got chard in my organic box, I sighed, chopped up the chard, tossed it in a pan with some olive oil (which seems to work pretty well for most vegetables), and hoped for the best. But what I ended up with was undercooked, tree-like stalks and mushy, tasteless leaves. I decided chard was best for shredding into salads or, even better, as a garnish. Its leaves look beautiful under a wheel of goat cheese…

But the problem with that thinking is that chard is really, really good for you. Thanks to its combination of minerals, nutrients, and fiber, chard is like an anti-cancer pill. Plus, it’s an excellent source of vitamins A, K, C, E, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and iron — all things we want and probably don’t get enough of. And chard does seem to come in my box a lot. So, I did some more experimenting until I finally discovered this method of cooking chard. I guess it seems obvious, but the secret to cooking something with a tough stalk is to start cooking the stalks first, give them some time to soften up and mellow out, and then toss in the leaves.

This recipe makes a great and very quick side dish. Shallots enhance the chard’s flavor, which, in this dish at least, is nutty and savory and not at all bitter. My husband, who has always told me he “despises” chard, loved this. While I wouldn’t use the word “love,” the kids ate it happily, which is about all I can hope for when I’m serving something that slightly resembles the things poking out of the playground asphalt at their school.

Rainbow Chard with Shallots

1 bunch Swiss chard (doesn’t have to be the “rainbow” version, but it does look pretty)
1 small shallot
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Red chili flakes (optional)
Salt & pepper

Give the chard a bath in a sink full of cold water and rinse. You may have to do this twice to get all the dirt and grit off. Dry on towels. Using a large cutting board, cut the chard’s leaves from the stalks by running a knife down either side of each stalk. You can also do this by hand by tearing the leaves off the stalks, but I found the knife method faster. Chop the stalks into one-inch pieces. Thinly slice the shallot. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard stalks then the shallots and saute until the stalks soften and the shallots start to caramelize, about 10 minutes.

Slice the chard leaves into ribbons and add them to the pan. It will seem like a lot of chard at this point, but the leaves really cook down (like spinach). Add a few drops of vinegar and the red chili flakes; season with salt & pepper to taste. Continue cooking until the leaves are wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.


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I know it’s a stretch to write a food blog post and even attempt a segue from the news about the passing of Steve Jobs, but here it is: Mr. Jobs liked things small. I recently read that he once had an aha moment while pondering the appeal of Mini Coopers and realized that they’re cool for really no other reason than because they’re small. Well, mini food is cool, too — think street tacos, soup in shot glasses, cake pops. And of course sliders. Actually, I’m not sure if sliders are really cool, but they are delicious and fun to eat. I think it’s because they’re “just right” in terms of proportion of meat to bread and, yes, they’re so damn cute — like an iPod Shuffle.

I made these sliders with ground elk, which is very lean and not gamey at all. Really. But if you don’t have a hunter in the family, these would be just as good (and almost as healthy) made with ground buffalo or turkey, or even grass-fed beef. For the buns, I had some leftover hot dog buns so I cut them in thirds, lightly buttered them, and stuck them under the broiler for about 2 minutes. Ciabatta is also good (no, great). I’ve seen tiny potato rolls in the bakery before, and I bet those would be perfect. I cooked these indoors on a grill pan because it was pouring out, but if you do cook them over an open flame, I would probably put them on a piece of tinfoil first so they don’t dry out. I served the sliders with a mixture of green and waxed beans that were blanched and tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan, and lemon. And ketchup of course. It made a simple family meal that everyone in my family, even my slightly meat-phobic daughter, loved.


1 lb. ground elk (or other lean meat)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch garlic powder
Pinch dried herbs (oregano or parsley)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg
salt & pepper
Sliced cheese (I used Swiss)
Rolls or bread for buns (and butter)

In a large bowl, combine meat with egg, Worcestershire sauce, spices, and bread crumbs. Mix well with your hands. To make the patties, use about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture for each one and roll into a ball, then flatten slightly. Put the patties on a sheet of tinfoil, and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each one to keep it from shrinking into nothingness when you cook it. Heat a grill pan (or skillet) over high heat (I used my ancient Calphalon grill pan on my hottest gas burner). When it’s hot, cook the patties for about 6 minutes until browned, then flip and cook another 4-6 minutes depending on how you like them. Add the cheese (about a 1 1/2-inch square is all you need for each burger) during the last 2 minutes of cooking and loosely cover the pan with a lid. While cheese is melting, toast the bread and get out some salad plates; you won’t be needing the big ones tonight.

This recipe makes about 12-14 mini burgers. If you’re really hungry (like my husband), you will probably eat about eight. I ate three. Okay, maybe four.

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Two Smoothies

I clearly remember my first Jamba Juice. When I tasted that massively delicious fruity — and healthy! — concoction, I felt like I’d died and went to heaven. And then I got a stomach ache. That was when Jamba Juice only offered one size: behemoth. Nowadays they have smaller and less sugary options (The hefty Caribbean Passion drink I loved so much is over 400 calories and almost 100 grams of sugar; no wonder it tasted so good.), but it still annoys me that Jamba Juice won’t divulge what’s in its “non-dairy blend.”

While Jamba Juice is a special occasion treat, homemade smoothies are a fantastic option for kids’ breakfasts or snacks, plus they’re a great way to use up overripe bananas, squishy berries, and big vats of yogurt. I realize everyone probably knows how to make a decent smoothie, but I have a couple especially delectable combinations that I’ve stumbled across, so I wanted to share. Both of these are delicious and healthy; you can probably guess which one is probably more kid friendly.

One note about blenders. If yours is 20 years old and you love it, great. Keep it and whirl away. If yours is 20 years old and it only blends the bottom inch of whatever’s in it, creates a weird burning smell, and often makes you want to scream, I suggest splurging on a new appliance. Look for a beefy, wide model with a powerful motor and all-metal drive for durability. I finally ditched my college-era Hamilton Beach for a new 6-speed Oster, which has a special ice-crusher blade. I looked at a few more-expensive blenders, but none seemed noticeably better than this $50 model. So far it’s working for me.

High-Protein Breakfast Smoothie

Ingredients (all quantities for both recipes are approximate)
1/2 cup crushed ice
5 large strawberries
1 scoop (maybe 1/2 cup) full-fat Greek yogurt, either vanilla or plain (The Oikos brand by Stonyfield is organic.)
2 tbs. organic almond butter (We use Maranatha.)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 packet organic whey protein powder (I’ve read a lot of conflicting reports about processed soy so we don’t eat that much of it, although I wouldn’t think a scoop of soy protein powder here and there could be anything but totally fine, especially if you’re lactose intolerant.)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more of whatever is lacking.

Mom’s Favorite Smoothie (This one is slightly reminiscent of a blended salad, but it’s very refreshing and delicious; just check your teeth for kale bits before leaving the house and smiling at anyone.)

Small handful kale, roughly chopped or shredded by hand (remove the thick stalks)
1/2 cup crushed ice
1/2 squeezed lemon
1 tsp. diced ginger
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup orange juice
2 capfulls flax seed oil

Put all ingredients in blender and blend well. Enjoy.

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To rinse the grains, just put them in a bowl of water then pour through a fine strainer.

Since I raved about farro so much in my last post, I thought it would be a good idea to share this cleverly named recipe (for which I can take no credit; I learned how to make it at Cook Street School of Fine Cooking). It’s hard to describe how good this is. It’s very much like risotto in terms of being comforting and creamy and very satisfying, but it’s even better because the farro has such a great chewy texture and slightly more interesting taste, plus it’s more nutritious because of farro’s status as a high-protein whole grain.

If you happen to have a cheese rind lying a round, this is a great chance to use it.

So far, I’ve made this twice, and it’s really hard to screw up. It does take some time, but for most of that time, you’re just stirring and tasting, which is pretty enjoyable and possible to do while you’re helping with math facts or religion homework. You don’t have to stir it constantly — I actually think that’s a myth about risotto in general; in order to force the starch out of the grains, you really only need to stir “frequently.”

Think of this basic recipe as a starting point; to it you can add anything you would add to risotto — any combination of peas, asparagus, chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms would be great. But it’s also delicious just like this.

I won’t promise your kids will like it, but mine asked for seconds. And they’re as picky as your kids.


4 tbs. unsalted butter or oil
4 shallots or 2 leeks, very finely diced (should be about the same size as the farro grains)
2 cups farro (I doubled this)
2 cups dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
4-6 cups chicken broth (I used vegetable broth)
salt & pepper
grated cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or Grana Padana or a combination)
2 oz. creme fraiche (optional, I skipped this)

In a large pot, heat 4 tbs. of the butter without browning. When it’s hot, add the shallots (or leeks) and a pinch of salt. Saute 1-2 minutes until the shallots soften. Add the farro and toss to coat. Being careful not to brown the grains, cook the farro in the butter until it begins to smell nutty (5-10 mins.). Turn the heat to high, add the wine (I used 4 cups because I doubled the farro), and cook until it evaporates completely. Reduce heat to low. Add the stock by the ladleful to cover the farro. Stirring often (every 5 minutes or so, really you’re just trying to force the starch out of the grains), allow the broth to reduce by half, replenish the liquid, and add another pinch of salt. Cook the farro slowly, replenishing the liquid as needed to the level of the grains in the pot (even though I doubled the amount of farro, I didn’t need to double the broth; I think I used about 6 cups total plus 1/2 cup of water at the end), until the grains are al dente. The grains should be chewy and distinct, not cooked to mush. The finished dish should have a small amount of saucy liquid. Check the salt and adjust if needed. Finish with grated cheese and creme fraiche (or not). Garnish with fresh ground pepper (or not if you have a pepper hater in the family like I do).

Putting the veggies on top makes this meal easy to deconstruct.

Serve with dinner, or as dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch.

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This is comfort food — not in the same sense as mac ‘n cheese of course, but anything sitting on top of a steaming bowl of sushi rice is comforting in my book. Sushi rice is completely satisfying and very filling. Its gluey deliciousness is worth an occasional departure from brown rice (although short-grain brown rice would also work for this dish) — especially since sushi rice is a key part of what’s referred to as the healthiest diet on earth.

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen. The only changes I made were to use chili paste instead of the finely chopped red or green chiles Nigella called for. Plus, I cooked a bunch of broccoli to serve with it. Broccoli works great with the slightly sweet and spicy Asian flavors here, and I definitely felt like the dish — and my kids — needed a veggie. Green beans would also be good, or asparagus. I like that the meal is customizable and can be deconstructed for any kids’ food issues (er, I mean tastes).

The most comforting thing about this dish was that everyone in my family loved it. Especially me.

Salmon with Sticky Rice


2 1/2 cups sushi rice (You can buy this in bulk at Whole Foods; I recommend making more than this because you’re going to crave it for lunch the next day.)
1 lb. slab of salmon without the skin (preferably wild salmon; remove the skin with a knife if necessary)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp. red or green chiles, diced (I used Sambal Oelek red chile paste.)
2 tbs. minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tbs. mirin or sake (Nigella called for 2 tbs. of each, but I just used the mirin. Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine and is usually easy to find in the Asian aisle of the supermarket; sake requires a trip to the liquor store.)
2 tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime, squeezed)

Cook the rice following the directions on the package (or bulk bin) or in a rice cooker.

Cook some broccoli (or green beans or asparagus spears or all of the above) in salted boiling water until just tender, 2-3 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add a few drops of oil. Sear the salmon for 4-5 minutes on one side (if you’re using a stainless steel pan, the salmon should release fairly easily when it’s ready to be turned; don’t mess with it until then), turn it over and cook for another minute or so. The salmon should be just barely opaque and cooked in the center. Remove it from the pan and put it on a large piece of tin foil; make a loose package with the foil and seal the edges to keep the fish warm.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and put in a bowl to serve alongside the salmon and rice. You can serve this family style with the whole fish on a platter, which would make a nice presentation for guests, or divide the rice and fish (and veggies) into separate bowls according to your picky eaters’ specifications. I left the sauce off my daughter’s portion and added extra heat (I recommend trying sweet and gingery Lingham’s hot sauce; Sriracha is also tasty with this) to mine and my husband’s.

Tomorrow, leftover sushi rice with sauteed mushrooms for lunch! Mmmm.

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I realize I risk losing all credibility by posting this recipe for Burundian Spinach Stew. Also, I have to be up front and admit that my kids did not like it. (Words like “weird” and “huh?” were used.) But I promise it’s delicious. Really. When I first discovered this on the Operation Rice Bowl website last year, I was skeptical, too. The basic list of ingredients — spinach, peanut butter, and onions — reminded me of those strange concoctions my little sister used to make in the kitchen before my mom got home from work and then dared me to taste. But we had vowed to make as many of the African, Middle Eastern, and South American recipes from the site’s list as we reasonably could during Lent, and I happened to have most of the ingredients, so I bought about a bushel of spinach and made the stew.

And guess what? Those Burundians are amazing recipe developers. This stew is very quick and easy to make (although you will be shredding piles of spinach — a job I suggest foisting on one of your super helpful children), it’s thick and very flavorful, almost like a curry, and it’s chock full of dark green (i.e. healthy) spinach and other veggies. In addition to creating the rich consistency and flavor, the peanut butter adds protein, which we (part-time) vegetarians need; I’m pretty sure that’s what makes this stew so completely satisfying. I promise you won’t miss the meat.

As I said, my kids turned their noses up, which is not surprising since it’s brown and full of very well-cooked spinach. Plus, I made it a little on the spicy side (oops). My spouse couldn’t get enough. The kids ate bowls of the brown rice I’d made to go with the stew with some veggies and sliced eggs — everyone was happy and well fed, so it worked for me.

Of course I made a few minor tweaks and additions to the Burundians’ basic recipe, which I feel kinda bad about because I know we’re supposed to be eating in solidarity with them. But I couldn’t help myself. It might not be totally authentic, but my version was pretty darn tasty. I’ll put my changes and comments in italics so you can stick to the basic recipe if you want.

Burundian Spinach Stew

2 small onions, chopped
2 tbs. oil (I used olive oil.)
2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced (I didn’t peel them.)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (I used red; I don’t like green peppers and imagine if the Burundians had access to red peppers, they’d be in agreement.)
2 lbs. fresh spinach (You can buy the bagged baby spinach, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy bunches of regular organic spinach. I used 3 large bunches.)
1 tsp. salt (Don’t measure, just taste it.)
2 chili peppers, sliced (I used Thai red chili paste, probably about 2 tsp.)
4 tbs. peanut butter (I think chunky would be off-putting so used creamy. I highly recommend all-natural peanut butter, by the way; it tastes much better and doesn’t have weird, unnecessary oils and sugars added to it.)
6 cups rice, cooked (I used short grain brown rice, which is more sticky and satisfying than long grain rice.)
Plus I added:
1/2 pint sliced, sauteed mushrooms
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. fish sauce
2 tbs. banana jam (You could also use marmalade, chutney, or honey; I just thought the stew needed a little sweetness).

In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, saute the onions in the oil until golden. Stir in tomatoes and bell peppers. Add spinach (First rinse really, really well in a large bowl or sink full of water, then tear off the stems and shred into pieces.), salt, and chili. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

Give the spinach a nice cold bath.

Add several tablespoons warm water to the peanut butter to make a smooth paste. Add to pot (along with soy sauce, fish sauce, and jam) and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently, adding small amounts of water to prevent sticking (about 1 cup). Add sauteed mushrooms. Serve over rice.

It tastes better than it looks.

Try it, you’ll like it. Next up: Nigerian Okra Paste with Cornmeal Porridge (just kidding).

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For the next 40 days, I am a vegetarian. This — giving up meat for Lent — has become a tradition of mine. It started a couple years ago when my family got involved in Operation Rice Bowl through my kids’ school. Operation Rice Bowl is a program that helps people connect with people in need around the world by inviting participants to “… fast in solidarity with those who hunger; learn more about our global community and the challenges of poverty overseas; and give sacrificial contributions to those in need.” We aren’t officially participating this year, but we do have our own little family version. Every day the kids put one toy or book in a box for the poor, and the money we save by not eating meat (or candy in the kids’ case) goes to a famine-relief organization.

Okay so this long-winded and slightly preachy update on my plans for for Lent is not the point of this post. And even though there’s really no question that a mostly plant-based diet is better for you and the planet, I’m not going to urge anyone to become a vegetarian, even for 40 days. After giving up meat for five weeks last year, however, I did learn firsthand that meat is not essential to a healthy diet or even a fun, happy life. Aside from the occasional urge to snatch a piece of bacon off my son’s breakfast plate, I didn’t miss it very much. In fact, I hardly touched the lamb my mom made for Easter. The icing on the cake was that I lost five pounds without even trying. Although we did go back to eating some meat after Lent, we’ve really tried to be more mindful about it and appreciate it. I now think of meat as a side dish or flavor accent, which means the bulk of the meal is plants.

Which (finally) leads me to the point of this post.

One of the best parts of Operation Rice Bowl is that the organization’s website has a huge list of interesting yet super-simple vegetarian recipes from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America. We cooked most of the recipes last year and, aside from a few bombs (Gambian Yam Balls were actually worse than they sound, and Nigerian Okra with Cornmeal Porridge did not go ever well with the kids.), they were fantastic.

One of the issues I’ve had in the past with going vegetarian is that so many meatless recipes seem exceedingly complicated and frankly don’t sound very good. They often use things like tempeh or other soy-based proteins, which I don’t love. So I end up eating lots of pasta and salads. The ORB dishes — such as Congolese Beans & Greens, Ghanian Ground-nut Stew, Cambodian Sour Soup, and Honduran Plantain Turnovers — are easy to make from ingredients that are readily available. And they are surprisingly satisfying, balanced, and varied.

I’m excited about making a few of my favorites, including Burundian Spinach Stew and Haitian Rice & Beans, in the next few weeks. As I do, I’ll post my versions of the recipes. If you get inspired to see what they eat in Cameroon and make something from the list, please let me know!

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