Tag Archives: vegetarian

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

15 Apr

I have become a firm believer in celebrating life’s little wins. There’s nothing like a bottle of sparkling wine to transform a Thursday night from the final day in the weekend countdown into an evening worthy of savoring.

Depending on on how many people you’ve invited to your personal pop-up party, you may wind up with some leftover less-than-bubbly. After all, this is a weekday indulgence – and waking up with a brick on your forehead would pretty much defeat the purpose. So rather than pour that extra glitter (that one’s for you, @itsamich!) to waste, why not use that last bit of liquid gold to elevate your next meal with effortless elegance?

Wanting to capture the richness of celebratory flavor without decimating any semblance of virtuosity – and yes, also having just dropped a $20 on a lusciously extravagant non-neccesity – I decided to make a champagne risotto so as to make going the meat-free route easy. I consulted Cooking Light, which I’ve come to rely on as a resource for expert shortcuts to lighten up heavy favorites, where I found a basic recipe from which I gave myself the freedom to improvise. The recipe uses feta cheese to provide the risotto’s requisite creaminess, reserving the parm as a topping, where it will leave a lingering taste impact for minimal calories.

Weeknight-chic champagne risotto.

As I hovered over my stovetop leisurely laboring over this notorious attention-hog of a classic, I  was viscerally struck with a memory of my first attempt at risotto. Now the stuff of culinary legend amongst my beautiful and amazing roommates of the time, it’s pretty incredible to think back on that Sunday evening almost four years ago when to cook what I thought was the ultimate in classy family dinner  I donned a sparkly thriftstore dress and secondhand heels, dumped some stuff in a nonstick sautee pan over very barely there heat, and an hour later served raw rice to my nearest dearest.

Some things never change - I've always been prone to the kitchen dance party.

While I can’t say I do much Sunday afternoon “menu planning” while throwing back Baileys’ at the Gold Cane these days, I guess it’s not quite fair to say I’ve just discovered the value of turning the ordinary into the revelatory. Four years and a dozen or so risottos later, it just looks – and thankfully, tastes – more than a little different.

Where would we be without Facebook? Spring 2008.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

*Adapted from Cooking Light’s Champagne-Feta Risotto; I also doubled the recipe so we would have leftovers. The champagne and the feta infuse this rich dish with a tanginess perfectly cut by interlaced  sweet peas and economically bulked up with some spinach.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 9 for a serving size of 1 cup risotto, topped with grated parm cheese; This recipe will make 8 WWP+ servings (or, 2 – 3 Katie servings and 5 – 6 Moh servings)

  • 2 cans of fat free chicken broth (note: you could easily use veggie stock and make this vegetarian. I think canned veggie broth has a weird, tinny flavor that detracts from finished dishes but it’s so easy to make your own – just boil some carrots and onions with salt for a while and then strain it – I think it’s worth it.)
  • a shake or two of some dried herb of choice – I used oregano
  • however much champagne you have left – between 3/4 cup and 2 cups will probably work best*
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cups of arborio rice
  • 1 6-oz. container of crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful or two of frozen peas
  • a cup or two of chopped spinach (I used fresh but frozen would work fine)

*Quality Control Note: While it doesn’t matter so much for the cooking, do yourself right when you’re toasting you. You don’t have to break out the Veuve, but please don’t defeat the purpose and settle for Andres – I find Mumm Napa, a few steps up from Cook’s, a solid compromise.

  1. Combine the chicken broth, the herb and some of the champagne (you’ll want to save 3/4 – 1 cup, so just use whatever else you have – you can also add some white wine if you have an open bottle), along with a cup or so of water, in a pot. Bring to a low, steady simmer (don’t boil).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (ideally, you want something ceramic or with a pretty thick bottom. tee hee.) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and toast for a couple minutes, stirring so that each baby grain gets some heat loving.
  3. Pour the champagne over the rice. Enjoy the hiss. Stir until it has been completely soaked up. When it has, add a cup of the simmering broth. Repeat. Just keep on repeating and, as Marcella Hazan my Italian demigoddess advises, start tasting after about 15 minutes.
  4. When it’s just about done – which is when the rice is still a bit chewy and toothsome but resting within a fluffy cloud of soft deliciousness – rinse your frozen peas under warm water for a minute, shake them dry, and add them. Stir in and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the feta and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir well.
  7. Top each portion with grated parm cheese and serve alongside a simple green salad (I just did balsamic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice).

Don't worry, this is a baby first helping 🙂

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Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Wake up, Wake up, Wake up! Breakfast of Jordanian Champions

3 Apr

Breakfast has always been my toughest meal. Cereal is king for the classic American kid, but all that carb and no protein always left me  cranky and slightly woozy by 10 a.m. Granted, this was before I discovered the eighth wonder of the world (coffee, as anyone who has ever come into contact with me before noon can attest), but even still the sugar-laden on-the-go pastries that fill the adult void left by Cap’n Crunch have never done it for me. That leaves basically one option: eggs and taters. While anyone who knows me is also aware that if asked to choose between picking up my next paycheck and plowing into a pile of potatoes I would genuinely struggle before reaching for the salt, variety is the spice of life.

Fresh tomato, cucumber and jalapeño salad and Greek yogurt.

So, when my wonderful boyfriend delivered a traditional Jordanian breakfast that turned out to be the answer to a lifetime of pre-noon struggles to my doorstep one morning, I knew I was hooked. (On the breakfast. The boy I’d long since fallen for.)

Come on and don't CHOP ME UP. That WAS a Justin Timberlake reference, I'm so glad you asked.

Fatteh is a blend of homemade hummus and Greek yogurt served over chunks of soft bread topped with jalapeño, garlic, sauteed almond slivers or pinenuts, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh parsley and chickpeas. It is also quite possibly the ninth wonder of the world. Spicy, fresh, and full of distinct flavors that bring out one another’s piquancy, it’s filling enough to stick with you for hours but never weighs you down. It’s one of the most decadent meals I’ve ever had that’s simple and healthy enough to make regularly at home, and it’s completely vegetarian.

Moh never cooks from a recipe, but I’ve watched him make it twice now and interrupted him several times this afternoon for reminders. Just for you, friends, I’m proud to divulge his divine breakfast secret. (Or as he’ll tell you, his mom’s divine breakfast secret.)

Hummus

First, start with fresh hummus. This you can do days ahead, but wait to add the lemon until you’re ready to serve.

  • Dried chickpeas (1 big bag)
  • Tahini (he uses about a third of a jar to make one batch)
  • Cumin
  • Fresh lemon juice
  1. Soak chickpeas in water overnight.
  2. Boil chickpeas in water with a couple spoonfuls of cumin and a little salt.
  3. Drain and puree chickpeas in batches in a food processer or blender.
  4. Mix with tahini.
  5. Season with more salt and cumin to taste. If you’re serving that day, add lemon juice. If not, wait and add when you do.

If, like Moh, you have far more patience and finesse than I do, make it look lovely and top with olive oil and fresh parsley.

Fatteh

  • The hummus you just made
  • Greek yogurt
  • A few soft sandwich rolls or buns, like potato bread
  • 1/2 can chickpeas (or you can use a scoop from the dried bag you used for hummus; just separate some after you’ve soaked them overnight).
  • More olive oil than seems possibly reasonable, but is
  • Juice from a few fresh lemons
  • 2 or 3 jalapeños
  • A clove of garlic
  • Pine nuts and/or slivered almonds
  • Optional: tomatoes, only if they’re really good – could be baby or big ones
  1. Bring chickpeas to a boil in water with some cumin and salt. When they’re soft, drain and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, make a spicy olive oil dressing. Dice jalapeños, garlic, and parsley into very small pieces and toss with olive oil, lemon juice and crushed red pepper.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a small pan and when it’s hot, fry the pine nuts and/or almonds, shaking often so they don’t burn. Remove from heat when they smell delicious and just before they’re perfectly toastily browned because they’ll keep cooking in the oil for a few minutes on their own.
  4. Tear the bread (or slice, I suppose, but ripping things is a good job when you’re a mostly helpless sous chef whose primary role is to harass the chef by obsessively snapping camera-phone shots of his every movement – is anything more annoying than a food blogger?) into bite-sized chunks and spread along the bottom of a big dish, like a glass baking dish. Pour a bit of the chickpea cooking water with cumin over the top and mix it up – not enough to be soupy, just slightly spongy.
  5. Mix the hummus with yogurt, about 7 parts hummus to 4 parts yogurt. Pour 2/3 of it over the bread, add the spicy olive oil dressing, and mix quickly and well.
  6. Pour the remaining hummus/yogurt blend over the top. Finish with more olive oil, the fried nuts, the whole chickpeas, fresh parsley, chunks of tomato if you have good ones, and salt, cumin and lemon juice to taste.

The spoils. That's the fatteh at the front.

Moh serves with toasted pita to scoop it up (if you want to go truly traditional, no forks allowed) and his favorite tea – Lipton’s steeped with heaps of sugar and fresh mint – in glasses. Sweet and delicious.

I’ve been planning to write this up for months but kept putting it off because I wanted to do it justice. An article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine (“Does the Mediterranean Diet Even Exist?“), which I found an entitled, pot-boiling (har, har) brush-off of every culture (including ours) it examines through a superficial lens disguised as culinary, gave me the push I needed. So, Style Section, thank you for the excuse to answer your question – it sure does exist, and I’m just sorry (though not surprised) you never bothered to make any “local” friends who doubtless would have invited you into their homes to taste it. A “Mediterranean diet” is alive and well in the kitchens of those who prepare the food they’ve grown up eating with patience, love and, yes, an entire bottle of olive oil.

13 Coconut Fajitas, 25 piña coladas, 1 million pots of coffee

16 Jan

I could live a long and happy life eating nothing but rice, beans and plantains (mo’ mofongo, please!). Throw in fresh seafood and coconuts and I’m doggy-paddling along the lukewarm ocean coast of my personal food heaven.

All hands on deck: The motley-est of crews

While it could have been a bummer that the six days my college friends and I spent in San Juan, Puerto Rico, were invariably cloudy, the afternoon thunderstorms were secretly the best thing that ever happened to New Year’s Day 2011. We’ve always had an endless ability to entertain one another (why else would we have devoted our better years to Tufts theater?) and a proclivity for doing so whether or not we we’re in public, where we tend to isolate in the same manner while spending more money. So, we joked that the penthouse apartment we rented for the week (yup, two bedrooms, 13 people, that’s math even I can do – ahhhh, to be broke) became our ship.

The mess hall (photo snatched from Molly O's FB ~ Muchas gracias, chica!)

Securely boarded against the rocky seas of light rain and heavy hangover, we sent particularly cabin-feverish or past-due for chore crewmembers out to procure only the most essential of booty – coffee, cigarettes, and queso. Back at the homefront, we had the perfect excuse to do nothing but read (The Alchemist – thanks, love!), cook and lazily maintain a light buzz.

Kitchen crew on a voyage to dry land. Not on New Year's Day, I'm cheating.

My first mates Molly and Erica and I took command of the galley (yes I did google the pirate term for kitchen, thank you) bright and early (i.e., 3:30 p.m.) this New Year’s morn, kicking off 2011 with a breakfast of Bacon Cheddar Pancakes bathed in maple syrup. Hint: Thanks to Armando’s genius, Molly caramelized the bacon in brown sugar first. Hoh. My. God.

Not the prettiest of pancakes, what they lacked in finesse they sure made up for. In sugar.

Fresh off this resounding success (slash surely still sugar-high), we again took the reigns for dinner.

I adore how elegantly fajitas feed a group, easily accommodating vegetarians/meat lovers and spice freaks/those who can’t handle the heartburn alike. I don’t think the thrill of “build-your-own” anything ever really wears off, either. Humans are simple creatures. I mean really, Coldstone Creamery is not a success because of the lame singing.

Plus, fajitas are cheap and delicious. Of course I adhere to a strict policy of abstinence when it comes to math on weekends, but there’s no way this works out to more than $3 a person.

COCONUT FAJITAS TO FEED THE WHOLE CREW

***Except LA CHUUUPACAAAABRA!! He is both real and not welcome.***

For the chicken:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4 lbs chicken breast (we had leftovers, which naturally went in the January 2 breakfast scramble)
  • a couple jalapeño peppers
  • a couple cloves of garlic
  • fresh lime
  • S/P
  • Brian T. Smith to brilliantly oversee chicken marinating

For the fixings (use your imagination, but these were ours:)

  • 2 or 3 big onions
  • 6 bell peppers (green were cheapest, so we used 3 of these + 1 each red, yellow and orange because I like pretty things)
  • the ubiquitous Goya arroz amarillo (or any kind of rice, but when in Rome, and Rome is Puerto Rico, use this)
  • salsa (buy or make – we would have made made but tomatoes were all imported desde Los Estados Unidos, entonces muy caro)
  • beans (we had frijoles negros and refried)
  • avocado or guacamole (see step 1 of earlier post of Mint.com fame – hells yeah!)
  • cheeses (we had queso and cheddar)
  • sour cream
  • tortillas, enough for everyone to have 2
  • hot sauces
  1. Put the Lime in the Coconut. First, make your marinade. Dump your can of coconut milk into a big bowl. Cut up the jalapeños – since they’re just going in the marinade, no need to de-vein or de-seed them, but for the love of all that’s holy wash your hands well after touching. There are far too many related horror stories inappropriate for the level of family-friendliness this blog attempts to maintain, so fill in your own blanks but please, please scrub those digits. Mince garlic. Add both to the milk, squeeze fresh lime over everything, salt and pepper as you like. Leave the chicken breasts whole but remove any nasties and plunk them right in.  Let marinate for at least a half hour.
  2. How many pecks of red bell peppers did all your preppers pick? Cut peppers and onions in half width-wise and slice into into thin strips. Add as they’re ready to a giant saucepan or stockpot (likely the singular such instrument you have in your shabby rental kitchen, doubling as pancake griddle and short order egg station) over low heat. Let them caramelize, stirring when someone wants to do something, until the boys are back from their booze run. Don’t worry, this will somehow take hours, but the longer the better for these babies – you want at least 60 minutes. If you like, and you don’t have any strict vegetarians, splash some of the extra marinade over the peppers and onions – just make sure you cook it down for a good long time.
  3. Make ghetto tin foil baking trays or I suppose real ones if you’re fancy and bake the chicken at 375 until it’s done (these took at least 45 minutes), basting every so often. The coconut milk will infuse it with flavor and moisture, and you want these to be pretty well done so they shred easily. When they’re done, let them cool enough to touch, then get right in there and rip it up with the hands you cleaned so well, right??
  4. Fix yer fixins. Meanwhile, slice the avocado (drizzle with fresh lime juice for flavor and so they don’t brown), put beans in a dish, shred cheeses, etc. See Erica Finkel with queries, she is a condiment/fixings genius.
  5. Warm the tortillas. Wrap the whole stack in tin foil and pop in the oven for a few minutes.
  6. Go assembly line style and let every damn sailor build their dinner to their little hearts’ desires. Also, make them pour you a big old glass of wine, or if you’re lucky, Baba-Yan’s signature champagne punch. You deserve it.

This girl is coco-nuts!