There are times when we get so tripped up in the nomenclature we forget that diets stressing vegetarian or vegan practices embrace dishes we already create or eat. Instead we think of them as eliminating something–in the case of vegetarianism it’s meat, of course–and not bringing something absolutely delicious to the table. Dishes already in our considerable repertoire.

Knowing that not everyone in my circle eats meat–and that I, while an omnivore, have cut down substantially on meat–I turn to dishes that feature vegetables combined with other proteins. But, admittedly, I don’t really think of them that way. It’s vegetarian, just food I enjoy. Dishes like eggplant soufflé. Salads and sides with ancient grains.

And spanakopita.

Mediterranean cuisines in particular are great sources of beloved everyday dishes that happen to fall into the vegetarian category. As chefs you’re already well are of them. Spanakopita is one of my favorites–big greens, almost always spinach, combined with cheese and herbs and eggs, enveloped in a crunchy crust of phyllo. It’s impossible not to love this dish. And, for personal chefs who will freeze portions for clients to reheat, it’s a perfect freezer candidate. I always store my leftovers in the freezer and reheat individual slices in the oven or toaster oven.

Spanakopita is also the perfect entertaining dish. It’s like a casserole–only prettier. The two challenges, of course, are cooking down the greens–I do it in batches using a wok to take advantage of its depth–and working with phyllo. Brushing the phyllo with oil or melted butter and layering it repeatedly is a bit time consuming but not a deal breaker. Just remember to keep the phyllo, which has a tendency to dry out, covered with a damp towel when you aren’t pulling off a sheet.

While traditionally, spanakopita is made with spinach, there’s no reason you can’t substitute the spinach with other greens like kale or Swiss chard. Or combine them. Take advantage, especially in spring and summer, of bright herbs like mint and dill, and earthier herbs like Greek oregano. Add a unique spin to onion by using leeks instead. You could also include sliced kalamata olives or artichoke hearts to make the recipe your own. Just be sure that the greens and other additions are drained of as much liquid as possible before you mix them with the eggs, feta, and seasonings. Otherwise you’ll get a soggy bottom.

Spanakopita
Serves 8 to 12

You have a choice of olive oil versus melted butter to brush the phyllo leaves. I used olive oil but butter will add a rich flavor to it. And a tip here: Cooking down 2 pounds of spinach requires some skillet space. I use my wok because it gives me the cooking elbow room it needs. This part also just takes the most time. Once that’s done the rest will go by fairly quickly, even with the phyllo. Don’t worry about tears in the phyllo. It’s all very forgiving, thanks to all the layers.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek, or melted butter, plus a lot extra for brushing filo
3 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh spinach or other greens, well rinsed and dried
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound Greek feta cheese, crumbled or diced
½ cup fresh dill weed, minced
½ cup fresh mint, minced
¼ cup fresh oregano, minced
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound phyllo, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

Directions
Preheat oven to 375° and place rack in middle of oven.

In a large skillet, heat oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté until fragrant and soft, about 4 minutes. Add spinach in handfuls, stirring in as you add each batch. Let it wilt and cook down before adding the next handful. Once all of the spinach is in the pan, season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and spoon mixture into a colander. Place over sink and, using the back of a large spoon, press down to release excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

Once spinach mixture is at room temperature, add feta cheese, dill, mint, oregano, and eggs. Fold together until well incorporated. Set aside.

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9”-by-13” baking dish with olive oil. Keep ½ cup of olive oil (or melted butter) nearby. Unroll the phyllo and lay flat. Carefully pull the top sheet and place it into the baking dish with ends hanging well over the sides. Brush lightly with oil. Continue placing sheets one at a time into the dish at different angles so the entire pan is lined with sheet ends hanging down over the sides. Do this until you have only 3 sheets left.

Pour the filling into the dish, then fold over the hanging ends to cover the filling and brush with oil. Layer the remaining 3 sheets on top, brushing each sheet with oil. Fold the excess into the sides of the pan.

Use a sharp knife to cut through the layers to the filling in a few place. Brush the top with oil or butter and bake for 50 minutes until the top is puffed and golden brown. Let sit on counter for 10 minutes. Then cut into squares and serve warm.

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Eggplant Onion Gratin

Filed under: Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , April 23, 2018

I’m guessing that many of you have clients who adore eggplant. They love the creamy texture you get when it’s cooked that can go anywhere from baba ganoush to eggplant parmesan to eggplant souffle. I’m no different. I love eggplant in its many incarnations and across world cuisines.

So a few springs ago I decided to turn it into a gratin. This is kind of a risky dish because eggplants are so mild in flavor that they can simply be overpowered by the other ingredients you pair with them. At first I thought I’d slice the eggplant very thin and stack the layers, alternating with cheese. But ultimately I decided to cube it and toss together the ingredients. Oregano is a great flavor partner with eggplant and I grow it in my garden, so that was a part of this experiment. So were onions. And garlic. And panko combined with my favorite Trader Joe’s grated parmesan romano combo. And goat cheese. Together they created the necessary creaminess plus a little tartness without being too overwhelming. Instead of using butter, I turned to a really nice extra virgin olive oil.

I poured the mixture into an 8 1/2-inch oval au gratin dish. At just under 2 1/2 cup volume, I figured I’d get about three servings. For clients you’ll want to double my recipe.

The dish is a little time consuming to make but not too labor intensive. I figured the eggplant should be pre-cooked to make sure it had a soft and lush texture by the end. The onions and garlic need to be sauteed to create sweetness. After that you just combine everything and put it in the oven until it’s bubbly and brown.

The result was just what I’d imagined–creamy and crunchy, with a bright flavor from the punch of oregano, sweetness from the onion and garlic, tartness from the goat cheese. That distinctive mild eggplantiness came through. I enjoyed the dish with a piece of roasted chicken. And I had leftovers–which were easy to reheat. In fact, you can make this dish for a client dinner party ahead of time and simply reheat it before serving.

Eggplant Onion Gratin
Serves 2 to 3 depending on your generosity

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups eggplant, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese

For topping:
Goat cheese
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of olive oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss eggplant with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.

While the eggplant is baking, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don’t brown them. You just want them soft. Add the oregano and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Remove the eggplant from the oven and mix with the onions in a bowl. Add milk and cheeses. Mix well.

Coat the inside of a gratin dish with olive oil. Add the eggplant mixture. Dot with goat cheese. Combine the 1/8 cup parmesan cheese with the panko and evenly spread over the eggplant and goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.

What are your favorite ways to prepare eggplant? Do you have a recipe you’d like to share here?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup

Filed under: Bites & Bits,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , April 9, 2018

We’re in that weird in-between seasonal period when we expect the weather to warm but then it doesn’t. Or, it can go the other way and there’s a brief strange heat wave. Are we ready for refreshing salads or could we use something warm and comforting.

Well, here’s a recipe that can go either way: Moroccan Spiced Lentils.

Meet my friend, chef Flor Franco introduced it to me at a potluck gathering of friends several years ago. My mom was with me for that lunch and raved about it so much that Flor later went over to my mom’s house to prepare it. An amalgam of lentils and split peas, it’s infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that’s about it.

The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup on a chilly day or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. The day Flor came over, she prepared the soup version, and it was accompanied a platter of chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit for lunch.

Flor also gave us some handy kitchen tips. Roast garlic and cut-up onions, then package them and keep in the fridge for about a week to use whenever you might need them in a recipe. And, for this recipe, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container.

Cooking the lentils took less than an hour. If you’re dealing with a cold “soup” day, heat up naan and take off the chill. If the day is warm, pull out some cold roasted chicken, add a salad and rice, then spoon a thicker version over the rice. Or chill it for a dip or rich spread. Yes, this is a hugely versatile dish year round.

Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
Yield: about 5 servings

15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Moroccan spice mix 
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro

Preheat the broiler.

Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.

Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.

When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice or use as a spread) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

Do you have a versatile year-round dish that you can adapt to the seasons? We’d love to learn about it!

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Back in the day, when I lived in New York, my friends and I used to joke that February was the longest month and we would throw “thank God February is over” parties.

Well, we’re right in the middle of February and I have to admit I have no standing for complaining about the horrors of icy winter since I now live in balmy San Diego–but I still love a good soup on those chilly 65-degree days. (Yes, I appreciate the absurdity of this but we take our cool weather when we can.)

One soup I’ve come to love that I think your clients will enjoy as well is Delicata and Carrot Soup. While you could substitute other hard squashes, oblong delicata is one of my favorites. First, they’re just so cute, with their stripes of colors. I love their sweet flavor and the fact that they don’t require peeling. The skin is thin and perfectly edible. And, I love the seeds. My dad taught me how to prep and roast pumpkin seeds when I was a little girl and I do it on almost every winter squash I buy. It’s such a waste not to!

If I have a complaint about winter squash it’s that it can be kind of challenging to bring flavors to it that won’t be overshadowed by its own flavor. But winter squash pairs beautifully with the sweetness of carrots, so that was a natural go to. And from there I came up with four ingredients that I thought could pull it off–even if they didn’t seem to go together: mirin (rice wine), white miso, fresh lemongrass, and shichimi togarashi spice seasoning. This is a spicy multi-ingredient Japanese mix that contains chili pepper, black sesame, white sesame, orange peel, basil, and szechuan pepper. You can find it easily at Asian markets. And I had onions and garlic.

Since soup is one of those wonderful dishes that don’t require precision, I figured I’d just go for it. I sliced up the carrots and roughly cut the onion. I minced the garlic and peeled off the tougher layers of the lemongrass and then chopped that. Pretty soon, ingredients were going into the medium-size blue Le Creuset pot my mom gave me when she moved out of her house. I added a little water to the sauteeing onion, garlic, and carrots to keep them from burning while I dismembered the squash and pulled out the nest of seeds.

Once I added the squash and the rest of the ingredients, along with water (I didn’t have any stock on hand but you could use chicken or vegetable stock to make it even richer) I brought the pot ingredients to the boil, then reduced the heat to simmer for about an hour until the squash softened. And, oh, the aroma. It turns out combining mirin, miso, and lemongrass is, well, inspired. Sweet and salty and full of umami.

Now your clients can enjoy the soup as a loose vegetable soup. But I prefer creamy soups so I pulled out my stick blender and puréed it to a silky consistency. I had some pumpkin seed oil I had been waiting to use, so I drizzled that on my soup once I poured a serving into a bowl. And sighed after the first bite. Lucky me. I had plenty to enjoy with a hank of warm sourdough bread for a few more meals!

Delicata and Carrot Soup
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients
Olive oil for sautéing
½ large onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 carrots, sliced
1 large Delicata squash, cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 cup mirin
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi spice mix
Water or chicken or vegetable stock
Pumpkin seed oil (optional)

Directions

1. In a medium size pot, sauté half an onion and five cloves minced garlic. Add carrot slices. Add a little water to prevent burning while cutting up the squash (save seeds for roasting).
2. Add squash pieces, chopped lemongrass, mirin, white miso, togarashi, and water to cover.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour until squash is soft.
4. Use an immersion blender to purée. Drizzle with pumpkin seed oil from Vom Fass. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.

What are your or your clients’ favorite winter soups? Let us know if you’d like to share a recipe here.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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