Archive for the ‘Meatless Monday’ Category
One of the great joys of my life thus far has been feeding my child. After a rocky start, I was able to nurse Mimi for the first year of her life. While there were many, many times when that process was painful, tedious, or inconvenient, it was nevertheless a miraculous experience, a period marked by a feeling of intense physical closeness to my child that I long for today. I can remember looking into her contented face as she nursed and being so often struck by a sense of real accomplishment and even power. Here was something I could do well for her — something nourishing and essential, something ancient and mysterious. (I was also often amazed by her tenacity and strength as she nursed, but that’s another story.)
When the time came for Mimi to eat solid food, I was excited to make simple pureés for her — mostly organic, usually seasonal. An early favorite was a combination of plain yogurt and fresh mango that we playfully called “mango-dango.” Throughout this next phase of eating, I spent many happy afternoons steaming and pureéing Asian pears, green peas, Pink Lady apples, even quince. I roasted and mashed eggplant and sweet potatoes. I smashed bananas, strawberries, and peaches as well as red beans, lentils, and boiled edamame. Later, when her pretty little teeth appeared, I steamed green beans, broccoli, and carrots, cut them up, and served them with hummus. I fed her salty bacon and smoked salmon, quinoa and couscous. I topped baked potatoes with pesto, a practice that eventually became mandatory. One happy memory is of my six-month old daughter, to the surprise and delight of my mother-in-law, greedily gobbling up a plateful of steamed asparagus at a favorite restaurant in Michigan. We ordered some extra and she polished that off as well. Even the waitress was impressed.
Mimi has always been a fairly adventurous eater. She will eat almost anything that she sees her parents eat. When she was tiny, the only foods that she refused outright were infant cereals, commercial baby food, and, well, avocados. We all have our culinary quirks.
But that quirkiness works both ways. She has long had a passion for kalamata olives. When she was just over a year old, she shared them for first time with our friend Laura at a dinner party, Laura biting off tiny pieces and feeding them to Mimi as if she were a baby bird. She’s loved them ever since. Even now, I have to hide the olive jar in the fridge or my child will insist upon having an “olive snack.”
Before Mimi was born, I resolved that she would not be a picky eater, as so many children are. I was keenly aware that the odds were against us. I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point in American history, someone decided that children don’t like to eat the same foods as their parents and, moreover, that “adult” food was not even really appropriate for kids. Of course, a whole new market opened up to accommodate this trend: children’s food. These foods are marked by uniformity and infantile product names — “Go-Gurt,” “Captain Crunch,” ”Snackables,” “Spaghetti-O’s.” None of it is any good.
This trend logically expanded into American restaurants. Just try to find one that does not have a separate set of dishes prepared for children. I’m not the first person to point out the fact that the phenomena known as the “Children’s Menu” reinforces the idea that kids need to eat their own special food. The problem is that this food is never particularly special. I suppose it makes some sense to offer smaller portions of food to children, who usually don’t eat very much anyway. However, most children’s menus dumb down food, providing only a handful of blandly predictable items: grilled cheese, hot dogs, pizza, macaroni & cheese, chicken fingers — sometimes a hamburger and always french fries. It’s generally impossible to determine what kind of restaurant you are in by surveying the children’s menu. In the US, I’ve been to Indian restaurants that serve hot-dogs; French restaurants that offer hamburgers; Italian restaurants that feature chicken fingers. (Isn’t it interesting that restaurants in India, France, and Italy seldom have children’s menus? Kids eat what their parents do, just less of it.)
Thus, tastes and habits are created. Presented with an array of “appropriate” foods, kids pick up their forks and they eat. But not adult food. No, thank you. Children always strive to meet our expectations — even when those expectations are impossibly low.
Interestingly, it is possible that food preferences become instilled even earlier than toddlerhood. Some researchers theorize that amniotic fluid — that watery substance that nurtures and protects the aquatic fetus during gestation — changes flavor depending upon what a mother eats. The flavor of breast milk varies similarly. Taste, then, might be developed prenatally, at least initially, and probably long before solid foods are introduced. If true, then children’s food manufacturers have already tailored the tastes of at least one generation of American eaters. It occurs to me that the menus of several major American food chains support this theory. How different are the adult and children’s menus at Applebee’s?
Back when I was pregnant and nursing, I was especially concerned with eating as many different things as I could so that Mimi’s palate would be as varied as possible. I liked to imagine Mimi, tucked away inside of me, wondering what new flavor experience would come next. I made sure to eat a lot of broccoli, hoping to raise a lover of that unfairly maligned vegetable. It seems to have worked. Mimi likes her little trees.
Now that she’s older, Mimi will often ask me what’s for dinner and then, when she finds out what we’re having, she asks a follow-up question: “Do I love that?” Usually, I’m able to assure her that she does love whatever it is that we’re having, but I’m not a fool. I’ll know that eventually, there will be some resistance. At some point, she’s likely to wonder why she eats foods that other kids do not. Worse, she’ll wonder why we never feed her the special foods for kids that so many of her friends get to eat. From a child’s point of view, if there are special foods and menus in stores and restaurants, there must also be special foods and menus at home.
And, usually, there are.
But not at our house, at least not preprocessed “special” foods. We’ve tried to protect Mimi from the tyranny of low expectations. In restaurants, she either shares with us or we request a small plate of something from the regular menu. Decent restaurants will usually cooperate. It’s easier at home. Except when she was very small, she has always eaten what we do. Even her baby meals bore a strong resemblance whatever Jim and I were eating for dinner — softer versions of the family meal. One of the first dishes that we all enjoyed together was Megadarra, a wonderful lentil and rice dish from the Middle East. Topped with yogurt, carmelized onions, and a small salad of cucumbers, tomato, and mint, the dish is complex without being confusing. It is meatless, healthy, delicious, and visually appealing. Minus the salad, it’s a perfect first “real” meal for a small child. There’s nothing to choke on and it can be rendered appropriately mushy with the addition of extra yogurt. The lentils are earthy and the basmati rice and onions, together with the cinnamon and allspice, provide a nice bit of sweetness. I served it to Mimi first without the salad and, later, with the salad on the side so she could gobble up the small pieces with her fingers. Now, she eats the dish exactly as we do and just as happily.
It’s an old standard at our house, one that satisfies both young and old alike.
2 white onions, thinly sliced
1 tbs. butter
3 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 cup brown lentils
4 cups water
1/2 cup basmati rice
1 English cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mint leave, roughly chopped
salt & pepper
First, caramelize the onions. In a large frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onions and saute until the onions are soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic and continue to saute until fragrant. Add allspice, cinnamon, and cumin. Stir constantly for one minute. Add water and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the lentil begin to get soft, stirring occasionally. Add rice and more water (if necessary) to cover). Bring back to a boil and simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes, until the rice is soft and the water has evaporated. Stir only as needed.
Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, stirring very gently. Serve the lentils in bowl topped with onions, cucumber, tomato, mint, and yogurt.
Spring is here! Or, rather, it’s supposed to be — the time changed a few weeks ago, meaning longer days, the equinox occurred last week, and the stores are all full of flowery frocks and open-toed sandals. The only thing missing is actual warmth, which has been elusive, and sun.
Folks around here have a bit of Spring fever. I suppose they’re entitled. For the first time in recent memory, we had a real winter here in Alabama, complete with several cold weeks in a row, a bit of snowfall, and lots of rain. Having hit its stride back in January, winter seems disinclined to leave. My fellow citizens are generally grumpy about it, being used to mild winters, but I’ve been pretty happy about it. I like the cold and rain. Still, as much as I enjoy cold weather, I’ll be happy to see it leave this year. I’m tired of my winter clothes and shoes and, surprisingly, I’m even becoming weary of grapefruit and fennel, my two favorite wintertime foods. It’s time to move on, I say.
So, seeking out a little bit of cheery Spring, I decided to make pesto. It’s not basil season (not even close), so I went with another green wonder: pistachios. For a bit of tang, I threw in a jar of marinated artichokes;we can pretend that it’s really spring and that they are in season. Lemon juice beckons to the sun, which will hopefully join us in the coming days. It will be most welcome.
Rigatoni with Pistachio Pesto & Artichokes
1/2 cup of shelled pistachios that are unsalted and roasted**
4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1/2 cup & 2 tbs. of olive oil, divided
1 lb. hot, cooked rigatoni with 1/2 cup of the boiling water reserved
1 8 oz. jar of marinated artichokes, drained
2 tbs. fresh basil, chopped or 1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. lemon zest
The juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped pistachios for garnishing
Salt and Pepper to taste
Blitz pistachios and 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor. You want the nuts to resemble coarse sand. Add salt and pepper. Turn on motor and add olive oil in a steady drizzle until a smooth paste forms. Adjust seasonings. You will wind up with about 1 cup’s worth of pesto, enough for 2 recipes. Set aside 1/2 cup — you won’t need that much — and refrigerate or freeze the rest.
Pasta & Artichokes:
Sauté the remaining garlic, Aleppo pepper, and artichokes in 2tbs. oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it. Add the drained pasta and dried basil, if using and lemon zest. Gently toss around in the pan to coat. Remove pan from heat. Add pesto in 2 tbs. increments until the pesto sufficiently coats the pasta along with a bit of the reserved pasta water and the lemon juice. Coat pasta and artichokes thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a bit of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Spoon into bowls and top with parmesan, fresh basil, if using, and chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.
**Pistachios are crazily expensive in the grocery store — about $6 per cup — but they’re much more reasonably priced on-line, even if you account for shipping costs. Even better, they’re fresher– much fresher. Nutsonline is a great source for pistachios and other nuts. If you’re feeling flush, you could purchase some Bronte pistachios online from Kalyustan’s but that will set you back $65 per pound (without shipping). Finally, Zingerman’s carries some prepared pistachio pesto made with Sicilian pistachios from Agrigento, but it’s also bit pricey at $30 per 8 oz. jar.
Another Meatless Monday posted after the fact — ah well. This tomato soup is delicious and while it takes a while to roast the vegetables, it requires very little actual effort on the cook’s part. You will need either a stick blender or a food mill. I got one as a holiday gift from my in-laws.
Food mills are impressive devices.
And milling the soup is messy fun.
Strangely enough, I’ve never really cared much for tomato soup, being more familiar with the tinny Campbell’s variety than anything decent. This recipe changed all that, however.
Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup
2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained with juices reserved or 2 lbs. of fresh Roma tomatoes
2 red onions, quartered
2 red bell peppers, quartered
4 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup half and half OR 2% milk
1 handful of roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the vegetables between 2 9×12 inch glass baking pans. In each pan, toss the vegetables with 2 tbs. olive oil and 1 tbs. brown sugar. Roast vegetables for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove the vegetables from the oven and transfer to a large Dutch oven. Add the reserved tomato juice, stock, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée vegetables and stock with a stick blender or food mill. Add half & half or milk and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to warm soup bowls and top with pepitas.
Serve with Crostini topped with Goat Cheese, preferably Belle Chevre Brand, and Onion Marmalade.
It says a lot about my life these days that my posts for Meatless Monday are written and published on Wednesdays. I assure you, the meals described are prepared and eaten on Mondays, in accordance with my pledge. I’m just not in a position to write anything about them until later in the week.
Inefficiency is one reason; I’ve been plagued by a rash of it lately. For instance, on Monday I forget the diaper bag somewhere and had to track it down with phone calls. Once located, I hade to find time in my work day on Tuesday to retrieve it. The temporal toll of forgetting that one small item? About 45 minutes–a fairly significant amount of time, when you consider it. Add this to the hour and a half I spent at the doctor’s office having my ear drum punctured (yippee! — seriously) and we’re talking about much time lost.
That said, Monday’s meal was a delicious model of efficiency. Ribollita is one of those wonderful Italian dishes that manages to be both thrifty and sublime at the same time. Take the remnants of day old soup — typically minestrone or the old Italian classic, beans and greens — pour it over some day old bread; douse everything with olive oil; sprinkle it with good parmesan cheese; bake at 400 degrees for about half an hour. Hey, presto — Buon appetito!
I followed a recipe from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington, although this is a dish that doesn’t really need a recipe. It does require a good quantity of soup though, which I made with some of Rancho Gordo’s delicious borlotti beans.
I suppose I should just accept my addiction to Rancho Gordo beans. These beans are always in my thoughts: when did we have them last? who will notice that we just had them? is it okay to eat them for both lunch and dinner? am I talking about them too much? is it too soon to order some more?
See? These are some of the same kinds of questions addicts ask. At least I don’t have to lurk around in dark alleys to get Rancho Gordo beans, although I would if it came to that.
Fortunately, there is a much more efficient way to get Rancho Gordo beans. Just click on this link and order away. And, I promise you, I’m not on the RG payroll or anything.
Back to the ribollita: it’s a great way to use up leftover soup and bread and it takes no time at all to pile the ingredients up in a casserole dish and bake them. Jim told me that it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten. He’s generous with his praise, but I liked it a lot, too. It’s warm and filling, perfect food for a cold January evening. Sando’s recipe calls for stacking the bread in layers in the casserole dish or dutch oven and then pouring the soup over each layer. I wasn’t wild about the resulting texture though. The bottom layer was a bit mushy. Next time, I’ll make ribollita with just one layer so that all the bread winds up with a nice, crunchy topping.
Here’s a very basic recipe for Ribollita. My own version happened to be vegetarian, in honor of Meatless Monday, but there’s no reason that the soup cannot contain meat if that’s what you have on hand. Also, these measurements and pan sizes are approximate. Adapt the recipe to accommodate the amounts of leftovers that you have.
Ribollita (my riff on a recipe found in Heirloom Beans)
Around 4-6 cups of brothy soup (minestrone, vegetable, etc. Anything with beans and cabbage is nice)
6-8 slices of good day old bread, sliced about 1/2 inch thick and rubbed on both sides with a garlic clove
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Pour 2 inches worth of soup into a 9×12 inch baking dish with 4 inch sides or other appropriately-sized baking dish. Layer the bread on top of the soup and dunk it in to moisten the slices. Sprinkle with olive oil. Top with the cheese and bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes (until the ribollita is bubbly and the top is nicely browned). Serves about 4.
By the way, the ribollita itself did not make great lunch leftovers. The bread became gummy and unpleasant from soaking up all of the broth. Microwaving did not help matters. It is better to make the ribollita in small batches than to make a big pan of it and reheat it.
I’m a bit behind the curve on most things: I never own the newest gadget; I never know the latest gossip; I never get a joke until it’s too late to laugh. However, I usually manage to do a little better where food is concerned, which is why I was a bit taken aback by the miracle that is fennel.
It’s not as if it’s a brand new food. Humans have been eating fennel for centuries. The Romans may have been the first people to cultivate the vegetable, and they liked it so much that they planted it virtually all over their empire. Of course, I’ve heard of fennel before, seen it in stores, and encountered recipes for it, so you would think that I might have eaten it before my 42nd year of life on this earth.
Well, some things elude us. Acting on a whim, I made a salad with fennel to serve at a party that we had recently. It was the hit of the evening, I think, perfect alongside fried latkes and cheesy liptauer. It has become a family favorite.
Now that I have eaten it, I plan to eat a LOT more of it, especially since it’s in season and there are great heaps of it at my local produce market.
Fennel is crunchy and refreshing — just the kind of food to eat during the dark days of winter. Although it can be braised, sautéed, and caramelized, I think fennel might be best raw, in salads, where it retains its intensive crunch. Of course, I’ll be testing this hypothesis for as long as the fennel stock holds out.
In the meantime, here’s a salad recipe that I adapted from one archived at epicurious. com. We’ll be having this for dinner tonight as we observe our unoffical Meatless Monday.
Fennel, Radicchio, and Orange Salad
2 bulbs of fennel, trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise, and sliced
1 head of radicchio, chopped
2 navel oranges, cut off peel and pith with a sharp knife and slice the oranges into circles (cut the largest circles in half)
2-3 tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
A good handful of mint leaves
Scatter the radicchio on a large serving platter. Place orange slices on top To make the dressing: whisk to combine the sherry vinegar, mustard, and salt & pepper. Continue to whisk while adding the olive oil in a slow drizzle. Toss the dressing with the fennel. Place the fennel on top of the radicchio and oranges. Scatter the mint leaves on top of everything. The salad can be made 30 minutes before eating; refrigerate if, like me, you prefer salads to be quite cold. Serves 4 as a main course.
Still Life with Whisk is going meatless on Mondays in 2010. I’m joining the movement led by www.meatlessmonday.com,a group that is working in conjunction with Johns Hopkins Hospital to reduce meat consumption in the U.S. by 15% as a way of addressing both environmental and health concerns.
There are very compelling reasons to reduce meat consumption. We all know the health benefits, but the environmental reasons are just as persuasive. Michael Pollan explains that if every American observed a weekly meatless day, it would be “the equivalent of taking 20 million mid-sized sedans off the road.” Doing something as simple as eating a delicious vegetarian meal is hardly a sacrifice. If only my efforts could result in removing actual mid-sized sedans from the roads–say Chrysler PT Cruisers.
We already eat two or three vegetarian meals per week, but the rhetorical power of joining a movement is hard to resist. Starting in January, I’ll post a new meatless recipe every Monday. I’m not sure how this new plan will jive with another resolution in the works –“leftover Monday” (more about that in the forthcoming “Kitchen Management” post) — but so much the better if I can manage to combine those two goals.
I’ll begin Meatless Monday unofficially today by preparing farro with sautéed red and green peppers, topped with crumbled blue cheese. There’s also a bit fennel, radicchio, and orange salad left over from the weekend.
Just doing my part, you know?