29 November 2013

Coconut-Lime Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew

It's officially soup and stew season for us. How about where you live? Our first major snow fell last weekend and the air temperature is consistently frigid. But if that was not sign enough, there are other clues. Ski resorts have opened, Christmas markets are setting up shop, street vendors are roasting chestnuts, and people are beginning to gather outside in their furry hats, gloves, and coats to sip steaming mugs of gl├╝hwein.

In my house, I have turned back to roasting vegetables, baking granola, and warming big batches of hearty soups, curries, and the like. This sweet potato and chickpea stew is a favorite of ours. It is Asian-inspired and fuses elements of Thai and Indian curries. Flavors of coconut, lime, and Thai basil seamlessly merge with paneer cheese and chickpeas to create a rich and hearty stew that is ladled over black rice (though you could use brown rice, quinoa, etc) and topped off with fresh herbs, cashews, and scallions.

This is a crowd-pleaser because it makes a striking centerpiece on the table, is big on flavor, and can be made ahead. And for all of you Americans who feasted yesterday for Thanksgiving and are looking to use up leftover plainly-roasted sweet potato, this dish is for you! I'm sure your palette will welcome a fresh and exciting change of flavors in the coming days.

Coconut-Lime Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew
Serves 4-5

Notes: Herb swap - I call for Thai basil and cilantro but have also used regular basil and/or mint, so a combination of any of these herbs will work fine here. And if you want to double the recipe, cook it in a soup pot or Dutch oven instead, double the amount of paneer, and add a bit more coconut milk or water, lime juice, and possibly chickpeas. You can decide the ratio you like best. But I would not add more sweet potato as too much could overwhelm the dish.

Ghee (or coconut oil)
1 package paneer (~150 g), sliced lengthwise into long strips (1/2" wide)
1 bunch scallions (3-4 stalks), sliced and divided
2 red chilies, sliced and divided
1" piece ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1 1/2 cups chickpeas, cooked
1 cup water
2 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
1 13.5 oz carton coconut milk
2 large sweet potatoes, roasted*
Juice from 1 lime, divided
1 bunch each Thai basil & cilantro, chopped and divided
1 1/2 cups black rice, cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup cashews, roasted and roughly chopped
Pomegranate molasses or lime wedges

Heat a knob of ghee in a non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Cook paneer until bottom is lightly golden brown and crispy, repeat on opposite side. Remove paneer, let cool slightly, and cut sticks into bite size pieces.

Heat a knob of ghee in a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat and add  ginger, garlic, and half of scallions and chili. Stir to combine and saute for 1 minute,  then stir in zucchini. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Stir in chickpeas, stock, coconut milk, and soy. Cover and reduce heat to simmer over medium-low heat for a few minutes or until zucchini is just tender but still has a bite.

Gently stir in sweet potato, juice from half of the lime, paneer, and half of the herbs. Taste sauce and adjust for seasoning, adding more soy sauce if needed. Remove from heat immediately.

While still warm, season cooked black rice with salt and pepper to taste and juice from the remaining half of lime. Place the remaining scallions, chili, and herbs in small bowls to serve at the table along with the roasted cashews and pomegranate molasses or lime.

Serve stew with black rice and toppings.

*Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1 inch pieces. Toss with 2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil, salt and pepper. Spread in an even layer on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes, until they are just barely fork-tender.

This week I am sharing this recipe with Delicieux and Eat Your Veg for their Four Seasons Food Autumn series highlighting soup, stews, and one-pot wonders. 

Also passing the recipe over to Mark at Javelin Warrior's Cookin' With Luv for his Made With Love Monday weekly series

Made with Love Mondays,
hosted by Javelin Warrior

And finally, I am sharing this recipe with Deenya for her new Fabulous Fusion Food Challenge.

25 November 2013

Roasted Walnut-Beet Sauce

Did you know beets provide great detoxification support? I just learned that they are a fantastic source of a phytonutrient called betalains that attaches to toxins in the body and makes them water soluble, thus easy to flush out! This is terrific news for anytime, but especially as the holidays are approaching and we're looking for lighter, more cleansing sustenance in between the large meals. In fact, for my fellow Americans about to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, this beet sauce provides the perfect backdrop to a small tie-over meal leading up to the main meal. And speaking of Thanksgiving, don't forget about this roasted Delicata squash and wild rice platter if you're still looking for a grain-free and vegan-friendly side or main!

I enjoy beets prepared this way because of their versatility as a side sauce, spread, or dip. The possibilities are endless for any deeply savory dish that needs a bright and sweet face lift.

Recently they have accompanied lemony quinoa salad and roasted vegetables as a side sauce and then were rolled up in rice paper wrappers with leftover quinoa, cashews, and avocado slices to make fresh spring rolls. I also love the beet sauce slathered over toasted bread and topped with avocado slices, crumbled goat cheese, toasted, chopped walnuts and a drizzle of olive oil. Or swap the avocado and goat cheese for oil-cured black olives and capers for a Mediterranean twist. You can see there are many options. I encourage you to play around with flavors and get creative, and let me know your favorite uses!

Roasted Walnut-Beet Sauce
Makes ~2 cups

Notes: No za'atar or sumac? Substitute with 1/2 tsp. dried thyme and/or more chili powder and lemon to taste.

2 medium beets (~1 1/2 lbs/ .75 kilo)
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 bunch dill, tender stems + leaves (~1/4 cup)
1 tsp. za'atar (or sumac + dried thyme)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 large garlic clove, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or more to taste)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-4 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Wash beets, slice off and discard ends, and quarter. Wrap each quartered beet in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until fork-tender (30-40 minutes). Time will vary depending on size of beet and oven. Let cool slightly, remove from foil (be careful of steam when unwrapping), and peel skin away.

Add roasted, peeled beets to the bowl of a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Process until smooth and creamy (~1 minute). Add more water if you want a thinner sauce.

17 November 2013

Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta with Caramelized Fennel & Onions

Expat life is special but peculiar. You at once feel a part of and removed from the identity of both your native country  and host country. You feel a bit like a floater, rooted not as much in a place but in your own purpose and identity as a person, which has its benefits as it can move with you anywhere. And as any of you who have lived in another country can relate, there are inevitable frustrations along the way. There is the learning curve to surpass cultural and language barriers and to understand unspoken local rules and regulations that everyone seems to know about but you.

In the past year I have both politely and rudely been taught that I cannot bike on the sidewalks, touch too many avocados to see which ones are ripe before putting them in my bag (some little ladies just have nothing better to do these days!), or retrieve a package from the post until I pay a rather hefty customs fee. Whatever, these are growing pains, difficult to cope with at first but become the adjusted norm eventually.

In the end these are minor events, giving us something to laugh at later on, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And the biggest lessons I have learned are the following: smiles transcend cultural and language barriers (so does crying!), nothing in the end is truly unfigureoutable (I know that's not a word), and patience and persistence goes a long way.

That's where this pasta dish comes in. Caramelizing onions on the stove takes some patience and persistence in it's own right. And they are really yummy too, especially paired with pasta, lemon, lots of tarragon and dill, goat cheese, and walnuts. But if we're spending a lot of emotional energy reinforcing our patience in the real world we don't always want to do it in the kitchen too, right? So I take a short-cut roasting the fennel and onions in the oven which essentially yields the same caramelized goodness, but in half the time.

I realize there is a drought of pasta dishes on the blog so far - I'll work on it! I do enjoy pasta, it's simply not a go-to staple for us. And if I'm going to have pasta, I like to know it can be a one-bowl meal from a nutritional perspective - balanced in whole grains,  protein, etc. So I prefer using brown rice, quinoa, spelt (known as dinkel here) or whole wheat pasta, depending on the recipe. All of these choices provide more nutritional depth, fiber, protein, and longer staying power. I'm using brown rice pasta here, but any of the other choices would work except for whole wheat which would probably be too heavy. Though you could use half regular pasta and half whole wheat.

And a note about the herbs. Tarragon and dill are two of my favorite herbs but I think they are underused sometimes. They are a main flavor component of the dish, so don't be shy having a heavy hand. The sweet anise of the tarragon compliments the roasted fennel while the dill paired with lemon brightens the whole dish. And if you don't use fennel much in your cooking, this is a great way to start. The flavor, when cooked is sweet and subtle. It's also wonderful raw, shaved thinly in a salad for freshness and crunch, as in this black rice salad.

Wishing you all a week filled with smiles, patience, and persistence!

Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta with Caramelized Fennel & Onions
Serves 4-5

Notes: Quinoa, spelt (dinkel), or half regular/half whole wheat pasta could be substituted for brown rice pasta.

Update: If using brown rice noodles be sure to rinse them after draining to remove excess starch.

3/4 cup walnuts
2 medium red onions
1 large fennel
2-3 Tbsp melted coconut oil (or ghee/oil with high smoke point)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 lb (14 oz) brown rice linguini
4 oz (1/2 cup) soft goat cheese
Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
1 bunch tarragon, chopped (1/3 cup)
Half bunch dill, chopped (1/4 cup)
1 coffee mug of reserved pasta water
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F. While preheating add walnuts to toast until you can smell them (~10 min). Remove and let cool slightly, then coarsely chop.

In the meantime halve and thinly slice onions. Remove and discard the woody root end and stalk of the fennel bulb. Cut bulb in half, then cut into the core to remove. Thinly slice each half lengthwise.  Place onion and fennel on a large parchment-lined baking sheet, toss with oil and a big pinch salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until soft and caramelized, removing halfway through to stir and add balsamic vinegar.

With 10 minutes roasting time remaining, boil pasta, and reserve a coffee mug of pasta water just before draining. (Rinse drained noodles to remove excess starch.) Add goat cheese to a large high-sided saute pan and warm over medium-low heat to slowly melt. Add lemon zest and juice, pinch of salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper (or to taste), and half of pasta water to make a sauce. Then add pasta, roasted onions, fennel, and most of the herbs, tossing gently with tongs to coat in sauce. Add extra pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. (I used almost the full mug.) Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle over walnuts, remaining herbs, and serve immediately.

This week I am sharing this recipe with Karen over at Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking withHerbs series.

Cooking with Herbs

11 November 2013

Wild Rice with Roasted Delicata Squash, Sweet Tahini, and Pecans

I have been excited to share this dish with you because we are approaching holiday season, and this is a perfect centerpiece for any festive occasion. It is a platter of roasted Delicata squash layered over wild rice and finished with toasted pecans and a sweet tahini sauce, and man is it good. Think along the lines of a rice-stuffed squash, deconstructed.

Sometimes it is hard to make a holiday or special occasion meal that pleases all, isn't it? But if I do say so myself, this one should come pretty darn close to doing just that! This platter meal is a filling, nutritious main dish, but served as a side, vegetarians and vegans will not feel left out. It is dairy-free, grain-free, and gluten-free. But you won't even notice with the soft, sweet squash, chewy rice, nutty pecans, and creamy tahini sauce. It screams Autumn and is anything but boring. But if dairy or grains are not a concern, suggestions for substitutions are in the recipe below. 

And yes, you heard me right, this recipe is grain-free. Wild rice is actually the seed from a semi-aquatic grass! Read more about it here.  But try to choose pure wild rice, this is no time for boxed wild rice mixes.

Delicata squash is one of the easiest winter squashes to prepare because the skin is very thin and can be eaten, so there is no peeling involved. And it cooks up quickly. However, substitutions are included below if you cannot find Delicata.

I hope this platter meal finds its way onto your holiday table soon, and if it does I would love to hear from you! 

Wild Rice with Roasted Delicata Squash, Sweet Tahini Sauce, and Pecans
Serves 6-8 as a side (4-6 as a main)

Roasted Delicata squash wedges
Wild Rice
Sweet Tahini sauce
Roasted Pecans, crumbled

Pour wild rice onto a serving platter, place squash wedges on top (depending on the platter they may not all fit), and drizzle over some of the tahini sauce. Scatter around crumbled pecans, and serve with the remaining tahini sauce on the side.

Delicata Squash
Notes: Delicata squash has very tender skin that can be eaten. If you cannot find Delicata, butternut squash or sweet potato would be great substitutions. If you cannot find Chinese five spice, substitute any combination of the following spices: cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, cardamom, fennel, a grind of black pepper.

1/2 cup pecans
1 medium Delicata squash
3 Tbsp melted coconut oil (or ghee/oil with high smoke point)
1 tsp. Chinese five spice
Few pinches salt/pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. While oven is preheating, place pecans in the oven to toast (8-10 minutes).

Quarter the squash: Cut ends off squash, halve lengthwise, scoop out seeds, then slice lengthwise into 1/4 inch wedges. Cut wedges in half.

Toss wedges with oil and seasonings. Spread on a large baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes, or until just tender.

Wild Rice
Notes: Mix it up! Black rice or a combination of black and wild rice (pictured) can be used. And for an even more festive dish, dried cranberries stirred into the cooked rice would be delicious.

2 cups wild rice
6 cups water
Few big pinches salt
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste

Bring wild rice, salt, and water to a boil in a medium sauce pan over high heat. Cover, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 35-45 minutes, or until the rice has split open and is just tender.

Drain any remaining water from rice and pour rice on a large serving platter. Stir apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper into the rice to combine.

Sweet Tahini Sauce
Notes: No miso? That's okay, just leave it out and add a pinch of salt instead. Or sub yogurt + salt.

2 Tbsp tahini paste
1 Tbsp sweet white or yellow miso
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. pure maple syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
2 Tbsp water
Black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. The sauce will thicken if it sits out for a while. If this happens, stir in another spoonful of water to loosen. 

02 November 2013

Oat & Pear Breakfast Smoothie

What do you think of smoothies, the healthy variety that is? I really am curious to know. Are they an efficient way for you to pack a meal in a glass, do they fit well into your lifestyle, or do you think they are overrated?

Smoothies, especially green smoothies, are cooling, cleansing, and lightening, great for warm weather. In the cooler months I look for less cleansing and more grounding and nourishing properties to maintain a balanced state to support my immune system and counteract the cold outside. So inevitably my smoothie consumption goes down in the Autumn and Winter, but when I do have one it's a denser version that I try to consume at room temperature. So without further ado, I would like to introduce to you Green Smoothie's more nurturing and heftier cousin, the Oat and Pear Smoothie.

The flavor is pleasant without being aggressive, it is calming, almost neutral without being boring. The vanilla, cinnamon, and dates bring out the sweet side of earthy. And the steel-cut oats and almond butter ground the smoothie into something substantial.

And remember, although it is a smoothie, treat it like any other breakfast and sip it slowly, even chewing it a little. I will often spoon it out of the glass instead of drinking it. Adding additional chopped pear and dates to individual glasses would give a nice reason to use a spoon and add texture.

Oat & Pear Breakfast Smoothie
Serves 1

Notes: If your dates are not soft, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients. If possible, take the oats and almond milk out of the fridge first thing in the morning so they come to room temperature while you are getting dressed.

1/4 cup steel-cut (Irish) oats, soaked in fridge overnight, drained and rinsed
1 pear, cored and chopped (keep skin on if organic)
1 Tbsp almond butter
2 soft dates, pitted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Seeds scraped from 2 inch strip vanilla pod (or splash of vanilla extract)
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon
3/4 cup almond milk

Optional Add-Ins
Hemp seeds
Chia seeds
Maca powder

Remove oats, lemon, and almond milk from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth, or to desired consistency. If there are pieces of pear and date that don't get blended, that's okay. In fact, adding additional chopped pear and dates to the smoothie would be delicious.

I am sharing this recipe with Mark over at Javelin Warrior's Cookin' W/ Luv for his Made WithLove Monday weekly series that celebrates recipes made from whole, natural ingredients.

Made with Love Mondays,
hosted by Javelin Warrior