Cauliflower “Couscous” with Market Vegetables

Eric Ripert is a chef who I greatly admire.  He is remarkably talented and I respect the work he has done to promote  sustainable seafood and fishing practices.

A couple of months ago, I picked up his cookbook Avec Eric which, in addition to some really wonderful recipes, talks about the journey of the ingredients from their source to the kitchen.   For each recipe, he explores different cultures and traditions from the West Coast to Europe, and then returns to his kitchen to cook a dish inspired by his travel.  I have filled the book with little Post-It tabs throughout.    He also has a program on PBS by the same name which follows the same format.  The goal is to dine at his restaurant, the three Michelin star Le Bernardin, the next time I’m in NYC, which hopefully will be soon.

He made the recipe below in one of the episodes and I was fascinated by it.  I thought it was such a gorgeous dish that showcased the freshness and brightness of the current season’s vegetables.  How creative to mimic couscous with cauliflower!  While my presentation of the dish is not as sophisticated as his (he used ring molds to layer the ingredients), I think it’s still gorgeous.

I didn’t have all of the ingredients in his original recipe, so I modified it quite a bit. For example, his recipe called for the use of argan and canola oils, whereas I used only extra virgin olive oil.  I also didn’t use nearly as much oil as the recipe indicated.  Additionally, I used balsamic vinegar.

I served this as an accompaniment to some steamed fish.

Cauliflower “Couscous” with Market Vegetables and a Balsamic Mustard Vinaigrette

(adapted from a similar recipe by Eric Ripert, which you can find here)

Serves 4

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, you probably won’t use all of it
  • 1 tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
These are the veggies I used:
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • Asparagus tips
  • Baby bok choy, tough outer leaves removed
  • 1 bunch radishes, quartered
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

Separate each of the cauliflower florets and place the florets in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower resembles couscous. Transfer the cauliflower “couscous” to a sauté pan, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and gently cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and most of the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Strain and place in a mixing bowl to cool.

Prepare the vegetables for blanching. Cook each of the vegetables in the boiling water, drain, and shock in a bowl of ice water. Transfer to a towel-lined plate and set aside.

My blanching times:

Asparagus, carrots, radishes — 5 minutes

Bok choy and spinach — 1 to 2 minutes

Season the cooked cauliflower couscous with the lemon juice, 3 tbsp olive oil, mint and parsley and set aside.

Combine the mustard and vinegar in a small mixing bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil but only enough to balance out the acidity while whisking constantly. Set aside.

Spoon the couscous onto a plate or bowl.  Place the vegetables on top and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serve immediately.

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Summer’s Not Here Yet Tabouleh Salad

The weather here in the Northeast the past two days has been almost summer-like (ok, maybe very-late-spring-like).  I wanted to make something light and healthy for lunch other than a standard salad.  Luckily, I had most of the ingredients for tabouleh…or tabouli, or tabboule, or tabbouleh.

Tabouleh is a Middle Eastern salad that is traditionally made with bulgur, tomato, cucumber, and herbs.  Traditionally, it was served as part of a mezze (a selection of small dishes) served in the Mediterranean and Middle East.  There are different variations of it in Turkey and Armenia, and it has become a very popular ethnic food in the US.

Instead of bulgur, I used quinoa, which bumps up the protein a bit, but feel free to use either.  I have made this in the past also with couscous.  The one important thing, however, is to make sure you let the tabouleh sit for a few hours, or overnight, in the fridge so that the flavors can marry together.

I bet the addition of fresh basil leaves would be a nice touch to this salad also.  Perhaps next time.

Tabouleh

Probably serves about 6 people

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tomato, or 20 grape tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp dried mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one fresh lemon or lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place quinoa and water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed by the quinoa, about 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool completely.

Slice cucumber lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a spoon.  Cut the cucumber and tomato into pieces about the size of a kernel of corn and place into a large bowl.  Chop onion and garlic.  Add to bowl along with the parsley and mint.

Once the quinoa has completely cooled, add to the bowl, along with the olive oil and the juice of the lemon or lime. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve immediately, but it will be better if you cover with plastic and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

The Quinoa Project

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I don’t know how or why I have stayed away from this grain.  I recently tried quinoa and I’m in love!  I have so many ideas as to how to begin incorporating it into everyday dishes.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is considered to be a “superfood.”  Nutritionally, it’s a very complete food.  It is:

  • Very high in protein
  • Full of vitamins
  • Gluten- and wheat-free
  • Cholesterol-free
  • Delicious

Quinoa comes from a plant native to the Andes Mountains in South America and has been around for thousands of years.  It contains more protein than any other grain and should be considered for vegetarians or vegans who might be concerned about the level of protein in their diets.

What does it look like?  It’s a tiny round grain with a band around it that ends with a tiny “tail.”  As it cooks, the tail unwinds and detaches itself, leaving a white ring on the grain.

There are several different varieties of quinoa and it is available in grain, flour, and flakes. Once relegated to health food stores, you can find it just about anywhere now.

Substitute quinoa in any dish calling for rice, couscous, or even pasta.  It can also be used in soups, salads, baking, and even in sweets.

One method of cooking quinoa is to treat it as you would rice.  Use two cups liquid (water, chicken/vegetable broth) to one cup of quinoa, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Add herbs and seasoning as desired in order to make a variety of dishes.

I’ve made a few very simple savory dishes using quinoa.  At some point, though, I will also try some more complex ones, as well as a sweet dish/dessert and will post the results.  Hence the name of this article. 🙂

The other night, I made for dinner quinoa with roasted chicken, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and chives.   Totally healthy…and delish.

Quinoa with roasted chicken, tomatoes, olives, onions, parsley, and chives

Last night, I made some chicken, and as a side I made the dish below.  It serves 4 as a main dish, or you can halve the recipe as I did, and it will serve 4 as a nice side dish.

Stuffed Peppers with Olives and Tomatoes

(Serves 4 as a main dish)

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 peppers (green, red, yellow, or orange)
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, squeezed of pulp and chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 10 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Water
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the quinoa in a saucepan with the water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all of the water is absorbed.

Cut the peppers in half, lengthwise.  Remove seeds and membranes.

In a bowl, mix together the cooked quinoa, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, olives, salt and pepper.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the peppers and place in a baking dish.  Pour about 1/2 inch of water on the bottom of the baking dish.  Drizzle olive oil over the peppers.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the quinoa stuffing is golden brown and the peppers are soft.

Stuffed Peppers with Olives and Tomatoes

Spanakopita…Eat Greek Tonight

Spanakopita is one of the most popular snacks in Greece.  It’s relatively healthy, tastes delicious and can be eaten anytime of the day…even for breakfast…cold…yum!

I made this for Thanksgiving and it was the first thing to go.

Spanakopita

Makes two 12×9 inch pans.  Make one for now and freeze the second one.

  • 3 lbs. spinach, chopped (you can substitute frozen, thawed well)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 large onions, diced
  • 2 bunches green onions, diced (incl. 4 inches green)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or 3 tbsp dried parsley)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 lb. cottage cheese (or ricotta)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb. phyllo pastry sheets

Wash and drain the chopped spinach. If you use frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out excess water. The spinach should be dry.

Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan. Saute the onions and green onions until tender.

Add the spinach and parsley, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the spinach is wilted and heated through.  If you’re using frozen spinach, cook until the excess moisture evaporates.  The spinach mixture should be on the dry side.  Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the feta, eggs, and cottage (or ricotta) cheese. Add the cooled spinach mixture and mix until well combined.

Combine the melted butter with the olive oil in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, grease two 9 x 12 rectangular pans.

Carefully remove the phyllo from the plastic sleeve. Most packages come in 12 x 18 inch sheets when opened fully. Using scissors or a sharp knife, cut the sheets in half to make two stacks of 9×12 inch sheets. To prevent drying, cover one stack with wax paper and a damp paper towel while working with the other.

Working quickly, Layer about 10 sheets on the bottom of the pan and brush each sheet with the butter/olive oil mixture. Add half of the spinach mixture in an even layer and press with a spatula to flatten.

Layer another 10 sheets on top of the spinach mixture, again brushing each sheet well with the butter/olive oil mixture. Repeat the process with the second pan.

Before baking, score the top layer of phyllo (making sure not to puncture filling layer) to enable easier cutting of pieces later.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the spanakopita turns a deep golden brown. If the pita is frozen when you put it in the oven, you will need approximately 60 minutes cooking time. If it’s fresh, cook for approximately 40-45 minutes.   All ovens vary, so keep an eye on it.

Calamari-Eggplant Salad

A while back, I had said that the best way to enjoy seafood was in its simplest form, without a lot of fuss — in other words, no frying, no extra sauces, no “crusts”.  Why mess with the beautiful flavor of fresh seafood?  Grilling, broiling and steaming, at least for me, are the way to go.  I like to take advantage of some of the world’s best seafood from right in our backyard .

This was my dinner tonight.  It’s a revised version of a dish that I had in Athens a few years ago.  The original was made with octopus.  While I am not a huge fan of the chewy texture of octopus (believe me, I have tried many, many times to like it), fresh calamari is a nice alternative. 

Serve with nice, fresh crusty bread.

Fresh, cleaned whole calamari. Check out these bad boys!

 

Calamari and Eggplant Salad

(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb fresh calamari/squid, cleaned
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 wine glass of wine
  • 2 small to medium sized eggplants
  • 1 medium size tomato, seeds removed and chopped into cubes
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • dried mint
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or wine vinegar
  • salt, fresh pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of dried oregano
 
Eggplants:  Roast the eggplants in a 400 degree oven until cooked through, about 45 minutes.  They will become soft and mushy and charred. Let cool, peel the skin off of the eggplants and “rough chop” the pulp and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
 
Calamari: Bring a medium-sized saucepan of heavily salted water and one bay leaf to a boil.  Add the wine. Place the calamari (whole) into the water and poach until it is tender.
 
Chop the calamari and add to the eggplant mixture.  Mix all of the ingredients, adjust the seasonings if needed and enjoy.
 
(DP note: if you wish to use octopus instead, place the octopus and bay leaf in a saucepan on low heat to cook until it becomes very tender.  No liquid is required as the octopus will release its own liquid as it cooks. As soon as it is steamed and tender, increase the heat to high and add the wine, cooking for another 4-5 minutes.  Chop then add to the eggplant mixture.)
 

The finished dish

 

“Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Curry (a.k.a., Thai Vegetable Curry)

There are occasions when I tend to get carried away in the produce section of the grocery store. I’m a sucker when I see beautifully arranged produce and will grab whatever looks good, which is sometimes lots.  I tend to get ambitious, thinking “Oh, with this, I will make X!”. When I get home, however, sometimes I leave my ambitions at the door.  The veggies will sit in the fridge for a while.  Oh sure, I will give them a glance whenever I open the refrigerator door and think, “Oh yeah, I need to do something with that.”

Well, the other day, I had had enough. I was tired of sneaking glances at the remaining cauliflower head I had purchased almost a month ago. And I felt guilty when I would try to ignore the beautiful yellow Daisy squash that I bought two weeks ago. If I didn’t use the veggies soon, they’d end up being frozen for the next batch of stock that I would make at some point in the future, or worse, tossed in the trash. *Gasp!*  So, what better way to use all these veggies at once than to make a yummy curry?

The word “curry” is derived from an Indian word for “sauce.”. It’s a generic description of many different dishes from Southeast Asia, including but not limited to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

One common thread in many curry powder mixtures is turmeric, which gives curries a distinctive color. Other spices in curry powder tend to include coriander, ginger, garlic, chiles, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin and tamarind.  The main types of curry you might encounter in an Indian or Thai restaurant are red, yellow, and green curry. Red curry is made with red chiles, while green curry is made with green chiles. Yellow curry is made mostly with turmeric and cumin, though it may include hot peppers or pepper flakes also.

Curry paste, which is what is used in the recipe here, is a moist blend of many of the above ground herbs and spices.

This recipe can be served over steamed jasmine or brown rice.  Rice noodles would be good too.  Be creative and use whatever vegetables you may have — the recipe here lists what I had in my fridge.  The amount of curry paste listed is not aggressive and can be altered to your liking. 

This curry is totally healthy as well, with the only fat coming from the olive oil (healthy fat) and the coconut milk.  I used light coconut milk, which tends to be a little more watery than the regular version.  You can, however, thicken the sauce at the end with a little bit of cornstarch.  I served it over brown rice.

Thai Vegetable Curry

(serves 4)

  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 head of fresh cauliflower, cut into little florets
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium yellow squash, sliced into semicircles
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into semicircles
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, any type, sliced
  • 1 small red bliss potato, diced
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 1.5 tsp red curry paste
  • 1 cup coconut milk (regular or light is fine)

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. Cook the onion until soft.  Add garlic and cook until both begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Mix the curry paste with 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk. Add the paste mixture, remaining coconut milk and fish/soy sauce to skillet. Bring to a boil. Add the all of the veggies except the mushrooms, which tend to cook very fast. Simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.  About 10 minutes from the finish, add the mushrooms in and stir until finished.  Serve with jasmine or brown rice.

If you wish to make a thicker sauce, then continue reading:

After the vegetables are cooked and soft, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

Mix about 1 tsp of cornstarch with a little bit of water. Add to the sauce, bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.  Add the vegetables back in and serve.

The finished dish

A Little Lentil Lovin’

Lentils are one of nature’s power foods. They’re filled with iron, protein, and fiber, and therefore are superfilling — not to mention healthy.  One serving of lentils provides more protein than a serving of steak.  They’re also pretty inexpensive.  And if all that is not enough, they’re also easy to cook.  You don’t have to soak them overnight as you do with other beans.  You just toss them into a pot, add some water and they’re done in about 25-30 minutes.

Lentils are a widely eaten staple food throughout the Middle East and India, as well as used in many European recipes.  There are many different types, including yellow, pink, red, and black varieties.  However, the most common in North America are the green variety.  Occasionally, I will cook a pot and store in the refrigerator for a few days’ worth of lunches or dinners.

There are many ways to cook with lentils.  They are a good substitute for meat and can replace part or all of the meat in a burger or meatloaf.   They can also make a nice creamy dip – throw a cup or two of lentils in a food processor with a little olive oil, garlic, spices (cumin and chili powder are nice here) and other veggies and spread on toasted pita bread.  

If your experience with lentils is limited to just soup, try a salad:

 

Lentil, Tomato and Feta Salad

serves 4

  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered (or grape tomatoes, halved)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 6 0z feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 20-25 minutes – don’t overcook.  Drain and cool the lentils in a colander.

Place the lentils in a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.  Add a couple of pinches of salt and a pinch or two of pepper to taste.