Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s also becoming quite trendy. In New York, Whole Foods has even included a hot bar/buffet of Indian Food in their prepared food section. There is still room for improvement in the quality of mainstream Indian food but I think my grandmother would have been as pleased as I am to see this flavorful cuisine take off. There are a few Indian style recipes in her book, “The Art of Good Cooking,” such as Curried Carrots and Peppers and Indian Beef Curry which I’ve done for this blog. Like many of her international recipes, these were unique and practically ground breaking when they were written in the 1960’s – before what some may consider the food revolution. The availability of spices like ground coriander, turmeric, cumin seeds, or garam masala have come a long way since then. I, however; didn’t begin to enjoy Indian food until my late teens when my step mother introduced healthy and flavorful north Indian style recipes such as this coconut green bean and peas dish.
Have you met my trendy friend Kale yet? This popular leafy vegetable continues to be a health craze. I am admittedly late to the party: this was my first kale salad (gasp). I’ve always been apprehensive about using this high fiber vegetable, rich in vitamins and minerals. Its rough texture seems almost too healthy to hold it’s own as the main leafy part of a salad. Lets face it – no one wants to feel like they’re eating cardboard, right? But the idea of a Greek kale salad seemed much more enticing. I love Greek salad and it just so happened that a friend of mine was serving what she referred to as Greek kale salad at get together. It was brilliant. Classic chunky Greek salad vegetables and feta combined with leafy kale and a lemony vinaigrette. It was the perfect kale salad for those of us that are scared of kale salads.
It can be difficult to eat healthy this time of year. Especially here in the Northeast where we just made it through one of the coldest February’s on record. Heavier fatty foods like mac and cheese or meatloaf and mashed potatoes are often enticing while really fresh produce is harder and harder to find. We have to remind ourselves to “eat your vegetables” like our mothers always said, because the idea of a salad for lunch when it’s 5 degrees outside, just doesn’t cut it. Enter the Middle Eastern Vegetable Bake. This vegetable mélange is the solution to healthy eating and cold weather cravings – with a touch of warmth.
It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. Returning from my summer hiatus, it may seem strange that I selected a pickle recipe – but I absolutely love pickles. And apparently, I’m not the only one. They seem to be growing in popularity and I continue to see more and more specialty pickles at regular grocery stores. The basic dill and bread n butter pickles still remain the staples but now there are garlic dill, horseradish dill, spicy dill, half sour, and sour, just to name a few. There are also different and trendy, often hipster like brands that specialize in..well…specialty pickles. They are delicious but usually expensive, often charging $8-$9 for a small jar. This is why making homemade pickles seems so well worth it. Not only can you add and adjust the spices to your liking, but with just a few ingredients, you can make enough pickles for a year, at less than half the price.
I made quite a few modifications to this recipe, originally from “The Art of Good Cooking.” Most notably, I eliminated the whole cup of olive oil my grandmother instructed to use. I find that vinegar and water works perfectly fine and is both healthier and less expensive. I also added sprigs of dill and adjusted some of the spices. The actual process of making the pickles is very basic and despite what some may believe, no special canning equipment is needed. Just a big pot and canning jars are sufficient. The most important part of the process is salting and chilling the sliced cucumbers and onions. This seems to help ensure a crunchy pickle, which in my opinion, is the key to a good pickle. I’m not a fan of the soft ones, with little or no resistance when you bite into them. The crunchier, the better. A crisp crunchy pickle is a reminder of the fresh cucumber it was made from. That tasty tang from the brine and vinegar makes it the perfect add on to any end of summer barbecue dish – especially hamburgers!
12 large kirby cucumbers (about 4 lbs)
1/2 cup coarse salt
4 onions, thinly sliced
whole garlic cloves (as many as you have jars)
fresh sprigs of dill (as many as you have jars)
bay leaves (as many as you have jars)
2 quarts cider vinegar
1 quart of water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons pickling spices
2 tablespoons celery seeds
4 quart jars or 8 pint jars, sterilized (see note)
In a large bowl, make alternate layers of sliced cucumbers, salt, and sliced onions. Let stand in refrigerator 5 hours. Rinse in ice water and drain well, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Return vegetables to bowl. Place a clove of garlic, a sprig of dill, and a bay leaf in each jar. Pack jars with vegetables.
Pour cider vinegar and water into a pot. Add sugar, mustard seeds, pickling spices, and celery seeds. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour mixture into each jar to cover vegetables. Cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks or to make pickles shelf stable, place jars in a canner or pot of boiling water for 5-10 minutes or until the lid does not move up or down when pressed in the center.
Note: To sterilize jars and lids, simply boil them in a large pot of water for 5 minutes.
Adapted from “The Art of Good Cooking,” by Paula Peck.
As asparagus floods the farmers markets, Spring is quickly turning into summer. This seasonal vegetable along with arugula, are often a few of the first signs of warmer weather yet to come. Now, with the abundance of fresh summer produce within reach, it’s time to end Asparagus season with a bang. Asparagus au Gratin is a rich decadent dish that sounds a little fancier than it really is. Think cheesy asparagus…or better yet: Mac & Cheese (minus the Mac).
It may seem like a shame to take a healthy vegetable like asparagus and make it somewhat unhealthy. Many French dishes have a knack for doing this but once you taste them, you forget why you were ever concerned in the first place. This is one of those dishes. Another delightful recipe adapted from “The New York Times Cookbook” by my grandmother’s friend and dear colleague, Craig Claiborne. Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses are added to a simple béchamel style sauce and then layered with barely cooked fresh green asparagus spears. A quick browning in the oven blends the two together and gives this dish the final touch. Perfect as a side dish for grilled meat, chicken, or even fish – this gratin is a crowd pleaser. And don’t worry, your beach body diet can wait an extra day…
Cook asparagus in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just barely tender. Strain and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and stir with a wire whisk until well blended. Meanwhile bring the chicken broth and cream to a boil and add all at once to a butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Add the cheeses, salt and pepper, and stir until cheeses melt.
Place alternate layers of sauce and asparagus in a buttered casserole, ending with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and brown quickly under a preheated boiler or bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees for 5 minutes.
Adapted from “The New York Times Cookbook,” by Craig Claiborne.