Roasted Beet and Ricotta Salad

Transforming ricotta: Just whip it.

Roasted Beet and Whipped Ricotta Salad

I am little late to the ricotta party. For a long while, this Italian whey cheese was relegated solely to lasagnas and other filled pasta dishes. Aside from that, ricotta did not play a role in much of my cooking. This is likely due to unfortunate first impressions, the ho-hum results of part-skim varieties, that tend to be watery, grainy, and lacking in character. More recently, however, I began to dabble with using fresh ricotta, and it was revelatory. The difference between a skimmed and watered down version versus a high quality whole-milk ricotta or a hand-dipped artisan ricotta (besides a few extra dollars) is a worlds-apart creamy, sweet and milky cheese, urging consumption. To which I obliged, and started experimenting with different recipes.

And then I whipped it.

Apparently, whipped ricotta has been a thing, but, as mentioned, I am late to the party. Thank goodness I arrived. Whipping ricotta transforms this creamy, slightly grainy, cheese into an ethereal spreadable wonder, which is sweet and mild and very receptive to additional ingredients, such as olive oil, honey, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. It’s a protein-rich alternative to whipped cream, crème fraiche, yogurt, sour cream, and even a dollop of ice cream on top of dessert.

To whip ricotta, use a dense, creamy whole-milk ricotta that smells dairy fresh and tastes milky and mildly sweet. Avoid watery, grainy, part-skim ricotta and any ricotta that has a funky aroma.

Sweet Whipped Ricotta
Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and an optional pinch of lemon zest in a food processor and process until light and smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more honey if desired. Serve as a substitute for whipped cream, crème fraiche, or ice cream with fresh fruit and baked desserts. 

Savory Whipped Ricotta
Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a grind or two of black pepper in a food processor. Process until light and smooth and taste for seasoning. If you like, add a generous pinch of finely grated fresh lemon zest. Spread the ricotta in a bowl and use as a dip for crudités and bread. Stir it into cooked pasta dishes as a creamy sauce. Smear it on bruschetta or garlic toasts and top with sliced figs or stone fruit, a drizzle of honey and lemon zest, or your other favorite toppings. Spoon a dollop on cooked pizzas, roasted vegetables, and salads, such as the following beet salad.

Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad with Whipped Ricotta

The beets will release their juices while roasting, which will mix with the olive oil to create the base for the vinaigrette.

Serves 4
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling time

3 bunches small or baby beets, 10 to 12, ends and stems trimmed, scrubbed clean
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 ounces mixed spring greens, such as arugula, mache, baby spinach, miners lettuce, frisée
1 cup Savory Whipped Ricotta
Lemon zest, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the beets in a large Dutch oven. Pour in the oil, stir to coat, and lightly season with salt. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and roast the beets until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove and cool, uncovered, in the pot.
3. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut into large bite-size chunks. Do not discard the oil from the pot. Place the beets in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until chilled (the beets may be prepared up to one day in advance).
4. Pour the remaining cooking oil into a bowl (through a strainer if desired). Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt to taste.
5. To assemble the salad, arrange a layer of mixed spring greens on serving plates. Lightly drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Mound the beets on the greens and top with a dollop of the whipped ricotta. Garnish with lemon zest and black pepper. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette for drizzling.

Triple Onion Dip

It’s time for a dip.

Let’s be honest. Life has been a little stressful of late. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, some self-care is warranted. I am not talking cleanses and fasts, folks, I am talking indulgences, because, well, we deserve it.

When our sheltering days are clocked by changes of clothing from morning PJs to home-office athleisure attire, to a return to our PJs (wash and repeat). When our weekly schedule requires setting an alarm to remember that it’s in fact a Monday, or to clarify that the weekend follows Friday and, sadly, not the aforementioned Monday. When we realize that the entire last year has atrophied any semblance of learned social skills (no small feat for introverts), while our voracious consumption of screen time has effectively cancelled any parental authority in managing that department, it’s important not to judge. Rather, it’s time to be kind to ourselves, to embrace comfort in the form of simple pleasures, and to mark the end of yet another sheltered day with non-anxiety provoking rewards (and cue the moment it’s OK to change back into our PJs).

Which leads me to this bowl of dip (as I said, simple pleasures). I confess that I called this dinner when I made it – no one in my family objected – and I regret nothing. In defense, it’s a homemade dip. It conjures childhood memories of additive and salt-packed instant onion dips, while, in these modern times, it’s made from scratch with real ingredients. It’s also easy to put together, risking no inflection in your anxiety level. And since I am feeling a little light-hearted these days, I have even provided two ways to make this dip. The first is a basic onion-packed dip, and the second is the same dip dressed up with a little extra bling, because, as mentioned, we deserve it. And while it’s not an evening at the theater or a festive party (so 2019), the bling adds a tiny hint of sparkle that we can enjoy on a Monday – oops, Tuesday – night in our PJs.

Triple Onion Dip

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes plus cooling time
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and green parts divided, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste, plus more for garnish

Optional bling:
1 to 2 teaspoons drained jarred horseradish
Salmon roe for sprinkling
Dill sprigs for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, and white scallions. Cook over medium heat until very soft and tinged golden in spots, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lemon juice, then remove and cool to room temperature. When cool enough to handle, chop the onions and transfer to a bowl.
2. Whisk the cream cheese until light and smooth, then stir in the sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder to blend. Mix in the onions, salt, and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Garnish with the green scallions if not adding the optional dill.
3. Optional: Mix in 1 to 2 teaspoons drained jarred horseradish, to taste, with the onions. Garnish with the salmon roe and dill sprigs.
4. Serve with potato chips, pita chips, or crudités.

Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Taming the Chicory

Winter is chicory season. Chicories are the often-labeled family of bitter greens, which include radicchio, endive, puntarelle, and escarole. Bunches and heads of chicory are prolific throughout the cold season, difficult to miss with their dramatic frilly, spiky, and cone-headed leaves. And while their bitterness can be off-putting to some, at winter’s peak, chicories are crisp, juicy, nutty and mildly sweet – all qualities that pleasantly balance their natural bitterness. Plus, they are healthy to boot. Fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins C, B, and K and nutrients, such as iron, zinc, copper, and potassium, chicories are the cold season’s warriors that will fight to keep you healthy throughout winter.

The best way to approach these robust greens is to pair them with equally assertive yet balancing ingredients, striking a balance between bitter, sweet, sour, and heat. This is one of my favorite methods to cook radicchio. The sturdy purple heads hold up well to braising, and balsamic vinegar is a great foil with its rich, fruity, and sharp notes. When cooked, balsamic vinegar reduces to a sweet and sour syrup that shellacs the wilted radicchio wedges. Choose deeply colored, firm heads that have a little weight to them, and try to purchase similarly sized heads for this recipe to ensure even cooking.

Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

4 medium-large heads radicchio
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock, mushroom stock, or water
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 to 4 thyme sprigs

1. Halve the radicchios top to stem. Using a paring knife, cut out the white stem at the bottom of each half, then halve each half lengthwise so that you have 4 wedges.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Arrange the wedges snugly in the skillet, cut-sides down. Cook until slightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the wedges so that the other cut side is down in the skillet. Season with the salt and black pepper and cook until slightly colored, about 2 minutes more.
3. Pour the balsamic vinegar over the radicchio and then pour the chicken stock over. The pan should be about 1/2-inch full of liquid. Top off with additional balsamic or stock if needed. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the radicchio and then scatter the thyme sprigs in the skillet.
4. Partially cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the radicchio are crisp-tender when pierced with a knife through the base, 12 to 15 minutes, carefully turning the wedges once or twice. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until the radicchio is soft, 5 to 7 minutes more, turning once or twice to evenly coat and cook.
5. Using tongs, transfer the radicchio to a serving dish, gently squeezing any excess liquid back into the skillet. Continue to simmer the braising liquid until reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and taste for seasoning. You may need to add a little more salt and black pepper. There should be a balance of sweet, salt, bitter, and the kick of black pepper in the flavor.
6. Drizzle the syrup over the radicchio and serve warm.

Delicata and Radicchio Salad

Bring on the layers when it’s cold outside. And before you reach for your fleece or parka, let’s be perfectly clear: we’re talking about salads. That’s right, salads have a place in the fall and winter, and when the brisk seasons invite layering hefty, nourishing ingredients into our meals, this principle also applies to salads. They can handle it.

This vibrant salad is a perfect example. It’s layered with nutty black rice, crisp radicchio leaves, and spice-roasted delicata squash rings. Each ingredient brings flavor, texture, and nutrients to the salad party, and when composed together in a serving bowl and drizzled with a thick balsamic vinaigrette, they produce a unified and highly decorative salad, that will please and wow everyone at the dinner and holiday table.

Delicata squash is a winter squash that is often by-passed for the ubiquitous butternut squash. Delicata is a small oblong squash with green and yellow striated skin that is edible, so there is no need to peel it. It cooks quickly, and roasting is an easy method which amplifies its mildly sweet and creamy flavor. The squash can be halved lengthwise and roasted, or, better yet, sliced into thin rings, which resemble decorative flower shapes.

If you need any further encouragement to make this salad, note that it can be easily prepped ahead of serving, since the rice and squash rings should be cooked and cooled to room temperature. The final assembly takes minutes, which is a cook’s gift during the busy holiday season.

Delicata, Radicchio, and Black Rice Salad

Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus rice cooking and cooling time

Dressing:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salad:
1 cup black rice, rinsed
Salt
1 large delicate squash, scrubbed clean
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large head radicchio, cored, leaves torn into shards
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons pumpkins seeds (or pomegranate arils)

1. Whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Cook the rice until tender, according to package instructions. Season to taste with salt and set aside to cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
3. Heat the oven to 400°F.
4. Cut the squash crosswise in 1/3-inch thick slices, and scoop out the seeds. Place the rings in a large bowl. Add the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, the cumin, paprika, and black pepper and toss to coat. Arrange the squash rings on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Transfer to the oven and roast until golden brown in spots and tender, about 25 minutes, flipping once. Remove from the oven and lightly brush with the dressing. Cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
5. Spread the radicchio in a wide shallow serving bowl. Stir the scallions into the rice and then spoon the rice over and around the radicchio. Arrange the delicata rings around the salad, tucking some of the rings under the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the parsley and pumpkins seeds (or pomegranate arils) over the salad. Drizzle with the remaining dressing.

Lasagna with Kale

Layer it on with this cheesy-rich lasagna:

Behold the lasagna. The cooler season begs for layers – and not just when it comes to clothing. This hefty casserole is stacked and loaded with three cheeses, a meaty tomato sauce, and – wait for it – kale. Now before you roll your eyes, realize this: the lasagna can handle it. In fact, it will put the kale leaves in their place, allowing them to shine without overtaking this admittedly non-vegetarian recipe with excessive leafiness. It will invite a layer of freshness into an otherwise robust, gooey, and dense lasagna. And if you are trying to sneak a few vegetables into someone’s diet – this may do the trick.

With that preface, let me add that this recipe can easily be made vegetarian by simply omitting the meat from the tomato sauce. The choice is yours, and both versions are delicious. I’ve provided a meat sauce in the recipe, but you can simply omit it, if you prefer. And if you have a favorite prepared sauce that you swear by, then by all means, make your life a little easier and use it.

Now, back to the layers. Layer your lasagna as high as your dish will allow. And do try including kale leaves in the mix. They will soften and melt into the lasagna, tempered by the rich cheese and bright sauce, while providing layers of freshness, color, and, of course, extra nutrients. You might even have room for seconds.

 (Note: a double recipe is photographed)

Lasagna with Kale

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Makes one 9-inch square lasagna. For a larger rectangular lasagna (pictured), double the ingredients. 

Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (28-ounce) crushed Italian plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ricotta:
16 ounces whole milk ricotta
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons half and half
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 box lasagna sheets 
One bunch Tuscan (Lacinato) kale leaves, ribs removed, torn into large pieces
8 ounces fresh  mozzarella, shredded
1 cup finely grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the beef (if using) and cook until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring as needed. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer uncovered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Whisk the ricotta ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
3. Heat the oven to 375°F.
4. Spoon a thin layer of sauce in bottom of a baking dish. Place a layer of lasagna sheets over the sauce, breaking them to fit to size as necessary. Smear some of the ricotta over the lasagna sheets.  Arrange the kale leaves over the ricotta and drizzle some of the sauce over the kale. Scatter the mozzarella over the kale and sprinkle with grated cheese. Repeat the layering process, gently pressing down on the layers as you stack the lasagna. (You may not use up all of lasagna sheets).
5. Cover the dish with foil, transfer to the oven, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the lasagna is sheets are tender when pierced with a knife, the cheese is bubbling, and the top is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

A Very Green Frittata

Put your carrot tops and beet greens to use in this healthy frittata recipe:

Greens Frittata TasteFood

When I buy beets, carrots, and turnips at the market, they are often presented as bright bunches, crowned with exuberant stalks sprouting a cascade of green leaves. While it may be tempting to chop off the stems and discard the mountain of greens left behind with the trimmings … don’t do that. These greens are delicious on their own, sautéed in olive oil, blitzed into pestos, folded into omelets, and baked in frittatas. Rich in nutrients and ranging from sweet to peppery to earthy in flavor, they are an under-appreciated bonus attached to your roots and crucifers.

Lately, I’ve been on a beet green kick. Yellow or golden beets are sweet, nutty, and less earthy than their red brethren, and their mildness is reflected in the flavor of their leaves. I remove and store the leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they can last for up to one week, ready for use in a simple side dish or, in this recipe, a frittata.

Beets Bunch TasteFood

It’s safe to say that this frittata is a very green frittata, with just enough egg to bind the leaves but not dominate. If you prefer a more eggy dish, feel free to add 2 more eggs and 1 additional tablespoon of half and half. You can use just one or any combination of greens, including the tops of beets, carrots, and turnips, as well as chopped kale and chard leaves. (If using kale or chard leaves, remove the stems and ribs before adding them to the mix.) I blanch sturdy greens, such as kale, chard, and beet greens, to wilt them just enough for a quick sauté in olive oil and garlic before adding the eggs. When using more fragile greens such as wispy carrot tops, you can omit the blanching step.

Green Frittata

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound greens
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon half and half or whole milk
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1. Wash the greens and tear into large pieces. If using kale or chard, remove the ribs.
2. Heat the oven to 350°F.
3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the greens and blanch until bright in color, about 1 minute. Drain the greens and press to remove any excess liquid.
4. Whisk the eggs and cream in a bowl and stir in half of the cheese. Mix the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs together in a separate small bowl.
5. Heat the oil in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the greens, season with the salt and black pepper, and sauté until the greens wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat. Pour the eggs over the greens, gently nudging the greens around to evenly distribute the eggs. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the frittata.
7. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set and the top of the frittata is golden brown in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Mad for Mezze

Traveling abroad may be on hold right now, but there’s no reason why we can’t bring the taste and ambiance of travel home to our kitchens and gardens with mezze.

Mezzo Spread TasteFood

Mezze is an appetizer tradition essential to the cuisines of the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece. The word “mezze” derives from the Arabic term t’mazza, which translates as “savor in little bites.” The tradition consists of just that – a sampling of simple and fresh bites enjoyed with a refreshing drink, meant to whet the appetite before a meal. It’s a daily ritual and social tradition enjoyed with family and friends, centered around the table, often al fresco in the warm weather season.

Marinated Feta

This is a tradition we can all get behind. What could be a more convivial and pleasurable way to begin a meal with than with a sampling of mezze accompanied by a glass of something cool and sparkling on a warm summer evening? Mezze can vary from a simple bite or two to a substantial spread. It almost always includes a sampling of dips, such as hummus, tsatsiki, or baba ganoush, along with fresh crudités, pickles, and olives. For a more substantial selection the samplings are endless, including brochettes of meat and keftas (ground meat patties and meatballs), grilled calamari or octopus, simple salads, and dolmas (stuffed vegetables and filled grape leaves.) The portions should be small and be served in stages, encouraging mingling and lingering at the table.

Here are two basic mezze recipes you can can make in advance and stash in the refrigerator, ready for serving or last minute guests. Get started with these, then pour yourself a glass and enjoy a moment in the sunshine.

Smoky Eggplant and Chickpea Dip

This recipe is inspired by baba ganoush, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dip made with roasted eggplant, tahini, and lemon. In this version, extra flavor-boosting spices are added, as well as chickpeas for more structure. Select an eggplant that is firm, shiny, and smooth and has a nice heft to its weight.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes, plus draining and cooling time
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium globe eggplant, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds
1 cup cooked chickpeas or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish
Pita bread for serving

1. If grilling, prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium-high heat. Pierce the eggplant all over with a fork. Grill the eggplant over direct medium-high heat first, until charred on all sides. Move to indirect heat and continue to grill until the eggplant is slightly collapsed and very soft when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch, then slice in half.

2. If using an oven, preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplant in half, lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and arrange cut-side-down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast in the oven until collapsed and very tender, 35 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch.

3. Scoop the eggplant flesh into a strainer over a bowl and let drain for 30 minutes. Discard the skins.

4. Combine the eggplant and all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend to your desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the flavors develop. Serve at room temperature with pita bread and crudités for dipping. The dip may be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. The flavors will diminish slightly with time.

Marinated Feta with Lemon

This appetizer is impossibly easy to make and best made ahead of serving. The longer the feta can marinate, the better the flavor.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time
Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces feta cheese, rinsed and patted dry, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Zest of one lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
2 to 3 oregano sprigs
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 cup

Thoroughly clean a 16-ounce glass jar with a lid. Layer all of the ingredients, except the olive oil in the jar. Pour in the olive oil to cover. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for immediate serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with crostini, fresh bread or pita bread.

Note: If you desire to add garlic to the oil for flavor, add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves to the oil and refrigerate the marinated cheese. Do not store at room temperature or allow to stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours to prevent the potential growth of bacterium. Optionally, stir 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves into the oil mixture when serving.

Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh Salad

Invite this salad to your next BBQ:
Kale Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

I call this salad tabbouleh, although many of the ingredients are not what you will typically find in a traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad. Middle Eastern tabbouleh is a puckery bulgur salad, tumbled with fresh herbs, chopped vegetables, lemon, and olive oil. This version takes inspiration from the tabbouleh method but detours south of the U.S. border with ingredients and spices of the Americas. Quinoa replaces the bulgur, while sweet corn, chiles, cilantro, and cumin ripple throughout the salad. Shredded kale partakes in the shower of fresh greens, providing earthy flavor and healthy heft, while lime steps in for the citrus.

This is a perfect summer salad to include in your barbecue spread as an accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, or as a vegetarian dish for non-meat eaters. Protein-rich quinoa is a South American plant, which produces small seeds that are rich in calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron. The seeds may be prepared like rice, and their nutty flavor adds heartiness to salads, pilafs, and stews. Quinoa is also gluten-free, providing a nutritious substitute for bulgur, couscous, and farro.

The key to making this salad is to taste as you build it. There should be a balance of citrus, spice, and heat and a generous amount of greens for flavor and freshness. Quinoa requires a good deal of seasoning, so season the quinoa before adding the remaining salad ingredients. I prefer to use red quinoa for color and flavor, but white quinoa can also be used. This recipe can be prepared in advance of serving and refrigerated for up to 6 hours. Its flavors will meld the longer it sits, so taste again before serving.

Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh

Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling and refrigerating time
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 corn cob, husked, silk removed
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
1 medium poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 Tuscan kale leaves, tough ribs removed, leaves shredded
1/2 chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

  1. Put the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain and place in a medium saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until the quinoa releases its tail (germ). Drain again.
  2. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the garlic, cumin, salt, coriander, black pepper, and cayenne and cool to room temperature.
  3. Cut the corn kernels off of the cob. Add the corn, scallions, peppers, lime juice, and olive oil and stir to combine. Add the kale, parsley, and cilantro and stir well to thoroughly coat the greens and slightly wilt the kale. Taste for seasoning. If too dry, add additional olive oil to moisten.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours. Serve cool or at room temperature.

Falafel Fritters

Pan Fried Falafel

I love falafel, but they can be messy and oily to deep-fry. The solution? Pan-frying. Not only does pan-frying require much less oil, the flattened patties have more surface area to brown. The edges become crumbly and crisp, and the little bits that break off are good enough to eat on their own – just saying.

Pan Fried Falafel

When making your own falafel, you must begin with dried chickpeas, which yield the right crumbly and mealy texture. Falafel should not be mushy, which is what will happen when you use canned chickpeas. So, begin your falafel-making process the night before cooking by soaking the chickpeas overnight in water. That’s all you need to do. The next day, the chickpeas will have tripled in size and will be firm yet tender to the bite. Drain, rinse them well, and pat dry. Then simply blitz them with the remaining ingredients until you have a crumbly, mealy texture.

Now, I understand that the overnight soaking defeats any cravings demanding instant gratification – as most cravings do. With this in mind, I recommend soaking more chickpeas than you need. This way, you can refrigerate or freeze any unused chickpeas for later use (no overnight soaking required!) Or make a double batch of the falafel mixture and freeze some of that, instead. Then you will be set the next time the craving for falafel strikes – because you know it will.

Falafel Fritters
Makes about 24 (2-inch) patties

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped about 1/2 cup
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped
1/2 cup (packed) Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup (packed) fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
1/4 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Grapeseed oil for pan-frying

Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Pinch of salt

1. The night before making, place the chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with three inches of cold water and let stand overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse well, then spread on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
2. Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped with a consistency of coarse sand. Transfer half of the chickpeas to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process to form a coarse paste. Add the reserved chickpeas and pulse to finely blend. The overall consistency should be slightly sticky but not mushy, with small pieces of the chickpeas evident. Transfer to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gather the falafel mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and gently form into 1 1/2 to 2-inch patties. Add to the skillet and gently press in the center and around the edges to compact with a spatula. Pan-fry until the fritters are deep golden in color on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, using the spatula to carefully flip. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining mixture.
4. Whisk the Yogurt Tahini Sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the falafel with the sauce, lemon wedges, and additional Sriracha if desired.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Pantry Cooking: Fire up your hummus with smoke and heat.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus Dip

Hummus is my go-to appetizer. And while traditional chickpea hummus is always a favorite, it’s fun to riff on this popular Middle Eastern dip with additional ingredients.

This red pepper hummus is my latest favorite, which is smoky, sweet, and fragrant with spice. Using the faithful chickpea as a base, roasted red peppers and fiery harissa paste are added to the mix. It’s garnished with sprinkle of dukkah, which is an essential Middle Eastern condiment made from groundnuts, sesame seeds, and whole spices. It may sound underwhelming, but I assure you it’s not. Dukkah is crunchy and aromatic, and adds extra texture and flavor to an assortment of dishes. It can simply be sprinkled over bread dipped in olive oil, swirled into dips and spreads, scattered over salads, or used as a coating for meat and fish. And the good news is that it stores exceptionally well. You can make a batch of this versatile mix and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for handy flavoring.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups hummus and 3/4 cup dukkah (both recipes may easily be doubled)

Dukkah:
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Hummus:
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 large roasted red bell pepper, drained well if using a jarred pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste (or Sriracha)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the dukkah:
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and colored. Remove and pour onto a kitchen towel. Cover with the towel and rub to remove the skins. Cool the hazelnuts.
2. Separately, toast the almonds until golden brown, and toast the sesame seeds until light golden.
3. Add the cumin, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds to a clean skillet and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Combine the nuts and seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the salt and taste for seasoning. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Make the hummus:
Combine all of the hummus ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. If too thick, add additional olive oil or warm water to your desired consistency. Serve the hummus garnished with dukkah and chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro.