healthy recipes

Delicious, soul-warming super-detox lentil-kale soup: Why wait till January?

It's only mid-December, and I'm already feeling like eating clean – at least in-between holiday parties and festive feasts. And here in Dallas, it's soooooo cold outside! 

What could be nicer, in such a circumstance, than the prospect of a big pot of soul-warming soup simmering on the stove? I'm thinking green lentils. And turmeric – for its strong anti-oxidant properties. And baby kale. And then a bunch of other stuff to make it delicious. 

That's what I thought yesterday morning, when it was 70 outside but I knew it was headed down to the 40s by the afternoon. 

I already had everything I needed to make the soup coming together in my head, except one key ingredient: I headed out at around 11 to pick up a cello-pack of baby kale at Trader Joe's.

By lunchtime the soup was ready – and the house filled with wonderful aromas. That's how quick and easy it is to achieve. 

The only work is chopping a few aromatic vegetables (onion, celery, carrot, garlic) and opening a can of tomatoes. (Make sure your tomatoes don't have sugar in them, or the soup won't be so detoxifying.) Sauté the veg in a little olive oil, add turmeric, coriander and herbs, then  the lentils, tomatoes and water. 

Did I mention that the recipe is vegan?

When the lentils are tender, throw in a bunch of baby kale, then let a cook a few more minutes till it all comes together. Lentils cook pretty quick, so it'll be done in just about an hour. 

Oh, baby – it turned out even better than I dreamed: lightly spiced, aromatic, earthy, soulful and satisfying. I knew Thierry would want some: Lentils are one of his favorite foods. But even Wylie (yes! He's home for winter break!) went along for the ride – that's how good it smelled. He'd just awakened at noon (college kids!) and had a bowl with us, just after his bagel and coffee. He loved it.

Here's the best part.  When I woke up this morning it was 15 degrees outside – 4 with the wind-chill factor. The tree is now decorated. We have plenty of firewood. This evening, we're going to our friends' holiday open house. 

Meanwhile, I know what I'm having for lunch.

Roasted branzino with citrus and thyme is a snap to make

A whole roasted branzino: Doesn't that sound dreamy? And how about whole branzino roasted with sliced lemons, limes, oranges and onions, and twigs of fresh thyme? What would you think if I told you this was one of the easiest fish dishes you could possibly make – and also one of the most impressive? 

You'd say "sign me up" – am I right??!! 

OK, so first, branzino. You might know it as Mediterranean sea bass, or – its French name –  loup de mer. Some people call it branzini, which is also the plural of branzino in Italian (Italian pals, please correct me if I'm wrong!).  It's a delicately flavored fin fish with soft, white flesh – and it's surprisingly easy to cook. Even if you tried to ruin this dish, you'd probably fail. And roasting is my favorite fool-proof way to cook it. 

First, go to the store. Ask the fishmonger for whole branzini. One smallish one – about three quarters of a pound – per person is ideal. Two biggish ones are just right to serve three, which is what I used to do before the kid left for college. Ask the fishmonger to scale, gut and clean them, and snip off the pectoral fins (those are the ones on the side of the fish near the gill). If they forget to, you can do that at home -- just give them a snip with your kitchen shears or scissors. Tell the fishmonger to leave the heads and tails on, as it makes a nicer presentation. Unless you're the kind of person that can't bear to see them – then off they go. Roasting them on the bone results in the best flavor, and flesh that stays super-moist, so resist the urge to have them filleted.

OK, you've got your branzini. When you're ready to roast them, give them another rinse in the sink, focusing on the cavity. Pat them dry. 

If you're a confident cook, you don't even need a recipe for this; it's that simple.  Drizzle a little olive oil in a glass baking dish or other roasting pan. Scatter some sliced onion on the oil, then lay the fish over the onion. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper, tuck some fresh thyme and a few thin slices of citrus (lemon, lime and orange or any combination) inside their cavities, scatter more thyme, onion and citrus slices over them, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes. 

Transfer them to a serving platter and fillet them at the table. You can be totally casual about it (as we do for family dinners), or – if you're serving them to guests (a double recipe makes a great dinner party for four) – you can fillet each, transfer to a plate, sprinkle with a few flakes of Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper and offer a bottle of your best, fresh, fruity olive oil to drizzle over that lovely white flesh. 

What to serve with it? Some simple blanched-then-sautéed rapini or green beans, sautéed zucchini or spinach. Or start dinner with a simple arugula salad with shaved parm and good balsamic vinaigrette and follow with the fish, maybe with some roasted potatoes. 

OK. I'm making myself hungry. Do try this and let us know how it goes!

The great salade niçoise divide

Composed, or tossed? Fresh tuna, or canned? 

Southern France's classic salad of greens, tuna, anchovies, haricots verts and such is not only one of summer's most delightful pleasures, it is also a philosophical quagmire.  

Traditionally, the salad is composed – all the ingredients arranged artfully on a platter. But should it be? Last year, Daniel Gritzer argued convincingly in a post on Serious Eats that serving it that way is a mistake. Composed salads, he wrote, "are not what thoughtful cooks do when they want a salad to be at its best. The Niçoise has all the potential to be extraordinary, but to get it there, we need to treat it like the best salads, preparing each ingredient with care, cutting them into manageable pieces, and dressing it all properly in a vinaigrette." 

Gritzer definitely has a point. He may even be right. For his version, he tosses together potatoes, tomatoes, haricots verts, capers, oil-packed tuna, anchovies and greens in vinaigrette, then garnishes the salad with quartered hard-boiled eggs (he doesn't want to eggs to fall apart, and rightly so). 

Still, there's something so glorious about a gorgeously composed salade niçoise. I can't think of another dish that's so easy to make that makes such a stunning impression. If you're into easy summer entertaining, it doesn't get much better than this. Break out the rosé!

For me, the most pressing question is the tuna. But as far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer: While a salade niçoise made with fresh seared tuna can be really nice, canned tuna is what's traditional, and to my taste, it's even better (not to mention easier). Especially if you use great-quality canned tuna – like the Tonnino brand jars of tuna fillets in olive oil you can pick up at Whole Foods Markets and other fancy supermarkets, or cans of Spanish bonito or ventresca (tuna belly). 

For the potatoes, I like golf-ball sized red potatoes, which I cut in half. But you can use larger ones and slice them. If you can't find the slim haricots verts, use regular green beans. As far as anchovies go, you could certainly use the white ones, but I prefer the salt-cured ones for this dish. Use the best ripe tomatoes you can find. 

 Arrange it, as is traditional, on a platter, pass it around, let everyone serve themselves

Here's my little have-it-both-ways secret. I like to make the giant composed salad – large enough to serve four – for just my husband and myself for dinner, and refrain from dressing the platter. We dress our plates individually, eat our fill, then I put the leftovers in the fridge. Next day for lunch I separate the greens and the eggs and make a tossed version, cutting up the haricots verts, tomatoes and potatoes, and tossing them with greens, tuna, anchovies and olives in the shallot vinaigrette. I divide it between two plates, and garnish with the leftover eggs. 

It's a dreamy lunch. Especially with that glass of rosé. 

So there you have it. Go forth and make salad.

12 crazy-good summer recipes

As you may have noticed, Cooks Without Borders is all about crafting the crazy-good: creating or hunting down recipes and refining them until they're brilliant. Not only do these recipes have to work, and work well (as we're pretty sure all our recipes do!) they have to result in dishes so delicious they could glue you to the ceiling. That's when I stop tweaking: We're pretty confident that they're crazy-good. 

Here's are 12 stand-out (yes, crazy good!) summer recipes, listed in order of how you'd eat 'em – from starters through desserts:

Gazpacho Sevillano

Gazpacho Sevillano

Gazpacho Sevillano

In the height of tomato season, our version of the cool classic soup from Southern Spain is a stunner. Follow it with Chiringuito Seafood Paella (see below) and you've got a smashing Spanish feast.

Ultimate Hummus

Ultimate Hummus

Ultimate Hummus

Which version of the Middle-East's glorious classic dip is the best, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's or Michael Solomonov's (from Zahav in Philadelphia)? Our recipe draws from the strengths of each. 

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

Didn't manage to swing that vacation in Provence (again!) this year? No matter: Invite friends over, sip glasses of rosé and serve them this amazing onion-anchovy tart. 

Quinoa, Pea and Mint Tabbouleh

Quinoa, pea and mint tabbouleh

Quinoa, pea and mint tabbouleh

This recipe from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, needed no tweaking – chef Michael Solomonov's dish is brilliant as written. I'd only suggest doubling it so you have at least a slight chance of leftovers. 

Totally Awesome Caesar Salad

Totally Awesome Caesar Salad

Totally Awesome Caesar Salad

I spent decades thinking the classic recipe for Caesar salad couldn't be improved upon. I was wrong. This one plays up the coddled egg angle – to delicious effect. Awesome Caesar and burgers on the grill, anyone?

Warm Summer Salad Without Borders

Warm Summer Salad WIthout Borders

Warm Summer Salad WIthout Borders

Got zucchini? This warm summer salad capitalizes on your favorite (and most abundant) summer produce: tomatoes, okra, summer squash, sweet corn. Don't like okra? Leave it out: The salad – great as a starter, main course, side or garnish for grilled fish or meats – is super-customizable. Give it a modern Tex-Mex/Mexican accent, or Greek, or Italian.

Chiringuito Seafood Paella

Chiringuito Seafood Paella

Chiringuito Seafood Paella

One of my favorite summer dinners is seafood paella cooked outside on a grill, and this recipe – adapted from Anya Von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table – is my favorite version. Start with a few tapas, then Gazpacho Sevillano, and you've got yourself a virtual vacation in Spain. 

The Chicken that Killed Grandpa

The Chicken that Killed Grandpa

The Chicken that Killed Grandpa

Easy to put together, this one-dish main course takes full advantage of summer's bounty.

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Grilled butterflied leg of lamb

Grilled butterflied leg of lamb

Easy and fabulous. Add Ultimate Hummus, Charred Eggplant Salad or Red Pepper Harissa Dip for a wonderful Mediterranean feast (or collect all three!). Quinoa, Pea and Mint Tabbouleh or Warm Summer Salad Without Borders – or any simple grilled veg – are dreamy accompaniments. 

Berry and Peach Crisp

Berry and Peach Crisp

Berry and Peach Crisp

This is the crisp that will turn any non-baker into a dessert genius: super-easy and crazy-good.

Stone Fruit Tart with Thyme

Stone Fruit Tart with Thyme

Stone Fruit Tart with Thyme

Peaches, plums, nectarines, apricot: Whatever stone fruit's the ripest and most delicious at the moment goes onto the super-tender and buttery short crust at this base of this gorgeous tart. 

Strawberry-Mezcal Ice Cream

Strawberry-Mezcal Ice Cream

Strawberry-Mezcal Ice Cream

Last, but most definitely and emphatically not least, is our dreamy, mezcal-spiked strawberry ice cream. Whether you go all out and make lamb barbacoa and your own corn tortillas, or run around the corn and pick up tacos, it'll make any summer day an awesome one. 

Fall in love with the most versatile warm summer salad in the universe

Are you a friend of okra? If so, you'll love this warm summer salad or summer squash, sweet cherry tomatoes, grilled corn and grilled okra. 

Are you anti-okra? You, too, will love this warm summer salad: That's because you can leave simply leave it out. Add grilled eggplant. Or some cooked black beans. Or fresh green garbanzos, if you score them at the market and you're wondering what to do with them.

I'm calling it a warm summer salad because I conceived it to be eaten warm. But it's also great at room temp. Or even straight out of the fridge the next day. 

It may be the most versatile warm salad in the universe.

It's great with cheese crumbled on – queso fresco or cotija, for a Mexican or modern Tex-Mex feel. Feta gives it a Greek accent. Shaved ricotta salata spins it Italian, especially if you make it with basil. Try cilantro, if you want to be more Mexican, or parsley for more Greek. Or mint. It's a salad without borders.

 

Leaving off the cheese sacrifices nothing – and makes it vegan.

It's fabulous as a starter or main course salad on its own. Serve it next to or under some grilled fish or chicken or lamb (or beef or pork or tofu . . . ) and you've got a gorgeous, cheffy main course. 

See what I mean? It's versatile. 

Don't feel like grilling the corn? Don't worry – just cut it raw off the cob and toss it in with the squash. Want to use more of one vegetable and less of another? Go ahead – it's a free country. Use balsamic or red wine vinegar in place of the sherry vinegar if you like. Throw in a handful of toasted pine nuts, or a spoonful of leftover basil. Serve it on a bed of quinoa or lentils or arugula. Or toss some arugula or microgreens on top. 

It's your salad. Now go for it.

Thrill of the chill: Poached arctic char with dill sauce tastes like summer in Scandinavia

Oh, wait – it's not summer yet? It's certainly heating up! And when the going gets hot, Scandinavian-style cold poached salmon makes a delicious centerpiece for a dreamy chilled dinner or lunch.

Traditionally, this is done with a whole salmon – and that's fantastic for feeding a crowd. But what if you just want to do a salmon fillet? What if it's just dinner for two? Or what if you go to the fish counter and beautiful arctic char fillets are on sale? 

Grab that fillet and get ready to poach. It's so easy and yield such great results that if you've never done it before, you'll wonder where the technique has been all your life.

 

Lay the fillet skin-side down in a smallish roasting pan (or a fish poacher, if you happen to have one, which I don't). Cover it with cold water and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. You don't need to add other flavorings to the water, as the both char and salmon have enough lovely flavor on their own; char's flavor is a little more delicate. Bring the water to a simmer, turn off the heat and let the fish sit in the hot water for 25 minutes. Transfer it to a platter and chill it. That's it. Garnish it with slices of lemon and sprigs of dill, if you like. 

You probably don't even need a recipe, but here it is:

A 1 1/4 pound fillet serves two or three; poach two fillets if you want to serve four to six. 

Serve it with a mustardy fresh dill sauce, and asparagus and boiled red potatoes – both are which delicious if they happen to crash into that dill sauce. I nearly forgot: cold cucumber salad's great with it, too!

Here's how to make the cucumber salad: 

And the dill sauce . . . 

And here's the best part. Make the fish and the dill sauce (and cucumber salad, if you're doing that...) in the morning, or the day before. Then you just pull 'em out of the fridge and serve. How's that for chill?

 

 

Ottolenghi meets Zahav: Introducing the ultimate hummus recipe

First there was Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's recipe for hummus, published in  Jerusalem: a Cookbook in 2012. Then there was last year's sensation – the hummus tehina from Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook's Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, which just won the 2016 James Beard Book Award for Book of the Year. Finally, we had an easy way to make amazingly smooth, creamy and fabulous hummus, and America went nuts over it

Now that the excitement is simmering down, I started simmering up: I have at last (after receiving a review copy) given Solomonov's recipe my full attention and put it to the test. 

Yes, it is wonderful. But it's also somewhat more complicated than it needs to be. And there were a few minor issues. It needed more salt, and my chickpeas cooked much quicker than Zahav said they would. The recipe said they would be tender in about an hour; mine were falling apart after 25 minutes; 10 minutes later they were mushy to the point of being waterlogged, resulted in too-watery hummus. Covering the pot of chickpeas simmering over medium heat made the pot overflow the first time I tried it; next time I tried lower heat, but the same thing happened. 

I wondered: How did this differ from Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe? So I went back to that one for guidance. They didn't cover the pot. And their estimated time to tenderness was "between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness" of the chickpeas, "sometimes even longer." 

Aha. Two great recipes. How about synthesizing them, taking the best, most thoughtful aspects of each? The goal was to achieve maximum flavor and amazing creamy texture with a minimum of time and effort. (Of course if you want a quickie cheater version using canned garbanzos, you can do that, too.)

The thing that probably makes Solomonov's recipe brilliant for a restaurant actually makes it cumbersome for the home cook: It calls for 1 1/2 cups "basic tehina sauce," which you have to make first. The recipe for it – a whole separate recipe – yields 4 cups.  That's great for a restaurant doing serious volume, but silly for a home cook making one batch – which is already a ginormous amount of hummus. Ottolenghi's recipe simply has you put those ingredients (tahini, garlic, lemon juice) directly into the food processor without making a separate sauce first. However, Solomonov's recipe, in breaking out the tahini sauce separately, does something clever: He has you drop whole cloves of garlic into lemon juice, pulverize them together in a blender, let the mixture sit and mellow for 10 minutes, then you press it through a fine sieve and discard the solids. It's the mellowly garlic-infused lemon juice that goes into the tahini. 

Great effect, but it's kind of a pain in the butt. I found a compromise: While the chickpeas are simmering, you crush the garlic through a press into lemon juice and let it sit and mellow till the chickpeas are tender. No need for straining, pressing, discarding. 

So here's how it goes: You soak the chickpeas overnight, with a teaspoon of baking soda to start breaking down the garbanzo skins so you get that amazingly smooth texture. Next day drain and rinse them, and simmer them (uncovered) in a lot of water with another teaspoon of baking soda. Drain them and purée in a food processor. With the motor still running, add tahini, the lemon juice-and-crushed-garlic mixture, salt and a few tablespoons of ice water. And let it run and run – until the hummus is incredibly smooth, creamy and light. 

Wow, is it incredible – wonderfully warm, nutty and vibrant. It almost seems alive.  You will be licking your spoons and rubber scrapers like a kid with Tollhouse cookie dough. Such a simple food, and such an amazing one. 

 

 

 

Ten-minute dazzler: This ginger vinaigrette turns simple fish into a modern Asian show-stopper

Red snapper with ginger vinaigrette

I wish I could remember exactly what inspired this dish. I'm pretty sure New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten published a recipe for salmon with ginger vinaigrette somewhere, at some point, maybe in the 1990s – was it in a cookbook? A cooking magazine? I can't find any trace of it, no matter how much I Google. Did I dream it?

In any case, what I loved about the sauce was that it starred lots of julienned ginger – more ginger than you usually see on one plate. I made it once, Thierry and I both fell in love with it, and I made it many times after that, tweaking and changing it over the years. Lime juice, fish sauce and scallions (not in the original) now come into play. It didn't take too long to realize it's spectacular on just about any kind of fish: Not just salmon, but tuna, halibut, snapper, scallops, shrimp – even fish with serious personality, like mackerel. 

Did I mention it's super-easy to make, and fabulously healthy? It's ideal for a light and festive dinner for two, or as the centerpiece of an elegant dinner party. 

 

The genius of it is the ginger vinaigrette, which comes together in no time flat, but you can even make in advance, which is especially handy if you're entertaining. Just whisk together lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, olive oil and toasted sesame oil, then add sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and julienned ginger. If you're making it more than a few minutes ahead of time, wait till the last minute to add the cilantro.

Seared halibut in ginger vinaigrette

Last weekend I found some gorgeous halibut fillets on sale (it's usually so expensive!). After a couple days of seriously exaggerated eating, I wanted to make something light, lovely and easy for a relaxed dinner at home with Thierry. Halibut sounded luxurious, to boot.

It's really easy to overcook halibut, making it kind of dense and hard. But if you salt and pepper it, sear it in an oven-proof skillet in a little hot olive oil (four minutes skin-side up, two and a half minutes skin-side down), then finish it for three minutes in a 400-degree oven, it comes out absolutely perfect: lightly seared on the outside, silky and wonderful on the inside. Its delicate flavor is gorgeous with the ginger vinaigrette, which you just spoon onto a couple plates while the fish finishes in the oven. Set the fillets on top of the sauce when it comes out. 

We had it with roasted asparagus and radishes, which took on a whole new dimension as it crashed happily into the vinaigrette on the plate. Loved it!

 

But it doesn't have to be halibut, and it doesn't have to be seared. Grilling season is starting, and just about any kind of grilled fish sings with this, from tuna to snapper to mackerel – or skewered shrimp! Ditto fish done in a pan (scallops, salmon) or roasted in the oven (branzino!). 

Intrigued? Here's the halibut recipe:

Or maybe you want to try it with a different kind of fish. And you know what? I'm thinking it would also be great on grilled or seared chicken breasts. Here's the recipe for just the vinaigrette:

Please let us know you you like it!

 

Celebrate spring with a sugar-snap pea salad with lemon and parmesan

Spring is here – officially, anyway. In my hometown, Los Angeles, that means asparagus and fabulous strawberries and English peas, favas, nettles and morels. Where I live now, in North Texas, it means tornados and thunderstorms and hail. English peas? Not so much. 

I do find nice asparagus in the market, and good sugar snap peas – which I love to blanch lightly, slice up and toss in a lemony vinaigrette with snipped chives and grated parm. It was inspired by a salad I fell in love with a couple years ago over lunch with my girlfriend An-My at ABC Kitchen in New York. 

There's really not much to it. It takes a little while to slice up all the sugar snaps; after that, it comes together in a flash. I'm thinking it would be really nice served with frico, those lacy Italian parmesan crisps. (Remind me to scare up a recipe for them sometime soon!) 

Anyway, it's a lovely starter on its own.  Even if it's stormy outside, at your table it will feel like spring. Here's the recipe: