vegan recipes

My favorite roasted potatoes

I have to ask you to forgive me. I've been so busy putting together Palate, The Dallas Morning News' annual food and wine magazine, that I have been a delinquent blogger.

I promise I will make it up to you: I have a couple of really cool stories in the works. One will feature a guest cook I'm really excited to introduce you to – Susie Bui – who stopped by the house a couple weeks ago to show me how to make one of her favorite Vietnamese dishes. The other is a Japanese story I've been working on for some weeks.

In the meantime, I have this for you: my family's favorite roasted potatoes. They're super easy to make and incredibly delicious. I would even say crazy good. I don't know who invented them, but I think it must have been my dad, who was a wonderful natural cook (he picked up the habit later in life). My brothers and I all make them. Or maybe it was my mom; I don't really know, but I'm calling them Brenner Family Roasted Potatoes. My parents divorced when I was a teenager, and these potatoes were staples in both of their houses ever after.

The secret is letting the oven do all the work for you: Roasting gives the potatoes a deep, rich flavor and a wonderful texture – creamy soft inside and sort of chewy and crisp on the edges. And the roasted onion, which falls into petals when you cut it up through the stem end, melts into fabulous sweetness. If I could eat these potatoes once a week, I would. 

Before roasting, I toss them with lots of fresh thyme, but you can just as easily use rosemary – or both together. And of course a little olive oil, salt and pepper. That's it. They make a great side dish for just about any fish, fowl or meat. I love them with roasted branzino (and that makes an easy dinner for which you don't even need to turn on the stove), or roasted chicken, or sautéed pork chops – your imagination is the limit. 

Do you like the platter up at the top of the post? It's one of my favorites – an early piece by my old friend Christopher Russell, who has since become a well-known ceramist and sculptor. (Check out his website – I think his work is gorgeous.)

But often I roast the potatoes in a pretty oven-to-table roaster, and serve them straight from the oven. 

So. Thank you for being so patient. Here is the recipe:

And I promise: More good stuff coming soon.

Warming lentil super-detox soup is a meatless Monday winter favorite

Warming Lentil Super-Detox Soup

Post-holiday food should never be about repentance. It should be about deliciousness and healthy renewal – clean eating at its best. 

That's why, after New Year's Eve revelry followed by an indulgent New Year's Eve lunch (on the heels of Christmas feasts and other holiday parties), what I craved for dinner was a warming bowl of chunky, vegan lentil-and-vegetable soup. Happily, I'd created one a couple weeks before – one that my family went crazy for. I'd whip up something like it again.

Only this time, I'd boost the turmeric, said to be a powerful antioxidant with terrific anti-inflammatory properties. And I'd add ginger, which I felt would work with the soup's flavors. And I'd try swapping in some red lentils, which have a softer texture than the green or black ones in the original. I didn't have any baby kale in the house, so I used baby arugula. And I left out the celery.

You know what? The soup was every bit as delicious; the ginger took it in a slightly different (and still wonderful) direction. 

It's a soup that can be all things to all people  or at least many kinds of people. It's vegan. It's gluten-free. The only processed ingredients are minimally processed (a can of tomatoes and the ground spices), so it's very clean. 

It's so soul-satisfying that carnivores probably won't miss the meat. Wylie, home for college for winter break, had three bowls. If you don't mention it's healthy, no one will be the wiser. 

Best of all, you can whip it up in a flash. Putting it together takes about 10 minutes, 15 max (if, say, you're in a post-holiday stupor). In less than an hour, it's done. 

Cooking for just one or two? Make a batch, eat some tonight, then take it to work later this week in a Thermos for lunch. 

Ready for the recipe? Here you go...

Happy New Year!!!

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.

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. 

 

 

 

A million delicious ways to put asparagus on your springtime table (including some new ones!)

Goodbye, Brussels sprouts. Hello, asparagus – springtime's A-list vegetable.

Of course fava beans, English peas and artichokes rock the season as well, but asparagus stands apart, as it's so abundant and easy to get along with. If asparagus were as expensive as it was once upon a time, we'd likely celebrate it as a luxury, up there with morels and ramps and fiddlehead ferns. But it's not – which is why it finds a starring role on my table several times a week when it's in season.

There are a million delicious things you can do with it, from steaming to roasting to grilling to braising, sautéeing or stir-frying – even shaving the stalks with a peeler and adding them raw to a salad.

Most traditional is steaming it – in one of those upright baskets. I've never owned one; instead I trim the ends, use a vegetable peeler to peel the stalks halfway up or more, lay them flat in a wide pan and simmer them in salted water. After draining the stalks well, you can dress them in butter and serve them warm or send them to the table with a fluffy, lemony hollandaise. Or dress them in vinaigrette (that's lovely served warm, at room temp or chilled). Or keep them naked, chill 'em and serve with mayo. 

Easiest is roasting asparagus. A turn in the oven gives it a completely different character, no less delicious. Just snap off the tough bottoms or trim them with a knife, lay them on a baking sheet with a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, roll the stalks around to coat them, and roast for 17 minutes (for stalks of medium thickness) at 400 degrees F.

Grilling is nearly as easy: Brush the stalks or roll them around in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt, toss them on the grill or a hot grill pan and cook until they're just tender.

One mistake people (including home cooks and many a restaurant) often make: undercooking them. They shouldn't be crunchy; they need to be tender. How to know when they're done? Use tongs to lift them up by the middle of the stalk. When they're done, they'll droop a bit on either side. 

Roasted asparagus and radishes from Steven Satterfield's Root to Leaf cookbook

Last spring I fell in love with Steven Satterfield's recipe for roasted asparagus with green garlic and radishes, from his then-just-published cookbook Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons. I haven't been able to find green garlic where I live in North Texas, so used regular garlic, Satterfield's suggested substitution. Simple and fabulous, the dish instantly became a regular player in my spring repertoire. Best of all, it's so easy to put together you don't even really need the recipe: Just cut the asparagus into 1 1/2-inch lengths, cut the radishes into quarters and toss both in a bowl with a little olive oil, finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet, baking dish or roasting pan and roast in a 400 degree oven till they're just tender, about 15 minutes. Want more specifics? Here's the adapted recipe:

Last weekend I fell in love again: With a technique for braising asparagus in butter I gleaned from a recent story and recipe in the New York Times by David Tanis. 

Butter-braised asparagus with herbs

The technique is brilliant: Place asparagus spears flat in a pan with a good deal of butter and a little water, salt and pepper; cover the pan and cook till the asparagus is just tender. Remove the asparagus and reduce the cooking liquid to nice sauce. Tanis adds lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped herbs, then garnishes the dish with herb leaves. It was super, though I had to tweak the recipe a bit (mine needed more liquid and longer in the pan; I added more water and a little more butter. I'll add an adapted recipe here once have time to retest it (watch this space!). In any case, butter-braising gives the asparagus a rich and luxurious silkiness and this too will become a go-to treatment chez moi. I love the lemon and herb flavors with it, but it should be great without them, too.

Meanwhile, in case you're wondering about the photo that leads off this post, that's a salad of shaved raw asparagus, sautéed asparagus and black lentils from Michael Anthony's V is for Vegetables, which just won a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the category of Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian. Again, this recipe needed some adjustments (more acid in the dressing, for one thing), but it's pretty swell, so I'll tweak and provide an adaptation soon! (I was wowed last fall by Anthony's cooking at Untitled at the Whitney Museum in New York City, so was excited to cook from his book). 

Asparagus with new-wave gribiche

Are you still with me? I want you to have all these asparagus ideas and recipes in one place. Another great way to serve asparagus is with sauce gribiche, whether the new-wave version shown in the photo above, or a slightly more traditional one. Just simmer the stalks in salted water, roast or grill them (as explained earlier in this post), and dress with the gribiche of your choice. Here's the new-wave gribiche recipe:

And here's an adaptation of Judy Rodger's four-minute egg gribiche from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Just one more direction, and it's a good one: Stir-fry asparagus Chinese-style. I wrote about this version adapted from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes in mid-February, when springtime was still a dream away.

I know you want the recipe. Here you go:

Now let's get cooking!

 

 

 

 

Artichoke vinaigrette: an easy, elegant, French (and vegan! and healthy! and make-ahead!) appetizer

Growing up in California, I took fresh artichokes for granted. After all, Castroville – the town that bills itself as "the artichoke capital of the world" – is right there in the central coastal part of the state, not far from Monterey. I used to love stopping there on road trips and seeing the giant concrete artichoke sculpture that greets you at the edge of town.

In the spring and summertime, my mom always steamed artichokes and served them as an appetizer with melted butter to dip the leaves in. I love them even more dipped in mayo, or a mustardy red wine vinaigrette. Wylie loves it with balsamic vinaigrette.

A classic French way to serve artichokes is  à la vinaigrette – that is, actually dressed in the vinaigrette; shallot vinaigrette suits them particularly well. Pouring the sauce over them while they're still warm lets the vinaigrette penetrate the leaves – no additional dipping sauce required. An artichoke vinaigrette is also pretty beautiful. It's great as a sit-down starter at a dinner party or as a sharable treat before the dinner gets started. 

A few years ago, I served boiled artichokes as an appetizer to new friends in Texas, and was surprised that they found them exotic. "How do you eat them?" they asked. We showed them how to pull off a leaf, dip it in sauce, scrape off the meaty part (closest to the crown) with your teeth and discard the rest of the leaf. When all the leaves are gone and only the thin, prickly ones at the heart remain, you pull those off, scrape the fuzz off the crown with a spoon, and eat the heart  – the prize! – which is also delicious dipped in mayo or vinaigrette.

 

Many cooks boil artichokes rather than steaming them. I've prepared them both ways, and find that boiling them in plenty of salted water gives them the best texture. Acidulating the water with lemon juice (as some cooks do to prevent discoloration) is unnecessary; I find the results to be the same with unacidulated water. Instead, after I trim them, I simply rub the cut surfaces with half a lemon.

For a party of four to eight, I often make two artichokes and serve it with another app or two. For a dinner party, you can serve one per person, or for a more casual dinner, one for every two to share.

So, how to trim them? You can get all fancy, and remove the chokes if you want to, but I usually don't. 

Once you do it once or twice, it's easy. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice off the stem, creating a flat surface for the artichoke to rest on. Then slice off the top straight across – removing the tops of the inner few rows of leaves. Next use your fingers to break off the tough row or two of small leaves around the bottom.

 

Finally, use kitchen scissors to snip off any remaining leaf tips (be careful – there's a prickle at the top of each). Rub the cut surfaces with half a lemon and they're ready to cook.

Boil them in lots of salted water in a covered pot. Don't worry if they bob up to the top; flip them over with a spoon once or twice so they cook evenly. While they're cooking, whisk together the vinaigrette. 

Drain the artichokes upside down, then dress them with the vinaigrette. Voilá. Easy, chic, delicious and healthy. And there are a couple of bonuses: You can serve them warm, or make them ahead, serving them chilled or at room temperature. And . . . they're vegan!

Ready to try? Here you go!