Category Archives: Food

Everyday Nourishment

Grandma Antha’s Cucumber Salad

 The Midwest is replete with cucumber salads. This one belonged to my grandmother, who used to chop the onions and sprinkle a little grocery-store paprika on top.  Thought I’d pass along the recipe in time for graduations and Father’s Day BBQ’s.  It makes 2-3 servings, but multiplies easily.  Enjoy!

1/3 c. apple cider vinegar
2/3 c. water
¼ c. sugar
¼ c. olive or canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
½ small onion, thinly sliced

Whisk vinegar, water, and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl until sugar dissolves. Whisk in oil. Add cucumbers and onions and stir to combine. Marinate in the fridge for 4-24 hours.  Serve at room temperature.


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“Flexitarian” Split Pea Soup

We move in a couple weeks, and I’ve been trying to use up my pantry.  Hence another legume-based recipe.  This time soup. For all but the hottest months of the year, I keep a pot of soup in the fridge.  I usually whip something up toward the end of the week, with whatever is left on hand. Family members can dip into the pot for lunch or a quick snack, or I can serve the soup as supper, along with salad and some kind of bread.  This recipe is one of my standby’s.  Unlike many split pea soups, which require a ham hock, this can be made with ingredients I typically have on hand.  The bacon provides enough flavor to satisfy those people who believe soup must start with a bone.  This makes about 10 cups of soup.  Enjoy!

4 slices flavorful bacon (ideally nitrate-free)
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. plus 1-2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
2 medium “baking” potatoes
3 cups dried split peas, rinsed and sorted
9 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried tarragon

Finely dice bacon (or cut into bits using kitchen scissors). In a large soup pot, melt butter and 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon. Turn heat up slightly and fry until bacon is crisp and has rendered most of its fat. Turn heat down to medium again. Add 1-2 T. olive oil, onion, carrots and celery and sauté 5 minutes, stirring often. While vegetables are cooking, peel and cut potatoes into a ½-inch dice. Add garlic and hot pepper to the pot and sauté another 60 seconds, stirring once or twice.

Add diced potatoes to the pot, along with the split peas. Add broth and stir to combine. Crumble in dried thyme and dried tarragon. Bring soup to a boil, then turn down heat.  Skim mixture several times to remove froth. Partially cover soup and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and have started to fall apart, usually 25-40 minutes. (Time will depend on the age of the dried peas.) Remove from heat. Cool soup slightly.

Using care, scoop out 3 cups of soup and purée it in a blender. (To purée hot liquids, remove the center of the blender’s lid to provide a place for the steam to escape. Cover the hole with a folded clean kitchen towel, making sure that the folded towel is several layers thick.  With several layer of towel between the hot liquid and your hand, hold the towel in place over the vent and turn the blender on.)  Pour the puréed soup back into the pot.  Repeat twice.

Serve warm.


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French-Style Lentil Salad

Salad season is fast approaching.  I am already craving crunch.  This salad was inspired by all the French food I’ve been eating in San Francisco.  It is particularly nice because you can make it ahead– It is actually better if you let it sit for an hour or two.  It lasts several days in the fridge (well, not around here…). And it is not dependent on fragile, of-the-moment produce, so you can make it whenever the mood hits.  The recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but go ahead and experiment.  My absolute favorite, so far, is a combination of poppy (!) and sherry vinegar.  The recipe makes about 4 cups.  Enjoy!

½ c. finely diced onion
Ice water
1 ½ cups black “beluga” lentils
3 ¾ cups of water
Large clove garlic
1 tsp. finely ground sea salt
½ c. plus 2 T. olive oil
4 T. red wine vinegar (or 2 T. sherry and 2 T. poppy vinegar)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. ground celery seeds
¼ tsp. (or more) red pepper flakes
Black pepper
1 c. finely diced celery

Place diced onion in a bowl of ice water to cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Rinse and sort lentils. Combine lentils and 3 ¾ cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer gently until lentils are cooked, but still have a slight bite, about 25 minutes. Most of the water will have been absorbed.  Drain briefly, if needed.

While lentils cook, make the dressing: Mince the garlic clove and mash it into a paste with the salt. Place this paste in the bottom of a medium-size mixing bowl. Add olive oil, vinegar(s), Dijon mustard, sugar, celery seed, red pepper flakes and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Whisk well to combine.

Toss still-warm lentils with dressing. Drain onions. Stir onions and celery into the lentils. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Living in Los Angeles this past year, I did not get my fill of butternut squash.  Winter squash makes a surprisingly brief appearance out here– You see it in November.  November.  Not nearly the season my Midwestern soul expects. I’ve been craving it.  So when I saw some (five!) beautiful butternut squash at Whole Foods this past week, I grabbed one.  (Well, two.  The first I roasted & ate, alone and slightly delirious.)  The second went into risotto.  

This recipe is different from many butternut squash risottos, because it does not use sage.   Instead, it uses a little prosciutto and dried thyme.  The stock is important, though.  When I don’t have homemade on hand, I use Better Than Bouillon base.  Usually I use their vegetable-based products, often the “No Chicken” base (which is vegan), or their mushroom broth base (also vegan).  You could use either in this recipe, or else a low-sodium canned or boxed stock that has been simmered down slightly to intensify its flavors.  This makes 4 generous main course servings.  Enjoy!

4 T. olive oil, divided
1 medium butternut squash
Sea salt
2/3 c. walnut halves or pieces
5-6 c. chicken or vegetable broth
½ tsp. dried thyme
3 T. + 1 tsp. butter, divided
1 oz. prosciutto, finely chopped
1/3 c. finely diced onion
½ c. white wine
1 large granny smith apple
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel and seed butternut squash and cut into a ½”-dice. You should have a scant 3 cups. Toss squash with 3 T. olive oil in a 9×13” glass roasting pan. Spread squash out to a single layer and season generously with sea salt. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Carefully stir the squash and roast for another 15 minutes (40 minutes total). Squash should be roasted but only very slightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside. (Squash may be made up to 6 hours ahead. Rewarm in oven before continuing.) Turn oven temperature down to 350°F.

Toast walnuts in the oven until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and chop medium fine. (Nuts may be made up to a day ahead.)

Place broth in a medium saucepan and stir in thyme. Bring liquid to a boil and turn off the heat. Cover and let broth steep for at least 10 minutes. Grate apple. You should have about 3/4 cup.

In another medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium-high heat, sauté prosciutto in 1 tsp. butter until darkened and slightly crispy. Scoop proscuitto out and set aside.  Bring broth back to a low simmer.

In the same saucepan used to crisp the prosciutto, melt 1 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter. Add onion and sauté gently over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in Arborio rice. Stir well, making sure that every grain of rice is coated with butter & oil. Set timer for 18 minutes. Add white wine. Cook, stirring, until wine evaporates.

Add ½ cup of broth. Stir rice constantly until broth has been absorbed.  Add another ½ cup of broth, and stir constantly again. (It is this stirring that makes risotto creamy.) Continue adding broth by the ½-cupfuls, stirring constantly between each addition. At the 12 minute mark, stir in the grated apple.

When 18 minutes are up, taste the rice. It should be soft, creamy, but still have a little bite. If it is not quite done (tastes chalky), continue adding broth, ¼ cup at a time, and stir. Keep checking rice. It should be done within 4 minutes. Turn down heat to low. Stir in crisped prosciutto, 2 T. butter and Parmesan cheese. Gently fold in roasted butternut squash. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Remember when sun-dried tomatoes were all the rage?  Seems like they were everywhere.  (I don’t remember sun-dried tomato ice cream, though, so apparently the savory ice cream phase hadn’t hit yet)…. This recipe appeared in bon appetit back around then.  Despite the odds, it has  become one of our household favorites.  I even keep a jar of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes on hand just so I can whip it up.  The recipe makes enough pesto to dress one pound of pasta, though I often cook 12 ounces and throw the extra 1/4-recipe into a batch of meatballs to serve alongside.  Save some of the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto.  Enjoy!

½ c. (packed) fresh basil leaves
¼ c. slivered almonds, toasted
¼ c. drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes*
1 garlic clove
1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
½ c. hot water
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese, (plus more for serving, opt.)

Place the basil, toasted almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and crushed red pepper in a food processor and process until nuts are finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With blade running, dribble in half of the olive oil, then half of the hot water. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and repeat, blending until almost smooth. (Pesto may be made to this point and refrigerated for up to a week or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 3 months.) Transfer to a bowl. Stir in Parmesan cheese.

(* (Mediterranean Organic is my favorite brand.  I usually find it at Whole Foods.)

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Black Bean Cakes with Cilantro Crème

These black bean cakes are dredged in rice flour, which give them a thin, crisp crust.  I use leftover Game Night Black Beans, but you could use any well-spiced beans.  The recipe is a lot easier than it looks– make them once and you’ll do it by memory.  I often serve black bean cakes over watercress or arugula dressed in olive oil.  With a piece of cornbread or a side of rice, you have a full meal.  Don’t skip the Cilantro Crème.  It makes the dish.  This recipe makes 4 servings.  Enjoy!

Black Bean Cakes
2 medium sweet potatoes, about 10 oz. total
3 cups well-drained, well-seasoned, cooked black beans
1 T. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
2 T. finely diced onion
Scant 1 tsp. sea salt
2 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
¼ c. brown rice flour
3-5 T. olive or canola oil, for frying

Cilantro Crème
1 c. chopped cilantro
2/3 c. nonfat Greek yogurt
2 Serrano chiles, de-stemmed
Zest and juice of 1 medium lime

Prick sweet potatoes several times with a fork and cook in the microwave until soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Place black beans in a large, shallow bowl. Melt the butter in a small skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic, hot pepper and onion and cook one minute. Add salt, chili powder and ground cumin and cook another 30-60 seconds, until fragrant. Scrape spice mixture into the beans. Cut warm sweet potatoes in half and add the flesh to the bowl. Use a potato masher to smash and combine the ingredients together. Stop mashing when mixture is creamy and just holds together, but still has visible bits of beans. Do not mash to a uniform consistency.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Place rice flour on a small plate. Scoop up a scant quarter-cup of bean mixture and gently form it into a ½-inch-thick bean cake. Dredge it in the rice flour and set it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all the mixture is used. You should have about 12 bean cakes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (Bean cakes may be made up to 8 hours ahead.)

Move cakes from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Pour an eighth-of-an-inch of oil into the bottom of a large, flat-bottomed skillet (cast iron is ideal). Heat oil over medium high heat. Add 6 bean cakes in a single layer and fry until golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes.  Carefully flip. Continue cooking until the second side is golden brown and cakes are heated through. Remove from the skillet and keep warm. Repeat with remaining oil and bean cakes.  Place 3 warm bean cakes on each plate and drizzle with Cilantro Crème.  Serve, passing additional crème on the side.

Cilantro Crème
Place cilantro, yogurt, peppers, lime zest and juice into a blender and process until smooth. May be made 4 hours ahead.

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Honey- Spiced Pecans

There’s no denying…. I’ve become obsessed with the taste of honey and hot pepper.  It all started with the Red Pepper & Acacia Honey (from Tuscany!) that I found at beekind in San Francisco.  For this recipe, I use local wildflower honey and cayenne pepper.  The spicy-sweet combination on the crunchy pecans is reeee-aaallly good.  You might try adding a little less salt if you’re using salted butter.  Enjoy!

2 T. butter, melted
4 T. unfiltered honey
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
2 c. pecans
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine melted butter, honey, cayenne and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans and gently toss to combine. Spread nuts out in a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 8-12 minutes, stirring once, until toasted. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

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Beet Salad with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

At the farmers’ market the other day, I heard a man ask the farmer how to prepare beets, “You boil them, right?”  Please don’t boil beets!  It is SO much easier to pop them in the oven, wrapped in foil, then simply slip them out of their skins after they’ve roasted.  They taste better, too! This recipe calls for both red and golden beets, though you could, of course, use either color.  Red beets STAIN, so you might opt for golden beets if you are feeding children.  I wish I could come up with a fancier name for this salad.  There is nothing particularly novel about combining beets, goat cheese and nuts.  What makes this dish special is the use of toasted sesame oil in the dressing.  It amps up the nuttiness of the dressing, which goes so well with the other ingredients.  This makes four servings.  Enjoy!

3-4 golden beets, preferably with their tops
3-4 red beets, preferably with their tops
¼ cup hazelnuts
2 T. plus 1 tsp. hazelnut or walnut oil
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 T. good quality balsamic vinegar
2 oz. goat cheese

Arrange oven shelves so that one is one-third of the way off the oven floor (the usual place to bake) and another is at the half-way point. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut off the tops of each beat, leaving about an inch of the foliage attached. Rinse the beets of any loose dirt, then wrap each one completely in foil. (It’s OK to trim off any protruding roots.) Spread hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and place on the lower shelf of the oven. Place beets on the higher shelf, taking care that each beet is resting above the cookie sheet.

Toast hazelnuts for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove the nuts from the oven and pour onto a clean kitchen towel. Return cookie sheet to the oven (so to catch any drips from the beets). Roast the beets 50 minutes longer.

Skin the hazelnuts. (You do this by folding the towel over the warm nuts and rubbing them briskly. Most of the skin will come right off. It is OK to leave on any that sticks.) Coarsely chop them and set them aside.

Measure the hazelnut oil, the sesame oil and the balsamic vinegar into a small glass jar.  Shake to combine.  Set aside.

Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool. Unfold each beet from the foil and skin it (over the sink!) by squeezing gently with your fingers. The beet will slide right out. Take care to keep the golden beets separate from the red beets, as the red beets will exude stain.

Starting with the yellow beets, cut each beat into ½-inch rounds, then each round into quarters. Place the yellow beets into a small mixing bowl. Do the same with the red beets, placing them in a separate bowl. In total, you should have about 3 cups of beets.

Crumble half of the goat cheese over each bowl. Divide the dressing between the two bowls and toss to combine. Pile the red beets into one side of a rimmed serving dish, then add the golden beets to the other side. Sprinkle the chopped toasted hazelnuts on top.  Serve at room temperature.

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Red Lentil Dal with Greens

This recipe was inspired by an interview I heard with with Madhur Jaffrey.  Apparently, collard greens are a staple food in Kashmir province, often served  as a main course with rice and dal.  I couldn’t find collard greens at the market, so I used curly kale instead.  I also combined the greens with the dal.  The creamy lentils and chewy kale are almost addictive in their appeal.  The spicing is subtle, the dish is all about texture.  Be sure to taste for salt before serving, though.  Chances are, you’ll need to add quite a bit.  This makes 2-3 servings. Enjoy!

1 c. red lentils
4 c. water
¼ tsp. turmeric, divided
3 T. canola oil
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
½ tsp. whole cumin seeds, crushed or ground
½ tsp. coriander seeds, crushed or ground
1 red hot pepper, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 large bunch curly kale, ribs removed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. tamarind paste
1 T. hot water
Sea salt

Lime wedges
Cooked Rice

Rinse and sort lentils and place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam and stir in 1/8 tsp. of the turmeric. Partially cover pan. Turn down heat and simmer lentils until they begin to fall apart, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, about 1 minute. Add the remaining turmeric, cumin, coriander, and hot pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium-low heat until soft, stirring frequently.

Add half the chopped greens to the skillet. Use tongs to press and toss greens into the oil and spice mixture, adding a little more oil to the pan if necessary. Turn heat up to medium. Cover and steam greens a little to wilt them down. Add remaining greens to the pan and toss mixture again. Add a tablespoon or so of water to the pan and cover. Cook covered greens until soft and wilted, about five minutes, taking care to stir them once or twice to promote even cooking. Remove cover and cook off any excess liquid.

Stir tamarind paste into 1 T. of hot water. Mix into the lentils. Add the lentil mixture into the kale and stir to combine. Add salt to taste. Bring back to a simmer.  Serve with hot cooked rice and lime wedges on the side.

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Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Hot Pepper Honey

I found the most wonderful hot pepper-infused honey at beekind in San Francisco.   I used it Sunday night on roasted baby rainbow carrots.  It was absolutely delicious.  Enjoy!

1-2 bunches baby carrots, rainbow-colored if possible
Olive oil
Coarsely ground sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tsp. hot pepper honey
Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

Peel baby carrots but leave whole (you can leave some of the tops on, if you want). Toss carrots with enough olive oil to coat, and spread single-layer in a 9x13x2-inch glass or enameled baking dish. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Place carrots in the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, shaking pan 2-3 times to turn different sides of the carrots down on the pan. The carrots are done when they are soft with crispy, caramelized edges.  Dribble with honey and serve warm or at room temperature.

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