Meatless Monday

Vietnamese Food, Anyone?

Chayote

Chayote~ they come in white and green

We have a real passion for Vietnamese food, in this house. Usually, we go out to eat it, and if we’re hungry and there happens to be a pho house around, we are almost sure to go in and try it. We usually order the same thing too, just so we can compare and contrast. I go for the green papaya salad, and Monty goes for lemon grass chicken or shrimp vermicelli. We have a couple of favorite places, such as Super Pho, which is one of our favorites. Let me show you a few examples:

Summer rolls are de rigueur for appetizers

Summer rolls are de rigueur for appetizers

I have a real passion for peanut sauce, too.

 

The best green papaya salad… how I love it

The best green papaya salad… how I love it

 

Lemon grass shrimp… get those chopsticks ready

Lemon grass shrimp… get those chopsticks ready

 

As you can see, all of this food looks super-light, healthy and refreshing. Now that you understand that we have a passion for this cuisine, you’ll understand why I’d be interested in learning a bit about learning how to cook some of this, myself.

I’m very lucky in this, on two counts. The first count is that Monty works with someone who grows chayote on his property, and last year he gave us a few. I had no idea what to do with it, so I ended up making a Mexican-stye soup with it. (Chayote sounds Mexican, doesn’t it?) Well, I did learn something, after I cooked that, and here’s where the second count of luck comes in.

I have a very, dear Vietnamese friend name Jess. When she saw my post last year, she got excited because her mom used to make chayote for her—so in her eyes, it’s comfort food! As I’ve found out, it is Mexican, but as it turns out, it is also very popular in Asian cuisine. The good about this food is that it’s very low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. It’s also a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, zinc, copper and manganese. That’s a lot of nutrition for a little squash! There isn’t much of a bad about this food, except that it excretes a sticky substance while peeling it,  that can feel a bit odd… almost like the feeling of superglue. The sensation can last a few hours, but I promise that it’s harmless.

Now, I’ll give you another warning: This recipe is not hard and fast, which means if you want to try this, you’ll need a brave heart. I did make this last week for dinner, mainly because I wanted to get a feel for the recipe. Jess tells me that the usual ratio is 2 chayote/1 egg. I was hungry for eggs so I used 2 chayote/2eggs… no regrets here! Today, I made it for lunch, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s very easy to throw together, and delicious. Another warning to the brave: this recipe uses fish sauce. A lot of people are put off by the smell when they first open a bottle, but I promise you that it won’t taste like you think it will. Fish sauce is a very common ingredient in Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino cuisines. Adding the lime and sugar to the condiment really changes the flavor, and give it the “umami” flavor that is so treasured in these recipes.

What I will do is give you the measurements that I used today for lunch. It was all I ate, so consider this two portions, if you are serving something else with it, such as rice or a salad.

Very few ingredients are needed for this

Very few ingredients are needed for this

What you’ll need:

1 Tablespoon cooking oil (I used olive)
3-4 green onions, chopped into long pieces about 2 inches long (you’ll want to use the green ends)
2 chayote, peeled and ends chopped off and discarded (you’ll want to discard the seed, too)
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed  lime juice
2 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper

Prep the fish sauce condiment to have it ready. Simply mix the fish sauce, lime and sugar in a small bowl.

Slice the chayote

Slice the chayote

Slice the peeled and seeded chayote.

 

Add the chayote to the green onions

Add the chayote to the green onions

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the green onions for a minute or so, then add in the chayote and allow to cook. I liked mine just when it became soft. Add in the fish sauce/sugar/lime condiment and continue to cook for another minute.

 

Add eggs

Add eggs

Drop the eggs in, one at a time.

 

Stir the eggs into the chayote

Stir the eggs into the chayote

Stir the eggs into the chayote and cook stirring, until the whites become solid.

 

Add pepper

Add pepper

When eggs are cooked, add pepper and serve.

 

Serve

Serve

What could be simpler?

 

Makes an easy lunch

Makes an easy lunch

This makes a super, easy lunch or a nice, light supper.

 

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit, and thank you, Jess!

 

 

A Taste of India for Meatless Monday

Dal for "Meatless Monday"

Dal for “Meatless Monday”

I’d been thinking pretty strongly of going back to doing “Meatless Mondays,’ mainly because I’m up for another knee surgery. I figure since I have the time to do it, why not get as healthy as possible? Yes, I will have my transgressions, but I am already upping my veggie intake, and plan on finding healthier options for other foods, between now and the next couple of months.

One of the things that I tried a couple of months ago, that I really wanted to try again is red dal. Dal is a split lentil, and a stew is usually made with them, seasoned accordingly to whatever South Asian country they are made in. The last time I made it, I used yellow split peas, and since then, I’ve heard that the flavor is much better using the real thing.

One of the really good things about this recipe is that it’s easy enough for a week night. It comes together very easily, and cooks quickly. It is also very high in nutrients and fiber.

Red dal lentils, turmeric and Bengali Five Spice

Red dal lentils, turmeric and Bengali Five Spice

I really feel like I’ve scored, since I live very close to a store that sells Indian goods and groceries. I had the pleasure of walking in there recently and finding an incredible array of foods I’d never seen before, especially since they also sell a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. I took a good walk around the shop, nonchalantly looking for the Bengali Five Spice that I was seeking, and realized that I would just have to ask for it. Well of course, it’s known by another name: Paunchpuran. The owner led me to its spot on the shelf.

Paunchpuran is a mix of nigella sativa, cumin, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. I have no idea what the ratios are of any of these ingredients to make up this spice mix, so I was quite happy to be able to find it. He also had to lead me to the red dal, and I was also thrilled that he had it available.

While I was in the store, there was a couple shopping, and as I got in line, the man asked me what I was making with the Bengali Five Spice. I told him I was going to attempt making red dal. He smiled and told me that he was from Bengal, and that I would love it. So nice to have such encouragement!

Getting home, I opened the bags of my new goodies. The dal has an aroma like no lentil I’ve even come upon, and the Panchpuran has a delightfully pungent smell.

If you’d like to try this, this is what you’ll need:

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
3 plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium white onion, (yellow will do) finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons Bengali Five Spice mix
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lime
cilantro, stemmed and chopped for garnish

———————————————————–

Drain the dal, after rinsing

Drain the dal, after rinsing

Rinse the dal in a sieve and rinse thoroughly with water. Set aside.

In a lage pan, sauté the chopped onion in the coconut oil, until it’s tender and translucent. Add in the chopped carrot and cook for about 5 minutes. Next, add pressed garlic and cook for another minute. Add the Bengali Five Spice, stirring to combine and cook that addition, for about 5 minutes.

Add the water, the dal and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Allow to gently simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Score the tomatoes

Score the tomatoes

While the dal is simmering, prepare the tomatoes by peeling them. This keeps people from getting those obnoxious little bits of rolled up tomato skin in their teeth. There is an easy method of doing this. Put a small pan of water on to boil. Cut off the core end of the tomato, score the skin in a couple of places, then plunge the tomatoes (I do them one by one) into the boiling water for about a minute. Then pull them out and allow them to cool slightly.

The skins will peel right off

The skins will peel right off

Voilà! The skin comes off super easily.

 

Add the tomatoes, turmeric and lime at the end

Add the tomatoes, turmeric and lime at the end

Maybe 15 minutes before it’s ready to serve, add in the turmeric, lime juice and tomatoes. Salt to taste.

 

Serve, and get your India on!

Serve, and get your India on!

This goes well served with naan bread or jasmine rice.

 

We like this with naan bread

We like this with naan bread

 

Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro

Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro

This recipe is also easily doubled, and I did just that, because I know there is a real lentil lover in the house. It makes great leftovers for lunch, too!

 

Bring on the marigolds!

Bring on the marigolds!

 

Meatless Monday, Italian Style

Beautiful eggplant!

Beautiful eggplant!

 

How about a nice Eggplant Parmesan? I remember having this for the first time at a potluck dinner party in San Francisco, many years ago. I was reluctant to try it, because at that point in time, I didn’t like eggplant. But, because a good friend brought this dish, and I didn’t want to insult him, I tried it. It was absolutely delicious!

The biggest issue I usually have with making this dish is usually the high calorie content. Normally, the eggplant is breaded and fried, but I’m going to slash some of the fat by baking it instead. Cooking spray can be your best friend in the kitchen! Another issue I have with anything made with breadcrumbs is that it’s a pain to make them yourself, mainly because it seems like they end up everywhere. Then if you buy them, you usually end up with some unsavory ingredient like a bunch of preservatives or high fructose corn syrup, which I avoid like the plague. In bread crumbs? Really? It’s crazy, but many off-the-shelf brands have it listed on the ingredients list, and I can’t see adding any kind of sugar to something so savory.

Just, plain breadcrumbs

Just, plain breadcrumbs

I did find a solution to this, which truly sold me on making this. I found these ready-made crumbs at Whole Foods, and all I’ll need to do them is add my own Italian seasoning. It works for me!

So in order to make this, I’ll need 2 cups of bread crumbs, and I’ve whisked in 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, a ¾ of a teaspoon of garlic powder and about ½ teaspoon of thyme. They sure smell good!

Now that we’ve settled that, if you want to make this recipe, you’ll need:

2 large eggplant

salt for sprinkling on the eggplant

2 eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water and a dash of salt & pepper

2 cups of breadcrumbs, seasoned as discussed above

1 24-oz. jar of high quality marinara sauce

15 oz. ricotta cheese, I used low-fat

1½ cups mozzarella cheese

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

½ cup Parmesan cheese

large pinch red pepper flakes

5-6 basil leaves, snipped

Before you start to put this together, make sure that your cheeses are ready.

Grate mozzarella first, if needed

Grate mozzarella first, if needed

If your mozzarella needs grating, get it ready.

Ricotta cheese, garlic, Parmesan, red pepper flakes and snipped basil

Ricotta cheese, garlic, Parmesan, red pepper flakes and snipped basil

Also, mix the ricotta cheese with the minced garlic, Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and snipped basil. It’s better to have everything ready, rather than be scrambling around.

Cut into half-inch slices

Cut into half-inch slices

You’ll need a 13″x9″ baking dish or casserole for this. Spray the bottom of the dish with cooking spray and pre-heat the oven to 350º F. Slice the eggplant cross-wise into ½-inch slices.

Salt them generously

Salt them generously

Generously sprinkle salt all over both sides of the slices and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.

 

Water will bead up on the slices

Water will bead up on the slices

Shortly, you’ll start to see water bead up on the slices~ supposedly this will pull out any bitterness that might be in the eggplant, and it will also make it more tender. When they are done, rinse with water in a colander and pat dry with paper towels.

Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with cooking spray.

Dip in egg first…

Dip in egg first…

 

…then dip in bread crumbs

…then dip in bread crumbs

Dip each slice of the eggplant into the egg mixture, then into the breadcrumbs.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Arrange on the cooking sheet, and when filled, bake for 15 minutes, then flip the eggplant and rotate the sheet 180 º for even baking. You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your eggplants.

A layer of eggplant on top of sauce

A layer of eggplant on top of sauce

When all of the eggplant has been baked, it is ready to be assembled. Start by spooning ½ cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the baking dish, then add a layer of eggplant.

Smooth ricotta mixture over eggplant and sauce

Smooth ricotta mixture over the eggplant and marinara sauce

Next, spoon about ¾ cup of the marinara atop of the eggplant, spreading it to cover the eggplant as much a possible. Then spoon half of the ricotta mixture on top of the marinara, using the back of a spoon to spread it evenly.

Sprinkle with mozzarella

Sprinkle with mozzarella

Sprinkle on 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese, and repeat the layers, ending with the small amount of remaining sauce.

Ready to be covered in foil and put in the oven

Ready to be covered in foil and put in the oven

I couldn’t resist adding an additional sprinkle of shaved Parmesan… it is Eggplant Parmesan, after all!

At this point, cover the top will aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated 350º oven. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese and bake for another 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with snipped basil

Sprinkle with snipped basil

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with snipped basil for garnish and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

 

Serve with a salad and some nice, Italian bread

Serve with a salad and some nice, Italian bread

 

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

eggplant16

Serve with a salad and some wonderful Italian bread. You will love the smell in your kitchen!

 

Meatless Monday~ A Quinoa & Artichoke Salad

Wow, that week went fast! I found what looks like a great recipe from Cooking Light that might work for “Meatless Monday.” It calls for chicken broth, but I think that can be substituted pretty easily for some vegetable broth or stock. It also calls for frozen artichokes, and at the prices I’ve been seeing for fresh artichokes lately, ($3-$4 each) I think the frozen ones should do just fine. In fact, I love artichokes so much, I’m doubling the amount called for in the recipe. Yum!

quinoa3

I grew up with artichokes~ my father grew them in the backyard. It seems they like fog, and after watching how many grew in our old San Francisco Sunset District garden when I was a child, I have to believe it’s true.

quinoa2

If you’ve never had quinoa, (pronounced keen-wa) it is an ancient “grain” (actually a seed) from Peru. It is considered by some to be a miracle food, just because it has all of the amino acids that make up a complete protein, which means it’s a great meat substitute. I like the somewhat bland, nutty flavor myself, because it lends itself to so many different recipes. It’s even good for breakfast, if you think of it like oatmeal. Sadly, because it’s so healthy, it usually isn’t inexpensive, so I tend to buy it on sale.

quinoa1

Ingredients for this salad are:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 small, sweet onion, chopped

1 teaspoon chopped, fresh thyme

1 (or 2!) 9 oz. packages of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (use fresh, if you have them available at a good price and time to cook them)

½ cup uncooked quinoa (I’m using red quinoa, because it’s what in the cupboard)

1 cup broth, vegetable or chicken

1 cup chopped, fresh parsley

5 teaspoons lemon zest

1-½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

onions

In a sauce pan over medium high heat, sauté the onion and thyme in the olive oil, until the onion is tender and translucent.

artichokes

Add in the artichokes and continue to sauté until they are thoroughly heated.

quinoa4

Add in the broth and quinoa and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and allow to cook for approximately 18 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed.

quinoa5

Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and parsley. Transfer to a serving dish and serve either warm or at room temperature. Serves 4-8.

quinoa6

quinoa7

I think this might be good with a tomato salad or maybe a bit of simple pasta on the side~ some thin spaghetti sprinkled with some olive oil, parmesan cheese and snipped basil. It still seems like a good, simple, easy-to-make meal for a weeknight. Hope you all had a happy Monday!

 

 

Meatless Monday… Turning a Bunch of Cans into Something Special

Have you noticed that the world has suddenly given new descriptive monikers to the days of the week? I’m thinking of “Throwback Thursday,” “Flashback Friday,” and my favorite, “Martini Sunday,” which isn’t alliterative, but I like it just the same. You might have heard of “Meatless Monday,” which has actually been around for a while. One purpose for it is for the health of the body, and another is for the health of the planet. Let’s face it, raising cattle for meat does take a toll on the planet via methane gas and the cost of water and land. But I’m mainly thinking of the food we ate yesterday and how it would be good to balance things out with a nice, meatless meal tonight.

Now, you’re going to see something on here that you won’t see too often… I’m about to show you an image of cans.

Cans! I don't usually use a lot of them

Cans! I don’t usually use a lot of them

 

Yes, cans! I don’t usually use a lot of them, because I prefer fresh foods, but a weeknight meal should be really convenient. Who has time to soak and cook beans during the week and then make something else out of them? Save that for the weekend.

For this recipe, I’m using….

cooking spray for the baking dish

1-15 oz can enchilada sauce

1-15 oz can refried beans

1-15 oz can black beans

1-10 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained (mine have jalapeño and cilantro in them)

1-12 oz pkg frozen corn (or use 5 ears of fresh corn~ cut off the kernels, boil for 2 minutes, then drain)

about 1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups shredded cheddar or Mexican style cheese

garnishes of your choice~ fresh cilantro, black or green olives, green onions, etc.

I’m making this in a 2-1/2 quart casserole, but a 13″ x 9″ baking dish will work just fine. Spray cooking spray onto the inside surface of the dish. Pre-heat the oven to 350º.

If you’re using frozen corn, place it into a sieve, run cold water over it to thaw it and then, let it drain. If using fresh, cut the kernels off and cook in boiling for 2 minutes, and then rinse in cold water to stop the cooking; drain.

onions

In a small frying pan, cook the chopped onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the onion is soft and translucent, add in the minced garlic for about a minute. Remove from heat and set aside. When cool, transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

Empty half of the enchilada sauce into the baking dish.

tortillas

Cut the tortillas in half~ they will fit better in the baking dish.

refries

Spread about half of the refried beans onto 12 of the tortilla halves.

tortilla2

Place the tortilla halves bean-side-up on top of the enchilada sauce, overlapping them to make them fit.

veggies

In the same bowl that the onion is in, add remaining enchilada sauce, the corn, black beans, and undrained diced tomatoes and stir to combine.

veggies2

Spread half of that mixture on top of the tortillas.

cheese

Cover that layer with half of the cheese. Repeat the layers again, beginning with the refried beans spread on the tortillas and ending with the cheese.

cheese2

Garnish as you see fit~ I’m very partial to cilantro, green onions and black olives. It’s now ready for the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until it bubbles at the edges.

Serve with a lovely green salad.

dinner2dinner4

dinner

Serves 8, or you can have a night off this week with dinner all ready to heat up. What could be better than that?

A Black Rice Salad for the Veggies Among Us

 

Black rice with mangos and peanuts

Black rice with mangos and peanuts

I’m sharing this recipe for a couple of reasons. The first one is I recently bought some black rice at the supermarket, when I was really looking for wild rice. I thought they were the same thing until I realized they weren’t. I did find some wild rice at another market, but I was thinking that this black rice looks really exotic and beautiful, and as I found out, it is a very, healthy whole grain…so, I went on a hunt for recipes.

Black rice~ I found it at the supermarket.

Black rice~ I found it at the supermarket.

I found one with some mangos that looked really good, though I wasn’t sure mangos were fully in season yet. I was also discussing mangos with a couple of vegetarian friends a few days ago, and they got very excited at the thought of a good veggie recipe with mangos in it. Then today, I found a nice, ripe, locally grown mango at the farmers market. Sold!

I have  a real passion for Southeast Asian food, and that’s another reason this recipe sings to my heart. It has wonderfully stinky fish sauce in it, (a.k.a. nam pla, nuoc nam or patis) which gives it a distinctive Asian flavor, and it also has lime and oranges, (I used cara-cara oranges) which give a lovely brightness to the salad. Peanuts and cilantro give a finishing touch. This is adapted from something I found in a Bon Appétit, magazine, but I did make a few changes.

A few things you'll need for this...

A few things you’ll need for this…

 

To make this, you’ll need:

2 oranges

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oil

1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla, nuoc nam or patis)

1 cup black rice

1 mango, peeled and diced (I’ll demonstrate the best way to cut below)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, removed from their stems

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

6 green onions, slice thin

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

Measure 1 cup of rice into a saucepan, shake in a bit of salt, and then cover with 1-3/4 cups water. Bring to boil, stir, and then lower heat and allow to simmer for approximately 35 minutes.

While rice is cooking, peel one of the oranges and separate the slices, carefully removing the as much of the white pith as possible. Using a paring knife, get under the segment’s skin to remove the membrane, and put them into a bowl. I cut the second orange in half cross-wise, and did the same as I did to the first one~ removed the membrane. I juiced the remaining orange half into a measuring cup.

Get the white pith off of the oranges

Get the white pith off of the oranges

In the measuring cup holding the orange juice, add the 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 Tablespoon fish sauce, and the two Tablespoons of oil. Whisk together and set aside.

When rice is finished cooking, spread it out on a rimmed cookie sheet to cool. Add another light sprinkle of salt over the rice. Whisk the dressing again and pour it over the rice, stirring gently to blend it in. Set the rice aside to cool.

While the rice is cooling, dice the mango. If you are not too sure how to do this, let me show you the way. It’s easy!

mango1

Your first cut is length-wise on the flatter side of the mango. You’ll realize that the pit is pretty flat and you want to cut along its side. So slice about a half inch away from the center, and the knife should cut all the way through.

mango2

The second cut is on the other side. You should have a thin strip of mango with a pit in the middle.

mango3

Next, you can trim off the skin from the center portion and cut the mango away from the pit. There won’t be a lot there, but why waste such wonderful tasting fruit?

mango4

 

Lastly, cross-cut the outer portions of fruit and scoop it out with a spoon into the bowl with the oranges. Save the juice, too… it’s wonderful!

All that’s left is to chop the red onion, green onion, the jalapeño pepper, and tear the cilantro leaves from their stems. Gently mix these and the peanuts into the oranges and mango bowl. Add the rice and gently toss. Serve with more lime juice, if desired.

black_rice3

This serves about 4, either chilled or at room temperature. I hope all of my friends enjoy this as much as I!