Tag Archives: Grains

What One Vegetarian Really Eats (and Cooks)

DSC_0189A year ago this January, I hopped a very short fence. I went from eating not a lot of meat, to eating no meat at all. Technically, I became a vegetarian, though I have eaten the occasional fish or shellfish when it has been offered to me.

Now that I am in the thick of writing and editing the text and recipes for my vegetarian cookbook (which will come out in Spring 2017 from Roost Books), I am thinking hard about strategies and tips for readers. But I am also thinking about what fun I have had developing the recipes—how the creative challenge for this book has been the best yet, because it is has essentially given me a blueprint for eating.

I can’t wait (though I must—and, ahem, I must also finish the manuscript, complete the last photo shoot, and a list of other things…before it even gets to my editor!) for the book to come out so that I can cook from my own recipes every night. And sadly, I won’t be able to share any of those recipes with you until we get close to publication.

But I thought for those of you who are contemplating a shift, it might be interesting to share with you what one vegetarian really eats. (And I say really or actually, because this is not theoretical. Since I, like most year-round Islanders, cook the vast majority of my food at home, this is truly what I eat.) Remember, I’m not a nutritionist—my gig is cooking technique—and I’m only one person, so take it for what it is.

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I will say, though, that cooking vegetarian truly is a blast (if you like to cook), because the creative possibilities are endless. I never come at it from the “what can I replace the meat with” (in fact, I’m not big on meat-replacement type proteins); I always come at it from the “how I can turn these vegetables into a delicious, filling meal?”

Here are some of the things I eat and cook with on a regular basis (in addition to the obvious—vegetables!):

DSC_0197Nuts. Toasted. Toasted nuts have an almost cocoa-like umami thing going on, so they taste delicious and are very filling. Almonds are at the top of my list, with pecans and walnuts next. I stock pine nuts, hazelnuts, and, of course, peanuts and natural peanut butter. (Pepitas, too, which are seeds, not nuts.) I use nuts not just in salads, but in grain and bean dishes, too.

Chickpeas. Sheepishly, I have to admit that, like a lot of vegetarian converts, I have fallen totally in love with chickpeas. (I’m simmering a pot on the stove right now on this first snowy day in January, though I stock canned chickpeas, too.). In addition to the great flavor and rich texture, chickpeas have a distinct advantage over most other beans and legumes—they hold up well in all kinds of cooking. In fact, you can even brown them by sautéing or roasting; and as you know, I love browning because that means caramelization and extra flavor!

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Lentils. While I eat all beans (always soaked first before cooking, or canned), I’ve become more of a fan of lentils in the last year. For one thing, they cook very quickly—in less than 20 minutes in many cases. Secondly, you can now find black Beluga lentils and small French green (DuPuy) lentils in many more grocery stores, and I find the firmer texture of these more pleasing than that of the larger common brown lentils. Red lentils are also quick and delicious in soups and porridge-like dishes. And all lentils have assertive flavors that go well in soups, salads and sautés.

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DSC_0186Avocados. Yes, I know we think of avocadoes as a vegetable, but they are really something unto themselves (and technically a fruit), and I have to mention them because they have that uniquely rich and filling thing going on (good fat, don’t you know?). And, I eat a lot of them. On toast, in salads, with tortillas, in egg sandwiches. Alone with lemon and olive oil and salt. With chickpeas! And nuts!

Grains. I’ve always been a fan of grains, but I like them and use them even more now that I’ve figured out I can cook them ahead and hold them in the fridge or freezer, and that I can use them sometimes almost like a condiment, or as one of many ingredients in a dish. Sitting down to a big bowl of grains can get monotonous. Putting some grains in a salad, a soup, a taco, whatever, is much more interesting. My favorites are wheat berries, farro, short grain brown rice, and oats (granola for breakfast!) but I stock lots of (gluten-free) quinoa, as well as millet and many different kinds of rice.

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Eggs. I’m not vegan or dairy-free, so I still turn to eggs for some of my protein. (That may change at some point, but for now, I’m an egg eater.) The best thing about an egg (like a lot of these ingredients that play well with others) is that you can add one to just about anything. Sure, you can make a meal just on eggs, but you can also add an egg to a grain or bean dish, a broth or a sauté.

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Those are the things that I most often pair with vegetables to make my meals. (Remember, vegetables have protein, too.) I do eat pasta and bread , too, though I choose whole-grain when I can. And again, I often use these carbs in smaller amounts rather than in starring roles. But there’s nothing like a great piece of artisan multi-grain toast for transporting any number of veggie toppings to a great destination.

As for the vegetables themselves, I eat leafy greens every day. They are the easiest, quickest, and most flavorful vegetables to make a meal with. (The arugula in this picture was taken from plants still growing under hoops outside.) Alliums of all kinds (onions, shallots, garlic, scallions) make their way into almost everything I cook, and my fanaticism for tomatoes extends to this time of year with roasted tomatoes in the freezer and sundried tomatoes in the fridge. This time of year I also gravitate towards colorful root and winter vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Along with the aromatic ingredients I always keep around—citrus, fresh ginger, vinegars, hot sauces, spices, maple syrup and honey, miso, tahini, tamari, parmesan cheese—and any fresh herbs I can procure (my rosemary pot is indoors, still alive, for now!), I eat well.

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Happy eating and cooking to you, too, in this new year. And don’t forget the daily chocolate imperative. (My little bowl of chips, always by my side!)

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In the Winter Kitchen: Grains, Greens, Citrus & Sunlight

cit 4My pal Barney and I have been in the Laboratory all morning, mad-sciencing up creations to satisfy my winter cravings. For some reason, I am fixated on dark green vegetables, grains of all kinds, and citrus in every color. Plus, crunchy stuff. (My new love is roasted chickpeas). And then, I am putting them altogether for lunches and dinner. (My other new fixation is cooking grains ahead.)

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So first Barney and I had a nice cup of coffee.

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Then we snacked on the roasted chickpeas I made yesterday. Honestly, these are better fresh out of the oven, but they do keep okay for a day or two.

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Here’s how you make them: Rinse, drain, and thoroughly dry a can of chickpeas. Toss with enough of a neutral oil  (I like grapeseed) to coat well and season with about ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast at 400°F until browned and shrunken, 30 to 35 minutes.

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Then Barney and I par-boiled some broccoli raab. If you’re not familiar with raab (aka rapini) it’s actually a turnip relative and has a distinct bitterness which is highly satisfying, especially when paired with lemon or anything spicy. (Goat cheese is another good companion for raab, as are garlic and ginger.)

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You all know how much I love to roast most vegetables, and that I’m not much for boiling them, but broccoli raab is an exception. I almost always cook it in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes—even before finishing it in a sauté pan with garlic, as I did today. I also cut the thickest parts of the stems off and then split the stems down the middle so that the pieces are all about the same thickness.

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Meanwhile, on the back of the stove, a big pot of boiling water was going. I plunked a cup of black rice in it, stirred, lowered the heat just a tad (still boiling) and let the rice cook in the boiling water until tender. (About 28 minutes for me today.) Then I drained it and spread the rice on a sheet pan to cool.

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I refilled the pot, brought it to a boil, and cooked a cup of farro the same way. I overcooked the farro today because I forgot to look back at one of my own recipes and thought I remembered the cooking time was about 40 minutes. In reality, it’s only 30. (There is also such a thing as par-cooked farro that cooks in 10 minutes.)

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That mistake aside, this boiling water method (as opposed to the pilaf method with a measured amount of water) is really a great way to cook grains in big amounts that you want to store and eat throughout the week. You don’t have the frustration of finding all your liquid simmered out and your grain undercooked; simply use a spoon to fish out a few grains every so often to see if they’re done. They should still be just a tiny bit toothy when you bite into them, and with some grains, just beginning to split open a bit.

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You can store them (after thoroughly cooling them) in plastic containers in the fridge. (You can also freeze cooked grains.) One note on salt: I don’t salt the water at first but tend to add some halfway through cooking. That said, the grains will still need to be generously seasoned when prepared for eating.

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Next Barney and I pulled out all the various citrus fruits I’ve been stockpiling—a Meyer lemon, a blood orange, a Minneola orange, a clementine, a navel orange, a regular lemon, and a lime. Mostly I just wanted to cut them open, take pictures of them, and then eat some…but I also wanted to dress my grains with some juice and zest.

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I am a citrus zest freak and put it in everything.

Lastly, I put everything together to make lunch (which wound up being dinner, too, though I did make pork chops for Roy, since he does not appreciate the meatless meal the way I do!). I put a cup of cooked black rice and a cup of cooked farro into a microwavable bowl and reheated them for a minute and a half. (Remember this, as it is easy to do on a weeknight if you’ve got grains already made and stashed in the fridge.)

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I juiced ½ of the blood orange and ½ of the Meyer lemon and added about a tablespoon of each to my grains. I seasoned with plenty of salt, too. In a little skillet, I heated up a bit of oil and a tiny bit of butter and softened ½ teaspoon or so of minced garlic in it. I tossed most of the softened garlic in with the grains and added 4 ounces of the broccoli raab to the skillet, tossing to warm it through in the garlic-scented oil. I stirred up the grains, tasted, and piled in a serving dish, arranging the raab and a smattering of roasted chickpeas alongside. I squeezed the other Meyer lemon half over the raab, and at the last minute, decided to cut the blood orange segments out of the unused half and toss them in, too. Often I used dried fruit and toasted nuts with grains, but it was a nice switch to have the crunchy chickpeas and the fresh citrus segments.

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There are lots of ways to turn grains into filling meals (think beans, roasted veggies, sautéed mushrooms), so I encourage you to do your own mad-scientist experimenting. Just be sure to season with plenty of bright ingredients (vinegars, fresh herbs, Asian condiments, as well as citrus).

But don’t be surprised when your trusty assistant loses interest in the experiment—especially if there are birds outside the window to keep an eye on.

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Warm Wheatberries + Roasted Brussels Sprouts + Cranberry Balsamic Butter = Happy Vegetarians at Thanksgiving

Farmer has gained 7 pounds since last year. We went to the vet for our annual check-up and rabies shot this morning and discovered this truth. He is bordering on fat, thanks in part to the treats (donuts, potato chips) he and Dad share on the couch every night, watching American Pickers. (Dad is skinny as a rail, so what does he care?) Honestly there is not much I can do about this, other than to take Farmer for longer walks, which would be good for both of us!

While I was at the vet, though, I had my usual conversation about food and cooking with Tara Larsen, who takes good care of us every time we visit Animal Health Care. This was a conversation about fresh food and vegetables, mind you, not about donuts and potato chips. She told me about a shrimp and saffron risotto she’d just had at a friend’s house and about the pies she bakes every Sunday for her husband that feature a combination of Fuji, Braeburn, and Gala apples (what a great sounding combo!). And then she told me about what a fabulous cook her mom is, and how over the years, with three vegetarian daughters, her mom has mastered a tableful of interesting vegetable dishes for Thanksgiving.

So I told her about a recipe that happened to be top-of-mind. I recently got a new assignment from Vegetarian Times magazine that is going to challenge me to do some interesting things with little-used parts of vegetables—like beet greens, carrot tops, and celery leaves. So the other day I started my brainstorming by surrounding myself with books and magazines (yay!) and of course, paging through my own cookbooks to see what flavor partners and techniques I’ve used for some of these veggies in the past. Not only was this a very relaxing activity, but I wound up stumbling across recipes that I love but that I’ve forgotten to make in a while. (Pretty silly when you consider they’re my own recipes!). One that leapt out at me was the Warm Wheat Berries with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, Dried Cranberries & Balsamic Butter Sauce in The Fresh & Green Table. Oh, my, is this a delicious, filling, and pretty dish. And—I realized while describing it to Tara—a perfect addition to a Thanksgiving table with lots of vegetarian guests.

 

Probably the best thing about this dish for Thanksgiving planners is the make-ahead component (though there will be a little last-minute assembling.) Wheat berries (shown raw, above), like a lot of grains, can be cooked ahead and refrigerated or frozen. Then for a dish like this, you can microwave them briefly to warm them back up. You can also toast and chop the nuts, chop the cranberries, and cut up the Brussels sprouts ahead. And though the Brussels sprouts will have to go in the oven, that can happen after the turkey comes out (not everyone at the table is vegetarian, presumably), since the sprouts roast for only 20 minutes at 475°. The quick little stove-top butter sauce is so good, too, that you could double the sprouts and the sauce and put two dishes on the table—one with grains and one without!

I hope you enjoy this, Thanksgiving or not. (It also makes a great veggie supper on its own or a lovely side for roast pork.) Just don’t feed any to the dog, please. He’s on a diet.

Warm Wheat Berries with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, Dried Cranberries & Balsamic Butter Sauce

Recipe copyright Susie Middleton, The Fresh & Green Table, (Chronicle Books, 2012)

Nutty roasted Brussels sprouts have a fabulous destination to head for in this warm wheat berry dish that also features dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and a tangy butter sauce. Cook the wheat berries a day ahead if you like and reheat in the microwave. If you do decide to make the whole recipe in one stretch, just wait to cook the Brussels sprouts until the wheat berries have been cooking for at least 50 minutes. (Hard wheat berries range in cooking time from 65 to 90 minutes. Be sure not to buy wheat berries that say they’ve been parboiled.) Both the sprouts and the wheat berries will stay warm, covered, out of the oven for several minutes, so if timing isn’t exact, it’s not a problem.

3/4 cup (winter or hard red) wheat berries

Kosher salt

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in quarters lengthwise

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 8 pieces

1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a pasta pot, Dutch oven, or other large sauce pot, combine the wheat berries, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 10 to 12 cups of water (enough to cover the wheat berries by a few inches). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer (it can be a rapid simmer or a low boil), and cook, partially covered, until the wheat berries are tender. Begin checking after 50 minutes, although this may take up to 90 minutes. (Most are usually done between 60 and 70 minutes. The berries should be pleasantly chewy. If you taste early and often, you’ll get a sense of what “done” feels like.) Drain the berries very well in a colander. Shake the colander and tip it around to remove as much excess water as possible. Return the wheat berries to the pot, off the heat, and cover. They will stay warm for 10 to 15 minutes this way. (Or if making ahead, spread on a sheet pan, cool completely, and then refrigerate in a bowl, covered.)

Preheat the oven to 475°F. In a mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Arrange the sprouts in one layer in a 9×13 baking dish (they will be snug). Roast until brown and tender, about 18 to 22 minutes, stirring once if you like. If the sprouts finish ahead of the wheat berries, keep them in the pan, loosely covered with foil.

Combine the orange juice, the balsamic, the maple syrup, and the lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, just for about 15 seconds. Take the pan off the heat and add the cold butter, one or two pieces at a time, whisking after each addition until the butter is melted and creamy. (Don’t reheat the mixture or the butter will break and the sauce will not be creamy.) Combine the wheat berries, the Brussels sprouts, and the cranberries in a mixing bowl, season with 1/2 teaspoon more salt, and pour the sauce over them. Stir gently but thoroughly. Add half of the walnuts, half of the parsley and stir well again.

Serve warm, garnished with the remaining walnuts and parsley.

Serves 3 to 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish