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Vegetarian Cooking

cookbooks from the vegetarian portion of the collection

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: The Cute Overload of Casseroles

enchanted broccoli forest

BakedBroccoliForest2I’ve had the book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for probably 20 years now, and it’s a great cookbook. It has a wide range of tasty entrees, plus one of the best instruction sections for how to make bread that I’ve seen anywhere. But I had never tried the title recipe, “enchanted broccoli forest,” before tonight. It really seemed kind of silly, and I was always more interested in BroccoliTrees3distinctive dishes like soups or pasta than in a rice casserole. But of course when I reached this title in my blog planning, Scott and I agreed: I needed to make the forest.

The idea is fairly simple, really: spread a brown rice casserole mixture in a baking pan, add broccoli florets so that they look like little trees, drizzle on some CookedRicelemon butter, cover with foil and bake. The assembled ingredients don’t sound all that exciting — as I said to Scott, “If I’d said I was going to make a broccoli-rice casserole you’d have yawned” — but the presentation makes it rather fun.

I started by cooking some brown rice. While it cooked, I cut some broccoli into long-stemmed SpicedOnionsflorets, then set it to steam; when it was just tender I rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking. I also chopped up some parsley, beat some eggs together, juiced a lemon, melted butter, and mixed up spices, while Scott chopped an onion and a clove of garlic and shredded some cheddar cheese.

When the rice was ready, I pulled it from the heat and fluffed it with AddingCheeseMixture2a fork. Then I sauteed the onion and garlic in some melted butter, and added a mixture of dried dill, dried mint, salt, pepper and cayenne. I mixed the onions into the rice. Then I lightly beat the eggs with the parsley and cheese, and mixed that into the rice as well. I spread the rice mixture in a baking pan.

Then I poked the broccoli RiceInPan“trees” into the rice mixture, finding that I had to trim a few of the stalks so they would stay upright. As a once and future Oregonian, I also added a few of the bare stalks to the pan as “stumps of mystery.” With all the broccoli in place, I mixed the lemon juice and melted butter together and drizzled it over the broccoli. Then I carefully covered the pan with foil and put it into the oven.

BroccoliForest2The baked dish looked a little more finished than when it went into the oven: the rice mixture had firmed up a bit, and the broccoli had lost a bit of its brightness during cooking. I didn’t bother to photograph the mixture on the plate, because it’s really not possible to keep the stalks standing up and it didn’t look particularly exciting. But it tasted terrific: the rice had a rich and hearty flavor, and the lemon butter made the broccoli really delightful.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again. I don’t know if it would be an effective way to get kids to eat broccoli, but it might motivate adults who know they ought to be eating fewer cheeseburgers.

Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone: An Unusual Savory Stew

quinoa chowder with spinach, feta and scallions

ChowderBowlWithEggI had a big master plan for the year, and when I fell behind in the first six months I made a second master plan to get caught up. But in the past few weeks, for a variety of reasons I’d rather not get into right now, I got off schedule again. Over the weekend I found myself looking for a recipe I could make based on ingredients I had on hand. I poked through the pantry shelves CookedQuinoaand found the better part of a bag of quinoa, left over from the Three Bowl Cookbook, and thought that looked like a great possibility. Since quinoa is popular with vegetarians, I checked the indexes of the vegetarian cookbooks I haven’t used yet, and in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone I found a few offerings that were ReadyIngredientsnot basically just cucumber and tomato salads.

The chowder takes a little bit of prep time, but is fairly simple to actually cook. I started with my vegetable prep: slicing fresh spinach, dicing a clove of garlic and a jalapeno pepper, peeling and dicing a couple of red potatoes, slicing a bunch of scallions, and chopping some GarlicChilePotatoescilantro. I also prepared a hard-boiled egg, following instructions elsewhere in the book, and peeled and chopped it.

Then it was time to start the actual cooking. I rinsed some quinoa and brought it to a boil with two quarts of water, then covered it and let it simmer for 10 minutes, while I diced some feta. I then drained the quinoa but AddedWaterScallionssaved six cups of the cooking liquid (which was pretty much all the liquid that had not been absorbed into the grain).

In a large pot, I heated some olive oil and sauteed the garlic and jalapeno pepper, then added some salt and cumin and the potatoes and let that cook for a few minutes. Then I added the reserved quinoa water and half AddedQuinoaSpinach2the scallions, brought it back up to a boil and let it simmer until the potatoes were tender. The recipe said this should take about 15 minutes, but I checked the potatoes at that point and let them cook a few minutes longer. Then I added the spinach, the rest of the scallions, and the cooked quinoa, and let that cook together for about three minutes. I removed the pot from the heat FinishedChowder2and stirred in the feta and cilantro, then ladled up a bowlful and garnished my serving with some of the chopped egg.

The stew had a complex flavor, with the different elements — spinach, egg, quinoa, chile, feta — playing off one another. Each bite had a bit of fire, a rich undertone, a bitter edge, and a nutty substance. I’d never have put these ingredients together on my own, but the result was truly delicious.

Verdict: Success. This is a terrific winter dish. I think I may go for seconds.

Bonus Non-Cookbook Recipe: Seitan Chili

seitan chili

ChiliCooked2I thought I’d celebrate the halfway point by offering up an original recipe. We’ll be back to blogitude in a few days.

Seitan is a meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten. (Sorry, decidedly not gluten-free.) The first recipe I ever saw for it was old-school, having you basically make up a flour and water mixture and then rinse and work SeitanChunksout the gluten from the non-gluten part of the slurry. It took up the better part of a day for Scott and was not quite stellar enough to justify the amount of labor spent. But it’s easy to make your own seitan from vital wheat gluten, which you can find in the baking aisle among the various flours; Bob’s Red Mill makes a good version, so if you can’t find it locally you can order it online. SeitanSauteI’ve adapted this recipe from one found in the book Vegan Vittles (which I don’t have a copy of now, so it’s not part of the blog).

Seitan chili
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup Red Star nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
AddingGarlicToSaute1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 cup water
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
AddingPeppers22 medium bell peppers, diced
32-ounce can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
16-ounce can of diced tomatoes, with the juice
32-ounce can of whole tomatoes (if you like, remove the tomatoes and cut into quarters, then return to juice)
1 cup tomato juice
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
AddingSeitan1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp Tabasco, or to taste
2-3 drops of liquid smoke
salt and pepper to taste

To make the seitan: Place the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, paprika, coriander, chili powder and poultry seasoning in a bowl and stir to blend. Combine the AddingTomatowater and the soy sauce; pour into the vital wheat gluten mixture. Mix well, until you have a large, firm spongy mass in the bowl. Knead the gluten directly in the mixing bowl for about a minute.

Transfer the gluten mass to a cutting board and press out into a broad, flat rectangle (more or less). Use a serrated knife to cut ChiliToCookinto bite-sized cubes. Leave them on the cutting board for now; do not put them back into the bowl before browning, as they will stick together rather firmly. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot and brown the seitan cubes, turning to ensure a rich, even color on all sides. Transfer the browned cubes to a bowl.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive ChiliCookedoil to the pot and saute the onions until they are softened, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno pepper, and saute 4-5 minutes more. Add the bell pepper and saute for 3-4 minutes more. Add the seitan cubes back to the pot, along with all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours, tasting periodically and adjusting the seasoning as necessary.


New Delineator Recipes: In Which I Mock the Mock Sausage

mock sausage

PlatedOnPasta2New Delineator Recipes is a slim volume published in 1930. I got it for the Recipes of the Damned; the volume is rife with under-seasoned recipes. I decided against a pot roast in which the only additional seasoning is the inherent flavor in the pork fat you use to brown the meat; I decided against the peanut-butter cutlets from the chapter of vegetarian dishes. (It’s sort of like French MashingBeanstoast only with a peanut butter mixture instead of an egg batter.)

But the vegetarian dishes intrigued me. We’re accustomed to seeing Boca Burgers and Gardenburgers in the freezers of even small grocery stores now, but it’s been within my adult life that vegetarian meat substitutes really made an incursion onto the market, spurred by the national StirringMixturespread of Gardenburgers from Portland, Oregon. (I remember the first year’s worth of Morningstar Farms offerings — frankly, inedible, but they quickly reworked their recipes and now produce some palatable products.) Would a 1930 recipe, I wonder, really be worth eating? Depression-era cookery would of course benefit from lower-cost substitutions for meat, but that ShapingLinksdidn’t necessarily mean they’d be any good.

New Delineator author Ann Batchelder seems to have studied at the Miss Leslie school of vague instruction. Mock sausage is based on cooked beans, which the recipe says to force through a strainer. I used canned Great Northern beans, and quickly found that pushing them through FryingLinksa strainer was not going to be easy. A fine sieve was too much for the beans, which didn’t get through at all; a fine-holed metal colander was a bit easier, but still promised to keep me working for half an hour or so. I decided to mash the beans with a potato masher, though in retrospect I should probably have pulsed them in the food processor. It also occurred to me later that the FryingLinks21930 definition of “cooked until tender” was probably a bit softer than the canned beans, and I might have had an easier time if I’d cooked the beans longer.

The other listed ingredients are these (spelling original):

  • 2/3 cup bread-crums
  • 3 eggs
  • FryingLinks3

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • salt and pepper

After the beans are strained, the recipe says, “Add remaining ingredients, shape into form of sausages, roll in crums, egg, and crums again.” Go back and read that again. We have a metaphysical issue here. One is PlatedOnPastasupposed to add the remaining ingredients, yet somehow magically know which ones to save out to coat the shaped links. I proceeded on the assumption that one was supposed to add everything and then use extra bread crumbs, but this turned out to be incorrect. The mixture was wet and sticky, and did not hang together. Possibly the idea was to mix the beans with the butter, sage, and salt and pepper, and the roll it in the eggs and crumbs. Possibly I should have mixed in two of the eggs and used the third for rolling. The privilege of a cookbook author is that if she has a specific result in mind, she can specify what should be done.

I mixed in some more bread crumbs until the mixture held together fairly well, then shaped six links (the number recommended in the recipe) and rolled them in some more crumbs. This also was a misjudgment, because the links were too large to turn in the pan without breaking. If I were to do this again (the odds are dwindling at this point), I would make more and smaller links, possibly about the size of a Brown ‘n Serve breakfast link, or I’d make meatballs. Still, I pushed onward, and browned the mock sausages in some oil. The cooked links had a good texture; it was impossible to move the long links around without breaking them, but the shorter segments held together well.

The recipe recommends serving them “with tomato sauce,” so I cooked rotini and some Newman’s Own sauce and topped them with pieces of the mock sausage. They tasted all right; in my exasperation with the texture I had forgotten to add salt and pepper and they needed it badly, and they would have benefited from more sage, but the basic flavor was agreeable.

Verdict: Passable. This wasn’t as disastrous as Miss Leslie’s jelly puffs, but I have better fake-burger and fake-sausage recipes on hand.

Food & Wine Fast: Quick and Elegant Dishes

Swiss chard with chickpeas and feta

ChardPlatedWithBread2Food & Wine Fast is another of those special stand-alone editions of a magazine. This one offers elegant dishes of the quality often found in Food & Wine, all of which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. I do like Food & Wine; the recipes all feature real, high-quality ingredients, and the photo spreads are glorious.

I designated this recipe for SwissChardLeavestonight simply because I hadn’t been able to pick up Swiss chard any earlier in the week, but it turned out to be a good choice because I spent a big chunk of time in the kitchen baking cookies for tomorrow’s knitting night, and I didn’t want to spend more time on dinner than I had to.

I began by rinsing and stemming some Swiss chard and putting the ChardInPotstill-dripping leaves into a pot (in fact, the new Calphalon pot I got with a gift certificate recently). I covered the pot and cooked the leaves until they were wilted, which took less than five minutes; then I drained the chard and rinsed it in cold water, and pressed out as much liquid as I could. I chopped the leaves coarsely and put them into a bowl. To this I added sliced ChardAndChickpeaPanscallions, chopped fresh dill, minced garlic, chickpeas, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. I mixed the ingredients well and put them into a square baking dish that I’d coated with a bit more olive oil. Atop all this I crumbled some feta cheese and pressed it down a bit, then put the dish into a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, which gave ChardWithFetame some time to clean up the kitchen.

The cheese had browned a bit at the edges when I pulled out the pan, and the mixture was hot through. I dished it up and accompanied it with some bread left over from Sunday. The dish was terrific; the dill gave it an unusual savory flavor, and the slight tang of the chard balanced nicely with the richness of the feta.

Verdict: Success. The dish was fast, as promised, and tasted great.

The Spice Box Vegetarian Indian Cookbook: More Spicy Fun

turnip koftas curry (shalgam ke koftas), lemon rice (neebu chawal)

DinnerPlated2It’s time for Indian food again! Unlike Curries Without Worries, The Spice Box is a fully vegetarian cookbook. Author Manju Shivraj Singh provides introductory sections that explain different spices and ingredients that are key to Indian cooking, as well as a list of places to find the ingredients. One of the stores listed is only about ten minutes by subway from my home, but as LemonRiceIngreds3it happens I was able to find nearly everything I needed in my usual neighborhood grocery stores. Or, in the case of most of the spices, on my pantry shelves.

I decided to try the turnip koftas curry because I’m a big fan of the vegetable kofta, a sort of Indian veggie meatball. I accompanied it with lemon rice, which recommended itself in part FryingMustardSeeds2because it’s supposed to be as good cold as warm — meaning I could make it ahead and let it sit while I made the koftas, which were a bit labor-intensive.

For the rice, I started by cooking some rice, starting with about three cups’ worth of dry rice. I let it cool a bit while I prepared the vegetables for the flavor mixture. I heated some oil in a skillet and ChilesSplitPeasadded some mustard seeds, which I cooked until they started to pop. Then I added some diced chiles and yellow split peas, and cooked them all together a bit longer. At this point I added some turmeric, cashews, and lemon juice. I was also supposed to add curry leaves, but that was the one ingredient I hadn’t found, so I substituted a little parsley and cilantro; I don’t know if that was LemonRiceIngredsclose, but it was something. I cooked this mixture for five minutes more, then stirred in a little salt, and then stirred the whole mixture into the rice and mixed it up well, until the chunky ingredients were evenly distributed and my rice paddle was a lovely fluorescent yellow. (Hooray for turmeric!) I put the lid back on the rice pot and turned to my koftas.

LemonRice2I started by peeling, slicing and boiling a pound of turnips. While they cooked I finished the rest of my veggie prep: I diced chiles, ginger root and cilantro for the koftas, and chopped onions, garlic and tomatoes for the sauce. I also chunked up some onions and garlic and pulsed them in the food processor until they were very fine. Once the turnips were cooked, I drained and mashed SlicedTurnips2them. Then I stirred in the processed onions and garlic, some chickpea flour, some Cream of Wheat (semolina flour would have been OK too), and some turmeric, cayenne, coriander and salt. This mixture made a coarse sort of batter; in fact it was a little moist, which I think was because I hadn’t perfectly drained the turnips before mashing them, but I added a little more chickpea StuffingKoftaflour and Cream of Wheat until the consistency seemed right: a loose dough that would hold its shape if formed into a ball without breaking apart or giving up moisture.

I shaped lumps of this into round — OK, sort of round — balls that were probably too big, but I had to shape them to contain a center mixture of diced chiles, diced KoftasBeforeFryingginger root, cilantro and raisins. I think in the future I might mince the filling mixture fine, but the chunky filling worked well enough this time. While I continued to shape and fill koftas, Scott fried the shaped balls in oil, following the detailed instruction in the recipe (“Deep fry these balls and set aside”). They did fry up nicely, with a beautiful golden crust and a nicely light, flavorful interior. FryingKoftaOne of the koftas broke apart when Scott turned it, but it still tasted good, and the others held their shape beautifully.

For the sauce, I heated some oil in a skillet and added some cumin seeds, which I fried for about two minutes. These did not pop. I then added some onions and garlic and cooked them until the onions were golden, about seven FriedKoftasminutes. Then I added some hot water, the chopped tomatoes, and spices: salt, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander, and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce had thickened. I took it off the heat and stirred in some garam masala, then carefully added the koftas.

The rice was delightful: spicy and savory, and not as hot as you KoftaSauceCooking2might expect. (I fully expect the heat to build as the leftovers sit in the fridge, though; oh, darn.) The koftas were savory, with a crunchy outside and a perfectly cooked interior. Good work, Scott! The sauce was thick and spicy, and went nicely with the koftas.

Verdict: Success. I may not make the koftas again soon since they were rather work-intensive, but the rice was pretty easy and will definitely have to go into the rotation.

The Moosewood Cookbook: Hearty Veggie Fare


RatatouillePlatedI’ve owned The Moosewood Cookbook for years, decades perhaps, and cooked from it quite a bit. It’s very charming, with hand-lettered recipes and illustrations, and it has a kind of cute hippie tone to it — lots of whole grains and bliss. But don’t let that fool you. The food in here is good, and the recipes are varied. There are a few starch-intensive recipes but for the most EggplantCubespart the dishes present great combinations of vegetables, textures and flavors. My go-to minestrone recipe is in here, and I see from marginal notes that I’ve made the rarebit before (“more horseradish, get a wire whisk, need LOTS OF BREAD,” say my notes).

I’ve never made ratatouille from either this book or any other. I’m ZucchiniGarlicPeppersnot sure why. It’s not at all difficult, and it’s an excellent vegetarian dinner. It was a good choice for a cold night. New York’s in the middle of a cold snap, though we’re weathering it much better at our place now that we’ve replaced the broken middle blind in the front windows — especially since in the process Scott discovered that all three windows were slightly open at the ZucchinitomPastePeppersTomatoestop, which explains the draft and chill that we’ve had since *ahem* 2005.

I started by doing most of my vegetable prep, then heated some olive oil in a heavy pot. I crushed in some garlic and added diced onion and a bay leaf, then let them cook until the onion was softened and translucent. Then I added a little red wine, some OnionsGarlicBayLeaftomato juice and a diced eggplant, and let them stew for about 10 minutes. I did the last of my chopping (the tomatoes and parsley) and washed the cutting board and dishes while it cooked. When the eggplant was softened a bit I added some diced zucchini and green pepper, as well as some herbs, and let them continue to stew. Now it was time to add tomato paste and diced Ratatouille2tomato and let it simmer a little while longer. When the vegetables were tender I turned off the heat and stirred in some chopped parsley.

I served the ratatouille over rice, topped with grated romano cheese and some chopped Kalamata olives. It was delicious: The vegetables were tender but not mushy, and the flavors were RatatouillePlatedOliveslively and complex. And there are leftovers, so I know what I’m taking for lunch on Monday.

Verdict: Success. This is definitely going into my repertoire. It comes together pretty quickly, so I could probably make it on a weeknight, and it would be ideal for a brown-bag lunch.

This Can’t Be Tofu: Little Cubes of Curried Goodness

sauteed asparagus with curried tofu and tomatoes

PlatedTofuI’m halfway through the set period for this experiment and am only a bit over one-third of the way through the list of cookbooks. This is a fairly straightforward problem. To get through the list by my June 30 deadline, I need to be making more recipes each week, and this means I need to do more cooking on weeknights.

On paper this looks very simple. I wrote out a list of the weeks from now until June 30, and then assigned books to each week. First I scheduled the books that I’d already allotted to each month, and then I added in the 12 books that I never got to from the first half of the project. Each week has two or three books to deal with. Mostly three. I did a little fiddling to make sure that no week featured only the bad books from the Recipes of the Damned set, but overall I felt that this was a very workable plan. And it is. The batches of potential recipes for each week are both small enough to be manageable (I only have to do one from each book, after all) and large enough to push me not to over-think any single book’s selections. In theory this should work.

IngredientBowlsSo I’m a little worried after Monday night’s efforts. The food was terrific — more on that shortly. The recipes performed as promised, or even better. The ingredients were not impossible to find, or unreasonably priced. The steps were clear and easy to follow. And yet, we were sitting down to eat at 9:15 pm. This had not been my plan.

I know that doesn’t sound so bad. As I type, fresh from having finally watched “Julie & Julia,” I am very conscious of the fact that when Julie Powell worked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking she often did not have dinner on the table until after 10 at night. All year long. I am also very aware that I don’t have even a fifth of the recipes to complete that she did. I don’t have to make aspic if I don’t want to. (And believe me, I don’t want to. Oh, how I don’t want to.) But I am somehow still disorderly and disorganized enough that a not-overly-complicated stir-fried dish and a baked pudding took me the better part of two hours to pull together, and I am not inclined to give myself points for having spent part of that time washing dishes in order to clear the sink for the evening’s work.

AsparagusPiecesGranted, I don’t think Julie Powell paused every few minutes to obsessively photograph things, or spent time formatting the photos and uploading them. This does contribute to the overall workload. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference.

At any rate, it’s clear to me that I’m going to have to do more advance planning. So for example, picking up the groceries the day before rather than on my way home from work that same day. Or reading through the recipes more carefully to plan what I can do simultaneously — so that (not to make an example of last night or anything) I can make sure to set a pan full of water to boil before I am done with all of the vegetable prep, rather than having to stop and wait for it to be ready. Or making sure that if I’m planning to do blog cooking one night I have not left half a sink of dishes soaking from the night before.

TofuCubesThat said, the sauteed asparagus with curried tofu and tomatoes was worth the wait. The book, This Can’t Be Tofu, dates from my vegetarian heyday, yet I don’t think I’d ever used it before. I’m pretty sure it was one of those books I’d periodically flip through and think “I should make that dish, or that one” before resorting to my usual improvised tofu stir-fry. I have been missing out.

It helps that I like tofu. It’s a terrific, versatile food, and it tastes good, and it is its own thing. I have no patience with people who assume that if you like cheeseburgers or bacon, or bacon cheeseburgers, you can’t possibly like tofu. It’s true that if what you really really want is a bacon cheeseburger and instead you eat miso soup with cubes of soft tofu floating in it, you will not be satisfied, but you shouldn’t expect the tofu to do exactly what the bacon cheeseburger would do. (Particularly to your arteries.) But that’s going to be true any time you substitute what you think you should have for what you really want but insist on resenting the decision, and it’s especially true if you substitute a caricatured version of what you think you should have for what you really want. Don’t blame the tofu if the real problem is that you lack the courage of your convictions.

FryingCurriedTofuAnyway. All this is a long-winded way to say, tofu is good stuff, and this asparagus dish is an exemplar. I started (after the vegetable prep) by dicing a package of extra-firm tofu into cubes — “about the size of a sugar cube,” said the book. I boiled some water and cooked the cubes in it for about two minutes, then drained them and spread them out on two layers of paper towel, and used another paper towel to blot the moisture on top. I then tossed the tofu cubes with a mixture of sugar, pepper, curry powder, turmeric and salt, then sauteed them in canola oil until they were nicely browned; once they looked right, all golden and crusty, I scooped them from the pan and set them aside. This sounds more complicated than it was in practice, and from boiling to frying can’t have been more than 10 minutes, tops.

OnionsAsparagusI returned the pan to the heat, added a little more oil, and sauteed some garlic, cumin and onion; once the onions were translucent I raised the heat and added some asparagus (cut into roughly three-inch lengths), red pepper flakes and salt, and sauteed that mixture until the asparagus was tender but not limp. In the spring with thin asparagus this might take five minutes, but I had thick out-of-season asparagus and it took closer to eight minutes for the color and texture to be right. Then I added some diced roma tomatoes and the tofu cubes, cooked the whole mixture for about a minute more, and then turned off the heat and stirred in some chopped cilantro and a little more cumin.

TofuTomatoAsparagusMixtureOh, man, this was good. I served it over rice. The flavors were lively: the curried tofu was spicy without being overly hot, the asparagus blended a bitter undertone with a hearty vegetable taste, and the onions gave the whole thing richness and pop. Even the sadly out-of-season tomatoes gave a balancing tang; this will be exceptional when I can make it with local, ripe tomatoes.

Verdict: Success. I’ll be making this one again, but I think I’ll wait until asparagus and tomatoes come into the Greenmarket this spring.

Curries Without Worries: Indian Food for Christmas Eve

paneer do piaza, dam aloo, cachumbar ka salad, rasmalai

IndianFoodPlated2Curries Without Worries is subtitled “an introduction to Indian cuisine,” and it’s well set up to offer that. Author Sudha Koul explains principles of Indian cooking, details both vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes, and suggests a number of set menus to try. I’ve owned this book for a while but have never used it before, so decided that I should do it up right and prepare a full RasmalaiCloseUPdinner. So for Christmas Eve we decided to make Indian food and watch “Twin Peaks.”

I started the night before by making dessert, rasmalai: ricotta cubes in cream sauce. I mixed together ricotta cheese and sugar, then baked the mixture until it was set but not browned. Once it had cooled, I cut it into squares, which I put into a glass dish. RicottaInPanThen I mixed together half-and-half, saffron, cardamom and slivered almonds, and poured the sauce over the cheese; I sprinkled on some chopped green pistachios, covered the dish with plastic wrap, and put it into the fridge. That night’s viewing: series pilot.

The next morning I started early on the paneer, a homemade PaneerCookingcheese. Paneer takes a fair amount of time to make, but not much of that is hands-on. I started by bringing some whole milk to a boil, which gave me the opportunity to learn once again that a watched pot of milk will not boil but the second you look away, sploosh! Once I’d pulled the pot off the direct heat I stirred in a mixture of whole-milk yogurt and lemon juice, which caused PaneerDrainingthe mixture to curdle; as directed, I covered the pot and left it to sit for half an hour. Then I poured the curd mixture onto a layer of cheesecloth (as in, “oh, that’s why they call it that”), rinsed it and let the bulk of the liquid drain off. The cheesecloth was showing signs of weakness at this point, so I tied up the cheese curd mass in a linen napkin and hung it above the kitchen sink for PaneerSqueezinganother 30 minutes to drain out more liquid. Then I took the cheese, still tied in its napkin, and pressed it with a weight for another half hour or so. Finally I untied the napkin and cut the paneer into cubes.

To make paneer do piaza, I fried the cheese cubes in hot oil, then set them aside while I prepared a sauce of onions, ginger, garlic, PaneerFriedtomatoes, cumin, coriander, more onions (yes! “twice-onioned is twice-blessed”), cayenne pepper, cardamom, garam masala, cloves, nutmeg and water. Once I had that ready, I added the fried cheese and let it all cook for about 20 minutes.

The dam aloo took some preparation as well, though not as much. I started by boiling some PotatoesFrying2small whole potatoes, then pulling off the skins. These were a bit green, so I actually pared away the green bits, then pierced each potato repeatedly with a toothpick. Then I fried the potatoes until they were reddish-brown, then set them aside. I then sauteed some onions and added yogurt, cayenne, fennel, ginger, cumin, cloves and water; when that was at the right stage IndianFoodIngredientsof simmering I added the potatoes and let that cook for about 10 minutes.

The final dish was cachumber ka salad, or cucumber salad. This was the simplest preparation of all (other than the rice, for which I used a rice cooker). I mixed finely chopped cucumber, onion, tomato, and cilantro with some DamAloosalt and lemon juice, then let it chill while I finished the rest of the cooking.

The full meal was quite a bit of work, but was really delicious. The spices were distinctive but not overwhelming, though I discovered today when I brought the leftovers for lunch that they do intensify with time. (Luckily there were not many people in the office DicedSaladto be offended by my breath.) I followed the set meal as laid out in the book, except that I substituted the rasmalai for a frozen dessert (similar composition but there wasn’t room in my freezer), and my only complaint was that it was a bit heavy on frying and whole milk and a bit light on green vegetables. But all the dishes went well together. (I believe we got to the end of the first season that evening.)

Verdict: Success. It was a fair amount of work but it was really good.

I took many more photos than I had room for in this post; be sure to visit my 107 Cookbooks set on Flickr.

Two at One Blow: Moosewood Cooks at Home, CIA Vegetables

spaghetti with zucchini and lemon, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Brussels sprouts with mustard glaze, Culinary Institute of America Vegetables

FettuciniInBowl3This is not the first time I’ve made more than one blog recipe at once, but I think it’s the first time I’m combining two books’ worth in a single post. I’m doing it because the recipe I chose from the Culinary Institute of America book isn’t quite enough to warrant its own post, though the book itself probably is. I could have made many more elaborate things from this book, and intend BrusselsSproutsto do so in the future: corn chowder with chiles and Monterey Jack, spinach salad with marinated shiitakes and red onion, and chiles rellenos all beckon, but none of the more elaborate dishes fit with this weekend’s constraints, which were to make something not overly time-consuming and to buy as few additional groceries as possible. Brussels sprouts with IngredsForPastaNBrussmustard glaze, on the other hand, sounded tremendous, but not sufficient for dinner.

So I flipped through Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, which is a 1994 offering from the famed vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York (I’ve never been, but I do have a Moosewood apron courtesy of a former boss). I wasn’t finding much to fit the bill BrusselsSproutsTrimmedthere either, and was beginning to seriously consider the possibility that I was just being picky and distracted. My usual approach to such picky distraction is to make something I know by heart (chili-rubbed chicken, anyone?) or to propose a trip to the diner, but I thought I had better try to master my lazy impulses — and avoid falling even further behind on the blog — and make something BrusselsSproutsCookinganyway. Spaghetti with zucchini and lemon seemed appealing, if not perfectly seasonable, and I knew it would be easy to get what I needed. I even had a box of long pasta just waiting for use, so it seemed perfect.

The Brussels sprouts would make a great side dish for a traditional dinner, and they’re really easy. I rinsed the sprouts, trimmed the MustardSaucehard ends, pulled away any loose or yellow leaves, and cut an X in the stem end of each. Then I cooked them in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes, after which I drained them. I was a little afraid they’d get too soft, but they were just right — tender and bright green. Then I heated some vegetable broth and some grainy mustard (the grainiest I found was still rather less grainy ZucchSlicesthan what was pictured in the cookbook), and simmered the mixture briefly to thicken it, then tossed the sprouts in the glaze and served them.

The pasta was a little more involved, though not by much. I sliced some zucchini into rounds, minced some garlic, cut some basil leaves into thin strips, juiced a lemon, and grated a fair bit of CookingZucchiniRomano cheese. Then I brought the water to boil for pasta. The recipe calls for spaghetti or linguini, but the long pasta I had on hand was fettucini, and I decided it was close enough for my purposes. Once the pasta was in the water I heated some olive oil in a skillet and sauteed the zucchini and garlic. As you can tell from the picture, I had a bit more zucchini and less skillet AddingLemonNBasilthan would have been ideal, but with some judicious turning I was able to cook the slices pretty evenly without managing to knock an unreasonable number out of the pan.

When the zucchini was a bit browned, I added some salt and pepper, then the lemon juice and basil. At this point I pulled the pan off the heat, and the fettucini PuttingItAllTogetherwas just about done too, so I drained the pasta and mixed everything together in a pasta bowl, adding the cheese at this point as well. One drawback of the long flat noodles is that it is tricky to evenly mix a chunky vegetable mixture with them; perhaps the spaghetti or linguini would have been more suited, though not by much. When I had it as well combined as I thought I AllMixedCloseup2could manage, and the cheese had begun to melt and distribute itself pretty evenly, I dished it up.

The Brussels sprouts were tasty. I like their bitterness, and I was a little afraid the mustard sauce would make them overwhelming, but it gave them a different kind of savory balance and worked quite well. The pasta was delicious as well, with the lemon FettuciniInBowl2juice giving the zucchini a brighter, fresher flavor. The dish is probably better suited to late summer, but it was quite welcome on a snowy Saturday night. The two dishes were good complements, with the bitter edge of the pasta balancing the mellower zucchini and rich cheese.

Verdict: Success. I’ll definitely make both again, and I will make a special effort to pick up the CIA Vegetables book again when the Greenmarket is in full swing.