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New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant: Autumnal Flavors

creamy squash soup, Middle Eastern carrot salad

SoupInBowlNew Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant appears to be one of the last comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks left on my list. I thought of putting it off, saving it for later so I wouldn’t have too long a run of Recipes of the Damned books. But I had picked up acorn squash at the Greenmarket and needed to find something to do with it. None of the other cookbooks yielded CarrotSalad3satisfactory options, but Moosewood came through. I may shed a tear later this fall as I wrangle Jell-O and canned pineapple, but it was all smiles at the dinner table last night.

We have a houseguest, staying for a time while professional cleaners take care of smoke damage from a fire near her building. We’ve been indulging in AcornSquasha fair amount of Thai delivery, I admit, but we’ve also done some collaborative cooking, and last night we decided to put together a light and flavorful dinner. She contributed poached tilapia, rice pilaf and steamed summer squash, and I provided creamy squash soup and Middle Eastern carrot salad.

AcornSquashSeedsI started the soup by cutting an acorn squash in half and scooping out the seeds. I rubbed some olive oil on a baking sheet and put the squash halves in the oven for an hour. While it baked, I put together the carrot salad, which I’ll describe below. When the squash was done I set it to cool, and did my prep for the soup base: I chopped up a couple of onions, a carrot, a couple of small SquashRoastedpotatoes, and two Granny Smith apples. I heated some olive oil and sauteed the onions until they were soft and translucent, then added the carrot, potatoes and apples along with 3 1/2 cups of water. I brought this to a boil and let it simmer about 20 minutes, until the chunks were softened. Then I added the squash, scooped out of its skin, plus 1 1/2 cups of apple juice (one could also use milk or SoupBasecream, but our guest can’t eat dairy).

Now it was time to do the magic. The directions say to combine all the ingredients and puree the soup in batches using a food processor or blender. I think our food processor is still out of commission, and there are a whole lot of things I’d rather do than transfer hot liquid back and SoupBaseCookingforth from pan to blender jar. But I have an immersion blender attachment for my hand mixer, so I was able to puree the soup without dirtying any new vessels. Well, mostly; I had a very brief practical reminder that when you are using an immersion blender, it is crucial not to lift up the stick while it’s running. Unless you like mopping puree off random surfaces. I lost very little soup to ScoopingOutRoastedSquashthat, happily, and in less than five minutes I had a nice pot of smooth, pleasingly colored puree. I returned the pan to the heat, stirred in a bit of cinnamon and some salt and pepper, and let it keep warm while we got the rest of the dinner together.

While the squash cooked I did all the salad prep. I had picked up some enormous, delicious carrots SoupPureedat the Greenmarket as well, and I spent a fair bit of time shredding them to produce four cups of carrot bits. To these I added lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin (it was supposed to be coriander but I was out and cumin is close enough in my estimation), chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh parsley, and salt. I stirred it all together, tasted, and considered: Did I want to add the ShreddedCarrotsoptional touch of sweetener? The mixture was fairly aggressive as it stood, with the carrots’ blend of bitterness and sweetness, the fresh burst of mint, the sharp tang of lemon juice. I decided to go for it, and stirred in a teaspoon of maple syrup, then tasted again. The difference was surprising; the sweet tones pulled together the more extreme of the savory flavors, and the distinct ParsleyAndMinttaste of maple played beautifully off the carrots. I stirred once more and put the salad in the fridge to chill.

When the meal was all ready, I brought out the salad and spooned soup into small bowls. The flavor of the salad balanced nicely against the smooth, rich fish and the earthy rice pilaf, but the textural contrast was also a IngredsForCarrotSaladbig part of its appeal. And the soup was surprising: sweeter than I had expected, it had a velvety texture that was light and not cloying but very satisfying.

Verdict: Success. I should make up some more batches of the soup to freeze for winter. I have squash left.

Still Life With Menu: More Veggie Goodness

Southwest salad with black beans and corn

BlackBeanSaladI’m plugging along with the list; I’m not at all confident that I’ll finish by the end of June. I’m taking vacation time that last week, so I’m actually going to give myself through July 5, but even so, it’s not a sure thing. But I can at least check another book off the list, Still Life With Menu, a beautifully composed cookbook by Moosewood alumna Mollie Katzen.

The book is made up of menus, including a few for holidays and special occasions. Each menu is accompanied with pastel drawings by Katzen, making for a very beautiful presentation. The recipes are also individually indexed so it’s easy to find what you want.

DryBlackBeansI wanted to make soup for Sunday evening, the end of a rather chilly spring weekend here. I was hoping to do a full menu, but none of the menus as a whole quite appealed to me. I didn’t feel like making a cream soup, in part because we were expecting a lactose-intolerant guest and in part because I prefer lighter, more vegetable-centered soup. I didn’t want to bake bread, I thought; in fact, I realized I didn’t really want to try more than one new recipe for the day. So I decided to make my standard improvised vegetable soup, and went looking for a good accompanying salad.

PeppersCarrotsCornSouthwest salad with black beans and corn is fairly simple. It may look daunting because there are three elements that might challenge the less-experienced cook: Soaking and cooking dried black beans, toasting cumin seeds, and toasting corn tortilla strips. But individually these are not difficult, and the tortilla strips are optional. (Which I was relieved to find out after I opened the fridge and realized that I was wrong, we did not have any corn tortillas left.)

AddingGarlicHerbs3I started the night before, pouring two cups of dry black beans into a pot and picking them over to make sure there were no stones or other foreign matter. Most packaged dry beans today are pretty clean, but it doesn’t hurt to check, and if you’re buying in bulk you’ll certainly want to examine them carefully. Once I was satisfied, I added water to the pot, covered it, and let it sit until the next afternoon. They only need to soak for 4 hours, but a longer soak does not hurt, and I knew that if I left it until morning I ran a serious risk of forgetting until it was too late.

The next day I poured off the soaking water, rinsed the beans a bit with cold water to flush out the last of the discolored water, then added fresh water to the pot and brought it to a boil. I turned the heat down to the lowest setting and covered the pot, and let it simmer slowly for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the beans were tender.

AddingRedOnionWhile the beans cooked I set 2 cups of corn to cook as well, then turned to my chopping. One red bell pepper, one carrot, three cloves of garlic, and a heaping half-cup of red onion, plus herbs: half a cup each of finely minced cilantro, basil and parsley. I mixed this all together. I also juiced three limes to come up with about half a cup of juice, and added that and half a cup of olive oil to the bowl, along with a bit of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I drained the black beans, rinsed them well with cold water, drained them again, and then added them to the bowl and mixed it all up.

StirringItUpAt this point I actually brought the salad out to the dining table to get it out of my way, but remembered I had one more thing to do. (Well, two things, I thought, but there were no tortillas. If I’d had them, I would have brushed three or four lightly with oil on both sides, sliced them into strips, and cooked them in a 350-degree oven for a few minutes until they were partly crispy and partly chewy, then scattered them on the salad. As I said, it’s optional.) I pulled out a heavy pan and heated it up, then scattered in about a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds and stirred them around for several minutes until they were toasty and fragrant. I sprinkled the toasted seeds on the salad, returned it to the dining table, and went back into the kitchen to finish my soup prep. This gave the salad time to sit for a while and let the flavors blend.

AddingBlackBeansThe salad was very tasty. The hearty black beans provide a good base for the sweet peppers and corn, bitter and fragrant herbs, and tangy onion and lime juice. The cumin seeds added an earthy flavor. And the salad turns out to be a great brown-bag lunch for a weekday.

Verdict: Success. I plan to make this often during the summer. In a pinch, canned beans would do well enough, well rinsed and drained, but cooking them isn’t difficult — I think I’d only do that if I really hadn’t left time and had no other options for dinner.

Mediterranean Fresh: Bowls Full of Goodness

Greek country salad, peach and tomato salad, oregano garlic vinaigrette, citrus and black pepper dressing

Mediterranean Fresh is a collection of one-plate salad meals, plus a variety of dressings. The book is full of lovely, fresh offerings: green salads with sauteed mushrooms or poached eggs, parsley salad with tahini, roasted red pepper salads, figs with almonds and greens, you name it. Chef and author Joyce Goldstein draws on the flavors of southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and the results are gorgeous.

This book seemed like an excellent choice for August. Not only is salad a great choice for a warm night (well, today was a bit cooler than we’ve been, but still warm), but the Greenmarket is teeming with choices. I settled on two salads to try — Greek country salad and peach and tomato salad — and hit the Wednesday market near work during my lunch break to find tomatoes, green peppers, peaches, red onions, lettuce and cucumber.

You may recall that I made a tossed salad the other week. I do not usually toss salads together, because I hate it when the cucumbers go bad and spoil the rest of the bowl. That’s exactly what happened to the Supper Salad Bowl, so I determined not to let it happen again, and kept the ingredients separate to combine only at the plate level. I’m not sure I had to worry as much this time, though; we’re going to want to polish off the Greek country salad a lot faster.

The Greek country salad is fairly simple: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, kalamata olives, and feta. The oregano garlic vinaigrette is pretty easy as well: olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe recommends that if you have time you should warm the dressing slighly to intensify the flavors; this would probably make them very intense indeed, as the dressing at room temperature is really flavorful and a good complement to the salad. Even my husband liked it, and he’s not usually a fan of salad dressing, though this is clearly superior to any bottled, preservative- or sweetener-filled concoction.

The peach and tomato salad is also simple to make, but presents very complicated flavor combinations. The salad itself has only four ingredients — tomatoes, peaches, red onion and fresh basil — and is topped with a dressing of orange and lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper. The contrasting flavors play off each other. A mouthful of peach and onion together is exciting; a taste of peach and pepper is revelatory. It’s the kind of salad that deserves to be slowly nibbled and savored, but that you can barely stop yourself from gobbling down, it’s so good.

Verdict: Success. I’ve been doing a good job of bringing leftovers for lunch this week but tomorrow will definitely win the prize.

500 Delicious Salads: Well, Two, at Any Rate

pear salad with ginger cheese; supper salad bowl

500 Delicious Salads is the second of three of these pamphlets I have that date from about 1940 and offer rather fewer recipes than advertised. Last month we tried out 500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes, and they were not bad. I thought the salad book would offer a lot of options, and it did, if I liked gelatin or tongue or shaping pear halves and cottage cheese into bunnies. (Which are kind of cute, in a creepy way.) But I found two recipes fully worthy to try: pear salad with ginger cheese, and supper salad bowl.

Supper salad bowl is effectively a hearty tossed salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs as the protein offering that makes it a complete meal. (More bacon, you say? Well, yes.) I did not have a wooden salad bowl, which is kind of a shame; the recipe directs you to rub a cut garlic clove all over the surface of your bowl, and I suspect it didn’t have the same effect on our plastic Tupperware bowl. But I did it anyway, and proceeded to layer in lettuce (no specifics given; I chose green leaf), chicory, cucumbers, scallions, radishes and celery. I was supposed to add tomatoes as well, but I didn’t have any and by the time I realized that I didn’t feel like running out for some, particularly since my only nearby options would be your standard mealy and flavorless grocery store tomatoes. If I do this again I’ll have to make sure I plan around a Greenmarket shopping trip, because the tomatoes would have been a nice complement to the chicory.

Chicory was a bit of a surprise to me, actually; I’ve never used it before, and if I’ve consumed it at all it can only have been in coffee that was thinned out with chicory. (Does anyone else remember that? It seems not to be a common thing any more to see chicory substituted for coffee, and I for one am glad.) It’s a thin leaf with a prominent center stem, with the leaf serrated along it. I wasn’t sure whether one is supposed to eat the stems as well, but for the sake of keeping my salad bowl from overflowing I discarded the thickest stems. Chicory has a somewhat bitter taste, so it gives some depth to a tossed salad such as this.

I was also supposed to sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the whole salad and ring the edge with the hard-boiled egg slices. But this week my husband has been waylaid by a gout attack, and he’s been trying to limit his protein intake, so I put the bacon and eggs on the side. I was also supposed to offer an herbed vinaigrette, but we seldom use salad dressing and I found this one quite flavorful enough without it.

I did make the orange vinaigrette for the pear salads, though. These were delightful. You serve pear halves on watercress; fill the cored middle with a dollop of ginger cream cheese, which is cream cheese mixed with crystallized ginger and a bit of cream for texture; and drizzle on a bit of orange vinaigrette. The ginger cream cheese was so delicious I could hardly see straight. It would be great in other recipes: as a filling for sandwich cookies (ginger or lemon), as a frosting for pound cake, as a ribbon in ice cream. (Seriously, now I really want to get an ice cream maker so I can play in this manner.) The combination of pear, cheese, ginger and orange was refreshing, almost dessert-like. I will definitely be making that one again.

Verdict: Success. I must say these booklets that I got for Recipes of the Damned really do offer some delicious dishes. I’ve done surprisingly well with them. Of course, I know my luck is sure to change by the time I get to The Twinkies Cookbook next June, if not before then. (There is still Jell-O ahead, after all.)