Beet Hummus

Wow. Somehow April is here. We’ve known it would come for a while now and all of a sudden it is upon us, sort of like the monsoon-type storm outside. The next couple of weeks promise to be as tempest-like as the rain beating against the window right now...filled with excitement, hecticness, new beginnings, and probably a touch of sleep deprivation, but oh, I can't wait. We're still waiting on the finalization of a couple details, but I look forward to sharing some exciting news very soon!

In the meantime, though, let's talk beets. Or rather, let's talk foods that are easy to prepare ahead of time and go grab when you're running from one place to another.

Beet hummus is one of them.

I first tasted this delicious dip at a party about a week ago. There it was on the table next to the olives and cheese, sitting quietly and yet drawing the gaze of every onlooker, like mosquitoes to a night light. I mean, look at it up there. Is that not an astounding work of nature? I will never cease to be amazed by what the earth produces. Unable to hold back any longer, I dug in and was delighted to discover that its taste was as mesmerizing as its color, which immediately landed it at the top of my next-project-in-the-kitchen list.

I am happy to say that beet hummus will now be a staple in our house. After you try it, I'm willing to bet it'll be one in yours too.

Beet Hummus

6 medium beets
1/3 cup tahini
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
3 tsp ground cumin
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash beets, scrubbing them well to get rid of all dirt. Slice each beet in two, put the beets in a medium pot, cover with water, and bring pot to boil. Lower heat so that water is at a light boil and cook beets for 40 to 50 minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Rinse beets under cold water and rub the skin off.

Put beets and all other ingredients in a food processor and process away.

Now, I made this recipe up, tasting and adjusting as I went so these ingredients (and quantities) are mainly suggestions; feel free to adjust to your heart's desire!


Salmon-Stuffed Jalapeños

It was one of those days. You know those days. The ones when you decide to eat two big spoonfuls of peanut butter before heading out on your 3 mile run (because for some reason you were craving peanut butter at 6 o’clock in the morning) and then you realize, one mile into the run, that that was a very bad idea and there’s no way you can go any further so you double back and walk all the way to your car feeling stupid for the self-induced stomach cramps, not to mention sabotaging your morning exercise. Of course by the time you get home you realize you should have been in the shower fifteen minutes ago, you can’t find your clothes because everything is piled on the back of your bedroom chair (which you swore you would put away last night...), you trip on your way to the kitchen and stub your toe because your shoes were left in the hallway, and after hopping up and down on one foot sucking in air for a minute (a minute you don’t have because, remember, you’re late) you finally limp your way to the fridge only to realize there are no leftovers for you to take for lunch and there’s no time to make anything. And it’s not even 8:30 yet.

Oh, and did I mention this is a Monday? As if Mondays aren’t hard enough just being Mondays.

We all know when it rains it pours, so I won't even get into the rest of the day. Needless to say, by the time I headed home that evening I was ready for something comforting, something that would excite my senses and bring a smile to my face.

My thoughts turned to the brightly colored sweet peppers in the fridge, to the green fiery jalapeños beside them, and I found myself craving a dish I had never even eaten...stuffed jalapeños.

The second the prospect of a new dish was on the horizon, the creative juices started to flow and the tension of the day began to melt away. I poured myself a glass of wine, put my apron on, and set to work. The chopping, mixing, tasting and altering, all started to soothe me in their usual way and by the time the peppers were ready to come out of the oven, I was feeling pretty good.

It turned out to be everything I had imagined: creamy sweetness from the salmon and goat cheese contrasting beautifully with the spicy kick of the roasted peppers.

The perfect aah-life-just-got-a-little-better food.

Salmon-Stuffed Jalapeños

10 large jalapeños
1 clove garlic, pressed
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), soaked and chopped
4 oz creamy goat cheese
½ cup grated cheddar
1 6oz can wild Alaskan salmon
1 Tbsp parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water and let sit 7-10 minutes.

Slice the stems off the jalapeños and cut a thin strip along one side of each one making sure not to pierce the whole jalapeño. You want to be able to take all the seeds and membranes out, but have it hold together enough to hold the stuffing. (Note: Make sure you take all seeds and membranes out as those hold the spiciest part of the pepper. I would also recommend doing this with gloves; I decided to ignore this little piece of advice and my fingers burned for a couple hours afterward.)

Once the tomaotes are soft, chop them into small pieces. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the jalapeños. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Stuff the jalapeños with the mixture and set in a lightly oiled baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating once.

Serve as an appetizer or as dinner after a rough day. These little poppers will make your life better - I promise!


Roasted Vegetable Medley

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to open the refrigerator door, look at what's inside and come up with a meal then and there.

Usually, I base what to make on what we have in the fridge (and what needs to be used before it goes bad), but for this particular meal I based everything on one big, round, beautiful dish.

When good friends of ours renovated their kitchen last year, we were the happy recipients of some of those we-haven't-used-this-in-years-we-should-probably-get-rid-of-it dishes. On a regular Tuesday evening in November, Josh led me by the hand into the sun room and showed me what he knew would make my heart skip a beat (or two, or three): a table covered in kitchen goodies.

There was a bundt cake pan (which I had always wanted even though I have never made a bundt cake in my life, but I will...), a pizza stone (I had literally been looking at those in the store the day before), 5X7 loaf pans, various rectangular baking dishes, and one beautiful, huge, round, and very colorful quiche pan. At least I assumed it was a quiche pan, although I had never seen a quiche that big in my life.

So on this particular evening, my goal was to fill this dish with as many colorful veggies as possible.

Mission accomplished.

Then I set out to make something edible with all of them. I present you with my result: a dish I dubbed Roasted Vegetable Medley. Which really is just a fancy word for Whatever-Vegetables-You-Have-Available-In-Your-Kitchen Medley.

It may not look like the fanciest of meals, but it really is delicious (I promise!). I urge you to give it a try. You won't be disappointed and your fridge will thank you.

Roasted Vegetable Medley

I happened to have the below vegetables this evening, although this would work with any mixture of vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, green beans...the sky is the limit!). I also happened to have some crumbled blue cheese on hand, which I decided to throw in and it was delicious. If you have any sort of strong tasting cheese I urge you to toss it in. I'll bet your results will be fabulous. Have fun!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, pressed
3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons herbes de provence
1 big bunch swiss chard, chopped
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
2 medium bell peppers (or about 10 mini ones), roughly chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup parmesan
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a large pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, and herbs and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the white wine, and salt and pepper. Cook about 2 minutes until the tomatoes break down. Add the swiss chard and mix well so that it is coated in the tomato juices and cook, stirring often, for another 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley, and cheeses. Pour everything into a baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Spoon into bowls and top with freshly ground pepper. Serve hot!


Peppers Stuffed with Kale and Ground Almonds

Spring is here! Colors are popping out all over the place in breathtaking bursts like gigantic bundles of cotton candy on sticks. Pinks, yellows, whites, reds…everywhere I look trees are in bloom.

In the garden, which we were sure would be devoid of survivors after this winter, the kale is making a triumphant comeback! The leaves are growing tall and strong, like proud little green warriors reaching for the sky.

This weekend, for the first time in 2011, we cooked our very first meal from the garden. Ah...*sigh of joy*

When deciding to make these stuffed peppers, I was on a mission to come up with a recipe that was both delicious and satisfying, while being free of grains. I turned to my books for inspiration, but everything I found contained rice or couscous or corn or barley or some other grain. So I turned to my pantry and, once again, pulled out my almond meal to the rescue.

The ground almonds in this recipe act as a filler but also provide a healthy source of fat that leaves you feeling full and satisfied. I often find that when I stuff vegetables with only vegetables, even if it tastes good, the meal usually leaves me wanting more. With this one, however, I was happily rubbing my tummy in satisfaction after just one of these brightly colored peppers piled high with goodies. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Peppers Stuffed with Kale and Ground Almonds

2 large bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow)
1 big bunch kale, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup wild mushrooms, chopped
1 Tbsp herbes de provence
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 cup parmesan (plus a little extra for sprinkling on top)
1/2 cup almond meal
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Slice peppers in half through the stem, making sure to keep the stem attached. Take out seeds, rub a little olive oil inside and out, and sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish cut side down and bake for 15 minutes.

Put the kale in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (this is important or the leaves will burn), until bright green and wilted. The water still clinging to the kale's leaves from when you washed them should be enough to prevent the leaves from sticking, but sprinkle a bit more water in the pan if it dries out and the leaves start to stick. The kale should wilt within two to three minutes. Remove from heat and put in a colander to drain while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

In a large saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add garlic and cook another minute. Add mushrooms and herbs and cook about 4 minutes until mushrooms are soft. Add tomatoes and cook another 3-4 minutes until they break down. Add the kale and remove pan from heat. Stir in parmesan, almond meal, and salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the peppers (they will be very stuffed). Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with a little extra parmesan (if desired) and bake another 5 minutes. Serve hot!


Tomato-Peanut Stew with Collards

Growing up in West Africa, peanuts were everywhere: on the side of the road overflowing from large tin tubs next to the brightly colored outfits of the women selling them; squeezed into little hand-tied plastic bags and sold at bus stops, kiosks, and street corners; mashed and fried and sold as delicious peanut rings…each mouth-watering option calling your name, enticing you to stop and buy it; which, inevitably, you did.

What I particularly remember, however, are the nights when the scent of roasted peanuts followed me from the street all the way home to my kitchen. I would walk through the door, take a whiff of the nut-scented air and immediately get excited about dinner. Whatever we were having, it involved peanut sauce!

In West Africa, peanut sauce is cooked in a multitude of ways. For special occasions, chicken or goat is used, but for the day-to-day version, the star ingredient is usually greens. Cooked in a base of onions, ginger, and tomatoes, the peanut butter elevates this dish of simple vegetables to a thick, rich, and marvelously satisfying meal.

When I lived in Kenya a couple years ago, I was lucky enough to befriend a wonderful woman from Nairobi who taught me all sorts of tricks in the kitchen. They eat a lot of greens in Kenya – mostly kale and what everyone there calls “spinach,” a term that refers to leaves much bigger and thicker than the spinach we are used to here in the U.S. – so one of the first things I saw her do was wash and chop leaves. Watching her work, I was reminded of the images I’d seen in college classes of workers in Cuba rolling big fat cigars. She would take eight or ten leaves, pile them one on top of the other, and roll them together as tightly as possible. Then, with the swiftness of a trained chef, she would take a knife and turn the cigar into a snake of winding green strips in a matter of seconds. It was mesmerizing.

Ever since then, I have rolled my greens into a Cuban cigar before slicing them. I’m afraid I’m still not as skilled as her, but I love that to this day I cannot slice greens without remembering our long afternoons spent in the kitchen together.

So although this is not a Kenyan dish, when I sit down at the table to eat, every bite carries with it a hint of Kenya sprinkled among the overwhelming flavors of my childhood.

Tomato-Peanut Stew with Collards

Any greens will work with this stew, so feel free to replace the collards with spinach, kale, mustard greens, or whatever else strikes your fancy!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
1 inch ginger, diced finely
1 green chili, diced finely (I kept the seeds, but remove them if you want the stew to be less spicy)
3 large garlic cloves, pressed
2 15oz cans diced tomatoes
1.5 cups water
1 bunch collard greens, chopped
salt to taste
2 tablespoons peanut butter

In a large pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent (about five minutes). Add the ginger, chili, and garlic and cook another two minutes. Add the tomatoes and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Salt to taste. Add collards and cook another five minutes. Stir in peanut butter until well dissolved and simmer another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve piping hot!
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