Thursday, June 27, 2013

Banana Peppers and Frog Balls

It is always such a treat when we get to spend time with our friends Lisa and Jack who live in the Bay Area.  When we last visited them in their beautiful home in San Anselmo just a few months ago, we all spent an amazing day following the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail tasting delicious artisanal cheeses and luscious Sonoma wines.  Our time together just flew by, so when Lisa and Jack decided to pop down to L.A. for a very quick trip last weekend, we were very excited to see them again and pick up where we left off.

As background, let me just say that Lisa, an incredibly gifted gardener, has the greenest thumb I've ever seen.  She has been watching me salivate over her home-grown vegetables for decades -- her fresh-picked corn will forever turn you off any you get from the market!  So of course, with no time for harvesting before their early morning departure, during the long journey down Interstate 5 Lisa and Jack felt compelled to make a little detour and pick up these gorgeous banana peppers from a Central Valley farm stand, just for me.

They also picked up this very questionable jar.  (I can only blame Jack for this one!)

Actually, it turns out that "Frog Balls" are pickled brussel sprouts, and they are tangy, crunchy, and sooo delicious.  But it's the peppers that really excited me.  Lisa, like me, loves everything Turkish, and I'm certain when she saw the peppers they reminded her of the delicious pepper dishes we enjoyed so much together in Turkey.  So as soon as I saw them, I immediately decided to make a very simple Turkish zeytinyagli ("with olive oil") dish highlighting the peppers.  Here is the recipe for this super easy, delicious, and VB6 compatible side dish:

First I rinse, seed, and slice six peppers into tiny rounds.

Then I peel and dice two juicy tomatoes, and I sprinkle a bit of salt on them.

Next, I heat up 2 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil and saute the peppers on a medium heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. 

I then add the tomatoes and cook for an additional 3 minutes until the tomatoes and peppers are softened.  Next I add a touch of white vinegar (about 1/4 teaspoon) and just a tiny pinch of sugar.  Finally, I add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

These peppers are delicious served as a side dish, either room temperature or chilled, and will keep in the refrigerator for several days.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Lentil Stew, Sans the Meat

I've been making lentil stew with beef or lamb for years.  It's a delicious and nutritious family favorite.  One of my happiest discoveries since embarking on the VB6 plan is that my favorite lentil stew is every bit as good sans the meat!  Plus, it's packed with protein, and it's low in calories. 

I start with one white onion and one bell pepper, which I slice into thin strips and toss in a Dutch oven with a tablespoon of olive oil.  I let that cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and peppers are just tender.

Next, I add a bunch of sliced carrots (about 2 cups worth).  I like my carrots to be rather large in this recipe, and I always cut them at an angle because they look beautiful that way!  Saute that for a few more minutes.

Next I peel and slice two large, ripe tomatoes and sprinkle a little salt on them to bring out the sweetness, like so.  I toss those into the pot as well and let them cook for a few minutes.

Finally, I add about two cups of cooked lentils.  You can cook the lentils yourself ahead of time, following the package directions, or you can buy pre-cooked lentils.  (Trader Joe's has excellent pre-cooked baby lentils from France, which can be found in the refrigerator section of the store.  That's what I use when I'm pressed for time.)  Pour in about 1 cup of water or vegetable broth, and season with salt, pepper, and cumin until the flavors taste just right.  If you want a little heat, add some cayenne pepper as well.

I let everything cook together on a low heat until all the flavors meld and the liquid reduces-- this simmering process should continue for at least half an hour, but the longer the stew cooks, the better it tastes!  Serve hot on brown rice, or my favorite, fresh arugula!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vegan Polenta - Loaded with Vegetables

One of my new favorite vegan dishes is polenta loaded with vegetables.  Polenta is a delicious grain made from corn, so it is important to buy organic polenta, as most corn is genetically modified.  This polenta recipe makes for an especially delicious VB6 meal because it is dense and delicious and loaded with vegetables! 

I start with a whole head of cauliflower and some white or green onion.

First, I measure out one cup of polenta, which I rinse under cold water and strain in a fine mesh strainer.  Next I chop up the cauliflower into small pieces and slice the onion. 

I like to saute the onion in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until the onions are tender (about 3 minutes), and then I add 3-1/2 cups of liquid (either water, vegetable broth, or a combination of the two).

Once the liquid comes to a boil, I slowly stir in the polenta, followed by the chopped cauliflower, and about 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.  I bring the liquid back to a boil, stir well, and then cover the pot and allow everything to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently so that the polenta stays smooth.  Next, I remove the pot from the heat, stir in a bunch of chopped fresh dill and a little black pepper, and cover the pot and allow the polenta to rest for ten minutes.  Finally, I pour the mixture into a casserole dish, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

The polenta will become very firm in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to eat a piece (or the whole pan!), cut it into squares and heat it up.  You can quickly heat an individual piece in the microwave -- I often bring a piece with me to work and heat it up and eat it for breakfast -- or you can broil or fry your polenta squares until warm throughout.  The frying and broiling methods add a delicious crispiness to your finished polenta. 

This version of polenta is loaded with delicious cauliflower, one of my favorite vegetables, but you can definitely substitute broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, or any number of other cruciferous vegetables.  If you do substitute another vegetable, then you may or may not want to include the dill (or another herb), depending on the flavor profile you want.  Cauliflower and dill are delicious together, but if you substitute broccoli, for example, you will probably want to omit the dill. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dirty Beets!

My sister Wendy does not like beets at all.  She says they taste like "dirt."  I can't say that she's wrong, but there's just something about vegetables that taste like the ground they were grown in that really appeals to me.  I love beets, plus they are packed with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, making them an excellent VB6 option.  (Please see the May Introduction post for background on VB6.)  I love the variety of colors beets come in, I love their texture, I love peeling and cutting them, and most of all, I love their earthy flavor.  This week, I made yellow beets -- bright orange on the outside, deep yellow on the inside, and full of flavor.

Beets are super easy to prepare. I just lop off the stems, scrub the dirt off in cold water, and put them in a pot of salted cold water, which I bring to a boil.  I cook them until they are just fork-tender.  Next, I immerse them in cold water to halt the cooking, and when they are cool enough to handle, I just peel the skin off with my hands.  With just a little bit of coaxing, the skin literally falls right off.

Next I slice them up -- always, always in wedges!  I don't know why, but I think that wedges are the perfect shape for beets.  To finish the beets, I generally add an oil (usually olive oil), an acid (lemon or any type of vinegar), an herb (dill, parsley, mint, or cilantro), a spice (cumin is my favorite on beets), salt and pepper, and some type of onion (red or white onions, or scallions, or even shallots).  Really, the options are endless.  

I start by salting the beets and coating them with just a little bit of good olive oil.  Then I add a generous amount of acid (today it was fresh lemon juice), followed by some thinly sliced onion (scallions in this version), and a good handful of chopped herbs (I used Italian flat leaf parsley).  Next, I combine everything so that it's pleasing to the eye, reserving a pinch of the parsley for the top.  Finally, I sprinkle on a tiny bit of cumin, which is a great compliment to the "dirt" flavor of the beets, and some black pepper.  Served room temperature or cold, the beets make for a delicious salad, side dish, or green salad addition.                         

Last week I made red beets.  They were equally delicious and featured thinly sliced red onion and radishes, fresh dill, and red wine vinegar.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stuffing Vegetables with More Vegetables

Saturday is Farmer's Market day in Playa del Rey, and today this great big zucchini really caught my eye.

As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to stuff it, but with what?  Then it came to me.  I'll do a twist on the Turkish classic, Imam Bayildi, a delicious dish of eggplant stuffed with a mixture of onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic.  After all, what could be more VB6-worthy than a giant vegetable stuffed with more vegetables!  To the purist, the substitution of zucchini for eggplant in this iconic dish might be viewed as sacrilege, but I think it sounds yummy, so I'm going for it.  (And of course, it is perfectly fine to substitute smaller zucchinis for the large one, but if you do, then adjust cooking times, keeping an eye on finished product during the baking stage to ensure it does not become overcooked and mushy.)

First, I peel off the zucchini skin in strips.

Then I cut the zucchini in half and hollow it out, like so.

Next, I slice a large white onion into thin vertical slices, crush two cloves of garlic, and peel and slice two large juicy tomatoes.  I like to put a little salt on the tomatoes to enhance their flavor.

This is a Turkish olive oil dish -- a vegetable dish (no meat!) cooked in olive oil and generally eaten cold --so I drop the onions, garlic and tomatoes into a shallow pot with about 1/4 cup of very good olive oil and saute them, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes.

While the tomatoes, onions and garlic are cooking, I chop up a big handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, toss it into the pot, and cook the ingredients for another 5 minutes or so.  When finished, the onions and tomatoes should be tender, but not mushy.  I set this aside and let it cool for a bit.

While the tomato and onion mixture is cooling, I slice some Anaheim peppers into thin strips and fry them in just a little bit more olive oil until they are tender.

I fill the zucchini with the cooked tomato and onion mixture, place the sauteed peppers on top, and put the stuffed zucchinis into a casserole dish with 1/4 cup of water and a drizzle of olive oil at the bottom of the dish.  I cover the whole thing with foil, and bake it at 350 degrees for at least and hour.  After an hour, I remove the foil, and let the zucchinis continue to bake until tender (for another 15-30 minutes).

The finished dish looks like this and should be served at room temperature or cold.  For those of you who are not used to cold cooked vegetables, I promise you are in for a treat!