Archive for Vegetarian

Yes, you can cook with cactus

There are some things that one can’t help but bristle at upon the notion of eating. Sure, we’ve all heard about the “delicacies” involving insects and offal in other countries, but what I bring to the table here is much simpler in nature yet can be just as confounding for the uninitiated: Cactus.

That’s right — those desert-loving plants known for their sharp spines can actually be eaten.

Two of the most popular edible portions of cacti are the pads, called “nopals,” and the pears, cactus fruit that in Spanish is known as “tuna.” The former are the flat, broad portions that look like paddles. Once their needles are removed, they can be grilled, baked or simmered.  The latter can be peeled and eaten as is. Their delicious fruit is surprisingly sweet, with a texture that’s a cross between a kiwi and a pear.  Fresh cactus pads and cactus pears can be found at Hispanic markets such as Northgate, as well as some well-stocked mainstream grocers. Thankfully, the work of removing the needles has usually already been done.

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Recipe: Grilled radicchio won’t leave you bitter

Envision your next summer barbecue and you’ll probably picture a grill sizzling with burgers, chicken, and perhaps a juicy rib-eye. Likely the last thing to come to mind on those grates is what appears to be a purple head of lettuce.

But sometimes the most unexpected things thrown on a grill turn out to be the best. Enter radicchio, our purple-headed friend. Though radicchio (say, “rad-dee-kyoh”) might appear to be the offspring of a head of romaine lettuce and a cabbage, it tastes like neither. Radicchio is actually part of the chicory family, and its leaves are known for their bitterness. Radicchio is found in the fresh produce section in larger markets, and you might just mistake it for the aforementioned cabbage. If you don’t see it in your regular mainstream store, try an ethnic one. I get mine at H Mart, an Asian grocer, for about a dollar per head.

While radicchio leaves can be eaten raw, they may leave too much of the proverbial – and literal – bitter taste in your mouth. Best to use them sparingly and mixed with tamer greens.

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What are tomatillos? Introduction and recipe

Glance at the spelling of a tomatillo and you may think someone flubbed “tomato.” See one in the market and you may think it’s a very unripe version thereof. But rest assured, their name is legit and while they’re related to the tomato, tomatillos are not to be mistaken for green tomatoes, those Southern fried favorites.

Native to Mexico and part of the nightshade family, tomatillos come in colors such as yellow, red and purple, but most commonly are green. They can be a harder to find in mass market stores than the ubiquitous tomato, but are readily available – and very inexpensive – at Hispanic grocers such as Northgate. I also regularly see them at local Food 4 Less stores and even H Mart, a wonderful Asian grocer. Wherever you find them, tomatillos are worth seeking out.

Like tomatoes, tomatillos are technically a fruit, and here that fact is easier to believe. Tomatillos can be eaten raw or cooked, but before using in any manner require some undressing. That’s because tomatillos are protected by an outer husk that is easily peeled off. Once disrobed, you should find a plump-yet-firm, glossy green globe. The husk can leave a slightly sticky residue, so rinse well and pat dry before using. Tomatillos will stay fresh in a refrigerator for about two weeks, so making them easy to keep on hand.

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Recipe: Get keen on quinoa

Peer closely at quinoa, and you may think you’re looking at something aliens would ingest. Tiny spheres with what appear to be pale tails, the granules of quinoa are mysterious. They’re also delicious.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is also an oddity when explaining what exactly it is. Though quinoa cooks in less than 20 minutes by simmering it in liquid like rice, it’s not a true cereal grain. The quinoa that you can find on grocery shelves near the rice section are actually the seeds of a crop plant that, believe it or not, are related to beets and tumbleweeds, of all things.

Humans have been eating the stuff for thousands of years, and more recently I’ve seen it landing on the menus of upscale restaurants. Quinoa is a nutrition powerhouse. Hailed by the Incas as the “mother grain,” it is low in fat and high in protein and fiber. It’s also gluten-free.

Quinoa is a snap to cook. If you can boil water, you can make it. Once cooked, it has a hearty, grain-like flavor. It’s also extremely versatile. Quinoa can be served warm or cold, and mixed with everything from peppers to pears. The recipe below brings cranberries, red onion, celery and pecans to the party for extra flavor and crunch. Oh, and those tails? They’re actually the seed’s germ. Once the disc-like granules are cooked, they expand and the germ separates from the seed. Looks odd, tastes great.

Let’s make a quinoa salad that acts as a super snack or side dish.

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Parsnips have something to prove

Countless times you’ve reached for the lettuce, grabbed some carrots and inspected the asparagus, all the while ignoring a far more interesting item. This other vegetable was there the whole time in the produce section also hoping for some attention, but too often it gets lost among the staples. On a slow day it might get a quizzical look before you move on to fetch the milk.

It’s the parsnip, and it deserves some respect. Parsnips are a root vegetable, and though they’re available year round, winter is their time to shine. If they were orange, you might mistake them for carrots. Similar in shape and related to that other veggie, parsnips are a pale tan in color. Taste-wise, they are a bit sweeter, and texturally not quite as crisp.

They’re also delicious. Parsnips can be eaten raw, but with a woody center they don’t offer the satisfying crunch of a carrot. Impart some heat, though, and things get far more interesting. Because of their soft, almost creamy texture when cooked, parsnips can deftly be inserted into a batch of mashed potatoes, boiled along with the spuds. They can also be simmered in soups.

I prefer to roast them, either alone or with carrots and onions. The dry heat of the oven helps intensify parsnips’ flavor and adds visual appeal via the browning effect that culinarians and “Jeopardy” contestants know as the Maillard reaction.

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Warm your tummy with non-alcoholic toddy

This time of year brings no shortage of baked treats, cold nights, and good times with family and friends. One thing that goes well with all of them? A hot beverage that warms the tummy.

While coffee and tea are the most popular choices, I tend to avoid caffeine after a certain hour of the evening. And because of the headaches they induced, I found myself having to avoid libations with spirits in them. Yet I still craved the kick that comes from a hot toddy.

This led to experimenting with various infusions that would warm my soul but wouldn’t hurt my head, not to mention also be appropriate for those of all ages.

The result is my Teetotaler’s Toddy, a hot, non-alcoholic drink that provides plenty of kick thanks to fresh ginger and a pinch of cayenne, yet sweetness and depth from honey and cinnamon. Like a traditional toddy, it’s a snap to make. If you can boil water, you’re halfway there. Here’s how to finish it:

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Recipe: Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes

So the day of thanks has come and gone, and you’re probably still recovering from the celebratory meal. Welcome to the holidays and the bounty of leftovers that come with it.

Many recipes at this time of year have to do with leftover turkey but overlook the supporting cast from that Thanksgiving meal. Yet those pantry extras deserve just as much respect and can allow for even greater culinary creativity.

Take that canned pumpkin purée, for example. While most people will use it to make pie, canned pumpkin adds a delicious sense of the fall season to other foods such as breads, cookies, and soup. Or even pancakes.

Pumpkin and pancakes may seem unlikely partners at first, but the purée blends seamlessly into the batter. When cooked, you get orange-hued pancakes that are autumn on a plate. I like to add pecans, another staple of the season easily found in markets, for a bit of crunch and extra flavor.

With this recipe, you can quickly and easily use that extra can of pumpkin purée (or have a reason to try the stuff in the first place) and load up on some breakfast carbs ahead of the holiday madness.

Let’s make some pumpkin pecan pancakes.

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Easy recipe: You can rock these Ranchero Beans

I probably don’t need to tell you that beans are magnificent. Yes, you probably already know that they’re packed with stuff like protein, fiber and other nutrients that will do your body good, all while being very low in fat and simple sugars. They are also extremely inexpensive. Even in canned form, at about a buck a pound, it’s hard to find a food that packs this much nutritional density for the price.

Beans are also very adaptable. And that’s a good thing, because let’s face it: When eaten alone, popular beans such as pintos aren’t exactly multifaceted in their flavor. But throw in other ingredients and some seasoning to the party, and the beans that anchor a dish can be eaten and enjoyed in a whole new light.

I recently stumbled upon one such dish – ranchero beans – in the deli section of a Ralphs of all places, and was surprised at how well the humble pinto livened up with a larger culinary cast. I promptly decided to re-create this recipe myself, adding even more impact with additional ingredients.

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Recipe: Hearty Tomato Basil Soup

As autumn sets in and the temperatures outside fall accordingly, nothing warms the body and soul quite like a sturdy bowl of soup. Among the easiest, least expensive and most nutritious to make is tomato soup. Served as an appetizer or a dinner with bread or sandwiches, it is a perennial favorite that can be tailored to a variety of tastes.

If your idea of making soup is opening a can and turning on a microwave, I have good news for you: Making it the homemade way involves not a whole lot more work, yet tastes worlds better. And because you control the ingredients that go into your soup, there’s no guessing as to how much sodium or other less-than-good-for-you things lurk in that bowl.

My version of this soup uses canned tomatoes in diced and crushed form. Not only are these main ingredients inexpensive, they’re always “in season” and ready when you are. Because this tomato soup relies on the real thing and plenty of other veggies, it’s thick and hearty. This recipe calls for chicken broth, but for a vegetarian version, vegetable broth can be used instead. The soup can be served chunky or blended for an even texture. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it. The pureeing can also be done in small portions in a regular blender.

Lastly, I like to introduce both dry and fresh basil leaves for added essence. If you want some kick, add crushed peppers or even a dash of horseradish to the mix. Here’s how to make tomato soup.

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Easy Recipe: Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Bars

We’ve all been told a million times how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the one that literally fuels our body as we set off to tackle traffic, work, school or whatever else the morning throws at us. But in our rush to get out the door, it’s all too easy to skip what seems like a culinary inconvenience.

And here’s where this week’s recipe arrives to save the day. Cereal and yogurt are simple go-to’s when we’re running short on time and motivation, but they can get old fast. Enter the Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Bar. This was a staple in my wife’s family when she was growing up. With five kids to dress, feed and get out the door, any shortcuts were welcome and they swore by this one. If my wife’s memory serves, it was obtained decades ago from the side of a Grape-Nuts box.

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