rapini and how to make it tasty

Rapini

How do you solve a problem like…..rapini? On the shelf, it looks so adorable, bright emerald green baby broccoli flowers amid plenty of leaves that look like mustard greens, with crispy-looking jade green stems…

rapini, raw and innocent looking

You may think, well, there’s nothing to that but to pop it in a pan with some garlic, and…Yum! But should you do that very thing, you are likely to see troubled looks on the faces of your fellow diners—they trusted you, and you give them this?—and may end up barely able to swallow what seemed like a great idea.

If that sounds as if it comes from bitter (pun very much intended) experience with this particular vegetable, you have perceived correctly. I once innocently sauteed up a pan of rapini, blithely served it to Steve and Henry. I insist on honest reactions to my creations here, and I got them. Steve, normally a totally easy keeper on the vegetable front, said, “Wow. This is horrible.” Henry stood up and poured his in the garbage. Steve and I followed suit.

Rapini, you saucy trickster! You’re not broccoli at all, but a very stylish member of the turnip family. Hence the extreme bitterness. So why bother, when you could just get broccoli, which is honestly pretty hard to screw up? Because if you can get rapini right, it’s a wonderful way to zazzle up your taste buds. Tempered correctly, which you will shortly learn how to do, rapini provides a pleasant bang of bitterness, a wonderful texture—it doesn’t get mushy, but you also won’t feel like a horse chewing it—and a veritable powerhouse of nutrition. Vitamin K and C, cancer-fighting properties, anti-inflammatory, alkalizing: Read all about it at this link (though I caution against preparing the soup recipe unless you follow the de-bittering step here).

What is this magical step to render rapini ravishing? A big old pot of boiling water. Bring it to a boil, throw in about a tablespoon of salt, and blanch for about 2 minutes. (I break off any tough-looking stems prior to boiling.) The process mellows the bitterness to a manageable amount, and the broccoli stays bright green. Then simply drain, squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop coarsely. The amount shown below is the yield from the big batch of rapini at the top of the page (probably about 2/3 of a pound).

Rapini loves garlic. Heat your pan, heat some oil (olive is perfect), sauté your super thin garlic slices with a little salt for about 45 seconds so they’re just starting to turn gold. Then add your chopped rapini.

Rapini is no delicate creature. I give it about 8 minutes, but it can go longer. You’ll end up with a lovely big batch that you can keep on hand for about 3 days and throw into all kinds of things.

The night I made this up, Steve threw a big handful into some soup. I had some naan on hand, which I brushed with a little garlic oil, toasted briefly in the oven, then topped with the sauteed rapini, some leftover meatballs sliced thin, and some fresh mozzarella and a little parmesan. A heavenly little personal pizza. Don’t stop there. Throw some sauteed rapini into pasta or rice. Use it as your green in a bowl; it would be amazing as a bi bim bop component. Just one warning: Now that you know how rapini should taste, you would be wise to avoid ordering it in U.S. restaurants, and if you see it in a deli case, be sure to get a sample. Rapini always looks good. It stays bright green pretty much no matter what.

Of course, if you see it in Italy, go nuts. They kind of invented the stuff.



quinoa crust quiche

Quinoa Crust Quiche

I love quiche—or at least, the idea of it. I order it when I go out and it usually delivers my requirements: buttery crust, eggy goodness, cheesy decadence. But when I’m honest, I know that most of those buttery crust that I’m paying other people to fill came straight out of a package. Meanwhile, I have a perfectly fine, infinitely healthier alternative on hand. That big old package of quinoa calls my name. And one of the best ways to use it up is with a quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche

Jump to recipe.

Why, you may ask, do I happen to have said gigantic quinoa package? Well, I’m not trying to be mean, but quinoa tastes weird. There’s always an odd, sort of dusty taste to it. I know it’s not this package either, or that it’s old, or any other explanation. Nonetheless, its nutritional perks are impressive. Protein-rich, fiber-rich, chockful of vitamins and minerals—read all about quinoa’s specific health benefits here. And in its favor, quinoa morphs easily as a substitute for all kinds of grains, particularly those that are already fragmented into small pieces like cracked wheat and couscous.

And as a pie crust substitute, it’s super easy and SO much healthier that it’s worth a try. Just be forewarned: You are not making something that will taste like a pie crust. A quinoa-crust quiche does not flake with buttery goodness. Rather, it sits on the plate as a hearty earthy base for all the eggy-cheesy-veggie goodness you want to throw in it. These items I had on hand just begged to be added to a tasty quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche likes veggies

(I just realized I’m writing as if I’m Kathy Najimy’s character in The Fisher King. Is she the one responsible for that thing where we add a y to the end of basically every single word? If so, huzzah to you, Kathy.)

So with the quinoa crust, you gotta remember that weird quinoa flavor that you want to camo just a tad. That means that, at the very least, you need to cook the quinoa with salt (or the no-salt sub of your choice), preferably in broth rather than water. Once all the water’s cooked in—and do make sure the quinoa’s not wet at all—and the quinoa’s cooled, add an egg. But you can add even more flavor by sauteeing and adding an onion, or lots of chopped herbs, including scallions, and—most decadent of all—a big old handful of your favorite grated cheese.

Now, simply place the mixture into a pie pan that you’ve sprayed with no-stick, or oiled, or buttered; up to you. I like to take a piece of wax paper and use that to press the quinoa into shape…

quinoa crust quiche: use parchment paper to press evenly

…keeping it even on the bottom of the pan and nicely rising on the sides.

quinoa crust quiche, the crust ready to pre-bake Then bake, and voila. Your quinoa crust is about to become a quinoa crust quiche. I used this recipe from Clean Eating as my jumping off point, but in addition to the broccoli and kale we had on hand, I had a bunch of mushrooms that were quite happy to jump into the pan. I also used quite a bit more cheese, and was in general more decadent.

quinoa crust quiche gets filled with a mix of vegetables

Either place your veggie mix directly into the quiche, which is what I did here. Or mix it in with a batch of eggs, some type of milk, and more cheese, Gromit. My, the movie refs are flying thick and fast today. They’re my Christmas gift to you! If you’ve kept the eggs/cheese/etc. separate…

quinoa crust quiche, ready for the milk cheese mixture

…just pour them over the top…

quinoa crust quiche gets a layer of egg and cheese filling

…and top with….more cheese. (This is actually kind of a modest amount, but I have some in the crust and also some feta mixed into the eggs. Go as wild as you like!) By the way, the speckles are from the mustard I used.

Quinoa crust quiche before going into the oven.

There you have it. You’ve used up quinoa, and you’ve got a healthy meal you can pack up for a road trip or nosh on at your desk. Some cherry tomatoes sparkled up both the visual and flavor palates. Enjoy with your own seasonal variations throughout the year.


Quinoa Crust Quiche: The Recipe

Spaghetti Squash with Arugula, Walnuts, and Cherry Tomatoes

So the other night I saw a recipe for a pizza with arugula pesto and butternut squash and walnuts. And you can read all about why I didn’t make that in the post Recipe Improv: How to Let a Recipe Inspire and not Enslave You. That’s how you can find out about this dandy spaghetti squash arugula dish to come.

Here’s how I made it. First off, spaghetti squash always seems like a great idea—until I cook it. Truthfully, those delicate, angel hair-like strands tend to end up kinda soggy. They definitely don’t absorb sauce the way pasta does.

My way of dealing with this is to cut the squash down the center vertically. Next, I remove all the seeds and then oil and salt the sides. Finally, I place them flat side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast them at 375º for about 45 minutes.

Astute readers will note, “Hey! That squash is cut horizontally AND vertically.” Yep. I decided to follow this advice when I cooked half the squash the other night. The point was to get longer strands, and…well, it wasn’t worth the hassle to me, but I include the link in case you want to try it and have better luck. On this night, I halved the already halved squash and baked as noted above.

spaghetti squash arugula, step one: roast and shred squash

But as you can see, even pulling the fork through the strands gave me kinda clumpy “noodles.” I had to go into my Zen “this will take a couple of minutes” mode, and play with the noodles with my hands a little to separate them. Then a little more salt to draw out the water, and back into a higher degree oven (400º) to dry them out a little.

spaghetti squash arugula, step two: separate strands

The rest was easy. I had some garlic oil I had made a night earlier by gently simmering very thinly sliced garlic in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Steve had picked up some beautiful arugula that I absolutely did not want to crush into a pesto. (Also, I felt way too lazy to deal with cleaning the food processor.) Fresh cherry tomatoes, roasted walnuts, Parmesan, fresh pepper: really, this couldn’t have been easier. And thus, arugula butternut squash pizza became spaghetti squash arugula.

Spaghetti Squash Arugula, the finished version

Vegan Mole Bowl

Vegan Mole Bowl

Mole—rhymes with “guacamole”—wears its Aztec roots with pride. This vegan mole bowl revels in a deep, thick,  mysterious sauce, which livens up what’s otherwise a simple of rice, beans, and vegetables.

There is, however, not a simple way to make mole. This recipe, adapted from a recipe by Margaret Shakespeare*, is close. If you get all the ingredients out ahead of time…

mole-ingr

….you can pretty easily get your mole on while everything else cooks.

mole-cooking

That, by the way, shows the chocolate before it melts. The chocolate is what gives mole its color and hard to pin down flavor.

(Click this link for the mole sauce on its own.)

As stated, this is a vegan mole bowl, relying on my old favorite cauliflower. (I’m not sure where I’d be without that vegetable.) If you don’t have a cauliflower, zucchini will roast up nicely, though in about half the time. If you have fresh corn, spectacular. And the mole will complement chicken, steak, or a robust seafood like scallops, shrimp, or cod—in other words, a fairly sturdy fish, though more bland is better. Salmon is out. Fresh tuna…you’re on your own.

Meanwhile, I turn once again to the awesome rice/quinoa mix put together by Seeds of Change, which we buy in 6-packs at Costco and that I go through about as often as I do cauliflower. You could also, of course, use your own cooked brown rice, quinoa, or your own blend of pretty much any grain you like.

mole-rice-pkg

Have fun with your toppings. I had a mango on hand and opted for sliced avocado so the mole could star. But if you don’t mind a crowded flavor party, throw a little guacamole on there and the two great Mexican creations can duke it out. Just be sure to have some fresh crunchy Romaine—possibly mixed up with a little green cabbage. Enjoy.

mole2

The Maharajah Bowl

Indian cooking—the northwestern branch of it specifically, as “Indian” is as sweeping a description as American, Italian, or Spanish—is the first exotic cuisine I can remember getting a proper introduction to as a kid. My parents hosted some Pakistani missionaries at our home; and while, of course, Pakistan is not India, the cuisine across the subcontinent has some shared characteristics: rice, spices, vegetables, amazing and mysterious smells, singing sweet music to my suburban California child’s soul.

maha-component3

When I met my daughter’s father Joel, he gave me what has become a cherished lexicon of food from across the vast country: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, a massive and lovingly assembled compendium from Yamuna Devi, whom Joel had known when he lived in India.

lord-krishna

The sheer luxuriance of color that occurs when I muster up the ingredients for an Indian dish gives me a little shiver. For this one, I knew I wanted to use up some apricot-hued lentils, as well as (of course) a cauliflower and an eggplant that had been waiting patiently. A mix of whole and ground spices provided the depth and complexity that makes good Indian food so special; no curry powder circa 1970, please, which has  unfairly convinced more people they don’t like Indian food than any other single factor. Plenty of mint and parsley on hand, because I had them and didn’t have cilantro, which also would have worked.

maha-ingr

I’ll be the first to admit that the dish, when you first glance at the recipe, is going to seem overly complicated. It DOES have quite a few components. Feel free to skip any of them, and to assemble the dish any which way that suits you. For instance, leave out either the carrots or the roasted veggies, or both, simply serving the lentils with the various toppings and the rice if you like. Or leave out the lentils, which take the longest. Even better, make the lentils and the carrots the day before; the flavor gets better as they sit.

maha-lentils

Another way to simplify is to simply pick up a bottle of garam masala already mixed, and replace the spices with that. One of the great joys of Indian cooking is its improvisation, which rivals Coltrane, Bird, and Monk in their finest hours.

The point, of course and as ever, is to make it yours. And most importantly, as Joel told me, to make it and offer it with love. Namaste.

maha-bowl1

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil

The Mediterranean Basil Veggie Bowl

It’s eggplant season. I mean, technically, you can get eggplant pretty much year ’round, but I tend to crave it in summer, when tomatoes are at their best and the eggplant was freshly harvested someplace relatively close, as opposed to flown in from some hot and faraway place.

Meditteranean Bowl with Basil and Eggplant

I had a huge bunch of basil, and also have a big old jar of quinoa sitting around that I need to make a dent in. This dish came together super easily. Follow a few simple rules of thumb, and yours should come out perfect and yummy.

1. Always salt your eggplant first and let it sit for about 20 minutes. There are two reasons for this: 1) to get rid of bitter juices, and 2) to get the super spongy eggplant as water free as possible. Eggplant is wonderful when you can get it to brown. When you can’t, it’s a weird-textured soggy mess. The initial salting is key.

2. If you’ve been following my recipes, you’ll notice that I nearly always say to heat the pan first—naked, with nothing in it—then to add oil when the pan is hot, then to add food when the oil is hot. An empty pan heats faster. Oil can’t heat properly if it’s got stuff in it. You can’t sauté properly if your oil’s not hot enough. This is the way to love an eggplant, or really, any sauteed veggie.

3. Take your time with the sauté. We just got a new induction cooktop and it ROCKS. Responsive as gas, cleaner than gas as well as the electric ceramic top that I truly found…..challenging. (Or despicable, when I’m in a non-diplomatic mood.) My new cooktop makes it easy to regulate heat, and you want your sauté to be briskly browning without burning, and with the right amount of heat.

Sauteed Eggplant

This is something you just have to learn given your own cooking stuff. Pay attention, smell, look, and taste often. Just get it right the first time. Do-overs can happen, and can make a good dish out of a potential bad one, but it’s so better to just engage in what you’re doing, and constantly ask yourself, is this what I want to eat? If yes, continue; if no, figure out the issue. Not brown enough? Cook longer and increase the heat a bit. Add salt. Or sugar. Or a spice that just seems right.

The vegan-inclined can skip the cheese. (This recipe from Teagan at Half-Baked Harvest includes an amazing vegan Parmesan, as well as an amazing salad that I eat at least once a week.) Lavish on the basil. It’s one of the true delights of summer, and will transport you to a Mediterranean meadow when you close your eyes. Enjoy.

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil