Greek Salad

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Greek Salad from Le Chou Fou

Salad is the first thing I learned to make well. The story of my cooking education begins haphazardly, and in the event of my first husband, Karl, getting sick. The women in his family took for granted that all women could cook. My ineptitude inspired a fair amount of ribbing, some good-natured, some not so much.

But though my confidence faltered when it came to traditional stuff, which I mostly didn’t bother to eat, my status as a native Californian gave me one distinct edge: I knew a good salad. And frankly, torn iceberg lettuce—replete with a tennis ball flavored tomato and Wishbone salad dressing that you added at the table—did not qualify. So I divided and conquered. Soon, I was pretty much smoking them all in the salad department.

I’m not sure when I learned to make Greek salad, but it’s always a hit. If I’ve gotten into some weird funk where I’m too lazy to make salad, it reminds me that they are both easy and delish. The bouquet of dill, mint, and fresh lemon always sings Springtime to me. As part of the upcoming Greek Easter menu (in the works), a Greek salad adds a bunch of raw, crispy, vibrant green that nicely complements the richer items on the menu. It’s also a wonderful light dinner. At one point, I would have thought a crusty baguette on the side was necessary. But now, I’m good with it all by itself. Though the whole wheat naan pictured above served as an excellent scooper, if you like that sort of thing. And spanikopita on the side is yummy, too.

Greek Salad: The Steps

  • Mince garlic, salt it, and add some lemon juice. The salt and lemon juice help the garlic break down. You can do this any time up to 4 hours but at least 20 minutes before you put the salad together.
lemons and garlic for greek salad
  • Either dice some really fresh tomatoes if great tomatoes are available, or quarter some cherry tomatoes. Of course, all tomatoes are best picked right out of the garden in August and September, but cherries are pretty good year-round. Peel a cucumber, seed, and cube it. Put both together in a colander, sprinkle with salt. Let drain, at least 20 minutes and up to an hour or so.
cucumbers and tomatoes for greek salad
  • Depending on how you feel about raw garlic, either remove the garlic pieces from the lemon (you can use them to cook in something else), or leave them in. Add oil so that you have a proportion of maximum one half part lemon juice to one whole part olive oil. Because you’ve got some fat here—from the feta cheese and olives—you can get away with a little more acid. Just be judicious. I don’t like my salad swimming in dressing, so I’m inclined to go lemon juice light—maximum one tablespoon. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together.
  • Pit some olives. Slice a red onion very thin. Add them to the dressing. If you like, artichoke hearts, sliced cooked or spiralized raw beets, grated carrot, and minced sun dried tomatoes can go in this layer as well.
greek salad layer 1
  • Crumble on some feta, the best you can find. I like to go to Mediterranean Market in Ann Arbor, the closest Middle Eastern food supplier, and see what’s in the deli counter.
  • Add the drained tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Top with a mix of greens. Romaine is essential, in my mind. Something dark but not too tough, like a baby kale, arugula, or spinach, is also great. Spring mix is a little flimsy given all the hearty components in this, so I recommend you don’t use it here. I do add plenty of herbs, and I keep the leaves whole. They look pretty, and they taste amazing.
greens for Greek salad
  • Toss.
  • Top with pepper to your heart’s content, and chomp away. Play bouzouki and afterward, dance like these guys.
Greek salad from Le Chou Fou

Greek Salad Recipe

vegetarian reuben pizza

Vegetarian Reuben Pizza

Jump to the Vegetarian Reuben Pizza recipe or the step by step instructions.

vegetarian reuben pizza

I love a good sandwich: great bread, some spread that the bread soaks up, and a mix of vegetables to add both crunch and lush textures to complement whatever the protein is.

But it took me a long time to get with a Reuben. For years, I saw them made with pastrami, and I don’t do beef. Furthermore, not so crazy about sauerkraut. Then again, Swiss cheese with maybe smoked turkey on rye, with fresh cabbage stirred into 1000 Island dressing….it’s one of those combos that should be all wrong, but works together like a charm.

Recently, all recipes magazine featured a Reuben pizza. The crust is homemade and has rye flour, then you smear on some 1000 Island before you add corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss, and pickles. I loved the idea, just not a bread crust or the corned beef. But I thought, hmmm. I could change this into a plant-based meal that would make a groovy Meatless Monday dinner.

The particulars were pretty simple. I’ve made cauliflower pizza crust pretty often and at this point, actually prefer it to the bread version. I had some whole rye in the cupboard, boiled it up, and mixed it in. It added a nice earthy chewiness to the cauliflower, though it’s completely unnecessary. If you don’t have rye on hand, you can skip it.

cauliflower crust with added whole cooked rye

Then I marinated some tempeh and baked it in the oven. When the crust came out, I put on some homemade 1000 Island—if you have a store-bought one you like, by all means use it. Topped with the baked tempeh, plenty of sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, I baked it about 7 minutes to get the cheese all melty. Out of the oven, I topped it with carrots and dill in place of the the pickles. After all, the sauerkraut is pickle-y enough for me, and the raw carrot added a really lovely sweet crunch.

all ingredients ready for this vegetarian reuben pizza

Like a lot of my recipes, it has a number of steps, but you can easily take shortcuts, like using store-bought dressing and already marinated tempeh or tofu (or replacing it with meat if that’s your thing). You can probably buy a cauliflower crust, or use a regular bread crust if you like. But here’s how you make the whole thing from scratch, which honestly doesn’t take much time at all.

Vegetarian Reuben Pizza: Step by Step

  • Marinate your tempeh: Mix soy sauce, sake, and rice vinegar together. Slice the tempeh into strips, toss in the marinade, and let them sit while you make the other stuff. An hour or so makes sure the tempeh has some flavor and doesn’t taste like, well, tempeh.
  • Make the 1000 Island Dressing: I used this recipe, more or less, combining mayo, ketchup, chopped pickles and a little pickle brine, with chopped onions and garlic. Dash in a little hot sauce if you like.
  • Make the crust: Mix your riced cauliflower with some bread crumbs, mustard, celery seeds, caraway seeds, and, if you have it handy, cooked whole rye.
cauliflower crust with whole cooked rye
  • Bake the tempeh. I give it about 20 minutes with a flip halfway through.
baked marinated tempeh for vegetarian reuben pizza
  • Bake the crust in the oven; this only takes about 15 minutes, so you can time this with the tempeh. Get out the sauerkraut, grate the Swiss, and grate or spiralize the carrot.
  • Top the baked crust with the tempeh. Strew on some sauerkraut, then top the whole thing with cheese. Bake until melty, about 6 or 7 minutes.
  • Top the finished pizza with raw carrot and chopped dill.
vegetarian reuben pizza

The Recipe

Mushroom Arugula Crepes

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mushroom-arugula-crepes

There was a period in, I think, the late 70s, when the crepe pan was the must-have appliance—kind of like the instant pot today.

a crepe cookbook from the 70s
How adorable is the subtitle? I think the authors want to make sure you don’t take them too literally and actually try to do anything with crepes, like wear them to a ball or patch a roof leak.

Everybody who had a respectable kitchen owned a crepe pan. It was just a round, 8 or 9-inch skillet with a perfectly flat bottom, and I know Dad rushed out and bought one. And for a few weeks we ate a lot of crepes.

I don’t have a pic of Dad cooking, but this is us sometimes in the 70s. The crepe pan is nearby..

My dad was a pancake guy, and he made excellent ones. He loved to cook; Julia Child was his girl. He’d sit in front of her PBS show and take notes. Mom got a kick out of it; she never liked cooking, and was happy to abdicate the fancy stuff to Dad. She always said, “I think he likes her because she’s so messy.” As was Dad. Stuff got spilled, experiments went wrong. But he also embodied joy and tranquility in the kitchen. I remember him focused on flipping flapjacks in our cast iron skillet, or on kneading bread with his giant powerful hands, his breathing even and deep.

As noted, Dad’s pancakes were outstanding; he made his own starter dough. But his crepe pan flirtation was brief. The issue, I think, was that, rather than fluffy pillows to absorb a blob of butter and a hearty pour of syrup, crepes by their very nature require a delicate touch. They’re also often wrapped around filling. Dad wasn’t big on cooking that involved steps. He liked to get things done in one go. Eventually, the crepe pan moved to the back of the cupboard and the pancakes returned.

Mushroom Arugula Crepes: Steps

I didn’t try cooking crepes for years, and in the late 80s, when I began to learn to cook, they were out of fashion. But when I whipped up my first batch for brunch, I was stunned at how easy they were.

Recently, I bought some mushrooms and had no idea why. So I thought, as I often do, what would Bert Greene do? If you’ve spent any time here, first, thank you. Second, you know Bert Greene is one of my cooking heroes. I stumbled on this recipe, which incorporated mushrooms and watercress. And while I had no watercress—alas, because watercress is amazing—I did have arugula. I thought, mushroom arugula crepes. Whoa. Also, why the hell not?

mushroom arugula crepes ingredients

Greene loved to experiment, and over the course of his cookbooks, you find lots of variations on the crepe theme. And due to the fact that hardly anyone outside of Normandy eats crepes any more, I thought, wow, that sounds good. High time for a renaissance, don’t you think?

Crepe batter isn’t hugely different from pancake batter, though it’s thinner. It also lends itself to flavoring and improvisation. This version sautés mushrooms before throwing them in the blender. There, they go together in a flash, achieving the perfect aerated consistency, and a pretty pale green color.

mushroom arugula crepes batter

You pour out a few tablespoons on a hot pan, swirl the pan to get the crepe thin. Let it sit for a minute or so….

mushroom arugula crepes after pouring

…then flip it. Less than a minute later, it’s done, and you place it on a parchment-lined plate, run the end of a stick of butter over your pan, and pour in the next batch.

mushroom arugula crepes after flipping

Now, Mr. Greene said the mix would yield 12 crepes. I don’t have a crepe pan, just a big flat skillet. So I couldn’t do quite the fancy wrist spin I could have done with Dad’s old crepe pan, due to the pan’s weight. I ended up with 6 crepes that are a little thicker, but so, so tasty. I filled them with the remainder of the mushrooms sauteed and dressed up with more arugula and a touch of blue cheese since I didn’t have sour cream. Oh, and I threw on a little bacon, which is totally optional.

mushroom-arugula-crepes

Crepes are a luxurious lovely meal. Your eaters should feel thoroughly pampered; you may want to insist people recline on chaises upholstered in deep red velvet while you play louche German songs in the background. There’s zero need to tell anyone how easy they are. A good thing, as, once you serve a batch, you’re likely to get requests for more.

The Recipe

Sweet Potato Crust Quiche

Jump to the Sweet Potato Crust Quiche step by step or Sweet Potato Crust Quiche recipe.

sweet potato crust quiche

Ok, regular petits et grands choux (I just called you small and large cabbages…in French! I’m all about the culture) must acknowledge I love me some quiche. And while I completely dig a buttery, beautifully flaky crust, that crusts digs me, enough to permanently deposit itself on my thighs. So I’m all over the alternative crust bandwagon. The original recipe that inspired my version appears in the December 2018 Cooking Light magazine. 

One of the things that excited me most was the chance to use a hen of the woods mushroom that found its way into my kitchen. I think my daughter picked it up. This super-crazy mushroom occupies center stage on the cutting board. 

sweet potato crust quiche

Nuts, yes? But so delish. The aroma wafting through the air screamed classic, earthy mushroom goodness. (So often, store-bought mushrooms bring more texture than flavor to a meal.) You just cut all the little floaty things off the top, then dice the the bottom small. The recipe actually calls for 4 cups, so I added a package of store-bought mushrooms, chopped up. 

Sweet Potato Crust Quiche: How To

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, slice the peeled sweet potato thin. I used 2 smallish-to-medium ones here. Line a pie plate with them, then bake at 400º.

Cook times, by the way, represent my biggest departure from the original. The original said to bake the slices for 15 minutes. Mine were nowhere near done, so I gave them another 15. THEN I could gently press them against the sides and bottom of the sprayed pie plate.

While the crust bakes, you sauté the mushrooms.

sweet potato crust quiche

Also, mix eggs with milk (I used cashew) and grated mozzarella with thinly sliced chard. You could also gently sauté the chard leaves with the mushrooms. I like a lot of greens, more than the recipe called for, so I ended up with a green top rather than that nice yellow egg mixture to bind everything together. That said, I did like that the chard kept a little texture—not much, but I’m not big on mushy anything, and particularly greens. I also threw in some Parmesan not called for in the original, because I love cheese and think it makes a quiche more luscious.

 Now, you have all your layers. 

Add the sautéed mushrooms as the first layer. I’d added finely chopped chard stem to the sauté mix, btw; that’s what the little red things are. Also, be sure to salt and pepper everything.

The egg mix goes on top of that.

Then you bake it for about 20-35 minutes, til the eggs are set.

The finished product looks overly dark. Frankly, the pesto called for in the original, which I added, is a mistake. I thought it might be; pesto and sweet potatoes? Weird. But otherwise, this worked out to be a lovely brunch. Most interesting take-away here: the sweet potato crust. You can fill this with pretty much anything. In fact, I’ll experiment with a southern-inspired version later this week, and if it works, I’ll post. Meanwhile, enjoy this comfy, healthy, paleo/gluten-free/vegetarian take on quiche goodness.

sweet-potato-crust-quiche

Sweet Potato Crust Quiche: The Recipe

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Skip directly to the Cauliflower Fried Rice recipe, or for loosey-goosey cooks, the step-by-step.

cauliflower-fried-rice
Cauliflower fried rice accompanies West Lake Fish,
a recipe I need to get up online because it’s really tasty.

I love rice: long grain, short, jasmine, sticky, wild (which isn’t really rice, btw). But I find I’m eating it less and less. Maybe it’s aging; despite my previous admission to loving carbs, I find I’m eating them less.

Now fried rice has long been a comfort food for me, using real leftover rice, and especially if I’m watching something on TV or a movie (and these days, is there a difference??) and somebody busts out the Chinese take-out. But because I eat less rice anyway, the chances of me having a leftover batch to fry up are close to zero. Cauliflower fried rice works as a natural, super-easy substitute.

But look: Cauliflower rice can easily taste like b.s. Real rice squashes under your teeth in a pleasant way. Cauliflower rice, particularly if you go too crazy with the food processor, gets mealy. I don’t buy the frozen version, because the freezing process plays havoc with the water content of foods. So something naturally prone to mealiness will only get more so.

The trick for me is to roast the coarse cauliflower rice ahead of time. Then, at the end, simply toss it with some veggies that you’ve sauteed while your “rice” roasts. Voila: Cauliflower rice with very little hands-on time.

Cauliflower Fried Rice: The Step by Step

First, heat your oven to 400º. While it preheats, chop up your cauliflower florets in a food processor. Before processing, cut the florets to be fairly  uniform size. Don’t overprocess so that they become crumbly or actual rice-sized if you want them to have some texture. Toss the “rice” in a bowl with some sesame oil, spread on a parchment covered sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes, until they get some color.

cauliflower-fried-rice

As the “rice” roasts, get your veggies ready: sliced scallions (keep the white and green parts separate), minced ginger and garlic, and julienned or chopped carrots, peppers, and snow peas. (Or other veggies you have in the fridge and want to use up; just be sure to cut fairly uniform shapes.) About 7-10 minutes before the cauliflower is finished roasting, heat your pan, then add oil. Peanut provides classic Chinese flavor, but a taste-free oil like canola or avocado also works nicely. (Don’t use olive.) Add the scallion whites, garlic,  ginger, and the julienned stuff. Add soy sauce and sake, which will bubble up and be all steamy and fragrant.

Right about the time you achieve maximum bright colored, still crisp sauteed veggies, your timer will ring. Dump the roasted rice right into the pan. Add chopped cilantro (the stems are really nice here; no need to separate them from the leaves if you don’t want to) and scallion greens.

You can top with toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or cashews. Cauliflower fried rice makes a lovely vegan main, or a light, healthy side for the protein of your choice, particularly if you’ve done a classic Chinese-inspired cooking treatment (like this tea-smoked chicken, for instance). Below, note the radish and pea shoot salad on the side: just thinly sliced radish and pea shoots, no dressing, and you’re good to go. Enjoy.

Cauliflower Fried Rice: The Recipe

oven polenta

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies

Jump straight to the Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies recipe.

I love corn, I love cornmeal, and I adore polenta. Steve wants nothing to do with it. So more for me.

polenta with roasted veggies

But everyone knows that polenta is a giant pain in the ass because of all that blasted stirring. I’ve made it in the crockpot; it eliminates the stirring, but also stiffens up the polenta so it’s like those little tubes you buy of ready made polenta at the store. This, my friends, is not the polenta of the Italian grandmother you may have had, or in my case, pine for on occasion. (I had a German grandmother on one side who could bake but preferred riding horses, and a French/Danish/Irish one on the other, who made weird multicolored popcorn balls and sauerkraut. Never polenta.)

Bon Appetit was one of my early cooking teachers, and it remains one of my favorite arrivals. I still like print magazines and probably always will. Leafing through the October issue, I saw what looked like a lovely bowl of polenta and a pan of roasted mushrooms. Most intriguing, the polenta was baked in the oven right alongside the veggies. The recipe subhead reads: “Call it cheating—we call it 30 minutes you don’t need to spend standing at the stove.”

Count me IN.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Prep

Look, why just roast a pan of mushrooms when you also have some eggplant and red bell pepper to use up? And why only add thyme when you also have some rosemary growing in a pot? These are questions I ask myself frequently, especially after a recent mild talking-to that Steve and I gave to ourselves about better using the virtual fruit of the refrigerator.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

I cubed the eggplant and pepper; I’d bought the shrooms sliced, so they were good to go. Roasting veggies is not a recipe thing, people. You put them in a bowl, add some oil, fresh herbs and garlic if you’re so inclined, seasonings. Then spread them on a sheet pan and roast them.
One new wrinkle that the recipe provides, and that I decided to give a try: Begin the roasting process at a measly 325º. I typically go for the max carmelization delivered by a hotter oven, but….why not?

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Veggies in oven, I heated broth and water together to a boil. The recipe specified water only, but long ago I learned that if you can sub something for the water, do it; more flavor.

I whisked in the polenta, covered the pot, then put it right in the oven. The nice low temp ensured that the polenta would cook gently all by itself. Then I sat down and played the piano for a while, because that is an amazing thing to be able to do while you wait for the timer to ring.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: Finishing

After about half an hour, the polenta was ready to come out. When I looked at it and shook the pan, I thought….this cannot be! The polenta was still liquid. But then I stirred it and found that it had indeed started to thicken to the perfect polenta consistency. I removed it, gave it a good whisk, and left it on the stove top.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Now I cranked up the oven—the recipe actually instructs, “Crank up the oven”—to its highest temp, which on mine is 550º. Zoinks! The vegetables crisped up after about 10 minutes.

Then we went on a walk for about 40 minutes, with of course everything out of the oven. In that time, the polenta had set up beautifully: pourable, but not a soup, just that wonderful hybrid of liquid and solid that means ideal polenta. Without the walk, I would have kept the stove on its very lowest setting to give the polenta just a little more incentive to thicken.
But seriously, it was lovely.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Recipe