Fasoulakia Salata

(Photo snapped in the doorway of my office’s kitchen.)

Back when we lived near D.C., we used to throw this great party called the Gyroscope. Chimp threw it annually for a motley bunch of graduate students before we were together, and when I came on the scene, the guest list expanded to include a bunch of food professionals and there was more and better food to go with the copious booze.

It’s not necessarily easy to mix academics and foodies – you have to find sneaky ways to get them to connect, or else you’ll end up with a party where the two groups will eye each other warily across the room all night, like a middle-school dance.

So two things that we did were this:

First, we made everyone put on name tags when they arrived – it didn’t have to be the wearer’s actual name; if they preferred to go incognito, they were free to party under an assumed name. In addition to the name, they were asked to put on the tag an interesting fact about themselves (or their adopted persona).

Second, we put an electric skillet on the coffee table and put someone in charge of getting the halloumi started, because we knew the Cardinal Rule of Fried Cheese: most people are perfectly willing to talk to total strangers if it will result in getting fried cheese.

The food at the Gyroscope was loosely Greek, though as in that region, influences from neighboring countries tended to sneak in, so it was a bit of a liberal interpretation. I made homemade spanikopitakia, a whole mess of falafel, hummus, and these green beans, which have long been a summertime favorite, among other things, the last year we threw the party.

My good friend Syn-D’s son Ben, who was about two at the time (and now a Weblos…yikes), ate a bunch of these off of a plate his mom gave him, then stood next to the table where the bowl was, and delicately took one after another after another out throughout the course of the party. Nobody minded. It’s pretty hard to mind a two-year-old voluntarily gorging himself on green beans.

So when presented with the sheet for our office 4th of July potluck, I thought to myself, Okay, whatever it is, it needs to be easy, cooling, and vegetable, and this immediately came to mind. It was a hit – at least one person took some home that night – and the potluck as a whole was roundly recognized as our best in recent memory. (A good deal of that might have had something to do with the sugar buzz caused by my co-worker bringing in Whoopie Pies, made from a recipe in the latest issue of Cook’s Country – phenomenal – but I’ll take a little of the credit too.)

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Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes with Zucchini and Poblano Peppers

Welcome to Zucchini World. We’re into the time of year where it seems like we will all be overwhelmed by squash if we drop our guard for even a moment. I had a pile I got from K.M.K Farms at the farmer’s market, and then more arrived in the CSA box, so I had to dispatch some tout-suite, because everybody knows if you leave it in your fridge unattended it will multiply.

This reminded me of my favorite enchilada recipe a little bit, but it’s different enough with the addition of the peppers to be an interesting new preparation. The poblanos have some heat and a little bitterness, which is a nice foil to the sweetness of the zucchini.

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Vegan Zucchini, Tomato & Onion Gratin

“Do you like zucchini?” my co-worker asked, peeking into my office.

“Of course!” I said.

She put the two globe zucchini she was carrying down on my desk.

“Are these from your mom’s garden?”

“Yes…”

“Oh, they’re still warm!”

“She just picked them.”

“Thank you!”

I had to keep working, of course, but looking at the two of them sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about what to do with them. Later in the afternoon I popped out to her desk.

“How about a zucchini and tomato gratin? How does that sound? It’s pretty standard, but I think it’d still be good.”

“That sounds great. Do you need more?”

“Oh, no. I’ll just make a small one to start. I have a red onion – maybe with some onion too?”

She nodded in agreement. I nodded back.

Since today was Wednesday, I stopped by the farmer’s market to get tomatoes. I grabbed four of an heirloom type called Black Russian and headed home to do the assembly.

Well, the two zucchini and the four tomatoes was enough to make a 9×13 pan worth, and I think I could have spread the vegetables out on a jelly roll pan and done just as well. This may not be a true gratin – no breadcrumbs, no cheese – but the idea is there. If I did this again, I might add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic to the cornmeal mixture.

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Vegan Carrot Spice Cake

This started out as a riff on the famous Vegan Chocolate Cake, which I have helped to further the cause of but for which I can certainly not claim credit; it seems to have been circulating at least since WWII, long before there was a word “vegan.”

When my in-laws were here. I made a vegan spice cake by an old recipe I had that was taped inside a vintage cookbook I bought some years ago, and it didn’t come out as well as I remembered.

Having time to try again, I thought I’d apply the spicing from that failed cake to the method from the Vegan Chocolate Cake, replacing the white sugar with brown, the cocoa with spices, and adding raisins. I poured over orange juice instead of water as the liquid. It worked quite well, and was a hit with my mother-in-law, and even with Chimp the Raisin Hater.

It was a good riff, so I thought I’d see how far I could take it. I hardly ever make sweet stuff – don’t really think it’s helpful to have a big tempting pile of white flour and sugar product around, as it just tends to get eaten if it’s there, as in any house – but I wanted to see what would happen if I added some carrots. And almonds. And different spices with a slight Indian slant.

So this ended up as a vegan spice cake with carrots, raisins and almonds. It’s not actually a carrot-cake-tasting cake – one cup of carrots isn’t enough to make it truly carroty. The carrots are a background flavor instead of a predominant flavor. I might try it without carrots next time in order to get a more straightforwardly-flavored, less complex “plain” spice cake.

I have reduced the liquid in the recipe I give below slightly from what I did; I used one cup orange juice in the cake pictured, and it’s just a touch too moist in the middle. I’ve reduced the liquid in this recipe to three-quarters of a cup before, with good results, so I feel confident recommending that.

This would look nice in a shaped pan like a Bundt, but as this was my first attempt (and I was out of spray oil) I stuck with the easily-greaseable cake pan.

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Carrot-Beet Salad with a Leek-Lemon Vinaigrette

Last week, when I was making the carrot-beet cutlets, I thought a carrot-beet salad might be good – and nice to look at, too. Both vegetables have an earthy sweetness; in this recipe, carrots’ milder tone help counter beets’ dark intensity.

Just carrots and beets seemed a little dull – I thought about making this a grain salad, with quinoa or couscous, but I wasn’t in the mood, so in the chickpeas went. I think it would work well, though, to toss this with one of those, with or without the chickpeas.

I had this for dinner, tossed (along with a little bit of extra dressing) with some red leaf lettuce from our CSA box. The carrots are also from T&D Willey, the beets are from K.M.K Farms, and the mint, lemon and leeks are from Il Giardino Organico.

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Lunch with the In-Laws

It’s a real pleasure to have someone else around to cook for and eat with. Chimp called his parents at the hotel in the morning and said, “Come on over when you’re ready; Jocelyn’s making lunch.”

He had cooked some lentils the night before, and I figured it would be quick work to turn them into a simple soup with some garlic, olive oil, zucchini and lemon juice. I had planned to make another batch of chickpea-flour based fritters this week, too – I had cooked the carrots in anticipation of that – and then I realized that I also still had the beets I’d roasted. The cutlets became carrot-beet cutlets.

If I had blended the cutlet mixture less, I could have had an orange cutlet studded with red squares of beet, which would have been pretty spectacular. However, I think achieving that might have required something like the food stylist trick of placing the individual chocolate chips strategically in the specially-shaped ball of dough before baking.

The accompanying salad contains lettuce and cucumber from our CSA box and sunflower sprouts from Nueva Frontera Produce at the farmers’ market.

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No-Kebab Kebabs: Vegetables with Lemon-Herb Tofu

I’ve been trying to put together a lemon-herb tofu for a while, and I think I’ve finally got it.

The original inspiration for this was kebabs. However, you will notice that no sticks were harmed in the making of these vegetables.

They did not go on sticks for a couple reasons. Mixed skewers are beautiful-looking, with all the vegetables arrayed in a colorful progression, but no matter how evenly everything is cut, one foodstuff inevitably cooks before another, resulting in burned something and nearly-raw something else. Additionally, I don’t own a grill (it seems somewhat pointless when my favorite food is beans) and I find that placing the vegetables flat on a baking sheet under the broiler works very well.

I usually make something like this at midsummer, when there are plenty of appropriate vegetables. I especially like broiled small tomatoes, their skins puckering and their flesh slumped into a juicy mass that collapses over the other ingredients when tossed together. In May, though, there are no such ideal tomatoes on offer, so we limited ourselves to what was locally available: the yellow squash and red onions from our CSA box, plus zucchini and fennel from the farmers’ market.

Despite the lack of tomatoes, these came out very well. The summer squashes developed a buttery, almost nutty toasted flavor, the onions softened and caramelized beautifully, and the fennel yielded its crunch just enough to provide an interesting counterpoint to the softer vegetables and the springy-textured seasoned tofu.

I’ve been wrestling all week with how to describe the red onions used in this recipe – I would call them green onions, because they have their soft stalks on – except they’re red on the bottom. Green red onions sounds confusing. Perhaps they’re immature red onions, because they haven’t been dried for storage?

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