Chard Fritters

Yes, that is an okay I can’t bear to photograph and not eat this for another moment image. I needed a little box lined with parchment paper to nestle these into, and I didn’t have one. If you’re dissatisfied with the aesthetics of this, let me assure you that there’s a far better-looking recipe coming tomorrow.

Chickpeas really are the endless vegetarian miracle. Beyond their charms in whole form, they give us hummus, falafel, and chickpea flour, the last of which assists egg-avoiding vegetarians in all sorts of helpful ways. For example, I put up the chickpea pancakes last week, and now I’m putting up a little fritter.

I saw that the women at Naughty Curry had made some chickpea-flour bound Peppy Greens Pattycakes last week, which had been inspired by Rayma’s greens-potato-breadcrumbs Mustard Greens Cutlets.

I had leftover cooked chard in the fridge, which had come from K.M.K Farms at the farmers’ market. Actually, some of it was the white chard from K.M.K., and the other portion was the tops off a bunch of beets (which are effectively chard) that – I confess – I bought from Whole Foods because they looked so good, and besides, they were only from Bakersfield! It’s not that far away…and they were probably from north of Bakersfield, really…

At any rate, it was two huge bunches of greens I had cooked, and both Chimp and I had grown tired of eating cooked chard and beet tops, so I decided to make them into fritters, which helped the leftover greens disappear tout-suite.

These would be great dipped in yogurt, raita, or with a dab of chutney atop each. And you can do this with cooked or raw vegetables – in fact, I’m planning to inflict this method on some cooked carrots later in the week, and make larger cutlets, more like what Naughty Curry got up to. I’m in a vegetable cutlet mood – but it seems like I’m not the only one, huh?

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Something Simple with Zucchini

This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.

For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)

I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.

Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:

Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.

This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.

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The Spice is Right #2 – Sweet or Savory: Tomato-Fennel-Anise Soup

I loved the black jellybeans and the white spice drops as a kid. And Good n’ Plenty.

When we moved to Michigan, I discovered licorice flavored herb-menthol Lakerol (good luck with the navigation on that, unless you speak Swedish) in the green box. There are a case of them in my pantry, bought from the Svensk Butik in nearby Kingsburg.

It’s always dicey when people ask you if you have gum or mints.

“No, but I have Lakerol.”

“What are those?”

“Licorice-herb drops. They’re strong, though.”

“Okay.” (Beat) Ptoowie. “Yuck.”

How can they spit out my precious Lakerol? Why are anise and licorice flavors so often reviled? I don’t understand it.

When Barbara announced this second challenge, I thought about it for a long time, considering the sesame cookies my mother made, wondering if I could develop a tolerance for caraway if enough sugar was involved, or whether there was anything unexpected that could be done with fenugreek.

In the end, I came to this soup mostly because I feel anise flavors are often unfairly maligned, and like a personal ambassador for them. I’ve heard plenty of people over the years say they hate licorice, and the flavor seems to be disliked in sweet foods by many and avoided in savory foods by even more, perhaps.

The problem, I think, is partly that those who dislike anise flavors see them as all alike. Fennel is that plant that tastes like licorice, and licorice flavors are only for candy.

Except it doesn’t, and they’re not. Anise flavors come in a great range of diversity and intensity. The family includes everything from subtle, herbaceous French tarragon and bracing fresh fennel to the green bite of fennel seeds, the warm scent of ground aniseed and the spicy-hot complexity of star anise.

I love the anise- and cinnamon-flavored tomato sauces I’ve learned to make in Indian cooking, so I thought I’d take that anise-tomato pairing and carry it a little further, by using multiple anise-flavored foods.

This was a one-off, this soup, invented one afternoon and not refined to perfection – if I make it again (which I expect I will) I’ll probably up the tomato content and add a couple carrots to deepen the flavor. If I was presenting this at a dinner party, I might strain it. It would also be wonderful with cream added, but I wanted to keep this vegan. Hot soup is tolerable in Fresno in May, but hot cream soup starts to push it a bit.

(I’ve also noted my farmers’ market sources here – this breaks the Eat Local Challenge a bit, but I had planned to do it ahead of time.)

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Vegan Spring Tacos with Cucumber, Radish and Avocado

I came home from WFM the other day, having gone there for a few staples.

“I found some local food you’ll like,” I said to Chimp.

“What’s that?” he asked.

I held up a snack-food bag. “La Tapatia tortilla chips.” (Hooray, another anthropomorphized tortilla mascot!)

“Cool. Where are they made?”

On Belmont.”

So though the corn for the masa may not be local, those chips, and the tortillas I bought with them, were made within eight miles of our house.

I’ve often seen the La Tapatia trucks driving around Fresno. Fresh corn tortillas are another animal entirely from the store-bought ones that have been previously frozen. I’ve never had the great fortune to have someone hand-make me tortillas from freshly prepared masa, but if it was another magnitude better than those from La Tapatia, I might not be able to go on living.

This dish is definitely in service of my need for cooler food.

We pile a great deal of different things on top of black beans throughout the year to make seasonal tacos – corn and tomato salad in the summer, hot-sauce-laced roasted butternut squash in the fall, shredded cabbage, carrot and red onion salad in the winter. For spring, here’s a crunchy-creamy-cool mixed vegetable salad. You could add crumbled Mexican, feta or jack cheese if you felt like you just couldn’t live without the dairy.

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Chimp’s ‘Dude,You Better Use That’ Squash Soup

Squash_1 My husband Chimp (that’s his longstanding ‘net name) asked if he could guest blog this week while I’m traveling for business. Why not?  Due to my CFS, he’s cooked more dinners in the past two years than I have, though I’m still way ahead on the lifetime total.  So here comes Chimp’s improvised butternut squash soup recipe from last week.

The nice thing about his improvised recipes is that he sometimes does something that would never have occurred to me that turns out wonderfully. Like this – I’ve added traditional warm spices and hot seasonings to squash soup in the past, but never five-spice powder; I just never thought of it. This will come out very thick – if you’d like it soupier, just add water.  So here’s Chimp.

***

With your regular host on the road this week, I’m stepping in to fill your left-field vegetarian needs.  No, I am not an actual chimp and no, I have not been hurling anything that I shouldn’t have been hurling before heading into the kitchen.  Now let’s get to it. . .

Imagine you were blissfully married to someone, but that someone really loved butternut squash.  That might not be so bad for some of us, but for others, squash makes the mouth go limp as does the body when bear-hugged as a child by distant relatives who smell of mothballs and calamine lotion.  This calls for a plan.

The nice thing about butternut squash is that initial prep is pretty easy.  (1) Turn oven on to 400 and insert squash.  (2) Wait for length of two Simpsons reruns.  (3) Remove from oven.  It also keeps just fine till the next day, so one could put this in the oven while making something else one night, stow it in the fridge overnight and have the makings of soup the next night.  Just remember to use it in a timely fashion, as the name would suggest.

Oil for the pan

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

1 tsp. ginger, very finely chopped

1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice

2 red peppers, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 butternut squash, roasted about an hour and minus its skin and seeds

1/2 cup water or broth

salt and black pepper to taste (and I do mean a lot of both)

Heat the oil and the garlic and ginger for about a minute, stirring regularly.  Toss the Five Spice and lots of black pepper in, then add the peppers and carrots.  Sauté until tender.

Add the squash and the water or broth and let simmer for 10 minutes. Put the contents through a food processor or blender and return them to the pot.  Add salt and let simmer another 10 minutes or so.

Serve in bowl to grateful spouse after long day at work.

What makes this is that the Five Spice and the black pepper are strong enough to give the squash a bit more bite without turning the soup into an excuse for too much hot stuff.  (Some of us have been accused of this on other occasions.)  The peppers seem to add just enough sweetness to wake the whole thing up without making it taste sugary. It worked for me.

Sloppy Mobys

Eh, the lighting needs work in that, but the important part of the lighting task is accomplished: you can see what it is that’s being photographed. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Internal Regulation System says: “That’s good enough. Sit down and eat now.”

A few years ago now – yikes, it was probably 1999, back when I was working for Whole Foods, because it was when Play was first out – I made a hot lentil sauté on hamburger buns, inspired by the idea of Sloppy Joes, which I never liked as a kid, but the idea of that kid-ish-inspired food seemed like fun. We called them Sloppy Mobys, because they were vegan, and Moby was very much the uber-vegan symbol at the time. This isn’t meant to strongly resemble actual Sloppy Joes made of meat; it’s the idea I liked.

The idea came back to me recently, so we had something like that this past week, tucked into whole-wheat pita instead of on burger buns, because I couldn’t find any whole-wheat burger buns, and I am that insufferable whole-grain type.

I didn’t even eat most of this as sandwiches, either – after one dinner with it that way, the rest of it I added a little water to and ate as soup – and it was great.

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Red Pepper Sauce

I really like using vegetable-and-nut sauces. Things like this and the Sorites Paradox Pesto add tons of color and nutrition to a plate, and variety to a vegetarian diet. Plus, because there’s little chopping and prep work, they’re usually manageable for me to assemble and contribute to dinner unless my energy is really, really poor.

This can be used to top fresh vegetables (it’s especially nice on green ones, as it’s a bit like a shortcut romesco sauce, except with red peppers instead of tomatoes), liven up a salad dressing or toss with pasta.

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