Simple + Seasonal on Second City Soiree: Sunchokes

Come on over to Second City Soiree and check out my most recent Simple + Seasonal post. This month– sunchokes! Ugly little buggers but oh so delicious, especially roasted, as in this simple salad, the recipe for which you can find if you click on over. And did I mention that this salad is vegan too? Check it out!


Tamari Braised Kale

Kale. It’s a vegetable that frequently induces this kind of reaction. But I for one love it.

A favorite neighborhood restaurant helped show me the light. A standard side dish for them is a delicious pile of kale braised in tamari soy sauce. It’s hearty and strikes a balance between saltiness, sweetness, and the bitterness of the greens. It also packs a wallop of a umami punch, probably thanks to that dark, rich soy sauce. Before our daughter was born, my husband and I ate there practically weekly but in the first few months of new, homebound parenthood, I had to figure out how to make that kale at home. Here’s my best effort– not exactly the same in taste, but I love this just the same. I like to serve this on the side of homemade mac n’ cheese just like they do at the restaurant (only there’s is an amazing vegan version!) since it’s not only delicious and helps cut through the creaminess of the cheese, but it also deceives me into thinking that mac n’ cheese is a nutritious meal.

  • 1 large bunch of kale (curly, lacinato, black your choice)
  • 1 small red or sweet onion or 1 large shallot if you prefer
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Remove kale leaves from stems then discard stems. Roughly chop the leaves and rinse in a colander. Do not shake dry– you want the water to still cling to the leaves.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice the onion then add to the skillet. Saute until softened. Turn the heat up to medium high then add the kale leaves. Sprinkle with brown sugar, tamari, and black pepper and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until liquid has evaporated and lightly coats the kale leaves. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Crispy Kale

It’s ridiculous how quickly time has gotten away from me. When I last posted on this blog, we were in the height of our CSA season. Each week, we took home a ridiculous abundance of fruits and vegetables. And even though one might speculate from my blog inactivity that all that produce went to waste, I actually have been cooking at least 5 nights a week; I just haven’t had time to document it here. Oh there are pictures alright as I still took those. It’s just that now that fall is here, and we’re practically at winter’s door, it seems a little silly to post summery ideas like my watermelon jalapeno agua fresca or a poached salmon topped with fresh corn and sungold tomatoes. Guess I’ll just have to keep those in mind for next summer. In the meantime, I’d rather talk about this hearty side dish.

The last few weeks of our CSA season usually means we are up to our eyeballs in various winter squashes. This season was no exception– at least 6-8 delicata squash, one red kuri squash, one sugar pumpkin, and a ginormous butternut squash that makes me tired just looking at it. I just… I just can’t deal with that at the moment.

Delicata squash has been my favorite of the squashes that our farm grows. It’s easy to cut and clean up, not to mention the skin is thin enough that you can just roast and eat it or peeling isn’t a huge difficulty. I chopped up a couple of medium, seeded delicata squash and spread them out on a baking sheet with potatoes, parsnips and leeks from our CSA. I then added some chanterelle mushrooms that I picked up for relatively cheap at the local grocery store. A good drizzle of olive oil, a half palmful of salt and some pepper then a quick mix, and my vegetables were ready to go in the oven for roasting. I decided no other spices or herbs were necessary, just the simple flavors of the vegetables, all nutty and crisp at the edges from the oven’s heat.

But as tasty as those vegetables would be, they could use a boost both in color and in texture contrasts. Seeing a bunch of red kale in the fridge, I decided to chop up the leaves, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne then sprinkled them on top of the vegetables to bake for the last 15-20 minutes of roasting. The kale crisped up, adding some crackly crunch to the vegetables. I loved how all these flavors melded together– subtly sweet squash, woodsy mushrooms, creamy potatoes, and slightly bitter but crispy greens. I piled them next to some pan-fried, pecan coated chicken and ended up serving such a warm and satisfying meal on the first cold, rainy night of the fall. Summer may have flown by, but cozy meals are just one reason why fall is my favorite season.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, seeded and cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small bunch of red kale
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil, add chopped squash, potatoes, chanterelles, and parsnips. Cut the dark green part off of the leek and discard. Split the white/light green part of the leek in half lengthwise then thinly slice crosswise. Add sliced leek to a medium bowl of water and stir around. Use a strainer to remove the leeks from the water and add to the other vegetables. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and mix until all the vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 20-25 min. While vegetables roast, remove kale leaves from stems and discard stems. Chop the leaves then toss with about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Mix together then sprinkle on top of roasting vegetables. Return to the oven and roast for another 15-20 minutes or until kale is crisp and vegetables are tender and browned at edges. Serve while warm. Makes 4-6 side servings.

CSA Count: 5

Delicata squash, russet potatoes, parsnips, leeks, red kale

Curry Coconut Tofu

One summer when I was around 14-years-old, my mother, perhaps sick of hearing complaints about what she’d choose to make for dinner after a long day at work, suddenly declared that I’d be responsible for making at least one meal per week. Undaunted, I eagerly started searching through cookbooks for recipe ideas. Perhaps my mother intended to shut me up about my whining, but the plan backfired– not only did my desire to try things that sounded intensely tasty outweigh my fear about following complicated recipes but since most of my favorite recipes came from Moosewood cookbooks, I decided to become a vegetarian, meaning even more adolescent exasperated sighs of disgust when my mother would try to offer a quick-cooking, meaty stir fry for dinner.

One Moosewood recipe I instantly fell in love with was wedges of fried tofu, sitting on top of a bed of fresh spinach leaves and hot, steamed rice, then topped with a spicy, citrusy soy sauce. I’d eat that all the time if it weren’t for how irritating it can be to fry tofu, its moist interior causing oil to spatter and spray while it sits in an open frying pan. It took a conversation with a vegan friend of mine to turn the lightbulb on in my head– I have a deep fryer now. Why not use that to fry tofu? Sure there’s the hassle of cleaning out the oil afterwards, but here was the potential to have crunchy pieces of tofu without fear of getting burned.

So when My Kitchen, My World made Indonesia the destination for June, I used that treasured Moosewood recipe as a jumping off point for my own ideas on how to increase the complexity and variety of flavors in this simple dish. I took pieces of pressed, firm tofu and thinly sliced rounds of shallot and tossed them in a mix of cornstarch, coconut flour, finely shredded coconut, curry powder, some cayenne for heat, and ground coriander. Into the deep fryer they went and they came out beautifully golden, light and airy. While the tofu fried up, I cooked some brown rice and tossed the spinach leaves and some crisp cucumber in a mix of rice vinegar, canola oil, salt and pepper. Lastly, the magical sauce for drizzling on the tofu: tamari soy sauce, lime juice, chopped jalapeno, green onions, cilantro, and some maple syrup for sweetness. I can’t say that this is Indonesian, but it’s inspired by how Indonesian food balances sweet, sour, spice, and salt. It’s so light and vibrant, basically a vegan summer meal that meat eaters will love too.

Note: To keep this totally gluten-free, use gluten-free soy sauce in place of the tamari. You can also feel free to cut out the steamed rice and make this a salad instead.

  • 5-6 cups canola oil for frying, plus 5 tablespoons divided for spinach dressing and finishing sauce
  • 16 oz firm tofu, cut into 1 inch triangles
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/8 cup finely shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 3 large shallots, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 4 cups spinach leaves, washed and spun dry
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • pinch each of sugar, salt, and pepper
  • juice of 1/2 large lime
  • 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons each chopped green onion and fresh cilantro
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup

About 1/2 an hour before you start cooking, remove the tofu block from its package and drain of excess water. Sandwich the tofu between two plates and top with a bowl of water. Let this sit for half an hour then pour out the water that was squeezed out. Cut the tofu into 1 inch squares then cut those squares in half on a diagonal so you have triangles.

Add as much oil to your deep fryer as required by package directions and heat to 350 degrees.

On a large plate, mix together the cornstarch, coconut flour, shredded coconut, curry powder, coriander, and cayenne. Add 1/3 of the tofu and toss to coat then add to the fryer. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until tofu is golden and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and repeat process two more times. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss the shallot rings in the remaining cornstarch mixture and fry until golden– about 3-4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel lined plate.

While tofu cooks, whisk together the rice vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss the spinach and cucumber in the dressing and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, lime juice, canola and sesame oils, green onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and syrup.

To serve: plate some rice, top with the spinach and cucumber mixture, pieces of tofu and a sprinkle of extra green onion and cilantro. Let your diners drizzle the soy sauce mixture on top to taste.

Sweet Potato Cilantro Pancakes

I love sweet potato fries, but I’m not so great at making them. Sure I could pull out the fryer, but that always seems like more trouble due to the clean up than it’s worth. And as for oven roasting them, well, I just haven’t found a method that works for me.

My oven sweet potato fries, unlike my oven potato fries, always turn out soggy and limp. Make that usually turn out soggy and limp. Fed up with sub par sweet potato fries, I did a quick internet search to figure out how I can adjust my method. I settled on a recipe from a favorite food blog as it included a couple of reader notes to boost up the given recipe’s crispness even more: I cranked up the oven to 500 degrees F instead of 450 and preheated a greased baking sheet in the oven before adding the sweet potato cuts.

Fail. Fail. Fail. These weren’t soggy; they were burnt and charred to a crisp. John tried to be game about salvaging them suggesting I try one. I almost barfed as the burnt taste was overwhelming. Even worse for me, that overcooked sweet potato smell lingered in the house for a couple of days, reminding me of the days when we lived near a brewery and that smell was pervasive in the air all the time.

So when I wanted to use sweet potato as a side I thought about whether there was a different way I could have crispy sweet potatoes but not go down the inevitable failure route that for me is the sweet potato fry. And then it occurred to me– sweet potato pancakes! I could shred a yam, squeeze out the extra moisture, and make little cakes to fry up in a pan.

Since this was a side for an Asian style entrée (will post that next week), I decided to spice these pancakes in a similar fashion. I added a touch of curry and five spice powder along with some chopped fresh cilantro. I then made a dipping sauce out of soy sauce, minced serrano pepper, garlic, and plenty more cilantro. These little cakes were crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and a great balance of sweet and spicy.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 1 large yam (that’s the orange flesh tuber), peeled
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Tamari soy sauce
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

Shred the yam, either in a food processor or with a grater. Sprinkle the shredded yam with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and mix together in a colander. Let this stand for 15 minutes then squeeze out extra moisture either in a clean kitchen towel or in paper towels. Add the dry yam to a large mixing bowl and mix in the egg, garlic, curry powder, five spice powder, cilantro, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Sprinkle in the flour then mix together. Pick up about 1/4 cup of the mixture and form into a patty. If the patty holds its shape, you’re good. If it’s too loose to stick together, add a little more flour until the mix binds together well.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat while you shape the pancakes. When the oil ripples, it’s hot enough to cook the pancakes. Cook pancakes, four at a time, for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary to avoid burning. Remove cooked pancakes to paper towel lined plates to drain excess oil, sprinkling with more salt and pepper to taste.

While pancakes are frying, mix together the dipping sauce ingredients. Serve in a small bowl with the pancakes so that diners can add as much or as little sauce as they want.

Yields 6-8, 4 inch wide pancakes.

Vegan Refried Black Beans

My grade school didn’t offer hot lunches on a daily basis. Instead, about once a month, we’d get a little brown envelope sent home with us to take to our parents to make a payment for a special hot lunch day– usually in the form of hamburgers from McDonald’s or fried chicken from Brown’s Chicken. My favorite hot lunch day was taco day with tacos from Taco Bell. Well, it was my favorite until two things came to my attention: 1) I witnessed a Taco Bell worker regularly wipe his nose with his hand while assembling our tacos on site and 2) the idea of lard in the refried beans.

Being a foodie, I realize now that lard is not always the enemy, in fact, it was amazingly creamy and delicious while smeared on a piece of toast during a Herb Farm bacon dinner last year. I still can’t bring myself to cook with it though just out of the sheer ick factor that I still instinctively get from it.

So when I make Mexican food at home, refried beans have not been an ingredient and lately, I’ve been feeling like it’s key. It adds texture and spice that I can’t otherwise achieve with beans left whole. I’ve tried out recipes that substitute bacon fat for lard, but is it really necessary to have animal fat to achieve that creamy texture?

If using canned black beans, then the answer is no. Knowing that the liquid in a can of beans is just the beans starchy cooking liquid, I decided to let this do the work for me as far as keeping the beans moist when mashed. I cooked some chopped green onions, minced garlic and jalapeno in canola oil, then added two cans of black beans, one drained and one with its liquid. I then seasoned the beans with dried oregano, a lot of cumin, and a dash of ground cinnamon. Finally, to give the beans a bit of that smoky flavor that comes from bacon or lard, I added chopped chipotles in adobo sauce. I took a potato masher to the mix and once the beans were mashed to a refried bean consistency, I reduced the heat and let the starchy bean liquid cook down.

What can I say? These beans were just as creamy and smooth as refried beans, but more flavorful and spicy than your canned pinto variety. I spread this on quesadillas, tostadas topped with grilled chicken and avocado, and on griddled flour tortillas then smothered with tomatillo salsa and fried eggs for breakfast. These beans are delicious, versatile, and vegan!

  • 4-5 green onions, white and green parts chopped finely
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced (about 1- 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • Two 15 oz cans black beans, one can drained
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 medium chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped
  • hot sauce to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • canola or vegetable oil

In a medium skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil over medium heat. Add the green onion, garlic, and jalapeno and saute until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add the can of drained black beans and the second can of black beans with its liquid.  Mix in the spices and chopped chipotles. Take a potato masher and mash the beans until no whole black beans are left. Reduce heat to medium low and let the liquid cook down, stirring occasionally for 10-12 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated and beans are of a creamy sauce consistency. Take a taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste.

CSA Count: 1

Jalapeno (but on those huevos pictured, the count goes up to 3 with tomatillos and cilantro.)


Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Growing up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t really go out on picnics. After all, I lived near a huge shopping mall, and amidst many strip malls, box stores, and chain restaurants. The closest thing to a picnic opportunity was going to outdoor concert venues: 4th of July fireworks set to the 1812 overture at Poplar Creek, jazz concerts at Ravinia, alternative rock festivals watched from lawn seats or in Grant Park. When I think about it, the abundance of concert venues that offer lawn seating in Illinois is kind of odd; at least I haven’t located as many out here in Washington.

Last month, we packed up a picnic to take with us to a concert from the National at Marymoor Park. Although I don’t know if that venue is the best place for that band as they could probably benefit from a closed in, dark, and more intimate setting, it was still a great concert and I loved revisiting those lawn seat concert memories, but this time during a cool, slightly misty early fall evening. We ate leftover summer rolls, cold chicken fingers, and this lemon orzo salad.

Admittedly, I wasn’t enthusiastic about this pasta salad at first since it contained some of my least favorite vegetables– tons of summer squash and long, flat Roma beans. I also threw in there sliced sweet onion, a pint of sungold cherry tomatoes, and plenty of fresh basil. Since this pasta salad would serve a dual purpose as part of our picnic at a homebrew/knitting get together earlier in the day, I was definitely enthusiastic about this pasta salad’s ability to spread out the CSA love, using such a huge portion of vegetables we already had in over-abundance in order to feed friends.

But all that changed once I tasted this orzo salad with its crisp yet cool vegetables, the bright and acidic flavors from lemon zest and lemon juice, the burst of sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes. And who can’t get excited when greeted by such lovely, summery colors of yellow, cream, green, and orange? I think I’ve found a new picnic staple with this light, refreshing, yet hearty orzo salad.

Note: For added flavor, cook the orzo in vegetable stock instead of water. Make a non-vegan version of this orzo salad by tossing in some crisped prosciutto (bake in your oven on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes) and a handful of feta. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  • 16 oz dried orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound mixed summer squash, yellow and zucchini
  • 2 large garlic clove, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons) and divided
  • .75 pounds Roma beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium sweet, white onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and garlic and cook until tender. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes.

While squash cooks, bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add the Roma beans and cook until crisp green, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool completely with cold water. Then add to the squash mixture.

In a large mixing bowl, add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Whisk in about 1/3 cup of olive oil until emulsified. Add the sweet onion slices and garlic and let this sit for about 10 minutes. Add cooled, cooked orzo, squash and Roma bean mix, oregano and pine nuts. Toss until well combined. Add the cherry tomato halves and most of the basil, then gently mix until tomatoes are distributed throughout. Season with salt and pepper to taste then serve, sprinkled with remaining basil.

CSA Count: 5

Squash, Roma beans, sweet onion, sungold cherry tomatoes, basil

Garden Count: 1

Fresh oregano