If you want to offend an Italian, refer to polenta as “Italian grits.” I’m guessing. I’ve never actually had the guts to do this, after getting burned making a similar wine faux pas a few years ago:
Me: I love Primitivo wine. I think it’s made from the same grape as Zinfandel, which we produce in my hometown in California!
Primitivo Winemaker: **look of disdain/horror** We have been making Primitivo wines for thousands of years. It is not the same as this Zinfandel.
Me: …… [nods/ hangs head in shame/ holds out empty glass for more]
But really, polenta – long a staple in Northern Italian cuisine – is just coarsely ground cornmeal. Just like grits. Depending on where I’m living and what’s available at the store, I use Italian polenta and American cornmeal interchangeably. Both are easy and affordable to prepare. Both make a rich, hearty porridge when cooked in liquid. And both absolutely benefit from generous helpings of butter, salt and cheese.
In wintertime, I love to serve polenta with braised short ribs or some other meaty sauce. But as the weather gets warmer, polenta is an ideal base for lighter vegetable-based dishes. This version combines simple roasted spring veggies with creamy, cheesy polenta. I advise making extra for leftovers.
16 oz./ 453 g jarred or homemade marinara sauce, heated
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/ 204 degrees C.
Place vegetables in 2 roasting pans: the asparagus and snap peas in one pan, and the rest of the veggies in another (the first pan might not take as long to cook as the heartier vegetables). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until veggies are lightly caramelized and tender.
Meanwhile, start the polenta. In a saucepan, bring the water to boil over medium heat. Add a dash of salt, then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking to break up lumps. Let polenta cook, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and thick and starting to pull away from the edges of the pan (around 20 minutes). Stir in butter, goat cheese and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the polenta onto plates or shallow bowls. Top with marinara sauce, roasted veggies and grated Parmesan.
*You can vary the veggies depending on what you have, and what’s in season.
All I want, all winter long, is a big bowl of body-warming, soul-soothing soup. And usually I want it instantly, with next-to-zero work on my part. Ramen is the magical concoction that satisfies both of these desires.
I make it a little differently every time, depending on what veggies and toppings we have in the house. It is delicious in its simplest form – broth and noodles – but I love it even more when we have greens, mushrooms, sprouts, soft-boiled eggs and other fixins to add for flavor and texture.
Feeling a little chilly and also a little lazy? Go fix yourself a steaming bowl of broth, noodles and veggies. You deserve it.
Soak mushrooms in warm water until they soften (20-30 minutes); rinse and drain. Slice mushrooms.
Heat sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook garlic and ginger for 2 minutes, then add miso and cook for another minute. Add broth, a splash of soy sauce and Sriracha, 5-star spice (optional) and mirin (optional).
Stir in mushrooms. Bring the broth to a simmer and season to taste.
While broth is heating, boil water in a separate pot and cook noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water; set aside.
Add greens to the broth and cook for a few minutes until wilted.
Put a serving of noodles in each bowl, ladle soup over the top, and garnish with toppings.
People have lots of opinions when it comes to chili. Texas style. New Mexico style. Cincinnati style. Kansas City style. (I’m from California, so I have no real loyalty to any one doctrine.) I love a big hearty bowl of chili when the weather cools down, but until recently, I was convinced that I didn’t much care for vegetarian chili. It seemed like most I tried were just poor imitations of the real deal – more like watery bean soup than something you’d have a cook-off over. But I’ve been trying to make more veggie-rich meals lately, and I’ve made it my mission to put together a vegetarian chili recipe that can stand up to the meat version. This is it. It has a good balance of earthy beans and sweet winter veggies, but for me, the success is in its satisfying spice and thickness. A few notes on this, in case the recipe looks annoyingly complicated:
I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt, and I based my blend of dried chiles (and some other ingredients) on his Serious Eats recipe. This approach takes a little more planning and cook time than just throwing in some chili powder, but it makes for a really nice, complex flavor. If you don’t feel like doing this, you can obviously ignore me and use cayenne, chili powder and a couple chipotles in adobo sauce, and it’ll still be pretty darn good.
The rest of the ingredients are also flexible and forgiving. Use fewer vegetables or different kinds of beans if you like. Leave out the bourbon or masa harina or whatever you don’t have on hand; as long as you have some beans, veggies, spices, tomato and enough liquid to tie it all together, you win.
Make this for a crowd, and no one will miss the meat.
2 dried mild to medium chiles (ancho, pasillo, Anaheim or mulato)
2 dried sweet chiles (New Mexico, ñora, choricera or costeño)
2 dried spicy chiles (chipotle or arbol)
2 canned chipotles in adobo (seeds removed)
2 cups water
2 T. vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and diced
2 small red bell peppers, diced
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. + 1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cans black beans (liquid reserved)
2 cans garbanzo beans (liquid reserved)
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
4 T. tomato paste
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. unsweetened cocoa
2-3 T. bourbon
2 T. masa harina or cornmeal
Fixins: sour cream, cilantro, cheese, lime, hot sauce, tortilla chips, etc.
Remove seeds from dried chiles. Saute them without oil in a Dutch oven for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Place them in a glass liquid measuring cup; add canned chipotles and 2 cups of water. Microwave for 5 minutes. Puree in a blender or carefully pulse with an immersion blender.
In the Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Saute onion, carrots and bell peppers until they start to get tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in sweet potatoes, squash, beans and tomatoes. Add tomato paste and 1 cup reserved bean liquid. Gradually add chile puree, stirring and tasting for spice. Add soy sauce and cocoa powder, plus more water or bean liquid if mixture is too dry.
Bring to a light boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Add more water or bean liquid during cooking if needed. Stir in the bourbon and the masa or cornmeal. Garnish with your favorite fixins.
We’ve been on a grain-based salad kick for a while, combining couscous, bulgar, farro or whatever we have in the cupboard with vegetables, nuts, legumes, herbs and spices for new combos. I think this started because:
Green salads can get pretty grim during the winter months.
Whenever we serve simple salads to guests, no one eats it and we end up with a neverending bowl of wilting lettuce in our fridge.
I like these heartier salads because they have endless variations, and they are a blank canvas for all the spices we have been collecting. I made this one for our last EatWith event and loved the contrast of the different textures and flavors (I think the cinnamon is a must).
It is a daily challenge to make a healthy dinner instead of grabbing takeout from the many tempting places in our neighborhood. And I do love to cook. But when we don’t plan ahead, and it’s 8 p.m. and the hangries are coming on… well, a kebab or a wok stir-fry someone else has prepared starts to look pretty appealing.
Sometimes I give into takeout’s siren song, and I enjoy every bite. But I know it’s not great for our budget or our health to do it as often as it crosses my mind, so I try to have a few easy recipes to draw from that I actually look forward to.
The wok takeout places are our default for fast food: you choose your noodles, your sauce and your protein, and they stir-fry it to order with veggies. It’s tasty and cheap, and because it has vegetables in it, it feels healthier. But I’ve been working on making our own version at home with whatever we have on hand. It’s cheap, it makes a ton – so we have leftovers for days – and it’s delicious and much less greasy than the takeout version.
If we have chicken, I’ll add it to the hot wok first, browning it on all sides, and then adding the veggies. But more often, I’ve been making it with just veggies. If you use a good portion of something hearty like squash or sweet potato, it’s really filling (even meat enthusiast Brian agrees) and a great way to use up produce you don’t want to spoil.
The “recipe” below is just a basic framework. I do it differently every time, and it’s very forgiving and adaptable. I’d love to hear any variations you try!
Fresh vegetables, cut into cubes (suggestions include: squash, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers)
½ can- 1 can coconut milk
1 package rice or egg noodles
Curry paste or powder
Sriracha hot sauce
Ginger, garlic, fresh basil or cilantro (optional)
Heat a small amount of oil over medium-high heat in a wok or large pan.
Add the heartier veggies that will take longer to cook (such as squash and potatoes) and stir-fry until they start to soften a bit. If they begin to stick to the pan, add a little more oil, water or broth.
Add the rest of the veggies, as well as curry paste/powder, soy sauce, ginger and garlic (if you’re using them), and cook for a few more minutes.
Add the coconut milk, stirring well to mix in the spices, and let simmer until the veggies start to become tender. Season with soy sauce and hot sauce to taste.
Meanwhile, boil water for the noodles. When the veggies are just about done, cook noodles until al dente (usually 1-2 minutes).
Drain noodles and add them to the veggies (along with fresh herbs if you’re using them), mixing well and turning off the heat.
I make enchiladas at least once a month, usually when I have a random assortment of leftovers and vegetables I need to use, and I am craving something a little spicy. What I like best about enchiladas is that you can make them a thousand different ways, and they’re almost guaranteed to be delicious no matter what you put in them. My commitment to creating authentic Mexican cuisine is minimal, so it frees me up to try a lot of possible combinations.
My basic formula is:
Put a few cups of cooked beans or leftover chicken, pork or beef into a mixing bowl. (This is an excellent use for slow-cooker pulled pork or dried beans that you soak overnight, then cook on low all day in the slow cooker.)
Mix beans or meat with sour cream (or Greek yogurt), a few generous handfuls of shredded or crumbled cheese, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper.
Lightly sauté some veggies in olive oil.
Take flour tortillas (or corn tortillas that have been softened by microwaving them briefly or sautéing them in a little oil) and add generous dollops of beans or meat and veggies in the center.
Roll the filled tortillas up, and nestle them in a casserole dish, seam down.
Cover with enchilada sauce and bake, adding more cheese on top for the last few minutes.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan and sauté pepper, onions and mushrooms for 5-8 minutes, until vegetables start to soften. Preheat oven to 375° F.
Make the sauce in a separate saucepan: sauté garlic in olive oil for 1-2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing them well with your hands as you go and breaking them up more with a spoon or spatula. Season with spices and let simmer uncovered for about 15-20 minutes. Blend with an immersion blender if you want a smoother sauce.
In a large bowl, mix pinto beans, cilantro, sour cream and half the bag of cheese. Add a few good shakes of salt and pepper, and mix well.
Grease a 9 x 13 casserole pan with a bit of olive oil to keep enchiladas from sticking. Place heaping portions of bean mixture and veggie mixture on a tortilla, roll it up and place it seam side down in the pan. Repeat until the pan is full and you use up all the filling.
Pour the sauce over the enchiladas. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes.
Take the enchiladas out of the oven, remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Return to the oven and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are starting to get crisp on the edges.
Serve with extra toppings: sour cream, jalapeños, salsa, hot sauce, avocado, lime, cilantro, etc.
I have a tendency to cook as though I am feeding the entire Duggar family instead of two normal-ish adults. As a result, we often have leftover grains and beans to get creative with.
This week, we had a ton of extra bulgar and a bag of dried garbanzo beans begging to be used, so I cooked up some tasty (and shockingly vegan, minus the tzatziki sauce, which I do think is a necessity) fritters.
The great thing about this kind of fritter is that you can adapt it to fit whatever you have on hand. We’ve been eating a lot of bulgar lately (quick cooking instructions: 2:1 ratio of broth or water to bulgar; boil liquid, add to bulgar, cover and let sit for 30 minutes), but you could easily substitute couscous or rice. We also happened to have chard and peppers, but you could use zucchini, carrots, spinach, whatever your little heart desires.
Of course I made twice the amount in the recipe below, so I did not actually cut down on the leftover count. You get a fritter! And you get a fritter! Fritters for everyone! I think tomorrow I’m going to add poached eggs to them and call that brunch…