I was so inspired by a column Mark Bittman of The New York Times wrote for the magazine’s January 1, 2012 issue regarding eating better as a New Years resolution. In the column Bittman went further afield of diets to suggest going semi-vegan. He offered a variety of recipes including loaded miso soup, pasta, beans and tomatoes, bean burgers, spinach and chickpeas and roasted squash with kale and vinaigrette. These are creditable ideas of hearty flavors to help get off to a fulfilling diet of good healthy eating.
Many times friends would remark as to my way of eating… such as, “You eat healthy.” I knew that these friends didn’t mean that I was on a diet of soybeans and miso, as they are friends who have dined with me or taken cooking classes with me. What they meant is that my food was carefully prepared and well balanced with the best available ingredients. That I would go the extra mile to include fresh herbs no matter how long it would take to strip fresh thyme or rosemary leaves from their stems, to always have fresh Italian parsley (or basil or cilantro in season), to pull from the fridge no matter the time of year. The fact is that I was lucky to grow up with a Mediterranean diet – lots of bean, vegetable and meatless pasta dishes, nightly leafy salads and where meat was mostly a condiment except for a once-a-week roasted chicken or the occasional grilled lamb chops, Greek style with garlic, lemon and olive oil.
Bittman went on to write – “let bean burgers stand in for hamburger, leave the meat out of the tomato sauce and make a risotto with the likes of which you probably never had.” Great advise. To get started I selected the timely recipes below – and you my just find yourself eating better!!!
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH SWISS CHARD AND RED PEPPER
White bean stew was a familiar dish in my home growing up. Here I’ve adapted the dish to add Swiss chard, sweet red pepper and optional shreds of cooked chicken for a hearty one-dish supper.
1 pound package Great Northern beans
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, trimmed, deseeded and diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 head Swiss chard, well washed and blanched
3-4 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
Shreds of cooked chicken, optional
1. Rinse beans then soak over night in bowl of cold water to cover.
2. The next day heat oil in a 5 to 6 quart stainless steel or enamel-over-iron saucepan and when hot, sauté the onion, carrots and red pepper. Sauté over medium heat for several minutes until onion is translucent and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the beans and add to the vegetables. Cover with fresh cold water by about 2 inches from the surface of the beans. Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Adjust heat and cook at a brisk simmer with cover ajar for 50 minutes to one hour. There should be enough liquid to cover the beans at all times. About 10 minutes before beans are cooked, season with salt to taste but do not stir.
3. Meanwhile, trim and wash Swiss chard leaves and blanch in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain Swiss chard in a sieve over a bowl to catch the liquid. Coarsely chop the leaves. Stir the greens into the bean soup, adding the reserved liquid as necessary and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes or so until beans are tender and heated through. Stir in shreds of cooked chicken if using. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
LAYERED EGGPLANT, GARLIC AND TOMATO SAUCE
The unusual treatment of dipping the eggplant slices in beaten egg white before frying acts as a shield to prevent the eggplant from absorbing the oil.
Serves 4 to 6
1 large or 2 medium-sized eggplants
2 beaten egg whites
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup basic tomato sauce
1-2 teaspoons fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin sliver
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Rinse and dry eggplant. Cut off root end and rub the two cut surfaces of the eggplant together to draw off the indigestible juices. (This technique eliminates salting the eggplant slices.) Cut the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices and set aside.
2. Beat egg white in a bowl until frothy and set aside. Pour oil about one-inch deep in a cast-iron skillet or deep fryer and heat to 375 degrees.
3. Dip eggplant slices, one at a time, into the beaten egg white. Put 2 to 3 slices at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides; drain on paper towels. Continue until all eggplant slices are done.
4. Lightly oil a baking serving dish and arrange alternate layer eggplant, tomato sauce, garlic slivers, salt and pepper to taste. Prepare up to several hours ahead or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.
5. When ready to bake bring to room temperature, sprinkle over the cheese and bake in preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Serve hot.
FENNEL, ORANGE, ROSEMARY COMPOTE
Chase away the winter doldrums with the refreshing taste of winter’s harvest. Fresh herbs are readily available in most supermarkets throughout the year.
Serves 6 to 8
2 bulbs fennel
3 navel oranges
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into 1/8 -1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Trim fennel, reserving some of the dill-like fronds. With a sharp knife scrape away any outer bruised areas. Cut the fennel into vertical slices then cut into natural sticks. Place in a bowl with fresh cold water and soak for 15 minutes. Drain; pat dry with paper towel and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, peel one orange and cut into 1/8 to1/4-inch slices. Juice the remaining 2 oranges to yield approximately 1 1/4 cups.
3. Warm the oil in a large skillet and place half the fennel in the skillet, then top with half the orange, all the onion and the rosemary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with remaining fennel and orange. Pour over the juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil on top of the stove, then adjust heat and cook at a brisk simmer. When most of the liquid evaporates but the vegetables are still moist, it is done. Serve warm with a roast of your choice.
For more recipes and Lehrer’s blog posts visit www.Savoringthehamptons.com.