26 October 2014

Fennel pickle with lemon and ginger

So remember the fennel and orange pickle I made this summer? How about a fennel, lemon, and ginger pickle too?

The only correct answer is YES.

This refrigerator pickle is crispy, crunchy, tangy, and bright. It's super easy to make and so, so good on practically any sandwich you can think of. Okay, you might not want it on a classic peanut butter and jelly, but otherwise? Yes, please.

Putting together a cheese platter? Add some fennel pickle and get ready for something amazing. Is your crisp green salad a little boring? Not with fennel pickle, it isn't. Replace the typical relish and sauerkraut on a Chicago-style hot dog with fennel pickle and a touch of spicy mustard, and I promise, you will be in heaven.

It's possibly even better than the first fennel pickle. You've been warned. Try to give the other people in your household a chance to at least try some before you eat the entire jar yourself.

Fennel pickle with lemon and ginger
based on a recipe from The Joy of Pickling

2 heads fennel plus a couple decorative fronds
1 tsp pickling salt
zest of 1 lemon, julienned
1-inch piece ginger, shredded or julienned
4 peppercorns, roughly crushed
6 tbsp champagne vinegar
juice of 1 lemon plus enough water to equal 6 tbsp
1 tbsp sugar
pint jar
canning funnel
chopstick or flexible spatula

Cut each head of fennel into thin slices. Mix the fennel with the pickling salt in a medium bowl. Set aside for about an hour to let the salt draw out some of the fennel's liquid.

When the hour is up, drain off the accumulated juices. Toss your prepared fennel with your lemon zest, ginger, and fronds. Pack this mixture into your pint jar. It may look like a tight squeeze, but with some careful packing, everything should fit.

Next, it's time to make your brine. Put your peppercorns, vinegar, lemon juice, water, and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about five minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved.

Using your canning funnel, pour your brine into your jar. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace at the top. Use a chopstick or spatula to release any air bubbles, and top up the brine as needed. Now lid the jar, refrigerate, and let everything pickle for at least 24 hours.

Now break out your bread and cheese and lettuce and make yourself a sandwich of epic deliciousness.

How is your fall pickling going? Any new and exciting pickles on your plate?

21 October 2014

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

We are just barely back from a whirlwind trip to a family wedding on the Florida panhandle. We flew into New Orleans, stayed for a day of beignets, coffee, and wandering around, and then set off for that most traditional of American pastimes: driving for several hours across several states to get as many family members as possible into one place at one time.

The wedding -- on a blindingly white and lovely beach -- was tiny but very happy, with toast after toast in both Spanish and English stretching on into the night at the reception. Yay!

We had a great time.

That said, do you know how much vegetarian food there is in the tourist areas of NOLA and the beach (and also the airport)? Not much. Almost not at all. I ate several platters of fish with fried shrimp garnish, a plateful of veal, and an excellent sausage with caraway, but the vegetables were few and far between, and the beans practically nonexistent, except in dishes that also contained large chunks of ham. There were multiple bags of delicious Michigan apples, however!

So when we got home John and I (especially John -- I like meat, even if my digestive system is not happy with me after I eat this much of it) were ready to get some beans and greens into our mouths as instantly as possible. We dug some split peas out of the freezer, got our hands on a big bunch of kale, and went to town.

The secret to making a delicious yet vegan split pea soup is liquid smoke. Well, liquid smoke and plenty of other herbs and spices. Actually, the use of herbs and spices is possibly the secret of vegan and vegetarian cooking in general. You don't have meat flavoring everything automatically, so spice application is super important.

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

1 cup yellow split peas (green will work too)
oil of your choice
1 yellow onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 leek
~4 cups vegetable broth
salt & pepper
marjoram, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, red pepper flake
bay leaf
optional splash of dry vermouth or white wine
1 bunch kale
handful of fresh parsley with stems
1 cup quinoa
10-15 drops liquid smoke

Start by covering your split peas in plenty of hot tap water. Leave them to soak and begin softening for 15 minutes or more before you start cooking. This quick soak will help reduce the overall cooking time.

Warm a slug of oil on medium heat in the bottom of a 3-quart pot. Chop your onion and add it to the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until your onion has begun to soften.

Mince your garlic, scrub and chop your carrot, and wash and chop your leek. Add each vegetable to the pot as you finish chopping it.

Season your vegetables with a few shakes of salt, as well as some marjoram, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flake to taste. Toss a bay leaf in there too. If you don't have every single one of those spices, you can always rely more heavily on what you do have. I just like to use smaller amounts of a variety of different peppers for a nice depth of flavor.

Stir everything together and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes. When all your vegetables are nicely softened, drain your split peas and add them to the pot, along with your vegetable broth. If you would like to add some vermouth, now is a great time to splash some in.

Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until your split peas are completely cooked and soft.

While you're waiting, wash, destem, and roughly chop your kale. Chop up your fresh parsley as well. Put your quinoa on to cook, so it'll be hot and ready when your soup is done.

When your split peas are cooked, take the pot off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree your soup to the texture you desire with an immersion blender. Or leave it chunky if you prefer. It's all good. If your soup is too thick, this is a good time to add some more broth or water to thin it.

Stir your chopped kale and about half of your parsley into the hot soup. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until all the greens are well wilted.

For the final seasoning, add your liquid smoke. This stuff is very potent, so be careful and add a little at a time. This is also the time to add pepper and correct any other seasonings.

To serve, add a scoop of hot quinoa to the bottom of a soup bowl. Top with a ladleful of soup and garnish with the extra parsley.

Hooray! Beans (or pulses anyway), greens, and quinoa, together at last.

Needless to say, we both felt miles better after eating this delicious veg-heavy dinner in our own house.

What's the first thing you want to eat when you get back to your own kitchen after a few days (or weeks) of traveling?

14 October 2014

Eggs with butter-braised leeks and tomatoes

Eggs with butter-braised leeks and tomatoes

These eggs are yet more evidence that you can shove as many vegetables as you want into a meal. Who would have thought that a serving of simple scrambled eggs could hold a full leek and a tomato too? But they can, and they do, and you should try it. The results are phenomenal -- sweet and rich and bursting with leek and tomato flavor.

While these are super easy, they take a half hour or so to cook thanks to the slow collapse of the leeks and tomatoes. Don't worry, though! They are totally worth it. Just have them for a weekend breakfast or brunch instead of on a busy Monday morning.

Because scrambled eggs are so versatile, you can play around with this recipe as much as you like. In fact, you can play around with pretty much any recipe as much as you like, but let's just go with the egg logic here.

If you want to add cheese, I recommend something in the swiss/gruyere/emmenthaler category. Or go whole hog and whack in a slab of fontina or brie. It's all good.

If you want to add more vegetables, I think greens are an excellent choice. Wilt in some spinach or a couple handfuls of shredded cabbage (yes, cabbage -- it'll suck up the leek and tomato flavor beautifully) just before you add the eggs to the pan. Food can always use more greens!

And, of course, you could mix this up even further with some different herbs. I think adding a few branches of fresh thyme at the beginning of the braise would be really something. Just remember to pick out the woody stems before the egg stage.

Serves 2.

Eggs with butter-braised leeks and tomatoes

Eggs with butter-braised leeks and tomatoes

2 tbsp butter
2-3 leeks
2 medium tomatoes
optional dash of white wine or dry vermouth
4 eggs
salt, pepper
fresh parsley
hot toast to serve

Melt your butter in a skillet on medium heat.

Clean your leeks by splitting them longways in fourths, leaving the root end intact. Rinse well to remove any dirt. Leeks are grimy, so be thorough!

When your leeks are clean, cut them into inch-long pieces. Add your leeks to your melted butter and stir to coat. Season with a little salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes. You want your leeks to collapse and get soft and lovely and buttery all over.

While you're waiting, wash your tomatoes and chop them up finely. I used fresh, but you could use a couple of skinned canned tomatoes here if you prefer.

Add your tomatoes to your braised leeks, stir, and raise the heat a touch. Cook for another five to ten minutes, or until your tomatoes have given off all their juice and are starting to look dry. Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry vermouth or wine if you like.

Crack your eggs into a bowl, season with salt and lots of pepper, and mix well. Add your eggs to your pan and cook until they reach your desired texture. Stir everything around frequently for a classic small-curd scrambled egg texture.

When your eggs are done, add a handful of chopped fresh parsley to the pan and stir it in.

Serve your eggs on pieces of hot buttered toast, with another handful of parsley scattered over the top. Drink coffee. Isn't it great?

What's your favorite way to get more vegetables into breakfast? (Perhaps in smoothie form? That certainly works.)