Posts Tagged ‘Vegetarian’
Sweet potato fries is a food trend I am wholeheartedly happy about (unlike some other trends…cupcakes and cake pops, I’m looking at you). Because as much as I love regular french fries, I’ll take any excuse to trade them in for anything that has a higher sugar content. If their rising popularity then means that I can make this sugar-addict substitution at almost every restaurant/bar/diner that I go to, well, then all the better.
This trend has circulated through the internet, in the most common form of baked sweet potato fries. Although they never, ever compare to their deep-fried counterparts that I so greedily order every time I see them on a menu, I make them. A lot. In these many trials of baking batches of sweet potato fries, I’ve learned certain ways that I like them, and certain ways that I don’t. This recent post by My New Roots made me reconsider how I made them even more, and has sent me on a renewed frenzy of at-home efforts of baked sweet potato fries. At the end of all this, I figured why not share my newly gained and (obviously) valuable wisdom with you all? So, I present to you, in order of importance:
My Thoughts on Making the Most Ideal Sweet Potato Fries Possible (considering their unfortunate position of not being deep-fried)
1. Space. You can’t just dump a pile of cut sweet potato fries onto a baking sheet and expect them to develop into anything other than soft, steamed piles of mush (this is a situation where I actually do not want mushy vegetables, surprising as that may be). I know it seems like a pain to individually place them onto a baking sheet, and perhaps even having to use two baking sheets in order to leave enough space between each fry, but trust me! It’s worth it, always worth it.
2. Size. This is an obvious one, but the fries should be cut into as close a size as possible. It’s not so much how big or small the fries are, but how big or small they are in relation to one another. Otherwise you’ll end up with pure-crisped-black carbon sticks alongside fat and still raw hunks of sweet potato. This can sometimes be tricky, I mean have you seen sweet potatoes? They are a big misshapen bunch. You just do the best you can, that’s all you can ever do.
3. Soak (& Dry). I got this one from My New Roots’ post, and I think it’s awesome. She recommends that you swish the cut, raw fries in a bowl of water to release some of their starches. This allows them to crisp up better. However, in doing this, it is of the utmost importance that you thoroughly dry the fries, and preferably let them air-dry for at least a good 10 or 15 minutes or so while the oven is heating up. While this is happening, I rinse and dry out the bowl (thoroughly), and use this bowl to swirl the dried fries with the olive oil, salt, and either cornmeal or cornstarch. It makes for a nice little system.
4. Cornmeal or Cornstarch. Ah, the coating. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you try to coat the fries with, because they’re never going to taste deep-fried and they’ll never have that crispy-crunchy-bite like they do when deep-fried. This is a sad fact of life, but if you can’t get over it I don’t know why you’re stooping to the level of baking your sweet potato fries in the first place. Anyway, the cornmeal idea came from My New Roots, and it does indeed lend the fries to have a certain crunch to them. I think I prefer the cornstarch though, as it kind of makes the surfaces of the fries puff up and get a little airy. Once again, these coatings only go so far, but they add a certain nice edge that regular, non-coated fries don’t have.
5. Good Dipping Sauce. Sauce makes everything better (especially sub-par things like baked versions of fried things). I’ve been pairing my sweet potato fries with a thick tahini-honey sauce for awhile now, and the combination is seriously awesome. Really, if you haven’t tried dipping your sweet potato fries in tahini, you’re missing out. (If you need convincing of this flavor combination, I’ve got the legitimacy of Ottolenghi on my side.) I’ve posted a really sloppy recipe that I made up below, but it’s the type of thing I go by taste with.
So, that’s about it. I think these little tips actually make for some pretty good baked sweet potato fries, so much so that every time I make them I consume a whole baked sweet potato for myself along with the entire small batch of tahini-honey dipping sauce. Then again, I always eat the entire baked sweet potato whether or not it was done well or not, so perhaps this is saying more about me and my eating habits than it is about the qualities of these fries. But you get it! These taste good.
(Oh, photos! What strange lighting you have! Sigh.)
Some more thoughts on … San Francisco & Santa Barbara: So in approximately 18 hours, more or less, I will be in a car with two of my closest friends headed for that great yet confusing state of California. It’s my last spring break of college, and my friends and I decided that this time would be best spent in the pursuit of a little sunshine and good food. We’ll be in San Francisco for 4 days or so, then down in Santa Barbara (a place you may remember that I go to every so often). I know San Francisco is a food mecca, and I’ve gotten the chance to go to some great places in a brief trip there last summer. But you all (Linda! Em! Etc!) know of probably a lot of great food bites. I’ve got Little Star and Zachary’s Pizza written down. Anything else you want to throw my way? Hopefully I’ll make a little post over next week, but if not, see you in a little bit. x
One Year Ago: Crustless Kale and Quinoa Quiche
Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted & Inspired from My New Roots
1 medium-sized sweet potato, scrubbed, sliced into equally sized 1/4- to 1/2-inch sticks (no need to peel)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons cornmeal or cornflour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill a medium-sized bowl with water. Add the uncooked sweet potato sticks, swish them around for about a minute or so, then remove and thoroughly dry. Allow to air dry for at least 15 minutes or so (while the oven heats up or while you throw together the dipping sauce).
Rinse out and thoroughly dry the same medium-sized bowl you rinsed the sweet potato sticks in. Add the air-dried cut potatoes and the olive oil, and swish them around together with your hand to coat evenly. Add in the cormeal (or cornstrach) and salt, and continue to mix so the potatoes get coated evenly. Place the sticks on a greased or lined baking sheet, spaced evenly apart so they’re not overlapping. If you run out of space, use two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until they are golden brown, puffed, and crisp looking. I honestly don’t think it makes too big of a difference to flip them halfway through (especially considering the extra work it requires), but if you’d like, towards the end you can shake the pan gently so that some get turned over. Enjoy while hot!
Tahini-Honey Dipping Sauce
As I said before, these are really rough estimates. I usually just mix together a couple fairly big spoonfuls of tahini, a little spoonful of honey, a good squeeze of lemon, and enough water to get the right consistency. Obviously I can’t just say that though, hence why you see a little recipe below. But adjust to taste.
3 tablespoons tahini paste
1-2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Combine the tahini, 1 tablespoon water, honey, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth, streaming in a little more water as necessary until you have a thick consistency. Adjust for taste and thickness.
So, things have been going. Some more than others, but everything’s been going. I’m in the midst of a deadline for the first draft of my thesis—which! I have promised myself not to whine on about on here because really, I can barely stand the endless amount of lamenting from my peers regarding their theses and academic pressures and figuring out which one of their many life options they should pursue following graduation blah blah blah and I’m one of them, so I can only imagine what it must seem like to any “outsiders.” (And in case you’re wondering, by outsider I mean irrelevant normal people in the real world, obviously.) But, seeing as that thesis and those other life worries have basically been swallowing my life whole in periodic cycles throughout this semester, I’m sure all of that is bound to make it’s way on this blog in some way. Like it just has in this whole paragraph.
Another way it’s going to show up: through this photo that can accurately be titled both “As a break from writing on a Saturday night I tried to clean my room” or “I have too many books/magazines”—depending on how you want to look at it.
In other news, I’m thinking I should start a new feature on this blog: Mushy Humble Peasant Dishes that Make Me Feel Frugal and Satisfied. I’m joking, but it certainly feels like I’ve already started something like that, doesn’t it? I’m still in the mode where, when I head to the store, all I feel like grabbing from the shelves are vegetables. The only thing I feel like doing with them when I get home is cooking them is either roasting them or cooking them on the stove top until they’re mushy enough to puree in a soup, or in this case, spoon over a big pile of rice.
I think I’ve mentioned it briefly once before, but my boyfriend’s going to school in Beirut, Lebanon right now. Because he knows it makes me happy, during our nightly chats he’ll often tell me what he cooked for dinner or ate at a restaurant out with friends. For example, he’s already mentioned to me four times now how delicious crushed up mint leaves are in green tea (it gets all cloudy and delicious, he says), and he loves describing the mezze plates he shares with friends. One night, he praised a dish his roommate had made to share between the two of them. He described it as green beans “with the stems ripped off” (ha ha) stewed with onions and spices and tomatoes. He called it loubieh, and apparently it’s a pretty big dish there. Coincidentally, I had had this Saveur recipe for green beans stewed with chickpeas and tomatoes for quite a while.
It’s easy, really, and the process is not much more than how Waylon described it. I liked the idea of adding in chickpeas, as as the Saveur recipe indicated, so I went along with it. But seriously, not much more is going on than some vegetables bubbling away in a pot for about an hour. Season well, use good spices, good olive oil—and don’t be stingy with it—and you’ll end up with a plate of good things going on. It’s things like this meal, or the sun that has been peeping through clear skies in the morning, that have been the ones that are “going.” But I guess when you’ve got a good plate of food for dinner and a little sunshine, the other things don’t feel so overbearingly idle, at least momentarily.
One Year Ago: Juicy Blood Orange Cake
Lebanese-Style Stewed Green Beans with Chickpeas (Loubieh Wa Hommus)
Adapted from Saveur
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspons cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 pounds green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes with juice
In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add in cumin seeds and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and onion, season liberally with salt and pepper (talking about at least a teaspoon of kosher salt), and cook, stirring freqently, until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and paprkia and cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste is slightly caramelized and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans, chickpeas, 2 cups of water, and the tomatoes, making sure to crush the whole tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot mostly with a lid (leave room for steam to escape). Simmer, stirring about every 10 or 15 minutes, until the beans are very tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors “meld.” Serve over rice or bulgar, with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
Obviously, the appeals of plain, vegetable mush soup have not been lost upon me yet. But don’t be fooled—this one is extra special, and by extra special I of course mean that it is more unremarkable than the rest. Maybe even the most unremarkable! This is not your average run-of-the-mill vegetable mush, no, no, it is mush of the most thrown-away, despised and barely tolerated vegetable. Celery.
I would pity the vegetable and its unpopularity more if I myself weren’t part of the unappreciative masses who consume celery stalks for only one of 3 purposes: 1.) as a base for stocks and soups (which uses only a couple stalks—the rest inevitably languish in the vegetable drawer), 2.) for ants on a log (don’t judge, that stuff is good), and 3.) to munch on some fake calories to keep my stomach distracted while I find something substantial to eat for dinner.
I honestly don’t know why I picked out celery-celery soup from all of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes in her Around My French Table cookbook to make. Maybe the day I decided to make it I was feeling extra sensitive and my empathetic instincts to side with the underdog has finally made its way onto my dinner plate.
All I know is the day I wanted to eat it for dinner, I couldn’t, because the celery root required for the recipe was no where to be found in the 3 nearest grocery stores near me. I will save your sanity, and mine, by not dwelling on the fact that I live in a culturally-forsaken area that doesn’t stock celery root in February. So, fast-forward two weeks from that night when I found some celery root in a health food store (that curiously and deliciously sells kombucha in bulk…awesome), and that is when the glory of this soup, or maybe more accurately lack thereof, began.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet by my ramblings, the double celery in the name signifies the presence of both celery stalks and celery root. There’s also some apples in the soup, which add some sweetness, but they don’t detract any of the main flavor. Besides that, there’s not much to it. Let’s just say that this is a soup of humble origins. (A random tangent: I actually love cooking really humble soups that require no more than water or broth, onions, and another vegetable or two. I think it goes back to when I had to read Night in middle school, and Elie Weisel wrote about how he ate some version of soup—aka water and onion—for his daily meal most days. I don’t know, there’s just something about eating a whole bunch of gooey cinnamon cake squares that immediately propels a person in the opposite direction afterwards.)
Anyway, what you end up with is a puree that’s light, and with sweetness and earthiness from the flavor of celery. I’m not going to add any whistles or bells to it, because after all we’re still talking about celery here, but it’s pretty good. Add on a drizzle of heavy cream, and some homemade curried croutons and curried apples—they take minutes to make and add a completely different, delicious dimension—and you’ve got yourself something even better. Something, dare I say, even actually special!
One Year Ago: Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
Celery-Celery Soup with Curried Croutons
From Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Serves 8, more or less
2 tablespoons butter
3 celery stalks with leaves, trimmed and sliced into rough 1/2-inch pieces
2 large onions, chopped
2 sweet apples (such as Fuji), peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound celery root, trimmed, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
6 cups vegetable broth
heavy cream, creme fraiche, or whole-milk yogurt, for serving
2 hefty tablespoons butter, separated
1/2 teaspoon curry powder, separated
2 sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a dice
bread (country, white, wheat, whatever) tore or cut into a dice (enough to make 1-2 cups)
To make the soup, melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the sliced celery, onions, and apples and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the onions are beginning to get translucent but not brown, about 7 minutes or so. Stir in the celery root and the herbs. Add the broth, turn up the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn down the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the celery root smashes easily when pressed against with the back of a spoon. As Dorie says, if you can, pull out the bay leaf and thyme—but good luck with that.
While the soup is simmering, make the curried apples and croutons. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add in 1/4 teaspoon curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the diced apple and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. (These apples won’t get crispy like croutons, but I hardly think that’s the purpose of them.) Taste for seasonings, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, melt another hefty tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add in another 1/4 teaspoon curry and once again, stir until fragrant. Add in the bread cubes and cook, stirring frequently, until the croutons are browned and crispy. Taste for seasonings.
When the soup has simmered sufficiently, transfer the mixture in small batches to a blender and puree the soup until very smooth. Reheat and season to taste for salt and pepper. Serve, garnishing each bowl with a heavy drizzle of cream (or a big dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt), a big spoonful of the curried apples, and a sprinkling of the curried croutons.
I haven’t really been feeling like meat lately. I’ve never been a vegetarian before and I highly doubt that I will ever become one, but it’s funny how I can go weeks without preparing meat in my home or even ordering it at restaurants. It’s probably even sillier how this has come about in the dead of winter, when all people can go on about are “rib-sticking,” hearty meals. You know, the ones with meat. Sure, there’s the cost and convenience part (vegetables and grains are very cheap and they aren’t going to poison you no matter how you cook them), but I think most of all it’s just my mood lately.
And yes, I think it has something to do with that winter mood I’ve gotten in the past week or two. I’ve been walking a lot lately, more and more each day just to listen to music or hear the news. (And, I have to say, I just got this little app on my phone that tracks how many steps I take each day and I have gotten very personally competitive with increasing the amount every day. I’m not ambitious or competitive in any means when it comes to grand-scheme-of-life things, but if it’s a tedious, absolutely useless thing that has no real implications on my life, I get pretty into it. Rationality has never been a strength of mine.) After I get home from walking a very long route from my school’s campus, I feel like cooking, but those heavy meals give me no appetite. So turn to soup.
I ended up on Smitten Kitchen’s carrot soup with crisped chickpeas, tahini, and crisped wedges of pita with za’atar. Simply because have you seen the ingredient list for that soup? It’s simple, really simple, and that really appealed to me at the time. But as Deb even admits in her post, the soup, good and nourishing though it is, is not of the most dynamic kind. That’s quite alright though, in part because I don’t think every meal can be a revolution, but more importantly because what goes on or with the soup more than makes up for it.
There’s the spiced, slightly-crunchy chickpeas, that get roasted in the oven with some olive oil, a hefty couple pinches of salt, and some spices. Deb calls for cumin; I used garham masala just because it includes cumin, is delicious, and I have way too much of it (I think it was a good call). I think the idea of using them in place of croutons is pretty genius—I love croutons or something crunchy to contrast smooth soups, and using chickpeas adds a dimension I probably would have never thought of. Then there’s the tahini drizzle, which is the basic, all-purpose sauce of tahini, lemon and a little bit of water. It’s awesome on this soup. I dolloped some full-fat yogurt on the first bowl of soup I had but thereafter quickly realized: tahini sauce > yogurt, at least on this soup. And! Let us not forget the wedges of pita, baked with olive oil and za’atar until crunchy. I used them to scoop up piles of the soup and chickpeas, but they can also be crumbled over the top to form a type of crouton. When it comes to the garnishes, it all goes and they’re all good.
I think these garnishes are a nice reminder that any meal can become special by the addition of a few thoughtful details. Because although I haven’t been into heavy meals, I have been into flavor. And obviously not like duck-fat flavor, but like tangy-sour-bitter-sweet-texture flavor. (Perhaps this is why I have been particularly inspired by Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem lately.)
To get the recipe for the carrot soup and all the garnishes, I’ll just direct you over to the original recipe. Deb does a really nice job of organizing the recipe, much better than I could, into making everything from start to finish in about 45 minutes to an hour. But! One thing I would urge you to do is really layer the olive oil and za’atar on the pitas. She calls for it sprinkled on the pitas, but the middle eastern restaurant I go to makes a paste of the oil and spice mixture, and spreads it on thick. I didn’t do that, but I definitely had a heavy hand with the za’atar. Do it; the spices taste great scooping up the soup.
One Year Ago: Challah