Roasted Tomato, Squash & Coconut Milk Bisque

I’m suffering from a major case of autumn envy.

On Facebook friends who don’t live in Los Angeles talk about brisk, sunny days and post photos of themselves wearing adorable trench coats and boots while I sit, sweating, in a limp tank top and stupid shorts. It’s October. It was 96°F today.

So in rebellion, I made soup.

I’ll admit there is something nice about the overlap between summer’s bursting produce and the comforting vegetables of fall. Dark red summer tomatoes are cheaper at the farmers market now, as vendors try to sell off the last of the season, and winter squash has started popping up, with names straight out of J. Crew’s fall collection. Butternut. Ambercup. Acorn.

This summer-fall hybrid time seemed like the perfect moment to try a recipe I pinned ages ago, a vegan tomato-squash bisque made with coconut milk instead of cream from the lovely blog Honest Fare. The tomatoes and squash are roasted first to concentrate their flavors, then simmered in coconut milk and vegetable stock before being whizzed into a smooth puree.

To play off the coconut, I added fresh grated ginger to the mixture and skipped the basil called for in the original recipe. I also used light coconut instead of full-fat, which I think lets the flavors of the vegetables come to the forefront: the bright tomatoes, the sweet squash. It’s a cross between a Thanksgiving-ready creamy butternut soup and a fresh summer tomato soup and I like it so much I’ve made it twice, even during this endless Indian summer.
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Summer Corn, Zucchini & Tomato Grain Salad with Lemon-Avocado Dressing

If there was ever a time to stop by a farmers market or join a CSA, this is it. Sweet corn, zucchini, eggplants, peppers, basil are cheap and plentiful and so much better than the sad plastic-wrapped versions you’ll find at Trader Joe’s. And because everything tastes so good, it takes almost no work to turn it into a quick grain-based salad full of bright colors and crunchy-chewy-soft textures.

My obsession with grain salads has been going strong for the last couple years, to the point where I actually have to tell myself, Do NOT make a grain salad! when pondering my dinner options. I can’t help it: they’re quick, adaptable, easy to load up with vegetables, and make good lunch leftovers the next day. You can eat them warm or cold. You can eat them in a house. You can eat them with a mouse. Box, fox, here, there, anywhere. I love them.

This particular salad uses a little of everything from my late-summer vegetable drawer, mixed with a lemon dressing made with avocado oil. The zucchini is prepped in my favorite way: sliced into shreds and tossed with salt to draw out some of the moisture, giving it a ton of flavor and a still-crunchy texture. The corn is cooked in its husk in the microwave, a new-to-me method that takes less than 5 minutes and has replaced my usual boiling-water bath.

And the grain I happened to have on hand is an odd find — pearled farro, which is a quicker-cooking (and less nutritious) version of farro, a type of wheat. I didn’t have a full cup left when I made the salad for these photos, so I supplemented with some quinoa. Feel free to use whatever grains you have on hand, though the size and texture of grains like barley and farro seem particularly well-suited for this combination.

Play around, use what you have on hand, add a little crumbled feta cheese if you’re feeling crazy and watch out. Because you just might get addicted to grain salads too.

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3 Heart-Healthy Oils to Add to Your Pantry

Remember the 1990s when everybody was terrified of fat and Snackwells were king? The cut-fat-out-of-everything approach turned out to be the wrong one and we’re all the happier for it. Except maybe the people at Nabisco*.

In the spirit of 2012, at the start of this year I decided to add some new heart-healthy oils to my cooking arsenal and I’ve never looked back. Here’s what I keep on hand and why:

Grapeseed oil: As I’ve mentioned, grapeseed oil is a great choice for cooking over high heat, much better than olive oil. Grapeseed oil has a neutral taste and very high smoke point, so I use it for nearly all my cooking. It’s also high in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

Walnut oil: I’ve fallen in love with this nutty, super-healthy oil, which is rich in antioxidants and is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid that decreases blood clotting and inflammation in the body. Beyond that, it just tastes really good — and I don’t even like walnuts generally. Its delicate flavor is lost when it is heated, so I use it in vinaigrettes or drizzled over soup. Store it in the fridge to keep it from going rancid.

Avocado oil: Like olive oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E. This is the priciest oil of the bunch, so I don’t use it very often, but when I do, I keep it simple, drizzling it over vegetables and fish, or mixing it into a creamy cilantro dressing. Avocado oil should also be stored in the fridge; it will get cloudy, but will clear up again when it comes to room temperature.

I also keep an unrefined extra-virgin olive oil on hand, which I mostly use for vinaigrettes (can you tell I love vinaigrettes?) or for drizzling over already-cooked ingredients, since the flavor is so much better if there is no heat involved. And I occasionally cook with virgin coconut oil when its intensely coconutty flavor and scent are appropriate.

In general, look for oils that are expeller-pressed, which means the oil is extracted by pressing the seed/nut/fruit rather than by using a solvent like hexane.

Upgrading your oil collection isn’t cheap, but unless you’re swigging the stuff, each bottle will last you awhile. And your happy heart will thank you.

 

* Is it just me or does the new Snackwells campaign have a Fifty Shades of Grey S&M vibe? Because nothing goes with patent leather stiletto boots like individually-portioned fudge pretzels!

Friday Links: September 7, 2012

Thanks to Amazon Instant Video, I’ve been catching up with Julia. (Follow me on Instagram: anjaliruth.)

 

What I’ve been reading:

Introducing Microgreens: Younger, And Maybe More Nutritious, Vegetables – NPR

I’m Sick of Food in Martini Glasses – Bon Appetit

Regulations do change eating behavior – Food Politics

The Truth About Sugar – Eating Well

 

What I’ve been cooking (on The Kitchn)

Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs

South African Cheese, Grilled Onion & Tomato Panini (Braaibroodjie)

…and thinking about cooking:

Black and Arborio Risotto With Beets and Beet Greens – The New York Times

Fermented Fruit Kvass – Green Kitchen Stories

Charred Fresh Garbanzo Beans

Last week our CSA box from Silver Lake Farms had an ingredient I’ve always wondered about, but hadn’t yet cooked with: fresh garbanzo beans! Still attached to their stems and hidden away in pods, they are the young, chubby-cheeked version of the usual dried-up old chickpeas.

I had to eat one raw, just to see what it was like, and it reminded me of a fresh pea: sweet and a little starchy. I’ve heard they can be treated like edamame, steamed or boiled and eaten out of the pod with a sprinkling of salt, or shelled and whizzed into a green hummus, or sauteed and dressed with a vinaigrette.

I decided to char the pods in a cast-iron skillet with oil and sea salt, and serve them in the pod as a finger food for a Saturday afternoon cocktail gathering that included Hilary and Alexi of Dawdling Darlings. I was running behind in my preparations, though, and didn’t get as much of a char on the pods as I wanted, because they arrived and the dog was flipping out and I had to take the beans off the heat so I could rescue my guests.

Next time I’ll keep the dog in the kitchen and let the garbanzos cook a little longer.

I’ll also be more careful to pick out the very yellowed pods, as the beans inside are a little too dry and starchy for this preparation.

Despite those caveats, this is a dead-simple little snack that is as fun and tasty as edamame, but a lot more interesting.

Get the recipe: Charred Garbanzos at New York Magazine

(Look for fresh garbanzo beans at farmers markets or Whole Foods.)