Pumpkin-Lentil Stew

For me, the scariest thing about learning to cook plant-based food was accepting that it’s more than ingredient swaps, it’s a new process. Learning vegan cooking forced me out of my comfort zone of using what I call “crutch” foods—the easy things we were all taught to reach for—like cheese, eggs, cream and chicken broth. The only way to overcome this hurdle of making foods in new ways is to practice, and if you have vegetarians or vegans coming for Thanksgiving, the time to practice is now. There are plenty of plant-based convenience foods out there today, but they aren’t always an even swap and it’s important to also know how to cook real, whole foods without needing those processed substitutes.

A couple of years ago, when Comfort du Jour was new, I went over the top with a Savory Sausage Mac & Cheese (baked in a pumpkin). It was fun to serve and tasted as good as you’d imagine. This year, I decided to do something visually similar but with all plant-based ingredients, and this is that dish.

Loaded with nutrients, satisfying and perfectly festive for fall!

Unlike my earlier creation, which was stuffed with rich, decadent cheese, heavy carbs and calorie-laden pork sausage, today’s recipe is entirely plant-based. It also happens to be free of gluten and nuts, so it’s suitable for people with those dietary restrictions, too. I start thinking about dishes like this around mid-October, because my husband’s daughter is a committed vegan, and as I see it, we can dread cooking for loved ones with dietary restrictions (and believe me, they will feel it at the table), or we can adjust in a way that is as fun as it is nutritious.

Who needs a bread bowl when you can have a pumpkin bowl?

This effort was also a reminder that a meal doesn’t have to be heavy to be satisfying; after we finished our pretty pumpkin supper, both my bacon cheeseburger-loving husband and I acknowledged that we were “stuffed” (in a good way). We didn’t miss what wasn’t in it, and no wonder, because what was in it was hearty and full of texture.  

There are three main components of this dish: roasted pumpkin (which did double duty as a serving vessel), creamy pumpkin bisque (without actual cream, to keep it vegan) and a mixture of cooked lentils and rice with sautéed mushrooms and aromatics.


If you prefer, you could swap in another sturdy winter squash, such as buttercup or acorn. If you wish to serve the stew inside the roasted squash, be sure to choose one that will sit flat on a plate. Or you could simply serve the soup in a bowl and save time by using canned pumpkin. I found it comforting to roast the pumpkin. My mini pumpkins were small—about six inches across—and I roasted them at 350° F for 45 minutes, then scraped out some of the soft pumpkin pulp when they were cool enough to handle. I was careful to keep enough pulp in the bottom of the gourd to prevent my soup from leaking, and enough along the top cut edge to keep the carved top from falling inside


The pumpkin bisque was the simplest part of this, made with the scooped-out roasted pumpkin, enough vegetable broth to blend smoothly, and a couple of other ingredients to punch up the flavor a bit. Roasted garlic adds a depth of flavor. The carrot-turmeric juice is something I bought for smoothies, and it worked great here for spice and color. And the smoked maple syrup is a fall/winter staple in my smoked maple old fashioned cocktails, and I liked it here for a slight touch of sweetness but mostly the smoke. I might have added some plant-based creamer here as well, but I never have it on hand unless I have a vegan guest coming. Honestly, the soup was great without it. If you have some almond milk, go for it!


Finally, a mixture of cooked lentils, kale, sautéed mushrooms and aromatics gave my dish all the texture and fiber it needed to satisfy our hungry bellies. I also added a portion of wild rice blend to my stew, but next time I would sub roasted Yukon potatoes for extra chunkiness. If gluten isn’t a concern, I think cooked wheat berries would also be great in this, for a little snappy texture.

This was a time-consuming project, partly because I was multi-tasking and making it up as I went along. Next time, it’ll be a breeze, especially since I’ve made a click-to-print recipe card below to guide me (yes, I make those for sharing, but I also use them myself)! Please, don’t be intimidated. Cooking is as fun as you make it. By the way, every part of this dish can be prepared in advance. Simply warm the stew and pumpkins before assembling and serving.

We scooped a little pumpkin flesh with each bite of the stew.

A word to the wise, though—if you decide to make this for a vegan guest at Thanksgiving, you might want to make enough for everyone. This is exactly the kind of dish to make the meat eaters jealous. 😉

Pumpkin-Lentil Stew

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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This is a satisfying, autumn-themed dish that also happens to be vegan, gluten-free and nut-free. It would make an excellent main course for a vegan Thanksgiving.


Ingredients

  • 4 mini pumpkins, tops removed and cleaned (see ingredient notes below)
  • 1 bulb roasted garlic
  • About 1-1/2 cups cooked lentils (see notes)
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice blend (substitute cooked wheat berries or cubed and roasted Yukon potatoes, if you wish)
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided (you’ll use a little for each thing you saute)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. carton cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into chunks
  • 1 rib celery, strings removed and chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (I used a red one for color)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • A fat handful of kale (substitute with double the amount of spinach, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup carrot-turmeric juice (or substitute more broth)
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked maple syrup (substitute with regular maple syrup or omit)
  • Roasted, shelled pumpkin seeds for garnish

Ingredient notes: The pumpkins I used were about 6-inches across and more squatty than round, primarily because I intended to use them as serving dishes. If you only find pie pumpkins, you may want to cut the tops a little deeper so it isn’t awkward to reach a spoon down into it at serving time. If you prefer to serve in bowls, any roasted pumpkin or winter squash will be fine, and you’ll need about 2-1/2 cups of pumpkin pulp. You could even use canned pumpkin puree, and one standard can should cover it.

I used dried brown lentils for this dish, and cooked them in veggie broth for extra flavor. To save time, purchase lentils already cooked, such as canned, or those sold by Trader Joe’s.

Directions

  1. If using canned pumpkin puree, skip to Step 3. If roasting the pumpkins, pre-heat oven to 375° F, with rack in center position. Spray or brush a small amount of olive oil inside the pumpkins and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. Replace the tops, capping the stems with a piece of foil to prevent burning them.
  2. Roast pumpkins for 45 minutes, until flesh can easily be scraped with a fork. Let them rest until cool enough to handle, and then use a small spoon to gently scrape out some of the flesh, keeping about 1/2-inch intact on the bottom and sides of the pumpkins’ interiors so they hold their shape. Transfer the scooped flesh to a blender container, and set the roasted pumpkin bowls aside at room temperature.
  3. Combine pumpkin with roasted garlic (squeezed from it’s paper shell) in the blender container. Add veggie broth, carrot juice (if using) and maple syrup. Pulse a few times to combine, then puree until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set it aside.
  4. Place a skillet or wide pot over medium heat and swirl in a tablespoon or more olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add onions, celery and jalapeno. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until slightly softened. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. Swirl in another tablespoon of oil and cook the mushrooms until they become soft and give off most of their moisture. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and set it aside. Add a final tablespoon of oil to the pot and saute the chopped kale until it has wilted and softened. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer the kale to the same bowl with the other vegetables. Add lentils to the vegetable bowl and fold gently to combine.
  5. Transfer the pureed pumpkin base to the same pot used for cooking the vegetables, and place it over medium-low heat. Gently stir in about half of the lentil-vegetable mixture, then add more until the stew seems balanced to you. Add more vegetable broth if you wish, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  6. If the pumpkin bowls have cooled completely, slide them into a warm oven on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes. Ladle the pumpkin-lentil stew into the bowls, sprinkle with roasted pepitas and serve.



Vegan Black Bean Burger

At our house, we enjoy doing Meatless Monday—for the good of the environment, yes—but mostly for the health benefit of eating more vegetables and whole grains, and to test recipes that I’d like to serve when my husband’s vegan daughter visits. When I set out several years ago to “make a better black bean burger,” I tried every which way to make it flavorful and simple, but I kept running into the same problem: the burger looked great on the bun until I bit into it, at which point it just squished. The black beans must be smashed or processed to hold together in a patty, but once they are, the texture is just, well, lost.

This time, however, I turned to a new ingredient that I’ve seen and tasted before but had never employed in my own kitchen—textured vegetable protein. With the increased popularity of and demand for plant-based foods, it has become easier to find ingredients such as  this one in a regular supermarket, rather than trudging to a health food store or taking a chance with an online purchase.

TVP is a true blank canvas of vegan foods.

This product, known to plant-based eaters as “TVP,” is a defatted soy product, with a pleasant, chewy texture after rehydrating, and a neutral, almost sweet flavor that can be shifted to the cuisine of your choice. In this recipe, my first-ever shot at cooking with TVP, I wanted to boost the protein content of my Southwest-inspired black bean burgers, but I was also looking for an assist with the texture. The TVP packs a whopping 12 grams of protein per serving, and it only takes a few minutes to soften up with water or broth, but it holds its shape after rehydrating. In other words, it’s exactly what my smashed black beans needed to keep their composure. I found this product in one of our larger supermarkets, but you can also find it online from Bob’s Red Mill.

The other trick I used to give my burgers more heft was oven-roasting the beans before pulsing them into bits. This technique has worked for me in the past, but at that time, I was still using egg as a binder, which made it vegetarian but obviously doesn’t fly for a burger claiming to be vegan. This time, to keep it truly plant based, I further modified my old recipe and substituted a “flax egg,” which was nothing more than ground flax meal combined with the reduced liquid from the can of beans (I could have used water, but I’m always looking for a way to add one more bit of flavor). The flavor boosts came from a generous spoonful of my spicy coffee rub, a few sun-dried tomatoes and the last tablespoon of chipotle puree lingering in the fridge, left over from my pollo chipotle.

The color was right, the texture was good, and the flavor was totally on-point for the burger lovers in this house. Which is both of us, of course!

The textured vegetable protein and oven-roasted black beans gave these all the texture I crave in a burger!

Ingredients (makes about 5 burger patties)

2 cans organic black beans, drained and rinsed (reserve liquid from one can)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on beans before roasting

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and rough chopped

1/2 cup roasted salted cashews (from a can is fine, or roast them yourself)

1/2 cup textured vegetable protein, dry from the package

About 5 sun-dried tomatoes, cut up into bits* (see recipe notes)

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth*

1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*

1 Tbsp. spicy coffee rub or other favorite smoky-spicy seasoning*

Medium-grind corn meal, for crusting the burgers before frying

Canola oil, for trying the burgers

Soft vegan buns and favorite toppings, for serving


*Recipe Notes

I learn many things from my trials in the kitchen, and one shortcut occurred to me a moment too late. My photo steps reveal that I rehydrated both the sun-dried tomatoes and the textured vegetable protein with low-sodium vegetable broth. Eventually, I combined them, so my recommendation is doing them together in one bowl to save time and dirty dishes.

Low-sodium vegetable broth is one of my core pantry items and I frequently use it for rehydrating ingredients or cooking dry goods such as rice or quinoa. My philosophy is, why use water if you have an opportunity to elevate flavor?

Flax seed is a nutritional powerhouse, but dieticians are quick to point out that our bodies can only benefit from it when it has been milled. You can buy flax “meal” pre-packaged, but it turns rancid rather quickly. If you buy a bag of seeds, you can keep them fresh longer and mill them in a blade-style coffee grinder as you need them. To make a flax “egg,” combine a tablespoon of the meal with an equal part of warm liquid. The mixture will thicken into a gel-like substance that works great as a binder.

My spicy coffee rub was excellent for flavoring these burgers, and I’ve included the recipe for it on the downloadable PDF if you’d like to try it. Otherwise, use any spice blend you like for grilling. If you are committed to making the burgers vegan, confirm the ingredients of your spices. You might be surprised at some of the stuff they sneak in there. 😉


Instructions

There are several components of these burgers, and most of them can be prepared concurrently, or the day before. My instructions are broken out into each component, and I trust that you’ll manage the prep however it works best for you.


Prepping the black beans

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat. Spread black beans out in a single layer and let them air dry while the oven heats. When it comes to temperature, drizzle olive oil lightly over the beans and roll them around to lightly coat them. Season with salt and pepper, and then roast the beans for 30 minutes or until they have a dry, slightly crumbly exterior.


Making the flax egg

Reduce the reserved black bean liquid in a small saucepan until it’s reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the milled flax into the liquid and stir to blend. Let this mixture rest for about 15 minutes until it’s a thick, gelled mixture.


Rehydrating the TVP

Heat vegetable broth in a small saucepan or the microwave. It should be at least the temperature of hot bath water. I hydrated the sun-dried tomatoes separately, but I could have added them to the bowl with the TVP. I’m still learning here! Pour the hot broth over the mixture, stir to moisten and let it rest at least 10 minutes to fully rehydrate. Refrigerate this if you are working ahead.


Prepping the veggies

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onions, peppers and garlic until softened and slightly caramelized. I usually judge this not by time, but by appearance. When the steam rising from the skillet is replaced by the sound of oil sizzling, they are done. If you still see a lot of steam, that moisture will come back to cause trouble when the burgers are in the skillet. Divide the mixture (at least visually) into halves.


Putting it all together

All ingredients should be cooled to approximately room temperature before mixing. It’s OK if they are cold or lukewarm, but do not process the beans and veggies if they are still hot because this will result in a mushy mixture that won’t hold together well in patties.

To the large bowl of a food processor, add all the roasted black beans, half the sauteed veggies and cashews. Add the spicy coffee rub (or substitute) and chipotle puree. Pulse a few times, just until the beans are about 1/3 their original size and the mixture looks uniform in texture. Don’t process it to the point of being smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the remaining vegetables and TVP mixture to the processed bean mixture and fold to combine. Add the flax egg and fold to blend. Shape the mixture into burger-shaped discs that are the same size as your burger buns (they will not shrink during cooking as meat does). Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with cornmeal and press on them to adhere it. Put the burgers on a plate or cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or two so the patties set up for cooking. Remove from fridge about 30 minutes before frying.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Add canola oil to a depth of about 1/4” and place the burgers in the skillet, keeping enough distance between them for easy access to turn them. Cook each side until crispy and browned, about 5 or 6 minutes. Take care when turning, as they will fall apart if you “flip” them as you would a meat burger.

Serve with your favorite plant-based toppings and enjoy!


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


Finally, Falafel!

If at first you don’t succeed, wait a year and try again. Yes, I know that isn’t exactly how the adage goes, but it seems to be my M.O. when I get discouraged over failed recipes. Falafel has confounded me as much as it has enchanted me, from my first-ever taste of it at a now-closed corner diner near the campus of UNC-Greensboro to my most recent experience of it at Miznon in New York’s Chelsea Market. It was that most recent taste that inspired me to give falafel another go.


I love the texture of these crispy little gems and especially the vibrant flavor that is jam-packed into every delicious bite. Falafel is a Middle Eastern specialty, made from ground-up chickpeas and a ton of fresh herbs and spices. It is usually shaped into balls or disc shapes and fried until crispy, though I have also seen oven-baked falafel, which has a somewhat pale and less visually enticing appearance. Undoubtedly, it can be made in an air fryer—and perhaps someone reading this will chime in to share their results of that method. I have tried both fried and oven-baked falafel a few times but got increasingly frustrated with each fail, and then put off trying again for longer and longer stretches of time. How could this be so difficult, I wondered? The dish eventually moved to the top of my culinary “bucket list,” and I’m pleased to say that I finally won the falafel challenge.

As it turns out, falafel was only difficult to make because I was resisting the instructions that were right in front of me the whole time. I tried to make them from canned chickpeas (which doesn’t work) and then I tried making them with canned chickpeas that were subsequently roasted and dried out in the oven (which also doesn’t work). When I finally gave in and tried them the correct way, they turned out terrific! What is the correct way, you ask? Using chickpeas that have been soaked but not cooked.

My favorite thing about cooking—besides the obvious enjoyment of delicious food that’s made cheaper at home than you would buy somewhere out—is the science behind it, and it turns out there is a perfectly good reason that soaked, uncooked chickpeas are the best bet for perfect falafel. Thank goodness for J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the culinary genius who runs “The Food Lab,” and a frequent contributor on the Serious Eats website. He is sort of an Alton Brown for the new generation, and his scientific explanation on falafel is the best I’ve read to date. Here’s the upshot: soaking rehydrates the chickpeas so you can work with them, and it keeps the sticky starches trapped inside. Those starches get released when the chickpeas are cooked during frying (or baking), and that starch release is what helps the falafel rounds hold together. If the chickpeas are already cooked (as in canned), the starch is spent, and you end up with a mess. My ridiculous attempts to return canned chickpeas to a firmer, drier texture by roasting them in the oven didn’t work because they were still already cooked. This time around, I followed the science offered by J. Kenji, and guess what I ended up with? Near-perfect falafel.

Crispy on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, and sooo much flavor!

In a weird twist of fate, the best way also happened to be the easiest of the methods I had previously tried. Soaking the chickpeas took almost no effort, then I drained and rinsed them in a colander, rolled them around on paper towels to wick away excess moisture, and then pulsed them in my food processor with a fat handful of fresh herbs and generous amounts of Mediterranean spices. Further following J. Kenji’s advice, I kept my falafel small, using my large cookie dough scoop to compact them into rounds, which I fried up nicely in a shallow skillet. For the love of flavor, why did I wait so long to follow the rules?

As much as I love falafel in a wrap sandwich, I also love just dipping and snacking on them.

Falafel is great as a pick-up snack, dipped in tahini-lemon sauce. We enjoyed it as a sandwich filler, nestled with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles into a warm, whole grain soft pita. My husband and I agreed that the flavors in this revelatory batch of falafel could stand to be a little bolder, and maybe even a bit more garlicky. I will play with the seasonings a bit on my next go, and you can bet that I won’t be waiting a year.


Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed

4 cups cold or room temperature water

Several scallions (white and green parts)

About 2 cups loosely packed fresh Mediterranean herbs* (see notes)

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and rough-chopped

1 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds*

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Several grinds black pepper

A few teaspoons flour (if needed), as a binder for overly wet falafel mixture*


*Notes

Falafel is of Middle East origin, so the Mediterranean herbs work best here. Parsley (curly or flat), mint, dill and cilantro (also called “fresh coriander”) all work great in this recipe, but I would not recommend basil, thyme or rosemary. It is essential that you use fresh herbs for this recipe, as they contribute texture in addition to flavor. After rinsing the fresh herbs, take time to also dry them on a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towel, so that you don’t add unwanted moisture to the falafel mixture.

I prefer the intensity of freshly ground seed spices, but if you only have pre-ground cumin and coriander, it’s no problem. Use slightly less, perhaps 3/4 tsp. of each.

Ideally, the chickpea mixture will hold together without the flour binder. But I found that a few sprinkles of flour were necessary to pick up lingering moisture. I used a tablespoon of garbanzo bean flour, but all-purpose or rice flour would probably work also.


Instructions




Moroccan Zucchini “Boats”

One clear advantage to growing your own garden vegetables is that you have a wider range of varieties and sizes of veggies to choose from. I can find zucchini, for example, at my local supermarket, but only smallish ones that can be fried, steamed or skewered. Because this year we gave in to the deer and decided to forego attempting our own garden, I had to go to the farmers’ market to get a large zucchini, like the ones everyone gave away for free this time of year in my hometown. I appreciate that unlike grocery store produce, whatever I bring home from the outdoor market was probably hanging on the vine mere hours before.

You can make a generous meal from a foot-long zucchini!

On our last visit to the market, I was specifically on the lookout for large zucchini because I wanted to make a “boat” out of it. I have enjoyed stuffed zucchini for years, dating back to my hometown days and first apartment meals. Through the years, I have made them with sausage stuffing, ratatouille flavors or Italian-themed ingredients, depending on what else I had in the fridge at the time.


This time, I kept it entirely plant-based and gave it a spicy Moroccan twist. Israeli pearl couscous found its way into the mix, along with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and garlic. I added a robust harissa paste for a big afterburn flavor. It was a double win for me—I got my wish for a hearty garden-based meal, and it was a fun flavor twist that my heat-loving hubby enjoyed, too.

 

Harissa is a staple seasoning of North African cuisine. It packs a spicy punch, so use it sparingly.

Ingredients

Large zucchini, halved lengthwise and insides scooped out

Olive oil spray

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup Israeli couscous* (see notes)

1 cup vegetable broth

1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped

4 or 5 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Half of a large can of whole peeled tomatoes with puree*

1 tsp. harissa paste (more or less to taste)

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. melted vegan butter*

Fresh chopped parsley for garnish


*Notes

Couscous is essentially really tiny pasta, and for this recipe, I used a blend from Trader Joe’s that combines Israeli (“pearl”) couscous, which is larger than regular couscous, with various other ingredients, including split baby garbanzos, orzo (another tiny pasta) and quinoa. Any type of cooked grain would work here, including bulgur, freekah, wheat berries or even brown rice. You need about 1 cup cooked.

I almost always have San Marzano tomatoes in play in my kitchen, and half of a 28 oz. can was about right for this recipe. Use a standard can of diced tomatoes or, obviously, go for fresh! 🙂

There are so many good options for non-dairy “butter.” I am fond of the olive oil version made by Country Crock. It looks, melts and spreads just like dairy butter.


As usual, Nilla is ready and waiting for a piece of vegetable to fall! ❤

Instructions

Here’s a quick visual walk-through for making this yummy, plant-based zucchini boat. Steps are listed below, along with a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. Enjoy!

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F, with rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then score the inside to scoop out the seedy flesh. Cut the flesh up into chunks and toss with salt in a colander to remove excess moisture.
  3. Drizzle, brush or spray olive oil onto the cut sides of the squash and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay the squash on the parchment and roast for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.
  4. Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package instructions, using vegetable broth in place of water to afford additional flavor to the dish.
  5. Heat a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of olive oil and sauté the onions until softened and translucent. Add mushrooms and zucchini chunks to the pot and cook until tender. Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl.
  6. Add another swirl of olive oil to the sauce pot and simmer the tomatoes and garlic over low heat until the tomatoes are soft enough to break when pressed. Stir in harissa paste and adjust seasonings to taste. Return the onions and mushrooms to the tomato mixture, along with the cooked couscous and the reserved salted zucchini pieces.
  7. Melt the vegan butter and toss with the panko crumbs, salt and pepper.
  8. Spoon the couscous filling into the zucchini shells. Top with buttered panko crumbs. Return the zucchini boats to the oven and bake until crumbs are browned and crispy. Serve with chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Delicious and satisfying!



Ratatouille Lasagna Roll-ups

The summer season brings all the garden-fresh vegetables I love, including zucchini and eggplant, which I would definitely be growing in our little garden plot if it weren’t for the deer. Year after year, I have tried in vain to grow my own veggies, and the increase of deer activity on our property and that of our neighbors has been almost humorous. Almost.

Gardening, for me, started as a fun, nature-loving adventure but has rapidly declined into a frustrating drama, and now we have this elevated box in our yard, where we cannot grow anything but marigolds and basil, which have proven to be the only things our local deer detest. Last year’s garden was demolished, right down to the flowers and budding fruit of the eggplants and even the jalapeno pepper plants (which I had been told deer would never eat). We have tried all the folk remedies on the internet—human hair, shavings of bar soap, peppermint oil, so-called deer repellent, and even a weird concoction I made from rotten eggs, cayenne and dish soap. That last remedy had near-catastrophic results, but I won’t embarrass my husband again with that story (you can read it here, if you’d like). This year, we didn’t even bother planting a garden, and I’m contemplating turning the raised bed into some kind of wildflower bed. I get exasperated just thinking about it.

To make up for a lack of homegrown veggies, we are regularly visiting our weekly Cobblestone farmers’ market, which features a variety of vendors offering fresh produce as well as pastured meat, eggs, organic mushrooms, jams and preserves, and even handmade alpaca wool products. It’s a fun way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning, and this past weekend, we came home with everything I needed for a new batch of ratatouille. Ah, my favorite veggie-centered summer meal!

Classic ratatouille ingredients = zucchini, eggplant, pepper, onions (leeks this time), tomato and herbs de Provence!

Me being me, though, I cannot simply chop up these ingredients and make a “traditional” ratatouille, which would be a rustic casserole-meets-stew kind of thing. I have to twist it up! My culinary muse inspired me this time to combine the French classic dish with another favorite comfort food—lasagna. I figured that I could infuse my herbs de Provence seasoning into a ricotta mixture with lemon zest and some grated cheese and that it would be the “glue” to hold the other ingredients together inside a rolled-up lasagna noodle. The eggplant and zucchini would be sliced and roasted, and the red pepper would be worked into the sauce. This is how my mind sees a pile of ingredients, and the end result was exactly as I had imagined, both visually and in perfect summer flavor. Delicious!

Inside, you can see and taste all the flavors of a summer ratatouille!

This reimagined one-dish meal took mostly time to put together; it was not at all difficult. I cannot say definitively how much time is needed because I was cooking all day, in between work emails and other home tasks. I will say that it was mostly passive time; I was either waiting for things to lose moisture or to finish roasting or to boil or bake. The rest was just slicing, chopping and stirring, and there’s no particular order that must be followed. You could even make everything a day ahead and just assemble and bake it the next day.


The entire ratatouille-meets-lasagna project weaved itself nicely into my busy day, and because each ingredient received its own treatment, the simplest way I can describe it is to share the process of each component. I’ll share a PDF version of the recipe at the end if you want to try it, but I’ll let the pictures tell the story in today’s post. Here we go! 🙂


The Ricotta Filling


The Eggplant


The Zucchini


The Red Bell Pepper


The Onions


The Tomatoes

The only classic ratatouille ingredient remaining is tomato, and though my ingredients photo displays a big, lovely heirloom tomato from the farmers’ market, I thought better of it when I began cooking my ratatouille. The heirloom tomato would have been full of seeds and too juicy for this dish, so I cast it aside and used half a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead to produce a fusion sauce, together with the roasted red pepper and a healthy dose of garlic. This sauce was similar to the roasted red pepper sauce that my husband, Les, discovered last year, but it leans more toward tomato than pepper. It was exactly what this recipe needed.


Putting it all together

Assembling and finishing my ratatouille lasagna roll-ups was a cinch! I par-cooked the lasagna noodles until they were soft and flexible, spread the ricotta mixture onto them, layered the eggplant, zucchini and leeks and rolled them up!


First ratatouille of the summer! 🙂

Oh, and that plump, juicy heirloom tomato I mentioned found its way instead to a BLT, which we enjoyed as a separate meal on freshly baked sourdough bread with local greens and some pastured pork bacon (also from the farmers’ market).

Who needs a garden, anyway? 😉



Tex-Mex Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Tomorrow at daybreak, about 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the strangest of all American traditions will occur. Punxsutawney Phil, the notorious groundhog (or woodchuck, as he is known in my old neck of the woods), will be dragged out of bed by the scruff of his neck and ordered to break the news to the faithful fans who have traveled there to get a verdict on winter. The mayor of Punxsutawney will hold this oversized rodent up to the crowd as Mufasa did in the presentation of Simba, and poor Phil will probably be some combination of terrified, confused and sleepy. Depending on whether he sees his shadow, we will either have an early spring or six more weeks of winter. I can never remember which scenario leads to which outcome, but how do we really know what he sees, anyway?

Such a curious thing, to imagine this whole scene is a valid means of setting expectation for what’s to come. Surely these folks have calendars. Winter ends March 20, when spring begins, and from Groundhog Day, the calendar states clearly that it is six more weeks, plus a few days. I suppose that everywhere else in the world, people just think of it as Feb. 2. I’m in favor of letting the rascal sleep.

At least we can watch the amusing Bill Murray movie. Again. 😉

From a purely whimsical standpoint, the observance of Groundhog Day does, if nothing else, provide a little comic relief from the heaviness of winter. Punxsutawney Phil may not be a real prognosticator, but he is a beacon of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel that was gray January. I’ve been trying to offer the same recently with presentation of bright and colorful dishes to chase away that gray.

A sprinkling of cilantro and squeeze of fresh lime completes this colorful Meatless Monday meal!

These Tex-Mex stuffed sweet potatoes will bring a big generous pop of color to your Meatless Monday, and vibrant flavors, too. Zesty peppers and fire-roasted sweet corn, combined with black beans and cheese on an oven-roasted sweet potato is both nourishing and tasty, customized to your own heat preference, and you can top it with avocado, your favorite salsa, sour cream or whatever else you like. Our go-to seasoning for Tex-Mex dishes is my own spice blend, lovingly named “Fire & Brimstone,” given its multiple layers of spicy heat and smoky depth. Of course, I’ll share that, too.

This is one recipe that takes almost no skill in the kitchen. Really, if you can chop an onion, you’ve got this. You could even pop the sweet potatoes in the oven while you watch Groundhog Day on TBS (they’ll have it on a 24/7 loop, I’m sure), and finish the rest of the prep during the commercial breaks.

Serves 2 (or double it so you can have it again tomorrow)

Beautiful colors, and loads of Tex-Mex flavor!

Ingredients

2 large fresh sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1 Tbsp. jalapeno, chopped

1/4 cup fire-roasted frozen corn (or regular corn)

A few shakes of Fire & Brimstone* (or another Tex-Mex seasoning, see notes)

About 2 oz. finely shredded mild cheddar cheese (or Colby, Monterey Jack, etc.)

1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 ripe avocado, cubed

Fresh cilantro and lime, for serving

Side accoutrements as desired, such as sour cream, salsa or pico de gallo


*Notes

My homemade spice blends do not have salt in them. Be mindful of the sodium content in whatever seasoning you use, so you don’t overdo it on additional salt while preparing the dish. If you’d like to try my Fire & Brimstone, see the ingredients listed at the end of the post.


Instructions


  1. In a large bowl, combine kosher salt with enough hot water to cover both sweet potatoes completely. Allow the potatoes to rest in this quick brine for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack in center of the oven.
  3. Remove potatoes from brine and dry completely with paper towels. Use a sharp knife to cut an “X” about 3/4″ deep into the top of each sweet potato. This will be an “escape valve” for steam as the potato bakes. Place the potatoes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake the sweet potatoes for about 1 hour plus 15 minutes, or until soft enough to squeeze easily with a towel. About halfway through baking time, remove the pan and carefully cut the X marks a little bit deeper, but not all the way through.
  5. Near the end of baking time, heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onions, red bell pepper, jalapeno (if using) and corn. Sauté until onions are softened and translucent, about five minutes. Add black beans to the mixture and toss to heat through.
  6. Transfer sweet potatoes to serving plates. Carefully squeeze open the potato, using the X marks to guide them open. Use a fork to lightly smash the potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Divide the shredded cheese directly onto the hot potato, then top with the bean-corn mixture.
  8. Use a sharp paring knife to score the avocado flesh for easy scooping. Divide the avocado onto the plates as a side to the sweet potato. Sprinkle with cilantro, give it a squeeze of fresh lime and serve.

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Fire & Brimstone Spice Blend

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire! This is a recipe blend I developed after repeated disappointment with all the salt in commercial blends. I use a variety of pepper ingredients, from mild and fruity to hot and smoky, and it works well as a sprinkle-on seasoning, chili add-in or even a dry rub on steaks or roasts. Adjust the amounts of any ingredient to suit your preferences. This recipe makes about 1/2 cup of spice blend. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry cabinet.

2 Tbsp. granulated garlic

2 Tbsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. cayenne pepper (hot)

1 1/2 tsp. ground ancho pepper (mildly hot, fruity)

1 1/2 tsp. ground chipotle pepper (medium hot, smoky)

1 tsp. dried chipotle flakes (substitute additional ground chipotle if you cannot find these)

1 1/2 tsp. cumin (mild, smoky)

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves


Hello, “Pumking!”

The arrival of fall gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies, not the least of which are the comfort foods I’ve been sharing for the past month. But there’s another thing I look forward to beginning in September each year, and that is the return of the Pumking. Thank goodness this seasonal brew will be around another month or so, because I do love it.

This pumpkin and spiced imperial ale has become, for me, synonymous with autumn. My first experience of it was nearly a decade ago, much sooner than it showed up in the cold beer aisle or on local tap menus. The brew is crafted in small batches by Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. This is my old stomping ground, and though my visits to the area are few and far between these days, I have a deep sense of loyalty to certain businesses there, just as I have passion for “supporting local” in my current home of North Carolina.

I had occasion to visit Southern Tier’s flagship tasting room seven years ago, when I made the trek “home” for a family member’s memorial service. My beer connoisseur cousin and his wife were also in town, and our meeting place was Southern Tier. As with most local breweries, the tap offerings far exceeded the variety available for commercial distribution, and Southern Tier had some great seasonals, but we were all in love with the Pumking. The beer has an almost creamy texture, with warm spices, pumpkin (of course), and hints of caramel and vanilla, but without tasting too sweet.

The Pumking family also includes Warlock, a stout with the same great pumpkin and spice flavors. It’s a little sweeter and heavier, but would also be terrific in a chili!

I will enjoy drinking it for its own sake, but I also plan to use it in other recipes, including bread—and you can bet I’ll find a way to slip it into an ice cream, too! To get things started, I’ve whipped up a fall-inspired chili that makes the most of savory roasted sweet potatoes and canned black beans, plus green chiles and fire roasted corn. Did I mention that it’s also vegan-friendly? Serve it up with your favorite cornbread and another bottle of Pumking—oh my, that’s tasty!


Pumking Black Bean Chili ingredients

1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

28 oz. can peeled tomatoes in puree (I used Cento brand)

1 small can green chiles, diced

1 cup fire roasted frozen corn

1/2 cup cooked wheat berries* (optional, see notes)

Half bottle Pumking imperial ale (enjoy the other half while you cook)

Chili spices* – chipotle powder, sweet Spanish paprika, cinnamon, smoked black pepper, cumin

*Notes

Wheat berries are the dried whole grain of wheat, and they add terrific texture and fiber to this chili. You can read more about them in my summer post for Healthy Wheat Berry Salad. If you cannot find wheat berries in your favorite food store, it’s fine to omit them. The other ingredients will provide plenty of body for the chili.

Combine your preferred spices into a bowl. Use whatever chili seasonings you like. If you aren’t sure how much to use of each, may I suggest: 1 tsp. chipotle powder, 1 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. smoked black pepper, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon.


Let’s make it!

Follow along with these slides, or scroll to the bottom of the post for a PDF version of the recipe you can download and print. Enjoy!

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Creamy Curried Butternut-Cauliflower Soup

This soup will help you slide nicely into autumn, with its bright and light vegetable flavors, seasoned with warm, aromatic Indian spices, and made richer with a last-minute swirl of cream. This is a recipe that moves along a sliding scale in many ways—you can make it with anything from chicken bone broth to vegetable broth, or spicy to mild, or light to creamy (either with real cream or coconut milk).

When my husband, Les, noticed my description of this soup as “curried,” he seemed surprised, and noted that he didn’t remember enjoying curry before. Sound familiar? If you’ve tasted something called “curry” in the past and found it weird or unpleasant, let me fill you in on the probable cause—poor labeling. You see, curry isn’t a flavor or a spice on its own. Curry is a method of cooking, not just in India but throughout much of Asia, and it happens to involve use of many spices, some of which you’d find in a grocery store “curry powder.” But just as “chili powder” is ambiguous (or even sketchy), so is curry powder. Depending on what brand you buy, you may end up with varying ratios (and quality) of spices. Check out this spice tin Les and I found in his mom’s cabinet a few years ago:

The idea of adding this stuff to a can of chicken gumbo soup has literally squashed my appetite for the rest of the day. Breaking news: adding a non-descript (and probably stale) spice blend will not improve an already overly-processed canned food. It’s no mystery why nobody ever uses this stuff, including Les’s mom—this can was never opened.

But curry cooking shouldn’t take the punishment for poor packaging. These flavors can be fantastic, and in my estimation, it may be better to make your own blend to match the spices to your taste, and also to enhance what you’re cooking, which is hopefully more fresh and interesting than condensed canned soup. If I had an Indian grandmother, I’m quite certain I would have learned to cook with one of these close at hand. A “masala dabba” holds a collection of individual spices, and the cook knows which combination is best for the meal.

This looks like beautiful art to me! How many of these spices can you identify?

Mixing and matching spice ingredients makes a lot more sense than a one-spice-fits-all approach, and I’d love to have my own masala dabba one day. For now, I’ll make do with what I have in the pantry, and for this veg-heavy soup, I’ve chosen warm, pungent spices, most of which are in another common Indian blend—garam masala. I’m trying to use up all my “pre-made” blends to make more space in the cabinet, so I’m beginning with the garam masala, and embellishing with extra ginger, pepper and cardamom, and also a bit of turmeric, to punch up the bright color of the butternut squash.

Garam masala literally translates as “warm spice mixture,” implying that the spices make you feel warm inside, and that certainly is true with this creamy, autumn-embracing soup. It brings a whole lot of healthy to a weekend meal (or meatless Monday), and you may as well make a large batch of it, because the leftovers will warm up in a jiffy for weekday lunches or dinner. Serve it with a salad or sandwich for a satisfying, comforting meal.

This recipe makes approximately 8 servings. I cooked it on the stove top, but it’s easily adapted to a slow cooker.


Ingredients

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 cups fresh cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and chopped into florets

1 cup carrots, chopped

3 cups low sodium broth (I used vegetable, but chicken would work also)

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, drizzled over vegetables

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

5 cloves garlic, chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)

1/2 can coconut milk (regular or light)

Spiced crispy chickpeas (recipe follows) and chopped pistachios (optional), for serving


Instructions

It takes time for these flavors to develop, but the steps are very simple. Here’s the visual, then spelled out instructions, and a downloadable PDF version at the end.

  1. Place a large stock pot over medium heat. Add squash, cauliflower and carrots, plus 3 cups broth. Drizzle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Simmer 1 hour (or in slow cooker on high for 2 hours).
  2. Sauté onions until softened, caramelized and browned on edges, add garlic and seasonings and sauté 5 more minutes. When soup pot vegetables are soft enough to mash with a fork, add the onion-spice mixture and simmer another hour (or in slow cooker on low for an additional 2 hours).
  3. Use immersion blender to puree soup to desired smoothness. Add more vegetable broth if  needed for easy blending. Alternatively, allow mixture to cool somewhat, and transfer mix to a regular blender (in batches if necessary), then return soup to mixing pot. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired, simmer on low until ready to serve or refrigerate if cooking ahead.
  4. Just before serving, stir in coconut milk, stir until blended. This adds a wonderful, creamy richness to the soup and accents the warm spices.

A little extra somethin’

We gave this fragrant, flavorful soup a little decoration, with a sprinkling of roasted chopped pistachios and these seasoned crispy chickpeas:

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and patted dry with paper towels

1/4 tsp. garam masala, plus salt and pepper

Heat oil in small skillet over low heat, swirl chickpeas until coated, then add salt and spices. Stir and swirl frequently until the beans look smaller and feel firmer. Remove them from heat and allow them to cool completely before serving.


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Now, ‘fess up in the comments below. How many unopened, outdated spices are in your cabinet right now? 😉


Shakshuka (shiksa style)

We are inching toward a special day—and time of year—in Jewish tradition. Rosh Hashanah, in the simplest of terms, is the onset of the “High Holidays,” a 10-day celebration that concludes with Yom Kippur. The whole event is a spiritual reset button of sorts, a time for personal introspection leading to atonement. When I became engaged to my husband, Les, in 2016, I joined him for High Holidays services, and though I likely will not ever convert to Judaism, I love learning about this sacred part of my husband’s heritage. Going through the Hebrew readings and stages of reflection is something Jesus would have done as a regular practice (he was Jewish, remember?), and I have found that it gives me richer insight into my own Christian faith.

The fact that I am not Jewish, regardless of my stance on Jesus, earns me the unenviable title of “shiksa,” a Yiddish word politely translated as “a non-Jewish woman.” Some other definitions are less diplomatic and even derogatory, meaning something along the line of “sketchy non-Jewish woman who has taken romantic interest in a good, upstanding Jewish guy.” Yep, I’m guilty of all that! I take no offense, and our religious differences have never presented a conflict for Les and me. On the contrary, we find that it makes our relationship more interesting.

During our preparation for marriage, Les and I met a few times with Rabbi Mark, whom we had asked to officiate our small and informal ceremony. Over lunch, I mentioned how much I was enjoying exploration of the traditions, especially the foods. I had already learned to make latkes, one of the most recognizable Jewish foods (which I’ll share more about when we get closer to Hanukkah). Rabbi Mark made a recommendation for a next recipe to try—shakshuka. It’s fun to say (shock-SHOO-ka), and not the same as shiksa. 😀

I’d never heard of this, and neither had Les, so it was immediately placed at the top of the bucket list. Our first shakshuka turned out terrific, and when Les posted this picture of it to his Facebook page, he got an immediate thumbs-up from Cousin Caryn in Israel—“that is SO Jewish!”

Not a bad first effort in 2017!

Shakshuka is typically served at breakfast, so I’m counting it as part of my “better breakfast month” series, and it’s remarkably simple to make and flexible to accommodate a variety of ingredients. It usually begins with a thick tomato sauce base, though I’ve seen some interesting “green” shakshuka recipes on Pinterest. Any other favorite vegetables or ingredients can be incorporated, including cauliflower, eggplant, spinach, kale, peppers, onions, squash, chickpeas, or nearly anything else you have on hand. You stew it all together with Mediterranean spices in a cast-iron skillet, then you crack raw eggs directly into the sauce and simmer until they’re cooked to your liking, or (as I often do) slide it into the oven to finish.

It’s great for breakfast, or breakfast for dinner!

The result is a savory blend of nutrition and flavor, hearty enough to satisfy your morning hunger, or for “breaking the fast,” because after the 24 hours of fasting and prayer at Yom Kippur, you’re gonna get pretty hungry!

The cool thing about shakshuka (as if the flavor and flexibility aren’t cool enough) is that you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy it! You may have seen a similar dish from Italy called “eggs in purgatory,” featuring the same stewed tomato foundation. Both dishes are likely drawn from nearby North Africa during the Ottoman Empire, and during that time, meat (not tomatoes) was the original main ingredient.

My produce and pantry inventory included everything I needed for a hearty shakshuka, and it landed on our table last night as breakfast for dinner on Meatless Monday. I couldn’t resist serving this with the soft pita breads that have become such a staple in our home.

The soft pita is perfect for sopping up this rich tomato stew.

Basic Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil (how much depends on what you’re adding)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in puree*

4 eggs

Optional Ingredients

Depending on your taste, and your inventory, consider adding any of these ingredients. It’s your kitchen, and you can make your shakshuka as chunky or saucy as you’d like. For the most authentic experience of this dish, I’d recommend keeping with ingredients that are common to the Middle East, where shakshuka was born.

Up to 1 cup other vegetables, such as fresh cauliflower, fresh cubed eggplant, fresh chopped bell peppers

Up to 1 cup canned chickpeas or cooked lentils, or 1/2 cup in combination with your favorite vegetables (above)

Up to 2 cups fresh greens, chopped (they will cook down to small amount, so be generous)

Other flavor enhancers, such as olives, capers, spices, tomato paste, chile peppers

There’s so much tangy, rich sauce in this dish, you’ll want to have some kind of bread nearby for sopping. Pita is a great option, or any other kind of soft bread is just right.

*Notes

I’ve never made the same shakshuka combination twice, but I tend to steer toward more body and texture when we are having it for dinner. And it always depends on what I find in the fridge. For this post, I used the basic ingredients, then reached into the fridge for some add-ins. Les made his fabulous pimiento cheese last weekend, and a half can of spicy Rotel tomatoes and a half jar of pimientos were still in the fridge. In they went, along with about a cup of chopped fresh cauliflower, 1/2 can garbanzo beans, a fat handful of chopped kale leaves, some briny olives and capers, tomato paste to thicken and harissa to add flavor and heat.

Harissa is a spicy paste-like seasoning that has origin in Northern Africa. It has hot chiles and garlic, plus what I call the three “C spices”—cumin, coriander and caraway. Harissa is common to Moroccan cuisine, and lends wonderful depth of flavor to stewed dishes like shakshuka.

Instructions

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté onions, cauliflower and any other firm vegetables until lightly caramelized.
  2. Add garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and any other add-ins that strike your fancy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For my recipe, I also added a little smoked paprika and ground cumin. Stir to combine ingredients evenly and cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes so that the tomatoes lose the “canned” flavor and mixture begins to thicken like a stew.
  3. Use the back of a large spoon to create slight depressions to hold the eggs. Crack eggs, one at a time, into a custard cup and transfer them into the dents you’ve made, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, cover the skillet and simmer until eggs are set to your liking. Alternatively, you can slide the skillet into a 350° F oven and bake about 15 minutes, or until eggs reach your desired doneness.
  4. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or oregano and serve with soft pita breads or other bread for sopping all the shakshuka sauce.
Oh, yes, some crumbled feta on top!

So easy, even a shiksa can make it! Shakshuka is delicious, easy and economical. Serve it family style, and let everyone scoop out their own portion into a bowl.

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“Leftovers” Corn Waffles and Southwest Bean Topping

One of these days, I may write a cookbook including only wild and wacky ideas for incorporating leftovers into new recipes. No matter what you had the first time, there’s always a creative way to re-purpose what’s left over into something delicious. Vegetables find their way into omelets or onto pizzas, a lone chicken breast can be diced and turned into a salad spread, and even stale bread can be reinvigorated into a delicious dessert (soon, I’ll share the recipe for my Gram’s unmatchable bread pudding).

Recently, I rallied together some black beans left over from Taco Tuesday, more (but different) beans left over from a take-out fried chicken meal, several bits and pieces of leftover peppers and onions, and the remnants of corn from the sweet corn ice cream that I highlighted during National Ice Cream Month (I promised I’d do something fun with them, and here it is)—and turning the whole thing into dinner, covering Meatless Monday and National Waffle Day, all in one swoop. Did you follow all that? This is how my brain works, friends, so when I share with you that I sometimes wake up thinking about recipes, I do hope you realize I’m not joking.

Flashback from the ice cream: Don’t think for a minute that I won’t find a good use for the leftover corn pulp!
Delivering on that promise today!

The truth is, I already had these waffles in mind for using the leftover corn from the ice cream.  These sourdough-based crispy gems are adapted from one of my favorite recipes from King Arthur Baking’s website. I’ve never made the recipe as written (theirs is for pancakes), but I have enjoyed various versions of it as waffles. If you don’t have sourdough going (this recipe requires it), use any other recipe for waffles with corn mix-in—maybe this one, but omit vanilla, cinnamon or anything else that would make them sweet or “breakfast-y.” The corn itself is sweet enough. Or just use cornmeal waffles or cornmeal pancakes—you know, be the boss of your own kitchen.

The southwest-inspired topping was a no-brainer for me, with the beans and bell peppers I had left over, and it will be a great dance partner to the corn and scallion flavors in the waffles. You may note that the King Arthur recipe calls for a “bean salad” topping, which is similar but more of a cool, relish-y accompaniment. I wanted something warm and hearty enough to be served as dinner.

I cook by instinct, rarely by recipe, and for no particular reason while dreaming up ideas for this meal, I had a question pop up in my mind about how to add another element to the finished dish so it didn’t seem dry, as waffles without a sauce sometimes do. We use sour cream as a topper on a lot of southwest-themed dishes, but I hate that it makes the entire dish cold before you take a single bite. Anything liquid would make the waffles soggy, completely defeating the purpose of the whole meal. And then, suddenly, every light in the world came on at once in my imagination. Perhaps one of the biggest “aha moments” my brain has ever experienced in the kitchen.

Whipped cream. But not sweet. Add a savory spice. But not salt. Boom!

The result was super light and airy, with a rich but subtle flavor that melted into a silky river all the way through the bean topping. It was absolutely delicious, and I cannot believe I’ve never had something like it in a restaurant. I seasoned it with chipotle, but paprika or cumin would’ve been just as tasty.

And oh man, just like that, I’m off and running with a million other things this savory whipped cream should accompany. Makes me ache for autumn, when I can spend a whole afternoon simmering black bean soup.

But it’s almost dinner time, so I’ll have to back-burner that idea for a few months. Let’s get cooking!

Hearty, satisfying, meatless and made entirely from leftovers.

Waffle Ingredients

Adapted from this recipe from King Arthur Baking (formerly King Arthur Flour). I halve the recipe for just the two of us, as follows. It made 5 waffles, each about 4×6 inches.

1/4 cup sourdough starter (recently fed)

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour (remember to fluff, sprinkle, level when you measure)

1/2 cup milk

2 Tbsp. canola oil (if making pancakes, only use 1 1/2 tsp.)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup cooked corn kernels

3 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)


Waffle Instructions

  1. Combine the starter, flour and milk in a large bowl, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Cover and allow it to rest on the counter at least 30 minutes in a warm place, such as the microwave.
  2. Add the oil, baking soda, salt and egg, and stir until combined. Fold in the corn and scallions, plus about half of the chopped jalapeno listed in the topping ingredients. Note that if you are making waffles with the mixture, you should use the greater amount of oil noted above. The oil in the batter helps prevent sticking and also ensures a lovely crispy exterior to the waffles.
  3. Bake according to your waffle maker’s recommendations, and keep the waffles warm while you finish the topping.

I’ve made these waffles in both a Belgian waffle maker and a standard maker. Les and I decided we like the standard waffles best. If you don’t have a waffle maker, use the lesser amount of oil and make the recipe as pancakes, as suggested on the King Arthur website.


Topping Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 small jalapeno, diced and divided* (see notes)

1 1/2 cups leftover cooked beans* (I used leftover black beans plus Bojangles’ takeout beans)

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Juice of 1/2 lime

Handful fresh cilantro for garnish

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder


*Notes

Maybe you don’t have this exact amount of leftover beans staring at you from the fridge? I get it. This is what I used because it was what I had. If you’re starting from scratch, any kind of canned beans would be suitable here, and you’ll need about a can and a half. Pinto beans would be closest to my leftover recipe, and I’d suggest do not drain or rinse them. The can liquid would be very similar to the leftover takeout beans I used.

We love spicy things in our house, but obviously you can simply omit the jalapeno if it isn’t your thing. I divided the total amount listed, using half in the waffles and the rest in the topping.

I recommend getting your waffles in order first, because the topping comes together quickly while they are baking in the iron. No waffle iron? Go get one. Just kidding—use the King Arthur recipe I suggested, which is technically designed for pancakes that would be every bit as wonderful in this kind of recipe. And then tomorrow, go get a waffle iron—I’ll give you plenty of reasons to love having one. 😊


Instructions for the topping


  1. Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté the onions and peppers until softened and slightly translucent.
  2. Add the cooked beans and give the whole thing a quick stir to combine. If it seems dry, add some broth or tomato sauce to compensate.
  3. Slice and season the cherry tomatoes and toss them on top. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat to give the flavors time to mix.
  4. Use a hand mixer or whisk to whip the cream until it is soft and pillowy. You never want to push whipped cream too far (they call that butter), because once it gets to the “chunky” appearance, you cannot rein it back in. Sprinkle in chipotle, paprika or cumin and whisk gently to distribute it.
  5. When your waffles or pancakes are ready, spoon the bean mixture over the top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Dollop the whipped cream on top and dinner is served.
The savory chipotle whipped cream melted and oozed through the toppings, creating the most scrumptious sauce.

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