Roasted Carrots with Labneh

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No doubt about it, week night dinners in a household with kids are always stressful. You’re tired, you’re transitioning from day to evening activities, and the kids are clamoring for something to eat, preferably from one of their favorite food groups, somewhat white, mostly white, or entirely white. At times like that, it’s understandably tempting to abandon your resolve to eat healthier and ply them with french fries and a soon-to-be paler version of Kraft’s iconic mac & cheese in exchange for a bit of peace and quiet.

But before you give in to that impulse, consider the following option. Why not do as the Romans do (and the Spanish, and the French, and the Greeks, among others) and serve up a small plate of something healthy that your kids can nibble on while you go about the business of preparing the evening meal? Read More


Easy Barbecue Beans

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Everyone knows that July 4th is prime cookout time.  Most likely it’s because of the desire to enjoy the holiday without being confined to a sweltering kitchen on what is usually a sweltering day.  Hanging out with family and friends, a cool drink in hand, watching someone else assume the role of head chef isn’t a bad reason either.

Then, of course, there’s the food.  Most people will tell you that July 4th is all about the meat, whether it’s traditional burgers and hot dogs or longer cooking options such as ribs, various cuts of steak, and even beer can chicken.  And to a large extent, they’re right.   Grilling meat outdoors over an open flame just seems to go with the idea of exploding fireworks.

But the holiday is also a time to enjoy certain iconic side dishes that any vegetarian would love.  Whether it’s grilled asparagus or corn slathered with an herb-infused butter, creamy potato salads and veggie slaws, or skewers of zucchini, onions and cherry tomatoes, the abundance of seasonal vegetables means that plant-derived fare can easily share the plate with the more primal parts of the July 4th menu.  Even fruit gets some well deserved attention in the form of pies, cobblers, and tarts.

One side dish that I particularly crave this time of year is barbecue beans. You know what I’m talking about. Buttery soft beans suspended in a tangy barbecue sauce with just a hint of heat. It’s the perfect accompaniment to all types of grilled meats.

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Easy Barbecue Sauce

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I’ve always loved the tang of barbecue sauce, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered how easily it can be made at home.  Barbecue sauce, it turns out, can be made using pantry staples — ketchup, molasses, vinegar and a mixture of several common spices — which means, of course, that making your own is almost as convenient as using a commercial brand.

The key is to figure out the proper proportions of ingredients to achieve your preferred balance among the four basic flavor profiles:  sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  (A fifth flavor profile, umami, has recently been identified. Its name is derived from a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savory taste, and it is found in foods such as soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms.)

In my case, ketchup serves as the base of the sauce and provides the majority of its sweetness.  Molasses contributes additional sweetness and some bitterness, while vinegar is the primary sour component.  Salt is, well, salty. Read More


Asparagus, Green Bean and Edamame Salad

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One of the things I like most about summer is the abundance of vegetables that can be made into salads. No, I’m not talking about salads consisting mostly of lettuce greens topped with a few lonely chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes and doused in some uninteresting dressing. I’m talking about salads made up entirely of vegetables that, while more typically eaten as stand-alone side dishes, can be combined in innovative ways and livened with inventive seasonings.

Vegetables were definitely on my mind one recent Saturday afternoon as I was pleasantly meandering through the vibrantly photographed recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, London-based chef who has published several wildly successful cookbooks, two of which, Plenty and its successor Plenty More, have focused exclusively on vegetables. I have both, and they are terrific. They’re delicious proof that vegetables don’t have to be limited to playing second fiddle to meat but can be the star all by themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when I crave a big steak or a superbly roasted chicken as much as the next person. Indeed, what would a summer barbecue be without a big hunk of meat slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce? But there are other times where I want the focus to be on the vegetables. Summer, with its grocery store bins and farmers market stalls overflowing with freshly picked vegetables in a rainbow of colors, is definitely one of those times.

Today’s post features an adaptation of Plenty More’s Spring Salad recipe. The original version caught my attention because it includes two vegetables that I adore but which I had never thought to combine in one dish, asparagus and haricots verts (a.k.a. skinny French green beans). It then takes the dish in an entirely different direction by adding sesame oil, sesame seeds and a diced red chile to an otherwise standard lemon and olive oil-based dressing. The result is an unexpected but delicious blending of Mediterranean and Asian flavors in one dish.

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Cava-Style Harissa

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Since leaving the practice of law and plunging full time into the world of food, one of the things I find endlessly fascinating is how certain foods and food customs have worldwide appeal. One that immediately comes to mind is pasta, or noodles, which are enjoyed in too many countries to count. Another is the custom of serving meze, or appetizers — small dishes of food eaten at the start of a meal to stimulate one’s appetite.

Certainly, each of these topics is worthy of its own post with accompanying recipe (and as I write these words, ideas for future posts are already popping into my head). Today, however, I want to talk about the universal love of all things hot. Spicy hot, that is.

It’s undisputed that people love to add heat to food. Growing up in Oklahoma, one of the constants in our house was Tabasco sauce. I have to admit that I don’t actually remember using it on anything since, like most kids, I wasn’t particularly fond of foods that were overly spicy. Nevertheless, something must have sunk in because today I absolutely love anything with heat. Currently, my heat-promoting repertoire includes Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatío hot sauces, at least one Thai-style sweet chile sauce, chile-infused oils, jars of both Aleppo and Korean pepper flakes, and several kinds of dried chile peppers.

Recently, I ran across yet another option for inducing chile pepper nirvana. During a visit to a local grocery store, I discovered tubs of harissa, a paste made of chiles and spices that is believed to have originated in Tunisia but is now a staple of cuisines across all of North Africa and in some Middle Eastern countries as well. In this case, the harissa was the version used to top the rice and salad bowls sold at Cava Mezza Grill, a Washington D.C.-based chain of fast casual restaurants serving Greek-inspired foods in a salad bar-type assembly line similar to that used by Chipotle. Since I always opt for a dollop of harissa on my visits to Cava, trying it out at home was a no brainer.

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