Chile, Cardamom, and Lime Solve the Squash Blues

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Squash is both a beloved and hated vegetable. Come late summer into fall, it won’t stop creeping into stir fries and pastas, stews and salads—sometimes adding a velvety nuttiness, but often becoming an encumbrance to a dish. It can be tasteless. It gets pasty, lumpy, or too heavy. In some mashed iterations, it’s really no different than baby food.

But for any vegetable that finds itself faltering in more typical recipes, thanks again Yotam Ottolenghi, who never fails to dress vegetables in startling new clothes. I blogged about a radish avocado salad from his cookbook Plenty last spring, and it’s also where I plucked this unconventional and satisfying roasted butternut squash recipe.

You’ll coat the squash in a mixture of cardamom, allspice, and olive oil before baking. I was liberal with my cardamom, and lazy about grinding it too finely, but this ended up adding a welcomed crunch. Also, I baked half of my squash in one big piece and hot olive oil mixed with cardamom had pooled into its center by the time it was done. A hunk of crusty baguette dunked into this makeshift dip tasted pretty heavenly.

The salad should be served at room temperature, with plenty of fresh lime juice. Don’t be scared of the jalapeño slices: they do wonders in perking up the oft-bland butternut, and their bite is balanced by the yogurt/tahini sauce.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile
From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

  • 2 limes
  • sea salt
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 2 T cardamom pods (or 1 T seeds)
  • 1 t ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 1/2 T tahini
  • 1 T lime juice
  • 1 Green chile, thinly sliced (I used jalapeño)
  • 2/3 cup cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim off limes’ tops and bases and then cut down side of fruit, peeling off the skin and white pith. Quarter the limes and then cut into thin slices. Place in a bowl and drizzle with 1 T olive oil and some salt. Set aside.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut each half into 3/8 inch-thick slices and lay out on a baking dish lined with parchment paper.

Grind cardamom with a mortar and pestle and mix with allspice in a small bowl. Add 3 T olive oil, stir, and brush this mixture over the squash slices. Sprinkle on a little salt and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork (I think it took more like 25).

Stir together yogurt, tahini, lime juice, 2 T water, and some salt.

To serve, arrange the cooled butternut slices on a platter and drizzle with yogurt sauce. Spoon over the lime slices and their juices and toss chile slices and cilantro on top.

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Quinoa Salad with Avocado, Snap Pea, Radish

Like last week’s, this salad takes advantage of spring’s best and brightest. I adapted the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty, a Middle-Eastern inspired manual with a focus on vegetables. While at the grocery store, a bag of snap peas was just too enticing to pass up, so I subbed out the fava beans Ottolenghi suggests and used the peas for sweet crunch.

Quinoa Salad with Avocado, Snap Pea, and RadishAvocadoQuinoa

  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked and left to cool
  • a bunch of small spring radishes, quartered
  • 2 avocados
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • snap peas, chopped
  • 1-2 fresh garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 T cumin
  • 2 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 T olive oil

After bringing quinoa to boil in two cups of water, simmer for around nine minutes and drain. Let cool (you can stick it in the fridge to speed up this process).  With a sharp paring knife, chop off both ends of the lemons and remove peel carefully. Quarter and remove the pulp and juice from the pith and put into a salad bowl, smashing to release the juices. Slice avocado and drench in the lemon juice, letting the slices soak for ten minutes.

Add cooled quinoa and chopped radishes and snap peas, crushed garlic, spices, and the olive oil, being careful not to mash the avocado. Adjust seasonings, and serve at room temperature. Mine tasted great with a hoppy IPA.

Spring Farro, Asparagus and White Bean Salad

FarroIngredients

It’s the time of year when a clear, blue-skied day still carries with it strands of winter’s hard breeze. On a morning bike ride over the bridge, the churning Pacific was the color of jade with little white peaks. I returned chilled and rosy from the blast of air. A stop at the farmer’s market for eggs to scramble with dill goat cheese for brunch.

Beguiled by spring, I left my house later in flip flops only to have frozen toes after a few blocks. The best foods right now echo the hillsides: pastorally plump and green asparagus, grassy chives, crisp leek stalks.

I’m pairing this medley with Tenuta Rapitala’s 2011 Grillo from Sicily (via Bi-Rite), a wine described to me as “sea-foamy.” It’s tart with a faint finish of strawberries.

Spring Farro, Asparagus, and White Bean Salad

  • 2 leeks
  • 1 sprig green garlic
  • chives
  • a bunch of asparagus with tough parts from the bottom snapped off
  • Dino kale
  • a lemon
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 can white beans like Great Northern
  • olive oil
  • Grated reggiano or hard Manchego

Sautée chopped leeks and green garlic in olive oil until the leeks start to appear translucent. Add some white wine if you’re drinking it anyway, and let the liquid burn off. Add chopped asparagus, FarroFinishedkale, and canned or cooked white beans. When the asparagus is just tender, turn off the heat. In a large bowl, combine the veggie mixture with cooked farro, chopped chives, lemon juice, some olive oil, and salt and pepper. Top with some grated cheese. Can be eaten hot or cold.

An Interview With Top Chef Traci Des Jardins

“In certain moments, Traci Des Jardins embodies the stereotype of an elite French chef: the way she glides coolly into the room, her impenetrable gaze fixed on you in a manner that makes you question why you have the right to be interviewing her in the first place. She is, after all, a two-time James Beard Award-winning culinarian, head of five Northern California restaurants, and one of the country’s top female chefs who recently bought out her partner to become sole owner of the very classy San Francisco establishment, Jardinière, where the menu offers morsels like a $75 helping of White Alba Truffled Tagliatelle…”

Read more on Mother Jones from my chat with top chef Traci Des Jardins about small fish, specious organics, and boozy cranberries.

This Year’s Stuffing: More Veggies, Less Goo

I’ve never really liked stuffing. Rather, maybe I’ve never understood it. Sometimes it’s a gooey, dense, faintly meat-tasting mound. At best, it’s crumbly and crispy and piping hot, with flavors of herbs and spices and the remnants of turkey parts and broth. But even this idealized version never really did it for me; it was a quaint accessory on my plate rather than a central feature.

Courtesy capl@washjeff.edu

This year, we hosted a huge Friendsgiving at our house in San Francisco, with 28 people and growlers of beer and floor-seating and lots and lots and lots of delicious food. We made people sign up on a spreadsheet in order to anticipate which food would be arriving and what we might be missing. As the night got closer, I realized that only one person had signed up to bring stuffing, and that that stuffing would likely not be edible for A) the two vegetarian attendees and B) the two gluten-free guests. So I set to work, driven by the need to please and also by a curiosity about what exactly goes in stuffing and whether I could overcome my aversion to it.

After some quick Googling, I found a delectable, veggie-heavy version that could easily be made gluten-free. What appealed to me was the way the vegetables retained their whole shapes, that the recipe relied heavily on roasting, and the ingredients drew on common autumn flavors but in slightly unusual combinations (Cherries and brussel sprouts? Apple and squash?). This vegan recipe comes from Gena Hamshaw at Food 52, with my own slight adaptations and notes:

Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Bread (GF) Stuffing with Apples

  • 1 pound butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1 gala apple, dicee
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided into 2 tbsp and 1 tbsp
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 10 slices bread of choice: crusty sourdough, dry cornbread, whole grain, or, for a gluten-free option, I used Udi’s. Prior to preparing the recipe, leave bread out for a day to become slightly dry, then cut into cubes.
  • 1 1/2cup vegetable broth (plus extra as needed)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

From Gena: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash, brussels sprouts, apples, and shallots in 2 tbsp oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast till vegetables are very tender and remove from oven. Reduce oven heat to 350.

Heat other tbsp oil in a large pot. Sautee the onion and celery till translucent (about 5-8 min). Add the bread cubes and allow them to get golden brown with the veggies in the oil. (This was more challenging; my gluten-free bread started to disintegrate. I’d recommend not stirring very hard, and transferring to your roasting pan pretty quickly).  Add a dash of salt and pepper.

Add the roasted vegetables, vegetable broth, cranberries, (I used cherries), pecans, and seasonings. Stir the mix till the broth has almost entirely absorbed in the toasted bread. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Serve hot.

Rather than your usual stuffing, this is more like a roasted vegetable platter with hints of sage and sweetness, with toasty bread that nods to the idea of stuffing. And maybe that’s exactly why I found it so delicious.

Office Salad Club

My Mother Jones coworkers and I have started a communal lunch tradition: called salad club, it’s based on the premise that everyone has something to share in their fridge that will go well on a salad, so why not compile our tidbits and make masterfully creative (and cheap) salads everyday at work. Especially popular ingredients have included figs, homegrown tomatoes, homemade goat cheese, and anything cut with our club mandolin. Since its inception about a month ago, the plan has been working great. So great, in fact, we (being digital journalists) decided it needed a blog. Behold, officesaladclub.tumblr.com