Baked Ratatouille

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From the guy who introduced me to speidie sauce, comes a baked ratatouille, from the cookbook, Charlie Palmer’s American Fare.

Being that it’s late summer and my garden is producing nicely, a ratatouille is a perfect dish to make. A baked ratatouille was really enticing to me.

From Chef Palmer: “This is a dish that I make all summer long when the farmers market is filled with eggplant and summer squashes. It is based on the traditional French Provençal vegetable dish that usually includes bell peppers and a mixture of dried herbs. You really can do anything you want with it: Some cooks prepare each vegetable separately and then mix together, while some layer the vegetables and bake them.”

I used a regular eggplant, a large zucchini, a large golden zucchini, and a purple onion.

This dish could be called a ratatouille gratin, because there are layers of ratatouille, plus layers of cheeses, all topped off with crunchy breadcrumbs.

It’s not terribly pretty, but at least the ratatouille didn’t turn to mush; the individual pieces of vegetables are still in tact and I like that.

Below is the actual recipe from the book. I served the baked ratatouille with spicy sausages.

Baked Ratatouille

1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into large dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 pounds Japanese eggplant, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 large zucchini, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 large yellow summer squash, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 – 28 ounce can chopped San Marzano tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat the interior of a large ceramic baking dish with olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or just until soft.

Add the eggplant and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes or until just beginning to soften.

Stir in the zucchini and yellow squash and cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes or until just barely tender.

Stir in the tomatoes and basil and season with salt and pepper.

Scrape about half of the eggplant mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover with half of the mozzarella. Spoon the remaining eggplant mixture over the cheese. Top with another layer of mozzarella. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mozzarella and then top with bread crumbs.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

The baked ratatouille is wonderful. And the crust on top is really good!

I served it with sausages, but just about any protein would go with it, or just eat as an enjoyable summer meal and be proud of all of your garden-fresh vegetables!

Stuffed Zucchini

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Many years ago I wrote the main food article of the food section for our local newspaper. My favorite articles to write were when I interviewed people who traveled the world to cook and eat.

One such woman I wrote about attended a cooking class with Lorenza dé Medici at her home, Badia a Coltibuono, an 11th Century monastery, estate, and winery, in Tuscany. (There is no longer a cooking school, just their wines and olive oils are sold from the website.)

If I remember correctly, she spent a quite a few days in the spacious kitchen learning Tuscan specialties, using ingredients purchased at the local market. What an experience.

In the evenings all of the attendees and the Signora enjoyed the prepared food and locally grown wine. And because of that experience, I was exposed to Lorenza dé Medici and her many cookbooks.

I’ve posted on one recipe by Lorenza dé Medici from her Antipasti cookbook – Crostini al Tonno – but this Stuffed Zucchini recipe is from The Villa Table, published in 1993.

This recipe was posted years ago, but I needed to re-do the photos!

Courgettes Stuffed with Ham
Zucchine Ripiene al Prosciutto

6 medium zucchini (I recommend only 3 medium)
3 eggs
5 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces cooked ham, chopped
Salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Cut off and discard both ends of the zucchini. Using an apple corer, scoop out the pulp from the centers, leaving both ends intact, to make the hollow of the boat.

I also let the zucchini boats rest on paper towels to collect moisture.

In a bowl beat the eggs. Add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, butter, and chopped ham. Mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Stuff the zucchini with the mixture. Pour the oil and 2 tablespoons of water into an ovenproof dish and arrange the zucchini in it.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

I sprinkled the stuffed zucchini with chopped Italian parsley and a little flaked salt.

Enjoy as a side, or as a meal!

And personally, I loved the white pepper instead of black!

Calabacitas y Elote con Rajas y Crema

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This beautiful recipe name translates to “creamy zucchini, corn, and roasted poblanos, and I happened upon it on The Splendid Table website. If you’re not familiar with The Splendid Table, it was originally a food program on National Public Radio, hosted by the splendid Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Her voice is like sweet nectar, if nectar could talk. You can listen to her here, on You Tube, discussing her years hosting The Splendid Table.

Ms. Kasper retired after 20 years, but The Splendid Table has expanded and now offers podcasts, recipes, interviews, and more. If you want to hear The Splendid Table, check out American Public Media to find the schedule.

The new host is a young man named Francis Lam, who “leads listeners on a journey of the senses and hosts discussions with a variety of writers and personalities who share their passion for the culinary delights.” He’s the one interviewing Ms. Kasper in the you tube video.

This perfect late summer recipe, is a Rick Bayless recipe, from his cookbook More Mexican Everyday, published in 2015, which is one of the few I don’t own. It’s a mixture of zucchini, corn, and roasted chile peppers in cream, used as a taco filling!

This is the photo from the website. The taco filling looks way more crema’d than mine, and I actually followed the recipe. So if you want the filling creamier, add more crema.

Ms. Kasper interviewed Rick Bayless and this is the recipe he describes on air. I’ve adjusted the recipe to read as a recipe, not a story!

Creamy Zucchini, Corn, and Roasted Poblanos Taco Filling
Calabacitas y Elote con Rajas y Crema
printable recipe below

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 zucchini, about 1 pound total, cut into cubes a little smaller than 1/2″
1 cup fresh corn kernels
2 cups poblano rajas (recipe below)
2 tablespoons Mexican crema
1 sprig epazote or 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled Mexican queso

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When really hot, add the zucchini, stirring and turning the pieces frequently, until they are richly browned all over.

Add the corn and let them brown, for about 2 minutes. I actually browned the corn separately the night before after I cooked corn on the cobs.

Scrape in the 2 cups of rajas, along with the epazote or cilantro (cilantro in my case).

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and add the crema. Taste for salt.

Scrape it into a serving bowl and sprinkled with crumbled queso.

I chose Cotija for my cheese but after-the-fact felt it was too salty.

The great thing about this recipe is that once you’ve made it the first time, you will be able to make it in your sleep. It’s so easy, and the ratios aren’t critical.

A little bit more corn? More crema? It all works.

I did add about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, however, and liked the addition.

Roasted Poblano Cream
Crema Poblana

4 medium fresh poblano chile peppers, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large white onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup Mexican crema
1/2 teaspoon salt

Roast the poblano chiles directly over high heat, turning frequently. The skin of the chiles should blister and blacken.

Place them in a covered bowl or, what I use, which is a paper bag rolled up so that the peppers can steam cook and the peels loosen. After about 15 minutes, take them out and remove the charred skins and the seeds. Briefly rinse the peppers, then slice them into 1/4″ strips.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet. When hot, add the white onion and cook until the onion is richly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano.

After a minute, stir in the chile strips and crema.

Continue stirring until the cream has thickened enough to coat the chiles. Season with salt.

Combine the zucchini with the poblano crema, then use as a filling for medium-sized flour tortillas.

Mr. Bayless suggests that the poblano cream sauce is also good with grilled meat, steak, pork chops, broiled fish, chiken or fish tacos. Obviously it goes with everything!

 

 

 

 

 

Ratatouille Méridionnale

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Méridionnale is the southern region of France famous for its ratatouille, classic in that it contains tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant, but unusual in that it is cooked gently in the oven, not on the stovetop. This is according to Daniel Boulud, in his cookbook, “Café Boulud Cookbook,” published in 1999.

I bought the cookbook after going to Café Boulud in New York City, not once, but twice during the same visit back in 2010. My daughter and I stayed at the Surrey Hotel, located adjacent to the restaurant. I had accompanied my daughter to New York City for a major interview, which all turned out well.

To make our first night easy I’d made a reservation at Café Boulud, and it was so perfect that went went the next day for lunch. The food, the service, the ambiance – all was truly perfection. One thing that I remember is that when you were brought the check, it came with just-out-of-the-oven Madeleines.

The cookbook is uniquely divided into four parts.
1. La Tradition – the traditional dishes of French cooking
2. La Saison – the seasonal specialties of the market
3. Le Voyage – dishes from lands far and near, and
4. Le Potager – vegetarian dishes that celebrate the bounty of the garden.

So many recipes jumped out at me when I first read the book. A roasted chicken stuffed with a Tuscan bread filling that included chicken livers and prosciutto, for example, and veal chops stuffed with fontina and porcini. But I chose this ratatouille recipe, from the “La Tradition” section.

Right now my garden is abundant with most all of the ingredients in this hearty vegetable dish, so there’s no better time than the present to make ratatouille.

Ratatouille Méridionnale

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, split, and germ removed
1 onion, peeled, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, deveined, cut into 1” chunks
2 yellow bell peppers, as above
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 small eggplant, about 4 ounces, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1” chunks
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for the vegetables to retain their distinctive flavors, you will need either to cook them in batches or to cook them in two separate sauté pans.

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 clove of garlic, the onion, and the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften a bit but don’t take on color, about 5 minutes.

Either remove the vegetables and wipe out the pan or, while the peppers are cooking, take another sauté pan and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the second clove of garlic, the eggplant, zucchini, and squash and cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes, this time allowing the vegetables to color a bit.

Combine the sautéed vegetables in one large ovenproof sauté pan or baking dish and stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover the pan with a circle of parchment paper, pressing the paper against the vegetables.


Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring the ratatouille every 15 minutes or so.

The ratatouille is done when the vegetables are meltingly tender but still retain their shape. Remove the bay leaves and garlic.

Serve while it’s hot, or when it reaches room temperature. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves and the squirt of lemon juice.

The ratatouille can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.

Before serving, bring it to room temperature or warm it gently in a slow oven.

I served the ratatouille with roasted chicken. Simple and delicious.

I was really surprised after all the cooking time as well as stirring that the pieces of vegetables remained intact. I have seen many a ratatouille look like mush.

So it’s for that reason alone that I will make this recipe for ratatouille again. It’s pretty, delicious, and perfect for a glut of ripe vegetables.

Chicken with Samfaina

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Many years ago my husband and I flew to Madrid, Spain, rented a car, and made our way around the northeastern regions of Spain. We then drove over the Pyrenees into France, visited my sister and husband in the town where they live part-time, and then made our way back to Madrid.

During the first leg of our adventure, we stayed at a hotel in Catalonia, called the Parador de Cardona. If you’re not familiar with paradors, they are government-run hotels that were once castles, monasteries or fortresses. They get revamped with modern conveniences, but the structure is the same.

Here are a few photos this particular parador. It was breathtaking inside and out.

We drove up to the hotel, which was harrowing enough because we had to maneuver the car on the steepest driveway in the world, barely wide enough for the little rental car, but we finally made it. This photo from the website shows how high up the parador actually is from the village of Cardona.

When we asked to check in, the pretty young woman said something to us. No comprehension. My husband and I just stared at each other. We had a split-second conversation that went like this:

“Hey, you know Spanish.”
“Well you know French.”

Well let me tell you, neither of us recognized one damn word she said, or anyone else said during our stay. So do not believe anyone that the Catalon language is a mixture of French and Spanish. It is not.

But our stay was spectacular, and you really felt like you were living in a different century. We discovered Arbequin olives at this hotel, which mostly grow in Catalonia, and were generously served with cocktails and wine.

Back home, I decided to buy a Catalonian cookbook and the one I chose was Catalon Cuisine, by Colman Andrews, published in 1988.

The recipe I chose to make first from the cookbook is Roast Chicken in Samfaina. Samfaina is, according to the author, “a kind of baroque sofregit.” Okay. But then he writes that it’s virtually identical to the ratatouille of the Cote d’Azur, but also that samfaina is “the most important, unique and incorruptible dish which Catalan cuisine has brought to gastronomy.” I’m confused.

Wherever its origin, the samfaina must be prepared first.

Samfaina
Makes 6-8 cups

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound Japanese eggplant, skin on, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound zucchini, skin on, cut into 1/2 – 1” cubes
8 medium tomatoes, seeded and grated
1 1/2 pounds red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a cassola or Dutch oven and add the garlic, onions, eggplant, and zucchini. Stir well so that all vegetables are coated with oil.

Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Uncover and turn heat up slightly, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.

Add the tomatoes and peppers, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has again evaporated and the vegetables are very soft.

Season to taste.

Roast Chicken with Samfaina
Pollastre Rostit amb Samfaina

1 – 4-5 pound roasting chicken
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
5 cups samfaina

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken into 6 or 8 serving pieces, rub all surfaces well with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then roast skin side up for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until the skin is golden-brown, and the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork.

Remove the chicken from the roasting pan, and set aside, keeping it warm. Pour off any excess fat, then deglaze the roasting pan with a few tablespoons of water. (I used some white wine.)

Add the samfaina to the pan, and stir well; then add chicken, and simmer briefly until heated through.

I’m not going to tell my mother this, but I’ve had ratatouille, and samfaina is better. Why? I have no idea. My tomatoes were really ripe perhaps.

The samfaina was actually sweet, in a good way.

This is a spectacular dish. Not terribly pretty, but comforting, hearty, and flavorful. I will be making this again!

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

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“This looks rather like a volcanic eruption, in the best possible sense,” states Yotam Ottolenghi about this zucchini baba ghanoush recipe in his cookbook, Plenty More.

Indeed, it’s not the prettiest dip, but it caught my attention for a few reasons. Firstly, my husband won’t eat eggplant, so I thought that the zucchini substitute could work.

Secondly, I had a hummus years ago that had butter-sautéed pine nuts on it, as does this dip, and it was exquisite.

Thirdly, this “baba ghanoush” so resembled nothing I’ve ever made, that i just had to try it!

I was mostly excited that there are no garbanzo beans or tahini in this dip! Here’s the recipe from the cookbook.

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

5 large zucchini, about 2 3/4 pounds
1/3 cup goat’s milk yogurt
2 tablespoons grated Roquefort
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes, I used Aleppo flakes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon za’atar, to finish
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the broiler. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.

Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain; you can also scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 – 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.

To serve, put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper.

Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.

Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and pine nuts.

Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once.

This dip is better than incredible.

I served it with flatbread triangles.

The zucchini makes a nice base for the toppings.


It won’t be long until I make this again!

Full disclosure: I used goat cheese in this recipe instead of blue, only because there was blue cheese in another dish I served to friends the evening I served a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 

 

 

 

Turkey Zucchini Burgers

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or, Embracing  the  21st  Century.

It might seem odd to admit this, being that I’ve been cooking for about 40 years, but I’ve never owned a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Why? Well for one thing, I’m more a cook than a baker. For another reason, I have a really old house. My countertop surface area is limited, as well as the vertical space from countertop to the above cupboards. So I haven’t been interested in a giant appliance that would monopolize my kitchen work space.

Well, here we are in 2017. I just received my first Kitchen Aid stand mixer, Artisanal Series. I purchased it at an incredible post-Christmas sale price of $278.00.

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What prompted me to finally give in was that my sister-in-law sent me a Kitchen Aid spiralizer attachment for Christmas. She, of course, assumed I already owned a stand mixer, like most people do.

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I called her to say “thank you” but “no thank you.” But that’s when I got chided into embracing the 21st Century kitchen. I thought long and hard, but finally gave in. So now I own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and a spiralizer attachment.

When considering how to christen my spiralizer, I immediately thought of zoodles, which are zucchini noodles. And then I saw this photo online.

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I’d love to give somebody credit, but the photo was on Pinterest with no information associated with it. I just knew I had to test out my new spiralizer in order to make these burgers!

I opened the spiralizer box and it looked like something that an assassin would have. I took a big breath and read the directions.

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Here’s how I created my electric-powered zoodles, in order to make turkey zoodle burgers.

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Turkey  Zoodle  Burgers

1 pound lean ground turkey
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped orange bell pepper
Garlic pepper
Salt
Bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup
Zoodles, made from 1 medium zucchini
Olive oil

Place the turkey, eggs, onion, bell pepper, and seasonings in a medium bowl. Stir until combined.

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Stir in the bread crumbs. Use enough to stiffen the burger mixture but not so much as to dry it up.

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Chill the burger mixture in the refrigerator and proceed with the zoodles.

To make the raw zoodles for these burgers I used the extra-fine spiralizer blade. The spiralizer plus the two other parts were easy to put together. Relief!

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Simply turn on the mixer and watch the noodles form!

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I placed the zoodles on paper towels to release some of their water for about 45 minutes.

When you’re ready to make the burgers, remove the burger mixture from the refrigerator.

Place the zoodles on a jelly-roll pan drizzled with olive oil.

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Using some of the oil on your hands, form four even-sized burgers. Then press them gently into the zoodles on both sides.

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Pour some olive oil in a flat skillet over high heat. Add the burgers and cook them for about 4-5 minutes.

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Turn them over gently and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to lower the heat as you cook the burgers through, without having to flip them over any more. Total time varies on the burger thickness; you can always use a meat thermometer to check the doneness.

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I served these burgers with a mayonnaise mixed with some paprika creme. It was a wonderful combination.

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You could also make a Sriracha mayonnaise, or use Dijonnaise as a condiment.

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I wasn’t tempted in the least to wrap burger buns around these burgers. They are just too tender, delicious, and pretty as is!

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So, first off, I learned that with half a brain one can easily use the spiralizer attachment on a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. And now I’m intrigued and excited about other attachments….

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The burgers came out great, by the way.

Thai Chicken Curry

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I wanted to make this Thai curry for one big reason. I was hungry for a Thai curry. I don’t get to enjoy them often, because my husband doesn’t like the sweetness of Thai food. Nor are there any Thai restaurants where I live. So occasionally I just crave them and must make one for myself.

Thai curries require Thai curry paste. They can be made from scratch, but then one would need to have on hand exotic ingredients like fresh lemon grass, glalangal and kaffir lime. I’ve never been able to get my hands on these ingredients, which is why I refer to them as exotic.

Fortunately, purchased Thai curry pastes, which are unique combinations of seasonings and aromatics, do all of the work for you.

I’m most familiar with three varieties from Mae Ploy, pictured below. I feel fortunate just to have these available to me!

The green is mostly green chiles and lemongrass.
The red is mostly red chiles and garlic.
The yellow is mostly lemongrass and garlic.

There is a recipe on the back of these curry paste cartons. It’s simply this:

Combine 2 cups of coconut milk and 50 grams of curry paste of choice on the stove, add meat and add vegetables. It’s that easy to make a Thai curry.

So you can just add chicken or shrimp or even tofu to the curry-coconut sauce, and it is easy and delicious.

I prefer doing a stir fry with the protein and vegetables first, then adding the curry-coconut sauce. Basically the same concept, but a few more minutes required.

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Thai Chicken Curry

Oil
2 pounds chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt, Pepper
1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin pieces
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
About 3 tablespoons red curry paste – you might start with less and taste first
1 – 13.5 ounce can coconut milk*
Fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves
Cooked rice, optional

Heat some oil over high heat in a large skillet of wok. Add some chicken and cook it until mostly all browned, at least five minutes. You want it about 80% cooked. Season with salt and pepper and place in a serving bowl. Continue with the remaining chicken and set aside.

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Lower the heat to medium-high and add a little more oil. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms and cook for about 5-6 minutes; the veggies should have some color on them, but don’t let them overcook. Add the veggies to the bowl with the chicken.

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Place the 2 ounces of curry paste in the skillet or work and add the can of coconut milk. Whisk the mixture until smooth, then heat to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the sauce cook a little.

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When you’re ready to serve, place the chicken and veggies into the sauce and stir to incorporate well. Let everything heat through and serve the curry topped with some cilantro leaves.

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Or, if you prefer, serve the sauce on the side.

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The curry is very good served with rice, but as you can see, I spiralized zucchini, parboiled them for a few minutes, and voila! Zucchini noodles!

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* Make sure to buy canned coconut milk that is not sweetened for making pina coladas!!! There’s even LITE coconut milk if you prefer…

Black Bean Salad

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Last week on the blog I cooked a pound of dried beans to show how easy and inexpensive it is to prepare beans. But I also wanted to show what you can do with a pot of beans, such as use the beans in other dishes.

It’s easy to use the beans in soups and stews and even pastas. I love the idea of stretching dishes, especially those heavy with protein, in order to make them healthier. But there are also so many other ways to use cooked beans.

Today I’m going to make a bean salad. This is not an exceptional or “gourmet” recipe; in fact, you can really change it up to make it your own. But it’s a hearty, healthy, satisfying salad. I must say that whenever I’ve taken a bean salad to parties, people go nuts over them. And they’re so simple!

So hopefully this is a dish that you’ve never thought of making before, and are willing to try it out! It’s definitely wonderful to take to a pot luck, and it can be made ahead of time.

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Plus, you can use many different kinds of vinaigrettes or citrus-based dressing with bean salads. I even posted a bean salad on the blog a while back using a home-made green goddess dressing. So the options are endless!

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Black Bean Salad

Black beans, no liquid included
Raw zucchini, chopped
Fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Onion, finely chopped
Chile peppers, finely chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dressing (see below)

Begin by placing cooked beans in a medium-sized bowl. Then begin adding what you want to the beans. I’ve listed what I used, but the fun thing about these bean salads, is that you can use what you like.

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Continue to add the ingredients, then pour in the dressing and give everything a toss.

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I served my salad with some pickled jalapenos on the side, but you can offer anything you’d like.

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And that’s it! Think about how you can make this salad your own with your favorite ingredients, like including avocado, corn, and bell peppers, for example. It all works, and it’s all wonderful!

Lemon Garlic Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil, about 1/3 cup
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste

Place everything in a blender jar and puree until smooth. If you don’t want a Southwestern-flavored dressing, omit the cumin and oregano.

A Zucchini Pancake Challenge

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For a significant part of my life I can honestly say that I worked tirelessly to get people into the kitchen to make home-cooked meals. It makes so much sense from an economic standpoint, as well as for health and wellness reasons. Home cooking is generally less expensive and healthier than meals eaten out or worse than that – purchased as fast food.

But novice cooks are often overwhelmed with the idea of cooking without having a specific recipe in front of them. Especially women, in my experience. As a result, often food goes to waste, which defeats the purpose of home cooking.

Cooking at home is work, let’s face it. You need to keep your pantry stocked. And if you believe in fresh food, you need to make grocery lists and shop often.

But the most important thing in my mind, is to be creative in the kitchen without having recipes. A scary sounding proposition if you think that cooking is difficult.

Home cooking is not difficult. In fact, it’s way more fun than being a chef in a restaurant kitchen, in my mind, because you can make whatever you want on a daily basis, to suit your tastes.

Certainly prepping skills are good to know, as well as cooking techniques. But what I’m talking about is creating your own dishes based on what you have on hand. That way there is no waste.

Take zucchini. It’s September right now in the US, and zucchini, a summer squash, is still growing in my garden and readily available at grocery stores.

Sure, you can bake zucchini bread and muffins, but that’s not something that’s nourishing. I’m talking savory zucchini pancakes – a lovely vegetarian option, or a fabulous side dish to protein.

If you want an exact recipe, check out my squash and corn pancakes from last summer. It’s a little more involved, but there is a recipe.

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So the following is a guide to make your own zucchini pancakes. Put your personality into your own recipe. Season as you like. You’ll know when the texture is perfect when the batter is similar to breakfast pancakes – although breakfast pancakes with lots of grated zucchini! Take the challenge and see what you come up with. No recipe allowed!

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Zucchini Pancakes

Eggs, whisked
Zucchini, grated
Liquid of choice
Onion, diced
Chile peppers, diced (optional)
Parsley, chopped
Salt
Garlic pepper
Thyme (optional)
Flour
Butter

First, whisk your eggs in a large bowl. I used 2 extra-large eggs. Grate your zucchini and add it to the eggs. I used a medium-sized zucchini.

Prep your aromatics. I chose onion, red chile peppers, and parsley. Here’s how I chopped the chile peppers.

Then add the liquid to the batter, only about 1/3 cup, and the seasonings. You can use any herbs, spices, or even pesto!

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Give everything a stir. The mixture should look similar to this.

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Begin adding flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Don’t stir the flour in completely, just fold it in well enough to see if more flour is needed. These savory pancakes are not going to be as tender as breakfast pancakes, but we don’t want them tough and rubbery, either.

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Just add enough flour to bind all of the ingredients. Then stop. I didn’t use more than 1 cup of flour.

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These are not supposed to be big doughy pancakes with a little bit of zucchini. These are zucchini pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.

Add a generous amount of butter to the skillet, and then, when it’s almost browned, add spoonfuls of batter. Take the spoon and flatten the pancakes gently. If they’re too thick, there’s a risk of them not being cooked through.

After a couple of minutes, turn them over and cook for another couple of minutes.

If you’re unsure of the total amount of time required to cook these through, break open the first pancake and look at it. If the middle is still doughy, as this one is, then the pancakes need to be cook longer.

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Ideally, the outsides of the pancakes should be crispy and golden brown and the insides soft, but not raw.

Serve the pancakes warm. They’re delicious with a little dab of butter or even a little sour cream. Or simply, on their own.

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I served these spicy zucchini pancakes with a tomato salad, but my husband enjoyed the pancakes as a side dish. They also reheat very well.

Ideas for other options:

Shallots/garlic instead of onions
Green onions/chives instead of onions
Bell peppers/roasted red bell peppers instead of chile peppers
Other vegetables included like corn
Cilantro instead of parsley
Grated potato/summer squash along with the zucchini
Chopped walnuts/pecans
Whole wheat flour instead of white
Olive oil instead of butter

If you haven’t attempted savory pancakes like these before, and follow through on them without a recipe, please tell me about it. I love to see how you did. Because trust me, it will work!