Vegetable dishes to toast the New Year

January 5, 2015

Charred eggplant, top, can serve as dip for crackers or raw vegetables. Lightly braised sliced carrots top a labna-coated canape

After 2014ís amazing bounty of good meals, I contemplate the future. Right now, celebration food beckons. I plan to fill the party table with little nibbles inspired by some of my favorite meals.

First up, carrots. Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York transformed the ultra-sweet carrots grown by the visionaries at Stone Barns into a stunning main course, proving that with thoughtful cooking, vegetables can take center stage.

Iíll start my 2015 eating with a combination of kohlrabi and chayote ó vegetables Iím prone to overlook. Long, slow roasting draws out their sweetness. Topped with crumbled cheese and nuts, they satisfy deeply as a main or hearty side.

Still thinking about Barberís carrot cookery, Iím happy to find skinny carrots in three colors ó orange, yellow and burgundy ó in the produce sections at Whole Foods and Trader Joeís. Poached in broth with a pinch of sugar, the carrots taste irresistible. Seriously better than all those "baby carrots" I tote to lunch. Sliced thin into tiny circles, the three-color beauties will go atop a crisp cracker spread with creamy labna, a thick Middle Eastern yogurt, for a refreshing appetizer to serve with sparkling wine.

UK chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi inspired my love of labna as well as a great deal of my cooking this past year. Ottolenghi packs maximum flavor into all his recipes, a philosophy I wholeheartedly embrace. Iím particularly fond of the way he treats eggplant, from steamed to stuffed to cheesecake (amazing!).

His charred eggplant burned its way into my cooking repertoire, so I know eggplant in any form deserves a place in my New Year. Pureed, skin and all, charred eggplant makes a great veggie dip, sandwich spread and savory side to grilled lamb chops. I simply cook whole eggplant under the broiler, then season it with a bit of garlic and a modicum of oil. For special occasions, I double the recipe and cook the eggplants on the charcoal grill. The chestnut brown mash will keep a week in the refrigerator and is good served warm or cold.

I hope 2015 brings even more adventure than 2014ís travels. On my wish list: fall biking in Italy and summer hiking in Alaska. Until then, my resolutions include a focus around eating more vegetables, beautifully lean protein and inventive grain dishes. For starters, I plan to revitalize my snacking. Prosciutto-wrapped cucumber sticks happily replace the mundane turkey breast-lettuce roll-ups I usually nibble. I promise to better portion-control my afternoon nuts and to keep fresh fruit at the ready. I will shun ice cream and instead dream of the gelato on that Italian bike ride.

So you see, the New Year is destined to be filled with more good eating and many more memories.

óóó

ROASTED KOHLRABI AND CHAYOTE WITH FETA AND PISTACHIOS

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 4 main-course servings

Kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family, has a mild sweet taste not unlike broccoli stems. Most are about the size of a small baseball. Often, larger varieties like the Gigante can be found at farmers markets and are easier to peel. Kohlrabi is delicious eaten raw or shredded for use in salads and stir-fries. It takes well to roasting, which brings out its natural sweetness.

2 pounds kohlrabi, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 chayote squash, peeled, halved, pitted, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, dried Italian seasoning (or a combination of dried basil, oregano and thyme)

Freshly ground pepper

Several handfuls baby arugula or spinach

1 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese

1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped nuts, like pistachios

Chopped fresh parsley and chives

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix kohlrabi, chayote squash and onion on a large rimmed baking sheet in a single uncrowded layer. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, Italian seasoning and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Roast, stirring every 15 minutes, until vegetables are fork-tender and golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes.

Taste and season again with salt. Stir in arugula or spinach. Spoon into a wide, deep serving bowl. Top with cheese and nuts. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 293 calories, 22 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 662 mg sodium, 7 g fiber

CARROT COINS WITH YOGURT AND THYME

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: about 24

If using Greek yogurt, put it into a mesh colander lined with paper towels; let it drain so it thickens up a bit, 20 to 30 minutes. Balsamic glaze is sold near the vinegars; or simply boil balsamic vinegar until itís thick enough to coat a spoon.

4 to 6 long very skinny carrots, (about 8 ounces total) preferably tri-color

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1/4 cup labna or plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried

24 thin round rice and sesame crackers

Tiny fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic glaze

Peel carrots; cut crosswise in half. Put into a small saucepan with the broth; heat to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until nearly tender when a knife is inserted, 10-12 minutes. Drain; cool. Cut crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices.

Mix labna with olive oil and minced thyme in a small bowl.

Shortly before serving, spread crackers with a scant teaspoon of the labna mixture. Top with a couple of carrot coins. Sprinkle with more thyme, salt and black pepper. Serve drizzled with balsamic glaze.

Nutrition information per canape: 18 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 23 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

MASHED CHARRED EGGPLANT

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 2 cups

This mash is even better when the eggplants are roasted on a hardwood grill; make a double recipe. Serve as a dip with cut vegetables, pita chips or pumpernickel toasts. Or, serve as a side with grilled lamb and chicken.

2 medium eggplants, about 1 1/2 pounds total

1 or 2 cloves garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Heat a broiler; position the rack 6 inches away from the heat source. (Or prepare a charcoal grill until medium hot.) Use the tip of a knife to pierce the eggplants in a couple of places. Roast on a baking sheet under the broiler (or over the coals), turning every 10 minutes, until skin is lightly charred and the whole eggplant looks collapsed, about 25 minutes. Cool.

Discard ends of eggplant. Cut rest of eggplant into large chunks. With the food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic cloves to mince finely. Add the eggplant chunks. Process until nearly smooth. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the salt. Let machine run until the mixture is light and fluffy. Season with another tablespoon olive oil if you wish and the crushed red pepper. Serve warm or cold.

Nutrition information per 1/4 cup serving: 53 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 148 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

 

 


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