I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sweet potato, kale and quinoa stew

In music, variations on a theme is called genius.  In art, being part of a series can elevate an ordinary work to the sublime.  In food, repetition is usually considered boring.  I, however, have lately found myself drawn to the same ingredients over and over.  My current muses?  Sweet potato, kale, and quinoa.  Maybe it's the season, or maybe just the mood my tastebuds are in, but I seem to cook with this triumvirate frequently. 

I started with another trinity: onions, bell pepper, and celery.  To that base I added some tomatoes, water, and cooked the sweet potato and quinoa together.  As the quinoa cooks, it absorbs the liquid and flavor, and you're left with a thick, rich stew to warm the belly.  I love my legumes, so I needed some chickpeas.  Voila: a quick, easy, and flavorful dish that will set the tastebuds singing.

1 small onion, chopped
1/3 green bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
1 small sweet potato, cut into chunks (approx. 1 C.)
1/4 C. quinoa
2 C. water
1/2 C. chickpeas
1 C. chopped kale
pinch salt and pepper

Saute onion, bell pepper, and celery until soft.  Add tomatoes and water and bring to the boil.  Add sweet potato and quinoa, and cook until sweet potato is soft and quinoa is cooked.  Stir in kale leaves and cook until bright green. 

Serves 1

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Stir-fried vegetables with miso-coconut sauce

Behind soup, a stir-fry is my favorite way to use up lots of vegetables, and quickly.  Somehow I always end up with six spinach leaves, three cherry tomatoes, half a carrot, one green onion, or other odds and ends in the fridge.  Individually, they don't amount to much, but added together they are truly greater than the sum of their parts.  Sort of like most boy bands, or the X-Men.

This particular combination of vegetables seemed suited for one of my most versatile sauces, a simple combination coconut, miso and fish sauce.  These, in my opinion, are all individually super heroes, and don't even need to dress in spandex pants to prove it.  And all three together... it's almost too much for my wok to handle.

The beauty of the dish is in its adaptability.  It will go well with almost any vegetables and is fantastic with rice or soba noodles.  Steam some fish on top of the vegetables or throw in some tofu, and get ready to leap tall buildings.

Mixture of vegetables.  I used here:
1/2 onion
1/2 inch ginger, minced
1 carrot, cut into thin slices
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 rainbow chard leaves, chopped
1/4 cup soy beans
1/4 cup corn
1 green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 C. water
1/4 C. coconut milk (or 1/2 inch slice creamed coconut)
1 tsp miso paste (less if dark/strong miso, more if white/mild miso)
1 tsp fish sauce

Saute onion until soft, add ginger, then carrot and bell pepper and cook for a few minutes.  Add soy beans and corn.    Add milk, miso paste, coconut milk, fish sauce and bring to simmer.  Stir in cherry tomatoes and chard, cook just until leaves soften.  Serve over rice or noodles, and garnish with green onion.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Roast vegetable and quinoa salad

'Tis the season.  Roast turkey, roast chestnuts, roast vegetables.  Maybe it's my sweet tooth, but nothing satisfies like a plate of roast root vegetables.  The way carrots, parsnips, onions, and sweet potatoes caramelize around the edges and grow soft in the center makes them like eating dessert for dinner, but wrapped up in the guise of a nutritious feast.  

I roasted a pan of vegetables to go with dinner and used the extras (which I barely restrained myself from eating) for a salad the next day.  I threw in some cloves of garlic -- the exact amount will depend on whether you have a meeting after lunch and how far away you want your colleagues to sit -- and added some cherry tomatoes at the end to concentrate and intensify their flavor.

As a textural contrast to the vegetables, I opened a can of chickpeas.  I had thought about serving my salad with couscous, but decided to make some quinoa instead.  I took one of the roasted cloves of garlic and mashed it into the dressing.  It was delicious, and good for warding off all those bloodsuckers at work.

Roast vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips (all par-boiled), onions (quartered but still intact at the stem), garlic (still in the skin), roasted at 350 in olive oil with salt, for approximately 30 minutes.  Add cherry tomatoes for last 5 minutes.
1/3 C. quinoa, boiled in 1 C. water until cooked through
1/2 C. chickpeas
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Lemon juice to taste (1 tsp or more, depending on acidity of lemon)
1 clove roast garlic

Mix oil, lemon juice and garlic, then stir through quinoa and chickpeas.  Stir through enough roasted vegetables to make a satisfying lunch.

Serves 1.

Kale with white beans

Greens and beans were made for each other, especially when the marriage is ministered by garlic and given away by bacon.  One of my favorite seasonal greens is curly kale, and try saying that five times fast.  For this quick dish, originally a dinner and then eaten as lunch the next day, I had to use my "before" picture instead of after packing it for work.  It just looked so much better, and I couldn't let it down by dressing it in plastic for its big day.  Thinking outside the box...

Omit the bacon for an easy, vegetarian main dish (served with crusty bread, brown rice or buckwheat, or stirred into pasta with a bit of the cooking liquid, topped with parmesan) and just increase the salt.  I used cannellini beans in this particular version, but butter beans and haricot beans are all good.  In fact, borlotti beans are excellent, but I would have had to call the dish "kale with taupe beans", which just doesn't sound as good.

2 strips bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 fat clove garlic, minced
Approx. 3 C. chopped curly kale
1 C. white beans
1/2 -1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon until crispy and fat rendered into the pan.  Remove bacon, drain off almost all fat, leaving enough to cook the onions and garlic.  Add onions and cook over low heat until translucent and soft.  Add garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes.  

Add kale and saute until bright green and softening.  Add beans, heat through.  Add balsamic vinegar, amount depending on strength of vinegar and personal taste.  

Serves 2

Masoor dal

I realize the risk I am taking in calling my most likely inauthentic Indian dish by its authentically Indian name, but what can I say -- I need to get my thrills somehow, and a bungee jump wasn't in the cards on a Tuesday night.

Anyway, I am currently experiencing a glut of lentils due to some unfortunate over-purchasing, and, it being cold and miserable outside (i.e. England), I crave warming spices.  A curry of red split lentils, with bright turmeric, bold coriander, and the other usual suspects would just about do the trick.  I also love coconut milk, and love the blocks of creamed coconut which I can just keep in the fridge and shave off little pieces here and there whenever I need a little bit.  Cans of coconut milk are just too restricting.  For those who have yet to experience coconut in this medium, this is what I'm talking about.  I threw in some carrots because they seem to be multiplying like rabbits in my veg box, always delivered faster than I can eat them.

I took this to work on top of some leftover rice and a few stray cherry tomatoes.  The result: a golden, creamy, remedy for seasonal affective disorder -- sunshine in a bowl.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 inch knob fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 medium carrot, cut into small pieces
1 C. red split lentils
3 C. water, plus more if the dal dries out while cooking
1 inch slice of creamed coconut, or approx. 1/3 C. coconut milk

In a medium saucepan, cook the onions until soft.  Add garlic and ginger, and cook another minute until soft.  Add spices and cook for a minute or two until they become fragrant.

Add lentils, carrots, water and coconut and cook for 20-30 minutes until the lentils become soft and almost melt into a thick liquid.

Serves 2

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Autumn vegetable ragout

The name of this dish is, as always, primarily descriptive, but also gives it that little bit of French flavor I get when I think of eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, leeks, garlic.  The basis for this dish were the two eggplant that came in this week's vegetable box.  I started out thinking I would make a ratatouille, but neither the vegetable box nor the local grocery store provided the necessary zucchini or any fresh herbs, so I made a slight change of course and opted for a heartier stew with sweet potatoes and cannellini beans as the base.  Haricot or flageolet beans would be a bit more authentic, I suppose, but also a bit too petit for this dish.  

I finished it off with a little bit of sherry vinegar to give it some zip.  I love using vinegar to lift a dish.  Like a spritz of lemon or lime, it can transform a dish from ok to oh boy.  But proceed with caution: I nearly killed myself and certainly killed dinner by over-dosing on vinegar for a cabbage soup.  Go slowly and see how the flavors develop after a few minutes.  Additionally, a few small capers could also add some pizzazz.  

I did not have any fresh basil, but I had my mother's home-grown and hand-dried basil.  This is a great trick for using up extra basil: when your plant really goes to town and you just can't face any more pesto.  You simple wash and dry the leaves, then place them on in a single layer a paper town and microwave in 30 second bursts, checking after each one.  Herbs are dry when they can be crumbled easily in your fingers.  

1 leek, washed thoroughly, halved and cut into 2 inch segments, white and green parts
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant (approx. 2 C.), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 carrot, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 C. vegetable stock (or more if needed)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 T. small capers (optional)

Saute leeks, carrots, and bell pepper in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or two.  Add tomatoes and vegetable stock, then sweet potatoes and eggplant.  Stir in basil.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes and eggplant are soft.  Stir in vinegar and capers if using, cook for another minute, then taste and adjust seasonings. 

Serves 2-3
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