Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Warm Spices (garam masala)

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Hearty, flavorful soups are perfect in the winter. Butternut squash is an ingredient many people like. Here’s a version with a slight variation using Indian warm spices known as ‘garam masala’. This spice mix, like many, is slightly different from family to family and cook to cook when made from scratch. I take the convenient way out and buy mine from Penzey’s these days. Butternut squash is plentiful at my market, so I usually buy them on Saturday and roast them on Sunday. I try to use all of the parts of the squash, so I roast the seeds separately and use the roasted seed membrane, finely chopped in a tamarind, red chili and yogurt sauce (I’ll post this later)

Once the squash is roasted, the rest of the soup preparation is fairly quick. You could use an immersion blender for a more textured soup. I like to blend the soup for a velvety smooth texture, adding the roast seeds for crunch and flavor.

Butternut squashes a rich source of vitamin A, and also vitamins, C, B6, magnesium and calcium. Per cup, butternut squash is about 60 calories and contains 1.5grams of protein. It has dietary fiber, which keeps you feeling full and satisfied.

Interestingly, you need to eat some fat to absorb all that vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin. The extra virgin olive oil is a monosaturated fat, which is relatively healthy, but should be eaten in moderation like al fats.

RECIPE : ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH WARM SPICES (GARAM MASALA)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 cups cubed, roasted butternut squash (2 medium sized squash, peeled, tossed with a little olive oil, salt and petter and roasted at 400 degrees for 40 minutes til soft) 

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon garam masala  

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle  

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 quart/32 oz chicken or vegetable stock

  • Roasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro for serving  

PROCESS

  • Heat olive oil and garam masala in a deep pot over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the oil is just bubbling. Don’t burn the spices.

  • Add the squash, chipotle pepper and slat and toss in the garam masala for 1-2 minutes.

  • Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes.

  • Puree. If you’re using a blender be cautious with the hot liquid. Do not over fill, cover the blender lid with a towel and hold closed. Gently open the lid. Return the soup the the pan, thin with a little hot water if desired and adjust salt and pepper. If you’re using the immersion blender, go slowly and avoid splattering.

Makes 8 cups (6 servings)

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Simple Strawberry Sauce/Compote

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For some reason, I can never eat the strawberries I buy before they start looking tired and worn.  My intentions are good, but my follow through isn’t.  In Houston, which has an amazingly long growing season, we are seeing the first ripe strawberries grown in greenhouses. They have great flavor, but are not as sweet as the summer crop. I bought a carton at the farmers market last week and they were lost in the back of the fridge. So this morning, I brought them out of the cold and tried a little TLC. That would stand for Truly Lovely Compote.  This is an easy way to use up the not so perfect fruit—as a topping for pancakes. Compotes are sauces made from cut up fruit and a sugar.  If you strain it, it becomes a coulis.  You can use it on pancakes, ice cream, any plain cake, or on toast.   

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Freshly picked fruit is an amazingly rich source of Vitamin C, which starts to degrade quickly and is lost in cold storage and flash freezing.  Strawberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C, folic acid, manganese and potassium.  

The compote can be made in the time you get the pancakes cooked. What could be better really than a warm fresh strawberry sauce on stack of hot pancakes. It’s a perfect way to start the day. It also works well when you want breakfast for dinner.  Everybody wins. Especially the poor, forlorn strawberries. 

 

RECIPE:  Simple Strawberry Compote

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound fresh hulled strawberries, cut into pieces

  • 3-4 teaspoons of cane sugar

PROCESS

  • Place strawberries in pan with sugar.   

  • Cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down into a sauce. 

  • Adjust the sweetness with additional sugar as desired. 

  • Makes about 2 cups. 

 

Cast Iron Fish: The Easiest Way to Cook Fish

Wild caught fish is healthy and nutritious. It’s an excellent source of protein and healthy fats. Studies have shown that eating fish at least once a week may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and also helps lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. But, many people find cooking fish intimidating and messy. The fear of having our kitchens smell fishy is another deterrent to cooking fish at home.

Here’s my solution to the fish problem. By cooking the fish on a hot cast iron skillet in the oven, the clean up is easy and there are no droplets of fishy oil to splatter and make things smell fishy.

The thickness of the fish determines how long you cook it, but you can watch it turn opaque in the oven, so you don’t overcook it. If it’s undercooked, put it back in for another minute or so.

This method also helps to crisp the skin, which is a heathy part of the fish and where most of the really healthy fish oils reside. Did you know that the fish skin that’s taken off the filets is sold to the supplement companies to make the fish oil pills we buy? It’s becoming clear that taking fish oil capsules is not helpful for our health and may actually be causing harm by increasing the saturated fat in our diet without any health benefits. So why not just cook the skin so it’s crisp and enjoy it with the fish.

Depending on the type of fish, I season in different ways. With just caught snapper or trout, a little lemon, oil oil and salt and pepper will do. With a fish that has a stonger flavor, like redfish, mackerel or yellowtail (Japanese amberjack), I like to add spice blend like Penzey’s Northwoods Spice and Zatar. I always use a spritz of lemon and a little rub of olive oil. Remember to check to see if the spice blend has salt added before adding salt.

I hope you will try adding this method to your cooking fish and experiment with different fishes and spices.

RECIPE: Cast Iron Fish

INGREDIENTS

  • Flat bottomed cast iron skillet (like Lodge brand)

  • Skin on fish filets

  • Lemon

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Salt & Pepper

  • Spice mix (if using, eg Penzey’s blends; remember to check if it contains salt and don’t add additional)

PROCESS

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place skillet in oven for 15 minutes while you prepare the fish

  • Drizzle the skin side of the fish with lemon, rub in a few drops of olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper or the spice mix. Repeat with the other side.

  • Take the skillet out of the oven and lay the fish in skin side down. It will sizzle.

  • Place in the oven for 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Look to see that the fish tuns fully opaque. Let the fish rest in the skillet for a minute. If it’s not fully cooked when you take it out of the oven, just return it to the oven for another minute.

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Pasta with Peas & Dill

Simple pastas are the best. That’s what I learned in Italy. Get good pasta, hopefully fresh, but frozen will do and good quality dried is fine too. Don’t complicate the sauce. Use what you have. I get my pasta from Casetta, where they get their flour from Italy and the chef is Italian!

I got to this from my travels to Turin. I was there for a conference in the 1990s. I was attending a course that ended late and I missed dinner. On my way back to my hotel, I stopped in the little bar for a drink and asked if there was a place to get some food as the hotel restaurant was closed. The owner went into the back and came out with a lovely bowl of pasta with peas in a simple butter sauce. It was delicious. Heavenly. So I came back the next evening and he made another plate of pasta for me, this time with herbs he had on hand. The third night I asked if I could see how he created this magical pasta and he showed me.

This pasta dish is a homage to my teacher in Turin. Travel is remarkable in so many ways, but for me food and connection to place is the most meaningful.

The pasta and peas both provide protein, the butter and olive oil are good fats and the dill gives vitamins and mineral. You can eat this alone or with a small piece of fish or a few shrimp. It’s really delicious. If you don’t like dill, use parsley or a combination of other herbs instead. It’ll be just a good, only different.

RECIPE: Pasta with Peas & Dill

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Teaspoons good butter

  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive oil

  • 2 Tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (1 Table spoon regular lemon juice)

  • 1/4 Teaspoon crushed red chili

  • 1 Cup chopped fresh dill

  • 2 Cups frozen peas, rinsed in water

  • 2 Tablespoons creme fraiche

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • 8oz fresh pasta

  • Grated parmesan for serving

PROCESS

  • Warm butter, olive oil in a pan on low heat.

  • Add lemon juice and chili flakes.

  • Add dill, salt and pepper and gently warm for 1-2 minutes.

  • Add peas and warm for 2-3 minutes.

  • Add creme fraiche and mix to create sauce.

  • Add pasta, toss and cook with sauce for 1 minute.

  • Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

Serves 2-3

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Happy New Year Black-Eyed Peas (Instant Pot)

I live in Texas. Here, as in most of the southern United States, we celebrate the New Year with foods representing luck and prosperity. Black-eyed peas likely originated in West Africa and were introduced to the southern United States as early as the 17th century by people brought here as slaves. It is this rich food culture that provides the symbolic food of New Years Day. The black-eyed peas represent luck, collard or other dark greens represent wealth and cornbread echoes gold. All our hopes for the year set forth in food.

I recall our wonderful neighbor, Louise Mann, bringing over a tray loaded with peas, greens and cornbread every New Years Day until she finally taught me how to make them. She made her back-eyed peas with ham hocks and her greens with bacon. They were delicious sopped up with the crumbly, sweet cornbread.

This recipe is a new one I tried in 2017. I was hoping for something lighter and brighter and this is what I came up with. The Rotel tomatoes and chilies are also regional, but you can likely get them online. They ended up in the recipe as I attempted to clean out my pantry.

Black-eyed peas are very nutritious. A cup contains 14g of protein, is rich in calcium, folic acid, vitamins A and C and is less that 200 calories.

I hope you have a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

RECIPE: Black Eye Peas (Instant Pot Recipe)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Cup chopped fennel 

  • 1 Cup chopped Spanish onion

  • 2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

  • 1 can Rotel original diced tomatoes and chilies(10oz) Do Not Drain

  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz) Do Not Drain

  • 24oz fresh or soaked black eyed peas

  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

PROCESS

  • Sautée fennel & onions with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and sugar until starting to turn brown on edges.

  • Add the black-eyed peas and canned tomatoes and Rotel with liquid.

  • Add 20oz water and 1 tsp salt.

  • Cook using bean setting (30 min high pressure) with natural release.  Smash a few peas against the side of the pot and stir in for a creamier texture if you desire.

  • Alternately, you can cook them slowly on the stove top for about an hour and a half, until tender.


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Changing Seasons: Herb & Citrus Shrimp

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As the weather changes, the cooler temperatures bring tender herbs back to the market. Although this recipe was originally created in springtime, the ingredients are now available at the farmers market where I live. I’ve just started retracing my steps: cooking at the farmers’ market to help my patients and community understand how to easily prepare what was available was a wonderful challenge. I’d forgotten this recipe which was originally on my Facebook page, where I would post right after the cooking demonstrations; actually there were so many recipes concocted in the moment on Saturday mornings that I didn't keep track. I’m now going back and retrieving them. It makes me realize that my food choices are getting simpler overall. With great ingredients, very little has to be done to get incredible flavors. The shrimp I get from Lil Emmas Seafood was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico a few hours before I buy them Saturday mornings. My favorite, gulf brown shrimp, are sweet and delicious.

This recipe takes under 10 minutes to prepare. One pound of shrimp makes 4 servings. At only 125 calories a serving, with 24 grams of protein and 190 mg of cholesterol, this is an easy and nutritious meal.

RECIPE: HERB AND CITRUS SHRIMP

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound shrimp, cleaned and deveined

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1.4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

  • 2 teaspoons extravirgin olive oil

  • 1/3 cup each, chopped flat leaf parsley & fennel fronds

  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice (or 1 tablespoon regular lemon juice)

PROCESS

  • Clean & devein shrimp. Toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly cracked black pepper

  • Sautée shrimp until they starting to turn opaque, about 2-3 minutes depending on size.

  • Add herbs and lemon juice and toss to coat

  • Serve with a salad, good bread, pasta, quinoa.... Or just enjoy !

 
 

Tuscan Kale & Pecan Pasta

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When time is short, the ingredients limited because you cleaned out the fridge in advance of leaving town, and you’re trying to follow the Healthy Is Homemade motto, this dish is the perfect solution.  

I usually have several types of raw nuts in the pantry and they are a perfect addition to pasta for protein, healthy fats and to keep you full. The lucky part of the day was being able to harvest the little tender shoots of a potted Tuscan Kale plant that sprouted on the very long stalk I let bolt this spring (in hopes of harvesting seeds, but I lost track of time). I tasted the leaf, preparing myself for some serious bitterness. If you’ve ever grown lettuce and let it bolt, you’ll know what I mean—the once sweet leaves turn incredibly bitter. To my great and delicious surprise, it was sweet and tender, with marvelous kale overtones. I harvested about a cupful and chopped it up with an equal portion of pecans. I had  a half cup of grated Parmesan in the fridge. I had 15 minutes. The dish sprang to life. 

We ate, did the minimal clean up and headed to the airport happy that we wouldn’t have to resort to the mostly unhealthy food choices available to us.

I will be making this again with fully grown Tuscan kale. You can substitute any sturdy, dark leafy greens, thinly sliced brussel sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli leaves, or even napa cabbage. Spinach is not a good choice here as it wilts away to nothing and gets watery.

RECIPE: Tuscan Kale & Pecan Pasta

INGREDIENTS

  • 4oz dry spaghetti cooked to al dente in salted water

  • 1 cup chopped raw pecans (you can use walnuts or almonds instead)

  • 1 cup chopped Tuscan kale (or any sturdy green)

  • 1/2 cup grated parmegiano regiano

  • 1/3 teaspoon cracked pepper

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup retained pasta water

PROCESS

  • Boil water, add salt and cook the pasta. While the pasta is cooking,

  • Heat butter and oil over medium flame. Add the pecans and gently toast.

  • Add the chopped kale and sauté until gently wilted. About 2 minutes. Add the pepper.

  • Add the cooked pasta and toss. Add the cheese, 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss to combine.

  • Adjust the seasoning. Remember that the cheese will add salt to the dish, so taste the completed dish before adding any salt.

    Serves 2

 
 

Roasted Eggplant (Aubergine): The perfect canvas

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I have loved roasted eggplant since I was a wee child.  Both my grandmothers cooked eggplant over earthen or clay stoves with wood fires.  The smoky, luscious eggplant was dressed with cilantro, green chilies and mustard oil.  My maternal grandmother may have added sautéed onions and a few spices on occasion.  

Roasted eggplant is beloved by many culinary traditions.  Middle eastern dishes like babaganouj and Persian spiced eggplant are some of my favorites.  The mediterranean and the near and far East have their own versions. I've described the simple method favored in Bengal. In other parts of India, tomatoes, spices and garlic are added with amazing results and complex tastes.  

I demonstrated this dish at the farmers' market a few summer ago.  I don't usually cook it at home as my husband doesn't prefer (his code for 'I really don't like') eggplant.  He's tried it and just doesn't like it. I've always wondered if he'd feel differently if we called it aubergine, which is far more sophisticated and appealing. 

Last weekend, I was in line a produce vendor at the farmer' market and the two women in front of me were talking about eggplant.  One said it looked great, but she didn't know what to do with it.  So I offered up this technique in which you can take the flavor profile into any direction that you prefer.  The roasting takes a little time and can be a bit messy if done over a gas flame (lining your stove with foil may help), but it can also be done in a broiler with the eggplants cut in half and laid with the cut side down so the outsides char.

The smoky, umami liquid that pools when you allow the eggplant to cool in a bowl is too delicious to toss; strain it into the pulp.  Waste not want not. 

I have dressed this with parsley, mother of thyme (a little less intense than regular thyme), gray salt, lemon  and olive oil.  I added a teaspoon of mustard oil in honor of my grandmothers--the pungent flavor blends perfectly with the smoky sweetness of the eggplant. You can add other herbs, garlic, onion, spice mixes including zatar, ras el hanout, herbs de Provence, garam masala, cumin, Thai curry paste, Chinese five spice, miso, tahini or something from wherever your imagination and inspiration lead you.

Large, globe eggplants work best here.  Medium rounded eggplants will also do.  One large black beauty eggplant yields about a cup of flesh.  You can roast an army of eggplants, or treat this like the precious, special dish that it is.  Eat less; savor the flavors and the moment. 

In terms of nutrition, eggplants are a rich,low calorie source of fiber, providing vitamins C, B6, niacin, Folate and also minerals such as potassium and magnesium. 

You should really try this dish.  Who knows. You may make an aubergine lover of someone.

RECIPE: Roasted Eggplant with parsley, mother of thyme, lemon and olive oil

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large black beauty or other globe eggplants
  • 1 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 table spoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon mother of thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon gray salt (more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice (more to taste depending on the acidity of your lemon)
  • Strained juice of the eggplants
  • 1 teaspoon mustard oil (optional)

PROCESS

  •  Roast the eggplants until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is very soft.
  • Use spoons or knives to break down the flesh. 
  • Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Season to taste.
  • Enjoy.

Makes 2 cups

 
 

Summer Oatmeal-A Cool Idea

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I love grains.  They are good and good for you in so many ways.  Humans have eaten them for thousands of years and many of the vitamins essential to good brain, heart and overall development come from grains.  That said, I despise processed cereals, which are a blight upon the earth; ok that may be a  little heavy but not inaccurate.  I can say this because I spent most of my medical school life eating frosted flakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It was easy and delicious.  I just had no idea that it wasn't really food but sugar with a false label telling me I was getting nutrients in a bowl.  After researching processed cereals several years ago, I came home and threw out all my husband's Cheerios, including the chocolate.  This was an unpleasant surprise for him.  We got through it.  

But here's something more pleasant-a cool (literally) way go prepare oatmeal in the fridge.  It can be personalized based on what dry fruit one prefers.  There's no cooking and it can live in the fridge up to a week making it perfect for school day breakfasts as well.  Make them in smaller mason jars and you can take them to go.

I'm using Mcann's Irish Rolled Oats here.  I like currents and have recently discovered dried mulberries.  These have no sugar added.  You can enhance the oatmeal with additional chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachios) and fresh fruits, berries or yogurt. The combinations are only limited by your imagination,  As always, I encourage you to eat seasonally.

You can use a larger jar and increase the amounts--just leave some room for the oatmeal to expand a little.  Your can mix all the ingredients in a bowl and divide into smaller jars for individual and to go servings

RECIPE:  Summer Cold Oatmeal

In a Pint canning jar, place:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/8 cup dried currants
  • 1/8 cup dried mulberries
  • Add 1 and 1/2 cups of whole milk.
  • Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight (about 12 hours)
  • Spoon out about 1/3 into a bowl and enjoy as is or with the toppings of you choice.

Makes 2-3 servings

Suggestions for toppings:

Peaches, pecans and honey

Berries, almonds, yogurt and honey

Blueberries, walnuts, cinnamon and maple syrup

Bananas and brown sugar

Fried Squash Blossoms Bengali Style

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I love squash blossoms! Did you know that the entire squash plant is edible?  Many cultures prepare the leaves and peel the stems to use in soups, sautés and curries. So if you don't get the squash when you plant it , it's not a total failure.  The most laborious part of preparing squash blossoms is removing the stamens from the base inside the blossom. Since I'm frying these, and not stuffing them, it doesn't matter if the the flower tears a bit--it'll be dipped in a delicious, savory, crunchy batter soon enough, covering any flaws. 

This is one of the simplest recipes from the State of Bengal in India and one that has been made in my family for generations.  I have adapted the recipe using soda water to create a lighter batter. 

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These blossoms have a delicate flavor and this light batter works well. The nigella seed adds a nice mild oniony flavor. The low temperature frying is done in olive oil, a good for you mono-unsaturated fat.  I eat these free of any guilt as they are really good and good for me--all things in moderation of course.

Squash blossoms are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. They offer a good source of iron, potassium, calcium and beta-carotene and are high in fiber.

RECIPE: Fried Squash Blossoms Bengali Style

INGREDIENTS

  • 14-16 blossoms, stamens removed

Batter:

  • 1/4 cup rice flour 
  • 1/8 cup chick pea flour
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 
  • 1/2 cup soda water
  • Extra virgin olive oil for shallow frying

PROCESS

  1. Prepare blossoms by gently shaking off any debris and carefully removing the stamen.
  2. Set a pan on medium heat with 1/4 inch of oil to cover the bottom.
  3. Prepare batter by whisking all ingredients in a bowl.
  4. When the surface of the oil begins to move, hold the blossoms by the base, gently coat with batter and lay into oil with a movement away from you.
  5.  Fry until golden on both sides. Place on rack or brown paper to drain.

Enjoy at once! They are also delicious at room temperature. 

Can be enjoyed on their own, as a crispy element to a meal, with a cool herbed yogurt or green goddess dip. I love them with a glass of champagne or sparkling rosé.

Quintessentially Summer!