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June 7, 2015

Burst tomatoes with fresh herbs {vegan, gluten-free}

Burst tomatoes with fresh herbs: so easy and so versatile!

K-I-S-S. Keep it simple, stupid. Have you heard that before? It's a design principle, originally created by the US Navy, that emphasizes simple solutions over the more complex. In cooking, keeping it simple means letting ingredients speak for themselves. A recipe with 25 ingredients isn't necessarily better than one with three ingredients, if those three work together and enhance each other. I could have called this recipe KISS tomatoes. I could have added more ingredients (garlic, cheese, dried oregano, onion, bell peppers, etc. etc. etc.), but really, all that needed to be there were the tomatoes and a few fresh herbs. We enjoyed these burst tomatoes as a dip for some toasted bread and, later in the day, as a sauce for penne pasta with just a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. If we'd had any left (None. Demolished.), bruschetta would have been on the menu, too. For the tomatoes, I used a box from the grocery store; they're out of season here in New England, but for this dish, they were just fine, as were the fresh herbs I bought at the market. In the summer, garden-fresh tomatoes and herbs will make this recipe sing.

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June 3, 2015

West African vegetable stew in peanut sauce {vegan, gluten-free}

West African vegetable stew in peanut sauce, a great main dish for vegans.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about adapting favorite recipes for changing dietary needs (newly gluten-free, pre-diabetic, vegetarian). When Jared, a local filmmaker who just happens to be vegan, and Jessica, an old friend of my husband Ted's, came to lunch a few weeks ago, I decided to take the West African chicken mafé recipe in my previous post, and veganize it. Out with the chicken, in with chickpeas. Potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms: the combination of firm and soft vegetables really worked, and with the rich peanut, tomato and coconut sauce, nobody missed the meat at all. Reaching for a tube of tomato paste in the refrigerator, I grabbed an identical-shaped tube of harissa instead, and added it to the dish before I realized my error. Wow! Great flavor, just a hint of smoky heat, that elevated the vegetable stew to another level; that's one error I'll make again and again.

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May 31, 2015

West African chicken mafé (chicken stew in peanut sauce) {gluten-free}

West African chicken and peanut stew: gluten-free, dairy-free, party-easy!

Ever since sixth grade, when I used my required year-long project to learn all about Ghana -- history, culture, geography, show and tell, and lots of book reports -- I've longed to travel to that part of the world. Recently, while flipping through one of my favorite mail-order catalogs, I spied a jar of West African maffé sauce. As I read more about it, I realized it was simply a shortcut sauce to use as a base for chicken mafé (yes, different spelling, but the same thing), a rich, thick stew combining peanuts (or peanut butter), tomato and a few spices you already have in your pantry. With coconut milk as the foundation, West African chicken stew is a perfectly rich and thick dish that happens to be both gluten-free and dairy-free. One jalapeño pepper, with the seeds and ribs removed, provides just the right amount of heat without overwhelming the peanut flavor; although the cayenne pepper really adds to the flavor of the chicken, you can cut the amount in half, or omit it. Serve the stew over rice, and it's a feast in a bowl, great for entertaining but easy enough for everyday.

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May 27, 2015

Canadian cheese, potato and bacon soup {gluten-free}

Use Canadian Oka cheese, or fontina, in this creamy potato and bacon soup.

My (Canadian) husband Ted often remarks that I don't include enough Canadian recipes in my cooking repertoire. He's not wrong. The truth is that I've never really been able to define Canadian cooking. We've enjoyed classic French-influenced food in Montreal; smoked oolichans in British Columbia; Chinese and Greek food in Toronto; lobster cooked every which way on Prince Edward Island. Is one cuisine more Canadian than the others? Still, when I create recipes for Ted that bring together Canadian flavors, I gravitate toward the trifecta of Yukon Gold potatoes, bacon, and cheese. This soup marries all three. If you can find Oka, a mild semi-firm cheese from Southern Ontario, please use it here. Easier to come by at my local cheese shop, Fontal, an Italian cheese, makes a sublime substitute, as will Danish Fontina, which is readily available here in almost any supermarket. If ever there were comfort food in a bowl, this creamy smooth cheese, potato and bacon soup is it, and you don't have to be Canadian to fall in love with it.

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May 6, 2015

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup, the perfect mate for a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the years after World War II, tomato soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches became a popular school cafeteria menu combination that carried over into home kitchens everywhere. Here's the most plausible explanation I've found for why this happened: institutional food service (including school cafeterias) paired grilled cheese with tomato soup to meet the minimum school lunch requirements for sufficient Vitamin C (from the tomatoes) and protein (from the cheese). As canned soups became more available and economical, and processed cheese extended its shelf life, soup and sandwiches were a practical choice for many school systems. Today there's only one reason we eat grilled cheese and tomato soup -- because it's still the best comfort food combination around. Of course, you can fancy up the cheese and bread in your sandwich, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a basic creamy tomato soup. When it's this easy to make soup from scratch, there's no reason to default to canned soup. By the way, both of my grandsons are dunkers, just as my school friends and I used to be, and this soup makes for great dunking of melty grilled cheese sandwiches.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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