Lunch


Canned beans are convenient, but for soup I prefer dried ones.  Not because the dried beans taste better — canned varieties, especially organic ones, are just as good — but because of the rich, earthy liquid left behind after they cook.  Flavorful and full-bodied, this cooking liquid makes an outstanding soup base — all you need add are some vegetables, maybe some grains, and a little stock or water.

Chickpea and swiss chard soup

Makes about 4 quarts

1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 c. wheat berries

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Measure wheat berries into a small saucepan and cover with cold water by about three inches.  Season lightly with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until wheat berries are chewy but no longer tough, about 1 hour.  Drain and set aside.  (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

In a large saucepan, cover drained chickpeas with three inches of cold water.  Bring to a hard boil and skim the froth off the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer until nearly tender, at least one hour.  Season generously with salt and cook until done.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid. (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

Warm a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion, celery, and carrot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add can of tomatoes and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 4 minutes.

Add swiss chard to pot and cook, stirring, until wilted.  Stir in chickpeas, wheat berries, stock, and about 4 cups of reserved bean cooking liquid.  Bring to a simmer and cook briefly to meld flavors.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Don’t have wheat berries? Cooked barley, kasha (buckwheat groats), farro, rice, and short pasta shapes are all good in soup.

Or chickpeas? I like white beans — from tiny navy beans to fat cannellinis — in brothy vegetable soups.

Or chard? Greens are good in bean soups because their natural bitterness complements the beans’ starchy creaminess.  Tougher greens, like kale, need to simmer for at least 15 minutes to soften.  Tender spinach is done when it wilts — you can stir it into the finished soup.

Or tomatoes? Bean and vegetable soups need acid for balance — if you don’t have tomatoes, try adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.

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This humble, hearty recipe began as an afterthought, thrown together at the last minute to round out a dinner of baked salmon and carrot salad.  I had half a box of orecchiette and a can of chickpeas languishing in the back of the pantry, an overgrown herb garden that needed cutting back, and — despite a nagging feeling that beans and pasta would be too heavy for a warm summer evening — no time to rethink.

Good thing, because the results were refreshingly delicious.  Better yet, our 5 year old (who tends to reject dishes speckled with “little green bits”) cleaned his plate!  And the leftovers, served with a scoop of sweet and tangy carrot salad, made an excellent lunch the next day.

Orecchiette and chickpeas

Makes about 3 1/2 c., serving 4

1/2 lb. orecchiette

15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook orecchiette in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender.  Drain.

While pasta cooks, whisk together lemon juice, oil, and herbs in a large mixing bowl.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Toss hot pasta and chickpeas with dressing.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve warm.

Crunchy and chewy, tangy and sweet, this fiber- and protein-rich lunch travels well and sticks with you all afternoon.  French green lentils and short-grain brown rice are idea for salads because they hold their shape and don’t get mushy when dressed.  If you can’t find them, brown lentils and long-grain rice will also work.

Lentil and brown rice salad with dried cranberries and orange

Yield:  Makes about 7 cups

1 c. short grain brown rice, rinsed and drained

1 c. French green lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 navel oranges

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)

1 handful fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

3/4 c. dried cranberries

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, cover rice with cold water by at least 2 inches and season lightly with salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until rice is just tender, about 40 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.

In a separate saucepan, cover lentils with 2 inches of cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15-18 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.

Wash and dry one of the oranges and finely grate its zest into a large mixing bowl.  Peel and segment both oranges, chop the segments, and add them to the bowl.  (The best way to do this is to first slice off the top and bottom, then stand the orange on one of the flat ends.  Following the contour of the fruit and cutting just deep enough to remove most of the outer membrane (but not too much of the fruit), trim off the peel in strips, top to bottom.  When all the peel is removed, hold the orange over the mixing bowl (to catch dripping juice) and cut in toward the center of the fruit on either side of each membrane to remove the orange segments.  Once all segments have been removed, squeeze any remaining juice from the membranes into the bowl.)

Add celery, shallots, parsley, cranberries, vinegar, and oil to the bowl.  Fold in drained rice and lentils.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature.

Best-quality canned tomatoes are key to this simple, well-rounded soup.  Roasting the tomatoes in a hot oven with a little sugar before adding them to the pot concentrates their flavor and caramelizes their juices.  If you chop and saute the other vegetables while the tomatoes are in the oven, the soup comes together in under and hour.  With a thick wedge of toasted cornbread and an apple, it makes a lovely lunch.

Roasted tomato soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups

2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes

1/4 c. olive oil, divided

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 Spanish onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 c. chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed

2 tbsp. butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Drain tomatoes, reserving about 3 c. juice in a large liquid measure.  Halve and seed the tomatoes (hold the halves cut side down and squeeze gently to remove seeds and pulp).  Arrange seeded tomatoes in a single layer on lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar.  Roast until juices are evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes.

Warm a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in remaining 3 tbsp. olive oil, then add onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and thyme to pot and season with salt and pepper.  Cook 2 minutes more.  Using a wide spatula, remove roasted tomatoes from foil and add to pot.  Pour in stock and reserved tomato juice.  Raise heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until all vegetables are very tender and soup is slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or blender.  Return to pot.  Stir in butter, if using.  Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and thin to desired consistency with additional stock.

My husband was in Buenos Aires last week for work.  Since that’s on a continent I’ve never been to, he departed with strict instructions to take copious notes on everything he ate.  I already knew some things about Argentinian food — the Pampa beef, the big red wines — so what I was most interested in was the everyday food.  How do they like their coffee?  Where do they buy their groceries?  What do they eat for lunch?

I struck gold with that third question.  After one catered mid-day meal — platters of tiny ham sandwiches on sweet rolls — the Americans joined their Argentine officemates at their usual lunch spot, a local panaderie.  The bakery sold sweet pastries as well as empanadas and a variety of savory pies called “tartas.”

It was these humble tartas — not the massive steaks — that I heard the most about.  Filled with zucchini (courgette, they call it), or corn and hard-boiled egg, or spinach and whipped pumpkin, each sounded more delicious than the last.  I knew I had to try making one myself.  As it’s not especially eggy or cheesy, I thought tarta might adapt well for our egg- and dairy-free household.  And adapt well it did!  I can’t speak for my version’s authenticity, but I can attest to its deliciousness.

Making this pie is a labor of love (read: a lot of work) but is well worth the effort, especially if you’re looking for a showstopping alternative to quiche for brunch.  Feel free to vary the vegetables, or omit the bacon for a vegan or vegetarian version, just keep in mind that you’ll need at least one binding element (like a puree) to hold the pie together.

Savory vegetable pie

Yield:  Makes two 9-inch pies

For pastry:

2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 c. butter, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, or dairy-free margarine, cold and cut into pieces

4 tbsp. cold, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

About 1/3 c. ice water, as needed

For spinach layer:

3 10-oz. packages frozen spinach, thawed

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1/4 c. currants, soaked in hot water to plump then drained

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper to taste

For cauliflower layer:

1 large head cauliflower (about 2 1/2 lbs.), cored and roughly chopped

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. butter, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, or dairy-free margarine

2 tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 c. low-fat milk or unsweetened rice milk

Pinch ground or grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

A few teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

For squash layer:

4 slices bacon (optional) or 2 tbsp. olive oil

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4″ dice

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

1 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme or oregano leaves

Make pastry:

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in butter or Buttery Sticks and shortening with a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best) until mixture is sandy, allowing some pea-sized chunks to remain.

Slowly drizzle in most of the water, stirring constantly with a fork until dough starts to come together.  If you press the dough into a ball and it crumbles when you let go, add another tablespoon or two of water.  Divide dough in half and roll each half into a ball.  Don’t worry if it’s a little crumbly — it will come together when you roll it out.

Flatten dough balls into discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (or make them in advance and freeze for up to 3 months).

Make spinach layer:

Press spinach in small handfuls between your palms to extract as much water as possible.  Set aside.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in currants, cumin, and spinach.  Set aside.

Make cauliflower layer:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss chopped cauliflower with oil and spread in a single layer on a large, foil-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast, turning cauliflower once or twice, until tender and browned, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to work bowl of a food processor.

While cauliflower roasts, make white sauce.  Melt butter or Buttery Sticks in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour to pan and stir with a whisk until smooth.  Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, whisking often.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Pour sauce over cauliflower in work bowl.  Process, scraping bowl once or twice, until cauliflower is very finely chopped.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Stir in lemon juice to taste, if using.  Set aside.

Make squash layer:

Cook bacon in a large skillet, over medium heat, until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour off all but 1 tbsp. of fat from the pan, raise heat to medium-high, and add squash.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash just starts to soften and brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in thyme or oregano and remove from heat.  Crumble bacon and stir into squash. (If not using bacon, saute squash in 2 tbsp. olive oil.)

Make pie:

Roll one dough disc into a circle about 1/8″ thick on a lightly floured counter.  Don’t worry if the edges crumble a bit.  Transfer dough circle to an ungreased pie plate, trim edges (use scraps to patch edges as needed), and crimp.  Refrigerate the first crust while you roll the second.

Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.  Spread half of spinach mixture into the bottom of each pie crust.  Top spinach layers with cauliflower mixture, then squash  mixture.  Bake pies for about 50 minutes, switching racks top to bottom and vice versa, until crusts are lightly browned.  Serve warm.

Vegetable pies keep well in the fridge for 4-5 days, and reheat beautifully in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven.

I’ve made this enormous, easy, and addictive pickled salad twice already since the new year began, in an effort to make good on a resolution to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.  It’s an old recipe of my grandmother’s that I remember fondly from my childhood, with just a few alterations (fresh green beans instead of canned, bell peppers in place of jarred pimentos).  We like it for lunch, with just about any kind of sandwich.

Overnight vegetable salad

Yield:  A week’s worth, for at least two people

1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 c. frozen peas

2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 red bell pepper,  diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 jalepenos, seeded and finely diced

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 c. white or apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. paprika

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Blanch green beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, measure peas and corn into a colander set in the sink.  Drain green beans into colander with peas and corn.  Rinse with cold running water to stop cooking.  Drain well.

Combine all vegetables and kidney beans in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, and paprika until sugar dissolves.  Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

Chewy, nutty barley combines with colorful vegetables and a sweet-tart vinaigrette in this hearty, nutrient-rich salad.  Blanching broccoli rabe subdues its natural bitterness,  while roasting brings out the sweetness of winter squash and cauliflower.  Festive and flavorful, this salad keeps and reheats well, making it a perfect make-ahead dish for a brown-bag lunch or holiday gathering.

Warm barley salad with roasted vegetables

Yield:  Makes about 14 cups, serving about 8

1 1/3 c. pearl barley

About 1/2 c. olive oil, divided

1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into bite-sized florets

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4″ pieces

1 large bunch broccoli rabe, stems cut into 2-inch lengths, tops roughly chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped

8 sun-dried tomatoes, plumped in boiling water, drained, then thinly sliced

1 handful fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bring one quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add barley and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Return to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, until barley is tender but still chewy, about 25 minutes.  Drain well of any excess water.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Line two large baking sheets with foil.  Toss cauliflower florets with about 2 tbsp. olive oil and spread in a single layer on one baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss squash with 2 more tbsp. oil, arrange on other baking sheet, and season.  Bake until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes.  Add vegetables to barley in mixing bowl.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, season generously with salt, and add broccoli rabe stems.  Cook two minutes, then add tops and cook a minute or two longer, until tender.  Drain, then shock under cold running tap water to stop cooking and set color.   Squeeze broccoli rabe to remove excess moisture, then add to mixing bowl.

Whisk together remaining 1/4 c. olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt until emulsified.  Add red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, and vinaigrette to mixing bowl and toss to combine.  Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve warm.

Salad keeps well in the fridge for about four days.

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