Main dishes

Savory, rustic bread crumbs add depth and texture to this simple, cheeseless pasta dish.

Spaghetti with chickpeas, zucchini, and bread crumbs

Serves at least 4

About 3/4 pound uncooked spaghetti

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 zucchini, chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you like it

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

1 cup toasted bread crumbs

Salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil.  Add spaghetti and cook until done.  Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, warm a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then add the zucchini.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute more.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Add the chickpeas, parsley, lemon juice, and hot pasta to the zucchini mixture.  Drizzle in the remaining olive oil and toss to coat.  Add pasta cooking water as needed for a loose, but not wet, consistency (about 1/2 c. should do it).  Stir in the bread crumbs and season with additional salt, to taste.  Serve immediately.


Creamy avocado, smoky bacon, and bitter radicchio unite in this boldly decadent (and completely dairy-free!) pasta dish.  Serve with simple grilled chicken or white beans dressed with olive oil and lemon.

Pasta with avocado, radicchio, and bacon

Serves 4

4 slices bacon

1 head radicchio, cut into 8 wedges

1 bunch scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced

2 avocados, chopped

Handful fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

8 ounces hot cooked short pasta shapes, such as radiatore

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Return the skillet to the stove, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook the radicchio wedges until softened and browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove to a cutting board.

Add the scallions to the pan and cook until just tender, about 1 minute.  Remove to a large mixing bowl.

Crumble the bacon and add it to the bowl with the scallions.  Roughly chop the radicchio and add it to the bowl.  Add the avocado, basil, and hot pasta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with olive oil.

Make it kid-friendlier:  Bitter radicchio may not appeal to tiny taste buds.  If you omit it, add the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons) along with the olive oil to balance the richness of the avocado and the saltiness of the bacon.

You don’t need a recipe to make a fantastic stir-fry.  You just need to follow a few simple steps:

1. Get your pan good and hot.  I don’t have a wok or a stove with an impressive number of BTUs, so I use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet for stir-frying.  It handles and retains high heat and is naturally non-stick.  If you’re adding meat, poultry, shellfish, or tofu to your stir-fry and like a nice sear on it, as I do, cook it first.  Then remove it from the pan before you add the vegetables.

2. Cut your veg into bite-sized pieces so they cook quickly and evenly.  Take the various cooking times of different vegetables into consideration.  Put tougher or meatier vegetables (like carrots, eggplant, and mushrooms) in the pan first, then add tender vegetables (snow peas, scallions) toward the end of cooking.  Go easy on the salt if your sauce is soy based.

3. Add a killer sauce.  I like a sauce that’s a little salty, a little tangy, and a little spicy.  Make sure you have enough — your stir-fry shouldn’t be soupy, but it shouldn’t be dry, either, especially if you’re serving it with rice.

Tofu vegetable skillet

Serves 4

For sauce:

5 cloves garlic


2 tablespoons grated, peeled ginger

4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari (or other soy sauce)

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For tofu and vegetables:

1 tablespoon canola oil

12 oz. package extra-firm tofu

12 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced


2 cups snow peas, trimmed

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 bunch scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced

2 heads baby bok choy, sliced

Make sauce:

Finely chop the garlic.  Sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of salt and use the flat side of a chef’s knife to mash it into a paste.  Put garlic in a small mixing bowl.  Add ginger, vinegar, tamari, and oils.  Whisk until well combined.

Cook tofu and vegetables:

Drain the tofu and wrap it in two layers of paper towels.  Press the tofu between two heavy dinner plates to remove excess moisture.  Cut the tofu in half through its equator to make two thin slices the same length and width as the original block.  Blot the cut sides dry.

Heat half the oil in a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear the slices of tofu until lightly browned on both sides.  Remove tofu to a cutting board and cut into bite-sized cubes.  Set aside.

Drizzle the remaining oil into the skillet and add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened, 3 or 4 minutes.  Add remaining vegetables and continue cooking until peas are bright green, about 2 or 3 minutes more.  Add cubed tofu and sauce and stir to combine.

Serve over brown rice.

The flavor base of this authentic Cuban dish is sofrito — an aromatic combination of onions, garlic, and green peppers that is to Spanish and Latin American cuisine what mirapoix is to French cooking. Resist the urge to turn these beans into chili by adding extra spices.  The restrained, balanced flavors – slightly smoky, slightly tangy, slightly sweet – are lovely on their own and easy on young palates.  Serve over rice or with sweet potatoes.

Cuban black beans

Makes about 8 cups, serving at least 6

1 lb. dried black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp. olive oil

4 thick or 6 thin slices bacon, chopped

1 Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large green pepper, seeded and diced small

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced small

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

Place beans in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Let beans boil 2 minutes, then turn off heat, cover pot, and let sit for 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Taste a bean.  If it is somewhat tender, season beans with a generous pinch of salt (if not, wait until beans have cooked a little longer before seasoning – adding salt too soon can result in tough beans), return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 20-30 minutes longer.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Drizzle oil into a large skillet or dutch oven.  Add bacon and set pan over medium heat.  When bacon starts to sizzle, stir occasionally until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add green pepper, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, until peppers are just tender, about 3 minutes more.  Stir in oregano, cumin, brown sugar, and cider vinegar.  Add beans and enough of their cooking liquid to just cover, about 2 ½ c.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

If you think of pot roast as dry, tough, and tasteless, think again.  With the right cut of meat — a well-marbled chuck roast is best — and a few flavorful accompaniments, it can be soft, succulent, and richly satisfying.

Unlike sirloin and rib roasts — tender cuts of meat cooked quickly in a hot oven — pot roasts are tougher cuts, cooked slowly at a lower temperature, partially covered with liquid.  This low and slow, moist-heat cooking method is called braising.  The long cooking time and gentle heat break down the connective tissues that bind the muscle fibers, rewarding the patient cook with a tender, delicious, and economical supper.

I like to braise beef in wine, or beer and vinegar, or with other acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) that stand up to and cut through the richness of the meat.  Though you can cook a pot roast on the stove, I prefer the even heating and fine temperature control of the oven.  Never let a pot roast boil, and don’t overcook it — it’s done when a knife or carving fork slides easily into the center of the meat.

Pot roast with onions and beer

Yield:  Serves 6

For braising:

2 tbsp. canola oil

3 1/2 – 4 lb. boneless beef chuck roast

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 lbs. yellow onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 12-oz. bottle dark beer

1 c. chicken stock or beef broth

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

For thickening sauce:

2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour


2 tbsp. cornstarch and 2 tbsp. cold water, stock, or broth

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Warm a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat.  Season beef all over with salt and pepper.  Drizzle oil into pot.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add beef and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a large plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions and bay leaf to drippings in pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and browned, about 25 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and stir in thyme.  Pour in beer, raise heat to medium-high, and stir, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Stir in stock or broth and vinegar and return beef to pot.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and put pot in the oven.

Cook for about 3 hours, turning beef once after an hour or so and checking periodically to make sure braising liquid is at a bare simmer.  If it’s boiling, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees.  Pot roast is done when very tender — you should be able to pierce it easily all over with a carving fork or knife.  Let meat rest in the pot for 30 minutes, then remove to a cutting board.

Skim fat from surface of sauce.  Taste, and season with pepper and additional salt as needed.  If you’d like a thicker sauce, you have two options:  a beurre manie or cornstarch slurry.  To make beurre manie ( or “kneaded butter”) work butter and flour together with your fingers until evenly combined.  Bring sauce to a simmer and add beurre manie in little pieces, stirring to dissolve.  Cook gently until sauce is lightly thickened.  To make a slurry, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, stock, or broth until dissolved.  Bring sauce to a boil.  Stir in slurry and cook 1 minute or until thickened.

Slice or shred roast and serve with onion sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in sauce.

Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free beer, or use 1 1/2 c. white wine instead of beer and omit the vinegar.  Thicken sauce with cornstarch, or make a beurre manie with sweet rice flour instead of all-purpose.

Tamales are so much work.  There’s the pork braising, the lard whipping, the husk soaking, the bundle tying, the hour-long steaming.  Delicious, to be sure, but not something I’d attempt at home more than once every decade or so.

A tamale pie, however, combines the best parts of the tamale — the soft, fluffy masa dough and the saucy, spicy filling — in a big, weeknight-friendly casserole.

My version is lard-free and heavy on the vegetables.  Masa harina is available in most larger grocery stores, but if you can’t find it you can top the pie with cornbread batter instead.  A cornbread-topped pie takes about 35 minutes to cook and is done when lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the casserole comes out clean.

Tamale pie

Yield:  13 x 9-inch casserole, serving 6-8

For filling:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

12 oz. mushrooms, sliced

2 zucchini, cut into 1/2″ dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tbsp. paprika

1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

15 oz. can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (with or without green chiles)

3 c. shredded, cooked chicken, turkey, or pork

15 oz. can kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained

2 c. chicken stock

2 tbsp. cornstarch

For topping:

2 c. masa harina (corn flour)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. cold butter (I use Earth Balance), cut into pieces

1 c. corn kernels (thawed, if frozen)

2 c. chicken stock

Make filling:

Warm a large, straight-sided skillet or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high and add mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in paprika, oregano, and cumin, and cook until mushrooms have released their liquid and most of that liquid has evaporated, at least 5 minutes more.  Stir in cider vinegar, tomatoes, chicken, beans, and all but 1/4 c. of the stock.

Make a slurry by whisking cornstarch with reserved 1/4 c. stock until dissolved.  When filling in skillet comes to a boil, whisk in cornstarch.  Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Set aside.

Make topping:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine masa, baking powder, and salt.  Pulse to evenly combine.  Add butter and pulse until well incorporated.  The mixture will resemble wet sand.  (If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut the butter into the masa.)  Add the corn and the stock and process until evenly moistened.  The mixture should be soft, light, and spreadable.

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Pour in filling, then spread masa topping over the top.  I find the best way to do this is to drop small spoonfuls all over the surface of the filling, then use a rubber spatula to gently smooth the surface.  Don’t worry if the filling isn’t entirely covered, but do try to spread the masa layer to an even thickness.

Cover casserole with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Uncover and continue baking 10-15 minutes more or until filling is bubbling around the edges and masa topping is set in the center and lightly golden in color. (If you’re not sure, pick up a bit of topping from the center of the pie — if it’s still raw underneath, return to the oven for 10 minutes more.)

Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.  Tamale pie keeps well in the fridge for about 4 days, though the tamale topping won’t be as fluffy when reheated.  Reheat individual servings, covered with a damp paper towel, in the microwave.

Make it meatless:

Use vegetable stock instead of chicken.  Omit the shredded meat and add an additional 3 cups chopped vegetables, beans, and/or tofu.  Try, alone or in combination:

∙ Eggplant, peeled, diced, and added to the pan along with the zucchini and mushrooms.

∙ Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced small, and added to the pan with the zucchini and mushrooms.  Before adding the cornstarch slurry, test a piece of squash for doneness.  If it’s not tender, simmer filling a few minutes longer before you thicken it.

∙ Fresh or frozen corn kernels, added to the pan just before the cornstarch slurry.

∙ Whatever cooked beans (or lentils) you have on hand.  A 15 oz. can contains about 1 ½ cups of beans.

∙ Firm tofu, drained, pressed, diced, and added to the pan along with the beans.

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