Monday, May 30, 2011

Syrian Chickpea & Quinoa Casserole (Gluten Free & Vegan*)

Memorial Day marks the start of summer and thank goodness warmer weather seems to have arrived. Yesterday in Great Neck Estates, we celebrated our Centennial with a big bash. The typical barbecue fare that most people have associated with Memorial Day weekend as the griddle sizzles with smoke.

I was manning the table for the Environmental Commission educating our 1000 families on Recycling, CSA's and Green Living. You can always drop me a line if you would like the comprehensive pamphlet that I created and I will be happy to email it to you.

In any event, Vegetarians seem to miss out on the barbecues and we are always in search of alternatives. It's like we are missing part of the fun. Memorial Day has always been associated with outdoor activities and barbecues while gathering with family and friends. So this year, I made a big dish suitable for a large crowd and almost anyone, especially the little ones will love it.

This Syrian dish known as Cascasoon is traditionally made with couscous, coming from the Arabic etymology, “minced into small pieces.” I have substituted couscous for quinoa, which does not compromise flavor whatsoever. For those of you that like melted gooey stringy cheese, you can bake the Cascasoon with cheese, which makes it more of a family meal that the kids will enjoy. I have used Muenster cheese, because I like that "Muenster" is a derivative of the Latin word "monasterium." Monks lived quiet simple lives in harmony with nature.

Memorial Day is the time to spend with your family- outdoors in nature, a meal that will bring harmony as you eat and chat together. This recipe has been adapted from Poopa Dwek’s Aroma’s of Allepo.

Serves 6 to 8


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (16 ounce) package of Quinoa (2 cups)
2 cups cooked Garbanzo beans ** (One 15 ounce can, washed and drained)
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 ½ cups water
¼ cup olive oil
¼ pound sliced Meunster cheese (optional)*

1 Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for 6 to 8 minutes, or until translucent.
2 Add the Quinoa and continue sautéing until the grain turns brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
3 Add the chickpeas (if not using canned, otherwise add it in step 4) salt, pepper and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat simmer covered until all the water is soaked up, about 25 minutes.
4 Pour in the olive oil and toss gently. If using canned chickpeas, add it in this step.
5 Optional: Spoon the Cascasoon into a baking casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake uncovered at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Cooks Note:
* Vegan option if not using cheese in step 5.
** To Prepare: ¾ cup beans, soaked overnight or boil them for an hour. Remove outer layer; drain and rinse.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Raisin Walnut Spiced Rice with Swiss Chard (Gluten Free, Vegan)

I know that most people dread Mondays- as it's the end of the weekend, that time you have off from work to spend your time as you wish. For others, like yours truly- I feel Mondays marks the start of a new week which always brings the potential for something new and exciting. I embrace that.
Something for your Monday sleepy heads- Meatless Monday is a movement or campaign that provides information and recipes you need to start each week with healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. Their goal is to help you reduce your meat consumption by 15% in order to improve your personal health and the health of the planet.
Presidents Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt galvanized the nation with voluntary meatless days during both world wars. Meatless Mondays intention is to revitalize this American tradition. They are spearheading a broad-based, grassroots movement that spans all borders and demographic groups. By cutting out meat once a week, we can improve our health, reduce our carbon footprint and lead the world in the race to reduce climate change.
This dish has everything I love in a meal; brown rice with walnuts, which gives it a hearty crunch, while the raisins and ginger tie the whole dish with a tad of sweetness. Of course the Swiss chards soaks up all the flavor adding peaks of  forest green to this robust dish. This rice dish is so filling it can be eaten on its own or as a side dish- thanks to Jan at Domestic Diva Blogspot who presented this recipe to Meatless Monday. 
Serves 4
2 cups brown rice, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup jumbo raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste

      1      Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the ginger and cook for another minute until fragrant.
      2      Stir and combine the raisins and walnuts and cook for 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the Swiss chard and continue cooking for 4-6 minutes, or until wilted.
      3      Stir to combine the cooked rice to the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sesame Oat Cookies (Wheat Free)

Along the Silk Road there are various adaptations of sesame cookies with each country preparing its own signature version. In China, sesame cookies are made into a ball with a red bean paste. In Greece, they are called Koulourakia and are shaped into ovals and the cookie dough is softer and oilier than most other recipes. This version intermingles both the eastern origin of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and raisins with the modern agricultural crop of oats readily cultivated in the west. These cookies are delicately spiced with cinnamon and allspice lingering in the background, however their presence is welcoming. Such a simple cookie to prepare, with a delightful crunch that is so unique.
Serves 20

1/3 cup tahini (Sesame Paste)
1/2 cup honey
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup apple sauce
1/3 cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds, raw
1/4-cup dark raisins


       1       Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper.
      2      In a bowl, whisk the tahini, honey, egg, cinnamon, allspice and salt.
      3      Stir in the oats, applesauce, sesame seeds, and raisins and mix until well blended.
      4      With a teaspoon, drop large dollops onto baking sheet.  Arrange 2 inches apart and bake for about 18 minutes or until firm and light brown.  Cool completely in rack before storing. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cajun Crunch String Beans (Vegan, Gluten Free)

I used to shop at this Israeli spice store located in Queens, NY- the most muti cultured borough in the world named Pereg. It's a gourmet herb and spice store that makes their own spice mixtures and teas where they are sold by weight in huge glass containers or in burlap bags. It's just my kind of place- so authentic.

In any event, I shopped there for years and even trekked out to Queens when I moved to Long Island. It was that worth it because the spices are pure, fresh and natural with no additives, no preservatives, no added volume and no food coloring. 

The last time I was there was a year ago. As usual they always displayed new things for their customers to try. This time it was cajun almonds. It was a gorgeous vibrant orange hue coating the almonds. I bought them, not knowing what I would do with them, until I had a recipe in mind. Since it was the CSA season and I got plenty of fresh snappy string beans, I figured these would work as a spicy topping. It was a bold spicy crunchy mixture livening up the string beans.

So months later and I wanted to make this Cajun Crunchy String Bean dish again. I drove out to Queens, only to find Pereg has closed and taken their business online. Disappointed, I went back home and decided to make my own Cajun Crunch Almonds.

Serves 6-8

1-pound fresh string beans, diagonally sliced 2 inches
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning

      1      Preheat oven to 350°F
      2      In a small bowl; mix and combine the almonds, Cajun seasoning and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Make sure to coat almonds with the seasoning.
      3      Line a small baking pan with aluminum foil. Arrange almonds in a single layer on baking pan and bake for 7 minutes in oven. Once done, set aside.
      4      In a medium size saucepot, heat 1-tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and stir until the garlic becomes fragrant and looks fuller.
      5      Add the string beans into the pot and sauté, combining the oil and garlic. Lower heat and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes or until the string beans turn a darker green color.
      6      When ready to serve, arrange string beans into a serving platter and top with the Cajun almonds.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thai Quinoa (Vegan, Gluten Free)

My parents used to live in Bangkok and when I would visit them, it was always a special treat to dine at the Thai restaurant in the Shangri La Hotel by the Chao Phraya River, also known as "The Brown River." No too imaginative with the name, the river was literally and still is brown.

My first boat tour down the Brown River, just minutes from the fancy Shangri La Hotel, and you were faced with rows and rows of shacks built on flimsy stilts in the water. Adults would launder their clothing in this brown water and children would happily swim in this mud water. It was so bizarre to me and a real eye opener at the tender age of 9 yeas old at the destitution many people in Thailand lived in.

I really appreciated the simple creature comforts of a fluffy bed, nice clothes, food and a warm shower.

I do miss Thailand sometimes, as it's also known as "The Smiling Country." Thai people speak very softly and always greet respectfully. This dish transports me back to Thailand with the delicate combination of lime and basil topped off with the heat from the jalapeño pepper. This recipe is from Susie Fishbein's cookbook Passover by Design: Picture Perfect Kosher by Design Recipes for the Holiday.

Serves 6


1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
3 cups water
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
12 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 firm mango (not too ripe) peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/8-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime

1 Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a strainer. Do not skip this step or a bitter, soap-like natural coating will remain.
2 Once the quinoa is drained, place it into a medium saucepot with the water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until the water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the grains turn translucent and the outer layer pops off.
3 Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the minced jalapeno, basil, cilantro, red onion, and mango. Drizzle in the oil, salt, and lime juice. Stir to combine.
4 Add the quinoa and toss to combine.
5 Serve warm or at room temperature.
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