Weekly Winner:  Bridging the Seasons with a Comforting Stew

It has been unseasonably cool here the last few days and almost immediately I began thinking of “fall food”.  Those dishes that bridge the gap from end of summer to beginning of autumn without heating up the house too much and while still taking advantage of all the great summer produce.  And, to be honest, I’m just starting to tire of salads, grain bowls and the like.  I wanted comfort. And while I’m certain there are a few scorching days left for us here in Chicago this summer, I thoroughly enjoyed cozying up to a bowl of something warm with the windows open and a cool, autumnal breeze blowing through the house.

Curried Lentil-and-Vegetable Stew is the perfect “gap” meal.  The fresh tomato and zucchini still taste like summer and the curry, lentils and yogurt make it a substantial meal.   I will be making this dish long after summer and well into football season! The recipe comes Cooking Light and its one of those dishes that while it tastes extravagant, you know it’s incredibly healthy.

Curried Lentil-and-Vegetable Stew

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups chopped zucchini

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped, seeded tomato

2 Tbsp curry powder

2 Tbsp ketchup

2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 (17.6-oz) pkg. steamed cooked lentils (about 2-1/2 cups)

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

2 Tbsp plain whole-milk yogurt (I used more)

Procedure:

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add zucchini and garlic; cook 3 minutes. Add tomato, curry powder, and ketchup; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Combine stock and flour in a small bowl. Add stock mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Stir in salt and lentils; cook 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat; stir in lime juice. Divide lentil mixture among 4 bowls; top evenly with yogurt.
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Weekly Winner:  Pure Invigoration … and drop dead gorgeous!

Sometimes you just need a break.  As good as all the summer grilled meats, potato salads, hot dogs and ice cream treats are (and I don’t regret one of them) you need to cut through all that richness occasionally and just lighten up.  And when the salad is as beautiful as this one and makes you feel incredibly good both while eating it and afterwards, you’ve got yourself one heck of a Weekly Winner.

Rice Noodle Salad with Avocado, Mango, and Chile is that dish. It’s the one I’m going to start craving when I’ve overdone it a bit. It’s amazingly refreshing and the chile gives just the perfect kick. The recipe, which comes from Fine Cooking is so easy that literally, if you can boil water, you can make it.  So no excuses….make this dish!

Rice Noodle Salad with Avocado, Mango, and Chile

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup mirin

4 tsp Asian toasted sesame oil

2 tsp minced fresh Thai bird chile or similar

8 oz rice noodles (not vermicelli)

2 firm-ripe Hass avocados, diced

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil; more for garnish

1/3 cup salted dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lime juice, mirin, sesame oil, chile and 1 tsp salt
  • Prepare the noodles according to package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water.
  • In a medium bowl, gently toss the avocados, mango, and basil with enough of the vinaigrette to coat lightly.  In a large bowl, toss the noodles with enough of the remaining vinaigrette to moisten well.
  • Serve the noodles topped with the avocado mixture, peanuts, and basil.  Pass the lime wedges and any remaining vinaigrette at the table.

Weekly Winner:  Better (and Prettier) Than Takeout — Stunningly Simply and Sensational Sweet & Sour Sesame Pork

In general, I’m a fan of takeout (or, as is the case here in Chicago) ordering in.  We are fortunate here, because we can get basically any type of food delivered to our door.  Italian, Mexican, Asian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian… you name it.  Go online and within an hour, someone is ringing your doorbell with dinner.  The problem I have with ordering in is that while all of this is generally tasty, it can be expensive, is not usually healthy, can take a frustratingly long time, and generally is not too attractive by the time it arrives.

If I do order in, it is usually Asian food.  However, that may soon change. Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork is ridiculously easy, amazingly tasty and is on the table in less than a half hour.  And it’s beautiful to boot!  The recipe comes from Cooking Light and might just take the place of my local Asian takeout menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 1 pound baby or small bok choy, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups hot cooked brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Whisk together stock, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch, and crushed red pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high.  Add pork; cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until pork is browned and crumbled, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove pork from pan with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add bok choy and carrots to drippings in pan; cook over medium-high until slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add stock mixture and pork.  Bring to a boil; cook until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in sesame oil.
  4. Serve over rice, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  Banishing the Blahs with Bountiful Buddha Bowl

Let’s face it, grain bowls can get a bit monotonous — even downright boring.  More often than not they have some sort of Asian-based dressing and your standard-issue white or brown rice or perhaps quinoa but nothing new or exciting.

That is until I discovered the Green Goddess Buddha Bowl from Epicurious.  Having always loved Green Goddess salad dressing (even the bottled, supermarket variety) this was just the ticket to breakthrough my salad/grain bowl blahs.

This bowl uses farro as a base and an herby, garlicky dressing. Everything in this bowl seems vital to the overall yumminess and with the exception of the egg and the farro, everything in this bowl is some shade of verdant green so you know you’re eating good stuff.  I found myself getting increasingly interested in the dish the more I ate of it rather than tiring of it quickly as I do with a lot of salads.  It is also easily adaptable to your preferred veggies and herbs, however I find it rather perfect just the way it is.

Green Goddess Buddha Bowl

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound broccoli florets (about 10 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

4 large eggs

8 ounces sugar snap peas

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, and/or tarragon

4 cups cooked farro

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

1/2 cup baby greens

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss broccoli with 2 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until charred and tender, 15–20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add eggs, cover, and cook 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water (keep cooking water boiling) and let cool. Peel eggs.
  3. Add sugar snap peas to boiling water and cook until bright green and just slightly tender, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with ice water.
  4. Purée yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, 1 cup herbs, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Toss grains, 1/2 cup dressing, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Wipe out large bowl, then toss broccoli, snap peas, cucumbers, baby greens, and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Top with avocado slices, pumpkin seeds, and remaining 2 Tbsp. herbs. Slice eggs in half and add to bowls. Serve remaining dressing alongside for drizzling.