Avocado Spread: Winter Greens

On a recent cold weekend in Detroit, two of the restaurants that I visited were serving avocado in all of its creamy glory. Avocado’s rich green color is a welcome sight, much like the first shoots that peek through the snow and mulch as soon as the weather turns to spring. The velvety texture of avocado is just as warming to the soul as is a drizzle of melted cheese on soup during a wintry spell. Red Dunn Kitchen plated the avocado on toasted wheat bread under piles of arugula, crowned with a poached egg. Selden Standard served creamy whipped avocado framed with beets and micro greens.

During winter, the silky consistency of an avocado boldly stands up to hearty winter flavors — which inspired my pairing of an avocado spread with roasted vegetables. In summer, chunks of avocado are a fantastic complement to the sweet tomatoes used in salsa or they can be added as a welcome layer in picnic sandwiches. Avocado contains many nutrients, and wears its superfood status rightfully all year round.

Avocado Spread

Avocado – 1, ripe

Lemon juice – ½ tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

Serrano chili – ½, cut finely (optional)

  • Peel the ripe avocado just before preparing the spread.
  • Remove the seed (but keep aside) and dice the flesh into big chunks.
  • Add the chunks of avocado into a food processor and process until you have a creamy spread.
  • Store the spread in a bowl. Season with salt and lemon. Add the chili for a spicy kick. Bury the seed in the spread, if keeping the mixture refrigerated. The seed prevents some of the discoloration that occurs once the avocado has been cut.

Serve immediately. Spread a thick layer on toasted bread or serve as colorful sauce-like condiment around hearty root vegetables.

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Finding Cultural Cohesion in Middle East Through A Cookbook

I came late to the Jerusalem cookbook, but as always in times of crises, sometimes inspiration finds you. At the end of a week dominated by headlines, I found an eggplant recipe that spoke to the interwoven food histories that exist in the Middle East. While faiths are varied, the food provides cross-cultural links that inspire celebration and conviviality rather than division.

In ancient Levantine, Asian, and European cuisines, eggplant is simply eaten fried. When an eggplant is broiled or roasted over a flame, the charred and blackened skin can be scraped away to reveal flesh that is both moist and sweet. In many Middle Eastern recipes, the resulting flesh is pureed further to make a variety of snack (meze). Keeping some of the burnt skin in the salad mentioned below adds a smoky depth. With minor additions, the salad can be adapted for all cuisines.

Eggplant Salad

(Adapted from: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi)

Eggplant – 1, cubed and baked

Tomatoes – 1, chopped and cubed

Cucumber – ½ chopped and cubed

Spring onions or shallot – 1, chopped finely

Fresh Parsley – 1½ tbsp

Lemon – juice from ½ lemon

Naan or Pita – 1

Yogurt – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Hard boiled Egg – 1, sliced into half

Olive oil – ½ tbsp

Mango pickle – 1 tbsp

Zhoug – 1 tbsp (optional)

  • Mix the cooked eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and egg.
  • Warm the naan or pita and lay it across the serving plate.
  • Spread yogurt across the pita bread. (The spread could also be hummus or tahini.)
  • Place the salad mixture over the naan or pita bread.
  • Drizzle olive oil on top.
  • Serve with mango pickle or zhoug.

Note: Zhoug is a condiment that combines fresh cilantro and parsley, green chilies, and dried aromatic spices of cardamom, cumin, and cloves. These ingredients, along with oil, sugar, salt and garlic are blended in a food processor to make a robust paste.


Burnt Eggplant With Garlic, Lemon & Pomegranate Seeds

Eggplant – 2

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Lemon – 1, zest and juice

Flat leaf parsley – 3 stalks, remove leaves and chop roughly

Mint leaves – 3 stalks, remove the leaves and chop roughly

Pomegranate seeds – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Broil the eggplant under a broiler for about 1 hour, turning it every 15-20 minutes.
  • When all the sides are charred, remove and cool. The skin comes away easily. Using a fork, scrape the flesh away in a smooth top-to-bottom motion. Let the flesh drain in a colander to remove all the liquid.
  • Meanwhile, mix all of the remaining ingredients, keeping aside a few pomegranate seeds.Add these ingredients to the eggplant.
  • When ready to serve, heap the eggplant mixture onto a plate.
  • Garnish with pomegranate seeds.


Heirloom Tomatoes: Tomato Chutney

Next to my home-grown, round, organic tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes look wild and crazily-shaped. Their sunset reds, dazzling yellows, and deep purple colors, along with striations and ridges, only accentuate their misshapen appearance. However, heirloom tomatoes’ strange form conceals a smooth texture and buttery sweetness. This combination of firmness and balanced acidity makes heirloom tomatoes a favorite in a Caprese salad – the bold flavors pair particularly well with basil vinaigrette. These same qualities make heirloom tomatoes good contenders in pickles and chutneys.


The best time to eat heirloom tomatoes is when they are at their peak during summer. Their flavors are best conserved when the fruits are stored at room temperature. However, as spoilage is quick, cooking the tomatoes into a chutney (with spices, salt and sugar) preserves them. Heirloom tomatoes can now be enjoyed well into fall!

Tomato Chutney

Heirloom tomatoes – 2, chopped

Onion – 1, small, roughly chopped

Ginger – 4-5-inch piece, chopped

Chilies – 7-8, adjust depending on preferred chili heat

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Salt – 1- 1½ tsp

Sugar – ¼ tsp

  • Process all the ingredients in a food processor or in batches in a blender, until you have a smooth mixture.
  • Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed cast iron pan.
  • Add all the blended ingredients into the pan and stir.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, and then let the mixture simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The mixture should have boiled down and have a creamy texture. Remove from heat and let the chutney cool.
  • Once cooled, store the chutney in sterilized mason jars in the refrigerator or freeze.


Tomato chutney, much like pickles, provides the zesty addition to an Indian meal of vegetables and meat served with rice or naan. Tomato chutney can also be used as a spread over cream/goat cheese in a sandwich or used as a dip with sliced, raw vegetables.




Introducing The Waffalosa: A Samosa Waffle!

At my last book club meeting, I was promised a waffle iron. The conversation evolved from discussing the book’s theme of coping with grief, and ended on letting go of the unimportant, such as kitchen gadgets cluttering our cabinets. We even considered swapping unused appliances at our next annual book swap. However, my friend didn’t wait – her waffle maker was at my front door by the next morning!

Getting a new gadget inspired me to experiment with a non-traditional recipe. I made a savory waffle Indian-inspired snack. A good samosa has a crusty outer shell and is packed with a coriander-cumin seasoned mixture of cubed potatoes and peas. A samosa is usually fried in hot oil to create that crispy covering, but that can sometimes result in a greasy snack. Occasionally, the vegetables explode into the hot oil through gaps in the seams of the covering.

By using the cooked waffle as a base, there was no messy kitchen counter splattered with oil or errant vegetables. The waffle also eliminated the stress about folding and overlapping the samosa’s cone shape along the ridges. The waffle sandwiched the potato and pea filling. Every bite of the newly christened “waffalosa” featured the best parts of a samosa: crisp crust and filling that remained intact as we ate it!

For The Outer Covering

Flour – 1½ cup, sieved

Egg – 1, beaten

Milk –1 cup, warmed

Butter – 1 tbsp, at room temperature

Baking powder – 1 tsp

Carom seeds or bishop’s weed (ajwain) – 1 tsp

  • Mix together the eggs, milk, and butter.
  • Mix the flour and baking powder together.
  • Combine both the milk mixture and flour mixture together. Stir with a light touch.
  • Add the carom seeds.
  • Add just enough water to get the mixture to a pouring consistency.

For The Filling

Potato – 1, peeled, cubed, cooked

Peas – 3-4 tbsp, cooked

Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

Onion – 1, small cubed

Green chili –2, chopped

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Coriander powder – 1 tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – to taste

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onion to the hot oil. Sauté until lightly browned
  • Add the green chilies and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the cumin seeds and stir until it sizzles.
  • Immediately, add the cumin seeds, coriander powder, and turmeric. Stir for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the cooked potatoes and peas and mix with the spices.
  • Season with salt.


Heat the waffle iron according to the instructions.

  • When the waffle iron is ready, pour the batter into the waffle pan.
  • Cover and cook unlocked for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the waffle. Let the waffle cool for a minute.
  • Using a rolling pin, flatten the waffle out gently.
  • Cut the waffle lengthwise into two halves. Put the filling into one half and fold over. Each waffle makes two mini “samosas.” A toothpick holds the contents together, but it isn’t necessary.

Note: Don’t limit the use of your waffle iron. Use savory batters to make empanada and Cornish Pasty waffles too!


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Chard: Summer’s Crop

Growing chard for the first time in my pocket-sized yard was exciting, as the leaves came up came up quickly and without much effort. This leafy vegetable (also known as Swiss chard) has a prominent colorful red or yellow stalk that runs through its 6-inch leaves. Chard’s beet-like leaves are tender when it is in season in July and August. After the first few leaves appeared, I cut them off around 2-inches from the ground. I was pleasantly surprised by the rapid growths, which easily gave me enough chard for a meal within a few days.

As we are currently in season, chard tastes less bitter than it does later in the year. Chard has many antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. The leaves retain a touch of earthy mineral flavor, much like its close relatives, spinach and beets.

Choosing And Using Chard

  • The stalk should be firm with no bruises.
  • The leaves should be crisp green with no brown or white marks or holes.
  • Just before cooking, rinse the leaves with fresh cool water.
  • Otherwise, store unwashed chard in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. The leaves wilt quickly in the heat.

Cooking With Chard

  • Using a sharp knife, cut away the stalks from the leaves.
  • Bring enough water to boil so as to completely cover the leaves.
  • Once the water starts to boil, put the chard into the water.
  • Cook for 2 ½ minutes, just enough time for the leaves to blanch.
  • Remove and drain in a colander.
  • Cooked chard can be substituted in recipes that use spinach or kale. My current favorite uses are adding the cooked leaves to an omelet, replacing spinach in the Indian–style spicy potatoes with spinach, and mixing chard with cooked pasta and shavings of Parmesan cheese.


Quinoa Soup

Summer isn’t typically the time for a warm, hearty soup, but inspired by a trip to Peru, I couldn’t wait to recreate my experience of eating quinoa as soup! Quinoa has been known as a superfood from Incan times, and is enjoying a resurgence both as a salad and as a filling main dish. As sopa de quinua, the cooked grain imperceptibly blends with vegetables to give the soup its rich and creamy consistency.

The texture of the soup immediately reminded me of another favorite, leek and potato soup. Quinoa cooks just as easily as a potato, and also absorbs the onion-flavor of leeks. The soup has a porridge-like consistency when processed in a blender, and can be thinned out by adding more stock. Peruvian cooks add other vegetables, such as squash and carrots, along with leeks.

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is noted for its abundant nutritional benefits and as a source of gluten-free, dietary fiber. Quinoa is actually a seed and not a grain. In Peru, where it grows in the Andean mountains, quinoa is referred to as the “mother of all grains” due to its versatility. Quinoa is available in red, white, or black varieties.

Quinoa Soup

Quinoa – 1 cup, rinsed under cool water

Leeks – 2, cleaned and chopped

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Butter – 1 tbsp

Stock (vegetable or chicken) – 2½ cups

  • Heat the oil and butter together in a large pan.
  • Add the chopped leeks to the melted butter.
  • Sauté the leeks for about five minutes, until they are soft.
  • Add the quinoa. Stir-fry for a minute, until well coated with the butter-oil mixture and leeks.
  • Add the stock to the quinoa. Bring the liquid to a boil
  • Turn down the heat, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa is cooked and soft.
  • Blend the quinoa-leek mixture in a blender until smooth.
  • Add more stock to thin out the soup. Serve hot.

Note: Add a dash of Peruvian Madre Selva or your favorite hot sauce.




Freezing Lemons and Limes

This past weekend, I had a farewell party for friends who were moving across the country. Although I tried to make things perfect, I forgot to buy lemons and limes to garnish pre-dinner drinks and to provide an acidic balance to my Indian dinner. However, when a guest asked for a lemon wedge, I remembered that I had both fruits in the freezer. A quick 20-second turn in the microwave, and the fruit cut easily and tasted as flavorful as if fresh.

Lemons and limes are readily available, but they can be pricey off-season. Besides thrift and convenience, the advantage of frozen fruit is that it still retains moisture and nutritional benefits. Citrus packs a solid vitamin C punch, and the juice is often used in home remedies. I freeze the fruit whole (grating the rinds to add as aromatic seasonings) and as cut wedges (adding them to cold and hot drinks). I liberally use lime juice in my favorite summer dish, Lime Rice, but I have lately taken to substituting cauliflower to make a less starchy version.

Lime “Rice” (with cauliflower)

Cauliflower Rice – 2 cups

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Lentils (red or green) – ½ tbsp

Whole, dried red chili – 2-3

Asafetida powder – ¼ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – to taste

Lime –1, juice

Curry leaves – 2-3 stalks

Cashew nuts or peanuts – ½ cup, dry roasted


  • Heat the oil in a wok or pan.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil.
  • As soon as mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds and lentils.
  • Once the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the chilies, asafetida powder and turmeric powder.
  • Add the curry leaves and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add the cauliflower “rice” to the pan. Lower the flame and sprinkle a tablespoon of salted water. Cover and let the cauliflower cook in the steam, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Add lime juice and salt, adjusting their balance according to your taste.
  • Garnish with cashew nuts or peanuts.


Kitchari: A Wholesome Cleanse

I have been extremely tired over the past few weeks, and knew that I needed a quick pick-me- up – a sort of detoxing cleanse to get me back on my feet. However, fasting or following a juice diet didn’t appeal to me during the winter season — a time when food provides needed warmth. It was then that I remembered kitchari (khichdi), a comfort food used when convalescing or as part of an ayurvedic diet in order to rejuvenate a fatigued system.

Kitchari is a preparation of rice, lentils, and vegetables, with a soupy, risotto-like consistency. Each of the components in kitchari contributes to wellness, and comprise easily digestible and water-soluble ingredients. The cooking fat is ghee (similar to clarified butter made without the milk solids), which acts as a fuel for digestion and elimination, the start of the detoxification process. The pale yellow lentils are hulled green mung beans, which cooks easily; and represent a simpler and lighter way of consuming protein and fiber. Spices such as mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and fennel add flavor to an otherwise mild and creamy dish.


Ghee – 2 tbsp

Basmati rice – ½ cup, rinsed several times

Mung Lentils (yellow mung dal) – ½ cup, rinsed several times and left overnight in water to soak

Vegetables – 2 cups, finely chopped (combination of carrots, pepper, beans, squash, asparagus)

Red onion – 1, medium finely chopped

Ginger – 1 tsp, finely sliced

Garlic clove – 2, finely chopped

Chili – 1, slit into half and deseeded if desired

Black mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Coriander powder – 1½ tsp

Asafetida spice (optional) – ¼ tsp

Fennel seeds – ½ tsp

Vegetable stock – 4 ½ cups

Salt – to taste

  • Drain and rinse the mung lentils that had been left overnight.
  • Heat the ghee in a pot.
  • When the ghee melts, add onions and cook until translucent.
  • Add the garlic, chili, and ginger and cook until garlic is pale brown.
  • Add the black mustard seeds, and watch for the seeds to pop.
  • Add the cumin seeds and wait until you hear them sizzle (a few seconds), and immediately add the remaining spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, asafetida, and fennel), stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds or so).
  • Add the drained rice and lentils and stir until lightly fried, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the diced vegetables and continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes.
  • The dish is ready when the rice and lentils are soft to touch and the vegetables cooked.
  • For the desired soupy consistency, add more water or boil off any excess liquid in the pan.
  • Eat immediately.

Note: Try herbal tea with shavings of ginger to complement the meal.






The Vegetable Butcher

Most Indian meals comprise a medley of vegetable dishes ranging from mixed vegetable curries to simple stir-fried dishes. Fish and meat are usually served as a side item, and often, they aren’t missed at all. During Lent, when I sometimes crave a little meat or fish, it is vegetables with distinct textures, such as fibrous plantains, nutty tubers, or dense elephant yam that stand in for the “meaty” substance to a meal. 

It is a good a time to eat more vegetables: Local farmers are growing vegetables that were once deemed exotic, and grocery stores are offering creative plant and soy-based substitutes for meat. “Vegetable butchers,” at food markets like Eataly in New York, give basic lessons on cooking this new produce; you can ask for tips on how to cut artichokes or how to finely slice jicama in order to add it to your existing salad repertoire. Vegetables are even tossed with spice rubs and marinades, and cooked like meat on the barbecue grill.

I was inspired to try the marinade on broccoli (one of my least favorite vegetables), as it is in season and packed with vitamin C. The spiced and roasted broccoli “steaks” were caramelized by the seasonings and flavorful – and the result was (almost) as good as ribeye!

Broccoli Steaks

Broccoli – 1 bunch

Soy sauce – 1 tbsp

Hoisin sauce – 1 tbsp

Rice vinegar – ½ tbsp

Hot sauce – ¼ tbsp

  • Preheat the oven to 425ºF
  • Mix all sauces (soy, hoisin, hot sauce, and rice vinegar) together.
  • Trim the bottom of the stem and discard leaves.
  • Slice along the entire length of the broccoli stem and floret. This cut gives broccoli the “steak” texture when cooked.
  • Place sliced broccoli on an aluminum foil, spreading them out evenly.
  • Roast for 25 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time.
  • Serve hot broccoli immediately.




Winter Colors: Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips

I was admiring the beauty of the season’s first snowstorm from my window, as the sunset’s orange glow reflected dramatically against the crisp white flakes. Whether it was the cold or the the medley of winter colors,  my dinner of roast vegetables managed to both counter and mirror winter on my plate.

Root vegetables are nutritious and earthy, fueling the body with starchy fiber. With minimum fuss of peeling and dicing, roasting these vegetables brings out undertones of caramelized flavors. Rosemary, with its woody stem, is the best herb to pair with root vegetables; the herb can withstand the heat while perfuming the dish long after it comes out of the oven. The creamy hues of turnip and parsnips, set against orange and purple rainbow carrots, are not just attractive, but create a hardy meal to face the cold.

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Carrots (purple and orange) – 8, peeled

Turnip – 1, peeled

Parsnips – 4, peeled

Olive oil – 2-3 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Garlic – 2-3 cloves

Rosemary – 4 sprigs

  • Heat the oven to 425ºF
  • Cut the vegetables into 1 ½ –inch pieces and put them into a large bowl.
  • Add the oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary to a separate bowl.
  • Pour the oil mixture over the vegetables, tossing well.
  • Spread the vegetables in a single layer in an oven-proof dish and roast them for 30- 40 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your vegetables.