Asparagus Pasta, Born and Braised in Roxbury

26 05 2013

I can’t believe I made it home just in time to catch the end of asparagus season!

Inspired by Laura, co-owner of Riverbank Farm, my housemates and I decided to try making some asparagus pasta. Who knew that it would be so amazingly tasty? Freshly blanched asparagus pasta immersed in creamy asparagus sauce, and topped with broiled asparagus. wow.

This is definitely my new favorite meal! Too bad I will have to wait another year for more asparagus. If you have some left, I highly recommend making this tasty dish while you can.


Serves 5


4-5 bunches of asparagus

GF pasta, I really like this Quinoa garden pagoda pasta

1/4 cup olive oil, plus some for frying

1/4 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes, plus extra for topping

1 avocado

3 tbsp nutritional yeast

3 tbsp soy free vegenaise

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp So Delicious coconut milk (not canned coconut milk)

Juice from 1 lime or lemon (we used half of each)

2 tsp paprika

Salt (we used himalayan rock salt), to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Set aside 6 stalks of asparagus (you will broil these for a topping). Chop the rest of the asparagus stalks and divide into two piles. It would be good if one pile had nicer pieces such as the heads and slim stems and the other pile had the chunkier stalks. Make sure you have about 3 cups of chunkier stalks which you will use to make the sauce.

Start to cook the pasta. When it is almost cooked, but has maybe 30 sec – 1 min left to be fully cooked, add the pile of nicer pieces (heads and slim stalks). Let this cook for about 1 minute. The goal is to cook the asparagus until it is bright green and tender, but not so much that it starts to lose its color. If you haven’t already, steal about a cup of water from the pot and set aside, you will use this in the sauce. Then, after about a minute or when the asparagus is bright green, drain the pasta asparagus mixture, rinse with cold water, and set aside.


While the pasta cooks, you can start cooking the sauce. Start by braising 3 cups of asparagus stalks: sauté the asparagus on high heat until it browns. Then add about a cup of water from the pasta pot and continue to cook until tender, about 5-10 minutes.


Combine the braised asparagus with the rest of the ingredients (minus the toppings) in a food processor and puree until smooth.

While this is happening, drizzle some olive oil over the 6 reserved whole asparagus pieces. Broil these in the oven until crispy (but not burnt). Chop, and leave with the extra minced sun-dried tomatoes (this will be a topping).

Finally, combine the cooked pasta and asparagus with the sauce and top with broiled asparagus pieces and minced sun-dried tomatoes. Enjoy!


Below: Fred harvests the last of the asparagus from Riverbank Farm.





Squash Lid Tagine

28 02 2013

This past week I took a trip up to Matam (the North of Senegal) to say goodbye to my old home-stay family before I head back to the U.S. in May. It was wonderful to see my family again, and the villagers were happy to see me. It was a bittersweet couple of days. My family made me so much wonderful food and I got to hang out around the house and hold my Aunt’s newborn baby. However, the goodbyes were extra hard because I don’t know if I will ever see these people again, and they have no control over when they will see or hear from me again. My best friend from village tried to convince me to move to Senegal permanently. When I turned this down, she made me promise to take a few pounds of beans from her fields and a huge squash with me. As I was leaving, my family also made me take squash from their fields.

Thus, I showed up at our regional house full of squash, beans, and mixed emotions. Here I met Meredith, to whom I also have to say goodbye. She is finishing her service in Senegal next month and moving to Boston. Although I have hope of seeing her again stateside, it is hard to think we won’t be hanging out in Senegal anymore. As a goodbye present, she invented this recipe with the squash I brought from village.

This spicy, savory, Morrocan style stew is pre-cooked and then baked inside a squash  It makes the entire house smell good, and is a great comfort food, exactly what you want to eat when faced with saying all these goodbyes.


olive oil

1 large squash


1 med onion, chopped

3 medium to large carrots

1 head of garlic, coarsely chopped

1 med white sweet potato, chopped

2 small eggplants, cubed

1/4 heaping cup dried lentils

3 cups veggie broth

1/2 tsp paprika, divided

1/2 tsp cumin, divided

1/2 tsp turmeric, divided

1/2 tsp coriander, divided

1/4 tsp cinnamon, divided

a few shakes of black pepper

ground chili, to taste



Place the cubed eggplants in a colander and add lots of salt. Let them sit here and “sweat” while you brown the other vegetables. In the meantime, sautee the onions, carrots, garlic, and sweet potatoes, until almost soft (about 10 minutes). Stir in half of all the spices.  When the veggies are almost soft, add the eggplant and cook until semi-translucent and the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. During this time add some more oil if vegetables start to stick, and be careful not to overcook the vegetables. Add a 32-oz can of tomatoes and some more salt. Let the tomatoes break down and add the remaining spices, about ten more minutes. Here I would probably also add a small spoonful of honey.


While the tagine is simmering, cook 1/4 cup of heaping lentils in 3 cups of veggie broth. When the lentils are just cooked, but not mushy and there is about 1 cup or a bit more of veggie broth left the lentils are done. Add this to the completely cooked stew above.

Also while the tagine cooks, prepare the squash. Cut the top of the squash until you have a hole to put the tagine in, and the top should fit back in this hole. Then scrape out all of the goo. Next, rub olive oil on the inside, outside, and on the tray.

Preheat the oven to 35o degrees. Ladle the stew into the prepared squash and put the squash lid on. Cook until the squash is soft (about 3 hours). To shorten the cook time, next time I will try this at 375 degrees. It would also take less time with a smaller squash.


Note: the overflow from the soup that falls out during baking would taste wonderful on some home-made bread.


Carrot Soup

25 02 2013

Last time Meredith came to visit with her fiance Rick, they made this amazing carrot soup from Smitten Kitchen. Soup, especially pureed soup, is not my favorite, but I couldn’t get enough of this one! My only suggestion is to make more of it. soupWe didn’t have the means to make gluten free flat bread, so we served it instead with my favorite pre-made bread mix: Bob Red Mill’s GF Hearty Wholegrain Bread. breadNote: the bread calls for 1 egg, but it comes out great if you use 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds mixed well with 3 tbsp of water.

Vegan Valentine’s Day Feast

22 02 2013

Recently, New World Library sent me a free review copy of Feeding the Hungry Ghost By Ellen Kanner. Reading through this book I was inspired by her Veggie Bhaji. It used all the ingredients I normally cook with here in Senegal, but sounded like it would taste different from my normal (I’m always looking for novelty). Going off this, I decided to make it a valentine’s day event – this seemed appropriate since a repeated theme in her memoir-style cookbook is that of love and cooking for those that you love. Here’s what we made: simple daahl, Kanner’s veggie bhaji, flat bread and spiked chai.

Oh man, I don’t think I could have envisioned a more perfect meal for what capped off a perfect day. Really, the way the hearty and slightly sweet daahl complemented the fresh slightly spicy vegetables and came together on a slice of warm flat bread was perfection.  The spiked chai came from some vanilla Smirnoff vodka a friend had brought back from the U.S. We mixed 2 tablespoons of Smirnoff with coconut milk and then poured in the chai (made from a tea bag). I added some sweetener to mine, Rachel had hers without and we were both in love.


Simple Daahl:


veggie broth

1 cinnamon stick

salt and pepper to taste

Sadly I didn’t measure amounts, but it is fairly forgiving to make. Put lentils in a pot and add a lot of water (or veggie broth). You are going to want at least twice the amount of water to lentils, if not more. Add the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil and then cook covered at a low boil until lentils are very mushy. If you start to run out of liquid add more, if you have too much liquid and your lentils are getting mushy take of the lid and let the water boil off. Salt and pepper to taste.

Veggie Bhaji (printed with permission from New World Library):


3 tbsp canola or coconut oil (I used sunflower)

1 tbspn black mustard seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp unsweetened dried coconut (optional)

1 onion

1/2 head purple, Napa, or savory cabbage

3 carrots

1 red bell pepper sliced into skinny strips

1 jalapeno chili, minced (I used the chilies they have here in the market)

juice of one lemon

1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

sea salt

Shred the onions cabbage and carrots.  In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the mustard seeds. Cook with a lid and cook until the mustard seeds pop, about one minute. Uncover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and add the cumin, turmeric, and coconut (if using). Cook, stirring often, until the spices start to toast and the mixture becomes fragrant, about one minute.

Add the confetti of vegetables to the skillet and stir together over medium heat. Add the sliced red peppers and minced jalapeno to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about ten minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Season with sea salt.

Flat bread:


For the flat bread I used Pamela’s Gluten Free Bread Mix and followed the instructions for baking her pizza crust. However I never added the pizza toppings (-; While I don’t love this bread mix for bread, I think it makes amazing pizza crust and flat breads.


Spiked Chai:

2 chai teabags (or make it from scratch)

1/8 cup coconut milk (from a can)

4 tbslpn vanilla Smirnoff vodka

Mix the ingredients together and enjoy!

Cookbook Review: Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food

16 10 2012

Da Capo Press recently sent me a free review copy of Susan O’Brien’s latest cookbook: Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food. Thrilled to have a new cookbook to play with while home on vacation, I’ve been enjoying reading the book and trying out her recipes. This will be a bit of a long post, but if you scroll to the end there is a tasty recipe in store!

In her introduction Susan O’Brien says in writing this book she hopes to give us all inspiration to get creative, use her recipes as a starting place and then alter them to suit our needs, and I think that’s exactly what she has done. She provides 125 recipes spanning all meals and moods of the day from breakfast to ethnic food, family favorites, and desserts. For someone new to gluten-free vegan eating, this book could be a resource to help you find your footing as you think “so what can I eat?”. Not only is everything in the book gluten-free and vegan, O’Brien is also sensitive to other allergies. Meaning, while you will find some recipes with nuts and soy, she mixes it up so there is something in there for everyone.

For us veterans, it is always nice to read a quick book of food dedicated to what we like. I did find myself altering many of the recipes, but I enjoyed having them as a base to work from.

In the front of her book, O’Brien also gives us a nice run down of the different ingredients she uses in the cookbook and how she stocks her kitchen. My favorite part of this is the explanations behind different types of sweeteners, milks, wines, and the inclusion of places to go for more research on hot topics such as the pros and cons of agave nectar.

In her explanation of the vegan diet, she focuses on ways for vegans to find enough protein. Although useful, I think this reinforces the stereotype that most people have towards vegetarians — that they will be lacking in protein. Honestly, in my experience, if you are eating a healthy diet you are getting enough protein — check out this article for more information.  She doesn’t mention how vegans might need to try extra hard to make sure they have enough B12 in their diet. However, I am sensitive to this issue since I personally struggled with a B12 deficiency when I first switched over.

But now, to the most important part of any cookbook: the recipes.  So far, I’ve had a chance to try out five of her recipes, and I will review them here.

The first recipe I tried when receiving this book was her Millet Bread (pg. 101).

I have found gluten-free vegan bread incredibly difficult to make, and was excited to see that O’Brein has a recipe for bread that requires kneading!  I called up my friend and master bread maker from The Hungry Griffin to share my excitement and she came over to help me make it. The bread showed much promise in the beginning stages — it blended into a nice dough, was kneadable, and even rose beautifully.

Unfortunately, the final outcome was disappointing   The bread was a bit gooey on the inside, but I would have been afraid to let it cook longer.  The texture, even near the ends where it wasn’t gooey, was dense.  Plus, the flavor was a bit off. Anyway, I won’t be trying to make this bread again anytime soon.



The second recipe I tried was her Spinach Lentil Enchiladas (pg. 156).



I couldn’t find any commercial vegan cheese at the Trader Joe’s in New Jersey, so I made some without any cheese at all, and the other half I used a nut ricotta on the tortilla before adding the filling.  The half with no cheese at all was not very tasty, however the side with the nut ricotta was wonderful.  I had some difficulty with the lentils — she says to simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are ready.  After 40 minutes ours were still a bit crunchy, but I realized she didn’t specify what type of lentil so possibly we were using a crunchier kind.



Next, I tried O’Brien’s Black Bean Burgers (pg. 128).



I really liked these. I decided to serve them smothered in onions and mushrooms with a cucumber avocado salad on the side, and it was a perfect dinner!

My fourth recipe was her Meatless Meatballs (pg. 139).

These were amazing! Even my meat eating family wanted in on the action.  She says that her recipe is for 6 meatballs, I was able to make 12 medium meatballs with this much food.  Next time I might even make them a bit smaller.

Finally, my favorite recipe of the book so far is O’Brien’s Portobello Mushroom Steak with Smothered Onions (pg. 140).

I highly recommend this recipe, it was a winner with all of the mushroom eaters in my family. And, as a bonus, Da Capo Press was generous enough to let me share it here with all of you today!

Serves 4


4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons tamarind sauce

1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, pealed and sliced thinly (about 2 cups)

1 tablespoon arrowroot powder (optional)

1. In a casserole dish large enough to hold all four mushrooms  mix together the extra virgin olive oil, red wine, garlic, tamarind sauce, molasses, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk the mixture together well.

2. Add the mushrooms to the marinade, gill side up. With a spoon, drizzle some of the marinade over the top of the mushrooms and let sit for about 15 minutes. Flip the mushrooms over and marinate on the other side for another 10 to 15 minutes. Do not discard the marinade when you grill the mushrooms, as you can use it as a sauce to finish the dish.

3. Heat a large skillet to medium-high, add a small amount of olive oil and saute the onion until soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. If the onions begin to stick to the skillet, add a bit more oil, or some veggie broth. If the onions do not all fit in your skillet, then saute them in batches until they are all cooked. You want to end up with nicely browned onions that will be draped over your mushroom steaks.

4. Heat a barbecue grill to high heat and when hot, set the mushrooms on the grill. Cook on each side about 3 to 5 minutes. The mushrooms will release their juices when they are cooked. Be sure they are fully cooked, but not mushy.

5. If you wish, you can heat the reserved marinade in a saucepan to medium-high heat. When the sauce comes to a boil, add n 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder and whisk briskly to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and cook for a minute or 2 until the mixture thickens slightly. You do not need to do this step if you don’t want to; the marinade is great drizzzled over top of the mushrooms just as is.

From the book Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food by Susan O’Brien. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright ©

I didn’t have a barbecue, but grilling them on the stove worked well too.  I served this with fried squash and zucchini — what a great meal!

In conclusion, this is a fun book to get creative with. Although some recipes are off, others will knock your socks off. While I don’t trust the recipes enough to cook a blind meal for guests using this book, I can see I am going to try most of these recipes out because there are some real gems here.

If you’ve made it this far, I would like to note that Da Capo Press sent me a free copy of this book but the views expressed here are my own. In no way was I pressured or encouraged to write a certain way. If you are interested in more about this book, check out this great review I found.

Spicy Fall Stew Baked in a Pumpkin

23 12 2008

I intend to make this recipe a thanksgiving staple when I start hosting thanksgivings, does that mean I need to settle down? We baked ours in several small kabucha squashes from the garden.  Also, I coudn’t find hominy, so I substituted chick peas instead.  The recipe calls for cheese, but I left it out and wasn’t missing it. However, you could always try it with some Daiya cheddar cheese.

Eggplant Manicotti

21 05 2008

I really enjoyed this pasta free manicotti, however the spinach flavor was a little too strong for my tastes. I think next time I will cut the spinach filling in half and then use some nut ricotta to add to the filling. Instead of whole wheat flour, use some all purpose gf flour.

Pumpkin Lasagna

2 05 2008

This is my favorite lasagna recipe. It can take a while to make, but it is definitely worth the time it takes. Photo credit here goes to Jamie Tilley.

%d bloggers like this: