Archived entries for light

Out of the Salad Daze: Crunchy Cucumber Salad with Sesame and Peanut Dressing

Cooked dinners seem to make the best leftovers–I’m happy with a tupperware of pasta for lunch the next day, even giddy with the prospect of having extra grilled veggies or meats to save me from the perils of overpriced Flatiron-area lunch options.

But lunchbox salads are trickier: I hate how even lightly-dressed lettuce gets soggy in the fridge. The answer: skip the leaves. Fresh farmer’s market cukes and (ok, nonlocal) peppers, carrots and barely-cooked green beans are sturdy enough to stand up to a flavorful dressing (even after a night in the fridge.) Besides, it’s a nice break from humdrum salad greens.

This recipe is a spin on Americanized Chinese sesame noodles, but without the noodles. The key here is the awesome dressing: nutty and savory, with a kick from from Lan Chi chili soybean paste, fresh ginger and garlic. The crisp texture of carrots and cucumbers does mean your jaw gets a bit tired after a large plateful, but it certainly tastes healthier than the takeout classic. Instead of meat, I added in some shiitake mushrooms, cooked until velvety with a splash of soy sauce and sweet hoisin. They were plenty satisfying, though you could add stir-fried tofu or a little bit of cooked pork or chicken if you have any…

I’ll be honest–it takes awhile to cut all the veggies just so. Feel free to chunk them or slice however you like if you’re short on time. (And not just killing an hour while waiting for your husband’s train to arrive from Jersey.) But there’s something satisfying about the uniformity of vegetable shapes…perhaps you could do the whole thing faster on a mandoline?

This dish would be a great vegetarian option at a summer picnic or barbecue–feel free to make it earlier in the day and let it chill out a bit in your fridge. Pair with some chilled rosé or a tart riesling (or, if you’re drinking beer, a saison or a smoky rauchbier.)

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More Zukes! Light Zucchini Frittata with Basil and Mint

One of the greatest things about summer, to me, is avoiding the grocery store. Except for a few staples—we go through Cheerios like you wouldn’t believe—everything we eat in the summer can be purchased at the farmer’s market. There’s fabulous (though sometimes pricey) meat, all the vegetables we could desire, vivid-yolked eggs, and even homemade pastas and freshly-milled grains. It’s funny that my life in New York City brings me to a farmer’s market at least four days a week—I’m not sure I could hope for that if we moved somewhere quieter.

This light vegetarian supper was pretty locally sourced, if you’ll forgive me a splash of olive oil, a few spoonfuls of yogurt, and some quite necessary pinches of salt and pepper. The zucchinis were just too cute to avoid, even though I’d eaten my fill of them last week. The eggs were from a farm upstate, and had quite sturdy yolks—all the better for separating them. I probably could have bought the yogurt at the farmer’s market too, if I’d thought of it ahead of time. But this budget meal was assembled from what was already at home—extra vegetables from a stir fry, eggs I bought awhile back. The sweet zucchini is even brighter with a little of our balcony-grown basil and mint. A few fresh peas would have been great, as well.

My standard frittata is heavier on the yolks and usually includes some cheese. Feel free to riff, of course—a spoonful of soft goat cheese would be nice, as would a pile of shredded gruyere or asiago. But I’m experimenting with lighter meals and found this quite fresh and satisfying. The Greek yogurt adds a bit more substance (and is a good source of calcium and protein), though you must be certain to salt adequately, since it doesn’t have the salinity that cheese would add.

It feels right to lighten up our meals a bit in the summer, focusing on super-fresh produce and quick preparations. (I am also suffering, I must admit, from fear of a Certain White Dress and really, really hoping I can get it to fit in a few weeks time. 32 days. Not that I’m counting.) But if that means farmer’s market shopping from here on out, that’s ok with me.

How are all of you taking advantage of the season? Does anyone have a favorite light summer recipe to recommend?

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Spring is just around the corner (I hope): Sunchoke soup with ginger and rosemary

When we make it to this point in the year, that terrifying hinterland just on the cusp of Spring, I start to find the farmer’s market a little depressing. It’s hard enough navigating the endless fields of parsnips and swiss chard that appear all winter when you KNOW that other vegetables are ages away; getting this close to the real show, the return of variety, every day that passes without the tender greens (and purples, and yellows) of the warmer season gets harder to stomach. We are so close, and yet so far. The only way to remedy this malaise, in my experience, is to make something totally new, totally bizarre, something that you’re not sure will work.  Something like sunchoke soup.


The sunchoke, also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, is  variable that’s been kicking around my head for some years now, ever since I had an amazing bowl of sunchoke soup in (of all places) a tiny, ramshackle pub in Kent, England. I, of course, remembered no details of the soup  when I stumbled across the sunchokes (or, come to think of it, the flavor of the sunchoke itself), except for the fact that it was creamy and savory and delicious. This hole in my memory, while slightly daunting, left me wide open to just do what I do best: throw crap in a pan and see what happens. This particular day,  the fates smiled on me, and the sunny astringency of the aromatics complemented the nutty sunchoke beautifully. Throw in a little greek yogurt for creaminess, and you’re laughing!

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Flirting with disaster: Turkey meatballs for the masses!


It’s probably become kind of apparent by now that my general approach to cooking is…well…kind of lax. I rarely measure, I just kind of throw stuff in a pan. Sometimes this works, sometimes this comes back to bite me in the ass. And sometimes, both will happen at once, as was the case when I last made meatballs.

My starting point for these meatballs came from a recipe recommended to me by a lovely friend of mine (who also passed along her secret, awesome twist), a true virtuoso in the kitchen. After seeing her breezy, effortless way with these little delights, I was entranced, and immediately came home to try them. They were an unqualified success, and so I, of course, misplaced the recipe before the evening was over. Never to be seen again. Which meant I was, more or less, SOL when Bench requested a repeat a few days ago. Fortunately, these setbacks have never really stopped me; and so I trotted home, ground turkey in hand, to recreate the magic on a wing and a prayer.

ready to bake

Reasons why (in this particular instance) this cavalier attitude presented a slight problem:

  1. I messed up my liquid-to-solid ratio and oversoaked the crackers (standing in for the breadcrumbs–this is the secret, and IT IS AWESOME), resulting in a saltine porridge instead of a moist, crumby cracker dough, which meant I needed to compensate by adding vast quantities of additional crackers to dry out the Meat Dough.
  2. I came home with far more ground turkey than was really necessary. However, in light of problem 1, this turned out to be a blessing.
  3. I could not remember how to actually apply the heat to these things in order to cook them. Bake? Fry? What temperature? What? (In the clinch, I turned, as I so often do, to Mark Bittmann, who showed me the way when it comes to baking meatballs, turkey or otherwise).
  4. I failed to add two very important components: Salt and Pepper. Which I realized after I’d rolled out half the meatballs. Re-rolling raw meat=not particularly enjoyable.

However! By the time I actually got them in the oven, I’d actually gotten the hang of this endeavor, and think I might actually be able to make them from memory from here on out. I served them with a lovely spinach fettucine tossed in ricotta and lemon zest–highly recommended!

Light and lovely turkey meatballs

12 oz ground turkey (or pork; I’ll never tell!)
1/4 lb saltine crackers (about one tube if you buy one of the big boxes), crushed
1/2c milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

  1. In a medium-sized skillet, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil until just translucent. Turn off the heat and add the sage; mix thoroughly.
  2. Meanwhile, moisten the crushed crackers in the milk; don’t let them get too soggy! Squeeze out the excess moisture.
  3. Add the crackers, egg, onions and sage to the ground meat; mix thoroughly. if the mixture is too wet, crush some dry crackers into the mixture until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper.
  4. MEANWHILE! Preheat your oven to 350. While it’s cranking up, roll the meat dough into balls approximately 1.5″ in diameter; place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. When the oven’s ready, bake the meatballs for about ten minutes.

Light and Hearty: Open Faced Turkey Meatball Sandwiches

Whether you need something health(ier) to serve at a Super Bowl gathering, or just a comforting meal after a tough winter week, these are just the ticket. While these aren’t quite as quick as picking up meatball subs from Speedy Linguine down the road, they won’t weight you down as much. The recipe makes a giant pot—we’ll have them for quite a few meals since they freeze and reheat well. I love how the bread soaks up extra sauce, but when you get tired of meatball sandwiches, you could also serve the meatballs and sauce over greens or pasta.

My friend Laura taught me this method of making meatballs—there really is no need to fry them. They cook up in the sauce in half an hour, absorbing the lovely flavors of tomato and wine while they simmer. Turkey works great; they are completely satisfying without unnecessary fat. I also added a bit of ground buffalo since they were selling it at the butcher counter, but you can make these all-turkey, or mix turkey and beef or pork or lamb. Mixing the meatball mixture by hand really is best—it might be a good time to take off (and clean!) any rings you’re wearing rather than filling all their creases with raw meat. (Yum!)

You could make this with homemade sauce if you’ve got it around, but a jar of your favorite brand works as a great base for this quick doctored up version. If you’re really pressed for time, just use the jarred stuff, making sure it’s really simmering before you add the meat.

Open Faced Turkey Meatball Sandwiches
Serves at least four

Doctored Spaghetti Sauce

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 T tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp each dried oregano and basil
1/3 bottle dry red wine
1 can diced tomatoes
2 jars spaghetti sauce (I like Barilla)

Saute onions in olive oil in large dutch oven a minute or two. Add mushrooms, saute until onions become translucent. Add tomato paste, stir and let caramelize slightly. Add garlic, oregano and basil, and use wine to deglaze, scraping bits from the bottom of the pan. Add tomatoes and spaghetti sauce, stir and let simmer 20 minutes while you make meatballs.

Light Meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 lb ground buffalo
3/4 cup panko or breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated hard cheese (romano is good)
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, chopped
herbs—a teaspoon total: try basil, oregano, thyme, fennel seed
salt and pepper
Doctored spaghetti sauce: use recipe above, or do however you like it.

In a large bowl, gently mix all ingredients above (except sauce) with your hands. Try not to overmix. Roll lightly in your hands to form small balls, do not squeeze together too much. Collect meatballs on tray, cookie sheet, or cutting board as you complete them. Add to simmering sauce. Bring sauce to a bubble. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring twice. Check one to make sure meatballs are cooked through before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For sandwiches:
1 baby baguette or hoagie roll per person
Meatballs in sauce
Parmagian or Romano for grating.

Slice bread in half, removing some of the bread filling in each half if you desire. Ladle meatballs and sauce onto each bread half. Top with freshly grated cheese. Serve with fork and knife.

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