As the summer growing season heats up, it’s time to consider putting vegetables in the center of your plate, rather than thinking of them as a side dish. We’re starting to see locally grown broccoli, spinach, spring greens, asparagus, even tomatoes show up at the market.
These four vegetable-forward recipes can be the star of any dinner. Meatless Monday becomes Meatless Tuesday and perhaps Wednesday. As meat prices rise and shortages continue, there’s no better time to stop thinking of meat as the focus of the meal.
Serve with a late spring salad of arugula, mustard greens and any spring greens.
Dal (Lentils) With Tomatoes, Coconut Milk And Cilantro
A friend recently served me this hearty lentil dish and I immediately fell for the Indian flavors, rich coconut milk and tender lentils.
The lentils are cooked with fresh ginger, garlic, ground cumin, canned or fresh tomatoes, and then finished with coconut milk and fresh cilantro. The dish will last several days.
- 1 cup dried brown, split red or yellow lentils, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon ghee or butter (ghee is clarified butter frequently used in Indian cooking*
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (grate the ginger on the finest knob of a cheese grater)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chili pepper, like jalapeno, or a generous pinch of crushed red chili flakes
- 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes, or 1 cup fresh, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- Cooked rice for serving
*To make fragrant ghee (which has a higher smoke point than regular butter): Melt a stick of butter over low heat. Once melted, raise heat to medium. A foam will appear on top; skim off with a kitchen spoon. Cook until a second foam appears and the butter is golden, about 8 minutes. Pour into a clean jar through cheesecloth and let cool. Ghee will keep refrigerated for up to a month.
- In a medium pot, bring 3 cups salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Drain any remaining water and set aside.
- In the same pot, heat the ghee or butter over low heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Stir in the cumin, salt, pepper and chili pepper and cook another minute. Stir in the lentils and tomatoes and 1 1/4 cups water and cover; cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring every ten minutes. If the mixture seems dry and is getting too thick add an additional 1/2 cup water. Stir in half the cilantro and the coconut milk. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, or chili if needed. Cook another 5 minutes, until simmering.
- Serve hot with rice and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro.
Southern-Style Grits With Spring Vegetables
Grits are delicious on their own, but here they act as a creamy base for late spring vegetables. You can use any vegetables you have on hand, but I slow oven-roasted cherry tomatoes with herbs, steamed asparagus and sautéed spring spinach. You can top the whole dish off with a fried egg, thinly sliced spring radishes, cooked beans, roasted chickpeas, a scattering of nuts and more.
Grits are made from stone-ground dried corn. Polenta, which is generally made of a different variety of corn and is more finely ground, can also be substituted.
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 12 asparagus, about 1/2 to 3/4 pound, ends trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 cups spinach or baby spinach
- Optional toppings: thinly sliced radishes, fried or poached eggs, cooked beans, toasted chopped nuts
- 4 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup stone-ground grits (or polenta)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Roast the cherry tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, half the garlic, and half the herbs in a small ovenproof skillet or roasting pan. Roast on the middle shelf for around 20 to 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are almost bursting and tender. Remove.
- Make the grits: in a medium saucepan, bring the 4 cups in generously salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the grits, stir well, and reduce the temperature to low. Stir and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring or whisking the grits so they don’t clump up or stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the milk, whisk or stir again and cook another 5 minutes or so until all the liquid has been absorbed and the grits taste tender. Add butter, salt and pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, prepare the other vegetables: in a medium skillet, heat 2 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook about 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness, until just tender. Remove and drain water; set asparagus aside. In the same skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook 10 seconds. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes, or until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add the asparagus. Keep warm over very low heat.
- To serve: spoon the grits into four serving bowls and top with the roasted tomatoes, asparagus and spinach. Top with the remaining herbs, a fried egg, thin radish slices or anything you have on hand, if you like.
Note: Leftover grits can be refrigerated overnight. They will firm up and become solid. The following day, cut them into squares or triangles, place on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven. After five minutes, sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.
Broccoli Trees With Garlic
Sometimes you need a new way of looking at something very familiar. Here broccoli is cut into long thick strips including the stem, steamed and then sautéed in a hot skillet with olive oil and garlic. You can serve the broccoli over rice, linguine, or with crusty toast.
Serves 2 to 4.
- 1 large bunch broccoli with stems
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Cut the broccoli lengthwise into thick slices, including the stem. Place the slices into a large skillet and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Cover and steam for about 5 minutes. Drain.
- Add the olive oil to the skillet set over moderately high heat. Add the broccoli and garlic. Cook, flipping the broccoli, from side to side, until tender and almost (but not totally) blackened and tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Spinach And Feta Squares
This is a fairly quick, simplified version of spanakopita that uses fresh (or frozen) spinach, feta and cottage cheese and dill wrapped into premade store-bought phyllo (or filo) pastry. Serve with a salad of spring greens.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 scallions, finely chopped (white and green sections)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
- 8 ounces fresh spinach, washed and dried (or frozen, thawed and blotted dry)
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/3 cup cottage cheese
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 8 ounces premade phyllo (or filo) dough (if frozen thaw completely before unrolling), half of a standard 16 ounce box
- Prepare the spinach filling: in a medium skillet heat the oil over low heat. Add the onion, scallions, salt, pepper and half the dill and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the spinach and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until spinach is just wilted and soft. Remove and cool.
- In a medium bowl whisk the egg. Whisk in the feta and cottage cheese and the remaining dill. Add the cooled spinach/onion mixture and add a touch more salt and pepper if needed. The spinach mixture can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate if needed.
- Melt the butter in a small pot.
- Gently unroll the pastry on a clean work surface. Lay 4 strips of pastry on the work surface. Keep remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out. Brush gently with some of the melted butter. Lay 4 more strips of the pastry on top and again very lightly brush with the butter. You want to create a 9-inch square. Top with half the spinach mixture. Top the spinach with 4 more sheets of pastry and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with 4 more strips pastry and top with the remaining melted butter. Using a sharp knife cut the pastry into triangles or squares; you should have 4 squares or 4 to 5 triangles. Repeat with the remaining pastry and spinach. You will have 8 squares or 8 to 10 triangles
- Place the cut squares or triangles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate, covered, for several hours if you like. You can also freeze the spinach squares tightly covered for a month.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the spinach squares/triangles on the middle shelf for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry looks golden brown and crisp along the edges. Serve hot or room temperature.
Other Vegetable Recipes And Ideas
This segment aired on June 9, 2020.