African groundnut stew

After reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” (a sweet Christmas gift), I was feeling a little guilty for providing you with a handful of recipes for refined sugar and processed pastries and not much else. One of my resolutions for 2010 is definitely to add more healthy recipes to my repertoire.

I dug out some of my biggest, most beautifully illustrated cookbooks to try to find some recipes to try (I’d also just finished “Julie and Julia”, so was even more inspired). But after flipping through page after page, not much was jumping out at me. So I went back to my old standby, the Simply in Season cookbook. Which you are probably tired of hearing about, but I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Though it’s winter, I flipped back to the autumn section and found about a dozen recipes I’d like to try. How about Red Lentil Coconut Curry, Savory Squash Bread Pudding, Butternut Bisque or Broccoli Gratin? They all sounded good to me, but I landed on this vegetarian groundnut stew for dinner because it called for 3 cups of tomato juice and 2 cups of green beans, both of which I had in the fridge, and I was anxious to use them up.

I also know, from the many recipes I’ve made out of this book, that in addition to helping you cook seasonally and locally, the recipes always tend toward the healthy and unprocessed side. They’ll sneak beets into a dessert or use ingredients like bulgur, persimmons and orzo that I sometimes forget even exist.

In the case of this stew, there’s not even veggie broth in the recipe. Instead, the tomato juice, combined with apple juice make up the liquid. The only thing I changed when I made this was to omit the fresh ginger, because I didn’t have any. It tasted fine without it. I was skeptical at first, given the orangish color and strong smell of cabbage wafting from the pot, but when it finished cooking it was really delicious. With a little brown rice, it was super filling for a vegetarian dish.

I ended up using an organic butternut squash for this, and much like the organic yams we always buy, the color was much richer than a typical squash.

In fact, the squash was so orange that it stained my fingertips when I cut into it. I was worried it wouldn’t cook through in just 30 minutes or so, but it was perfectly done, and a little bit sweet, mixed with the apple juice. It reminded me of the dishes we used to eat when we had an African restaurant in town (alongside fried plaintains, yum).

I have one more tip, too. If you’re trying to eat more grains, like brown rice, and we definitely are, think about getting one of these microwave rice cookers. Ours seems to cook brown rice perfectly every time, and shaves at least 10 minutes off the cooking time.

Vegetarian Groundnut Stew

adapted from Simply in Season

2 cups onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups winter squash, chopped (I used butternut)
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups tomato juice
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cups green beans
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil in a large soup pot. Toss in the squash and cabbage, and sprinkle in the cayenne pepper. Season with salt.

Stir that up, then add the tomato and apple juices, and ginger, if you like. Cover the pot and simmer over medium for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start cooking your brown rice. You’ll probably need about two cups dry to get enough for the whole pot.

Add the green beans and cook 10 more minutes.

Then stir in the peanut butter, and turn it down to low before you serve it.

Spinach tartlets

This recipe comes from my mom, and it’s so incredible easy and yummy, you must make it the next time you need to bring something to a party.

Or, if you’d rather have it as a dip, you can omit the tartlet shells and just serve it in a bowl with chips, a la spinach and artichoke dip.

Spinach tartlets

2 packages mini phyllo cups
1 Stouffers frozen spinach souffle
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup mixed cheeses (I like Swiss and parmesan)
Sprinkle of ground pepper

This recipe feels a little like cheating, and it is, but that’s okay. The spinach souffle is just what you need to make these puff up like mini quiches (but so much better than the ones you buy in packages at Costco).

And the crispy, flaky shells are just the right size, and more work than you would want to do from scratch.

So, all you do is microwave the souffle for a few minutes until it’s defrosted enough to stir. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 and arrange your tartlet shells on a cookie sheet (or I used this pan with sides so they wouldn’t slip off).

Heat the butter in a small skillet and saute the shallots until they are translucent.

In a bowl, combine the souffle, shallots, cheese and pepper, and spoon into tartlet shells. Mmmmm, cheese.

Bake for about 8 minutes, or until the tartlets puff up and the shells start to get browned.

These are so cheesy and wonderful, I bet you can’t eat just six. I never can.

AND, if you want something equally fantastically cheesy, try Kristin’s recipe for Puff Pastry Wrapped Brie. We did, and oh my, was it every bit as good as it sounds.

All you do is wrap a brie chunk in puff pastry smeared with jam, baste it with egg wash and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. This is what it looks like when it goes in the oven.

Hope you’re having a happy new year so far!