Saturday, November 24, 2018


A bouquet of mums from my garden to take to a friend's house.

The vegetarian “roast,” still hot from the oven, was ready for its “beauty shot” before being carried to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The gravy was ready. Pumpkin dessert defrosted (that recipe in last week’s blog). I packed a container of blue cheese schmear to go with endive leaves, a jar of garlicky, brine-cured olives and cranberry sauce sweetened with stevia (a visiting American brought me fresh cranberries). I bagged a bouquet of multi-colored chrysanthemums and a tablecloth.

I just had to whip the cream and I would be good to go.

But, you know how it is on Thanksgiving. Something always goes awry and a-whack. The cream whooshed up out of the blender container, splattering me, the walls, the counter-top and the floor. After clean-up, I hurriedly nestled the hot cazuela in a carry-crate, just as my ride arrived. (I’m not driving, as I had cataract surgery a couple days ago.) I forgot to take the photo. I forgot to take the camera with me.

“It looks like pineapple upside-down-cake,” said one dinner guest, as I placed the “roast” in the center of the table. In fact, it was a parsnip upside-down cake, gluten-free and dairy-free, consisting of brown rice, tofu, mushrooms, pistachios and seasonings, bound together with eggs (vegetarian, not vegan).

The remains of my grand upside-down parsnip cake with rice, mushrooms and tofu. It has a dribble of pomegranate molasses on top and a garnish of pomegranate seeds. (Thanks to Jesse Gordon for the photo.)

My “cake” started out to be a rice-nut loaf or a sage “stuffing,” with rice in place of bread. But a recipe in New York Times Cooking for a festive Thanksgiving torte inspired me to bake the mix in a springform pan and flip it out on a platter. (See that recipe here.)

I made up the recipe, tasting as I toasted, sautéed, mixed and seasoned. So, too, can you make variations to suit yourself.

I happened to have some sweet, black fermented garlic, so used it for drama (black accent) and umami kick. You could use truffles (!) or black olives. I used raisins, but dried cranberries would be lovely; or walnuts in place of pistachios. Go for Middle Eastern flavors instead of Midwestern, with chopped dill instead of parsley, with a pinch of cinnamon and cardamom instead of sage and thyme.

You could also skip the upside-down part—omit the parsnips and bake the rice mixture in a loaf pan. Or, omit the eggs and make a loose stuffing to serve alongside a roast bird. The baked rice with vegetables would also be a fine vehicle for leftover turkey—just substitute diced turkey for the tofu.

You could also add a filling to the rice, such as strips of piquillo pepper, hard-boiled eggs or sliced cheese. Spread half of the rice mixture over the parsnips, layer the filling on top, cover with remaining rice.

The recipe has many ingredients, but they’re divided into steps, most of which can be carried out a day in advance of baking. Taste as you combine the ingredients, adding seasoning to punch up flavor. Be generous with olive oil and salt to assure a moist and savory dish.

The whole-grain (brown) rice is cooked in three steps—first dry-toasted in a skillet, then simmered in liquid. Don’t overcook it at this point, because it finishes in the oven with the vegetables.

Smoked pimentón (paprika) and smoked tofu add meatiness to the rice and vegetable cake.
Use ordinary white mushrooms for the roast or sub in meaty portobellos or shitakes. Save the stems for the gravy, if desired.

Savory Upside-Down Cake with Rice and Mushrooms
Torta Salada al Revés con Arroz y Champiñones

Parsnips are sweeter than carrots. Sliced thinly, they are layered in the bottom of the springform pan. When unmolded, upside down, parsnips make the topping of the torta.

Serves 8 as a main dish.

1 ½ pounds parsnips
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ¼ cups brown rice (3 cups cooked rice)
8 cups boiling salted water

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup diced celery
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ pound mushrooms, chopped (3 cups)
8 ounces firm tofu (preferably smoked), chopped or crumbled
2 teaspoons smoked pimentón (paprika)

2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crumbled sage (salvia)
Fresh thyme (tomillo)
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup pistachios
2 tablespoons seedless raisins
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped green onions or scallions
½ cup vegetable stock or mushroom broth (see recipe for gravy, below)
Black garlic, chopped (optional)

Oil to grease pan
4 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
Gravy, to serve (optional) (recipe follows)
Cranberry sauce, to serve (optional)

Cut off the skinny tails of the parsnips and save for another use. Peel the parsnips and cut them lengthwise in ¼-inch slices. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon oil. (Sliced parsnips can be stored, covered and refrigerated, until following day.)

Toast the rice in a dry skillet until grains are lightly browned.

Heat a heavy cast-iron skillet. Add the rice and toast it on medium heat, stirring frequently, until it is lightly browned. (Do not add oil or liquid.)

Add the toasted rice to boiling water. Cover and reduce heat and cook 10-12 minutes. Rice should be a little chewy, as it will cook further in the oven. Drain the rice thoroughly. Return it to the pan and cover. (Rice can be cooked a day in advance of baking the cake.)

Onions, carrots and mushrooms sautéed with tofu add flavour to the rice.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the carrots 2 minutes. Add the onions, celery, red pepper and garlic. Sauté them 5 minutes until onions are soft. Add the mushrooms and tofu and sauté 4 minutes longer. Stir in the pimentón. Remove the vegetables from the heat.

Combine the cooked rice and sautéed vegetables in a mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, sage, thyme, parsley, pistachios, raisins, lemon zest, chopped green onions and vegetable stock. If using black garlic, save three cloves of it to place beneath the parsnips. Cut the remaining cloves into 2 or 3 pieces and mix with the rice. (Rice-vegetable mix can be prepared a day in advance of baking and stored, covered and refrigerated.)

When ready to bake the upside-down cake, preheat oven to 400ºF. Lightly oil a springform pan (10- 11- or 12-inch). Line it with a round of baking parchment. Oil the parchment and sides of the pan.

Layer thinly sliced parsnips in bottom of a springform pan. The black bits are cloves of sweet black garlic.

Arrange the sliced parsnips, slightly overlapping, in the bottom of the pan. (If using black garlic, place 3 of them under the parsnips, so they show when the cake is unmolded.) 

Add the beaten eggs to the rice-vegetable mixture. Mix well. Spread half of the rice mixture over the parsnips and press it down firmly. Add remaining mix and smooth the top.

Cover the springform pan with foil. Bake 50-60 minutes. Parsnips in bottom of pan should feel tender when tested with a long skewer and rice should be set. Remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the oven.

Heat broiler to 500ºF. Have ready an oven-safe serving dish, such as a cazuela.

When the springform pan is cool enough to handle, loosen the sides of the cake with a knife, release the spring and remove the outer rim. Very carefully invert the cake onto the serving dish. Drizzle the parsnips with the pomegranate molasses, if using. Place the dish under the broiler until the parsnips begin to brown in spots, 3-4 minutes.

Remove from broiler. Serve hot or room temperature, with gravy and cranberry sauce, if desired.

Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy with Sherry
Salsa de Champiñones al Vino de Jerez

You will need vegetable stock for this gravy. I made mine with onions with skins on (for color), carrots, celery root (celeriac), leek and herbs and spices. Add a slosh of vinegar and salt to taste. Simmer 45 minutes and strain the stock.

Browning the onions very slowly is what gives the gravy its deep color. Adding a little sugar to caramelize deepens the color (you can omit it, if preferred). In cooking, the liquid reduces by about a third. Pureeing the vegetables thickens the gravy—no need for flour or cornstarch.

The gravy may not need salt after liquid has been reduced. Taste for salt after the gravy has been cooked and pureed. 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions
½ cup chopped carrot
½ cup chopped mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
½ cup dry Sherry
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon tomato sauce (tomate frito)
Sprig of parsley
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet and slowly sauté the onions, carrots, mushrooms and garlic, stirring frequently, until onions are dark brown. Don’t let them burn. Add the sugar and stir until sugar caramelizes. Stir in half of the Sherry.

Scrape all of the onion mixture into a saucepan. Add the remaining Sherry, stock, soy sauce, tomato sauce, parsley, bay and pepper. Cook, uncovered, until vegetables are very tender, 20 minutes. Discard parsley and bay leaf.

Use a hand-held blender to blend the gravy until smooth. Taste and add salt, if needed. 

Gravy can be prepared a day in advance of serving. Reheat before serving, adding additional water or stock if necessary.

More recipes for vegetarian mains:
Vegetarian Burgers. (This mix can also be used for a loaf.)

More about black garlic:

Saturday, November 17, 2018


This year’s Thanksgiving menu presents some challenges, with guests who are variously vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-intolerant. Then there’s me—I don’t eat sugar, or honey or maple syrup. But I love a challenge in the kitchen!

(For readers who don’t know about Thanksgiving: it’s an American harvest holiday—día de acción de gracia—celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Roast turkey and pumpkin pie are two of the traditional dishes served for the festive meal.)


I’m starting with dessert. Here’s this nice pumpkin from the garden. With the guests’ dietary restrictions, traditional pumpkin pie, with wheat–flour crust and dairy in the filling, is out.  I found a recipe for a pumpkin pudding from Valencia (eastern Spain). Called arnadí, it is thickened with almond flour and egg yolks, studded with almonds and pine nuts.

The dessert is said to be Moorish in origin, with a name that comes from Arabic. But in that era, it probably was confected with edible gourd, carrot or, possibly, eggplant, as squash and pumpkin were unknown (they came later from the New World).

The traditional Valencian recipe calls for an equal weight of cooked, mashed pumpkin and sugar, producing a dense paste more like candy than pudding. Modern versions use half the amount of sugar.

Mashed pumpkin is spiced and sweetened, mounded in a cazuela and studded with almonds and pine nuts.

Baking sets the pudding and toasts the almonds.

Serve the pudding in wedges or scoops.

I used a small, thick-fleshed pumpkin (pie pumpkin) weighing about 5 ½ pounds. Any winter squash—acorn, butternut, hubbard or delicata—or sweet potatoes can be substituted. They may be more or less sweet-fleshed, so taste the mixture as you add the sugar gradually. The pulp can be cooked by oven-roasting or steaming. Cook it a day before you make the pudding, so it can drain overnight.

My portion, no sugar.
For my no-sugar dessert, I removed a big spoonful of the pumpkin puree with almond flour, spices and eggs before adding the sugar. I sweetened it very slightly with stevia, a non-caloric sweetener and baked it for a shorter time.

I’m thinking this pudding could also be baked in a pie crust as a dairy-free variation on traditional pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin-Almond Pudding

Mashed pumpkin is spiced with cinnamon, ginger, lemon and orange zest, thickened with almond flour (on the right) and egg yolks, sweetened with sugar, studded with almonds and pine nuts.
Serves 8.

1 medium pumpkin (5 ½ - 6 ½ pounds, to make about 3 cups of cooked and drained pulp)
2 1/3 cups almond flour (unsweetened ground almonds)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon powdered ginger (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
Olive oil
¼ cup whole, blanched and skinned almonds
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Whipped cream or Greek yogurt to serve (optional)

One day before making the pudding:

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Cut pumpkin in half through the stem end. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the pumpkin halves cut-side down in a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 30 minutes. Turn cut-side up and roast until pumpkin is very tender when tested with a skewer. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. (Turn off oven.)

After roasting, scoop out flesh.
When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh from the pumpkin shell. Place it in a sieve over a colander and allow to drain overnight. (Discard the skin.)

To make the pudding:

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Place the pumpkin in a large mixing bowl and use a potato masher to mash the flesh (or put it through a potato ricer). Drain off any liquid that accumulates in the bowl. 

Stir in the almond flour. Reserve 2 teaspoons of the sugar and add enough of remaining sugar to the pumpkin-almond mixture to sweeten it to taste (taste it before adding the egg yolks). Beat in the egg yolks, lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, ginger and salt.

Lightly oil an earthenware cazuela or oven-safe 8-inch glass pie dish. Mound the pumpkin mixture in the cazuela. Use a knife or spatula to shape it into a smooth peak. Drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle with the reserved 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Make a pattern with almonds and pine nuts.
Place the whole almonds in a small bowl with a few drops of oil and coat them lightly. Stick the almonds, pointed end down, into the surface of the pudding, creating a pattern. Repeat with the pine nuts.

Bake the pudding 40 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400ºF and bake until almonds are beginning to brown, 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Chill the pudding. 

To serve, spoon the pudding into dessert cups or slice into wedges and place on plates. If desired, serve accompanied by whipped cream or yogurt.

Pudding is good served with whipped cream or a dollop of Greek yogurt.

More recipes with pumpkin:

Saturday, November 10, 2018


Spiced and skewered chunks of lamb grill just until browned.

Back in balmier days, I had the butcher bone and open out a whole leg of lamb for cooking on the grill. I didn’t use the whole piece of meat, so I stored some of it in the freezer. This week, on the occasion of my birthday, I defrosted it for making lamb kebabs.

My favorite kebab recipe is Persian chelo kebab. Chelo is steamed rice and kebab is marinated chunks of lamb, skewered and cooked on a grill. The marinade of grated onion both tenderizes and flavors the meat. Saffron and sumac plus salt and pepper are the only seasonings used.

This time I planned to experiment with a Spanish-style marinade, using the spice blend for pinchitos morunos. Pinchitos are mini-kebabs spiced in the “Moorish” manner that are favorite tapa bar fare. In Spain they are usually made with small pieces of pork. Just across the Straits of Gibraltar, in Morocco, similar mini-kebabs are made with beef or lamb. The Spanish spice blend is a simplification of the Moroccan ras el-hanout. It can be purchased con pique and sin pique--with or without picante spice of hot pimentón or cayenne.

Ten spices make the blend.
I have both ras el-hanout that I brought back from Morocco and Spanish especia para pinchitos. Both contain potenciador de sabor—MSG, monosodium glutamate, a flavor-enhancing additive. So I mixed my own spice blend.

For kebabs, the meat is cut in good-sized cubes, so that in grilling, it stays medium-rare. Whereas, pork pinchitos are cut very small to cook thoroughly in the time it takes to brown the meat. I used a flat grill pan (plancha), making it easier to turn the kebabs than a ridged pan. The kebabs would also be good on a charcoal or wood fire.

I served the kebabs on top of cous cous with zeilouk, a Moroccan “salad” as accompanying sauce or side dish.

Skewered and grilled lamb is served atop cous cous, with a garnish of pomengranate seeds. Moroccan zeilouk salad on the side serves as a spicy sauce.

Push the meat off the skewers. Mix with cous cous and a spoonful of the zeilouk salad-sauce.

Lamb is browned on the outside, pink on the inside.

Pinchito Spice Blend
Especia para Pinchitos

Use freshly purchased spices or grind them yourself. Double or triple the recipe and store the spice, tightly covered and protected from direct light. The spice blend is good on roast chicken or lamb chops as well as the kebabs.

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot pimentón or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika), not smoked
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Grating of nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the spices in a bowl. Store them, tightly covered, in a glass jar away from direct light. 

Lamb Kebabs
Brochetas de Cordero

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds boneless lamb from leg or shoulder
1 ½ teaspoons pinchito spice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pieces of red bell pepper
Slices of onion

Trim off excess fat.

Remove fat covering from meat. Cut meat into 1 ½-inch pieces. Place in a non-reactive bowl. Add the spice blend, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and oil. Mix well to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Spices, garlic, lemon juice and parsley for marinade.
Thread the cubes of lamb on skewers (metal ones are best)  with a few pieces of red pepper and onion between the pieces of meat.  

Heat a flat grill pan and brush it with oil. Grill the kebabs until browned on all sides and cooked medium-rare, about 2 minutes per side. 

Moroccan eggplant salad, zeilouk. Recipe is here.

More recipes for kebabs:

Saturday, November 3, 2018


A potato is just a potato, no? That’s what I thought for years, when the only sort of potato I could find was the locally grown “Idaho” variety. It’s terrific for making Spanish potato tortilla and pretty good for patatas fritas (fries). It makes a flaky baked potato. But for making potato salads, it is a disaster, as this high-starch variety tends to disintegrate in boiling. Same issue when cooked in the olla, or stew pot. 

Only in the past few years have a selection of potato types begun appearing in markets. In the big hypermercados they are labelled, para freir (for frying), para asar (for roasting), para cocido (for boiling), para guarnación (small ones, for garnishing). Plus waxy red ones and—new!—purple potatoes.

Potatoes from Galicia.

Recently, I saw sacks of potatoes with Indicación Xeográfica Protexida Pataca de Galicia—protected geographic indication, potato of Galicia (PDO). Knowing Galicia (northwest Spain) is famed for its potatoes, I grabbed a bag.

First, I cut them up and boiled them to make mashed potatoes. These potatoes did not disintegrate! They mashed smoothly, but seemed to require greater quantities of olive oil and milk than I would use with the everyday potatoes. I looked at the labels on the sack again and saw that the PDO potatoes were the Kennebec variety, an all-purpose potato developed in the U.S., especially favored by producers of potato chips (crisps to the Brits).

To honor the Galician origin, I searched for a typical Galician potato recipe and found this nice dish of potatoes stewed with wine and mussels. Tomorrow I'll test them as baked potatoes alongside a Sunday roast chicken. Next week, it's patatas fritas. Galicia's potato for all occasions.

Chunks of potatoes cook with wine, chorizo and mussels for a typical Galician dish.

Crisp Albariño white wine from Galicia is the perfect accompaniment to potatoes with mussels.

Potatoes with Mussels
Patatas con Mejillones (Patacas con Mexillóns)

Some cooks recommend breaking the potatoes into cachos, or pieces, rather than cutting them with a knife. This is because the rough, broken surface supposedly releases more potato starch that helps to thicken the cooking liquid. 

Break, not cut, pieces.

To prepare the potatoes in this manner, cut them lengthwise in half or, if large, into quarters. Pick up one piece and, with a knife, start to cut a ½-inch slice. But don’t cut all the way through; break off the piece of potato with your fingers. Turn the potato quarter, make another incision and snap off the piece.

Chorizo in this recipe acts as a flavoring agent. Use cooking chorizo rather than dry-cured chorizo. If you choose not to use it, use an extra tablespoon of olive oil and stir in a heaping teaspoon of pimentón (paprika, smoked or unsmoked). 

If possible, use Padrón peppers in this dish. Padrón peppers from Galicia are bittersweet, with an occasional "hot" one. If not available, use any green or red pepper, cut in strips.

Chorizo adds flavour to the potatoes and mussels.

Serves 4.

2 pounds mussels
2 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup green pepper, cut in thin strips
1 (3 ½-ounce) chorizo, sliced (optional)
½ cup white wine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Pimentón and chopped parsley to garnish

Scrape the mussels and remove beards. Wash them in several changes of water.

Peel the potatoes and cut/break them into slices. Cover with water while prepping other ingredients.

Heat oil in a cazuela or deep skillet with a lid. Sauté the onion slowly until softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic, green pepper and sliced chorizo. Fry, turning the chorizo to brown both sides. 

Drain the potatoes well and add them to the pan. Stir them with a wooden paddle to combine with the other ingredients. Pour over the wine and cook off the alcohol, 2 minutes. Add water to partially cover the potatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Use a wooden paddle to turn the potatoes occasionally while cooking. Add additional water if needed, so that potatoes always have a little liquid and don’t scorch on the bottom.

Place the mussels on top of the potatoes. Cover the pan and continue cooking until most of the mussels have opened, 6-8 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Allow the potatoes and mussels to rest, covered, 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of pimentón (smoked or unsmoked) and chopped parsley.

These peppers are tipo Padrón, not the authentic ones. If possible, use Padrón peppers with the potatoes and mussels.

All about potatoes here.
More recipes for potatoes;