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KNOWING HOW TO PREPARE STAPLES SUCH AS RICE, quick-cooking grains, pasta, legumes, and omelets will save time when you're hurrying to get a meal together. I've also shown how basic vegetable stock can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.
In many recipes, the key to rich flavor is good stock. If you don't have time to make your own, health food stores sell a variety of healthful stock cubes and granules. See page xxiv in the book introduction for a description. Admittedly, I usually use vegetable stock powder rather than making the stock from scratch.
If you have the time (15 minutes to prepare plus 1 hour to simmer), try the following recipe. It can be varied to use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Remember, the key to good stock is to achieve a balance of flavors without any single one predominating. Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower create very strong flavors and should be used sparingly, if at all. The same holds true for starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, or potatoes: they can cloud the broth. Parsnips and carrots will create a sweeter stock.
Vegetables to be used in stock should not be peeled, but they should be trimmed of any bruises. Cut vegetables into large chunks; small pieces may disintegrate and make the broth cloudy.
To vary the flavor of the stock, herbs can be added. I recommend seasoning the stock sparingly, because herbs are usually added to recipes calling for vegetable stock. For a less intenseflavor, add vegetables to the water in the pot without sautéing. For a more intense flavor, return the strained stock to the pot and simmer, uncovered, over low heat for an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Makes 2 quarts
2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 potato, cubed
1 tomato, cubed
1 carrot, sliced (include greens, if available)
1 rib celery, sliced (include greens, if available)
1 turnip, sliced (peel if waxed)
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 quarts plus 1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon pepper
1. Heat the oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, potato, tomato, carrot, celery, turnip, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
2. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour.
3. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables, bay leaf, and parsley.
PER CUP: Cal 66/Prot .9g/Carb 7.8g/Fat 3.5g/Chol 0mg/Sod 25mg
ADVANCE PREPARATION Vegetable Stock can be used immediately, refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. Stock is easily made ahead because it freezes well. For small quantities, freeze the stock in ice cube trays, then remove the cubes and use them as needed.
Like pasta, rice is low in calories and is enormously versatile. Furthermore, when combined with legumes, seeds, or dairy products, it forms a complete protein.
Rices are labeled according to size: long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain. Each size has different properties and uses. Long-grain rice, which cooks up fluffy and dry, is preferable for recipes in this book; although medium-grain rice can also be used. Short-grain rice, such as arborio rice, cooks up stickier when cooked.
I recommend using long-grain brown rice because it contains three times the dietary fiber of white rice and more vitamins, minerals, and protein.
White rice has a shorter cooking time than brown rice, and some people prefer its flavor and texture. You'll find many varieties in the supermarket, including some enriched with vitamins. Parboiled rice, also called converted rice, has been soaked and steamed under pressure for the purpose of retaining nutrients; it takes longer to cook than regular white rice.
Originally developed in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, basmati rice is a specialty aromatic white rice that is gaining in popularity. It is an excellent alternative for the 15-minute cook because it can be prepared in just that amount of time.
Wild rice is not really a rice but the seed of a marsh grass that is native to America. It is harvested in areas around the Northern Great Lakes where it grows wild, and there is some commercial production as well. Rather than being bland like other rices, wild rice has a distinctive flavor; for that reason, after cooking I often mix it with cooked white or brown rice.
Do not use instant brown, white, or wild rice; these products are not only inferior in flavor and texture, but also much lower in nutrition.
HOW TO COOK RICE
Use the appropriate amount of water or vegetable stock—2½ times the amount of brown rice, 2 times the amount of white rice, and 3 times the amount of wild rice—and bring the liquid to a boil in a heavy nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. It is not necessary to add salt or butter to the cooking liquid. Tightly cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently until all the water is absorbed: 45 minutes for long-grain brown rice, 20 minutes for long-grain white rice, and 40 minutes for wild rice. Use these times as a guideline; the weight and size of the pan are variables. Never stir rice while it is cooking! This will result in a sticky and gummy product. Removing the lid during cooking will also lower the quality of the rice.
When the rice is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and allow the rice to stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Before serving or using it in a recipe, fluff the rice with a fork. One cup of uncooked rice (long-grain brown, long-grain white, or wild rice) yields about 3 cups of cooked rice.
If you use rice regularly you might want to invest in an electric rice cooker. It will cook the rice perfectly without supervision. Some rice cookers have a "warm" setting for holding the cooked rice at just the right temperature until it is needed.
Rice can be cooked ahead of time. I always make more than I need for a meal because cooked rice will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator or up to two months in the freezer in bags or freezer containers. Thawed rice does not stand well on its own, but it is acceptable in soups and well-seasoned skillet dishes.
The microwave effectively reheats cooked rice. Make sure the microwave-proof container is covered so that the steam will keep the rice moist and microwave for about 1 minute per cup of rice. On the stovetop, reheat rice in the top of a double boiler. Or put the cooked rice in a heavy nonstick saucepan and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons water per cup of cooked rice; cover tightly and heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you are in a hurry and don't have any precooked rice on hand, several grains other than rice are quick-to-prepare alternatives. Try couscous, bulgur wheat, or quinoa.
Couscous, sometimes called Moroccan pasta, is a tiny, bead-like pasta made from semolina flour. It is available made from both white and whole wheat flours. You'll find it in the supermarket, usually near the rice. To prepare couscous, combine equal quantities of couscous and hot (nearly boiling) liquid. (You can use water or vegetable stock; tomato juice will add a tomato flavor.) Let stand, covered, for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the liquid is completely absorbed and the couscous is tender. The couscous will double in volume as it absorbs the liquid. Fluff with a fork before using.
BULGUR (CRACKED) WHEAT
Bulgur is a form of processed wheat. It has a chewy texture and nutty flavor and is created by boiling wheat kernels, drying them, removing some of the bran layers, and finally cracking the kernels. Since it is precooked in processing, bulgur wheat can be hydrated by soaking the grain in liquid for a few hours. Or it can be cooked on the stovetop: bring the liquid and grain to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. With either method, use 2 parts liquid (water or vegetable stock) to 1 part bulgur wheat.
Quinoa (keen-wah) is an ancient Peruvian grain that is known for containing more protein than any other grain. Look for it in natural food stores and in some supermarkets. To cook quinoa, use water to quinoa in a 2 to 1 proportion (the quinoa will expand to about 4 times its volume when cooked); combine in a pan and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed. When cooked, the grains will be translucent and the outer rings will separate. The flavor is bland but slightly sweet, and the texture is light and fluffy.
No longer thought of as strictly Italian, pasta has very nearly replaced potatoes in the American diet. It is not high in calories: a 2-ounce serving has only 200 calories. And when combined with light, meatless sauces featuring fresh vegetables, it is a wonderful choice for the health-conscious cook.
In its basic form, pasta is a mixture of durum wheat flour (semolina) and water. It is kneaded, shaped, and then dried or boiled fresh. Eggs are sometimes added to produce more delicate noodles. Spinach and tomatoes, and sometimes carrots or beets, are added for color.
Many supermarkets sell both fresh pasta and enriched dried pasta in a wide variety of shapes. Remember, fresh pasta keeps for only about three days in the refrigerator; it can be frozen for longer storage.
HOW TO COOK PASTA
For a main dish, allow 2 to 3 ounces dry pasta per serving or 3 to 4 ounces fresh pasta. Pasta "sizers" are nifty gadgets that will help you determine the correct amount of pasta strands to drop in your pot. For short cuts of dried pasta, use these quantities for 4 servings:
egg noodles: 6 cups
bow tie pasta (farfalle): 4 cups
elbow macaroni: 2 cups
corkscrew pasta (rotini or rotelle): 3 cups
spaghetti: 1¼-inch bunch
For cooking pasta, use a large pot that is deeper than it is wide. If you make pasta frequently, you might want to purchase a pasta pot with a built-in colander; these pots are available in most gourmet shops.
Use plenty of water for cooking pasta: 2 quarts for 8 ounces pasta is about right. Add the pasta to water that has come to a boil over high heat. It is not necessary to add salt or oil to the cooking water. If you like, you can add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt per quart of water, after it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high while the pasta is cooking. It's not necessary to cover the pot; in fact, it's easier to check the pasta if the pot is uncovered. Make certain that the water continues to boil throughout the cooking period. Stir the pasta occasionally to avoid clumps that will cook unevenly; avoid overstirring, because it will make the pasta gummy.
Cooking time depends on the type of pasta you have chosen. Fine strands cook very quickly; heavy, thick shapes require more time. Fresh pasta may be done in just 5 to 10 seconds. Imported dried pastas often take a little longer than American-made pastas. The average cooking time for dried pasta is about 8 to 12 minutes. Some Asian noodles require only soaking for a few minutes in boiling water.
Use package directions only as a guideline and rely on your own taste-testing to tell you when the pasta is done. If you pinch a pasta strand and see a white dot in the center, it is not cooked. Pasta is cooked perfectly when it is al dente, which means the strands are tender but still slightly chewy. Overcooking is the most common pasta failing; mushy pasta spoils the taste of almost any sauce, no matter how excellent.
When it is done, immediately drain the pasta well because wet noodles will water down your sauce. An advantage of using a pasta cooker is that it comes equipped with a stainless-steel liner that is pierced with holes. The pasta is easily removed from the pot and the liner acts as a colander, draining the noodles when done. There is no need to rinse pasta; however, if you plan to use it for a chilled salad, rinsing with cool water will help to speed up the process.
Many of my students ask if pasta can be cooked ahead of time. I feel that pasta is one of the few things you should really cook, drain, and sauce just before serving. But even though pasta is not a do-ahead item, it is still ideal for the 15-minute cook. All of the pasta toppings in this chapter can be made in 15 minutes or less while the pasta is cooking. Some of the toppings do not even need to be cooked! If you time it just right, you should have both the pasta and the topping ready at the same time. Some of the pasta toppers can be made in advance, refrigerated, and reheated as the pasta cooks. Remember, though, that even before readying your ingredients you should fill your pasta pot with water and bring it to a boil.
I have made suggestions for the type of pasta to be used with each recipe, but an important thing to remember is that pasta shapes are interchangeable. Bear in mind that some shapes serve purposes: As a rule, shapes with ridges trap sauces; they are ideal for light sauces. Rich sauces should be served with flat pastas or shapes that trap less sauce.
Although most legumes (or beans) are incomplete protein, they combine with many foods—milk, grains, seeds, or nuts—to form a complete protein. In addition to vegetable protein, legumes are good sources of carbohydrates, several B vitamins, and iron. Best of all, they are high in fiber and low in fat.
Because they are quick and nutritionally equal to freshly cooked beans, I have used canned beans for the recipes in this book. Since they have added salt, drain and rinse them with cold water before serving.
If you prefer using dried beans you'll need to plan ahead because most require presoaking and lengthy cooking. Dried beans keep for several months in a tightly closed container at room temperature. Once cooked, you can store them for up to 2 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. They may be cooked in large quantity when you have time and frozen for later use.
As a rule, 1 cup of dried beans yields about 2½ cups cooked. To cook dried beans, rinse them to remove stones, dirt, and any discolored beans. Cover the beans with warm water (use about 3 cups of water for each cup of dried beans). Let them soak for at least 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Or, to speed up soaking time, put the beans and water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, cover tightly, and allow to stand for about 1 hour.
After draining the soaked beans, put them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cover with about 1 quart fresh water for every 2 cups of beans. (Don't add salt because it will delay the softening of the beans.) Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and simmer for 1½ to 3 hours, depending on the type of bean: for example, kidney beans require 1½ to 2 hours; chickpeas and pinto beans 2 to 3 hours. Because lentils are soft-shelled and small, they require no soaking before cooking. Simply use 3 parts water to 1 part dry lentils and cook for about 30 to 60 minutes or until tender. In general, beans are done when they are soft enough to be crushed easily between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Cut lengthwise, the inside should have an even color and consistency, with no white or hard portions.
A slow cooker can be used to cook legumes and has the advantage of requiring minimal attention. A pressure cooker can dramatically shorten cooking time.
Omelets adapt themselves to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert. Leftovers of many of the recipes in this book make wonderful omelet fillings and, for variety, many sauces are ideal omelet toppings. An omelet can also be served without filling or sauce when your time is limited. To make an elegant omelet, simply add chopped fresh herbs to the egg mixture.
You do not need a special omelet pan. If you have eggs on hand and a well-seasoned or nonstick skillet, you are ready to begin.
HOW TO PREPARE A FRENCH OMELET
Begin with the eggs at room temperature. Use 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of cold water per serving. For a creamy, tender omelet, lightly beat the eggs and water with a fork or whisk just long enough to combine.
Heat butter (or margarine, if you prefer) in the pan over medium-high heat (high heat makes a less tender omelet) until it bubbles. Swirl it to coat the pan, then immediately add the eggs. They should start to set around the edges as soon as they are poured into the pan. Push the cooked edges toward the center without cutting through the omelet, tilting the pan so that uncooked portions can flow to the bottom and reach the hot pan surface. Cook about 3 minutes or until the eggs are still moist but no longer runny.
Per Serving: Cal 199/Prot 13.5g/Carb 2.7g/Fat 14.9g/Chol 429mg/Sod 342mg
A FLUFFY OMELET
Make this light creation by beating the egg whites and yolks separately, cooking in a skillet, and completing the procedure in the oven. See page 170.
AN OMELET FOR A CROWD
This is not as hard as it sounds. For efficiency, prepare one omelet in a large pan. Roll the large omelet and slice it into single servings. Or keep the omelet flat and top it with the filling and sauce, then cut it into wedge-shaped, open-faced servings.
Adding the Filling
Omelet fillings should be added to the pan on top of the egg mixture while it is still moist and creamy. If you are using a hot filling or topping, heat it separately before adding it to the omelet. Filling recipes and sauces are on pages 154-159. Other appropriate sauces appear on pages 19-22. See suggestions for combinations on page 153.
Making a folded omelet takes practice. Spread the filling along the center third of the omelet, perpendicular to the pan handle. Slip a spatula under the third nearest the handle, and fold it gently over the falling. Slide the omelet onto a serving plate by sliding the outermost third onto the plate, then lift the pan handle to roll the remainder over, so the omelet lands seam side down.
TIPS FOR USING EGGS
With proper care and handling, eggs pose no greater health risk than other perishable foods. Since salmonella bacteria are found in some eggs, it is wise to take the following precautions:
Buy only clean, uncracked eggs that have been refrigerated.
Do not leave eggs in any form at room temperature for more than two hours.
Cook eggs until no visible liquid remains.
Do not taste mixtures or batters containing raw egg.
Eggs will keep for up to one month in the refrigerator, but they lose their fresh flavor after one week. Store them with the large end up in the coldest part of your refrigerator, not in the molded door rack. Since eggs can absorb odors through their porous shells, storing them in the carton helps protect them from the aromas of other foods.
Cholesterol-free egg substitutes are made from real egg whites. The flavor is enhanced by the addition of a small amount of corn oil, and some yellow coloring is added to give the appearance of whole eggs. Reduced-cholesterol egg products are made from whole eggs from which nearly all of the cholesterol has been removed. These egg substitutes are found both in the freezer and in the refrigerated sections of most supermarkets.
Makes 2 cups
I like to keep this zesty mustard on hand because I find endless ways of using it. I often multiply the recipe to share jars with friends.
1 cup powdered mustard
1 cup white rice vinegar
1 cup sugar
1. Combine the mustard and vinegar in a small bowl; whisk to remove
any lumps. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.
2. Sterilize a glass container with a tight-fitting lid (see Tips).
3. Pour the mustard-vinegar mixture into a blender, add the eggs and sugar. Blend until smooth.
4. Heat water until it simmers in the bottom pan of a double boiler over high heat (see Tips), then reduce the heat to medium. Pour the mixture into the top pan insert; stir constantly for about 5 minutes or until it thickens to pudding consistency.
5. Remove the top pan from the double boiler and allow the mustard to cool for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mustard into the sterilized container, cover and refrigerate.
PER TABLESPOON: Cal 30/Prot .6g/Carb 6.1g/Fat .5g/Chol 19mg/Sod 6mg
ADVANCE PREPARATION Pour the mustard into clean, sterilized containers, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Substitute ¾ cup honey for the sugar.
Makes 2 cups
When making mayonnaise, use pasteurized eggs or cholesterol-free egg substitute to avoid consuming raw eggs and to safeguard your health.
2 pasteurized eggs (at room temperature)
½ cup white rice vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper, or to taste
Dash of powdered mustard
1½ cups canola or safflower oil (at room temperature)
Blend all of the ingredients, except the oil, in a blender until smooth. Continue blending and add the oil very slowly, in a steady, thin stream, until the mixture is smooth and thickened. (It will not be as thick as commercially-prepared mayonnaise.) Adjust the seasoning to taste.
PER TABLESPOON: Cal 105/Prot .4g/Carb 1g/Fat 11g/Chol 13mg/Sod 4mg
ADVANCE PREPARATION This mayonnaise will keep for up to 3 weeks in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator.
For herb mayonnaise: Stir 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, or watercress, or a combination, into the completed mayonnaise. Use as is or thin with white rice vinegar or more fresh lemon juice to use as a sauce that is delicious drizzled over steamed vegetables, especially asparagus.
mixed fruit chutney
Makes 2 cups
Chutney is an excellent accompaniment to curried entrees, and it is also an ingredient in several recipes in this book. Vary the recipe by substituting currants for raisins, peaches for the pears, or by stirring ¼ cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or slivered almonds into the cooked chutney.
8 dried apricot halves, chopped
½ apple, peeled and diced
¼ cup dark raisins
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons cider vinegar or white rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of pepper, or to taste
2 pears, cored, peeled, and diced
1. Combine all of the ingredients, except the pears, in a medium saucepan. Cover and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid comes to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the pears; cover and cool stirring occasionally, for about 5 more minutes or until all of the fruits are tender. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
4. Serve warm or refrigerate.
PER TABLESPOON: Cal 21/Prot .1g/Carb 5.5g/Fat 0g/Chol 0mg/Sod 1mg
ADVANCE PREPARATION This chutney will keep for up to 2 weeks in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator.
Makes ½ cup
Basil pesto is traditionally a rich, aromatic mixture of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese put through a blender or ground with a mortar and pestle and served tossed with warm pasta. (Because I like to freeze pesto, I leave out the Parmesan, since the flavor deteriorates when frozen. If you plan to use the pesto fresh, add about ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan when puréeing the ingredients.) To use for a pasta salad, toss the pesto with warm pasta, then chill.
2 cups fresh basil leaves (fresh is essential); (see Tip)
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Process all of the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is a coarse purée. Using a rubber scraper, push down the sides occasionally.
PER TABLESPOON: Cal 53/Prot .8g/Carb 1.7g/Fat 4.8g/Chol 0mg/Sod 4mg
ADVANCE PREPARATION This pesto will keep for up to 1 week in a covered container in the refrigerator; pour a thin film of oil on top of the pesto to prevent discoloration. For longer storage, spoon the mixture into foil-lined custard cups or muffin tins; cover tightly with foil and freeze. Once frozen, remove the foil-wrapped packets and store in a freezer bag for up to 2 months. To use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator or quickly in the microwave. Bring the pesto to room temperature before tossing with hot, freshly cooked pasta.
Add ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Substitute walnuts or hazelnuts for the pine nuts.
For an appetizer: Stuff Basil Pesto into hollowed cherry tomatoes, centers of stemmed raw mushrooms, or into ribs of celery. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.
For a dip to serve with raw vegetables: Stir ¼ cup of Basil Pesto into ½ cup plain yogurt. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Use Light Pesto Vinaigrette (page 94) as a salad dressing or as a marinade for steamed vegetables.
To make pesto herb spread: In a food processor, combine 2 to 3 tablespoons Basil Pesto with ½ cup softened unsalted butter (or margarine), 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a dash of fresh lemon juice; process until smooth. Pour into a container, cover tightly, and chill. Serve as a spread for warm French bread to accompany soups, salads, and pasta dishes or toss with warm green beans, asparagus, potatoes, or spinach.
Chapter One: The Basics.
Chapter Two: Appetizers.
Chapter Three: Soups.
Chapter Four: Salads.
Chapter Five: Entrées.
Chapter Six: Desserts.
Chapter Seven: The Vegetarian Entertainer.
Chapter Eight: How to Plan a Vegetarian Meal.