Zucchini cannelloni

Continuing our quest to help those who don’t like vegetables, here’s a way to enjoy zucchini even if you don’t enjoy zucchini. I think it works really well to substitute for pasta and with enough cheese and sauce you might not notice taste or texture issues that would keep you from enjoying (or at least tolerating) the vegetable substitution. Plus, if you’re looking two get two birds with one stone, you can lower your carbs from refined white flour (most pastas) and replace with a vegetable!

Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise to make flat “noodle” strips. A mandolin works great for this, and large zucchini work well:

Microwave the slices for a minute or two to slightly cook and let some of the liquid release, then drain in a colander or on a paper towel.

Then roll up your slices around a couple of tablespoons of riccota cheese filling – mix with spices, shredded mozarella or parmesan cheese, maybe an egg first. Tuck the zucchini/cheese rolls into a baking dish with a bit of pasta sauce in the bottom:

Top with more pasta sauce – add ground beef or sausage to the sauce if you’d like – and then mozzarella and/or parmesan, and bake in 350˚F oven until the cheese is slightly browned and the sauce is bubbly.

If the “noodles” are too “al dente” or too firm to cut easily, you may have to try pre-cooking longer before rolling up. You could also make lasagna just keep the slices flat, like lasagna noodles.

A similar version using “zoodles” – spiralized zucchini strands – works really well as a veggie-rich version of baked spaghetti or baked ziti!

Oven roasted asparagus

We had dinner with friends last night and one of the most delicious sides was roasted asparagus. I’ve written before about the joy and deliciousness of roasting veggies but thought it was worth mentioning again. So delicious and so simple – the roasting really brings out some depth and richness in almost any vegetable.

First, trim the asparagus a little bit to remove the woody ends.

Place on a cookie sheet – you can line with foil for easy clean-up, or better yet invest in a reusable silicone baking mat that fits your cookie sheet. We use a larger jelly roll pan about 11 x 16 most of the time and Silpat mats work great.

Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, and some minced garlic and a dash or two of salt. Perhaps also some black pepper. Toss to coat the asparagus well. I don’t measure, but I’m not shy with olive oil either. You need enough to coat most of the asparagus stalks well.

Roast at 450˚F until the tips are just starting to brown and get crisp, probably about 10 minutes but will depend on how large your asparagus stalks are.

Remove from the oven and maybe add a squeeze of lemon juice. Pairs very well with grilled salmon or pork tenderloin I think.

The Silpat mat cleans easily by hand or in the dishwasher – ready to roast your next veggie!

Help for people who hate veggies

I try to encourage my patients to eat more fruits and veggies – thus this blog! But I occasionally hear from some of them that they just don’t like vegetables. And even if they do, they not infrequently tell me that their spouses don’t really care for many vegetables, so even if they spend time cooking them they won’t be appreciated.

That’s unfortunate, because eating more vegetables contributes in so many ways to better eating, and better health (and better sustainability, but that is a topic for another post).

There are probably many reasons. If you’re one of those folks without a love for lots of veggies, it’s probably worth spending a little time thinking about why not. Sometimes it’s just as simple as not being in the habit of including more vegetables with meals. Here are some other possible reasons I’ve heard:

  • Didn’t grow up eating many vegetables
  • Issues with texture
  • Not knowing how to cook/prepare them
  • Bad experience with how a certain vegetable was prepared previously
  • Don’t like the taste
  • Takes work to prepare

Obviously personal tastes and eating habits are personal and a lot of factors contribute. But if you’re up for a culinary adventure, here are a few thoughts about how to gradually increase your veggie consumption, and hopefully learn to enjoy them more. After all, enjoying a larger breadth and variety of good foods is really the goal.

Start small:

  • Pick just 1 new vegetable to add over the course of a week or two.
  • Maybe even start with just a different variety of a vegetable you already like
  • Start with a small portion, just to get used to the taste/texture
  • Make the change incremental – just add it to something you are already eating or already like, or pair the new vegetable with a particular favorite food

Monitor and adjust:

  • Think about your reaction – what did you like or not like?
  • If a texture issue, could you prepare in a different way next time (e.g. roast instead of steam, or chop in larger/smaller pieces)?
  • If a taste issue, could you use different seasonings or pair with a different food next time, or cook a different way?
  • Was there anything you did like? Can you build on that for next time?

Keep going:

  • Remember it takes a long time to build new habits
  • Most people can change their tastes/food preferences over time, so try not to give up too quickly
  • You may find that you sincerely, truly, and deeply don’t like a certain vegetable. That’s OK, there are lots of others and you will find some you do like
  • Enjoy the journey – are you learning about new foods, enjoying more color on your plate, exchanging new ideas with friends, or having more freedom to enjoy more things?

Practical things to try:

  • Subscribe to a CSA (more coming on the resources page soon) – you’ll get a pre-chosen box of vegetables and can use that as a basis for new exposures. Commit to eating what you get in your box as an adventure!
  • Start with small amounts of a new vegetable in something you already eat
    • Add chopped zucchini to your spaghetti sauce
    • Add peppers or onions or mushrooms or olives or… to your pizza
    • Sautee a little bit of a new vegetable and add to your burrito or quesadilla
    • Make an omelet with some favorites and the new veggie
    • Add the new veggie to a favorite soup or stew or stir fry
    • Add just a bit of the chopped new veggie to a favorite salad
  • Involve a friend – exchange veggie recipes or have them cook a new veggie for you – get together for a new veggie potluck
  • Outsource to a restaurant or meal delivery kit – try a new veggie off the menu for the first few times you eat it
  • Think about ethnic foods/recipes – you may find that another culture’s recipe for your trial vegetable brings out it’s strengths and unique tastes better
  • Fry it in a fritter!

I think the key is to have a spirit of adventure, give new things a try, and keep going. You can make changes but they may take some time, and that’s OK! I welcome any tricks that work for you in the comments.

If you need help with recipes, we really like “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison – check out the Resources page for more.

CSA Week 15 – Pepper relish

This week some lettuce and fresh herbs (basil in our case) were in addition to the usual summer veggies – spaghetti squash, onions, corn, potatoes, watermelon, bullhorn and banana peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Another fellow CSA subscriber asked if I had any ideas for what to do with the peppers that have come in so bountifully – of course I do! We tend to eat ours raw or sautéed with onions as a veggie side or burrito topping too quickly to build up much of a surplus. But if you have a lot of sweet peppers (bell, green, banana, bullhorn etc) on your hands, this is a great way to preserve and enjoy them later. This is another lactofermented recipe from “Fermented Vegetables” by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey and it has turned out to be one of my favorites (see the Resources page or check out their website).

  • Make in any amount depending on how many peppers you have. For every 1 lb of peppers, use 1/2 tablespoon of salt.
  • Remove the seeds and membranes and finely chop the peppers (you can do this by hand or pulse in a food processor). Use gloves to chop hot peppers.
  • Optionally, finely shop an onion also (about 1/2 a medium onion per lb of peppers)
  • Mix the chopped peppers (and onion, and maybe a bit of garlic) with the salt. Let it sit for a few minutes until a bit of liquid is released.
  • Pack into fermenting jars and attach airlocks
  • Taste after 1 week – can go 2-6 weeks depending on how tangy you like it. Probably about 4 weeks. Once it has developed as much acidity as you like, remove airlock and move to the refrigerator
  • Use as is – great on scrambled eggs, tacos or burritos. Or make instant salsa by adding to chopped fresh tomatoes and cilantro.

CSA Week 14 – Lactofermented pickles

This week a good mix of summer staples – watermelon; summer, zucchini and spaghetti squash; bell, bullhorn and poblano peppers; potatoes; corn; onions; slicing and pickling cucumbers; and slicing and grape tomatoes.

The little pickling cucumbers are great to munch as they are, but if you’re starting to collect a few as the summer harvest continues, pickling them is a great way to preserve the bounty for the future. The pickles we most often think of are preserved with acetic acid from vinegar, but originally pickles were preserved by placing the cucumbers in a brine and allowing them to ferment, where the natural action of the fermentation produced lactic acid. (The same process happens with sauerkraut.)

You can easily make your own lactofermented pickles; all you really need is a container that can keep out air (but let carbon dioxide escape during fermentation) and keep the pickles submerged under the brine. A sauerkraut crock with a heavy loose-fitting lid would work. I use a modified canning jar lid with a grommet to hold the plastic airlocks used in home brewing (something like this) which lets me ferment in any size jar depending on how much there is to preserve.

You can ferment with just a brine made from salt and water – use 3 tablespoons of salt per quart of water, and make enough to cover the veggies. But I’ve found that the recipe from the Ball Blue Book works a little more reliably by adding 1/4 cup vinegar per quart to jump-start the preserving. Usually a packed jar will need about half the volume of brine, but make a little extra (e.g. a quart jar packed with pickling cucumbers will need about a pint of brine). Cover the cucumbers with the brine, adding a hot pepper or garlic or dried dill or peppercorns or mustard seed if you’d like. Cover the container making sure the veggies are always submerged, and watch them on the counter for 2-3 weeks. You’ll see some bubbles start to form in a couple of days, and eventually a little bit of sediment (probiotics!). Depending on the temperature of the room and how tangy you’d like them they could go longer.

Taste along the way and the pickles can be done when the tanginess is to your liking. They should stay crisp, and may have a little effervescence. You can remove the airlock and replace with a normal lid and transfer to the refrigerator for long term storage.

Fermenting your own veggies isn’t hard, but it is something that most of us aren’t familiar with anymore. Your job is just to make sure the conditions are optimal for the healthy bacteria naturally present on the veggies to do the work of preserving (and keep out any harmful bacteria). But once in a while something does go wrong, though if it does it will be pretty obvious (the veggies will be unpleasantly slimy, or foul-smelling, or obviously moldy). There’s a lot more that could be said about fermenting veggies – lots of good websites and books (check out the Resources page for a couple) – but hopefully that’s enough to get you started.

CSA Week 13 – Tomato pie

The summer bounty continues – watermelon, corn, summer squash and zucchini, bell and bullhorn and hot peppers, green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, heirloom and grape tomatoes, spaghetti squash and onions. No new veggies this week so a chance to try something again and maybe make it a new favorite.

If you’re starting to get a lot of ripe tomatoes about now, how about a savory tomato pie:

  • 2 large or 3 medium ripe slicing tomatoes
  • crust for single-shell pie
  • heavy cream or half and half (about half a cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • italian seasoning
  • garlic
  • black pepper
  • parmesan (1/4 to 1/2 cup)

Roll out the crust and place in a deep dish pie plate. Arrange a single row of tomato slices along the bottom. Beat eggs lightly and mix in cream, stir in spices. Pour about 1/3 of the cream mixture on the layer of tomatoes, and sprinkle with parmesan. Place another layer of tomato slices, overlapping the first layer. Pour another 1/3 of the cream mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with parmesan. Place remaining tomatoes (you may have to slice another if your pie pan is really deep), add remaining cream mixture and top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 ˚F on lowest oven rack until set slightly and cheese is browned.

You can use any pie crust recipe you’d like, but we’ve enjoyed using a sourdough pie crust recipe that nicely complements the savory tomatoes. Another bonus is that the pie crust uses the discard from feeding the starter, so you don’t have to waste that. The original recipe was developed by Eileen Gray at Baking-Sense.com – find it here. We’ve modified a bit to use ancient grains (2 1/4 cup) instead of the white and cake flours, to use less salt (1/4 tsp works fine) and to use all butter (we typically use grass-fed butter) instead of part shortening.

CSA Week 12 – Spaghetti squash

The harvest this week keeps going with the best of summer veggies – sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers – bell, bullhorn and jalapeno, leeks and onions, watermelons, and new for this week, spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash (like pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut) but the flesh can be pulled apart in long strands like, you guessed it, spaghetti. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor, but I think the unique texture makes it a workhorse veggie for trying to eat more veggies.

To prepare, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the two halves in a baking dish, prick the skin in a few places, and add a little water to the bottom of the dish, then roast in the oven – maybe 375 ˚F – until it is soft, 30 minutes but variable depending on how big the squash is. Or you can microwave for 7-10 minutes instead of roasting. Then scoop out the flesh with a fork.

It works great just like spaghetti – as a base for marinara or hearty meat sauce, with pesto and grilled chicken, or with Alfredo sauce. Or use instead of noodles for a lo mein. Mix with pasta sauce, some ground beef or sausage and ricotta and mozzarella then bake it again for a baked spaghetti dish. My favorite thing about spaghetti squash is that it easily lets you incorporate an extra veggie without hardly trying – especially good for folks who don’t have a love of veggies but are working to like them better.

If you want to enjoy the squash on its own merits and not just as a pasta substitute, we like to this spaghetti squash casserole:

  • Roast spaghetti squash, cool, shred, and let rest in a colander to drain a bit
  • Mix sour cream and mayonnaise in equal parts, enough to generously coat the spaghetti squash
  • Mix in parmesan cheese, a small bit of mozzarella, black pepper, dried onion flakes or finely chopped sautéed onion, and bacon bits
  • Turn into a casserole dish and sprinkle a bit more parmesan and mozzarella
  • Bake at 375 until bubbly and the cheese has browned

CSA Week 11 – Leeks

This week, a great assortment! Melons again – cantaloupe and watermelon; also sweet corn, zucchini and summer squash, onions and potatoes, beets, green and purple bell peppers, banana peppers, poblano peppers, and grape and slicing tomatoes, with some parsley and finally, leeks.

Leeks are members of the onion family, though I think the flavor is a little more mild and combines a bit of onion and garlic flavor. Apparently the name comes from an old English word “leac” that also gives us our word garlic. Leeks were eaten in ancient Egypt and are one of the foods the Israelites missed in the wilderness after the Exodus (Numbers 11:5). They were also eaten in ancient Rome where they were felt to be superior to garlic and onions, and apparently a favorite of the Emperor Nero. (See the Wikipedia article).

As with all onion family members, both the white and green parts are edible but the darker green areas may be a bit tough and fibrous.

You’ll want to wait until the fall for this recipe but this a favorite of ours to use leeks. We’ll be chopping and freezing these to use when (if) the weather turns cooler.

Chicken and wild rice soup

  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cups wild rice
  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning or dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream (can use part half-and-half but may separate)
  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken

Combine the broth, water, and wild rice in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 35-40 minutes. Fun fact – wild rice is not actually rice, but a native American grass with a reasonably high protein content for a grain (more than quinoa but less than oats).

When the wild rice is nearly cooked, saute the leeks, celery and carrot in a medium saucepan in the butter. Stirring constantly, add in the flour and the seasoning, and cook until the mixture is bubbly and thick. Stir in the cream, and cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly. Stir the butter/flour mixture into the broth/wild rice, and add the chicken. It is best if left to stand before serving, even for a couple of hours and can easily be re-heated. Sometimes the soup will separate but usually mixes again with heating.

A couple of notes on ingredients: don’t skimp on the butter. Butter made from cream from grass-fed cows (like Kerrygold) adds a great flavor and richness. Of course the butter provides calories, but this is an entree soup and the butter is worth it. You can use any all-purpose flour. We have been using ancient grains – more to come in a future post – and we think whole-grain Einkorn works fabulously to give a rich, creamy base.

This is a hearty and filling soup. Add a bit of crusty bread (sourdough if you can) and a green salad – spinach with figs and walnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette maybe – and you have a very satisfying meal on a cold winter night.

CSA Week 10 – Summer veggies

This week continues the bountiful summer harvest with a great assortment – corn, zucchini and summer squash, onions and potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, banana peppers, cucumber, and purple basil. This share also includes the first harvest of melons – watermelon and cantaloupe.

Instead of a recipe to feature a specific new veggie, this week I’ve included a few ways to incorporate more veggies into other foods. You’ll get the extra veggie nutrition for free, and for those who have yet to develop a love for veggies maybe this little bit of subterfuge can help get your palates used to veggie tastes and textures that may be new.

Squash spaghetti/linguini: Use zucchini or summer squash instead of or in addition to pasta: think “zoodles” or the recent spiralizer craze. But you don’t need an “as-seen-on-TV” gizmo. A small hand-held spiralizer (like one from Oxo) works great for occasional use. I actually prefer spiralized yellow squash to zucchini as a substitute for spaghetti, covered with a rich meat sauce and parmesan cheese (I think the yellow color and mild flavor makes a nice substitute for pasta). You can also mix with the pasta and you will still up your veggie game but keep some of the pasta taste and texture. Or toss your zoodles with pesto and parmesan, maybe some olives or sun-dried tomatoes, and add some chicken for a great “pasta” salad. You might want to quickly steam or microwave your faux noodles before serving.

Zucchini or eggplant noodles: If you thin slice the zucchini long-ways (you may need to invest in a mandoline to slice thinly) you can substitute the ribbons for lasagna noodles. Eggplant can work this way also but the skin tends to be a bit thick. Once you bake it with the sauce and cheese you won’t probably notice much difference from the pasta original. Or, you can wrap the thinly sliced zucchini slices around some ricotta and top with sauce for a manicotti.

Spinach: add some chopped spinach (wilted from fresh spinach or frozen) to lasagna – it will disappear but you’ll have the extra goodness of greens. Or add some spinach to your quesadilla – great with Monterey Jack cheese and chicken. Maybe saute a bit of finely chopped zucchini, onions and peppers and add that too! The best is finely chopped spinach so frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain right before use, is the most convenient.

Cauliflower: riced cauliflower works great for a stir-fry. You can pick it up in the freezer section and use it exclusively, or mix in with regular rice for the bed of your stir-fry. Or, make fried “rice” with the cauliflower, carrots and peas, green onions, peppers, maybe a scrambled egg, and add some chicken or pork leftovers…

Winter squash: you’ll have to wait until fall for this, but you can easily add pumpkin or butternut squash mash to cornbread. You won’t notice you’re eating veggies and it will add moisture and a depth of flavor that’s delicious. If you make cornmeal waffles with some butternut or pumpkin, you can even have veggies for breakfast!

CSA Week 9 – Corn

New for this week – the summer sweet corn has started coming in. Also cucumber, green beans, summer and zucchini squash, potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions and tomatoes.

We really don’t need a recipe since you can just enjoy the corn straight off the cob, especially the sweeter varieties that you often find at farmer’s markets. But if you want to try something a little different, here’s a recipe for Mexican-inspired sautéed corn:

  • Corn kernels – either cut fresh from ~4 ears or a package of frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 Poblano pepper, chopped (or you can use a green bell pepper for less heat)
  • 1-2 sweet or hot banana peppers (if you have them), chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Cilantro
  • Splash of lime juice

In a large skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add the onions, garlic, peppers, cumin, and chili powder and sauté until softened. After the onion and peppers have cooked for about 5 minutes, add the corn and sauté for another 5 minutes until the corn is cooked through. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and lime juice.

This works great as a side for a Mexican entree but we also like it as a bed for grilled or baked salmon. You can also mix in some black beans and top with some Monterey Jack cheese and/or sour cream to make a vegetarian entree.