Autumn Harvest Buddha Bowls by Amy Cantu

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September is the month of birthdays in my family–there are at least four. As evidenced here, here, here, and here, I have a very soft and tender spot for cake. And so, more than anything this month, I've been craving foods that I could feel good about eating. I'm talking nutritionally dense foods that are also filling and easy to source, as the bountiful summer produce disappears from the market. A beautiful, colorful Autumn Harvest Buddha Bowl filled with hearty quinoa, bright orange butternut squash, earthy roasted mushrooms, deep green wilted spinach, and protein-rich tofu make me feel good about the meal, while the richly satisfying peanut sauce keeps me eating to the very last bite. I told my 5-year-old that it was "peanut butter sauce", which made him grin from ear to ear and eagerly eat the entire buddha bowl. (Because who doesn't love peanut butter?)

Notes: Buddha Bowls are highly customizable. The quinoa can be replaced with quick-cooking farro, barley, or brown rice. The roasted vegetables could be pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, and/or kale. The tofu could be chickpeas, beans, or lentils. If you're feeling more like having a Dalai Lama bowl, shredded or chopped rotisserie chicken would be a great substitute for the tofu. The optional fish sauce will also deepen the flavor or the peanut sauce.

The chiles in the peanut sauce are there for flavor and can easily be modified for your heat preferences. Smaller red or green Thai chiles provide the most heat, especially if you leave the ribs and seeds intact. Jalapeños with the seeds and ribs removed will be super mild–I used one and no one noticed any spiciness at all.

Peanut sauce adapted from Bon Appetit.

Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

For the vegetables and tofu:
1 14-ounce block Firm or Extra-Firm Tofu
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" pieces (about 1 large butternut squash)
8 ounces crimini (brown) mushrooms, quartered
5 ounces baby spinach
3 tablespoons grape seed or olive oil, divided use
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the quinoa:
2 cups quinoa
4 cups water
Kosher salt
1 lime, juiced

For the peanut sauce:
1 or 2 Jalapeño or Thai chiles, chopped (see notes above)
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce (optional)
1/2 cup water
Kosher salt

For the garnishes:
Finely sliced green onions
Chopped cilantro
Chopped peanuts

For the vegetables and tofu: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F., with one rack in the top third of the oven and the second rack in the bottom third.

Cut tofu block in half horizontally (width-wise), and cube into roughly 1" pieces. Lay tofu in a single layer on top of a double-layer of paper towels to drain while preparing the vegetables.

Arrange butternut squash in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and season with kosher salt and pepper; toss to coat squash evenly. Push the butternut squash to one side of the pan, keeping them in a single layer. 

Blot the tofu cubes dry with another paper towel, pressing down on them gently to release any excess liquid. Arrange tofu next to the butternut squash. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons oil and season with kosher salt and pepper; toss gently to coat evenly. Space tofu so that they are in a single layer.

On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss quartered mushrooms with 2 teaspoons of oil, kosher salt and pepper; arrange in a single layer.

Place the butternut squash and tofu on the top oven rack and the mushrooms on the bottom rack. Roast for 25 minutes. 

Add spinach to baking sheet with mushrooms, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil, kosher salt, and pepper; toss to combine. Continue to roast for 2 more minutes or until spinach is wilted. Remove both baking sheets from oven. Check the butternut squash with a fork–there should be little resistance. If squash is not done, return baking sheet to the oven for another 5 minutes.

For the quinoa: Bring 2 cups of quinoa, 4 cups of water, and a generous pinch of salt to a boil, then reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, before fluffing with a fork. Drizzle with lime juice and stir with a fork to combine.

For the sauce: Pulse all the ingredients, except water and salt, together in a blender until smooth. Pour into saucepan with water and whisk together over medium-low heat until hot. Remove from heat.

To assemble: Place quinoa at the bottom of a bowl. Heap roasted vegetables over the quinoa and drizzle generously with peanut sauce. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, and chopped peanuts.

Korean Stewed Tofu with Green Onion Salad and Crisp Bacon by Cynthia Raub

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Notes: This recipe is easily made vegan or vegetarian by omitting the bacon garnish. 

Serves: 2-4
Time: 20 minutes

2 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon fermented bean paste (Korean dwen-jang is recommended but miso is fine, too.)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean fermented red pepper paste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon + 1 pinch gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes) 
1 teaspoon black pepper, coarse ground
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup onion, small dice
3 medium cloves of garlic, sliced thin
14 oz firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
3 medium green onions
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Slice bacon into lardons, place in nonstick skillet and cook on medium heat until crisp and fat is rendered- about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl add: fermented bean paste, gochujang, soy sauce, honey, coarse black pepper and kosher salt. Stir to combine, set aside. Cut onion into a small dice, slice garlic, and cube tofu- set aside.

Once the bacon is cooked, drain on a paper towel and drain all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan. On medium high heat, add the onion and garlic and sweat until translucent.

Add tofu to the pan and turn heat up to high, lightly frying the tofu in the bacon fat. Toss and brown until heated through- about 3 minutes. Add the spicy sauce and 1/3 cup of water to the tofu, stirring gently to prevent breaking up the tofu. Cook on high for 4-6 minutes until sauce has thickened and coated the tofu. Turn off heat and drizzle tofu with sesame oil. 

Slice green onions on a bias and place in a small bowl. Dress the green onions with a pinch of gochugaru (red pepper flakes) and 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar.

Spoon tofu into a shallow bowl and garnish with dressed green onions and crisp bacon. Serve with white rice and devour immediately. 

Bi Bim Bap with Beef and Spicy Sauce by Cynthia Raub

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Bi Bim Bap with Beef and Spicy Sauce (Korean Mixed Rice)

I love the Perfect Bite. Salty, a hint of acid, some sweetness, something crunchy, something soft, and a little chew all comprised of vegetables, carbs and protein. This is why I love sandwiches, loaded nachos, burritos or rice salads! Last week, I shared Ottolenghi's Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries. Similar to that recipe, bi bim bap (translated from Korean it means "mixed rice") has multiple facets, steps, and ingredients that come together to make a delicious bowl of food. The cold vegetables temper the steaming hot rice and beef, which is bound by a luscious and sticky egg yolk. Each heaping spoonful is balance of cold, hot, crunch, soft, sweet, salt and heat. This dish may take a bit of preparation and organization, but don't let that dissuade you from making it! I like to make bi bim bap in large quantities as it stores well in the fridge for a few days. It can then be thrown together from the fridge in the amount of time that it takes you to fry an egg.

Notes: In this recipe I am using and preparing very common vegetables to make a delicious bi bim bap (Korean mixed rice). But to make your own, the vegetable world is your oyster. You can include: sautéed mushrooms, lightly pickled radish, or kale instead of spinach . . . the possibilities are endless! The beauty of this dish is it's inherent flexibility. When storing the different vegetables, it's best to store each vegetable by itself. This way, when you go to make a bowl from the fridge, the vegetables keep their individual characteristics even when they are eventually mixed together. My mom always reminds me to not aggressively season the vegetables, so I'm going to tell you the same thing. This dish is most harmonious when the vegetables are a tad under seasoned to delicately balance the rich egg yolk, spicy sauce and flavorful beef.

Additionally, the bi bim bap sauce recipe I've shared is a versatile sweet and spicy condiment that is delicious and addictive. It's sweeter and less acidic than sriracha, making it a great addition to your hot sauce arsenal. Gochujang, used in the bi bim bap sauce recipe, is a Korean fermented chili paste (kind of like a spicy miso paste), that can be found in the refrigerated section of most Asian supermarkets. 

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

For the Marinated Beef
1 pound ground beef
4 garlic cloves
1/2 yellow onion
1" piece of peeled ginger
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoon light brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and liquify. Place beef in a large bowl and add marinade, combining until well incorporated. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Marinate for at least 30 minutes up to 2 hours.

Bi Bim Bap Sauce (fermented red pepper paste sauce)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste, found in most Asian markets)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, whisk to combine, taste to adjust seasoning and set aside.

For the Bi Bim Bap
2 medium zucchini, julienned
12 oz mung bean sprouts
3 carrots, julienned
2 small bunches of spinach (standard size, not baby), washed with root ends trimmed
3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Pinch of sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
2 teaspoons crushed garlic (divided)

To Serve
4 cups of prepared rice (short grain white rice is traditional, but brown rice would be delicious, too!)
4 eggs
Bi Bim Bap Sauce (recipe above)
Marinated Beef (recipe above)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place julienned zucchini in the boiling water for about one minute until cooked through. Remove the zucchini (delicately with tongs or a strainer) and plunge it into an ice bath. Remove, strain well and set the zucchini aside in a small bowl. Dress with 1 heaping teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.

In the same boiling water, place mung bean sprouts in the water for 3-5 minutes until just translucent and limp. Remove the mung bean sprouts and plunge into the previously used ice bath. Remove, strain and squeeze sprouts of excess liquid, and set the mung bean sprouts aside in a small bowl. Dress with 1 heaping teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil and 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Refresh the ice bath. In the pot of boiling water, place carrots in the boiling water for 1 minute until cooked through and limp. Remove the carrots and plunge into the ice bath. Remove, strain very well and set the carrots aside in a small bowl. Dress with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, a pinch of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Clean spinach of dirt and trim the ends. In the pot of boiling water, place spinach in the boiling water for 1 minute until cooked through and the stems are tender. Remove the spinach and plunge into the previously used ice bath. Remove, strain well (pressing out any additional liquid) and set the spinach aside in a bowl. Dress with 1 heaping teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sesame seed oil and 1 teaspoon crushed garlic. Taste and adjust seasoning. A note on spinach: I would not recommend using bagged baby spinach - it doesn't cook the same as large bunch spinach, and it doesn't hold up well during the final mixing process.

Cook the beef by heating a large skillet on medium-high heat and cook the beef until browned, fragrant, and cooked through. You may have to cook the beef in two batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan on medium-high heat and coat with cooking oil. Crack eggs into pan and fry until the whites are opaque and the bottoms of the eggs are crisp and brown.

To Assemble: In a large bowl, scoop 1 cup of fluffed rice into the center. Around the perimeter, arrange 1/4 of each vegetable around the rice, spoon 1/4 of the beef mixture. Top with a fried egg.

Serve the bowl with the spicy Bi Bim Bap sauce on the side and a spoon to eat with. Immediately before eating, mix and toss all of the ingredients in the bowl together: break up the egg white, incorporate the yolk into the rice, while tossing the vegetables together. Dress with sauce and enjoy!

Rice Salad With Nuts and Sour Cherries by Cynthia Raub

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rice salad with nuts and sour cherries

I love me a rice salad. A bit ago, I cooked a Korean meal for us complete with Seafood and Green Onion Pancake (Pa Jun) and a Soft Tofu Stew (Soondoobu Jjigae). Bi Bim Bap is also a traditional Korean dish with rice, various barely-cooked vegetables and topped with an egg. I like to describe Bi Bim Bap as a rice salad dressed with a browned and runny egg. This is what attracted me so much to this recipe: the various textures, temperatures and flavors make for an elegant statement dish. Ottolenghi' rice salad is nutty from the rice and quinoa, crunchy and rich from two kinds of nuts, and has a surprising subtle sweetness courtesy of the cherries and browned onions. Finished with herbs and spicy arugula for brightness, it's a wonderful side dish to practically anything.

Notes: This recipe yields a staggering amount of food. As written, it is at least 8 if not 12 generous servings. Tart dried cherries may be cumbersome to acquire, so I think that dried cranberries or even dried apricot would be complementary substitutes. This is a wonderful dish to bring to a potluck or a holiday gathering because of its versatility and because it makes such a large amount.

Scant 1 cup/150 g wild rice
Scant 1 1/4 cup/220 g basmati rice
5 1/2 tbsp/80 ml olive oil
2/3 cup/100 g quinoa
6 1/2 tbsp/60 g almonds, skins on, coarsely chopped
7 tbsp/60 g pine nuts
1/4 cup/60 ml sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups/320 g)
1 cup/30 g flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup/20 g basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup/10 g tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups/40 g arugula
2/3 cup/80 g dried sour cherries
1/4 cup/60 ml lemon juice, plus the grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper

Place the wild rice in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside to dry.

Mix the basmati rice with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a saucepan with 1 1/3 cups/ 330 ml of boiling water, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, place a tea towel over the pan, replace the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool down completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for 9 minutes, then drain into a fine sieve, refresh under cold water, and set aside.

Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a small plate as soon as the pine nuts begin to color and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get crisp and others just soft. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place all the grains in a large bowl along with the chopped herbs, arugula, fried onion, nuts, and sour cherries. Add the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 3 1/2 tbsp olive oil, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant by Amy Cantu

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Luxurious. I would not have ever imagined that I might describe a lentil salad this way, but luxurious is exactly the perfect word. Smoky, silky, creamy, spicy, and a bit tangy: All of these sensations tangle together into one luxurious bite after another. Eggplant can be sensual. Yes, I said it. The broiled eggplant lifts ordinary lentils into a sensual tizzy of textures and flavors, and I don't think I've been the same ever since! Please eat this. It's a feast of colors for the eyes, sustaining nutrients for the body, and sensual luxury for the mouth and tongue. I understand completely now why Yotam Ottolenghi's approach to treating and eating vegetables can become an obsessive experience. I am forever changed, and now seeking to cook every single recipe in his cookbooks. (Speaking of which, Cynthia shared Ottolenghi's Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries with us, and I will be making this immediately. So good.)

Notes: The smoky broiled eggplant is what makes this dish so special. Roasting them directly over a gas stove is the fastest way to cook them and achieve that smoky flavor, but it definitely made a mess that took scrubbing to clean up. If you can lay down aluminum foil around the flame to catch some of the drippings, that would help a lot, but this was hard to do with my particular stovetop. Using the oven broiler to roast the eggplant is a less messy alternative, but it does take an hour instead of 15 minutes. If you choose the broiler method, please ensure that you poke the eggplant all over with a small sharp knife, to allow steam to escape. Otherwise, the eggplant may explode all over the oven - an even bigger mess to clean up!

The harissa is optional, but I was so happy to have a jar of homemade harissa gifted to me from Cynthia. It elevated this already excellent lentil salad into something truly special.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes (depending on your method for roasting the eggplant)
Servings: 4

2 medium eggplants
2 tablespoons top-quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy or Castelluccio), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 tablespoon crème fraîche (or natural yogurt, if you prefer)
2 tablespoons harissa (purchased or homemade), optional

To cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop, which is the most effective way: Start by lining the area around the burners with foil to protect them. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire.

To broil the eggplants in an oven instead: pierce the eggplants all over with a sharp knife. (This creates exit points for the steam to escape the eggplant; otherwise, the eggplant will explode and make a giant mess!) Put them on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used an oven broiler, change the oven to its normal setting. Heat the oven to 275°F. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and only then season with plenty of salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar.

While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stalk into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay leaf, thyme and onion, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for up to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away the froth from the surface from time to time. Drain in a sieve. Remove and discard the carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and onion and transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside somewhere warm.

Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 3/8-inch dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, the sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender but still firm.

Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a dollop each of crème fraîche or yogurt and harissa. Finish with a trickle of oil.

Korean Soft Tofu Stew (Soondoobu Jjigae) by Cynthia Raub

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At a Korean table, a variety of side dishes (banchan) will clutter and cover an entire table to the corners and edges. Each diner is set with their own bowl of rice, a spoon, and chopsticks. A soup or stew is a standard for every mealtime during a Korean meal. As such, a single pot of soup is set in the middle of the table for everyone to eat from directly. Due to the long reach to the communal pot, Korean spoons have longer handles than other culture's spoons for this reason. Interesting, right? You're welcome for that tidbit of trivia knowledge. Don't ever say I never gave you anything. 

This tofu soup comes together in no time, and as I explain in the notes below, is very flexible in ingredients as well. The silken tofu's luscious and soft texture is carried through a mildly spicy soup base with small nibbles of vegetables and meat along the way. Share this pot of stew with your family or some friends, or eat the whole thing by yourself. There's no wrong way to enjoy this fragrant and bubbling mess. 

Notes: This soup can easily be made vegetarian or even vegan! You can also swap the seafood for beef or pork and it will be just as delicious. I made this version of tofu soup to accompany Korean Green Onion and Seafood Pancakes (Pa Jun) so I used the same seafood for both dishes to make it easier on myself. If you omit the animal broth and/or meat, I recommend a spoonful more of kimchi and a bigger glug of sesame oil for more flavor. This is a mild version, so feel free to add Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru) or sliced spicy peppers to your liking. Also, I had a difficult time tracking down silken tofu - so don't be discouraged if you can't find it, either. Soft tofu is a perfectly delicious substitute for this soup.

Serves: 1 - 4
Time: 20 minutes

1/4 cup chopped seafood (I used shrimp and squid.)
3 clams
1 tablespoon grape seed oil (or any other neutral oil)
1/4 cup chopped kimchi
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced mushrooms
1/4 cup diced zucchini
1 cup of stock (vegetable, seafood, chicken, beef) or water
14 ounces silken tofu
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon green onion, thinly sliced
1 egg

Cut seafood into small dice and clean and sort clams. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat grape seed oil on medium high heat. Add kimchi, garlic, mushrooms, and zucchini; cook until tender and barely browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Scoop large spoonfuls of silken tofu from its package into the boiling soup base. Reduce heat to medium and bring back to a hard simmer, stirring occasionally to break up the tofu. Simmer for 3 minutes until tofu is heated through. Season with kosher salt. Add seafood and cook until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Reduce the heat to low and drizzle the soup with sesame oil and scatter green onions. Crack an egg into a small bowl and gently pour on top of the soup; the hot soup with cook the egg. Serve from your saucepan and enjoy!

Asparagus, Peas and Fava Beans with Gremolata and Mozzarella by Cynthia Raub

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Suddenly, they were everywhere. Delicate, thin stalks of asparagus appeared in the markets in all of their glory. They are on special! They are as tender and flavorful as all get out! It was time to get excited about spring vegetables. Granted, asparagus, like most all other produce, is now available year-round. While it is tolerable during the other seasons, out of season asparagus does not compare to the first of the season, local crop. The other spring beauties that shine like green diamonds in the spring are fresh English peas and finicky fava beans. Combined, these veggies make a beautiful statement as a side dish or an alternative to a salad. My initial thought was to dress the vegetables simply with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. But then I remembered that the lemon juice would turn the green vegetables brown and unappealing. Boo! That's when it occurred to me to dress it with a gremolata: a minced combination of lemon zest, parsley and garlic. The lemon zest would provide the acidic zing, the parsley would bring brightness and even more freshness to the veggie party and the garlic does what garlic was created to do (aka make everything more delicious). Topping this loose, green dish with a soft and white cheese really brought it together and made it a perfect accompaniment to Amy's Fresh Egg Pasta.

Notes: Gremolata can be prepared several ways. I primarily used a microplane to finely grate the garlic and zest the lemon - I found that this method cut down my chopping time tremendously. Some people use a mortar and pestle to make a paste with all of the ingredients, others chop everything completely with a knife, and some use a food processor to get the results they want. Fava beans have a very short and sweet season so they can be cumbersome to acquire. They are also time intensive to shell and prepare. I was committed to fava beans, but if you can't find them or don't want to prepare them, omitting them won't do any harm, either.

Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 4-6

2 bunches of asparagus
1 cup of english peas
1/2 cup fava beans (optional)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1 lemon
3 garlic cloves
1 cup of parsley leaves, packed

8 oz fresh mozzarella (or burrata)

In a large pot, bring salted water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water - set ice bath aside. Prepare asparagus bunches by cutting off the woody ends (about 2 inches). Blanch asparagus for 1-2 minutes depending on the thickness of your asparagus stalks and your vegetable doneness preference. Remove from boiling water with tongs and submerge in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove asparagus from the ice bath onto a towel to absorb the excess water.

In the same pot of boiling water, blanch and cool the peas as you did the asparagus. Set aside.

Lastly, blanch the fava bean pods in the boiling water for 2-4 minutes cooking them through. Strain the pods and set aside to cool. Once the pods are cool, remove the waxy bean shells from the pod. Using a small pairing knife, slit the waxy shells to release the beans. Set the shelled beans aside.

In a large bowl (I used a half sheet baking pan), gently combine the asparagus, peas and fava beans. Season the vegetables with kosher salt, pepper and olive oil.

For the gremolata: using a microplane, zest one entire lemon onto your cutting board. Microplane the garlic on top of the lemon zest. Finely chop the parsley on the same cutting board, incorporating the lemon zest and grated garlic as you mince away until everything is well combined.

Sprinkle the asparagus mixture with the gremolata to taste. Mix and combine, and let sit for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld before serving. Tear mozzarella and dot over asparagus. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt or gremolata as necessary!

Purple Rain Smoothie by Christine Pedlar

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Smoothies are a quick easy way to make sure you get your fruits and veggies in and can be as varied as your imagination, tastes, and nutritional aspirations. Need some extra protein or Omega-3's? Smoothies can do the trick. I like them any time I'm feeling too lazy to make a salad, 'cause let's face it, dealing with a bunch of veggies can sometimes feel like a chore. They're also great pre or post workout, when you want something to go, or crave something simple, satisfying but not heavy.

You've probably heard, Prince went to the Afterworld this week. This makes me sad. But maybe you didn't know, Prince dug smoothies. So it's only fitting I have something in my repertoire honoring him. When I'm craving something sweet and decadent, this is it. Chocolate covered berries in a glass that will have you partying like it's 1999, or at the very least, Paisley Park in 2010. And the Greek yogurt packs a lot of protein, you know, in case you have to go do the splits on top of a Grand Piano or something. Or maybe just recover from a run or spin class like the rest of us mortals.

Notes: I find some Greek yogurts to be a bit chalky for my taste (ahem, Fage), so you might want to experiment with what you like and is available in your area. If I'm feeling flush, Strauss' Organic Nonfat Plain Yogurt is my favorite, but Trader Joe's Greek Style Nonfat Plain Yogurt is the best choice I've found for a decent price.

If you want to make this recipe vegan like Prince, simply swap out the Greek yogurt for cultured coconut milk or soy yogurt.

Raw cacao powder can be found at natural food stores or online. My 88 year-old grandfather turned me on to putting it in smoothies. He buys it on Amazon 'cause he's fly like that, but I get it might be hard to find or on the spendy side. So it's totally cool with me if you want to use good old fashioned cocoa powder instead. You can also substitute the almond milk with any other kind of milk you enjoy.

Time: 10 minutes
Servings: Two 16 ounce glasses

Place ingredients in a blender going down this list in order, first to last. The layering order makes a difference. 

1 cup unsweetened vanilla (or regular) almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
½ to 1 tablespoon honey
5 ounces baby spinach
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 cups frozen berries (take your pick – blueberries or cherries are my favorites) 
1 frozen banana
Optional: 2 tablespoons hemp hearts or chia seeds if you're looking for some Omega-3's. Add into the blender after yogurt. 

Blend well. Party!

Swiss Chard and Leek Crostata by Cynthia Raub

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I first laid eyes on this beautiful and majestic creature several years ago on Anne Burrell's Secret of a Restaurant Chef on the Food Network. As she effortlessly prepared this beautifully browned and rustic crostata, I vividly remember salivating and wondering when I should make it and for what occasion. This recipe is not for the faint of heart, as it includes MORE than four cups of various cheeses (I refuse to count and acknowledge the true amount of cheese in the recipe). For the sheer volume of cheese alone, this recipe is perfect for sharing with a group of people. I have made it for friends at brunch, for potlucks, and for holidays. It can be the main or it can be a side for a meal. Dreamers like me would consider it a serving of vegetables. It's showy and beautiful, incredibly delicious, and makes a statement on any table for every occasion. 

Notes: Because this recipe yields such a large crostata, I split the recipe to make two smaller crostatas: one to gift to sweet new parents and one to Amy and her family. This recipe is adaptable and you can substitute any vegetables that you love for the leeks and/or swiss chard. Mushrooms! Squash! Roasted TOMATO! Don't get me started on tomatoes in a savory crust . . . Anyway, this recipe is also just perfect as written. So make this one before you start doing your own jazzy riffs. I promise, it's GOOD.

Time: 2 hr 30 min (1 hour inactive)
Serves: 8 to 10

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mascarpone
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 stick cold butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
2 eggs

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch white Swiss Chard, stems removed cut into 1/4-inch lengths, leaves cut into 1-inch lengths
2 leeks, tough green tops removed, cut in 1/2 lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch lengths
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Kosher salt
2 cups fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs
Pinch cayenne pepper
Egg wash: 
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Combine the flour, Parmesan, mascarpone, salt, cayenne and butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined and crumbly in texture. Add the eggs and pulse until the mixture tightens up. Turn mixture over onto a clean and flat work surface, shape into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper. When the garlic has become golden brown and is very aromatic remove it and discard. Add the swiss chard stems, leeks and 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and season with salt. When the water has evaporated and the stems and leeks are soft, add the leaves. Season the leaves with salt and sauté until they are very soft and wilted. Remove from the heat and allow the Swiss chard to cool.

In a large bowl combine the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, cayenne and the Swiss chard mixture. Mix to thoroughly combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let warm up for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Dust a large clean work surface with flour and roll the dough into a large circle about 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a large sheet try lined with parchment paper. Lay the dough out flat, don't worry about the overhang on the sides. Put the filling in a large circle in the center of the rolled out dough leaving a 3 to 4-inch border of dough along the outside edge. Fold the dough up around the filling to make a "free-form pie". Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the crust is firm, golden brown and shiny, about 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing, this will allow it to up for easier slicing.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

You're a goddess, Anne Burrell!

Three Cheese Fondue by Amy Cantu

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Fondue is so fun to eat! Who can resist crusty bread dipped into a pot of ooey-gooey, unctuous cheese? No one, that’s who. (Unless you hate cheese, in which case, I’m sorry- we can’t be friends. Just kidding . . . maybe.) Twirling bits of food into a pool of melty goodness is somehow therapeutic and it also bonds you with those dipping with you. Added bonus: My 4-year-old got a big kick out of dunking his broccoli and carrots into the cheese sauce, and he probably ate a week’s worth of veggies in this one meal alone.

Notes: This is a fairly classic fondue recipe, but make it your own by using any combination of good melting cheeses, liquid, and flavoring. For example, you could substitute smoked cheddar, hard apple cider, and apple butter for a completely different fondue. Or how about extra-sharp cheddar, beer, and bacon bits? You get the idea!

Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4

1 medium clove garlic, cut in half
1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, plus more as needed
⅓ pound Gruyère or Comté cheese, grated
⅓ pound Emmentaler cheese, grated
⅓ pound Fontina cheese, grated
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
Freshly ground pepper

Ideas for dipping:
Baguette or other rustic bread, large cubes
Small new potatoes, boiled and cooled (can be left whole or halved)
Broccoli or cauliflower florets, blanched
Carrots, bite-size pieces, blanched
Asparagus, blanched
Sausage, cooked and sliced into bite-sized pieces
Salami, diced into bite-sized pieces
Apple slices, Granny Smith or other tart apple

In a medium bowl, evenly coat the cheeses with cornstarch.

Rub the cut sides of garlic around the inside of a double boiler or stainless steel mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water on low heat. The bowl should not touch the water. Pour in the wine and heat until hot. (You should see wisps of steam.)

Gradually stir in the cheese, one handful at a time. Stir each handful of cheese until it is completely melted, before adding another handful. Do not allow the cheese to come to a simmer. Once you have a smooth, glossy cheese sauce, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch, if using. Season with freshly ground pepper. Pour fondue into a fondue pot to keep it warm.

Choose your dippers, dunk and swirl into the cheesy goodness, and enjoy!

Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice by Amy Cantu

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Time: 1 hour (plus soaking time)
Servings: 4-6

2 cups glutinous (sweet) rice
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, well-stirred
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
4 small mangos, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2" cubes (The smaller Ataulfos or Manila mangos are sweeter than the larger Tommy Atkins mangos, and are worth seeking out at Asian supermarkets or well-stocked grocery/specialty stores.)

cheesecloth for steaming (optional)

Rinse the rice in a bowl, using a few changes of cold water until the water is clear. Cover the rice in cold water and let soak at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

Drain the rice. Pour 1 cup of water into a saucepan. Add rice to a steamer insert (lined with cheesecloth, if using,) and place inside the saucepan. Cover tightly and steam over low to medium heat for 20-30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and shiny. (Add extra water to the saucepan, if it seems like you need extra time.)

While rice is cooking, in a saucepan bring coconut milk to a boil with sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. Keep mixture warm.

Transfer hot cooked rice to a bowl and stir in coconut-milk mixture. Let rice stand, covered, 30 minutes, or until coconut-milk mixture is absorbed. Rice may be prepared up to this point 2 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.
To serve, spoon sticky rice on dessert plates. Top with cubed mango, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Soba Noodle Salad by Cynthia Raub

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Noodles! There are thousands of different kinds, and I love them all. But I am particularly fond of soba - chewy, nutty, Japanese buckwheat noodles. When I feel health-conscious, I choose soba noodles because . . . I’m not sure! They are gluten-free, but that doesn’t matter to me. They are lower calorie than pasta made with wheat, but that doesn’t matter to me either! I think it’s because they can be dressed lightly and eaten cold that makes me *feel* they are a more healthful choice. I dressed the soba noodle salad with a Ginger Scallion Sauce, courtesy of one of my favorite chefs, David Chang. For the children, I set aside their portion and used the remaining sauce from the Crispy Chicken Wings to dress their noodles. 

Notes: Cold noodle salads are flexible and easy to customize with different vegetables, proteins and sauces. In this recipe, I used shelled edamame, julienned carrots, roasted cauliflower, and red bell peppers; you could also use shredded cabbage, thinly sliced half-rounds of cucumber, julienne of zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, blanched baby spinach . . . really, anything! The same goes for sauces I’ll often make a rice wine vinaigrette, a carrot ginger salad dressing or a very light peanut sauce to dress soba.

Servings: 4-6
Time: 30 minutes

4 bundles (or 360 grams) soba noodles (prepared according to the package)
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 cup Shelled edamame
1 cup Carrot, julienned
1 cup Cauliflower florets
1 cup Red bell pepper, julienned
1 tablespoon neutral oil (vegetable, canola, and grapeseed all work)

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and dress lightly with sesame seed oil to prevent the noodles from sticking. Set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, add 1 tablespoon oil to a medium pan, bring up to medium-high heat, until oil barely begins to smoke. Add cauliflower to the pan, and cook until the first side is brown - about 2-3 minutes. Shake pan vigorously and continue to cook until desired doneness. (I like fork-tender cruciferous vegetables, so I cooked mine for about 6 minutes). Set aside. Julienne carrots and red bell peppers, set aside with prepared edamame. Combine noodles and vegetables in a large bowl. 

Ginger Scallion Sauce
from Momofuku cookbook by David Chang

Servings: 1 cup of sauce
Time: 15 minutes

2½ cups thinly sliced scallions (green and whites, from 2-3 large bunches)
½ cup finely minced fresh ginger
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1½ teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. 

Cucumber and Beet Salad by Cynthia Raub

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beet and cucumber salad

In and of itself, grilled cheese is a perfect meal. It combines the three food groups: bread, butter and cheese. But because I added *bacon* in the Bacon Jam and Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich, I thought I would lighten up the meal with a salad. This Beet and Cucumber Salad is simple and straightforward - you don't even have to make a vinaigrette! The crispy crunch from the cucumber and the velvety, sweet beets are a great accompaniment to the slightly spicy baby arugula. Don't be deceived - the recipe is very simple, but the salad turned out to be tasty and balanced.

Notes: Letting the salad sit for a minimum of 30 minutes after being dressed is a must. Let the cucumbers and beets marinate separately to avoid beet-stained cucumbers. I used prepared and packaged beets for this recipe, but you can roast your own if you have the time and patience. 

Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup sugar
1 pounds beets, trimmed
1 large English hothouse cucumbers (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or parsley
Baby Arugula (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Combine vinegar, shallots and sugar in small bowl to make a marinade. Set aside while preparing vegetables.

Cut beets into wedges. Toss with 1/2 cup of marinade to coat.

Place cucumbers in large bowl and toss with remaining marinade. Season salads to taste with salt and pepper. Cover separately and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to one day.

Drain beets of liquid and arrange on platter towards the outer edges; rinse colander clean, drain cucumbers and arrange in the middle of the platter. Scatter a handful of arugula on top, garnish with herbs.

Adapted from:

Roasted Jalapeno Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Cynthia Raub

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jalapeno grilled cheese sandwich

The magic of grilled cheese is found between the two slices of golden and toasted buttered bread - when the cheese oozes from the sides from each bite. Because I was serving these sandwiches an hour after they were cooked on the griddle, I wanted them to have a gooey texture, even when they were room temperature. Thanks to the combination of cream cheese and Monterey Jack cheese these maintained a melty and creamy texture when they were no longer hot. Served alongside the Bacon Jam and Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and a refreshing Beet and Cucumber Salad, this slightly spicy, gooey sandwich was richly satisfying for a group of dedicated preschool parents. 

Notes: My jalapeños were extraordinarily spicy, so I deseeded them after roasting. When cooking for a group of people, I like to offer something a dish with a little bit of heat, but nothing too overwhelming. Be sure to taste your spicy peppers to gauge how much to add and what would be appropriate for your crowd.

Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4

1 8-oz package cream cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 jalapeños
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
8 slices of white bread
Butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat jalapeños and green onions in olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and place on a baking pan. Roast jalapeños and green onions for 15-20 minutes until charred and softened. Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, shred cheese and set aside. Place cream cheese in a food processor with cooled and roughly chopped jalapeños and green onions, and black pepper. Pulse 10 times to combine and until jalapeños and green onions are finely minced. Add shredded cheese and pulse 5 times until combined but not paste-like.

Heat a non-stick griddle to medium-high heat. Spread cheese mixture on a slice of bread, close with another piece of bread. Spread room temperature butter on both sides of the sandwich. Slap the sandwich down onto the griddle and wait for the heavens to sing, cooking about 4-6 minutes per side.

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Polenta by Amy Cantu

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Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Polenta

We were out of town for two weeks over the holidays, visiting family and friends. So when we returned home an hour before dinnertime, I stared into the cavernous empty fridge and let out a loud groan. Ugggghhh. What are we going to eat?! I started freezer diving, and when I came up for air, I bestowed upon my family the bag of frozen meatballs from Cynthia! (Cue angels singing and bright spotlight on the frozen meatballs.) I fished out a bag of polenta and a can of tomatoes from the pantry, and dinner was on its way. While the meatballs and polenta baked in the oven, I stirred together a simple tomato sauce on the stove. Within an hour, we enjoyed creamy, parmesan polenta, crowned with savory meatballs bathed in a simple tomato sauce. I gave myself a pat on the back, and whispered a silent thank you to Cynthia. Voila! Dinner is served!

Notes: Cynthia's recipe for Swedish Meatballs are spiced mildly enough that when combined with the tomato sauce and polenta, the dish tastes decidedly more Italian than Swedish. If you are starting from scratch and using Cynthia's recipe, you can substitute 1 teaspoon dried oregano for the allspice and nutmeg. Or, feel free to use your own meatball recipe here.  To make this an easy vegetarian meal, serve the polenta topped with a runny, fried egg and the tomato sauce - yum!

Time: 50 minutes

Serves: 4

20 small meatballs, Cynthia's or your own recipe
1 recipe Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1 recipe Baked Polenta (recipe below)
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional garnish)
Fresh basil, chiffonade/thinly sliced into ribbons (optional garnish - see photo below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I baked Cynthia’s frozen raw meatballs on a sheet pan, alongside the polenta for the last 35 minutes of cooking. The meatballs were shaped on the smaller side, so make sure to test that your meatballs are cooked through by splitting one open. You could also simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce, while the polenta is baking in the oven.

Spoon polenta into four shallow bowls. Top polenta with meatballs and tomato sauce. Sprinkle with grated parmesan and basil, if using.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Developed from here and here.

Notes: This is a simple sauce that can be made on the fly with items from your pantry. I like the sweet, subtle anise flavor of fresh basil in this sauce, but if you don’t have any in the house, substitute dried oregano, which will give it a more Italian-American flavor. Dried basil tends to have a flat, dusty flavor, so I prefer dried oregano.

Taking an extra minute to hand-crush canned whole tomatoes (as opposed to already crushed or diced tomatoes), will give your sauce better flavor. The best tomatoes go into cans of whole tomatoes, while the inferior tomatoes get diced up or crushed.

The onion in this recipe is used for flavor and then removed once the sauce is cooked. This leaves you with a rich tomato sauce infused with onion flavor and a nice texture. You can save the onions for something else (they would be delicious alongside pan-seared chicken or roasted meat), or serve them on the side.

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or butter
4 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 large fresh basil sprig, or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, more to taste

Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands, and reserve.

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When it is hot, add garlic. Sauté until the garlic sizzles, but is not brown (see photo above - about 1 minute). Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan, along with the red pepper (if using), salt, onion, and large basil sprig.

Cook uncovered at a slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, when you feel moved to do so.

Remove the onion and basil. Taste and correct for salt. Serve.

Baked Polenta

Notes: Baked Polenta takes more time than polenta made on a stove-top, but there is very little active time. Polenta made over the stove requires constant stirring for at least half an hour, while baked polenta cooks in the oven, freeing me up to fix a salad or wrangle with the kids (more likely). The results leave you with a piping hot bowl of creamy corn goodness.

This polenta would also be great topped with any saucy protein (like a meat stew), a fried egg and a side of sauteed greens, or some roasted vegetables.

4 cups (1 quart) low-sodium broth (any kind) or water
1 cup polenta, coarse ground cornmeal, or corn grits (not quick-cooking)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if using unsalted broth or water)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 ounces Parmesan, grated (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter an oven-safe 2 quart dish. (An 8"x8" pan works well too.)

Combine broth (or water and salt), polenta, and pepper in the buttered dish and stir. Bake uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice. Polenta is done when it is thick and creamy.

Remove from oven, and stir in the grated parmesan and butter. Serve.

Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Cheddar by Amy Cantu

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kale salad

I began the new year like a lot of people do - thinking about ways I could eat more veggies. I’ll share this tidbit about myself - I’m super picky about salad and dislike a lot of them, including creamy dressings. (I know, who doesn’t like Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing??? Just me.) I generally prefer my vegetables cooked; maybe it’s growing up in an Asian household where vegetables were just incorporated into the dishes we were eating. Anyway, January rolled around, and I felt like I needed to give this salad eating business some real attention. A kale salad was in order. Has kale salad been overdone? Probably. It’s seems like it’s on every menu that includes a salad these days. So, I wanted a kale salad that would be simple, not overly thought out, and well . . . delicious! This salad is just the thing. The main ingredient is kale, so you can feel really good about eating a leafy green vegetable, but this salad also includes a healthy dose of delicious aged cheddar, which is equally important for making this salad too yummy to pass up. Add a sprinkling of toasted almonds and a tart lemon vinaigrette, and we’ve got a really simple salad that tastes amazing. I hate salad. I loved this salad.

Recipe adapted from Northern Spy’s Kale Salad.

Notes: This salad is highly adaptable. Instead of roasted squash, you could roast carrots or sweet potatoes. In the summer, you could use fresh or roasted strawberries or peaches, and experiment with a soft goat cheese or dollops of good ricotta. I’m a sucker for salad toppings, so I’m always extra generous with the squash, nuts, and cheese. To make this salad vegan, omit the cheese, but add 1 to 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (found in health food stores), which lends a savory, cheesy flavor.

If you are staring at the butternut squash thinking, “What do I do with this thing???” here’s how to peel it.

It’s tempting to buy those bags of pre-cut kale in the salad section, but to avoid having to masticate your greens like a cow, don’t do it! The kale pieces are too large, and they don’t remove the tough rib (stem) that runs down the center of each leaf. If you are reading this note too late, and you already have a bag of kale salad, never fear. Spend a few minutes to sort through the leaves to find the pieces with hard stems and tear away the soft leafy part from the stem and discard. Then tear the leaves into smaller pieces with your hands (or use a knife).

Lastly, sometimes both new and seasoned cooks alike, forget to taste their food before serving it. Add the salt, then taste it. Add additional salt and pepper until it tastes good to you. (I tasted the salad three times before I got it right.) The right amount of salt and pepper can change any dish (and especially salad) from ho-hum to wow!

Read More: The Shared Lunch

Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash, or other winter squash (about ¾ lb)
1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)
1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)
½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (divided use)
2 bunches kale (preferably lacinato, also called cavalo nero, black, tuscan, or dinosaur kale), ribs removed and sliced into thin ribbons, about 6 cups (see above photo)
3/4 cup almonds, cut roughly in half
1/2 cup crumbled or finely chopped Cabot clothbound cheddar (or any good, aged cheddar - I love Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar for this recipe)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 large juicy lemon)
Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other hard cheese, for shaving (Optional. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices from a block of cheese.)

Heat oven to 425° F. Toss squash cubes in 1 tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Spread on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or foil for easier cleanup), leaving space between the cubes. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar and squash. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (approximately 4 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil). Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, adding more if needed.

Divide salad between four plates or shallow bowls. Garnish with shaved pecorino, if desired, and serve.