Saturday, October 25, 2008

Perfect Autumn Dinner

Every fall I buy butternut squash and frankly, it always intimidates me. I never quite know what to do with it. It is so robust when raw but so delicate when cooked. And its mild flavor is particularly vulnerable to the sauces and seasonings one pairs with it. In the past, I've stuffed it and baked it, cubed it and roasted it, or made soup. This year I thought I'd get creative: I made a Thai Cashew Butternut Squash Curry, and it was really good. I served it up with freshly cooked millet and a mixed green salad. It was a perfect fall dinner.

This dinner is perfect on a cold fall night, with a glass of nice red wine or organic sparkling grape juice. I was just thinking, it's amazing how something can taste so good and still be so good for you. One cup serving of butternut squash gives you about 3 times your daily needs for vitamin A and fewer than 100 calories. It's packed with fiber, vitamin C, minerals, and is practically sodium-free.

The squash and most of the greens came straight from the Montclair farmer's market, from my favorite local organic farm (John Kreuger's). The cherry tomatoes were from another local farm; there's nothing like late season tomatoes. The organic millet and raw cashews came from Whole Foods' bulk bins. The curry paste is from an Asian market (if you buy it, look for one without fish sauce). The recipe sounds like a lot of work and time, but it was surprisingly easy and fast.

Dina's Thai Cashew Butternut Squash Curry with Millet
  • 1 cup millet, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 cup lite coconut milk (organic is available at Whole Foods), divided
  • 3 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • fresh parsley for garnish

Toast the millet in a shallow saucepan until fragrant, about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring or shaking frequently while you're preparing the curry. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 35 minutes or until water is all absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan, and saute the garlic until it starts to brown. Add squash and turn the pieces around until it becomes coated with the oil/garlic. Add all but a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and stir to blend. Add the curry paste to the remaining coconut milk and blend well; add to the pan. (If you add the curry paste to the pan by itself, it might clump and not distribute evenly.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Just before serving, stir in cashews and top with parsley.

BONUS -- the millet and squash are ready at the same time!

Serve with a salad and resist the temptation to take seconds right out of the pan!

Friday, October 10, 2008

What to do with kale

Kale is one of the most nutritious foods in the world. Calorie for calorie, it's got more protein than steak, more calcium than milk, and a slew of protective minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

But besides being a pretty garnish, what do you do with it?

How about as is? Well, unless you shred the leaves to the width of hair, you'll be chewing for several hours. In other words, you can eat it raw, but... make it a slaw :-)

Here are a few of my favorite ways to prepare kale, which all take under 30 minutes:

Kale and Tofu in Peanut Sauce

  1. Rinse the leaves well and discard the thickest part of the stem. Tear into large bite-size pieces and steam for about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare some brown rice or other whole grain.
  3. Tear open a package of Thai peanut flavored tofu and slice into cubes.
  4. Mix a few spoonfuls of good-quality peanut sauce with some water.
  5. Toss the kale, tofu, and sauce over high heat and serve right away over the rice.

Kale, Black Beans, and Tomato

  1. Rinse the leaves well and discard the thickest part of the stem. Tear into large bite-size pieces.
  2. Take out the biggest pot in your kitchen.
  3. Saute a chopped onion in some olive oil for about 5 minutes.
  4. Throw in a 14-oz can of diced organic tomatoes and heat through.
  5. Add a can of rinsed, drained black beans.
  6. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and a little chili powder.

Garlicky Kale

  1. Rinse the leaves well and discard the thickest part of the stem. Tear into small bite-size pieces and steam for about 5 minutes.
  2. Toast some pine nuts (but don't burn 'em!)
  3. In a large saute pan, saute lots of minced garlic in olive oil.
  4. Add the kale, heat through, and throw on the pine nuts.

Lemon Tahini Kale

  1. Rinse the leaves well and discard the thickest part of the stem. Tear into small bite-size pieces and steam for about 5 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, throw in a blob of hummus. Add some, tahini, lemon juice, and salt. Stir to desired consistency (add water if needed) and toss with the kale.