‘Smart ways with meat’ includes several strategies

The Whole Dish podcast: Repurposed animal fat enhances plant-based dishes

In the pursuit of kitchen wisdom, devising smarter strategies for preparing and consuming meat is a valuable lesson.

So I planned a class to teach as a volunteer for ACCESS, in partnership with Rogue Valley Family YMCA. The test run of “Smart Ways With Meat” taught me a few things, namely that I needed more than an hour to cook cubes of sweet potatoes in a Crock Pot full of roast lamb that had cooled considerably between my house and the class site.

Before I got the chance to refine the class, it was cut from the “Kitchen Wisdom” series for reasons of cost. It’s ironic because economy is the whole point, namely fitting high-quality meats into any grocery budget if cooks simply go about it the right way.

None of my treatise was new information, of course. From time immemorial, humans have been tasked with stretching a little bit of calorie-dense food — often meat — to fill many mouths.

But Americans’ food surplus and penchant for beginning meal planning with meat has robbed us of this hard-earned knowledge. I’ve been reclaiming it since purchasing whole animals, including locally raised lambs and pork, with the intent to use every part. I’ve taken it to another level in a bid to feed my family all organic meat without increasing our total expenditure at the supermarket.

Here’s how I explain it:

Strategy 1.

Whole poultry and smaller animals: Pound for pound, a whole animal is the most economical way to purchase meat. Roasting a whole chicken, turkey, other type of bird or even a rabbit is a simple way to minimize the time required for meal preparation, as well as fat, sodium and/or carbs used in other types of recipes. If you’ve never roasted a bird, try this basic recipe, which includes brining, for Simply Seasoned Roast Chicken. During the roasting time, cook a pot of whole grain, potatoes or other vegetables to use, along with the leftover meat, throughout the week in tacos, pasta dishes, stir-fry, fried rice, quiche …

Strategy 2.

Large cuts of larger animals: Another economical alternative to steaks and chops (beef, pork, lamb, bison or game). Cuts with less connective tissue (loin and round) can be cut into chunks for grilling or strips for stir-fry. Cuts with more connective tissue and, perhaps, bones are best for longer, lower-temperature cooking. Start with this method I posted several years ago for repurposing one pork-shoulder roast in four meals.

Strategy 3.

Maximizing morsels of meat: Small bits of meat can lend big flavor to vegetable-based dishes. Even more expensive, “artisan” products, like cured sausages, can fit into anyone’s grocery budget when used just a few ounces at a time. Often, the key is rendering fat from the meat, reserving the caramelized protein and cooking vegetables, grains or legumes in the rendered fat before adding back the crispy bits of meat previously cooked. This concept works with pasta dishes, fried rice, soups, even salads (make the dressing in the drippings).

My personal favorite, the last strategy in that list is most conducive to a plant-based diet, limited only by the cook’s creativity and resourcefulness. Epitomizing that spirit is this soup, which accommodates any bit of leftover roast meat or maybe just a single sausage. Have a few strips of bacon on hand? Slice them crosswise, add them to the Dutch oven, cook until crisp, remove and proceed with the recipe, garnishing the finished soup with the crispy bacon bits.

Don’t have any of the above proteins? That’s when I reach for the jar of bacon fat in my fridge and start the recipe with that, instead of oil. The soup will taste like meat without actually having any. Fill the visual void by choosing a red chili pepper that contrasts with the greens, which also could take the form of collards, chard or spinach.

Tribune News Service photo

Kale and White Bean Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 cups cooked white beans, or 2 (14-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed

1 quart chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium if canned

3 to 4 cups roughly chopped kale leaves, or baby kale

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 cup leftover turkey or chicken, or cooked sausage (optional)

1 small fresh chili pepper, such a fresno or habanero, thinly sliced crosswise

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the olive oil to medium; add the garlic. Cook until aromatic, for 1 minute. Stir in the beans to coat with oil.

Add the broth and kale; season to taste. Cover pot; cook at a simmer until kale is wilted to your liking.

Stir in the turkey, chicken or sausage, if using. (If you choose sausage, cut it in thin slices crosswise.) Add the chili-pepper slices. Cook just until heated through.

Makes 4 servings.

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Adapting egg foo young shifts it closer to origins

The Whole Dish podcast: Eggs, garden veggies on hand make foo young an impromptu meal

It’s strange when ordering takeout Chinese food that I struggle to add a dish with vegetables, usually falling back on tofu with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, bok choy and water chestnuts.

The rest of our order relies on meat, starch and such deep-fried staples as General Tso’s chicken, widely known in the United States but a conundrum in China, so I’ve read. Perhaps chief among the unholy dishes of Americanized Cantonese cuisine is egg foo young, a favorite of my dad and the barometer by which we measure our indulgence. One more deep-fried item with little to redeem it nutritionally? Sure, why not?

Egg Foo Young’s reputation certainly has suffered, admits Chicago Tribune writer Louisa Chu, not least for its requisite gravy, often nothing more than a cornstarch-thickened slick of soy sauce and stock. But I would argue that the patty’s bean sprouts do little to recommend the dish. Although apparently authentic, bean sprouts are nearly flavorless and, through cooking, transformed texturally into one of the more unappetizing foods I know.

What would you use in lieu of bean sprouts? Oh, let me think of about a dozen other options.

My mom and I debated this point last weekend when I expressed a distaste for bean sprouts. How could you make pad Thai without them? How could it still be pad Thai?

It’s the iconic Thai seasonings and noodles that denote pad Thai, I argued, not bean sprouts, which I’ve more often seen atop the dish as a garnish. So you can just use any other vegetable, she asked? Why not? That’s how cooks around the world rely on vegetables that are in season, not a recipe’s list of ingredients.

And that’s exactly what I did when I wanted to make egg foo young with what I had on hand, not the bean sprouts recommended here. Nor did I have a can of water chestnuts in the pantry. So I substituted julienned leeks and sunchokes from my garden. I also reconstituted some dried shiitake and oyster mushrooms to incorporate into the patties and gravy, which I enriched with the mushroom-soaking liquid.

The resulting foo young was still a serving of greasy, gravy-laden goodness. But at least the vegetables came fresh from my garden, and the gravy earned its savor from something other than chemicals.

Pan-frying, rather than deep-frying, also produced the crispy halo of egg-battered vegetable tendrils that Chu raves about. And like hers, it’s not exactly vintage egg foo young. But making it by hand from seasonally fresh vegetables, as she ventures, likely is closer to the spirit of the original.

Tribune News Service photo

Egg Foo Young

Peanut or vegetable oil, as needed

8 ounces fresh shiitake or portobello mushrooms, sliced thin

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1 teaspoon dry vermouth or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided

1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped rough

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion greens, divided

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

6 eggs, beaten frothy

Steamed white rice, for serving

Egg Foo Young gravy, recipe follows

Sesame seeds (optional)

Heat wok to medium-high; add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, immediately followed by the mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms start to brown, for about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and the vermouth; cook until mushrooms are golden-brown, for about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a big bowl, with scraped up browned bits; stir 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil into mushrooms; set aside to cool.

After mushrooms cool, add the water chestnuts, bean sprouts, 1/4 cup of the scallions, remaining soy sauce and sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste; toss to mix well.

To frothy beaten eggs, add mushroom-sprout mixture; mix well to coat all with eggs.

Clean out wok, heat, then add oil for frying, about 2 tablespoons.

Immediately ladle about 1/2 cup egg mixture in wok. When bottom sets and turns barely golden, flip carefully. Cook other side. Transfer to a rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, adding more oil if needed.

Best served immediately over steamed white rice, with gravy on top or on the side, garnished with remaining scallions and the sesame seeds. Makes 6 servings.

Egg Foo Young Gravy

1/2 cup peanut or coconut oil

1/2 cup finely sliced white part of scallions

4 ounces shiitake or portobello mushrooms, chopped well

1/2 cup flour

4 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat wok to medium-high; the add oil, scallion whites and mushrooms. Cook until browned well, for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle in the flour; stir and cook until golden, for about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in stock until sauce forms. Simmer until desired consistency is reached, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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Elegant souffles elevate eggs with surprising ease

An egg aficionado, I prize these perfect parcels of protein primarily for their versatility, economy and quick-cooking quality.

But much as eggs are among my everyday foods, I’m still in awe of their alchemy. Handle them a bit differently, combine them with a few carefully considered ingredients and you’ve got a dish that epitomizes eggs.

Souffles, of course, often are considered eggs’ pinnacle, likely the reason I was intimidated for so many years by the prospect of making one. Then I wanted to prepare our early-summer garden produce to maximum effect. Meat seemed incongruous with such tender vegetables and greens. And perish the thought of serving less than ocean-fresh fish to our Japanese guest. So souffles made with our own hens’ eggs emerged.

And as with so many classic recipes, souffles were much more accessible than I had believed. Perhaps it was the concise, straightforward method that I consulted in the 299-recipe tome “French Feasts,” by Stephane Reynaud, that shored up my confidence. Or maybe some of my own intuition contributed to these elegant marvels that emerged gloriously puffed from my oven. Either way, I wondered what took me so long to finally make them.

Chicago Tribune writer James DeWan makes a similar argument but leaves nothing up to chance in his in-depth instructions for preparing souffles. I definitely agree that coating the buttered or sprayed ramekins is excellent advice after spending more time scrubbing mine than making the souffles.

Quantities listed here yield 6 to 8 individual souffles or one big, group souffle.

Tribune News Service photo

1. Butter or spray ramekins (4 to 6 ounce size), then coat insides with some grated Parmesan, flour or breadcrumbs. (The coating of fat keeps the souffle from sticking to the sides, making cleanup easier.)

2. To make the bechamel, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour, and cook, stirring, over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in 1 1/4 cups milk. Bring it to a boil, stirring continuously, then reduce heat and simmer for several minutes, until very thick. Remove from heat.

3. Separate 5 eggs, taking care to make sure that no yolk gets into whites.

4. When bechamel has cooled somewhat, stir in 4 of the yolks (Oh, I can sense the creeping panic now: “But, but … what do I do with that extra yolk?” Well, I put that very question to our old friend, Mr. Google, and in exactly 0.93 seconds he came up with over 7 gazillion suggestions. You’ll think of something.) and a cup of flavoring. If this is your first time, cheese is so easy: cheddar or Swiss with a little Parmesan. Season with salt to taste.

5. Whip the egg whites by hand or with a mixer. Regardless, here are some hard truths: First, the bowl has to be squeaky clean. Any grease or any yolk will prevent the foam from reaching its potential loftiness. Second, start by mixing slowly. Slow mixing means lots of small air bubbles rather than fewer, larger bubbles. As the foam builds, you speed up until the whites have attained about 8 times their original volume, and the consistency is soft to stiff peaks. Don’t overmix, as that makes a dry foam, which means there’s less water to evaporate into steam.

6. Fold a third of egg whites into béchamel base, then carefully and patiently fold base into remaining whites thusly: Pour base onto whites, then use a spatula to scrape and lift whites from bottom over top of base while rotating bowl toward you. Keep scraping and lifting (see why it’s called “folding”?) until all whites are incorporated. Batter should be thick but should fall from spatula when picked up.

7. Divide mixture into prepared ramekins, filling them three-quarters full. Bake in a 400-degree oven until they’ve risen above ramekins and tops are a beautiful golden brown. Take them out of the oven, and let them rest for a few minutes, then serve. They will fall during the resting, but that’s OK. That’s the air bubbles cooling and steam condensing back into water, both of which will cause the souffle to deflate.

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Fennel, leek, feta, dill define lemony frittata

A surplus of eggs recently warranted an off-the-cuff quiche for one of our weeknight meals.

Since I switched to making quiche in a 7-inch tart pan, instead of a pie plate, the meal comes together in less than an hour, including baking. And a reader’s suggestion to swap classic shortcrust pastry for ready-made puff pastry heightens the contrast between creamy egg filling and crispy, buttery crust.

Recasting the dish as “egg pie” for my 4- and 2-year-old sons has spread quiche’s appeal even wider. They’ve become familiar enough with vegetable-laden egg dishes that omelets and frittata are within their comfort zones, too.

Leeks and fennel, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, are two mild vegetables that fairly melt into a variety of dishes, from eggs, to pasta and risotto. That makes them great choices for recipes intended for my boys, including this frittata, courtesy of Tribune News Service. The dill and feta are among my husband’s favorite flavors. And the lemon zest pleases everyone’s palate.

Tribune News Service photo

Frittata

2 small leeks

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1/2 cup finely chopped fennel, fronds, stem or bulb

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 eggs

3 tablespoons cream

1/4 cup crumbled mild feta cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Halve leeks lengthwise and then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick crescents. You’ll have about 5 cups. Using a salad spinner (or a colander set inside a pot), soak in 2 or 3 changes of cool water until clean. No need to dry.

In a wide (10- to 12-inch) skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-heat. Scatter on the fennel seeds. Toast until fragrant, for a few seconds. Slide in leeks and the chopped fresh fennel. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Cover. Cook, stirring now and then, until tender, for 12 to 13 minutes. Set aside to cool down.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Stir in the feta, dill and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cooked vegetables.

Set broiler rack about 6 inches from heat source. Heat broiler on high.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter into an 8-inch, nonstick, ovenproof skillet set over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture. Using a soft spatula, pull set edges toward center a few times. Let cook undisturbed until frittata is set on bottom and not on top, for about 5 minutes.

Scatter nuts across surface; press them in gently. Broil in oven until nuts have browned and frittata puffs, for about 3 minutes.

Let frittata rest in pan for a few minutes. Loosen edges with a soft spatula and slide frittata onto a cutting board. Let rest. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

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Saffron seasons this fine kettle of rockfish soup

The Whole Dish Podcast: Adapt a traditional recipe to use ingredients on hand

In anticipation of Lent, a special seafood event at Food 4 Less landed us 10 pounds of Alaska rockfish for the freezer.

Before vacuum-sealing and freezing the haul, I buttermilk-battered, panko-breaded and fried a half dozen or so fillets, a preparation enthusiastically received by my husband and sons. But lest we eat too much fried food, I planned to give some of those mild fillets a quick bath in delicately seasoned soup.

Rockfish are among the non-oily white-fleshed fish, such as cod, haddock and halibut, that lend themselves to soup. And if you have boneless, skinless fish and a supply of good, prepackaged or homemade seafood stock, the meal comes together speedily.

That’s why an evening event and late start on dinner didn’t prevent me from making the fish stew several nights later. We already had homemade stock in the fridge and the dish’s remaining ingredients on hand.

Adapting a vegetarian recipe for Mediterranean Saffron Stew from “A Beautiful Bowl of Soup,” by Paulette Mitchell, I built the soup on a base of sliced leeks, diced onion and minced garlic, deglazed with the bottle of rose we planned to drink with dinner.

Waiting for saffron threads to steep in hot water, I peeled and diced sweet, red and Yukon gold potatoes. Those went into the pot with the saffron and liquid, a quart of stock and some diced, home-grown and -canned tomatoes. Once the potatoes were soft, the chunks of fish took less than five minutes to cook.

I skipped the rouille to keep preparation rolling along, but next time would make it in advance. Likewise, I saw no need to puree the soup before adding the fish and even preferred a more rustic texture to contrast with the saffron’s sweet, floral flavor.

Below is the Chicago Tribune’s more refined version of fish soup typical to the south of France. As I mentioned at dinner, fennel is an essential flavor in that region that would have heightened the sweet notes of our soup, too.

Tribune News Service photo

Tomato and Saffron Fish Soup a la Nice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small fennel bulb, about 4 ounces, ends trimmed and diced

1 small leek, halved, rinsed and chopped

1 large white onion, about 6 ounces, peeled and diced

8 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree

1 quart (32 ounces) seafood stock (or light chicken broth)

2 tablespoons vermouth or dry white wine, optional

Generous pinch ground saffron or 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon crushed espelette pepper or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Rouille (recipe follows)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 pounds line-caught wild cod fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil to medium heat. Add the fennel, leek and onion. Cook and stir on medium-low, without browning, until softened, for about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Do not brown vegetables.

Add the tomato puree, seafood stock, vermouth, 1/4 cup water, saffron and espelette pepper. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Puree smooth with an immersion blender or in a blender, working carefully in small batches. (Base can be made several days in advance; refrigerate, covered.)

Reheat base and ad up to 1 cup water if soup is thicker than heavy cream. Stir in 1/2 cup of the rouille. Season with the salt (about 1 teaspoon) and a generous 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the fish. Simmer until fish flakes easily with a fork, for about 10 minutes. Use a fork to break up fish. Season again with more salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with remaining rouille and toasted bread.

Makes 6 servings.

ROUILLE: In a small bowl, soak 3 or 4 slices 1/2-inch-thick French baguette or 2 thick slices ciabatta bread in 1/3 cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons very hot water until bread is softened. Transfer bread-oil mixture to a blender jar and add 3 peeled garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers (drained and rinsed), 1/4 teaspoon ground espelette pepper (or 1 small serrano pepper, stemmed and halved and seeded) and a pinch ground saffron, if desired. Process to a smooth puree. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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Lighten pillowy gnocchi with zesty vinaigrette

Pesto, the impetus for this blog’s past few posts, is one of my favorite sauces for gnocchi.

The potato-based dumpling just doesn’t play particularly well with tomato-based sauces. And gnocchi are enriched enough with egg yolk that a cream sauce seems like overkill.

Despite its starch-on-starch composition, pasta dishes traditional to the Italian region of Liguria, where pesto is ubiquitous, often incorporate green beans and potatoes. The pesto’s acid and herbs lighten up the potato, which absorbs both flavors so readily.

So it should come as little surprise that a vinegary, mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette is the suggested seasoning for these gnocchi, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. Pairing gnocchi with Dijon mustard may be the magic bullet that gets my husband to finally eat the dumplings again after years of conviction that he doesn’t like them. Top-quality, locally grown potatoes may do the trick, too.

Given the warm winter, it shouldn’t be long before local morels could take the place of this dish’s button mushrooms.

Tribune News Service photo

Gnocchi With Greens

1 large (3/4 pound) russet potato, scrubbed

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking water

Freshly ground nutmeg, as needed

Up to 1/2 cup cake flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced white mushrooms

2 teaspoons rosemary, fresh or dried, chopped

Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

3 ounces baby arugula

Truffle salt, to taste

Parmesan cheese, for serving

Stab the potato twice with a sharp knife. Bake at 425 F until tender when squeezed, for 55-60 minutes. Alternatively, microwave until tender, for 5 to 6 minutes. Halve baked potato and press through a potato ricer. Discard skin.

Drop the yolk onto potatoes, scatter on the salt and a few grates of the nutmeg. Stir with a fork, just to combine. Sprinkle on 2 or 3 tablespoons of the flour and mix gently to form a soft dough, adding flour as needed — you may only need half of flour quantity listed.

Divide dough in 4 portions. On a floured surface, roll each into a ¾-inch-thick rope. Slice crosswise into 1-inch segments. Flip pieces over a fork, tines resting on table. Roll each gnocco down back of fork, pressing lightly, to imprint grooves.

Drop gnocchi into simmering, salted water in batches. Gnocchi will sink, then, in about 1 minute, float. Count 10 seconds. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and cool on a kitchen towel.

In a wide skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium. Slide in gnocchi and the mushrooms; sprinkle with rosemary. Toss until golden-brown, for 3 to 4 minutes. Pull out with a slotted spoon and toss with half of vinaigrette.

Toss the greens with vinaigrette to taste. Heap on each of 3 plates. Spoon gnocchi and mushrooms on top. Sprinkle with the truffle salt. Carve on some curls of the Parmesan. Enjoy.

Makes 3 servings.

VINAIGRETTE: Let 2 tablespoons peeled and chopped red onion mellow in 1 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar for 20 minutes. Whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes and a little garlic mashed with salt.

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Stirring in nuts, cheese refines pesto’s texture

My latest podcast makes the case for taking a few extra minutes, and utensils, to make pesto.

Adding the grated cheese and chopped nuts to a separate bowl before stirring in the herb paste is a method I learned years ago from a former outreach assistant at Ashland Food Co-op. Maria Katsantones’ recipe for Seasonal Pesto has been my guide ever since. As I explained in my podcast, the resulting sauce has more refined texture and distinctive flavor than when all the ingredients are pureed together.

But there’s more than one way to make a better-textured pesto. This one from the Chicago Tribune calls for adding toasted walnuts at the recipe’s conclusion and just pulsing the food processor a few times, which leaves the pesto chunky, the nuts prominent. And like Maria’s recipe, it makes good use of parsley, typically abundant when basil is not.

Consider using vegetables tops, the subject of this blog’s previous post, and other cold-hardy herbs in Winter Pesto.

Tribune News Service

Winter Pesto

With food processor running, drop 3 peeled cloves garlic down chute, one by one, buzzing garlic to bits. Add 2 cups (loosely packed) parsley leaves with tender stems, 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. Pulse a few times. With motor running, drizzle in 1/3 cup olive oil, swirling into a thick sauce.

Tumble in 1 cup toasted walnuts. Pulse a few times, leaving pesto chunky.

Toss pesto in a serving bowl with 1 pound cooked spaghetti. Makes 6 first-course servings.

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Dress top-quality carrots with carrot-top pesto

The Whole Dish Podcast: Make pesto from any tender herb, leafy green

You can do a lot with a little.

A dressed, spiced serving of raw root vegetable — carrots, specifically — can satisfy a craving for salad, as explained in this blog’s previous post. And if you’ve purchased locally grown and/or organic carrots, likely with their tops intact, don’t just toss those juicy greens onto the compost heap. They make a delicious pesto, like other vegetable tops and leafy greens that cooks typically pass over for basil.

But no one should be in the business of purchasing fresh basil leaves in the dead of winter. Use those sun-loving herbs with reckless abandon throughout the summer, just not this time of year.

Instead, scout around for thrifty, flavorful substitutes and pair them with the spectrum of acid, cheese and nuts to highlight their best attributes. Plucky parsley and cilantro are sizing up in the recent warm weather. Kale and collard greens are obvious choices, along with tops from any number of vegetables, such as beets, turnips and radishes. Related to parsley, the tops of carrots taste a bit like bitter frisee with, yep, a hint of carrot.

Here’s a recipe that warrants the purchase of top-quality carrots, tops included. Although the pesto for dressing the finished dish comes together while the carrots are roasting, it also could be made a day or two in advance. Just don’t use it all up first with your favorite pasta.

Tribune News Service photo

Roasted Carrots With Carrot-Top Pesto

2 bunches small carrots (about 12)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup packed chopped carrot tops

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Grated zest of a lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat oven to 400 F. Trim greens from the carrots, leaving a half-inch or so bit of stem on top of each carrot. Spread carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, coat with the olive oil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until carrots are tender and golden, for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so for even coloring.

In a food processor, combine carrot tops with the parsley, cheese, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and sugar, pulsing until coarsely ground. This makes about 1 cup pesto. Serve with roasted carrots.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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Coriander, cilantro recast classic carrot salad

For the past few weeks — months even — choruses of “peanut butter and jelly!” … “quesadilla!” have answered my question of “what would you like for lunch?”

Until this past week’s: “Salad!” … “with croutons!”

Adaptable mom that I am, I did not have salad greens washed, ready to dress and garnish with croutons. And we’re not much for prewashed spring mixes in our house.

The best that I could do on the fly was grate a carrot, usually served as carrot sticks, squeeze some lemon juice on top and sprinkle with a few french-fried onions. Not what he had in mind, my 2 ½-year-old pointed out. I had reasoned that my kids are known to eat almost anything with a spritz of lemon on top.

But the exercise did put me in the mood for a more refined version of carrot salad, and not just the old carrot-raisin concoction tossed with mayonnaise in which I usually substitute plain yogurt for extra tang.

Right on cue, I saw this recipe from the Kansas City Star that incorporates one of my favorite spices, coriander seeds, and increases the health profile of the dish — not to mention its vibrant color — with turmeric. Dry-roasted peanuts lend more crunch, but I’d consider roasted cashews or pistachios.

Tribune News Service photo

Cilantro-Carrot Salad

1 scant teaspoon coriander seeds

1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

1 pound carrots, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts

In a small skillet, over medium high heat, toast the coriander seeds and toss frequently until fragrant. Remove skillet from heat and allow seeds to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, turmeric, red-pepper flakes and olive oil.

Place cooled coriander seeds in a mortar and coarsely crush using pestle. Add coriander to dressing. Season lightly with salt and whisk to combine.

Place carrots in a large glass bowl. Drizzle dressing over all and toss to coat carrots evenly. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or longer. Toss with the cilantro and peanuts just before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Seafood stock makes speedy shrimp meatballs

It’s a simple enough proposition to produce a pot of stock.

Immerse any whole poultry carcass, some vegetable trimmings and maybe a few whole spices in water, simmer for a few hours and strain. Or assemble a mess of the less desirable parts, like chicken and turkey wings, poultry necks, even turkey tails, for a stock that starts with raw meat. Similarly, search out oxtails and soup bones sold in many grocers’ butcher sections for deeply flavored, gelatinous stock.

The raw materials for a lesser-known and -used stock, however, are a bit harder to come by. Good fish and shellfish stocks are in a class by themselves. That’s why I’ve been saving up and freezing the bones from center-cut halibut steaks for more than six months. One Ziploc bag of bones will make about two quarts of really good stock, I figure.

It’s why when I sprung for locally caught, live spot prawns over the summer — to the tune of about $60 — I saved all the heads for a pot of sublime seafood stock that has since made three memorable meals of bouillabaisse with assorted other fish and shellfish.

It’s a shame that supply of stock couldn’t stretch even further. Although bouillabaisse is hard to beat, I’d earmark a quart for these Japanese-style meatballs. After using a cache of small (110/130) wild-caught Gulf shrimp in dishes from curry to pasta, from salad to coconut-breaded and broiled, I’m still looking for new ways to incorporate this convenient, quick-cooking protein.

Just like the wonton soup in this blog’s previous post, this dish comes together in minutes with good-quality stock as a key ingredient. I wouldn’t even bother to dirty my food processor because mincing raw shrimp by hand is a cinch.

Tribune News Service photo

Shrimp Meatballs (Ebi Dango)

1 pound shrimp, cleaned and ground or minced fine

2 scallions, trimmed and chopped fine

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce, divided

1 beaten egg

4 cups chicken or fish stock

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 head Chinese (Napa) cabbage, about 1 1/2 pounds, in 1-inch cubes

8 dry mushrooms, reconstituted

In a large bowl, blend together the shrimp, scallions, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce and the egg. In a large pot, season the stock with remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and the sugar; bring to a boil. Drop spoonfuls of shrimp mixture into stock, and they will cook into dumplings. When they rise to surface, they are done. Add the cabbage and mushrooms. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, covered, and serve with hot rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from “Japanese Country Cookbook,” by Russ Rudzinski.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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