Tabouleh tabouleh tabouleh

I really like the word tabouleh.  I remember eating it often as a kid.  It’s a good quick salad and it works well in a pita sandwich.

We made this recipe with couscous, but you can substitute it for quinoa or bulgur or other grains.

Stir the couscous and oil into the water and allow to expand for 2 minutes.

To prepare the couscous, bring a cup of salted water to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from the heat and pour in a cup of couscous.  Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and allow the pasta to expand for two minutes.

Return the couscous to a low heat on the stove.  Drop in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and stir until well-blended.  Allow to cool.

Add butter to couscous and stir on low heat until melted.

We got this tabouleh recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) by Rombauer & Becker, and we replaced the bulgur with couscous, of course, and  we weren’t all that good at measuring, either, so we fiddled with the amounts.

Finely chop 2 to 3 tomatoes, 2 cups of fresh parsley, 1 cup of fresh mint, and 1 bunch of scallions or green onions. See my tips and tricks entry on how to finely chop herbs.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, emulsify 1/3 cup olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice.  To do this, I took a very small whisk and rubbed it between my palms until the liquid was creamy and custard coloured.

Use a small whisk to emulsify the ingredients.
Rub the whisk briskly between your palms until the liquid is custardy.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous, tomatoes, onions, and herbs together thoroughly.  Toss with the olive oil/lemon juice emulsion and serve.

Serve as a salad or in a sandwich.

We spooned the tabouleh into open pita pockets lined with baby spinach and home-made hummus and ate them with Garbage Soup.

Pita pockets with hummus, tabouleh, and baby spinach.

Garbage Soup with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Barley

Don’t let the name of this soup turn you off: it’s just a moniker my mother applied to any soup she made out of what was left in our refrigerator.

This week I had leftover spaghetti squash from my earlier experiment, as well as leftover cavatappi pasta from our spaghetti night.  What to do . . . ?

The nice thing about soups is they’re dead easy.  I filled a large pot with water and set it to boil.  I added a few heaping spoonfuls of Knorr Vegetable Stock (I use the powder instead of the liquid because I usually can’t use a whole carton before it goes bad and I don’t like to waste it).

Let the soup simmer for a couple of hours on medium-low.

I peeled and chopped a large parsnip and a small turnip (actually a rootabega but who’s checking?) and chucked them in the pot, together with a handful of pearl barley and about a cup of dried white beans.  I also added about a cup’s worth of frozen spinach to the mix, as well as the leftover squash and pasta.  There was already a significant amount of basil in the pesto that was on the squash (as well as the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese), so I didn’t add any other herbs to the mix.  When we eat it we usually add salt and pepper to suit our individual tastes.

Once I got the soup boiling, stirring often, I turned it down to a simmer, medium low, for about two hours, until the beans were cooked and the rootabega was tender.

We ate it hot with tabouleh sandwiches, and it was great.

My dad got me these bowls for Christmas. I am Big Al.

I let the rest of it cool and ladled it into yogurt containers for storage.  I find the yogurt container is a good standard measure for freezing, as it contains about two full servings.

Yogurt containers are a good size for two servings.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Herbs

me: have you ever made anything with spaghetti squash before?

Cait: since i don’t know what you’re talking about, no

Cait: i think it looks so much like spaghetti that i’d be disappointed when it didn’t taste like spaghetti

me: it tastes like squash

Cait: of course it tastes like squash it’s a freaking squash

The card from my magic book.

The mysterious and elusive spaghetti squash.

I have always been intrigued about the physical properties of spaghetti squash, although until the other day I had never tried it.  We found a squash sale at Sobeys and decided to give it a whirl.  I wrangled up a recipe I had been keeping for yonks out of my magic book of recipes, and I went at it.

The recipe called for 4lbs of spaghetti squash.  My scale only goes up to 500g so I had to give it my best estimate.  It was supposed to serve 4, so I did some mental math and came up with two squash about the size of my feet (while this may not be a standard measurement for you, it works pretty well for me).

I may need a bigger scale.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise.  The recipe said nothing to me about removing the seeds and stringy bits so I left them in and I regretted it later.  I would recommend digging those suckers out with a grapefruit spoon or serrated knife.

Cut side up.

Brush the open squash halves with olive oil, then sprinkle with brown sugar, coarse salt, and ground pepper.

Cut side down. Don't worry about spraying the pan - the oil on the squash is enough.

Flip the squash halves face down on a rimmed baking sheet and chuck them in the oven at 400°F for 45 minutes.  Cool them, in the pan and on a rack, for 10 minutes after that.

Using a table fork, dig out the contents of the squash in stringy little bits – it really is amazing how much this resembles spaghetti – and put the contents in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of roasted chopped hazelnuts (fun fact: also known as filberts), 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped herbs (the recipe called for fresh cilantro, but I only had a tiny bit of frozen stuff, so I mixed it with some frozen pesto I had made and that was that).  I can assume that you would use any herb you had on hand, really.

Hazelnuts, Pesto, and Parmesan Cheese - my three favourite things.
The leftover squash shells.
Fork the crap out of that thing.

Toss and serve immediately.

I actually wasn’t too happy with this recipe.  The first negative was, of course, the left-in seeds, which, had they been properly roasted like pumpkin seeds, would have been awesome, but because they were still pretty raw, were actually kind of nasty.  I also didn’t feel that the hazelnuts added anything special to this recipe.  Next time, I would go with slivered almonds or pecan bits, for a milder, sweeter taste.  The pesto was excellent of course, but that’s because I have mad skills.  The leftovers were better the next day, but I think I will just chuck the remainder in some sort of minestrone and be done with it.  Recipe to follow, I guess.

Toss and serve.

Quick and Classic Spaghetti Sauce

It really hurts my brain when people invite me over for dinner and they serve spaghetti with sauce straight out of a can.  Why would you do that when it is so easy to make something a little more special?

My mother has been making spaghetti sauce from scratch for as long as I can remember, and it always, always tastes ten times better than anything I’ve ever gotten at a restaurant – or anywhere else, for that matter.  I learned how to make it myself and have been modifying it ever since.  I’m not a huge measurer when it comes to sauces, so it’s different every time. Feel free to use your own judgment in this.

So now, for the first time ever in print, a classic and easy spaghetti sauce I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother.  I’ll give you the quick and the slow versions, as well as the non-vegetarian option.

First, you need to prep your vegetables.  Chop, into small chunks:

 

1 large onion (white or yellow work best)

2 bell peppers (we use red because I’m allergic to the green, but I’ve always thought the green added better colour)

10 average-sized mushrooms (whichever kind suit your fancy)

2 jalapeño peppers (optional, but I like a bit of the spice – make sure you’re careful when cutting these, as pepper juice in the eye is excruciating)

My favourite spices
Can you smell that?
This one reminded me of baby food.

In a large pot, sauté the onions in a few teaspoons of olive oil until tender.  Sprinkle in a healthy pinch each (I’m talking three fingers and your thumb, here) of basil and oregano, as well as two or three crushed cloves of garlic.  I’m a pretty lazy cook, and a handy shortcut I discovered is garlic in a jar.  I’m experimenting with brands at the moment, because I can’t get my beloved Mr. Goudas brand here in Newfoundland, but I figure a teaspoonful of minced garlic is a good-sized clove’s worth.

Carnivorous Option: If you were adding meat to your recipe, now would be the time to do it.  I usually add a brick-sized amount of ground beef, turkey, sausage or pork.  Chorizo or other cooked sausage works just as well.  Brown the meat carefully and thoroughly, and then drain any excess fat.  If you use a lean or extra lean ground you won’t have to drain it.

Now add the rest of your vegetables to the pot and allow to soften for a few minutes until their colour is heightened.

When the vegetables’ colour turns bright, they’re ready.

In this next step you have a bunch of options.

Take your pick of available sauces.

For the slow and steady cook, add one large can of diced tomatoes and one of crushed tomatoes.

Pour some water into the empty jar and shake it to get all the saucy goodness.

Instead of a can of crushed tomatoes you can use a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce, which has the benefit of a few extra spices added in.  If the Pie is around I usually don’t put in the diced tomatoes, either, just two jars of spaghetti sauce.  For the particular recipe illustrated here, I used a carton of Trader Joe’s Starter Sauce, and it was a nice balance of tomato for both of us.  I find a little extra liquid is always helpful with this sauce, as it tends to reduce over time, so what I do is pour a splash or two into the empty spaghetti sauce jar, close the lid, and shake it, to get all the saucy goodness out of it and into my pot.

If you are taking the vegetarian option, now you would add your TVP.  The Pie is more of a measurer than I am, and he says he put about a cup of the stuff into this particular sauce.  I like the action shot of it pouring into the pot.  You will find that because TVP absorbs water, you will need a bit more liquid than you would if you used meat, so keep that in mind.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
TVP Action Shot

Get the sauce to a low simmer, and leave it, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  The longer you simmer it, the longer the flavours have to mix.  You can also make this recipe in a slow-cooker, moving everything to the crock pot after the meat stage and going from there.

Serve with your choice of pasta and lots of parmesan cheese.  There is enough sauce here for about 8 people.