Put up your zucs!!

After all the book promo, I thought we could all do with a little palate-cleanser (and my brain a little down time after writing all those blog posts!). It’s been a while since I posted some recipes, and the focus today is on one of my favorite ingredients: zucchini! I find people usually fall into either the love or the hate camp with this vegetable, and I am squarely in the love. Last summer, my brother-in-law decided to grow up some monster veggies in his garden. This prime specimen was a result:

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I managed to make six different meals from that bad boy, who I nicknamed Fassy, for obvious reasons. Fassy was a bit of a mess to deal with, but he fed me well. Here are two of the recipes I tried for the first time with him. Bonus: they are both vegetarian!

The first is zucchini lasagna. There is really no trick to this. You just substitute thick slices of zucchini–a mandolin is your friend–for the noodles, then layer with whatever sauce/cheese combo strikes your fancy. You can add in other ingredients as well, like sausage or mushrooms. Bake for 40 mins at 375F. Easy-peasy! Mine turned out like this:

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The next recipe tested Fassy’s longevity a bit–har, har–since it’s a bit tricky to get the amount of water right depending on your stove. I’ve made it three times now, and I think I’ve licked it (er, off the plate). If you’re ever in the mood for homemade mac and cheese, try this on instead. It’s marginally healthier (not) and ridiculously delicious. It also works well as a side or a main. Thanks to Katy from Baking, Domesticity, and All Things Mini for inventing it!

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Cheesy Zucchini Orzo

Makes 4 servings

A few notes: If you’re a heat seeker, try adding red pepper flakes or a dash of buffalo sauce for an extra kick. And, this reheats wonderfully if you can manage not to clear out the pan on the first round!

1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup Orzo
1 clove Garlic, minced
Salt
Ground black pepper
1 medium Zucchini, grated (about 2 cups)
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar Cheese
Milk [Selina’s note – I never needed milk when I made this.]

In a large skillet over medium heat, toss orzo and garlic with oil until fragrant. Add 2 1/2 cups of water [Selina’s note: Personally, I found this to be too much water. I used 2 cups and a splash, and it was perfect. But it will depend on your stove.] and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and, stirring occasionally so that orzo does not stick to the bottom of pan, cook pasta until al dente and liquid has almost completely evaporated. Stir in zucchini until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. If needed, add a splash or two of milk to achieve extra creamy texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I definitely recommend going for the chili option, and using the oldest cheddar possible. This makes it more expensive, but ups the cheese factor to Mach 10. And if there’s one thing in this world I find more satisfying than Fassy (real-life or veggie versions), it’s cheese. Though zucchini is in my top ten for sure.

Enjoy!

Selina 😀

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Recipe: Mesir Wat – Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew

Someone asked me the other day if I was a good cook. I had no idea how to answer. I can cook. I know how to follow a recipe, and I’m good at cooking the ones I’ve made more than once. I am adept at anything that doesn’t require advanced technique: soups, stews, sauces, rudimentary baking. For instance, I could make you a chocolate-hazelnut brioche cake, or oatmeal-breaded chicken with peaches, or pasta with white wine butter sauce and zucchini, but I couldn’t grill you a steak. Roasting is not in my repertoire, let alone making a roux, butchering a pig, or decorating a wedding cake. I think the things that I make taste good, but am I a good cook? Hard to say. So take the following in the spirit that it’s intended, a pair of recipes that are easy to make (because if I can do it, trust me, so can you!) and that are crazy delicious.

1. Mesir Wat – Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew

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On my first trip to Berlin, my friend A. and her then-boyfriend, now-husband C. introduced me to the wonders of Ethiopian food. Traditionally, a few heaping spoonfuls of a variety of stews and salads are scooped onto a platter of injera bread for everyone to share. These can range from milder spinach and onions, to hearty carrot, cabbage, and potato stew, to meats in spicy sauces and, of course, tons of different lentil dishes. If there’s one in your neighborhood, definitely give it a try on your next night out!

When one of my vegetarian friends was coming over for dinner, I wanted to surprise her with something new that we both loved: Ethiopian food. (I might not know advanced techniques, but I can be absurdly ambitious in the kitchen.) That’s how I found this ridiculously easy and low-cal recipe. I usually serve it over basmati rice, since bread-making is beyond my list of culinary abilities (see above). It’s so good I usually make a double batch and eat it for the whole week. I found it on the Cooking Light web site and it’s by Domenica Marchetti.

Ingredients

.2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cups chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons Berbere spice blend
3 cups organic vegetable broth
1 cup dried small red lentils
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add ginger and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in tomato paste and Berbere spice; cook 1 minute, stirring to combine. Gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a simmer.
2. Rinse lentils in cold water; drain. Add lentils to broth mixture; simmer, partially covered, 35 minutes or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve over basmati rice.

Selina’s note: I always omit the salt since the vegetable broth has enough and the spices are strong. Don’t skimp on the cilantro at the end, because it makes the dish! And it’s even better as leftovers.

Bon appetit!
-Selina