Spiced Peas and Spinach with Coconut

Indian spiced peas with coconut

Whole spices and coconut toasted in the pan evoke Indian flavors, though this dish works well with all sorts of menus.   Black mustard seeds are a staple of Southern Indian cuisine.  They’re stocked at most grocery stores, but head to an Indian market where you’ll find them inexpensively priced, in bulk, along with all sorts of other goodies like lentils and tea.

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Braised Escarole with Raisins, Currants and Pinenuts

The inspiration for this comes from an authentic regional Italian dish featured in the Bocca Cookbook (Bocca is a hip Italian restaurant in London).  The original instructions called for stuffing a head of escarole with garlic, raisins and anchovies, trussing the leaves together with kitchen twine and braising the veggie package in liquid.

Our version is ultra-quick by comparison. The greens are cut into pieces and everything is thrown in the pan together, without any fussy lacing.  We’ve omitted the anchovies (toss in a few if you like them) and added olives instead.  We call for a mix of currants and golden raisins, since that’s what our pantry offered us, but you could easily substitute what you have on hand—even chopped prunes would be nice.

Braising involves first browning ingredients in a hot pan to create wonderful caramelized bits; adding liquid; then simmering it off, to create an ultra-soft product, infused with flavor.  Cooking the bitter greens, garlic, dried fruit and pine nuts together results in a slightly sweet sauce that elevates this dish from the everyday.  It’s ready for a special occasion, though simple enough to patch together on the fly.

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Apple and Celery Salad with Toasted Seeds

This salad covers all the bases—sweet and salty, crisp and crunchy. Herbal. It’s a perfect throw-together dish when you don’t have much in the fridge beyond the usual—like apples and celery.  Substitute raisins or currants if you don’t have grapes.  Leave out the greens altogether if you like. Or chop up the bright-tasting celery leaves and toss them in (yes, they’re useful beyond being just compost additives or guinea pig fodder). Cubed fennel bulb and their feathery fronds would be a nice addition as well.

Pepita is the Spanish term for hulled pumpkin seeds.  You’ll find them packaged at Trader Joe’s.  Be sure to toast extra—they make a nutritious and addictive snack.

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Fall Green Salad with Roasted Pumpkin, Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds

This salad is simple, yet the flavors go far beyond ordinary, everyday tossed greens. Substitute any type of winter squash (some will need peeling, depending on the thickness of the skin). We love arugula in this salad but choose your favorite assertive greens:  escarole, endive or Japanese mizuna.

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Spiced Tomato Soup with Cilantro

This vibrant soup is loaded with sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes.  Cook up a pot when the garden is laden with scarlet fruit—so many you can cut up six cups worth, and still have a few to spare.  Or make a trip to the farmers’ market in early fall, before the last of summer’s jewels are gone for good (at least until next year).  If you don’t have that many fresh tomatoes, substitute a larger amount of canned.  The flavor won’t suffer, even if the broth isn’t quite as sweet.

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