When it comes to eggs, it’s tough to know what story the labels really tell. Cage-free, free-roaming, natural, free-range: In our minds we picture open, grass-flecked barnyards with black dirt below and blue sky above, and plenty of room to run, extend feathered wings and peck at grubs. In the simplest sense, a chicken’s life as it should naturally be. It turns out that labels don’t always mean what they imply and in the case of free-range and free-roaming (the only ones regulated by the USDA), far less. In order to apply the free-range and free-roaming label the USDA expects that producers allow hens access to the outside. The labels don’t speak to whether birds have room to move, or actually make it out the door. Or whether they are treated humanely and allowed to engage in natural behaviors, like pecking in the dirt. In a free-range barnyard all of these may be true—or may not.
Button mushrooms and asparagus are sautéed with cumin seeds and onion creating the flavor base for this Indian-inspired rice dish. Garam masala lends a hint of warming spice. This dish is a perfect use for leftover rice, and you can substitute 2 1/2 to 3 cups cooked rice for the uncooked grains. Make sure the rice has cooled fully before stir-frying with the vegetables or the mixture may become gummy. Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that includes cumin, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, among others. You’ll find it at most grocery stores.
These pasta bundles are essentially lasagna rolled up on its side, rather than laid flat. They’re fun and easy, for a change of pace. The small amount of goat cheese mixed into the filling offers a welcome tang. Look for fresh ricotta, it’s far superior to the mass-produced version stocked in supermarkets. You’ll find it at Whole Foods, small specialty grocers or high-end markets.
If you like, add chopped, fresh mushrooms to the filling too. Cook the mushrooms with the garlic—before adding the spinach—until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes or so.
Broccoli isn’t typical Indian fare, but it works well with the mix of spices. Cook this dish quickly, with a light touch—you want the broccoli to keep it’s bright green color and crisp texture, while taking on a bit of caramelized goodness from browning in the pan. If you don’t have mushrooms, you can leave them out, or substitute another quick-cooking vegetable such as bell peppers or carrots.
Unseasonably rainy weather this week had me thinking soup. Again. Doesn’t take much to point my wagon in that culinary direction. This time inspired by one of the classic tomes of vegetarian cooking, The Moosewood Cookbook (edited and compiled by Mollie Katzen)—the original vegetarian cookbook in my collection, and still a trusty resource after more than thirty years. This recipe is a favorite—you’ll find versions plastered all over the internet, tweaked in various ways.