Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life

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Spanish Spinach & Chickpeas

IMG_5396I was in Seattle this past week and as it usually is when I return from a trip, I found myself with an empty fridge. Well, what I consider empty, anyway. So, I went to the produce market to see what vegetables looked good. I was surprised to be irresistibly drawn to some spinach.

I say surprised because, although I like spinach, I don’t exactly go wild for it. But this particular store had bunches of spinach on sale for $1. And they were nice-looking bunches, too. Not wilted or dried, but fresh and green. So, I bought a couple of bunches.

After giving a little thought to what I might want to do with it, I quickly decided that I wanted to make a Spanish tapa staple: Espinaca con Garbanzos. Or Spinach with Chickpeas.

What makes this dish delectable is the bread crumbs, which turns the flavorful, garlicky spinach liquid into a thick, scoopable sauce. If you are gluten intolerant, you can use gluten-free bread crumbs. You can change the flavor profile very easily by adding any kind of spices you like. And best of all, this is a low-cal, low-fat, high-nutrient dish that is savory and comforting all at once.

This is a simple version that you can prepare in no time. The Spanish dollop this on toast for an iron-rich, protein-packed appetizer.

Buen provecho! Enjoy!

Spanish Spinach & Chickpeas

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs. fresh spinach, washed and drained
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 teaspoons paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs

Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach and about ½ cup water. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the pan and cook until the spinach has wilted down.

IMG_5388Add the chickpeas, paprika, and remaining salt and stir. Cook another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the chickpeas are heated through.IMG_5390Add the bread crumbs and pepper and stir. Cook another few minutes until it’s thick and saucy.IMG_5392Serve with crusty bread or pile on top of pieces of toast.IMG_5394Makes 2 main-meal servings or 8 tapas servings.

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Guava Quesadillas

IMG_5341Oh, my peeps, do I have a great recipe for you this week. I saw these beautiful Mexican guavas at the store and picked up a carton. I’m a big fan of guava and knew that I could do quite a few things with them.

First, I decided to make a puree and I would go from there. When I cut themIMG_5328 open, I was surprised to find that they were white guavas rather than the pink ones that we most often think of. They’re delicious, just not as pretty. But that’s okay.

I also happened to have some queso fresco on hand, which I’d purchased for another recipe. Queso fresco—literally, “fresh cheese”—is like a feta cheese in flavor and texture, but it’s much milder, and it’s used frequently in Latin American cuisines. You can find it in Latin American markets, or supermarkets that have a decent cheese selection. If you can’t find it, any crumbly feta-like cheese will do.

Oh, and I also had blue corn tortillas. My decision was easy. I would make guava quesadillas. They require so few ingredients, yet guava quesadillas are so flavor-packed and really fun to eat. The sweetness of the guava is offset by the saltiness of the cheese, so you can actually have them as part of a meal, a snack, or dessert. And you can add whatever toppings you like: salsa, guacamole, hot sauce. It all works.IMG_5330


Queso fresco

You will have guava puree left over, and I know exactly what you should do with that—make a guava cocktail. Well, that’s what I did. I’ll be sharing that recipe next week. In the meantime, here’s how to make guava quesadillas with fresh guavas. If you can’t get fresh guavas, or don’t want to make your own puree, skip that step. Get some guava paste and simmer it in a small pot with a little water to loosen it up (a good ration is 4 ounces paste with 1 tablespoon water). And you won’t need the maple syrup either. Make yourself a mojito or margarita and have yourself a fiesta.

Buen Provecho!

Guava Quesadillas

1 lb. guavas, peeled and quarteredIMG_5329
¼ cup maple syrup
4 (6-inch) tortillas
½ cup crumbled queso fresco
Optional toppings: Salsa, guacamole, hot sauce, cilantro

If you’re using your oven, preheat to 350 degrees F. (You can otherwise use a toaster oven or pan.)

Place the guavas, maple syrup, and ½ cup water in a small sauce pot. Bring it to a boil, then simmer on medium-low heat until the guavas are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the guavas’ ripeness. Turn off the heat and let cool.

IMG_5332Transfer the guava to a mesh strainer set over a bowl and press them through the strainer with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Scoop any pulp that accumulates beneath the strainer. (You can use a food mill instead.) Blend the puree well.IMG_5333IMG_5336Discard the seeds that remain in the strainer.IMG_5335Toast 4 tortillas over a flame (either on your stovetop gas burner or a grill) until lightly browned in spots. Lay them on a baking sheet.IMG_5337Place equal amounts of the queso fresco, then 2 tablespoons of the guava on each one. Fold the tortillas over and press gently, just so they will stay closed.IMG_5338Place them in the oven or toaster oven and bake just until the cheese starts to melt. (You can also place them in a pan, preferably cast iron, and cook over a medium-high flame, covered, until the cheese melts.) Serve hot, by themselves or with optional toppings.

Makes 4 servings.IMG_5340

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Chickpeas and Beet Salad

IMG_1024Despite the fact that I have less and less time to cook for myself these days, when I walk past the farmer’s market, I’m seduced by the beautiful vegetables. So, then I find myself with vegetables that I have no time to cook, but must.

This week, I had beets. The beets were firm and bright and the leaves were full and green. I couldn’t help myself. But I had to deal with them quickly. So, I went to my go-to beet recipe: Chickpea and Beet Salad. It’s simple, it’s fast (once the beets are cooked), and it’s satisfying.

The greens? My go-to greens recipe: sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

The reason for my lack of time? Well, apart from my work/commute issue, I have multiple projects happening at the same time. One of those is volume 2 of Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, which is finally under way after a very long delay at my publisher. It’s slated for release in April 2016. With any luck, that will be the case.

This beet recipe, by the way, appears in volume 1 of Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, and it’s just one of many delectable dishes straight from the Mediterranean. Continue reading

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Mediterranean White Bean Spread

IMG_5318I recently found myself with an abundance of dried Great Northern beans, and if you stopped by here last time, you saw that I took some of those beans to make Tomato-y White Beans.

I had cooked up a huge batch, so I needed to come up with something else. And, as I also said last time, because it’s summer, I’ve had access to a bunch of tomatoes. Well, both they went into a food processor for a white bean spread. With a few additional ingredients, this is a flavorful, filling, yet light, snack. It’s also perfect to taking to a picnic or barbecue.IMG_5309

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Tomato-y White Beans

IMG_5305Sometimes you go through your pantry or refrigerator and see a bunch of stuff that you know you have to use or it will go bad. It’s been that way with me and all of these dried beans I realized I had. And since it’s summer, I also find myself with a steady influx of tomatoes.IMG_5298

I’m a whiz at utilitarian cooking. And I say that because it really doesn’t take much to be a whiz at utilitarian cooking. You basically just throw a bunch of stuff you have together and that’s it. And, usually, it works out better than any pre-meditated, planned, plotted, and plated dish you can conjure.

Okay, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it usually does. I wouldn’t tell you about the stuff that doesn’t work out, anyway.

So, I cooked up a mess of Great Northern beans, added some fresh tomatoes from my mother’s garden, and got this: tomato-y white beans. It’s really simple, so I hope you give it a try.

Tomato-y White Beans

Makes about 6 servings.

1½ cups dried Great Northern beans
2 bay leaves
4 large garlic cloves
½ large onion, sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup white wine
3 or 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable broth
Fresh herbs (whatever you have available)

Place the beans in a bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches. Cover and soak overnight.IMG_5297The next day, drain the beans and place them in a medium pot. Add water to cover by about 2 inches. Add the bay leaves. Smash two of the garlic cloves and add them to the pot, along with half the onion, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low; partially cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender but still firm, about 45 minutes.IMG_5299Drain the beans in a colander and remove the bay leaves and garlic and discard. Finely chop the rest of the garlic.IMG_5300Heat the oil, in a wide pan. Add the rest of the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute. Add the wine and let it cook until it’s evaporated. Add the tomatoes, the rest of the salt, pepper and sauté 5 minutes.IMG_5302Add the beans, broth, and herbs (I had basil, savory, and parsley), and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it thickens.IMG_5303IMG_5304You’re ready to eat. Have it over rice, pasta, or with crusty bread. IMG_5306



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Boozy Watermelon

IMG_5288I was passing by a market that had some fruit on display outside. I was paying no attention to it, but something caught my eye. They had a box of mini round watermelons. They looked so cute, I had to have one. So, I picked one out and took it home. (I paid for it first, of course.)IMAG3106

When I cut it open, I discovered that it was a yellow watermelon. They hadn’t labeled it yellow—the sign only said “sweet.” I love finding yellow watermelons. They’re like yellow topazes, sparkling in the light.

Unfortunately, it was a lot prettier than it was tasty. They lied. It wasn’t sweet.

Now I had to find a way to enjoy this melon without resenting the money I paid for it.IMG_5274

So, I cut it up and put some booze in it. But not just any booze. I had this beautiful elderflower rum that I picked up at a farmers’ market in Vermont and it paired perfectly with the melon. Then I decided to mash it and make it into a slushy. Continue reading


Umbrian Cicerchia Soup

cicerchia soupThere’s one thing I love about Eataly, the Italian market in Chelsea in New York, and it’s not the prices. It’s the fact that you can get products that have been imported from Italy, things that you wouldn’t otherwise find, at least not easily.IMG_5261

During one particular perusal of the market, I found cicerchia, an Umbrian hybrid of chickpeas and fava beans. Ceceri means chickpeas, so I imagine that cirechia is a playful word meaning “in the realm of chickpeas.” Italians love playing with their words almost as much as their food.

It’s probably a good thing, though, that cicerchia isn’t available widely. According to Vorrei Italianfood, they contain a neurotoxin and should not be eaten every day over a prolonged period of time (alhough I don’t know what that means.)IMG_5245

I wasn’t sure what to do with them, though, as this was not a common product, at least not in the region where my family is from (Basalicata). Ultimately, I decided to use them in a typical Umbrian dish: chickpea soup.

If you’re able to get your hands on cicerchia, try this recipe—it’s light but filling and scrumptious.
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