ultimate seven-layer dip

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Seven layer dip has become a holiday tradition in my family, and most of the work is usually assigned to a son-in-law. The rest of us have long-since fallen into a routine; my mom makes the turkey, my sister makes mashed potatoes, my brother makes stuffing, my dad is coerced into making the green bean casserole. For a long time, my mom asked my sister’s husband to make seven layer dip, but recently, that job has often gone to Dave.

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With a can of refried beans, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, and guacamole, it’s an irresistible treat best saved for holidays. When I saw Cook’s Illustrated’s version, I thought I might be able to lighten it up. This recipe uses canned black beans, pureed with seasonings, for the bean layer. The sour cream could easily be replaced with lower fat Greek yogurt. Chopped salsa-like vegetables added freshness.

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It creates a number of extra steps that result in this recipe being considerably more effort than Dave would be willing to exert – I think. Because it also resulted in a dip that Dave and I both raved about as we ate. Dave, vegetable lover that he is, loves the lighter, fresher taste. For me, the biggest difference was that every bite wasn’t full of guilt. That’s worth some extra effort.

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One year ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Two years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Three years ago: Black Bean Squash Burritos
Four years ago: Lemon Cream Tart

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Ultimate Seven-Layer Dip (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

Serves 8 to 10

CI note: This recipe is usually served in a clear dish so you can see the layers. For a crowd, double the recipe and serve in a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. If you don’t have time to make fresh guacamole as called for, simply mash 3 avocados with 3 tablespoons lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt.

This is exactly the original recipe. I made just a few small changes: Greek yogurt for the sour cream, cheddar for the pepper Jack, and I made a simple guacamole as described in Cook’s Illustrated’s note, above.

4 large tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
6 scallions, 2 minced and 4 with green parts sliced thin (white parts discarded)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus 2 teaspoons, from 2 limes
¼ teaspoon salt
1 can black beans (16-ounces), drained but not rinsed
2 cloves minced garlic
¾ teaspoon chili powder
1½ cups sour cream
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded pepper Jack cheese
3 cups chunky guacamole
Tortilla chips for serving

1. Combine the tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, minced scallions, and 2 tablespoons lime juice in a medium bowl. Stir in ⅛ teaspoon salt and let stand until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and discard the liquid.

2. Pulse the black beans, garlic, remaining lime juice, chili powder, and remaining salt in the food processor until it resembles a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the food processor. Pulse the sour cream and 2½ cups (10 ounces) of the cheese until smooth. Transfer to a separate bowl.

3. Spread the bean mixture evenly over the bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking dish or 1-quart glass bowl. Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the bean layer, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spread the guacamole over the cheese and top with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with the sliced scallions and serve with tortilla chips. (The dip can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let the dip stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.)

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black bean quinoa salad with tomatillo salsa

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A few weeks ago, I was skiing, and I was having fun, but I felt stale. I felt like I was doing the same things I always do when I ski, back and forth across the slope, not too fast, just nice and comfortable. After a morning of this, I was getting impatient with myself – why are you so timid, I asked myself? Go faster, mix it up, challenge yourself, get out of that comfort zone. So I did, and I fell, and I twisted my knees, had to sit in the lodge and read a book the next day while my friends skied, and I couldn’t run or progress in my weightlifting routine for three weeks (and counting*).

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My weeknight dinner routine has felt stale lately too. So many grain salads, so many beans. It seems like I always use quinoa the same way, in some sort of salad. And how many different ways can I possibly combine black beans, chiles, and avocadoes?

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On the other hand, maybe I’m in this rut because it works – it’s healthy, it’s fast, and it’s good. Sometimes it’s better to stick with what works. Quinoa salads work. Black beans and cilantro works. And avocado works on everything. This was one of the best meals I’ve made lately. Mixing it up is overrated.

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*Eventually, I decided that if resting wasn’t helping my knees heal, I might as well run. (Impeccable logic, right?) A couple runs in, my knees feel better than they have in weeks. Crossing my fingers to start weightlifting again this weekend!

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One year ago: Chocolate Frosting (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Devil’s Food White Out Cake
Four years ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

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Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Tomatillo Salsa (adapted slightly from Cate’s World Kitchen)

Serves 3-4

I substituted about 4 ounces of roasted peeled Hatch green chiles for one of the jalapenos.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
salt
4 tomatillos, papery skins removed
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded
¾ cup cilantro, divided
juice of 1 lime
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced

1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 1 cup water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the quinoa to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Broil the tomatillos and garlic until the tomatillos are browned, 5-8 minutes. Peel the garlic; transfer it to a blender with the tomatillos, ½ teaspoon salt, jalapenos, and ½ cup cilantro. Puree.

3. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the lime juice. Once the quinoa cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, add the beans, tomatoes, avocado, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and salsa. Serve.

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black bean avocado brownies

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I have developed an extensive spreadsheet of calculations in an effort to address to issue of brownies that aren’t bad for you, and what I have discovered is that brownies are bad for you. The problem is the chocolate. Chocolate on its own doesn’t taste good, as you’re probably aware. It needs sugar to taste good. Fat is nice too. Sugar and fat aren’t good for you.

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Sure, the internet is rife with recipes for black bean brownies, in which beans replace the flour, cocoa powder is the only source of chocolate, and, in Cara’s recipe, avocado adds some fat, but the healthy kind. I made Cara’s recipe, exchanging 2 tablespoons of cocoa for 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate to add oomph to the chocolateliness in a compromise between health and flavor that I thought was worthwhile. The brownies were very, very edible. They didn’t taste like beans or like avocado. They also didn’t taste much like chocolate.

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This is when I started calculating calories, trying to see how much chocolate I could add to black bean brownies before it defeats the purpose of making a healthier brownie. I started by looking at Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies recipe, replacing the flour with beans and the butter with avocado. I also added some ground almonds, because the original brownies needed something dry to absorb some of the moisture and bulk up the batter.

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Once you add more chocolate and fatty nuts to the recipe, it has just as much fat as Cook’s Illustrated butter-containing light brownie recipe. It has twice the fat of Cara’s recipe – but half the fat of my favorite regular brownie recipe (for the same size square). It has about the same amount of fiber and protein as Cara’s recipe, and two or three times the protein of a regular brownie recipe. (Regular brownies don’t contain any fiber to speak of.)

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What these brownies have going for them is that they’re chock full of fiber, high in protein, gluten-free, and full of good fats. What they have working against them is that they still have a significant amount of refined sugar, and they have more fat and therefore more calories than other black bean brownie recipes. They also have more flavor, more chocolate flavor, that is; in fact, so much chocolate flavor that this won’t just satisfy a chocolate craving, but it’ll cause a craving – for black bean brownies.

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first batch (all other photos are of second batch)

One year ago: Great Grains Muffins
Two years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Tofu Croutons
Four years ago: Potstickers

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Black Bean Avocado Brownies (adapted from Cara’s Cravings and Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies)

12 medium squares

¼ cup almonds
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 (15-ounce black) beans, rinsed and drained
2 ounces avocado flesh (about ½ an avocado)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.

2. Process the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and avocado; process until the beans are smoothly pureed, 4-5 minutes (some flecks of bean skins may remain).

3. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate; stir frequently until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. In a separate small bowl, whisk the cocoa, water, vanilla, and espresso powder together. Add the chocolate, cocoa mixture, and baking powder to the bean mixture in the food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs; process for 30 seconds, stopping twice to scrape the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, at least 1 hour. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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chickpea and rosemary soup

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I confess that this soup came out through a series of blunders. I had originally planned to make African coconut curry soup, with the belief that it was a new recipe and I could submit it to Branny’s SouperBowl charity fundraiser for ASPCA. It turns out though, that it’s the exact same recipe I submitted last year. Whoops.

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I started jotting down what I had in mind instead, a tomato broth with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, reminiscent of this braised white bean recipe. It also included the chickpeas I’d bought for the curry soup and pasta, which I’d been craving. But then that soup starting sounding familiar too.

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Apparently I wouldn’t be striking bold new soup ground. But that’s okay. I didn’t want something new, I wanted something warm and comforting and easy, easier than my favorite pasta e fagioli recipe. This simple chickpea and pasta soup, infused with piney rosemary, hit the spot perfectly – maybe even better than the originally planned curry soup would have.  I have no regrets for all my blunders that led me to this soup.

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Participation in Branny’s fundraiser requires that the blog post be dedicated to a pet. I dedicate mine to my cat, Daisy, who is also warm and comforting and easy, at least when she isn’t puking on the carpet.

daisy

One year ago: Almond Biscotti
Two years ago: Banana Cream Pie
Three years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Four years ago: Fish Tacos

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Rosemary Chickpea Soup

Serves 4 to 6

I used 8 ounces of pasta. It seemed like a lot, but I didn’t mind. Still, if you’d like less pasta, 4 ounces (or anywhere in between) would work well.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
½ teaspoon salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Parmesan rind, if you have one
4-8 ounces small pasta, such as ditalini or macaroni

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the oil starts to sizzle, stir for about 1 minute, then add the tomatoes with their juices, the chickpeas, broth, salt, rosemary, and parmesan rind (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high; once the liquid comes to a lively simmer, add the pasta, return the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the pasta is tender. Remove the rosemary sprigs, adjust the salt if necessary, and serve.

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lentil salad with squash and goat cheese

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The Great Cookie Craze that is December perplexes me. I understand that with various holiday-related celebrations, there are more opportunities for feasts and drinks than at other times of the year, but the cookie mania goes beyond parties. People send dozens of treats out to families and friends, most of whom are making their own dozens of cookies. The number of cookies in the world exponentially increases for a month.

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The tide turns in January, which, without any significant celebration of its own, becomes the Undo the Holidays month. Poor January, but really, it isn’t such a bad thing. After all, healthy food tastes good too, particularly healthy food that includes goat cheese.

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Tart goat cheese mixed with sweet winter squash is becoming one of my favorite flavor combinations, and kale, with its bitter notes, and lentils, with its meatiness, make it even better. Or, if kale isn’t your thing, arugula adds some freshness to the plate. Nothing about this salad feels like punishment for the past month’s excesses.  But have a cookie afterward anyway; December shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

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One year ago: Nutty Chocolately Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars
Three years ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Four years ago: Pissaladiere

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Lentil Salad with Squash and Goat Cheese (adapted from Bon Appétit via Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4

The original recipe calls for arugula, which I used the first time I made this. (Actually, the pictures seem to indicate I used mixed greens.) The second time, I used kale, which I like even more. I wrote the directions for kale into the recipe; if you use arugula instead, simply add it to the salad at the end. You can also use a smaller pot to cook the lentils if you’re not adding the kale.

¾ cup green lentils
salt
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes, seeds reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste

1. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss to coat. Roast the squash for 25 minutes, turning once. In a small bowl, mix the cleaned squash seeds with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Add the seeds to the baking sheet with the squash and continue to roast until the squash is tender and the seeds are browned.

2. Combine the lentils, ½ teaspoon salt, and 3 cups of water in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Add the kale to the pot during the last 2-3 minutes of simmering. (The kale will overwhelm the size of the pot at first but will quickly wilt.)

3. Combine the lentils, squash, kale, goat cheese, and vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar, if desired. Serve.

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farro and pine nut salad

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It’s a good thing I really like farro, because I accidentally bought 26 dollars worth of it. Apparently I need to pay more attention to the prices on the bulk bins. I should also start enjoying barley or wheat berries or some other equally healthy grain that doesn’t cost $12 per pound. (I actually looked at the prices the next time I was at the store, and farro cost about five times as much as the other grains.)

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I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about farro that I like so much. I don’t think the flavor of the different grains are so different that I notice a big difference once dressing and other ingredients are mixed in, so it must be more textural. It’s all about a balance of the tender and the chewy. Rice is soft and tender. Barley is very chewy. Farro is just right.

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Usually I mix it with caramelized onions and feta, which, with a squirt of hot sauce, becomes one of my favorite meals that also happens to be incredibly healthy. But having two pounds of farro is good incentive to branch out. There are few things that aren’t improved with the addition of summer vegetables, pine nuts, chickpeas, and a squirt of lemon juice, farro included. It looks like I have another delicious farro meal that also happens to be healthy.

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One year ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Two years ago: Casatiello
Three years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Farro and Pine Nut Salad (adapted from Self magazine via epicurious)

If you choose a grain other than farro, your cooking time will probably be different.

The original recipe included jalapenos, which is why they’re shown in the photo above, but I decided not to use them.

1 cup farro (or another whole grain, such as wheat berries, barley, or brown rice)
salt
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
¼ cup pine nuts
Juice from 1 lemon
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped, or 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 small cucumber, quartered and sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a roiling boil; add the farro and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but slightly chewy. Drain.

2. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a large bowl; add the onions and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

3. Heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and toast it, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the pine nuts to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and mince it.

4. Stir the drained farro into the onion vinegar mixture, then add the remaining ingredients. Let the salad stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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bruschetta with chickpea puree

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I wouldn’t say I have a black thumb, but I certainly don’t have a green thumb. Every spring I get really excited about gardening. Besides the quality and convenience of produce from the backyard, I love to watch things grow. I especially enjoy watching seeds sprout, as the green shoot springs up and then slowly uncurls, stands tall, and spreads its first two leaves. I like creating something so impressive from almost nothing at all.

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Gardening in southern New Mexico is relatively easy. Our growing season, from last frost to first frost, extends from March all the way to November. Overwatering and mold certainly aren’t problems, since it almost never rains here. Our soil is hardpacked clay, but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to build a small raised bed. A layer of mulch and the lack of rain keep most weeds at bay. With a timed sprinkler system, there’s little effort involved with keeping a garden beyond the initial planting.

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Except for the bugs. Squash bugs always get my zucchini plants eventually. And last year I think grasshoppers ate more tomatoes than I did. This year, even worse, I bought a diseased tomato plant and it spread its fungus to the rest of the bunch. They’ll have to be pulled, I’m afraid.

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So my hopes for panzanella, slow-roasted tomatoes, BLTs, pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, big pots of sauce to freeze, and a whole long list of other tomato recipes I love – this isn’t the year for that. Instead of topping grilled garlic-rubbed slices of Tartine’s country bread with fragrant tomatoes from my garden, I’ll have to find other ideas.

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While nothing is going to live up to perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, I won’t complain about this chickpea spread. Something that could so easily be bland – a bowl of mashed beans – is kicked up with all sorts of good things, like tangy bits of red onion, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart lemon juice. Then it’s topped with crunchy toasted nuts and fresh herbs. It’s not garden-fresh tomatoes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

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One year ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Two years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Three years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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Bruschetta with Spicy Chickpea Purée (adapted from Rick Tramonto’s Fantastico via epicurious)

8 slices rustic bread
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
½ teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chickpeas, onion, 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper, and honey. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The texture of the paste should be that of spreadable peanut butter; if necessary, thin it with water and pulse again.

2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler or a panini press. The heating elements or coals should be medium-hot. Cut the slices in half and brush both sides with a generous amount of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Rub 1 side of the toasts with garlic.

3. Spread the bean paste on the bruschetta. Sprinkle with pine nuts, tarragon (if using), and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve garnished with lemon wedges for squeezing over the bruschetta.

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lentil goat cheese burgers

Burgers are just sandwiches with patties in the middle. I don’t care if that patty is beef, bird, or beans. What I do require is that it not be bread.

A carb-filled patty between two ends of a bun doesn’t make nutritional sense, but it does seem like most vegetarian burgers are bound by large amounts of bread crumbs, oatmeal, or other grains. Whether whole or refined, these are still grains where I want there to be protein.

Cara is a great source for high-protein, low-carb ideas like these lentil burgers, which are bound with just a tablespoon of bread crumbs per serving. The protein – and, more importantly, the flavor – is increased even more with the addition of creamy, tangy goat cheese, one of my favorite ingredients.

While certainly healthy enough for a good weeknight dinner, prepping these burgers is not a short process from start to finish. However, the active time is not unreasonable, making these a great option to make ahead of time, leaving just the final searing for dinner time. It’s nice to have a meal as hearty but nutritious as this one stashed in the freezer.

One year ago: Brown Soda Bread
Two years ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

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Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers (adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

Make 4 burgers

Don’t be shy with the salt. I always need more than I expect in these.

¾ cup dried lentils
1 bay leaf
salt
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup breadcrumbs (fresh or dried)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
for serving: buns, mustard, lettuce, tomato

1. Combine lentils, bay leaf, ½ teaspoon salt and 3 cups water in medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Drain the lentils, discarding the bay leaf.

2. Meanwhile, process the carrot, shallots, and garlic in the food processor until finely chopped but not pureed, about 5 seconds. (Do not clean processor bowl or blade.) Heat 1½ teaspoons olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat; sauté the vegetables with a pinch of salt until softened and the shallots just browns around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar; cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes.

3. Combine the lentils, sautéed vegetables, cheese, bread crumbs, and pepper in the food processor; process until evenly mixed and finely ground. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the egg; pulse until just combined.

4. Divide the dough into four portions; shape each one into a disk about ½-inch tall and 4 inches across (or approximately the diameter of your burger buns). Chill, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days (cover if longer than 30 minutes).

5. Heat the remaining 1½ teaspoons of oil in a 12-inch nonstick pan over medium to medium-high heat. Using a spatula, carefully lower each patty into the pan; cook without moving for 4 minutes, until the bottom side is browned. Flip the patties and continue cooking for another 6 minutes until the second side is browned. Serve immediately with buns and toppings.

braised white beans with zucchini, tomatoes, and potatoes

Dave tends to have healthier food preferences than me. It was his suggestion that we eat vegetarian or seafood meals on weekdays and save meat for the weekends. My initial efforts to find a vegetarian cookbook that reflected how I liked to cook was years ago, and the pickings then, unlike now, were slim. Back then, most vegetarian cookbooks seemed to tend toward the gourmet end of the spectrum, with lengthy preparations and rare ingredients.

Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics was exactly what I was looking for. Generally, the dishes are quick, based on common ingredients and cooking techniques, and accessible to non-vegetarians. I liked it so much that I bought it for my sister. She’s a busy working mom with no interest in becoming a vegetarian, but I still thought this was a cookbook she’d get a lot of use of.

This recipe is one of my favorites from the book. It fulfills that ultimate trifecta – easy, healthy, delicious. It’s the slightest bit spicy from crushed red pepper, the zucchini is just tender, and the beans and potato soak up all of the garlicky tomato juice. And I have Dave to thank; otherwise, I don’t know that I ever would have searched out a vegetarian cookbook.

One year ago: Roasted Garlic Balsamic White Bean Dip
Two years ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Three years ago: Apple Galette

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Braised White Beans with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Potatoes (adapted from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics)

Serves 2-3

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
1 medium Yukon gold potato, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 (14-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

1. Heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 30 seconds after the garlic begins to sizzle. (It should not become at all colored.) Stir in the tomatoes, water, rosemary, salt, and potatoes. Cook, covered, at a lively simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost cooked through.

2. Mix in the zucchini and beans. Cover the pan again and cook, stirring often, 10 minutes more, or until the zucchini and potatoes are tender. At this point check the consistency of the sauce; it should be thick and soupy, not dry or watery. Add a bit of water if the mixture doesn’t have much sauce; cook it uncovered if the juices seem watery. Serve in large pasta bowls, preferably, or on plates.

I have blogged about this recipe before, but I felt that a recipe as good as this one deserved a fresh entry.

pasta e fagioli

Living in southern New Mexico, I’m out of touch with all of the weather systems the rest of the country gets. The weather here is always the same – sunny, dry, cold at night and warm in the afternoon (hot at night and hotter in the afternoon in the summer), windy in the spring. So even though I know most of you are burned out on cold and snow, I’m very excited right now that we’ve gotten a taste of real winter here.

And, even better, a snow day. A snow day! Not that it takes much snow to get a snow day here, but that’s even better – a snow day with no shoveling to do!

The first time I made this soup was years ago, and it was just as cold that day. I remember that Dave and I went to a political rally in Ithaca, and afterward, we were talking while I made the soup, and I got distracted and added the pepper flakes twice. Sadly, that ruined the soup. It was almost inedibly spicy; so much for the careful balance of flavors I was hoping for.

The soup is a whole lot better when you make it correctly. Just a bit spicy, all mixed in with tomatoes and vegetables and beans. A warm hearty bowl of soup is the perfect way to cap off a snow day.

One year ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Tofu Croutons
Three years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Pasta e Fagioli (from Cooks Illustrated)

I added 2 cups less water than the recipe calls for. I’m sure the original recipe is fine too; I was just in the mood for something thicker. If you do this, make sure you decrease the salt to ½ teaspoon.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 celery rib, chopped fine
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, minced to paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 inches by 2 inches
2 (15½-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3½ cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
2½ cups water
salt
8 ounces small pasta
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
ground black pepper
2 ounces (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the cheese rind and beans; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend the flavors, 10 minutes.

2. Add chicken the broth, water and 1 teaspoon salt; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions to better estimate pasta cooking time).

3. Discard the cheese rind. Off the heat, stir in 3 tablespoons of the parsley; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated parmesan separately.