. . . And We’re Back!

Remember me?  The Smart Green Gourmet?  I used to have a lot of free time.  I used to scout the farmer’s markets of Cuba for the juciest Guavas for my salads and traipse through the ancient bazaars of Aleppo (back when they existed) for the most exquisite hues of saffron.  I used to blog about it all here, along with other musings on food, nutrition, and local restaurants.  And then I had a baby.

5+ years, 1 more baby, 1 Ph.D., 1 professorship, and 3 homes in 3 states later, I had to get real.  Blogging fell by the wayside.  I thought I’d taken the blog down.  But then I called a friend for a recipe, and she told me she still looked it up on my blog whenever she needed it.   I did too, and momentarily entered my pre-child life, virtually inhaling the rose vinaigrette as it pirouetted across my salad.

I barely have time to cook, much less blog.  So other then nostalgia, why blog?  Why now?

I still cook nearly every night.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Cooking is my escape and my creative outlet, and now one I share with two eager little lemon-zesters, garlic-pressers, and batter-tasters.  Family dinner is nourishment for our bodies and souls.  We cast our devices aside and laugh with each other in an hour of collective mindfulness.  We rejoice with each new food our little ones learn to love.  Each meal together marks a treasured moment in days that might be otherwise lost in a blur of work, commute, and household chores.  In a sense, then, this blog becomes a diary of the tastes, textures, and aromas of the great joys of daily life.

Also, I’m constantly on the hunt for healthy, mostly vegetarian, lactose-free, kosher recipes I can make ahead or make quickly while being distracted by two adorable children. Finding recipes each time in cookbooks or searching for them on my phone just takes too long.  Meanwhile, people keep asking for my recipes.   So I’m putting them here for friends and family, just like I used to.  And admittedly, I’m logging them here for myself.

And finally, I’m disturbed by the trend in delivered, pre-assembled meals that confronts me every day in my building’s elevator.  I just don’t get it.  Every time I try these meals with friends, they’re far more complicated and take longer than anything I make myself.  Meanwhile, my friends with dietary restrictions lament that they can’t find services to meet their needs.  Why?

Then a friend explained it.  The appeal of these services is that they cut the stress of decision-making.  Deciding what to buy at the store, and then again what to cook and eat, strains our already-taxed executive functions.

So let me make the decisions for you.  I’ll post my weeknight recipes.  My goal is to put together the functionality for you to be able to print out individual recipe cards and make shopping lists.  But I’m new to WordPress and my old photos didn’t even migrate properly from my prior Blogpost (yes, Blogpost) site, so getting this up and running will take time.

I will promise real food, eaten by my real family, that can be made real(ly) fast.  That’s it.  I can’t promise how often I’ll post.  I won’t promise excellent photography, either.  Buying food props would be laughable when it’s already a project to keep my kids’ toys in order.  I still don’t have a fancy camera.  I don’t have time to chop everything up so the beautiful colors are evenly distributed like specks of jewels throughout my grain salads, a la the incredible Heidi Swanson.  Also, dishes last night’s Balsamic Wild Rice Salad with Beet, Avocado, Sheeps-Milk Feta would only look good in a photo if I arrange them “just so,” which is impossible when I want the kids to make bedtime.  My son actually laughed at me when I tried to take a photo of the salad anyway, since the whole thing looked pretty brown after the balsamic vinaigrette was tossed everywhere.  It was delicious nonetheless.

I do promise that my minimalist blog will translate into delicious meals.  Hopefully they will provide daily joys for you to celebrate.

Vegetarian Hoppin’ John

Amazingly filling and hearty, and simple too.  Traditionally made on New Years’ in the South to bring good luck, but perfect on any cold winter days.  Leftovers freeze well.  If you can’t find smoked tofu, I imagine this would work well with regular tofu and more liquid smoke, or perhaps regular tofu marinated in liquid smoke.  I think this could probably also be done in a crockpot.

This recipe is based on Mark Bittman’s “Black-Eyed Peas with Smoked Tofu” from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  I use brown rice and liquid smoke to add extra nutrition and flavor.  I also find that my version takes much less time, but this may vary based on the age and toughness of your black-eyed peas.  Collards are not traditionally used in this dish, but I added them to make this a one-pot meal.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 1-2 hours, largely unattended.

1.5 c dried black-eyed peas, washed, and soaked if you like to speed cooking time.
2 quarts stock or water
14 oz smoked tofu, cut into cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 T minced garlic
1.5 c short-grain brown rice
1 bunch collards, rinsed thoroughly (soak for 2 minutes and rinse) and coarsely chopped
liquid smoke to taste
salt and pepper to taste
tabasco sauce to taste

1) Put peas, stock, tofu, onions, and garlic in a large pot.  Bring to boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.  Bittman says this takes 1-2 hours.  I found it took 30-45 minutes.  So watch carefully.
2) When beans are ready or after 45 minutes, whichever comes first, make sure you have at least 3 c liquid in the pot.  If not, add water or stock. Add the rice, salt, pepper, and collards if using.  Cover and cook until rice is ready.
3) If any liquid remains, turn the heat up to high for a few minutes to boil it off.
4) Fluff the Hoppin’ John with a fork.
5) Season with Liquid Smoke and Tabasco to taste.
6) Replace the lid.   Let the dish rest and flavors mingle for 5-15 minutes before serving.

Gingered Sweet Potato Latkes with Wasabi Sour Cream

These latkes have become a family tradition.  I am not a big fan of standard potato latkes (heresy, I know), so I developed these instead.  A food processor really speeds this process along.  Crispy, light, and with a kick of ginger, these latkes will spice up your festival of lights.

Serves: 2 as a main course, 4 as a side.  Easily doubled, tripled, etc.
Time: 40 minutes


1 large sweet potato, grated
1 medium onion, grated
5T cornstarch
4T grated ginger to taste
1t salt
1 c cashews, chopped finely
3-4 eggs, beaten
1/2 c olive oil or more for frying (I like the taste of olive oil, but feel free to use a neutral oil like canola or coconut oil for a sweeter taste).

Wasabi Sour Cream:
1 c sour cream
1 t wasabi powder, or to taste

1) Toss all ingredients except the eggs into a large bowl.
2) Add eggs.  Mixture should be slick and begin to bind together, but should not be soggy.
3) Heat 1/4-1/2 c oil in a skillet over high heat until very hot.
4) Scoop mixture into skillet and flatten into patties.  Fry in batches, turning once, until golden-brown on both sides.  This should take approximately 2-4 minutes per side.
5) Meanwhile, stir together the wasabi powder and sour cream to taste.  

The Smart Green Gourmet is Back . . . To Basics!

Geneva Farmers Market

Dear Readers,

The Smart Green Gourmet is very excited to be back at blogging after a long hiatus!

The past few months have seen many changes at the Smart Green Gourmet.  The most notable and exciting by far was the birth of the Smart Green Baby!

The Smart Green Gourmet will now continue in its original format, as a record of favorite recipes of the SGG’s friends and family.  I’ll be placing even more emphasis on healthy meals that can be made quickly on busy weeknights or made ahead.  I’ll still include occasional reviews from local restaurants discovered on what is now known as Date Night, and occasional thoughts on food-related topics.  And an occasional baby food recipe might just pop up on these pages.

I look forward to seeing you back at the Smart Green Gourmet!

Support Taza Chocolate!

Support Taza Chocolate!  Taza, a great local Boston business specializing in sustainable, fair-trade practices and making incredibly delicious chocolate, recently suffered major damage in the same flood that has closed my own offices at HLS for more than a week and counting.  You can help Taza in their recovery by buying Taza Chocolate, or buying Taza Dollars, good for purchases at their factory store.  For more info, please see http://www.tazachocolate.com/.

Smart Green Gourmet Goes to Europe!

The Smart Green Gourmet is spending the summer doing research in Geneva, where I have already discovered the biggest, juiciest figs I have ever tasted at the local farmers’ markets.  Here is a photo from a hike in the Genevan countryside.

This one is a farm in Sauverny, France, just over the border, where we stopped for lunch.
Blogging at the SGG may be a little spotty this summer, but is sure to be exciting and filed with tales of European adventures.  Also, pictured below are a couple of recipes that I made this Spring and look forward to posting when I return!

Lactose-free Souffle

Simple Skillet Tagine

Brown Rice Paella

A gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free entree to impress.

I was rushing to make this before our guests arrived and forgot to take a photo.  And it was gorgeous.  So let me describe it instead:  A beautiful bed of brown rice, with a perfect crust on the bottom, with roasted orange carrots, green farmshare zucchini, and earthy shiitake mushrooms, dotted throughout with red-ripe farmshare grape tomatoes, topped with golden-brown chicken and spicy chorizo, flecked throughout with smoky Spanish pimenton.  All this served to oohs and aahs after 20 minutes of work.  

I recently completed Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More than 75 Recipes.  In it, Bittman explains his turn to a “sensible way of eating,” involving more plants and less meat, in his signature off-the-cuff, humorous, accessible style.  Part part screed against the meat industry, part clarion call to eco-consciousness, part diet book, and part weight-loss memoir, Food Matters does all of these things well, although others have already done this.  The 75 new recipes in Food Matters, all of which showcase little meat and lots of veggies, are all Bittman’s usual top notch.  This recipe is inspired by the paella recipe in that book.

As always on the SGG, this recipe is flexible.  Use whatever fresh veggies you have on hand, setting them gently to roast on the top.  The more colors, the better.  Replace the tomatoes and some of their stock with canned diced tomatoes and their juices.  Use more meat, or less, or substitute shrimp and seafood.  To make it vegetarian, omit the chicken and chorizo, up the pimenton, and add veggies to your heart’s content.   Try saffron instead of pimenton, or use a combination.  Try mushroom stock.  Vary the spices to make it less Spanish and more unique.  Use traditional arborio rice instead of brown rice and cut the oven time by half.  The possibilities are endless, and up to you.

Before braising chicken thighs, I like to loosen the skin when I trim the thighs so that I can season the meat directly.  I leave the skin on to keep the meat moist during cooking, and then leave it up to my guests whether they want to remove it or not.

Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Total Time: 50-60 minutes.
Serves: 6-8

~4 cups stock or water, more or less as needed
2 T Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO; if you use a good nonstick pan, you may need even less; if your chicken is not fatty, you may need more)
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of all visible fat

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
2 zucchini, sliced on the bias into “rounds” 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick
handful of baby carrots
handful of shiitake or other mushroom caps, sliced into thirds, or not slided

2 leeks, white parts only, sliced into rounds, cleaned by soaking and swooshing for at least 2 minutes in a bowl of water; or 1 (Spanish) onion, chopped or diced
1 T tomato paste
1-2 t pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika), plus more for the chicken
Pinch saffron (optional)

12 oz chorizo or other spicy sausage, sliced into rounds of your desired thickness
3 c short-grain brown rice
coarse sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
coarsely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

 1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F.  Warm the stock/water and optional saffron in the microwave or a small saucepan.
2. Place tomatoes in a bowl and the zucchini, mushrooms, and carrots in another.  Sprinkle all veggies with salt and pepper, and toss with 1T EVOO.   Set aside.
3. Season chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and ~1T pimenton (eyeball it and sprinkle it from the container).
4. In a 12″ ovenproof skillet, warm 1T (or less) EVOO over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken thighs, skin-side down, and brown until just golden ~4 minutes per side.  Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
5. Examine your pan.  You want a nice layer of fat, at least 3 Tablespoons, at the bottom of your pan to ensure a nice crust on the rice.  Pour off fat if desired, or add EVOO as necessary and reheat if needed before proceeding.  Be careful to avoid spatters.
6. Add the (well-drained) leeks or onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook 3-5 minutes or until softened.  Stir in tomato paste, pimenton, and chorizo.
7. Add the rice and stir for about 1 minute until well-coated and shiny.
8. Slowly pour in the warmed stock and stir until just combined.
9. Turn off the heat.  Stir in the tomatoes.  Arrange the chicken on top.  Top artfully with the colorful veggies.
10. Bake paella for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, check the rice.  If it is nearly dry and just tender, it’s perfect.  If it’s too dry, add more stock or water. If it’s too wet, return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes and check again.  Repeat as necessary.
12. When the rice is ready, turn the oven off, and let the paella sit for 5-15 minutes.
13. (Optional) Put the pan over high heat for a few minutes, or cover and put on low heat for up to 30 (while you finish your first course), to develop the bottom crust, otherwise known as the best part.
14. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Flatbread “Pizza” with Apples, Bell Peppers, Goat Cheese, and Thyme

A “there’s nothing in the house” recipe that turned into a winner.  Fresh farmshare leftovers made it so.
Time: 30-35 minutes
Serves: 2 hungry grownups for dinner
1 recipe Chickpea-Flax Skillet Flatbread, through Step 4, using onion, thyme and oregano.
2 apples, sliced thinly
1-2 green bell peppers, sliced thinly
2+ T crumbled goat cheese, to taste
1-2 t dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1. Prepare Chickpea-Flax Skillet Flatbread, through Step 4, using onion, thyme, and oregano.
2. Meanwhile, toss the apples, bell peppers, goat cheese, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl.
3. Top flatbread with apple mixture.  Broil for ~2 minutes, until cheese is melted.
4. Serve pizza with forks to catch the fallen cheezy goodness.

Restaurant Review: Qingdao Garden

Don’t let the decor fool you in this Northern Chinese gem in North Cambridge.  The sparse, diner-esque decor with ten tables belies the quality of the food, the family-style food and service, and the overall bang for your buck.  I’d call it a hole in the wall, but it’s too clean for that.  You can easily ignore the decor if you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of locals, families, and die-hard regulars chewing thoughtfully and chatting about Chinese politics or quantum physics in as many languages as there are tables.  Eat late and eat with the family and staff, who are more than happy to share friendly pointers on the menu at any time of day.  

Qingdao Garden is perhaps best known for its stellar homemade dumplings, which have been featured in Boston Magazine’s Cheap Eats issue.  The menu features seven varieties, including three vegetarian types: Spinach, Leek, and String Bean.  All dumplings are just $5.75-$5.95 for a dozen or $14.00-$16.00 for fifty frozen dumplings to bring home with you.  Your friendly server will encourage you to eat them with the traditional vinegar instead of soy sauce.

But don’t ignore the rest of the enormous menu, particularly the pink “traditional” section.  We’ve only begun to explore the endless options, but everything we’ve tried has been fresh, delicious, and strikingly different than “regular,” Americanized Chinese food.  The Tofu with Black Bean Sauce we tried tonight featured the softest, lightest tofu we’ve eaten since we visited Japan, and a fresh egg and black bean sauce that was a surprising and welcome change from the heavy overspiced glop we were expecting.  Dishes like the house specialty Szechuan Style Fish with Black Bean Sauce and Lily Root with Celery intrigued, and now we’re curious to try the family’s take on old favorites.  Have you tried them?  Post below!

Qingdao Garden is located at 2382 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is easily accessible from the Porter, Davis, and Alewife T stations or by the 77 bus.  

Simple Sweet Potato, Kale, Chickpea and Tomato Stew

Simple, healthy, vegetarian comfort food.  Full of fiber, beta-carotene, anti-oxidants, and other good things.  Served with a dollop of yogurt and whole-grain bread or rice, it’s a warm meal perfect for the end of a cold Winter or the beginning of a rainy Spring. 

I always come back from the Middle East with an enormous bag of saffron.  If saffron is not in your budget, this stew will work with almost any other spice, such as rosemary or thyme.  Saffron needs to be steeped or toasted to release its flavor.  Above is the “saffron tea” I made to flavor this dish.

I made a big pot of this stew to take for lunch for the rest of the week.  A simple flavored yogurt, peanut sauce, or pesto changed the flavor completely each day.  
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-1″ chunks
2 bunches of kale, washed thoroughly and chopped coarsely
1 onion, diced
1 14.5 or 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
28 oz cooked chickpeas, or 2 14.5 ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 pinch saffron, steeped in 1 T hot water (“saffron tea”)
1 T EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)
salt and pepper to taste 
1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)

1. Heat the onion and EVOO over medium heat.  Sprinkle with salt.  Cook until translucent, about 5 mnutes.

2. Add chickpeas.  Cook about 5 more minutes until flavor is well-mingled.
3. Add the kale, tomatoes, and saffon tea.  
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with lemon wedges and a dollop of yogurt.