About Rachel Levine

My name is Rachel and I absolutely love to cook (and talk about it, gush about it, and brag about it..hence the “kvelling” for all you non-Yiddish speakers and Clueless watchers out there). A self-proclaimed vegivore, my recipes are simple, healthy, and sustainable...with a focus on whole and local food. So, come along with me as I kvell (not kvetch) in the kitchen, and enjoy!




New York, NY

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kale, chocolate, peanut butter, ice cream, figs

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Heidi Swanson, Michael Pollan, Mollie Katzen

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vegivore, locavore, and ultimate foodie

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Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
December 19, 2013

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time when I don my sole Anthropologie apron and a schmata, roll up my sleeves, and hole myself up in the kitchen for hours in an elated state of chocolate-covered bliss. Literally, when I emerge, I am covered head to toe with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, and could not be more happy about it. It’s time for holiday chocolate bark!
Now, although I am fiercely and loyally dedicated to my Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Dried Cherries, this Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee proved irrisistable as it is basically my beloved recipe on steroids. Brought to my attention by Lousia Shafia (my new favorite cookbook author) via Saveur (my trusted ethnic recipe source), this bark had more nuts, more dried fruits, more caffeine (I am a sucker for coffee in any form, especially coffee and chocolate) and finally mulberries, which were totally foreign to me, but upon some research are funny-looking berries resembling tiny pine cones with a name that roles nicely off the tongue and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. (I found them easily at Whole Foods, but you can substitute with more commonplace dried figs if desired.)
Aesthetically, the bark is beautiful. Warm hues of various toasted nuts, jewels of dried cherries, and the ensuing dusted bronzed crumbs make the vivacious bark indisputably attractive. Taste-wise, it was a totally new experience to me. Unfamiliar with both caradamom and mulberries, I set out in eager anticipation.
The cardamom, which Louisa describes as “peppery-sweet”, is deliciously exotic; adding a whole new depth of flavor to the festive bark. It’s potently aromatic, with flavors akin to cinnamon and ginger, and melds wonderfully with the bitter coffee and chocolate. Louisa explains that adding cardamom to coffee and tea is a commonplace Iranian practice, which helps to explain my final assessment of the nutty chocolate bark: it tastes like a coffee shop. Pointed, distinct flavors—pungent coffee, assorted nuts, tart cherries, rich cocoa, chai-like cardamon—create a remarkable, sophisticated concoction that’s as unique as it is exceptional. You want to inhale all the flavors, over and over again, with a heartfelt appreciation for the bark’s fancy, delicate bouquet.
As for the mulberries, what a treat! Crunchy and granola-esque, they were fruity and sweet but not cloyingly so. The mulberries acted as a lovely foil to the sharp coffee grounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this bark, and despite the amount of work (all that nut chopping gave me a hand cramp—next time, will use a blender!) the elegant outcome was undoubtedly worth it. I leave you with just one piece of advice: if you are sensitive to caffeine, I wouldn’t eat this too close to going to bed: it delivers quite the buzz!
Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee (from The New Persian Kitchen)
Makes about 1 1/2 lbs bark

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
¾ cup almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
½ cup pistachios, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup dried mulberries, chopped (or finely chopped dried figs)
¼ cup dried tart cherries, chopped
2 tsp. coffee beans, roughly chopped
⅛ tsp. kosher salt

1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until melted, 8 minutes. (Alternatively, microwave in spurts of 20-30 seconds each, mixing in between, until chocolate is fully melted.)
2. Remove bowl from pan and stir in cardamom and half each the almonds, pistachios, mulberries, and cherries.
3. Spread mixture onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet into a 10” x 7” rectangle, about ¼” thick.
4. Sprinkle evenly with remaining almonds, pistachios, mulberries, cherries, the coffee beans, and salt. Gently pat down the toppings into the bark with a spatula.
5. Chill, uncovered, until bark hardens, about 2 hours. Break into pieces to serve.

White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
October 11, 2013

Our dear friend the pumpkin is out and about in two ways during Fall. You can find him whole and squat in the pumpkin patch, surrounded by the obligatory farm fare, hayrides and apple trees prior to meeting his jack-o-latern fate. Or whipped neatly into a can of puree, where a spatula will cleanly scoop out his fleshy goodness in prep for the bread, muffin or pie of his namesake.

Somewhere in between carving pumpkins on the floor over newspapers and scooping puree out of a can is this White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew. Rarely do we see pumpkin peeled, seeded and cubed in the grocery store the way we do butternut squash, and I think this unfamiliarity makes the prospect of buying your own whole pumpkin (no it doesn’t need to be 20 lbs), removing the seeds and flesh by hand (but I don’t own a machete), and cooking and pureeing in the kitchen (ahhhh is this a Halloween prank) so scary and daunting.

But do not fear the portly pumpkin! You can buy these tots at any grocery store—aim for one the size of a large acorn squash. Even I was surprised at the soft flesh once I cut inside; spongy and soft rather than hardened and dense.

This pumpkin stew recipe is all about spice. Embodying more of a Latin American flavor, it utilizes fresh cilantro, spicy serrano pepper and of course, smoked paprika. Savory or sweet flavors notice you will not; rather it’s that spicy note beneath every bite that rounds out each simmering, flavorful pot. Even before I prepared the pumpkin, I could tell this dish was going to be a hit: the fragrant flavors of stewed tomatoes, onion, garlic, broth and cilantro were just that aromatic. The sugar pumpkin and beans transform the chili-like cognizance of the base into an emboldened fall stew with a lovely texture, and a generous squeeze of fresh lime rounds at the dish at its finale.

White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew
Serves 4

1 15 oz can white kidney beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, sliced
Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon hot or sweet paprika
1 ½ tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
15 sprigs cilantro
1 small sugar pumpkin (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks)
Juice of ½ lime

1. In a stockpot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add onion, garlic, serrano chile, and ¼ tsp. kosher salt. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in hot or sweet paprika and tomato paste; cook for 1 minute. Add beans, chicken broth and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes.

2. Peel, seed, and cut the sugar pumpkin. (See below for detailed instructions. Remember to save the seeds for roasting!) Add pumpkin to bean mixture, plus additional broth to cover, and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove and discard cilantro. Sprinkle soup with limejuice, and add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.

Blueberry Quinoa Amaretto Crisp

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
August 15, 2013

For this Blueberry Quinoa Amaretto Crisp, it was love at first site. How did the recipe so quickly win over my affection? The answer is threefold: First, alluring me with one of my favorite seasonal summer fruits; second, seducing me with a triple hit of almond: slivered nuts, almond flour, and amaretto almond liquor; and third, courting me with my favorite grain-that’s-not-actually-a-grain, quinoa. The result: a bubbling, toasted pan of perfection, boasting not one but two superfoods. Oh, my heart (and tummy) are so full.

The crisp’s quinoa topping is not as sweet as you’d presume in this type of dish. While unexpected, I found myself liking it: I treated the dish almost more as a breakfast consideration, rather than dessert. The quinoa mixed with slivered almonds makes for a topping with quite a crunch, which gently coats the real star of the dish: the blueberries.

The blueberry-amaretto combination, eaten while still warm, is truly heavenly. It’s like a rich, thick, almondy syrup. I kind of felt like I was eating all the best elements of a blueberry pancake. Then, the quinoa topping caves, falling into blueberry puddle, and that syrup gets sopped up by each quinoa grain. Yum.

Blueberry Quinoa Amaretto Crisp (from Closet Cooking)
Serves 4

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
3/4 cup water
6 cups blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons amaretto
2 tablespoons lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup almond flour (or flour or rice flour etc)
1/4 cup almond slices

Bring the water and quinoa to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed the water, about 15 minutes, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered.
Mix the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, amaretto, lemon juice and vanilla and place in an 8x8 inch baking dish (or a number of smaller dishes).
Mix the quinoa, brown sugar, butter, flour and almond slices and crumble on top of the blueberries.
Bake in a preheated 350F oven until it is bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 30-45 minutes.

Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
May 29, 2013

Summer fruits aren’t wasting any time bursting onto the outdoor dining scene. Whether it’s a picnic, BBQ, or first dinner on the patio; berries, melons, pits, and citrus are rallying to stake their presence in any and every warm-weather seasonal dish. Enough of limiting us to breakfast sides and post-dinner desserts, they scoff. Chilled soups, bold salads, hearty grains, grilled mains…. we want in on it all!

Oh so sweet but equally determined, they are collectively led by the mighty strawberry. The most represented fruit on the summer savory dish circuit, we don’t skip a beat seeing a strawberry-balsamic glaze or goat cheese-strawberry salad on a main menu. Which is why the juicy red berry shines in this herb-flecked, warm-toned summer Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint
A side salad (add a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp to elevate to a main) that promises a warm welcome at any communal outdoor gathering, this quinoa salad is the perfect potato-salad-pick-me-up thanks to its bold, refreshing flavors and novel pairing of well-known parts. Scallions, cucumber, almonds, strawberries, feta, parsley, and mint are nothing new; but tossed all together…does it work? Oh, you bet it does! No bite tastes the same with the infinite combinations of each chopped ingredient, transforming flavors as you dig deeper into the salad for the next surprising gustatory pop.

This recipe is the first I’ve used with champagne vinegar; a subtle, citrus acidity that delivers a much milder taste than it’s apple cider and white wine vinegar cousins. While I appreciated the subtleness, I think next time I’d use a bolder vinegar: for salad bites that didn’t contain the naturally acidic strawberry, I felt that the dressing could’ve used something more. I also forwent the almond oil only because I didn’t have any, but imagine that its nutty flavors would’ve helped meld the flavors even more seamlessly. (A smart calorie-conscious move would be to half the oil, no matter which kind you use—3 tablespoons is plenty!)

Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint (from PureWow)
Makes 6 side-servings (second helpings are inevitable, so if you’re hungry, feeds 4)

1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons almond oil*
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil*
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (can substitute apple cider or red/white wine vinegar)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 strawberries, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
½ English cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves

As I noted above, I recommend using no more than 3 tablespoons oil total.

1. In a medium saucepan set over high heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed all the water, about 12 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer the quinoa to a large baking sheet or plate and spread it out to cool to room temperature. This step is optional. If you are eating immediately, a slightly warmed quinoa tastes wonderful too.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk the almond oil with the olive oil, champagne vinegar and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the cooled quinoa with the strawberries, scallions, feta cheese, almonds, cucumber, parsley and mint. Re-whisk the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve.

Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
April 29, 2013

This Sweet and Smoky Beet Burger recipe comes straight out of my newly purchased cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. Believe it or not, I’m not a big cookbook buyer: I guess I can partially blame this on the lack of storage space in my closet of an apartment, but mostly it’s because I seek out a lot of my recipes from cooking websites and blogs. (Plus my two staple cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook and American Medical Association’s Family Health Cookbook, are so wonderfully comprehensive.)
That being said, what drove me to purchase The New Persian Kitchen? Specifically, to pre-order and carry home upon its arrival, hugged tightly in my arms, like a proud, excited child who had just acquired her very first homework assignment?
The descriptors in this recipe title —sweet and smoky—hold a clue. What drew me to The New Persian Kitchen was the juxtaposition of savory and sweet in almost every recipe. Riddled with the aromatic fresh herbs one would expect from Middle Eastern cooking: dill, mint, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon; a heavy reliance on onions and garlic, and unique regional spices such as turmeric, dried limes, and lemony sumac; this cookbook has it’s savory and spice side down pat. But what really intrigued me were the natural sweet flavors it was always paired with: pomegranate molasses, chopped dates, dried cherries, rose petals. The result is a balance of “hot” (gardi) and “cold” (sarmi) flavors, as Louisa describes, which play off each other in a most harmonious and flavorful fashion.
Case in point: these delicious burgers! Smoky paprika, sautéed onions and garlic, and earthy lentils and brown rice make up the bulk of the “meat” of these burgers, which are dotted with jewels of golden raisins, sweet beets, and nutty walnuts. (Yes, spend that extra $3 and buy golden raisins. It’s worth it!) These bursts of sweet flavor offer a pleasing, unexpected jolt that make this “veggie burger” anything but your plain ol’. Upgrade your choice of condiment by replacing ketchup with a saucy fruit chutney or cool mix of plain Greek yogurt, diced cucumbers and tomatoes stirred in red wine vinegar, and generous sprinkling of fresh dill.
This recipe makes 8 servings. I recommend making the entire batch and refrigerating (for up to 5 days) or freezing the remainder for another meal. Between the lentils and brown rice, the burgers take a bit of time to make, so get your prep done in one fell swoop to eliminate the time commitment for next round!

Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers (from The New Persian Kitchen)
Serves 8

2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil, plus extra for searing
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup peeled and grated beets (from about 1 small beet)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup walnuts
½ cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
½ cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and rained
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice, at room temperature
1 egg

1. In a medium skillet, warm the grapeseed or olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to soften and caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the beets, garlic, walnuts, raisins and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beets are starting to brown and the walnuts are toasted, about 8 minutes.
3. Transfer the onion-beet mixture to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until chunky. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the lentils, sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
4. Replace the bowl of the food processor (without washing) and blend the brown rice with the egg until a coarse puree forms. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture and mix with your hands until combined. Divide the mixture into 8 portions and shape each one into a patty just under 1 inch thick.
5. In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, warm enough grapeseed or olive oil to coat the bottom. Place the patties in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Gently flip the patties and reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook the patties until they are warmed through and have a firm, golden-brown crust, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the patties from the skillet and serve immediately with desired accompaniments.

Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
April 4, 2013

I’m going to start this post with a caveat: there will be no lighting your kitchen on fire in the making of this dish! My oh-so-poetic title for this Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé dish is not a flambé-gone-terribly-wrong kitchen horror story, but rather a well thought out cautionary approach with a likable rhyme to boot. I intentionally skipped the risk of lighting my kitchen (and myself) on fire by foregoing the flambé step. For all my chef 101s, flambé (pronounced flahm-BAY) is when one adds alcohol to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. But I am posting this recipe because despite forgoing the flames, this dish still has serious fire— and is totally delish.

This dish is AMAZING! I had no intention of even posting this afterthought of a quick weeknight dinner, but the dish was all around excellent and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. I’ve made a lot of pleasant yet mediocre white wine and tomato sauces for quick meals in the past, but the secret to this recipe is to use dry Vermouth—the naturally infused herbs in the alcohol pair perfectly with the succulent shrimp, which maintain that wonderful fire-kissed taste from the very first step, a quick sauté on high heat. Spicy chili flakes offer a nice kick against the acidic tomatoes and lemon. I wrote that baking the skillet to melt the feta was optional...but do you really want to skip that bubbling, golden goodness? I served this dish atop a hearty bed of quinoa, accompanied by a light salad of arugala tossed with olive oil, the lemon half you don’t need for this recipe, and salt & pepper. All done in 25 minutes from start to finish. So maybe no flame, but certainly worthy of a jeté!

Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé
Serves 2

2 tbsp EVOO, divided
1/2 lb (about 22) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry Vermouth
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup chopped parsley + 2 tbsp, divided
1/4 cup crumbed feta
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup cooked quinoa

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Flash cook shrimp for 1 minute, stirring frequently, until shrimp just begins to pink and the outsides turn brown. Remove shrimp from heat and set aside in a small bowl.

3. Add remaining olive oil (1 tbsp) to the skillet; reduce heat to medium- low. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly so garlic does not burn, for 2 minutes. Add in 1/4 cup dry Vermouth and cook until Vermouth thickens and half the liquid is evaporated; about 3 minutes.

4. Return heat to medium and add tomatoes to skillet. Cook for 2 minutes and add the rest of the Vermouth (1/4 cup), chopped parsley, and dash of salt & pepper. (lf at this point too much liquid has evaporated, pour in more Vermouth.) After 1 minute, return shrimp to skillet. Turn off heat.

5. Sprinkle juice from 1/2 lemon over shrimp and tomato mixture, and add the crumbled feta cheese. Place skillet in the oven and bake for 6 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden on top. (This step can be skipped if you don’t mind forgoing the baked feta. Simply sprinkle in skillet and stir around for a more cheesy sauce; or sprinkle raw feta atop dish before serving as a garnish.)

6. Remove skillet from oven. Pour contents of skillet evenly over 2 bowls of quinoa, and sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley.

Spinach and Matzoh Pie

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
March 25, 2013

The beginning of Passover kind of reminds me of the start of school. Every year it sort of creeps up on us, its commencement marked by the requisite shopping trip. The obligatory matzoh pick-up at the supermarket is like going to Staples for school supplies.

Opening the first box is reminiscent of a reunion with a long-lost friend. Its so good to see you again! Has it really been a whole year? But after we excitedly make our first matzoh PB & J and enthusiastically assemble some matzoh pizza, we start to get a bit bored of our square, unleavened friend. Maybe there’s a a matzoh brei thrown in there as well to mix it up (although I’ve never been a huge fan.) Serious Eats does offer a great guide of 3-ingredient matzoh sandwiches kosher for Passover here. But by day 5, its the texture variety from other grains like a toasted bagel or slippery bowl of pasta that I miss the most.

Luckily, our friends in the Mediterranean come to the rescue with this Spinach Matzoh Pie. Yep, its all Greek to me! This recipe swaps the paper-thin phyllo dough found in Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) with soaked matzoh sheets; creating a succulent, layered casserole with a distinct texture to relieve you of the mundaneness of consuming matzoh plain. And while a lot of classic Jewish savory mains like blintzes and kugels can be calorie-laden thanks to butter and margarine; the healthiness of this recipe is completely up to you: use fat-free milk, low-fat cottage cheese & reduced feta for a low-cal dish; or full-fat dairy if you desire a richer treat.

The two ingredients that really elevate this dish above and beyond your standard spinach & feta combo is the dill and nutmeg. Chopped dill adds an enlivening burst of freshness to each bite, while nutmeg contributes a nutty sweetness that pairs beautifully with the creamy cottage cheese. The matzoh textures are varied throughout too: while the top layer of matzoh is golden and crisp, the inner layers are incredibly soft, blending seamlessly with the pie’s delicious filling.

I have one strongly-opiniated piece of advice: Do NOT add extra salt to this recipe! Between the cottage cheese and feta, there is plenty of sodium to go around. I wasn’t really thinking and reflexively added a dash of salt & pepper to the spinach/onion mixture and cottage cheese blend; and my pie verged on overly salty. Next time I will definitely omit the salt.

Spinach and Matzoh Pie (adopted from Epicurious)
Serves 8

1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/3 cup chopped dill
1 (16-ounce) container cottage cheese
2 cups milk
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 ounces feta, crumbled (1 1/2 cups), divided
6 matzos (about 6 inches square)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
2. Cook onion in oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put spinach in a sieve and press out as much liquid as possible. (Or cook with the skillet top off so liquid evaporates.) Add spinach to onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup dill and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
3. Purée cottage cheese in a blender with milk, eggs, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Reserve 2 cups in a bowl and stir remainder into spinach with 1 cup feta.
4. Stack matzos in a deep dish and pour reserved cottage-cheese mixture over them. Let stand 15 minutes to soften.
5. Arrange 2 soaked matzos side by side in a generously oiled 13- by 9- by 2-inch (3-quart shallow) baking dish. Pour in half of spinach filling. Cover with 2 more matzos, then pour in remaining filling. Put remaining 2 matzos on top and pour any remaining cottage-cheese mixture over them. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup feta.
6. Bake, uncovered, until golden and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, and serve warm.

Pasta Con Sarde

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
February 2, 2013

One swallow does not a summer make. But one sardine does a winter make? For this humble but mighty fish, an unexpected cold-weather benefit confirms it surely does!

Named after the Italian island Sardinina, sardines are definitely the herring family’s hippest and healthiest member. Famed restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s newest West Village hotspot, Chez Sardine, literally translates to “House of Sardine.” And while ordering the minute ocean-dweller off a menu will most likely feature the fish in it’s entirety, eyes, skin and all; canned sardines (available skinless and boneless) provide an excellent alternative for easy and painless home cooking.

For such a little fish, the sardine’s health benefits are disproportionately tremendous to its size. Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health by lowering triglycerides and cholesterol levels, play a significant role in cancer prevention and bone and joint strength, and even promote ocular health. Worried about Mercury and PCBs? Not a problem in this bottom-of-the-food-chain fish. No wonder fish oil softgels are all the vitamin and supplement rage right now.

But in the dead of winter, when cold dry air manifests its nasty self in full force through thirsty skin and chapped lips, sardines offer an additional perk to these already lucrative health benefits: dry skin relief, packing a serious moisture punch from the inside out. Chockfull of essential fatty acids that calm inflammation and keep skin conditioned, sardines can help alleviate your winter epidermal woes— straight from the kitchen. Your own home, a chez sardine!

A frequent ingredient in Mediterranean and Italian cooking, sardines offer a briny, salty burst of flavor that enriches many a dish, especially pastas. In this classic Sicilian Pasta con Sarde, the fishy protein elevates a simple “pantry” spaghetti to a whole new level of sophistication, flavor and nutrition.
Sautéed in an ambrosial stew of tomato, fennel, garlic and raisins, the sardine chunks are disseminated throughout the sauce, toning down the fish’s concentrated intensity. The dish is finished with a generous smattering of toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts and fennel fronds to deliver a delightful crunch and texture twist against the slippery noodles.
Merci, chez sardine. Sincerely, your skin and taste buds.

Pasta Con Sarde
Serves 3-4

-1 tin sardines (can use skinless & boneless) packed in olive oil (about 4 ¼ oz.)
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, plus fronds
-½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
-1 cup crushed or diced canned tomatoes, with juice
-⅓ cup raisins
-¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
-3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
-¼ cup vermouth or cooking wine
-Juice of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon zest
-⅓ cup toasted whole-wheat breadcrumbs
-¾ pounds dry whole-wheat linguine or spaghetti
-Salt & Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Open the sardine tin and drain a tablespoon of the oil into a large skillet, over medium heat. Add fennel (not fronds) and cook until fennel softens and begins to caramelize. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes in their juice and the raisins. Cook uncovered, so the liquid reduces, and then pour in vermouth or cooking wine, simmering for 5 more minutes.
Add the sardines to the skillet, breaking up slightly with a spatula. Meanwhile, pulse together toasted breadcrumbs and parsley in a blender or food processor, and then add 1 tablespoon of lemon zest to the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside.
Add lemon juice to the tomato mixture, and season with salt and pepper.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions. When pasta is al dente, drain and transfer to the skillet, cooking for 3 more minutes. Add a tablespoon of pasta water if sauce looks in need of liquid.
Serve pasta immediately, sprinkled generously with breadcrumb mixture, pine nuts, and fennel fronds.

Spiced Citrus Tofu Veggie Scramble

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
January 26, 2013

I’m at it again—in defense of tofu.

I woke up on this lazy Saturday morning, in deep rumination over what kind of omelette to make for breakfast; conducting a complete mental inventory of all available veggies and cheeses. I open the fridge, and:

No eggs. I blink. No. Really? Really, confirms the refrigerator. It’s 17°F degrees outside, Accuweather informs me. Feels like: 11°F. Inside, I’m already wearing a blanket and wool socks. So my corner bodega run is out of the question.

And then I see, partially obscured in the crowded kitchen cabinet, a box of silken tofu. It is staring at me. (It IS.) I challenge you, it smirks silently. OK, I think, challenge accepted! Let’s do this. I’ve been reading a lot of rave reviews over tofu breakfast scrambles; egg-lovers swear they are converts to the soy substitute based solely on this dish.

This recipe is fantastic. The silken tofu was so light and airy, producing a crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth effect. The orange juice, apple cider vinegar and soy sauce yielded a very tempered acidity, and the light spice provided flavor without overpowering in the least. Put it this way: even though the scramble has hints of tumeric and cumin, this is NOT an Indian curry dish. It is 100% breakfast appropriate. A bountiful assortment of veggies add a wonderful flavor and nutrient boost to the piquant protein, plus a lovely crunch thanks to the kale and carrots. All wrapped up in a whole-wheat tortilla, this scramble is the perfect way to start your day. I enjoyed the tofu veggie scramble wrap plain, but you could definitely serve with a side of salsa.

Another nice things about tofu breakfast scrambles is their versatility; seasonal/favorite vegetables are welcomed based on your preference—mix it up to keep the recipe fresh—and spices are flexible. Tumeric is often used because it’s yellow color is reminiscent of eggs, but if you’re not feeling the spices, consider mixing your scramble with chopped parsley or basil. Cheese (vegan or real) is also a great addition; I chose feta, which complemented the leafy greens.

Spiced Citrus Tofu Veggie Scramble (derived from Lunch Box Bunch)
Serves 3-4

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, shredded (or 1 cup matchstick carrots)
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp tumeric
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 small orange, juiced (about 1/4 - 1/3 cup juice) +1 tsp orange zest OR 2 Tbsp orange juice concentrate
15 ounces extra firm tofu, cubed or Silken tofu, well-chopped
1 cup frozen or fresh spinach
1 cup kale, thinly sliced, ribs removed
Optional veggies: shredded zucchini, swiss chard, bell pepper, mushrooms, tomato
Optional cheese: feta, mozzarella, cheddar, vegan cheese
Whole-Wheat tortillas

1. Prepare tofu, squeezing out as much excess tofu liquid as possible. (This can be achieved by wrapping tofu in a paper towel and microwaving for 1-2 minutes).
2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, and about half the amounts of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, tumeric, cumin and a dash of pepper. Saute until the onions have translucent edges and the carrots have softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add in the remaining amounts of the seasonings, along with the tofu, orange juice and orange zest (or orange juice concentrate). Saute for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, cover off so the excess liquid evaporates.

5. Taste-test the mixture and modify the spices as needed.
6. When tofu is just about cooked and all the excess liquid has been absorbed or steamed off, add in spinach and kale. Saute until veggies wilt.
7. Remove pan from heat. Fold in cheese, if desired. Transfer scramble to a large bowl.
8. In the same pan, heat a light coating of olive oil from a spritzer (or cooking spray). Add tortillas, one at a time, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until tortilla browns. Flip and cook for same amount on the other side. Spoon scramble into warm tortillas, and serve with salsa if desired.

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini

From Kvell in the Kitchen by
January 15, 2013

In winter, I find that I’m prone to two distinct types of soup cravings. The first is for hearty chunky soups, like a loaded minestrone, and the second demands a thick pureed soup, like a smooth-as-silk squash. Possessed of the latter, I found the prettiest acorn squash at the Farmers Market last week (I have to brag, it was gorgeous!), and set out to make this Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini.
I can’t say enough about what an exquisite medium acorn squash is for a soup. It perfectly complements the flavors of so many soup-friendly ingredients. Apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves enhance the squash’s natural sweetness, while autumn-rich notes like sage, ginger and onion tip the scale towards savory, balancing out the sweet. Beta-carotene rich carrots gives the soup a substantive texture boost while illuminating it’s signature orange hue. The result: a melt-in-your-mouth maze of flavors, every bite as smooth as it is scrumptious—and nutrient packed too! In fact, this soup is so rich in taste that a generous dollop of Greek yogurt is recommended to mellow it out a bit pre-serving, adding even further creaminess along with a healthy protein boost.
Equipped with a a flattened, round loaf of Nordic Bread’s Finnish Ruis bread—a dense, hoppy-tasting whole-grain rye from the Union Square Greenmarket —I set out to make croutons, but the bread proved too flat. Instead, I came up with something even better: crostini mini-spoons! I toasted thin, slivers of bread, which crisped perfectly in the toaster oven thanks to a quick spritz of olive oil. The crostini mini-spoons acted as the perfect vessel to sop up the pureed soup. Cut along a thin diagonal, the crostini slivers can also be made easily with a whole-grain baguette.
Upon serving, the dish was really beautiful: a vibrant tangerine-hued soup, laced with thin swirls of creamy white yogurt, accented with the floating crostini crisps on top. Add a thyme sprig for a final aesthetic touch, and this one-pot-wonder—a must-have starter for cold-weather dinner parties— will certainly turn heads. Warning: requests for second helpings will keep your ladle busy!
Time Saving Tip: The squash can be roasted up to a day in advance, and then refrigerated until you’re ready to start the soup. Also, after removing the squash seeds, feel free to salt & roast them along with the squash, removing from heat after 30 minutes. They make a nice crunchy snack while waiting for the soup!
Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini (derived from A Sweet Pea Chef)
Yield: serves 4 as main dishes; 6 as a side


2 acorn squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 large gala, macintosh or jonah gold apple, cored and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground allspice (or even parts cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove)
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste
balsamic or red wine vinegar
optional garnishs: rye crostini, Greek yogurt (non-fat or low-fat), thyme sprig

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place squash, skin-side-down, onto baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper. Roast in oven for 45-50 minutes, or until flesh is tender and skin is starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, remove flesh from skin by using a spoon and scooping out the flesh. Discard skin and set flesh aside.
3. In a large, deep pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add carrots, apple, and onions and saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Once tender, add ginger, sage, cayenne, allspice, squash and vegetable or chicken stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and puree mixture, either with an immersion blender (my fav!), a blender (in batches) or a food processor.
4. Once pureed, add salt & pepper, adjusting seasoning to taste. Mix in a generous splash of vinegar. Garnish with rye crostini*, dollop of Greek yogurt, and thyme spring, if desired.

To make rye crostini, cut bread or baguette very thinly on the diagonal. Line a shallow baking dish with tin foil and arrange slices in a single player, mist with a generous spritz of olive oil. Bake in oven or toaster oven until brown and crispy.

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Rachel Levine

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