New Ingredient Week Three: Bok Choy

I know that any leafy green vegetable is packed full of nutrients, but aside from salad greens, I bypassed most of them in the produce section. Until several months ago, kale seemed to me like some vegetable from the dinosaur age. Then I discovered that it is a good substitute for spinach in many recipes (think portabello and kale lasagna!).

Soon the bok choy was beckoning me. I have had bok choy (aka Chinese cabbage) in various dishes at Asian restaurants, but one of the intimidating things about getting a new veggie in my own kitchen is deciding how to prep it. That is why the cook book Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop is a handy resource. If I am wondering how to prepare or store a vegetable, I turn to this book. Each vegetable has a description and several recipes.

With bok choy, just separate the leafy greens from the stalks (as with kale). But hang on to the stalks! They need to be cooked longer than the greens, but both parts are delicious.

DSC_9267Braised Bok Choy with Garlic (adapted from Vegetables Every Day)


1 large head of bok choy                                                                                                         2 tablespoons olive oil                                                                                                             3 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                             1 cup vegetable broth                                                                                                           salt                                                                                                                                             black pepper

1. Separate leafy greens and stalks. Chop and discard the rough ends of the stalks. Chop the greens and stalks and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large pan. Stir fry the stalks for two minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for two more minutes

3. Add the greens, vegetable broth, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about ten minutes. Remove the lid and increase the heat for 3-4 minutes to evaporate the excess liquid. Serve and enjoy!

bok choy bowl

Noodles and Tofu (adapted from Hilary Phelps’s blog Genuine Joy)


  • 8 ounces soba noodles (or pad thai noodles)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 package extra firm tofu, pressed, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper cut into thin strips
  • 1 1/2 pounds of broccoli, broken into florets
  • 1 pound bok choy, stems and leaves separated
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • Sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Cook soba noodles according to directions on package
  2. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Sauté veggies and garlic with lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. (add bok choy leaves only for the last few minutes)
  3. In a separate pan, fry the tofu for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden
  4. Meanwhile make sauce by whisking together peanut butter, vinegar soy sauce, and sesame oil, and red pepper falkes. If sauce seems too thick you can thin with water.
  5. Add noodles, tofu and sauce to pan. Toss and cook until heated through.
  6. Top with sesame (if using)

The verdict? Bok choy is crunchy and delicious. I enjoyed the braised bok choy with garlic as a side dish, but as part of the noodles and tofu stir fry it was truly delicious.

Question of the day: What is your favorite leafy green?


Barley, Take Two

Over the years, I’ve learned that the first three rules of cooking are ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. If I start with good ingredients and don’t burn anything, chances are the outcome will be fairly tasty.

I found this recipe for Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad on Smitten Kitchen’s blog. The recipe originally appeared in Gourmet, and I can see why. The long list of ingredients was a bit intimidating, but they combine to create an explosion of color, texture, and taste.

This would be a great salad to make at the end of summer with veggies fresh from the garden, but I couldn’t wait another four months to test it out. I could see this being a smash hit at a picnic or potluck.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

Makes 4 (main course) or 8 (side dish) servings

1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium vegetable broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved (I only had green olives in the house, and they tasted fine)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion                                                                                              1/2 cup chopped scallion
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Cook barley: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook the cumin, coriander, and paprika, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Remove cover and allow to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Roast eggplant and zucchini: Toss eggplant and zucchini in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Let stand for 20 minutes to an hour. Rinse with cold water and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Remove from the pans from the oven and let the vegetables cool.

Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well.

barley saladThe recipe is vegan, but I’ll admit that I sprinkled a bit of feta cheese on top.

barley salad iiAlthough he was skeptical about the chickpea blondies, Jesse gobbled up this salad and wants me to make it again soon. Success!

Surprising Ingredient: Chickpeas

For the second week of my recipe challenge, I used one of my all-time favorite ingredients–chickpeas–in an unusual way.

Chickpeas are versatile. I love curried chickpeas, I love hummus, and I love falafel. I could eat chickpeas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner . . . even dessert. When I came across this recipe for Gooey PB&J Blondies from Chocolate Covered Katie in a VegNews Magazine newsletter, I was intrigued. These are vegan and also gluten-free. I am not vegan, but I try to keep my dairy and egg consumption to a minimum. So when I come across a simple vegan dessert recipe, I am eager to give it a try.

Gooey PB&J Blondies

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (or white beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup jam (Any flavor. I used grape.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend all ingredients (except jam) in a food processor until very smooth. Scoop into a greased 8×8 pan. Spread the jam on top. Bake for 35 minutes.

Note: My blondies started getting brown on top, so I took them out after 25 minutes. This was too soon! I should have covered the dish with aluminum foil and continued baking them for another 5-10 minutes.



The result? Well, I ate them all and didn’t take a picture of the final product. I thought they were yummy. Perhaps more cookie than blondie. If I had done a blind taste test, I would not have guessed that chickpeas were the main ingredient.

Question of the day: What is your favorite way to eat chickpeas?

New Ingredient Week 1: Barley

I enjoy cooking. The methodical process of chopping ingredients is relaxing. Recipes are simultaneously math problems and chemistry experiments. (For example, one time the garlic in my pasta dish turned blue when I added lemon juice. What chemical reaction caused this remains a mystery. Thankfully, my dear friend was still brave enough to eat the pasta, and no one got sick.) I enjoy the medley of colors in a salad or a stir fry. The best part, of course, is serving others and watching loved ones’ plates empty.

But sometimes I get lazy. The thought of dirty pots and pans strewn around the kitchen–and the clean up that entails–causes me to open the freezer and grab a veggie burger. They involve only one plate and are ready to eat in ninety seconds.

And sometimes I get bored. Nothing in the pantry sounds appealing. So I end up going out to eat.

I am going to combat my laziness and cooking doldrums with an experiment. Each week, I am going to choose an ingredient that I’ve never cooked with (or use an ingredient in a non-traditional way) and prepare a dish with that ingredient. Although you readers can’t taste the results, I will share the recipe with you here.

The first ingredient is barley. When I chose this, I was actually looking for millet, but my little grocery store didn’t carry it. In the organic section, I found a bag of pearled barley and tossed that in my cart instead, uncertain what exactly I would do with it.

Barley seems like a fairly ordinary ingredient, but it’s never made an appearance in my own kitchen. What to do with this newcomer? After Googling several recipes, I settled on a risotto. Creamy risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice, and I liked the idea of putting a new spin on this tasty comfort food.

I combined two recipes: Smitten Kitchen’s Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens and this Barley Risotto Recipe on Mark Bittman’s site.

I apologize for the lack of photos. The lighting in my kitchen is often bad, and my food photos frequently come out looking decidedly unappetizing. Also, I often gobble down my dishes before thinking to snap a photo. I promise to work on these issues.

mushrooms ii

Barley Risotto

Serves 4

  • 12 oz. mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Wash the mushrooms, pat them dry, and slice them.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and soft, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley, garlic and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions, until the barley is creamy and al dente. This will take between 35 and 45 minutes.
  5. Stir in the mushrooms and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, topping each serving with a few shavings of cheese.

The verdict? I thought it was extremely delicious. Jesse cleaned his plate, but he felt arborio rice results in a creamier risotto.

Be forewarned: making risotto is a labor intensive process. Your arm will get a workout from all the stirring. I usually make risotto on a weekend evening when I have lots of time on my hands. While stirring the barley, I listened to music and sipped a glass of wine, and I was quite content.

Questions of the Day: Do you enjoy cooking, or do you avoid spending time in the kitchen? How do you combat cooking boredom?