Chickpeas and Greens with Bacon

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I told you I was going to feature the pressure cooker again soon, didn’t I? The first time cooking dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker was such a success: 8-hours of soaking, about 10 minutes for the pressure cooker to warm up, and 6-7 minutes of steady cooking resulted in perfect beans, whereas regular stovetop simmering would have added more than an hour. Last time, I started with a little more than half bag of dried chickpeas and ended up with cooked beans that were delicious on their own, then added to a salad, and then transformed into hummus. For the rest of the bag, I wanted the chickpeas to be used in a recipe that used some of the broth and incorporated other ingredients I had on hand. It would also be useful if the leftovers of the dish could be easily reheated for lunch, as I hustled around the house while the wee one napped.

A search on The New York Times Cooking website brought up a “Garbanzos and Greens with Chorizo” recipe. I didn’t have chorizo, but I did have an open package of bacon. I didn’t have kale or chard, but in the freezer, I had a bag of collard greens that I had blanched and frozen weeks before (collards are sold in such HUGE bunches, aren’t they?). Since collards and bacon often go together anyway, it was meant to be!

Note: you could omit the bacon to make this vegetarian. Just amp up the smoked paprika (one of my favorite pantry spices).

Chickpeas and Greens with Bacon
Adapted from The New York Times Cooking

For the chickpeas and broth:
About 1/2 bag or 1 Cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
½ small onion
, plus 1 clove
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bay leaf
A generous amount of salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

For the beans and greens:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
, diced (about 1 Cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 6 ounces bacon, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
3 Tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 bunch of collard greens – or kale, or chard, washed and cut into slices

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Soak the chickpeas overnight or all day (I soaked mine about 6 hours.) Drain and put in the pressure cooker. Add the onion half and clove, chopped carrot, bay leaf, and vegetable oil and cover with 6 Cups of water. Reference the directions that come with the pressure cooker to make sure you are using it correctly and safely. I put mine over a high flame until the lid sealed and the pressure regulator began to rock. I them set the timer (for 7 minutes) and lowered the heat so the regulator was rocking steadily but not excessively throughout the cooking time.

In the meantime, chop your other ingredients, and toast and grind your cumin seeds.
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When the chickpeas are done (and the pressure has lowered and the lid can be opened), season generously (and I mean generously) with salt.

In a wide, high-sided skillet, heat olive olive oil over medium-high. Add the onion and salt and pepper and cook until softened and turning slightly brown. Add the bacon and cook until browned.
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When the chickpeas were done, I removed the onion, carrot and bay leaf from the pot and then strained the mixture, saving the broth and separating the chickpeas.

Into the bacon-onion mixture, stir the garlic, smoked paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin. Then add the chickpeas and about 1/2 Cup of the chickpea cooking broth.
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Turn the heat up until the liquid is at a simmer; add the greens and salt and pepper. If using fresh greens, stir until they wilt. Otherwise, put the lid on the pan and allow to cook for a few minutes.
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Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Then transfer a portion into each individual soup bowl for serving.
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Ladle 1 Cup of broth into each bowl. Sprinkle with remaining cumin and pine nuts.
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Serve with a toasted baguette slice or two to soak up the broth. Enjoy with a celebratory glass of sparkling wine!
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Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin

The summer has been much cooler than previous summers, which has been refreshing. Lower energy bills are a perk, and subway and walking commutes are much less sticky. But the lower temperatures mean that my tomatoes have been pokey about ripening. I’m getting impatient! Chances are, as always, as soon as a couple of fruits start ripening, too many will, and I will be scrambling. Before that happens, I stole a few unripened tomatoes from the plant to make this dish.
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This is the first time I have tapped into the green tomatoes so early. There are usually some left over on the plant when the first frost creeps in, and I snatch them before my garden is winterized.

I make fried green tomatoes at least once every year. They keep me in touch with my southern roots. Buttermilk dressings and remoulade sauce make excellent pairings. In this recipe, lightly fried tomatoes make the topping of the gratin. It seems to me more like a crustless quiche of Swiss chard and Gruyère cheese with a green tomato topping.
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I hope you’re not getting sick of me posting about chard. Remember, you can substitute pretty much any hearty green..spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, etc. I just happen to have chard again!
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Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin
Reproduced from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in The New York Times

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves
1 lb green tomatoes, sliced a little less than 1/2 inch thick
1/2-3/4 Cup cornmeal for dredging, as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 Cup milk
Approx 1/2 Cup or 2-3 ounces Gruyère cheese
, grated

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Prepare your 2-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray or olive oil.

To blanch the swiss chard leaves, fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. While the water heats, dice the swiss chard stems and set aside to be combined with the chopped onion.

Taste the rainbow.

Taste the rainbow.


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Once boiling, drop the chard leaves in the water and blanch for about 1 minute.
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Lift out of the water and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Put the leaves in a colander to drain excess water. Chop and set aside.

Slice your green tomatoes. This is a little tedious with the plum tomatoes–ideally you have abundant round beefsteak or big boys. Season the slices with a little salt and pepper, and add a little salt and pepper to the cornmeal as well.
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Dredge the tomatoes in the cornmeal.
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Glug 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the tomatoes for about two minutes each side, until they are just starting to turn golden. A narrow flexible spatula, like the type used for fish, is helpful for turning over the slippery suckers. When done, transfer to a plate and set aside.
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While frying the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add more olive oil to the now-empty pan and pour in the onion and chopped chard stems. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Add a pinch of salt, some grinds of pepper, and your minced garlic.
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Cook for about a minute, and then finally add the thyme and chopped chard. Stir everything together over medium heat for another minute. Good luck keeping it in the pan as your stir! Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, whisk the 3 eggs with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour in the milk, stir, and then add the cheese and chard and stir. Pour into your baking dish.
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Layer the tomatoes over the top.
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Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The gratin is done when the eggs are set and it is beginning to brown.

Could be browner.

Could be browner.


This makes a generous 6 servings, so I will be enjoying it all week!
Chow down!

Chow down!

Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta

I’m due for a follow up on the last post, Chard Stem Hummus! What did I make with the de-stemmed leaves? Something unbelievably easy. Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta.
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You probably already know that the chard leaves lend themselves to a wide range of recipes. The leaves show up in recipes calling for some tomato here, a few dried fruits and nuts there, a touch of vinegar, or perhaps a little cheese. Last week I enjoyed Chard, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyère Crepes; also easy and delicious. I recently finished skimming through the expansive the book Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison. Deborah lists the following as good companions for chard:DSC_9290

  • olive oil, butter, sesame oil
  • quinoa, rice, potatoes, white beans, lentils, chickpeas, pasta
  • garlic, thyme, cilantro, basil, cumin, saffron, nutmeg
  • fresh lemon, aged red wine vinegars
  • eggs, cream, Gruyère, Parmesan cheese, tahini
  • My selected recipe is spot on with several of the recommendations. As for eggs, I’m not one of those people who thinks to reach for eggs as a dinner ingredient (besides in crepe and other batters or dough). However, in this recipe I can easily imagine the soft polenta replaced with soft scrambled eggs, served with some rustic toast on the side.

    Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta
    Adapted from Cooking Light on myrecipes.com
    Scaled to serve 2

    IngredientsDSC_9287
    a few slices prosciutto or pancetta
    , about 1 ounce, cut or torn into 1/4-inch pieces
    Cooking spray
    1 Tablespoon garlic
    , minced
    3/4 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme
    , chopped
    4 Cups Swiss chard leaves, coarsely chopped
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    1 Cup prepared polenta
    , cooked from yellow cornmeal by following this recipe (scale down by at least half if feeding only 2 people) or freshly made instant polenta cooked according to package directions
    1/8 cup (.5 ounce) Parmesan cheese, shaved

    Head a large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Cook prosciutto about 10 minutes, until crisped. Removed the crispy pieces from pan and set aside.

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!


    Add garlic and stir into the drippings in the pan for about 30 seconds. Pour in broth and add thyme. Raise the stove temperature to bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes to reduce by half.

    Add chard, salt, and pepper. Toss to incorporate.
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    Cover the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until chard is tender, about 3 minutes.

    Spoon over polenta and top with prosciutto and Parmesan shavings.
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    Spring Vegetable Ramen

    Viki collageIt’s no big secret that I’m a big fan of vegetables in the garlic and onion family, also known as Allium vegetables. I haven’t yet gone to the trouble of calculating, but Allium species ingredients may be in 95% of my recipes on this blog! allium Onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, chives–I love ’em all. One of my favorite bulbs that blooms in spring happens to be named Allium as well! Those flowers peaked weeks ago. The time for ramps has passed. Summer officially began last Saturday, and what do we have now? Garlic scapes. Those are the antennae in the goofy photo above.

    I found an exciting way to use my scapes among Blue Apron’s weekly meal offerings. I like that they publish recipes on their website without requiring you to purchase the boxes, like I did recently. I’ll be honest, the recipe probably caught my eye because of the prominence of a slightly soft egg yolk in the picture. Also, it’s about time I join in on the country’s enthusiasm for ramen (though I refuse to make it with American cheese).
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    As a soup, you can really design this dish however you want. I chose to shop for a few items (mushrooms, peas, nori, and ramen noodles), and I had the rest ready to go.

    Spring Vegetable Ramen
    with Garlic Scapes, Shiitake Mushrooms and Egg

    Adapted from Blue Apron

    5 ounces fresh english peas, shelled
    4 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
    2 eggs
    2 garlic scapes
    , thinly sliced
    2 scallion, white and green parts thinly sliced separately
    1 1-Inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
    1 lemon
    1 sheet nori
    (dried seaweed)
    4 Cups vegetable broth or stock
    2 Tablespoons soy sauce
    12 ounces ramen noodles
    2 ounces arugula
    Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
    , which will depend greatly on the seasoning in your broth

    I thawed a chunk of homemade (chicken) broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but you'll need vegetable if you're keeping it vegetarian, of course.

    I thawed a chunk of homemade [chicken] broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but obviously you’ll need vegetable if you’re keeping it vegetarian.

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    Take out all your ingredients for preparation, including the eggs. The eggs should come to room temperature before cooking. I was particularly nervous about this step because when I attempted to make hard-boiled eggs last week, I followed Martha Stewart’s instructions here, and it was a major failure.

    Set a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil while you prep all of the vegetables.

    Tip: you can use one prep bowl for your sliced garlic scapes, the whites of your scallions, and the minced ginger. The green parts of the scallions should have their own bowl. The shelled peas have their own bowl.
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    Remove some of the yellow rind of the lemon with a peeler. Avoid the white pith. Mince the rind finely. Measure 2 teaspoons and set aside. Quarter the lemon, remove its seeds, and set aside.

    Make thin strips of nori with a knife or scissors (one of my favorite kitchen tools!).
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    Carefully add the room-temperature eggs to the boiling water and set a timer for exactly 7 minutes. Then drain and rinse under cold water for about a minute to prevent them from cooking further.

    In the same pot in which you boiled the eggs, set some more salted water to boil (yay less dishes!).
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    In a second, larger pot, add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat over medium heat.

    Pour in the ingredients in your one bowl of scapes, green onion, and minced ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for a minute or two until slightly softened.

    Add the mushrooms and cook for about a minute more. Then pour in the vegetable broth, soy sauce, and lemon zest. Squeeze in the juice from two of the lemon wedges, to start.
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    Increase the heat to bring the broth to a boil. Then lower the heat so the mixture simmers; let it go for 8-10 minutes.

    Moment of truth: while the broth simmers, peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. (SUCCESS! Solid whites and slightly gooey yolk.)

    Squeeze lemon juice over the arugula and toss. Add salt and pepper.

    When the broth is about ready, stir in the peas, season with more salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Leave lid on to keep warm while you cook the noodles.

    Add the noodles to your pot of boiling water, stirring to separate. Cook according to package directions. Drain rinse with warm water.

    In two large bowls, divide the noodles.
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    Pour broth in bowls. Garnish with the dressed arugula, scallions greens, nori strips, and eggs. Add a bit more lemon juice if needed.
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    That's what I'm talking about.

    That’s what I’m talking about.

    Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

    A haiku:

    ‘Tis salad season
    What came in this week’s farm share?
    Yes, lettuce again.

    It is the time of year to have greens on the brain. My Golden Earthworm Organic Farm CSA started distributing its shares just three weeks ago, and I am already racing to keep up. I don’t to come across as complaining–this is some of the freshest, most nutritious food I can eat. And remember Crystal’s experiment? You might be interested in catching up with her here. Sounds like she might enjoy salad right now.

    I used recipes from all different sources for my weeks’ inspiration. There was the Warm Orzo Salad with radishes and Dijon vinaigrette, from Good Housekeeping magazine, which I ate spooned over mixed greens. I cracked open Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II to mix it up and make Red Romaine Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Garlic.
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    Joy the Baker inspired me to use the baby kale in her Tuna, Kale, and Egg Salad recipe.
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    A real highlight, these strawberries arrived in last week’s share. Eating them sliced over arugula with balsamic glaze drizzle was almost as good as dessert, and I didn’t even add the usual goat cheese!

    One particular kale salad I made last week was special. It was a rock star salad; it rocked with flavor. Since kale is so hip, perhaps I should call it a pop star salad? If so, it would compare to those pop stars you think of and say, “he’s so famous, he can’t be any good,” and then you end up being impressed by his talent.

    Once again, this salad has an Asian flair–the soy sauce, the spice, the peanut butter. It reminded me of the flavors I loved so much at a restaurant named Chin Chin, in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the kind of heat that makes your nose run a little, but you don’t feel like you’re dying.

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    Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
    from Food52 user dymnyno

    Salad*:
    1 large bunch lacinato kale, chopped very small
    1 Cup fresh mint, minced, or a combination of fresh mint and fresh cilantro
    1 Cup walnuts, chopped

    Dressing:
    3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
    3 Tablespoons warm water
    3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
    1 Tablespoon soy sauce
    1 teaspoon fresh garlic
    , minced
    2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
    1 teaspoon sesame oil
    1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

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    *These quantities aren’t meant to be precise. I realize that a “large” bunch is very subjective–usually one of my pet peeves in recipes, so I should have given you a weight by ounces. But the idea is to vary the ratios based on your taste preferences and what you have at home. In my case, I had leftover cilantro, a herb that would sensibly fit in with this flavor profile.

    DSC_8726Mint was one of the first plants to assert itself in my garden this spring. Some people consider them weeds, they take over so much. If you have to pull some up, try to use it in a salad before tossing the rest!

    When you are prepping the salad, the step of mincing the kale makes such a big difference in the texture. Kale can be tough, and this method helps tenderize the leaves without pre-cooking them. I found that the most efficient way to mince the kale was to remove the stems, stack and leaves, roll them up, and slice, using the chiffonade method. See below.
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    Toss the chopped kale, chopped herbs, and the walnuts together.
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    DSC_8741To a blender or food processor, add the peanut butter, warm water, garlic, rice wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, soy sauce, minced ginger, sesame oil and red chili flakes. Mix at high speed until everything is smooth. So easy.

    Since every bunch of kale is a different size, and every salad is going to be a different size, pour just some of the dressing into the salad at first. Add more as you go until you feel it is adequately dressed, and save the rest for another salad.
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    I see more rock star salads like this in my future. But the next batch of green lettuce I get? I think I’ll put some on a burger.
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    Salmon Salad – Plated

    Last year, I ordered a box from Hello Fresh so I could test out the recipe-kit home delivery service. These types of meal kits are now delivered by a growing number of companies, suggesting that the model appeals to a substantial number of people. Or perhaps it is a fad. It would be great if these were an answer to the question I often hear from my single, on-the-go friends: if I buy ingredients to cook at home for myself one night, what am I supposed to do with all the excess? I’m only one person! I’m not so sure these boxes are the perfect solution. My conclusion about Hello Fresh was that its meal options were good and the prices fair, but the ingredient ratios were off, the instructions incomplete, and the serving count questionable. I also wished that Hello Fresh could somehow consider the fact I have a more well-stocked pantry than most.

    A friend of mine had high praised for Plated, another service aimed at simplifying home cooking. Taking advantage of a promotion, I decided to give this one a try as well. I selected a seafood choice for one of my meals, once again, since fish is expensive. I’m also trying to incorporate the recommended two servings of healthy fish per week. My second meal choice was a pulled barbecue chicken with a pico de gallo salsa.

    To assess Plated, let’s start with the packaging. The box is lined with an insulated bag.
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    The meat and fish are stored in the bottom of the box, covered with frozen packs that are reusable.

    I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!

    I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!


    Then there’s the produce, some of which is in its own packaging, and some of which I find in the larger bags labeled by recipes.
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    The fresh tomatoes didn’t fare too well with this; they were packaged near a heavy can of beans and ended up bruised.

    I saw that these bags were labeled “Greenbags,” which sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t recall the features.
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    I got excited when I thought they might be biodegradable, but when I looked them up I didn’t see that in the description–they are meant to absorb the ethylene gas that can make produce ripen and rot too quickly. At least I can reuse them for other fruits and vegetables.

    I wasn’t ready to cook the day the box arrived, but it was easy to transfer the individual packages to the refrigerator. The next day, I pulled out my ingredients and recipe card for Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette.
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    Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette
    From Plated

    1 medium tomato, seeded and minced
    1 shallot, minced
    1 lemon, juiced
    1/2 bunch of chives, minced
    1 Tablespoon honey
    1/4 Cup sherry vinegar
    3 Tablespoons of olive oil
    , divided
    1 Cup arugula
    3 ounces frisée
    3 ounces radicchio
    1 small head butter lettuce
    2 fillets wild Alaskan salmon
    salt and black pepper

    The first step on Plated’s card is “Prepare ingredients.” This is where it provides instructions such as “Rinse X. Rise and Mince X. Slice X.” I included some of those directions in my list of ingredients, like I usually do. Basically, the salad dressing is made first, and then most of that is tossed with the greens.
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    Right away, I made some disappointing observations. The shallot was fairly large, and the tomato was not. They were basically the same size. I made the executive decision to use 2/3 of the shallot, which was probably still more than necessary.
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    Seeding the tomato.

    Seeding the tomato.


    To make the dressing, combine tomato, shallot, chive, juice of one lemon, honey, and sherry vinegar.
    You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.

    You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.


    Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don't have honey at home?

    Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don’t have honey at home?


    Gradually add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Taste and add salt and pepper to season.

    The next set of challenges involved the salad greens, which are to be combined in a large bowl. After everything is washed, the frisée is to be trimmed first to discard root (I didn’t seem much of a root), the radicchio needs its core removed and a thin slice, and the arugula can go in as is.
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    The instructions for the butter lettuce were “rinse and tear into bite-size pieces.” The problem: the head of butter lettuce was very, very sandy and gritty. That is not going to dissipate with a “rinse”–the only way to get rid of the grit is to slosh the separated leaves in a bowl of cold water, lift them out (leaving the dirt behind), and then rinse again in a colander/salad spinner. Unless you’re sure that people ordering this plate know about the persistent grit, I think it’s important to include cleaning tips like this.
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    In addition, this was a massive amount of salad. I started with one bowl, but had to switch to a larger bowl to accommodate it all. I still had trouble keeping everything contained during the next step, which is to pour in half of the dressing and toss to coat.

    Bowl attempt # 1.

    Bowl attempt # 1.


    I'm pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.

    I’m pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.


    Time to prepare the salmon. The instructions say to rinse and pat dry with paper towels. I’ve never been a rinse-r of meats and fish, but since the salmon was sealed in some kind of liquid, I followed directions. The fillets were very soggy, so the drying step was key.

    Season with salt and pepper.
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    Heat about 1 Tablespoon of olive or other vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat–something nonstick but heavy would be best. When hot, add salmon, flesh-side down, and cook until golden on the outside, 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side, careful not to overcook beyond medium-rare.
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    Arrange salad on two plates and place salmon on top. Spoon over some of the reserved dressing.
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    Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

    Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

    My husband joined me for dinner and suffered through some of the bitter elements of the salad. Perhaps this recipe wasn’t the best choice for us because of the salad; I could have done without the frisée myself, since I find its frizzy texture only appropriate in very select dishes, and I already knew the radicchio would be strong. Of course, I could have easily left those parts out. The salad dressing was tasty and paired well with the salmon, but it needed more tomato and could have had more honey or sugar to balance all the bitterness.

    As you may have guessed, I reached a similar conclusion for Plated as I had for Hello Fresh: it may not produce the best results for newbie cooks, or those who tend to follow recipes word-for-word. It certainly doesn’t guarantee proper portions for the selected number of “plates,” which means that people aren’t cutting back as much on food waste as they might think. As long as you keep that in mind, you might enjoy the healthy, high-quality ingredients and the convenience of avoiding a trip to the grocery store.

    Plated Rating (sample size of 1, on a scale of 1-5):
    Packaging: 3
    Ingredients (freshness): 3
    Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 2
    Instructions: 2
    Recipe uniqueness: 4
    Accuracy of portion sizing: 1
    Taste: 3

    Tuscan Soup

    It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

    Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

    I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


    It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

    I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

    I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
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    Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
    From Blue Apron
    2-4 servings

    Part 1 ingredients:
    1 onion, diced
    4 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    salt and pepper to taste

    Part 2 ingredients:
    about 8 ounces kale (any type)
    1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
    1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    3.5 Cups vegetable broth

    salt and pepper to taste

    Part 3 ingredients:
    2 slices sourdough bread
    , or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
    1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
    1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
    2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
    salt and pepper to taste

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    The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

    Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
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    In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
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    Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

    To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

    See why you need a large pot?

    See why you need a large pot?


    Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
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    Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
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    If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
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    While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

    Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
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    That’s what I’m talking about!

    Orange and Green, Two Ways

    I’m getting nervous that my food is starting to look the same.

    I was going to make my next post about pasta with cauliflower pesto. I’m putting it off because I’m afraid it will remind you of a recent post, one that happens to use the same pasta and has many of the same textures. You’d rather have some visual variety, right?

    As you know, with my mostly seasonal, vegetable-based, waste-minimizing cooking, I find myself looking for recipes that use up ingredients I have on hand, ideally many at once. Through this pursuit of efficiency, I have come to learn about certain important combinations. The sweetness of dried fruits counteracts bitter greens. Earthy vegetables take well to sugar. If a vegetable has a lot of sweetness, particularly after roasting, it will benefit from a touch of acid, from vinegar, or perhaps can be enhanced by the tang of a tomato from my garden. And orange and green make a solid couple.

    Sure, I could learn these lessons through broad culinary study. But it is the personal experiences that make the facts “stick.”

    I prepared the below two recipes a few weeks apart, realizing their connection only afterwards. The broccoli bowl recipe is from a Smitten Kitchen blog post, and the kale dressed with roasted vegetables and tahini through a random search. Both authors suggest that sweet potato could be replaced with butternut squash, which is also in season. I’m sure the kale and broccoli could be interchanged. Whatever items you choose to pair, they will look together.

    Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Over Kale
    From The Vegan Cookbook Aficionado adapted from Orangette

    15-ounce can chickpeas (about 1 ½ cups, you can also attempt soaking and cooking from dried beans like me), drained and rinsed
    2 lbs (about 3-4 medium) sweet potatoes cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
    1 large garlic clove, smashed
    3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne
    2 tablespoons olive oil

    Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
    4 Cups kale, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped
    1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
    1/4 Cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

    Sauce:
    1 garlic clove
    , finely minced with a pinch of salt
    3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
    3 Tablespoons tahini
    (be sure to stir well)
    3-5 Tablespoons water
    up to 1 tablespoon olive oil
    1-2 teaspoons maple syrup

    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

    Dry chickpeas slightly by blotting with a paper towel in a large bowl. Add cut sweet potato, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss until the sweet potato and chickpeas are evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, mixing from time to time until the sweet potato has softened.

    While the sweet potato is baking, combine the kale, onion and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
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    Make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend.
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    Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon.

    Transfer roasted chickpea-sweet potato mixture to the mixing bowl with the kale. Let the mixture rest for a minute while the heat wilts the kale, and then toss gently to combine.
    DSC_6226Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. If you are not serving the full recipe at once, you may want to keep the tahini sauce on the side.
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    Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
    Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

    Grain and vegetable bowl:
    1 cup dried rice* or another grain
    1 to 2 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds)
    1 large bundle broccoli (about 1 pound)
    1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
    Coarse or kosher salt
    Freshly ground black pepper

    2 teaspoon sesame seeds, ideally a mix of black and white

    Dressing:
    1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
    1 small garlic clove, minced
    2 Tablespoons miso**
    2 Tablespoons tahini
    1 Tablespoon honey
    1/4 Cup rice vinegar
    2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
    2 Tablespoons olive oil


    Adaptation notes:
    *The heartier the grain, the better, in my opinion. I used the deliciously nutty Trader Joe’s brown rice medley, the one used in the hummus fritters recipe.

    **The original recipe (like so many I keep finding) suggested white miso, but I only had the red kind on hand, so I used that, dang it. Incidentally, when I first bought the red miso it was for a broccoli recipe. Since then, I have learned that the general rule for miso is “the lighter the color, the more mild the flavor.” Well, go bold or go home, I say.

    Heat oven to 400 degrees.
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    While you prep, cook rice or grain according to package directions. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.

    Coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Layer sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, until browning underneath. Flip and toss chunks around, then add broccoli.
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    Season again with salt and pepper, and roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, until broccoli is lightly charred at edges and sweet potato is soft. Check periodically to see if you need to toss the vegetables more for even cooking.

    Toast sesame seeds until fragrant, either on a stovetop skillet or in the oven (being careful not to burn).

    Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!

    Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!


    While vegetables roast, prepare dressing: Combine everything in a blender and run until smooth, scraping down sides once.
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    Taste and adjust seasonings. Deb suggests that the dressing should taste more salty than sweet for this dish.

    Scoop some rice into bowls and top with the roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. Coat with a little dressing and finish with toasted sesame seeds.
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    Set extra dressing on the side to add as needed.
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    Italian-American Wedding Soup

    This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

    I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

    I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

    Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
    Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

    DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

    Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

    2 eggs, lightly beaten
    1 cup finely chopped onion
    1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
    2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
    2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
    , coarsely chopped
    1 teaspoon salt
    3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
    (I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
    (I used 6)
    3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
    2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
    1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
    2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
    3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
    3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
    2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
    1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
    1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
    Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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    Escarole

    Escarole

    Mustard greens?

    Mustard greens?


    In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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    Add ground beef; mix well.
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    Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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    Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

    In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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    Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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    Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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    Weekend Cooking – Part 1 – Chard

    I hadn’t done much cooking during the week, with dinners out and social gatherings, so I had big plans to use up a lot of ingredients on Friday night. It was to be a “cook the pantry” type of night. Then it got to be 8:30pm before I started. Why so late? Well, there was some drama in discovering that one of our cats was refusing to eat the dry food we had always fed her, so there were two trips to Petco to find alternatives. Then I was so sleepy that I tried to take a preliminary power nap. And one of the floors desperately needed to be vacuumed, and that needed to be done before too late so as not to disturb the neighbors. So, I didn’t have time to cook everything I wanted before bed. Fortunately, there was time on Saturday too!

    I was facing another batch of swiss chard, so I decided to try something a little different. Why not puree it? This soup recipe was great because it also utilized parsley, which I received in the farm share at the same time it happens to be thriving in my garden. With the added tang and creaminess of lemon juice and greek yogurt and the salty zing of feta, we had a pleasant summery soup on our hands.
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    Chard, Herb, and Feta Soup
    adapted from Bon Apetit
    Serves 4

    I’m not sure why the Bon Appetit recipe refers to this as a winter soup. Unless you have your own green house, the fresh herbs would be a big investment at the grocery store during the winter. I’m certain you could substitute spinach in this recipe, but there is no substitute for the fresh herbs.

    2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1 large onion
    , coarsely chopped (I used about 1 C of onion I had left over)
    2 large garlic cloves, smashed
    1 pound Swiss chard leaves (center ribs and stems removed), coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
    3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
    1 cup flat-leaf parsley
    1/2 C fresh cilantro
    1/4 C fresh mint leaves
    1 tablespoon dried mint
    1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    1/2 C plain Greek-style yogurt

    Optional garnishes:
    Plain Greek-style yogurt
    Mixed chopped herbs
    (such as parsley, cilantro, and mint)
    Feta, crumbled
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Fresh lemon juice
    Olive oil

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    Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent and soft (do not brown), 7–8 minutes.

    While they cook, roughly chop your herbs.
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    Add chard, parsley, cilantro, fresh and dried mint, nutmeg, and broth to the pan.

    It might seem like there isn't enough broth...

    It might seem like there isn’t enough broth…

    Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, less than 10 minutes.

    .....and then the chard shrinks!

    …..and then the chard shrinks!


    Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Take out your immersion blender tool and go at it. DSC_4866I like the idea of an immersion blender because it is very easy to clean compared to a food processor or blender. Yet it makes a mess with its splattering. Even with an apron, I don’t recommend wearing dry-clean only clothes with this one! Especially if you want your soup really really smooth, you could purée it in batches in a blender. Return to pan.

    Place a few Tablespoons of the yogurt in a separate medium bowl. Add a ladle-full of warm soup and whisk until smooth. Repeat process twice more, using the yogurt and adding a total of 1 cup more soup.

    Whisk yogurt mixture into soup in saucepan. Stir 1/4 cup herbs and about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta into soup. Season to taste with lemon juice, pepper, and salt, remembering that you will be garnishing with additional feta–and my feta at least was very salty.

    Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with herbs and feta. Drizzle with oil, if desired. Serve with a good crusty bread, ideally.
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    I had almost 3 Cups of leftover swiss chard stems, which I saved from disposal and pickled using this Bon Appetit recipe as guidance. I didn’t quite double the recipe–I ended up using about 3 Cups of Sugar, 1 3/4 Cups white vinegar, 4 Tablespoons Siracha, and 3/4 tsp of celery seed. Since they are supposed to sit for a few days, I have no idea how they will turn out, but I’ll let you know!

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