spinach quinoa cakes with lemon dill sauce

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This is the pinnacle of healthy indulgence. The crown jewel of Things That Taste Sinful But Aren’t. Step aside, FroYo, and surrender your throne. You were only ever a vehicle for cheesecake bites and Reese’s peanut butter cups anyways.

Everybody is all about quinoa lately, and if you aren’t, you need to be. Not only is it delicious and versatile, it’s a complete protein! It contains all nine amino acids that the human diet requires. Once upon a sophomore year, I would have been able to recite AND draw out all of those chemical structures. Now I just munch on them.

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I happened to have Rainbow Quinoa on hand (hence the pretty colors), but any type will work. Before you cook quinoa, you want to be sure to give it a good rinse, otherwise the end product might have a strange, bitter taste. The general formula for cooking quinoa involves a 2 : 1 ratio of liquid : quinoa, and typically takes about 15-20 minutes. Cooking it in chicken stock (or any other kind of stock) is nice because of the added flavor boost, so what I typically do is use water and add half a bouillon cube to the pot.

Bouillon is not spelled at all how I expected.

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Another important lesson I’ve learned is that you should always chop way too much baby spinach, because when you wilt it down, it will all disappear and you’ll be sad about it. Just wildly overestimate how much you’ll need, because too much spinach is never a bad thing. Also, I used both white onions and green onions for these cakes, but you can use whatever kind you like.

I served these with a really quick and equally healthy sauce made from greek yogurt, lemon juice, and dill. So fresh and so good. (Good.)

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I lightly pan-fried these, but next time I’m going to try making them even healthier by baking them. Then I’m going to make them way less healthy by putting them in a burger bun and putting some avocado on top. Or in a pita pocket with tzatziki and onions and tomatoes. The possibilities are endless.

Recipe for Spinach Quinoa Cakes (adapted from Panini Happy)

  • 2 cups quinoa, cooked
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced/grated
  • 7 oz. chopped baby spinach
  • 1/4 white onion, diced (you can use more or less, if you prefer)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
  • 1 Tbsp. dill
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and spinach, and cook until spinach is wilted and onions are soft. Transfer mixture to a medium-sized bowl.

To the mixture, add quinoa, dill, salt, bread crumbs, eggs, and goat cheese crumbles. Gently combine all ingredients.

Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the skillet (it may be necessary to rinse the skillet from the previous use), and heat oil at medium heat. Once oil is hot, drop the quinoa mixture in and flatten to form cakes of desired size and thickness.

Allow cakes to cook on one side for 1-2 min before flipping. Once cakes are golden-brown on both sides, remove from pan. Serve cakes hot, with lemon dill dipping sauce.

 

Recipe for Lemon Dill dipping sauce

  • 1 cup Chobani (or any brand) non-fat plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. dill
  • 1 tsp. chives
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.

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low-fat jalapeño popper dip

Jalapeño poppers can go one of two ways, in my experience. Either they are filled with cheddar cheese, or some sort of sour cream/cream cheese situation – either one is a winner. Because of the complete lack of cheddar in this fair city, my jalapeño popper dip follows the cream cheese route.

Most of the recipes I looked up involved a combination of cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise, none of which are particularly figure-friendly. I decided to make it up as I went along, using a combination of fat-free Greek yogurt and 50% reduced fat cream cheese.

Even though I used pre-sliced, canned jalapeños, I still chopped each slice further into quarters, only because I don’t like giant chunks of jalapeño in any given bite. The “juice” from the canned jalapeños probably added a little bit of moisture to the dip overall, so perhaps fresh jalapeños would produce a different consistency, but I have no complaints (and no fresh jalapeños with which to test that theory).

I also threw in some dried dill and chives, because I am powerless to resist those two ingredients when they are in my pantry. I’m a serial dill-er (had to).

This dip was actually just as delicious unbaked and sans breadcrumbs as it was when I pulled it out of the oven, and I would serve it either way, depending on season and temperature and whatnot. The breadcrumbs do add the final component of the jalapeño popper (the outside fried crust), but even without it you get the popper experience.

For the latest installment of beautiful Italy, here is the Torre Truglia, located in Sperlonga, a small town on the western coast of Italy, now a popular beach resort destination. The Torre Truglia is the best-preserved of four original watchtowers, and was originally built by the Spaniards in 1532. The tower served as a lookout point, in addition to providing civilians shelter and protection when faced with maritime threats. Like pirates. Nowadays, it serves as a nice break from the boats and beach chairs that dominate Sperlonga’s landscape.

Low-fat Jalapeño Popper Dip Recipe

  • 4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried chives
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 can jalapeños sliced (and further chopped, if desired)
  • breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top

Combine all ingredients except breadcrumbs. Transfer to a baking dish, then top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden-brown.

Note: my breadcrumbs refused to brown, for some reason. If this happens, switch oven to the broil setting for the last 30 seconds – 1 minute of baking.

classic bruschetta

My family is Indian, and as a result I grew up eating a lot of Indian food, and watching my mom prepare it. Then I graduated college and moved here, and in the process of immersing myself in the Italian culture, I’ve noticed some interesting similarities and differences between the two cuisines, and consequently, the two cultures.

These are two of the most food-centric cultures on the planet. We mark all occasions with food; we use it to celebrate and we use it to mourn. The Italians do the same. An Italian grandmother takes as much joy in presenting her family with a 5-course meal as an Indian grandmother, and neither will be satisfied until everyone at the table is on the brink of a food coma. Second helpings are par for the course; the third helping shows true appreciation. In Italy, after you polish off the antipasti and the primo piatto, you still have the second course, the contorni, and dessert to contend with. My own mother, when preparing food for any occasion, is never satisfied with just one or two side dishes to accompany a main dish. Usually there are a minimum of 3 sides, plus some naan and at least two choices of dessert.

The ideas behind the preparation of each cuisine, however, differ greatly, at least from what I’ve seen.

Indian food is typically composed of a varied blend of spices and components, all coming together to create a single dish. Even basic curry, when prepared traditionally, is the product of many ingredients blending together to render a flavorful, vibrant culinary experience.

Italian food, in contrast, is all about simplicity. A basic tomato sauce, when prepared traditionally, needs only a few ingredients: tomatoes, salt, maybe some garlic (definitely some garlic), and that’s really all. Anything beyond that is added at the discretion of the chef. This allows the tomato flavor to shine through in a simple, yet delicious fashion.

At the end of the day, the result of both ideologies is deliciousness. I can’t say that one is better than the other. The chef who can achieve perfect harmony from a battery of spices and ingredients is just as talented as the chef who can coax a religious experience out of just a tomato. Both meals are made with love, and both plates will be licked clean!

Today I’m sharing a recipe for classic bruschetta. I’ve talked about bruschetta here before, and as I said, it’s a blank canvas. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you like. This time, I went with simple: bread, a tomato, some salt, olive oil, rosemary and garlic.

Well…that was the plan until I spied the goat cheese. But it’s really only in there for creaminess; the flavor is in the tomato.

Cuisine aside, the Italians don’t always do everything simply and subtly.


This monument has several names. Sometimes it is called il Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Sometimes it is referred to as Altare della patria (altar of the motherland). Its friends just call it “Il Vittoriano”. I call it the Wedding Cake. Whatever you call it, you can’t call it understated!

Classic Bruschetta recipe

(I only made myself one piece of toast, so scale the recipe up if you want more than that!)

  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • salt to taste
  • 1 piece of bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • goat cheese (as much as desired)

Rub the clove of garlic all over one side of the bread. Save the remnants of the garlic for grating into the tomato mixture, if desired.

In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, salt, rosemary, olive oil, and grated garlic.

Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the garlicky side of the toast. Spoon tomato mixture on top of toast. Enjoy!

rösti almost-y…and what I’m working with

Last summer, I visited Switzerland with my family. Beyond chocolate and neutrality, I didn’t really know what to expect, especially in terms of cuisine. Well we ate lots of delicious food, both French and German, but at every meal, the star of the show was rösti. Considered the de facto national dish of Switzerland, rösti is a basically a potato pancake. Grated potatoes are pan-fried (or sometimes baked) in either oil or butter, and typically served as a contorno, or side dish, at the meal. Sometimes cheese or bacon or some additional ingredients are added, at the discretion of the chef, but traditionally rösti is a one-man-show, consisting solely of potatoes.

I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of a dish made solely from potatoes, but sadly, my jeans are not. Out of deference to my waistline, I decided to add some grated zucchini to the situation. I invited some dill, salt, and the teeniest splash of olive oil and called it a day. Had I remembered to, I also would have added some minced garlic – I definitely will next time! I toyed with the idea of pan-frying them, but then what was the point of adding the zucchini, right?

Into the oven they went, and they came out delicious. Slightly burnt crispy on the outside, softer and chewier in the middle – not exactly like Switzerland, but they did the trick! The zucchini was a grate idea (had to), it melded perfectly with the potato, and added a nice splash of color to the whole affair.

Next time, I will probably pile each pancake a little higher, since they flattened out more than I was expecting them to. I ate these (plus a kiwi) for dinner, but they would be great with breakfast too – maybe with a nice poached egg on top? My extreme hunger and lack of forethought prevented me this time, but next time I’ll also combine some Greek yogurt with some lemon and dill to serve alongside these bad boys.

Now I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes footage, because I’ve told people that my kitchen is small, but I don’t know if words do it justice. I’m weirdly proud of how tiny the space is, take a look:

This is my kitchen. I’ve got a sink, two stovetops, and some shelves. The most sophisticated tool in there is a grater (check it out, its hanging above the sink), and there is no oven. The fridge is one of those cabinets at the bottom.

I am actually starting to really like cooking here. Having such restricted space and no tools I’m used to, like an electric mixer or a food processor (or even a real oven), forces me to do stuff the old-fashioned way, which I love. If I want fluffy egg whites, I’m going to have to earn them. If I want pie crust, I’m cutting the butter into the flour by hand (which is really the best way to do it anyways). And having such a small fridge (made even smaller by the fact that anything on the top shelf will actually freeze, meaning no eggs or yogurt may live there) forces me to plan ahead. Everything in there is there for a reason. I know what every item in that fridge is going to be when it grows up. The zucchini and red pepper are going to be a Thai stir-fry, the mozzarella is going to be a pizza, the giant bottle of Diet Coke is going to be the death of me, and so on.

But I still needed an oven. Luckily I had a microwave, but an oven was a necessity.

Enter the toaster oven – one of the first things I bought when I got here. Not much bigger than a shoebox, but it does the trick! Did you not see the rösti?? They were totally well-rösted! This kitchen is tiny but effectual, and I’ve never had more fun creating yummy food!

And yes, my toaster oven doubles as a breadbox.

Potato-Zucchini Rösti Recipe

  • 1 yellow potato, peeled
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Grate the potato and zucchini into a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and combine.

Form patties of desired size on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 350°.

confetti bruschetti

Yes, I do know that it is called bruschetta, not bruschetti. But that doesn’t rhyme with confetti. Sometimes rhyming is more important than being grammatically correct in a foreign language – its not as though I’m about to move to Italy or anything anyways.

These were our Father’s Day appetizers. The main course and dessert will be posted soon, but for now its all about these tasty little bruschette. We wanted something light and tasty, nothing that would fill up our stomachs or help us fill out our jeans.

Technically, bruschetta is made with bread that is rubbed with garlic, topped with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted. From that point on, its your blank canvas. Common toppings include chopped tomatoes or olives, or sometimes a little basil or mozzarella. But I opened this post with a bastardization of this Italian dish anyways, so in for a penny, in for a pound. We skipped the mozzarella and basil and olives, but we invited the tomatoes. Green peppers and red onions too. Capers and dried jalapeño peppers rounded out the set. But there were two things that really made these little bruschette amazing. First, we spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the bread. I like it better than mozzarella anyways (they are really going to hate me over there). Second, we mixed the chopped vegetables with a little bit of fresh pesto made with garlic scapes. This gave the dish a really sharp, summery flavor.

Pretty much any kind of baguette or toasts can be used as the base for this dish. We actually used sourdough sandwich bread, cut up into quarters. Make it even healthier and use multigrain or whole wheat bread!

For the base, use whatever kind of bread you like. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt + pepper, and bake in oven until crisp.

Topping recipe:

  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. capers
  • 1 tsp. dried jalapeño flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. pesto
  • Approximately 3 Tbsp. goat cheese

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Spread thin layer of goat cheese on each piece of toast. Heap a small spoonful of topping onto each toast. Bake at 250° for 2-3 minutes, then broil for 45-60 seconds. Remove from oven and serve warm!