All posts by Helen Akinc

Interculturalist, cook, writer, curious questioner and craft artist

Avocado toast

Best thing ever.

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If you have access to fresh, good quality avocados and fresh lemons, this is an amazing combination. Of course, I really like avocados-in salad, in guac, as a soup garnish, in salad with tomatoes.

But this simple little dish will transform your life. Or at least the appreciation of the little things in such life. Here’s how. Serves two for a reasonable lunch. Serves one very hungry person. Takes all of five minutes tops. 

1 ripe avocado 

1/2-1 fresh lemon

pinch of salt

pinch of red pepper

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Twist apart the halves.

Remove the pit. Leaving the skin on, score each half of the avocado fruit into cubes . Using a spoon, scoop the avocado flesh into a smallish bowl. Repeat with other half.

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Using a fork mash up the avocado a little. Add in the lemon juice, salt, and red pepper. Take the fork and mash up the avocado until it is mostly smooth.

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Toast two slices of good Italian or French bread. Spread one half of the mixture on each toasted slice. You will think you have died and gone to heaven.

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Simple summer food: stuffed chicken breasts

We eat quite a bit of chicken and while chicken kabobs are a frequent go-to, when having company over for dinner, I don’t want to have to be dealing with standing outside watching the grill or asking my husband to do that. If it is too hot for our guests to be outside and all of us on the deck, I’d prefer to do something in the oven that doesn’t require too much attention. Stuffed chicken breasts are the perfect answer.

The recipe I used last was from The Spruce Eats (https://www.thespruceeats.com/chicken-stuffed-with-basil-and-mozzarella-cheese-recipe-3052934 )

I made it as directed the first time but would probably tweak it a bit the next time. One thing I did outside of the recipe was to slice the chicken breasts horizontally and then pound each half to the desired thickness. It takes less time plus results in a more manageable sized piece of flattened chicken breast. The chicken breasts in the grocery stores now are so large, that even a half a breast provides two good solid servings. Anyway, that is how I did it. I then pretty much followed the recipe, using garlic, basil, mozzarella and romano as the stuffing. After dipping the rolls in beaten egg, i rolled them in panko crumbs b/c that is what I had. This was done early in the day (or could even prep the night before and keep refrigerated until time to bake. I would tweak the stuffing a little bit, in a couple of different ways. First, I would spread the flattened chicken pieces with a mixture of dijon or honey mustard and mayo. I had used shredded mozzarella, but next time I would use fresh mozzarella and use one slice per chicken roll. I would definitely use romano or parmesan along with the mozzarella. The mayo and mustard would keep the chicken moist and give a bit more pizzazz to the flavor. Finally, I dotted each chicken roll with a little butter, although olive oil would work as well.

This works great for company because it can be done ahead and the timing is easy. I took the rolls out of the fridge about 30 minutes before the guests were due to arrive. About 15 minutes later, I preheated the oven. They went into the oven at the time the guests arrived and took about forty five minutes to cook. I allowed a bit more time than the recipe called for because they had been in the fridge. I had made wild rice pilav an hour or so earlier, as well as a salad. It is delicious and easy and nobody gets hot and sweaty or drenched outside on the deck during a rainstorm. Enjoy

One little step forward

Many of you will have seen the recent news about how we are killing ourselves by not eating the right food. Namely, we aren’t eating enough grains, veggies, and fruits. This soup recipe grew out of that and is loosely based on a V-8 soup recipe that has been around for years. The new twists are very tasty. And we are using nine vegetables! It is scrumptious, colorful, filling and frugal. What more could you want from a soup?

V-Nine Barley Soup

  • 1 1/2-2 cups cooked barley ( or about 1/2 c. uncooked)
  • 1/2 large turnip
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 large green pepper
  • 1 c. frozen corn
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can garbanzos
  • 1//4 c. tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp. Sazon
  • 3 -4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 2-3 cups V-8 juice or tomato juice
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 pkg of Gardein vegetable protein ( about 2 cups)

Yes there are 9 vegetables in this soup!!!! First, decide about the barley. I like to have cooked barley on hand. So, I will put about 1-1 1/2 c. in a mason jar, fill it up with water and let it sit overnight. Then, I pour the whole thing into a medium sauce pan, add water if necessary, a little salt and bring the whole thing to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and then let it simmer for 40 minutes or until tender. If you are going to cook it inside the soup as opposed to just adding at the end, you can add it after the veggies are in the soup-pot.

Peel the carrots , turnip and onions. Chop those along with the green pepper and celery. Saute, starting with the onions, then adding the turnips, carrots, celery and green pepper as each addition begins to soften. Throw in the veggie protein crumbles and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the broth and juice. Add the corn, black beans, garbanzos and canned chopped tomatoes. If using uncooked barley, add now along with the Sazon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. If using cooked barley, bring the mixture to a boil, then lower heat , stir in 1 1/2-2 cups cooked barley and then let simmer for 30 minutes. Use the rest for barley salad or as a side dish. Enjoy!

Spicy Lentil Soup

This soup was inspired by Cookie and Kate (https://cookieandkate.com/2019/best-lentil-soup-recipe/). Definitely check it out the website if you haven’t been there.

This winter and spring, so far, have been cold, wet and raw. Personally, I am tired of this weather. Today my plan was for us to have cottage cheese and fruit for lunch, but given the morning sleet and the cold, raw, gray day, it called out for hot, spicy, soup. In the past I have made the “Best Lentil Soup” recipe on the Cookie and Kate website, but wanted to change it up a bit. I did not have all the ingredients and did not want to go out to go to the grocery store. I wanted to add a bit of a Middle Eastern suggestion to the flavoring, so here is what I did.

The cumin and curry powder mellows out the soup a bit and gives it an Indian flair. The cumin, mint, lemon, and two kinds of red pepper give it a Middle Eastern flavor and some heat.

Because I already had about a cup and a half of cooked lentils, the soup came together very quickly. Note to self: always cook extra lentils and save in fridge a few days or freeze. I cut the carrots in small pieces so they would cook faster. I also used an immersion blender.

ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. cooked green or brown lentils
  • 2-3 peeled carrots, chopped fine
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 6 c. water
  • 28 oz chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sweet curry powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 heaping T. dried mint
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Saute onion in oil til softened. Stir in the garlic and carrots. Dump in the tomatoes, water, cumin, curry powder and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer until carrots are tender. (It won’t take long if you quarter the carrots lengthwise, and then slice thin). They should be done in around 15 minutes. Remove from heat briefly and use your immersion blender to partially puree the soup. I like having some small pieces of carrot and tomato visible, but I prefer the texture to be a little smoother than it would be without using the blender.

After you have achieved the texture you want, slide the soup pot back onto a burner and keep it warm. Add the lemon juice at this point. Then, in a small pan, melt the butter and when it is sizzling hot , stir in the pepper and the mint. Stir for just a minute or two and then stir into the soup. Serve with home made pita toasts.

PITA TOASTS

Cut leftover pitas into quarters. Place on a baking sheet. Spray with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with garlic/onion salt. Heat in a 350 F. oven for ten minutes or so. Delicious!!!

Meatless Tuesday with Meatless Ground

We try to limit our meat consumption and, like many of you, are trying to eat healthy. Recently, I picked up a package of Gardein Meatless Ground. We had eaten at a friend’s house on Monday so we moved Meatless Monday to Meatless Tuesday.

beefless

It is in the freezer section of the grocery store and needs to be kept frozen until just the time you cook it. Last night I made some vegetarian chili from a terrific recipe and used the soy ground meat in the recipe. Delicious. The texture is correct, taste is fine. I was quite happy with how it turned out. I’ve used other products in the past, but I do like the Gardein version quite a bit. I will try some of their other products and report back on how those work as well. Meanwhile, do think about trying the Meatless Ground in vegetarian chili. Here’s a link to the recipe I used. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/72508/the-best-vegetarian-chili-in-the-world/

The photo is of the Best Vegetarian Chili in the World from Jaxon’s Mom on Allrecipes.com where the recipe is posted:

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I made a few changes to the recipe. I prefer to not use canned beans, although I know they are fine. But I keep a variety of dried beans, peas, and lentils on hand and it is easier for me to use those. So, the night before I placed about 3/4 – 1 cup each of kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans in a large bowl and covered with water. The next morning I put all in my Instant-Pot with a tsp. of salt and cooked for 20 minutes. You can do the whole recipe in a large Instant Pot. Mine isn’t quite large enough because the chili recipe makes a large batch, but I did use it to cook the beans and that saved considerable time. If you have a larger model you could do the whole thing in one pot.

The other changes I made to the recipe were that I used one, not two packages of the soy ground meat. I used two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes, not three and I added 1 small can of tomato paste. I think everything else I followed the recipe linked to above. It was very good.

We were very pleased with the whole combination. The Meatless Ground was actually easier to cook with than regular ground meat, at least in this recipe. When I do use ground meat, I use very lean grassfed, local, sustainably raised meat which has very little fat (a good thing) but tricky to saute with at times. The Meatless Ground was easy because I could just dump it into the mix and heat it thoroughly. I look forward to sharing some more soy ground meat recipes with you in the future.

Luscious Late Winter Salad

This is a wonderful salad. It kind of visually symbolizes the hope of spring with sweet, juicy orange pieces and the still remaining bite of winter with arugula. Next time I make it, I promise I will take a photo and post it. It is tangy and sweet and bitter and juicy and soft and salty and crunchy! Delightful. Makes a great lunch.

  • 1-2 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned (see directions following red onion instructions
  • 1/4 red onion, peeled, sliced and wilted (see instructions following list of ingredients)
  • 4-6 cups of washed arugula (2-3 big handfuls)
  • 2-3 large romaine leaves, washed and sliced or torn into pieces
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese, chunked or 3-4 T. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2/3 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
  • salt
  • sumac to taste (optional but very nice)
  • 1/4 c. Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Red Onion preparation: This is a good way to prepare any kind of yellow, white or red onion but it is especially good for red onions, in my opinion. I cannot eat raw red onions unless they are prepared this way. The easiest thing to do is to prepare the whole onion, use what you need and save the rest for a few days in the fridge. Peel the onion, cut in half and slice into very thin half moons. Place all the onions in a small bowl and liberally sprinkle salt over the sliced onions. Mix with your hands. Set aside for 15-20 minutes. When ready to add to salad, squeeze the salted onions several times and rinse carefully in water, squeezing while rinsing. Take what you want to add to the salad and refrigerate the rest in a closed container or sealed baggie.

Orange preparation: Do this over the salad bowl so that you can capture the juice. Using a sharp paring knife or a special fruit knife if you have one, cut away the outer peel of the orange, down past the membrane just to where the fruit appears. Once you have the peel cut away, go around and loosen with your knife each of the sections. Then, you can use the knife almost as a tiny spatula and flip into the salad bowl.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 c. pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries (you could substitute 1 T. honey and add 1 T. of lemon juice)
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. salt

Mix all ingredients together. Blend in a blender or shake like a crazy person. Use what you need and refrigerate the rest for another salad in a day or two.

Clean and prep the arugula and romaine. Add the orange sections. Sprinkle the wilted red onions over the mix. Add the feta cheese or parmesan. Put the walnuts on top of everything. Drizzle with dressing (start with 1/4 cup and add more if necessary).

Enjoy!!!!

One recipe, 4+ different meals

I like to cook, but sometimes I am not in the mood to cook, do not feel inspired, and just want to get meal preparation done quickly. Something that saves me a significant amount of time is to prep ingredients common to several foods we like all at the same time, then pull out of the freezer as needed. An example makes it clearer.

We like soft tacos or burritos, chile, spaghetti and stuffed eggplant. All of those dishes can start with a ground meat, onion, green or hot pepper, and tomato mixture. So, to save time in a large skillet, spray with Pam or drizzle a small amount of oil and saute:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef (we use organic, grassfed, preferably local which will wind up being very low fat ~ 93% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 medium green bell peppers, diced or 1 green bell pepper and 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and meat together, until onions wilt and meat loses its redness and is cooked. Break up large pieces of meat. Stir in the peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer a few minutes and add a little water if needed to keep the dish from becoming too dry.

Now you are ready to divide into about four containers. Freeze three of them and save out the one you are using today.

To make chile, just add chili powder, beans, cumin, more heat if needed.

To make spaghetti sauce, stir in tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes or tomato paste and water, along with crushed garlic and oregano.

For burritos, add some chili powder and cumin, wrap in a soft tortilla with cheese, salsa, light sour cream, etc.

For stuffed eggplant, basically you make a lengthwise slit in the center of Japanese eggplant and then lightly saute the eggplants in a small amount of vegetable oil until softened. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. Gently open up the eggplant using the slit and stuff the opening with the filling mixture to which you may have added chopped parsley. Set all the eggplants in an oven safe glass dish and pour some tomato juice over everything. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F. for about 35 minutes. A more detailed recipe can be found in Turkish Family Favorites.

The possibilites are numerous but in each case if you have the meat mixture ready to go, you are significantly reducing your prep time.

Balsamic Mustard Vinagrette

Salad dressing is an area where homemade is usually far better than store bought. It is also so customizable and that allows your creativity and tastes to flourish. Plus, you can tweak the dressing to bring out the flavors of whatever is in your salad. I made a salad of romaine, green onions, a carrot, four or five celery sticks, a tomato and half of a large green pepper. I used probably half of a largish head of romaine. Cut the veggies in different shapes. I sliced the carrot on the diagonal and then in half to make half crescent moons (kind of ). Celery in rounds. Pepper in squares, tomato medium dice. The lettuce was strips. Toss the salad with dressing immediately before serving. Enjoy!

BALSAMIC MUSTARD VINAGRETTE

  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 T. dijon mustard
  • 1/2 T. mayo
  • 1/2 T. honey
  • 2/3 t. salt
  • 1/3 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 t. basil

One Pan Dinner: Salmon and roasted veggies

This could not be any easier. Not only do you just dirty one pan in the entire dinner, but the prep entails just one bowl. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1/2 small bag baby potatoes or 2 c. butternut squash or sweet potato chunks
  • 1 large broccoli crown
  • 3 T. olive oil, mixed use
  • kosher salt, to taste OR garlic salt
  • soy sauce, to taste
  • sriracha sauce, to taste
  • 1 T. hoisin sauce or ketchup or 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar and 1/2 T. honey

If you plan to cook immediately after prepping the food, go ahead and preheat your oven to 375 F. If you are prepping ahead of time and want to let the fish marinate a bit, wait to preheat your oven.

Next prep the potatoes. Pour two T. olive oil into a largish prep bowl. Rinse the potatoes, butternut squash, or sweet potato chunks you plan to use. Rinse off the broccoli and cut into largish bite-sized chunks and drop into the oil. Cut the potatoes in half and drop into the olive oil. If using butternut squash or sweet potatoes just drop into the olive oil, stir around to make sure all the pieces are covered and then spread on a large rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. Next, add soy sauce, sriracha, and hoisin to olive oil in the bowl and add one more T. of oil. Mix all together. Take the salmon fillets and place them into the bowl, skin side facing up, directly into the sauce so that they absorb the seasonings into the flesh. You can leave them to marinate 30-45 minutes. Or, cook immediately.

When ready to bake, first place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. When the veggies have roasted for fifteen minutes, remove sheet pan from oven briefly and set on top of stove. Carefully remove the salmon from the marinade and place skin side down on the hot sheet pan (with the partially roasted vegetables) . Drizzle whatever remains of the marinade on top of the fillets. Return pan to oven and roast for another 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables and salmon fillets are done. You may need to adjust the cooking times based on the size of your potato/butternut squash chunks and the thickness of the salmon fillet. For 1-1 1/2 inch potato chunks and average sized salmon fillets, the times given are about right. Voila! Dinner is ready and there are very few dishes to wash! Enjoy.

Sourcing ethnic ingredients

Depending upon where you live, you may have a plethora of sources for ethnic ingredients available or not. It may be necessary to order items online or rely on people who are travelling to bring back special spices, etc. You may find, for example, that black lentils are not in your grocery store but are available online. However, with just a little more research you may find them tucked away in one or more local small ethnic groceries that most towns have. These shops may be stand alone or frequently can be housed in one corner of a restaurant serving that type of cuisine. I’ve been shopping for years at a little market which is in a corner of an Indian restaurant close to where I live. There are others, often tucked away and unless you know the restaurant or search online, you may not know about these little places.

The Indian market close to me has many ingredients that cross cuisines, so I wind up shopping for quite a few staples there. The rice is far better quality than grocery store rice, no matter the brand. There are many more brands and types of rice at this little store than at a grocery. I talk with the people who work there to find out what brands are most popular and/or the highest quality. A variety of lentils are available, as well as many hard to find spices and sauces. I especially like the produce at this little market, as the long, thin eggplant, fresh ginger root and hot peppers are far fresher and higher quality than what I can find in any of the grocery stores in the area, not to mention cheaper. Substantially so. It is wise to ask when their produce is delivered as there will be more variety if you shop the day of or day after the delivery.

By going there with one of my friends, I also learned that not all of the produce may be out on display. She asked the owner for some sort of vegetable and he brought it out from the back. I started using that as well, as I often need only a small amount of cilantro, not a giant bunch.

It’s well worth doing a computer search to find out what is available. I live in a medium sized city in the Southeast US and within 25 miles of me there are something like nine Asian groceries, more than twenty Mexican tiendas, fifteen to twenty Middle Eastern/Mediterranean markets, and several others. Who knew? So, do a search before you automatically assume you have to place an online order. You may just be able to find your ingredients locally and support local business in the process.