Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan

I discovered this delightful dish in a cozy little tapas restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston.  After one bite, I decided that I would try to replicate this recipe at home.  Later research revealed that the dish is called Espinacas a la Catalana and has been prepared in the Catalan region of Spain for at least 150 years.  I guess the appeal of the dish seems unremarkable in light of the fact that Spaniards have been vetting it for more than 150 years.Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Further research revealed that the number of recipes for Espinacas a la Catalana is equal to the number of Catalonians. While additional ingredients varied—lemon, tomato, wine, honey, paprika, and apples to name a few, the fundamental ingredients remained constant:  spinach, raisins, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic.  I tried several variations and this is the one we all liked best.  However, if you are like me and tend to cook creatively, please share the results.


Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Ingredients

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 - 8 servings
  • 8 oz. spinach* (8 – 10 cups)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 3 T golden raisins, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or sherry
  • ¼ t sugar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 T spoons)
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Swish spinach in a cold water bath until all grit has fallen away. Spin leaves in the salad spinner until dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and salt; sauté until the garlic just turns golden being careful not to burn—about 1 minute.
  3. Add pine nuts, raisins, sugar, and wine. Cover and allow raisins to plump and soften—2 minutes. Remove lid and reduce wine.
  4. Whisk in lemon juice until heated and incorporated fully.
  5. Add spinach, turn off heat and toss in the pan until all of the leaves are coated and slightly wilted. Add pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.
*If you use young and tender spinach, you may use the stem and leaf. However, if you are using more mature spinach, remove the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Spinach with Raisins Collage

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Tossing

Cooking and Eating with Kids:  I wilted the spinach ever so slightly due to the kids’ preference.  They willingly try salads so I told them that this was a wilted salad. If, on the other hand, I had told them that these were cooked greens, well, I can assure you that my ears would have been met with a chorus of wails and the battle over taking a single bite would have ensued.     Ask any political strategist, and they will tell you a good spin can change the minds and hearts of the people. I encourage you to use this strategy when feeding your kids something new.  Tell them it is really something they have eaten a million times before–in this case salad.  Once they have adopted it as an acceptable food you can start varying it slightly, like calling it by its real name.

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Fried Green Tomatoes–The Tasty Upside to the Coming Cold

For many years I did a weekly cooking show at a farmers market in an African American community that served not only the neighbors but also the many immigrant communities that call Milwaukee home.  I developed and demonstrated recipes each week that focused on seasonal produce.  I employed the spices and cooking techniques of various cuisines to demonstrate the range of the food and gave out samples to the customers.  The shows were popular and enjoyed a small but loyal fan-following.  Besides free samples, the shoppers seemed genuinely excited and curious to taste foods from around the world.

That all changed the day I did a show demonstrating how to make fried green tomatoes.   My one-time fans—the ones with Southern roots who considered themselves soul food aficionados, teased me endlessly about my choice of ingredients, cooking techniques and general credibility as a Southern food cooking instructor.Green Tomatoes--Fried

I reminded them that #1: the Indians, Koreans and all the other ethnic groups whose cuisines I borrowed from week-to-week seemed genuinely pleased that I had embraced the food of their native land, and they complimented me on my recipes. What happened to their Southern manners?  #2:  My connections were every bit as strong as theirs. Due to my father, I grew up watching Hee-Haw and listening to WMAQ.  His childhood was spent in Appalachia, and when his family moved to central Illinois, the school held him back a year because the teacher couldn’t understand his thick accent.

Authenticity as a Southerner aside, in the end, they relented. You can’t argue with a tasty fried green tomato.  This recipe has a coating which is crisp and savory not thick and eggy.  In addition to flavor, it keeps oil use and mess to a minimum because the tomatoes are pan not deep fried.Green Tomatoes, Fried--ingredients

Fried Green Tomatoes
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Southern
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
Leftovers make sandwiches--crisp lettuce, spicy remoulade and stacked fried green tomatoes on a lightly toasted bun.
  • 6 medium green tomatoes, cored and sliced into ½ inch slices
  • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp regular salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup yogurt or cultured *buttermilk
  • ½ cup oil
  • lemon for garnish
  • 2 Tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chili sauce
  1. Prepare the tomatoes.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal and spices in a large bowl.
  3. Pour yogurt or buttermilk into a separate bowl.
  4. Dip each tomato slice in the buttermilk or yogurt to coat. Next, dredge the slice in the cornmeal mixture coating both sides well.
  5. Once all the tomatoes are coated, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add oil.
  6. When the oil becomes hot, pan fry the tomatoes in batches. Fry until golden brown—about 1½ - 2 minutes on each side. Drain on a wire rack or paper towels.
  7. Make the remoulade dipping sauce by combining the mayo and chili sauce.
  8. Serve fried tomato slices with lemon wedges and remoulade.
*Make buttermilk by adding 1 t lemon juice to ½ cup milk. Stir and wait a few minutes for the milk to curdle and thicken.

Cooking & Eating with Kids: Fried green tomatoes are a treat of early fall when the green ones must be harvested before the frost comes and turns them to mush.   I serve them as part of meal I like to call “Southern Sides” –cheesy grits and  Southern-inspired vegetable side dishes.  No meat.  It’s a kid favorite.  Leftover fried green tomatoes also make great sandwiches.

I have my kids harvest the tomatoes, measure and mix the coating and then do all of the breading.  My kids are particularly fond of making cultured “buttermilk.”

Preserve It:  Enjoy them now as there is absolutely no way to preserve the green tomatoes for frying later.  I’ve tried with zero success.  If you have a way, please let me know because I miss them November to June and so will you once you have tried them.

South Indian Snap Beans–Everything is better with mustard seeds

My husband grew up on the spice coast of South India in Kerala and each Sunday night we are treated to a South India feast.  In general, South Indian cuisine is much quicker and easier to prepare than North Indian fare.  It uses flavors and cooking techniques similar to those in South East Asia in combination with the classic Indian spices.  My advice: If you have ever wanted to cook Indian at home, start in the South with a simple dish like this family favorite.South Indian-style Snap Beans

This is the Man’s quick and easy go-to side dish for our Sunday supers in Kerala. Coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves spice up the humble little snap beans and make it a Kerala classic.

South Indian Snap Beans
Recipe type: Vegetable Side
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
Chopped cabbage or grated kohlrabi make delicious substitutions for the snap beans.
  • 1 ½ lbs. snap beans, green or wax, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ½ T oil, canola or coconut
  • ½ t black mustard seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about a ½ cup)
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 10 – 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • 1 t paprika
  • Pinch or more cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • ⅔ cup water or more as needed
  1. Using a 12 or 14-inch sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat the oil until hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they just start to pop. This is called tempering the spices.
  2. Once they pop, immediately add the onion, salt, curry leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Saute until the onion just begins to brown—5 minutes.
  3. Add beans and ⅔ cup of water. Cover and let steam until the beans are tender—about 10 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
  4. Remove lid, add coconut and continue sauteing until all the liquid evaporates about 1 minute longer.
  5. Serve with rice and yogurt.
Unsweetened grated coconut can be found in the freezer section of any Indian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a small bag of black mustard seeds which have a slightly different flavor than brown mustard seeds. lastly, fresh curry leaves are a sort of herb from a curry tree grown in tropical climates only. Find those in the fresh produce section of the Indian grocery store.

South Indian-style Snap Beans--chopping



South Indian-style Snap Beans--finishingCooking with Kids

“Do you know what they call Indian food in India?…Food.  That is one of our long running little jokey admonishments to the kids. It comes up when they make a comment about not wanting to try some dish because it is new or unfamiliar.  What’s left out, but certainly implied and understood,  “Now try it.”  Rejecting food based on appearance or unfamiliarity is a strict no-no here and should be for you too.

From the age of about 2, kids have a natural impulse to reject any new food.  It is a self preservation instinct.  The first time a toddler experiences a new taste, they will only consume a little.  We evolved that way so as not to accidentally ingest a big bowl full of poisonous berries and die.  Instead, we eat a little, wait to see if there are any adverse effects.  None noted…let’s eat a little more of that food next time around and re-evaluate. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, doesn’t it?  Those of the species who threw caution to the wind and ate the big bowl of poisonous berries, well they didn’t last long enough to pro-create. Millions of years of natural selection have given rise to the picky eater.

So don’t hesitate to serve something new.  Even if it is rejected, serve it again and again if you liked it. Have the kids try at least one bite each time.  I guarantee that they will come around to eating it eventually.  Eighteen exposures to a new food is the rule. And the next time you’re in a conversation where you say or hear something like, “Little Bobby would never try anything like Indian food,”  remember what they call Indian food in India. One billion people can’t be wrong.


Snap Beans StorageSnap beans are prone to frost damage. To prevent this, store them in a paper bag placed in another plastic bag and placed in the warmest part of the fridge.  Do not wash them before storing.  They should keep up to a week like this.









French-style New Potato Salad

IMG_5188No matter what the variety or color, when a potato is harvested in its tuber infancy, it becomes a new potato. New potatoes are low in starch, high in sugars, and range in size from golf ball to marble.   They have an incomparably smooth but firm texture and a skin so thin it may be missing in spots. Found only in backyard gardens and farmers markets, new potatoes represent one of summer’s fleeting joys.

New Potatoes--French-Style New Potato Salad

My favorite way to showcase the new potato’s subtle flavor and creamy texture is to serve it in a salad…but not one of those sloppy American mayonnaise-y sorts of salads that you find in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. That would mask rather than enhance the potato’s flavor. Besides, too many people have an absolute aversion to mayonnaise stemming from a childhood experience like finding out too late that grandma used mayonnaise not Cool Whip in a Jell-O salad.  I have my own aversions. While I love mayonnaise any other time, added to potatoes it represents for me a major public health menace. As a student, I read one too many textbooks that used church potluck potato salad as the source of a food poisoning outbreak to illustrate the terms and tools of epidemiology. No thank you.

French potatoes salad, thankfully, eliminates all of those bad associations while taking advantage of foods from the early part of summer-—herbs, fresh spring onions, and new potatoes.  This vinaigrette is on the tangy side which enhances the flavor and texture of mild, creamy new potatoes. Small waxy potato varieties make a suitable substitute.

Selection & Storage:  Potatoes should be firm and should have no green skin or sprouts on them.  Green on a potato indicates sun exposure and the presence of a poison. DON’T EAT THE GREEN SPOTS—CUT THEM OUT.  Store new potatoes in a cool, dark place away from the onions. I find a cardboard box, a burlap sack, or a paper bag on the pantry floor works well—dry, breathable material wicks moisture away. Spread them out as much as possible and remove any bad one immediately. Do not store them in the refrigerator as they become oddly sweet and may even turn black.IMG_5203

Preparations: New potatoes are easy to cook whole because of their small size.  You do not need to remove the skin of the new potato because it is so thin.  After boiling they will easily peel off when rubbed. They are delicious when boiled (10 – 20 minutes simmer time), creamed, or pan-roasted (drizzle in oil and roasted at 375 F for 25 – 35 min).  They keep their shape well when cooked and cut, making them ideal for salads.

Cooking with Kids:  Herbs are a major part of my postage stamp garden.  Most are low maintenance perennials. The kids know the name and flavor of every herb in our garden. They sample them regularly and are in charge of harvesting them.  I keep a small pair of scissors in the kitchen just for this purpose.  Even if space is limited or you have black instead of green thumbs, try planting a container of herbs or placing a few in your landscaping.  Herbs grow like weeds generally speaking.  Moreover, they cost a fortune at the store and spoil quickly, so you’ll save money on groceries.  In this recipe, I have the kids measure and shake the vinaigrette in a mason jar while I boil the potatoes.


French-style New Potato Salad
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 servings
  • 2 lbs. new or waxy potatoes
  • ¼ cup white or red wine vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small spring onion or shallot, mince
  • ¼ cup mix chopped herbs—thyme, tarragon, chives or parsley
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 1 or 2 pinches of sugar
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Place washed but unpeeled new potatoes in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Salt water if desired. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer until tender—10 to 20 minutes depending on the size, drain and quarter if desired.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, herbs, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until completely combined. Toss with the warm potatoes. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.


Split Red Lentil Dal

Split Red Lentils--Dal & RiceIf you’ve ever wanted to try making Indian food at home, start with dal. Think of it as the stepping-stone Indian dish.  Next to rice, nothing could be easier or more essential.  Dal refers to both legumes (peas, lentils or beans) which have been hulled and split and to the stew-like dishes created from these legumes. You can find many types of dal in the Indian grocery store:  toor dal is made from yellow pigeon peas; mung dal is made from mung beans and so forth.  In addition to varying pulses, dal recipes vary even more from region to region and family to family.

kerala_mapMy husband is from the spice coast of southern India, Kerala.  This is his recipe, which of course now makes it our family’s recipe. Because he misses food from his homeland and because I have purposefully avoided learning how to make anything from there, he has developed a talent for cooking it.  Any small whim or memory can set him off on recreating a meal from his youth.  The task brings him a satisfaction that I wouldn’t dream of stealing.  He owns this corner of the culinary map, which has saved me from having to feed everyone night after night—a daily imperative that could easily steal my joy for cooking.

So our family has established a tradition of dedicating Sundays to Indian cuisine.  The Man is the executive chef; we help out as occasional kitchen grunts. The weekly curries change, but dal and rice—the foundation foods of our Indian feast— remain constant.  The Man’s main recipe uses masoor dal, split red lentils.  He has taught me to cook it, and I have, but of course his always tastes better.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Split Red Lentil Dal
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4-6 servings
Serve with basmati rice and yogurt for a quick week-night meal.
  • 1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 3 + ½ cups stock or water
  • 2 paste tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  1. In medium sauce pan, heat oil over a medium-high flame until hot. Add cumin seeds and cook until the aroma is released–-about 30 seconds.
  2. Quickly add the chopped onion and salt. Sauté until the onion is golden—about 6 -8 minutes.
  3. Next add the lentils, 3 cups of water or stock, and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. (The lentils should be nearly cooked).
  4. Add chopped tomatoes and cook another 3 minutes. Add more liquid if it appears too thick.
  5. Remove from heat, stir in cilantro, and adjust seasoning. Serve with rice.
This is the basic recipe.

Add a green chili or dried red chili if you like a bit of heat. Add a cup of chopped tender greens like spinach or cabbage at the end and cook for a minute or 2 if you want an even heartier dal.

For the stock:water ratio, the Man usually uses 2½ cups stock and the rest water.

Split Red Lentil Dal--prepped ingredientsIf you’ve never before tried red lentils, please do.  Not only do they take little time to prepare (an exceptional trait among legumes) they have a unique flavor—rich, peppery, and satisfying with little additional flavorings or spices.  Moreover, they are a nutritional powerhouse. A grain (rice) and a legume (red lentil) eaten together give us all the essential protein we need, eliminating the need for animal proteins.  Many Indian families, including ours, eat just this combination of rice and dal with a bit of yogurt and a chutney or veggie for a complete meal.

Cooking with Kids:

This is less about cooking with kids than eating with kids.   If your kids are anything like mine, the first time they see anything new on their plate they scream, and yes, sometimes even cry, which inspires fantasies of sending them off as volunteers to a distant refugee camp where they might learn some gratitude for the food on their plates and roof over their heads!  That is how I know that some of you are thinking right now that your kids will never eat something like Indian food.   But this dish is pretty tame.  Once they get past the initial fit and put it in their mouth, I bet they will like dal, perhaps not immediately but soon. Remember, it may take up to 18 exposures to a new food before you can safely say that you don’t like it; that goes for kids and adults. So try serving it at least a few times before you give up…for awhile.  My kids (like the nearly 1 billion kids in India) have grown to love dal.  And once they like the dal and rice, well then we can start making some really tantalizing South Indian curries to go with them.