zippy spring quinoa, greek-style.

greek oregano, first of the season

In English, the French culinary term “mise en place” roughly translates as “put into place.” Read your recipe thoroughly. Gather your ingredients. Chop, dice, organize, and prepare. To put it another way –  “get your shit together.”

I raise my hand and hold my head in shame and admit that I often completely ignore the wisdom this endlessly useful concept. Sometimes outside of the kitchen, too, so let’s please not talk about my junk drawer at work.

A familiar scene around dinner time is as follows: me, part way through a recipe with a vague plan for changes and substitutions, pots boiling, and timers reminding me that very soon I’ll have charcoal briquettes instead of roasted this or that. [side note: vegetable ash. why?] Some ingredients are chopped while others are still waiting to be washed, opened, or even acknowledged, really. I know it’s bad when the Kitchen Assistants start to circle my feet like carrion birds, scooping up any morsel hastily flung overboard by my uncoordinated and sporadic activities up top.

Listen, I won’t cop to being totally disorganized, but I will say that there is a positive correlation between the amount of pleasure I take in the end result of whatever the endeavor and the level of sanity I arrive with at the end. Cooking included.

lemon vinaigrette

Enter this lovely recipe for a zippy spring Greek-style quinoa. A dish greater than the sum of it’s pieces and parts where there is no glory to be had for any single one on it’s own, because it is simply a dish of great combination. And it is even better the next day. Warm quinoa soaks up a tangy lemon and oregano vinaigrette and is tossed with garbanzos, zucchini, summer squash, greek olives, marinated artichoke hearts, feta, and bright springtime happiness.

If you can mise en place your life the night before and put this together for lunch the next day, I bet you’ll start looking at that junk drawer and wondering how life would be if *maybe* you just threw out all the pens that no longer work. Make this on a Sunday night and Monday just might treat you just a little better than you expect!

greek quinoa + lemon vinaigrette

If you can REALLY get your shit together and do the light chopping, measuring, organizing, and thinking this recipe requires before you even begin, well, then I think we might just be on to something here.

greek quinoa + lemon vinaigrette

Recipe for Spring Quinoa with Artichokes, Olives, and Feta

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 tbsp good olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed
1 small yellow summer squash, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 12 oz. jar marinated artichokes, drained + quartered
3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled and divided (or more to taste)
1/2 – 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and quartered (use amount to taste)
2 tsp lemon zest (reserved from lemons below)
1 tbsp fresh greek oregano, chopped
handful fresh parsley, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt + pepper to taste

1/4 cup lemon juice (about two very juicy lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh greek oregano, minced
1 tbsp red onion, minced

Notes: This dish can be served room temperature or warm and makes for some pretty killer lunch leftovers. If you prefer it warm, cook the quinoa in a larger pot and complete the last steps there.

1)   Make the dressing. Combine all ingredients in a small Mason jar or other sealable container. Shake like crazy until the lemon and olive oil have emulsified. Set aside. Pro-tip: let the minced onions hang out in the lemon juice for about 10 minutes before combining with the rest of the ingredients. This will help take the edge off of a super strong onion.

2)   Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Or, combine 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and cut the heat to very low for about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

3)   In a nonstick pan, heat the olive oil over medium high. Be careful not to let the oil smoke. Add the smashed garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Fry the garlic for about five minutes, until it is just starting to turn golden brown. It helps to tip the pan to submerge the garlic, but this should be done VERY carefully – don’t tip too far! You do not need a grease fire in your life. Remove set these tasty nuggets aside. After they’ve cooled, mince.

4)   Add the summer squash and zucchini and cook for about five to six minutes.  Season with just a bit of salt and some pepper. Add garbanzos and cook until warmed through. Squash and beans should begin to have a bit of color, but should still be firm.

5)   In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, and the squash and garbanzo mixture. Add the artichoke hearts, olives, most of the feta cheese, the fried garlic, and the lemon zest. Add up to a cup of the dressing. Start with a half a cup, and add more to your liking. Toss gently together. Toss, not mash. (You can do it, Hulk!)

6)   Top generously with more feta, the minced oregano and parsley.

lemon + eggplant risotto…namaste.

lemon + eggplant risotto

Generally speaking, I consider myself a girl who loves winter and everything about it: endless, frozen nights when the our city is firm and quiet, the eerie cracking of frozen, bare limbs reminding us that we’re not the only ones waiting for the frost to break. Sweaters. Tea. Scarves. Red noses and extra trips to the coffee during those long work days when daylight seems to hide for days on end. I particularly love January to the end of March. The gray days are the perfect time for Sunday sauce + meatballs, pasta bakes, spicy shakshuka or chilaquiles for brunch, a few stews and definitely a few roast chickens.

Winter in Ohio is distinctly different beast depending on where in our lovely state you live. Here in the middle lands, we’ve had a gray, boring season. We’re underwhelmed at best while we jealously read the weekly forecast for the Northeast. Winter hasn’t given us anything about it to love this year. We’re cranky and basically over it. Ok, that part about wanting 35 inches of snow… that might just be me.

So – instead of being a crabby, restless mess and ordering lots of pity pizza… I started taking a yoga class! Three days a week! FREE AT WORK. I’d be stupid not to take it, right? Quite honestly, I can’t really move right now because I’m sure I’ve done EVERYTHING wrong, but that’s ok. It’s creating a little crack in this gray funk and I’m already feeling better. Small changes lead to big changes. Or something. I quite remember exactly what the new-agey yogi was talking about today, but it was something to that effect. Maybe one day I’ll be able to pay attention instead of wondering if I’ll be able to unfurl my sad, inflexible body in time for my next meeting.

In addition to getting some zen in my life, I’ve also started to make a concerted effort to actually use our cookbooks. We’ve got so many wonderful ideas quietly fill this shelf and it’s a shame that we’re letting them collect dust. Some of the newest are wedding presents from our dear, wonderful, and amazing friends Tom + Molly who live far, far away in Madison, WI and are probably having a much more exciting snow adventure than we are.

One of their gifts, “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi, is absolutely amazing and full of bright, happy vegetables! (Even if you don’t buy this book – next time you’re at the bookstore or library, go look at it… it’s beautiful. You go to the library, right? I’m blinking at you.)

As I was paging through, I realized I was craving the newness of spring but not ready to give up the ghost with winter quite yet. And then… there it was, right in front of me. The perfect bridge between these gray days and the coming of spring: lemon + eggplant risotto. Creamy, warm rice, cooked in olive oil and onions, slowly swirled with increments of good broth, good cheese and lemon juice and zest… oh my! It’s warm and comforting but fresh and vibrant. Heavy enough to be comfort food, but bright enough to really let the eggplant, basil and lemon shine. There is hope!

What I find clever about this risotto is the duo of eggplant: one oven-charred, one fried in olive oil. The oven-charred eggplant adds a deep creaminess to the rice, and the fried bits remind me how little adornment eggplant really needs to be a delicious little devil. Pair this with fresh basil, lemon zest and good pecorino Romano (…use Locatelli and don’t ever say I didn’t give you good advice). I mean, can you really go wrong with this? I think not.

Many simple combinations of delicate vegetables and aromatics will result in a very nice dish. I’ve had wonderful risottos with fresh peas, asparagus, and cheese. The traditional risotto Milanese (from Milan) is winter comfort food, for real: saffron, beef broth, butter or lard, cheese, and saffron (swoon) Something earthy like mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and maybe a bit of thyme would be wonderful, too, I’d bet. Find a few things that play nice, and let them shine.

So, let’s back up just a bit. When I’m reading cookbooks, I’m not looking to follow a recipe to the final letter. I look at cookbooks as more inspiration for method, flavor combinations, and interesting tidbits about regional histories – those sorts of things. That being said, my method is not exact, or in perfect lockstep with any recipe, so work with the ambiguous nature of these directions and don’t be afraid to experiment.

To make a risotto – you’ll need about a scant cup of Arborio rice (there are other varieties, but this is easiest to come by in my opinion) and about 3.5-ish cups of warm broth. Gently cook the onion in some olive oil or butter, add some garlic and a heavy splash of white wine until it’s all absorbed. You can add most of your other add ins like, peas, mushrooms, here and stir for a few minutes. Add the Arborio and the broth about a ladle full at a time (… a heavy half cup, perhaps…) and stir until the broth is absorbed. This is the most important part. The time you invest here is worth it. Don’t rush it – let the grains and broth do their thing. Plan for about a half an hour here. Repeat this until the grains are al dente (a little bite left to them) and stir in cheese, maybe more butter, any lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with herbs and a little more cheese and done.

The oven-charred eggplant from Ottolenghi’s recipe was added towards the end with the lemon juice, zest, and cheese. The fried bits were served on top. I continue to be in love with it.

I will definitely be revisiting this recipe in the warmer months to come, when the eggplant and basil are ready in the garden…

Speaking of spring… our seed catalog is ready for a good read … I think I’ll stack it on the top of that reading pile. We should probably get on that whole gardening thing. We’ll talk about that some day.