Recipes By Rikki Asher
November is Brussels sprouts season in New York. I especially love the ones sold on the stalk. For this recipe’s illustration, I sketched the entire stalk on paper. Using watercolors, lights and darks were painted first, then middle tones, finishing with shadows and highlights. The piece didn’t look right. It seemed too small for the paper. On a second attempt I zoomed into one section. The leaves and buds began to intrigue me. They looked like faces, crescent moons and layers of abstract shapes. When the painting was finished, it felt as if I had captured the sprouts' spirit.
There is a five-story walk-up in the Bronx. My childhood friend Risa lived there with her parents, Leon and Esther and her sister Mara. Esther often baked Plum Kuchen (Kuchen is German for Cake). When she baked a Kuchen, her apartment had an aroma of cinnamon and plums that you could smell in the hallway. The scent still evokes fond memories for me. Esther was gracious enough to share her recipe. I changed a few things and retained the integrity of this delicious dessert.
As a child, my mother and grandmother gave me ginger ale for an upset stomach. Apparently, China has used the herb to treat nausea, upset stomach, digestion and many other cures for over 2,000 years! Recently, I had a tooth pulled and learned that ginger root tea helps soothe the pain. It worked almost as well as the prescribed pharmaceuticals. A ginger/carrot recipe may not help relieve your toothache, but I’m sure you will enjoy this side dish that tastes great and is good for you!
Try each of these three toppings over the polenta:
1) Tomato Sauce; 2) Parmesan cheese or 3) sautéed mushrooms
Not only did Columbus not discover America, he claimed to have discovered polenta even though Indigenous people introduced it to him.
While studying art in Venice, the Program Director took our class on a bus trip to Turin. She stood in the front of the bus, a bit tipsy, and insisted that we are going to the city of Polenta! We knew that we were going to Turin, but Polenta? When we arrived in downtown Turin we found a building that was very narrow and yellowish in color. It was called the Palazzo Fetta di Polenta. Roughly translated it means “Palace of a Slice of Polenta”. We may not have visited the “city” of Polenta, but we found the Palazzo, and bought fresh slices of polenta from vendors across the street.
Free Shakespeare in the Park is a New York summer tradition. Tickets are distributed in the afternoon, on a first come first served basis to those who waited in line between 2 and 8 hours. That’s a long time. Friends and I would pack a picnic lunch. We brought something to drink, cheese, bread, coleslaw, fruit and cookies. The coleslaw represented the quintessential picnic food. It was always worth the wait to see the plays.
A dog ran down a Bronx street. Unfortunately, the dog was run over by a car. As a 14 year old, I was profoundly moved by seeing this. I became an ethical vegetarian that day. Years later, I read “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature.” It was the funniest and most inspiring book about politics, food, diet, vegetarianism, fruitarians and breatharians I had ever read! The salad section explains that avocados, peppers, olives, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes are fruits! In Mr. Gregory’s book he emphasized the importance of eating raw fruits and vegetables, especially salad. This most unusual fruit salad is dedicated to Mr. Gregory.
In a pinch: Allergic to peppers? Use zucchini or yellow squash instead.
Tommy and I were dating when I was 14. My fondest memory associated with this time is visiting his Italian mom. Their home always smelled from something delicious like; garlic, tomato sauce, soups, and espresso. One day, I decided to make minestrone! At that time, I knew practically nothing about cooking. The next time we visited her I proudly announced that I made minestrone! Smiling, she asked me how I made it. I naively said, “From a can!” Her smile dropped and she didn’t say a word. Ouch! If only she could see this recipe and try a bowl, I'm sure that she would be molto felice (very happy)!
In a pinch: No fresh parsley? Use 2 Tablespoons dried parsley.
As a lifelong New Yorker, I’m never ready to move out of a Summer mindset, where bathing suits, straw hats, and sandals are outfits of the day, and shift into Fall and Winter’s chilly weather, with the requisite insulated pants, fleece lined beanies and snow boots. While I’d prefer cucumber salad and iced chai for at least a few more months, I inevitably remember the following lines in Pete Seeger’s Turn! Turn! Turn!
To everything (turn, turn, turn) There is a season (turn, turn, turn) And a time to every purpose, under Heaven.
The song and this recipe remind me that it’s OK to welcome the turning of seasons from Summer into Autumn, and then Autumn into Winter with a delicious bowl of lentil soup!
In the fall, after work, my father would come home with pomegranates in a brown paper bag. Two or three rolled out of the bag onto our kitchen table. Grabbing one, I broke open the leathery skin; and popped the beautiful red rubies out of the shell; landing all over the table. As we ate these ruby red seeds, I asked him what they were. “Chinese apples” he said. Years later, I learned another word for Chinese apple was Pomegranate. Those lovely ruby seeds will always remind me of him.
Serve Tabouli with Romaine lettuce leaves, toasted pita bread triangles, and olives.
In a pinch: I have a few friends who can’t eat wheat. Quinoa is a perfect substitute for Wheat Bulgur! Use 1 cup uncooked quinoa. Follow recipe on the box. Let cool. Place in a bowl. Add above ingredients follow recipe directions. Mix well. Cover and chill until dressing is absorbed. Enjoy!
In a pinch: No spinach? Arugula or bib lettuce will work as well.
There are often fennel (aka anise) bulbs in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. Eating it raw in salads can be uninspiring. However, cooking fennel brings out its subtle flavor and blends well with spinach and apples. I hope this salad makes you a fennel fan, if you’re not one already!
Apparently, there is a distinction between male and female fennel. Males are round, less fibrous and best eaten raw. The female version is long and recommended for cooking. From my experience, either one is fine.
Growing up, salad often consisted of iceberg lettuce, a couple of slices of tasteless tomatoes that came out of a plastic container, with a spoonful of mayonnaise. In my teens, I started to cook and discovered vegetables like Romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, and radishes! Radishes were never my favorite. I didn't include them in recipes. However, this Radish Salad puts radishes in the spotlight! Their crunchy, spicy flavor seems to shine through the other ingredients! Great on a summer day or a picnic!
In a pinch: No apple cider vinegar? Use white vinegar instead.
Before I was married, my hard boiled eggs were more like bedeviled eggs after many attempts at trying to get consistently smooth peeled eggs. They were often pitted, dented and cracked. My mother-in-law, Inge’s Deviled Eggs always came out smooth and delicious. Her secret? She used an egg piercer or a pushpin and ice water. (See recipe). That really did the trick! In a pinch: No tarragon? Use parsley instead.
In the early 1980’s there were only a few NYC vegetarian restaurants around. Whole Wheat and Wild Berry was one of my favorites. Their Stuffed Mushroom appetizer inspired me to adapt their recipe and use wheat germ instead of breadcrumbs. I hope that you enjoy this tasty twist.
In a pinch: If you are out of wheat germ, breadcrumbs will work. Cilantro can be substituted for fresh parsley.
Uncooked asparagus stays fresh refrigerated for 3-4 days. Store spears upright in a jar of 1” water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag.
Friends and relatives visit us often, mostly from the US and Europe. We usually opt to eat meals at home. Since I enjoy sitting around the table with everyone, the appetizers I make tend to be quick, easy and tasty.
In honor of my dear friend Fra who passed away in 2015 and never missed an opportunity to tell a joke:
Q: Where did the asparagus go to have a few drinks?
A: The Salad Bar.
In a pinch: No asparagus? Use carrots, leeks or any other broilable vegetable.
I love hummus! Packaged hummus always tastes a bit sour or too sweet to me. That’s because citric acid and sugar are often used in the ingredients. This Middle Eastern homemade hummus recipe tastes better than any commercially made hummus I’ve ever had. It can be scooped onto a piece of toasted pita bread, crackers and vegetable sticks. It also works well as a sandwich spread.
In a pinch: No time (or desire) to soak and cook chickpeas? Use 4 cups of canned instead.
Rinse well and drain. Follow the rest of the recipe.
A few years ago I was a visiting art education professor at Leon University, in Mexico, for two weeks.The president of the University took me to dinner a few times and, since I don’t eat meat, it was a challenge to find vegetarian food on the menu. Even the rice and beans were made with lard! Fortunately, there was always guacamole, and I never tired of it!
In a pinch: No fresh chili peppers? The ones in a jar are fine, too.
This recipe always comes in handy at Jewish Holiday meals.
The traditional Chopped Liver has its roots in kosher cooking, using chicken livers. Whenever I bring this vegetarian version to the table, everyone enjoys it (especially the chickens).
In a pinch: No food processor? A blender will work!
About Rutabaga: also known as Yellow Turnip. Unless they are organic, they are waxed and must be carefully peeled. In a pinch: Sometimes local vegetable markets don't carry rutabaga. When that's the case, I substitute a small butternut squash. Peel and remove seeds. Slice thickly. That does the trick! Add to the mix and follow the rest of the directions. This clear vegetable broth can be enjoyed on its own, or as a base for soups and sauces. Add cooked beans, green peas, steamed carrots, sprouts, tofu, pasta, cilantro or spinach. Let your imagination go wild!
Kirbys are usually 3-6” long. They are sold fresh and unwaxed. This easy no-cook blender recipe takes minutes to make. It hits the spot on a hot summer day!
In a pinch: If Kirbys are unavailable, feel free to use any other cucumber. Enjoy!
This delicious raw carrot soup is quick and easy!! It’s ready in 5 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Makes a good sauce or when combined with olive oil, creates a tasty salad dressing. Carrots have an added attraction. They are root vegetables loaded with beta carotene which is good for the eyes. In a pinch: If you don't have, (or use) soy sauce, substitute with balsamic vinegar and add salt to taste. Enjoy!
This raw mushroom soup is so easy to make! It only takes 5 minutes to prepare! A healthy vegan and dairy-free soup that is perfect for lunch with salad, or served before the main course at dinner. Double the recipe for two people. Sprinkle a bit of fresh chopped parsley for color. Prefer a thinner soup? Add 1/4 cup of water. In a pinch: If you don't have, (or use) soy sauce substitute balsamic vinegar and add a bit more salt. Enjoy!
Beets are root vegetables. They provide iron and antioxidants. Small or medium beets are usually more tender than larger ones. This easy Borscht recipe was inspired by my Russian Grandmother Anna. Whenever my brother and I would visit, she always had at least two big pots on the stove. We smelled the delicious aroma of her soups at the end of the hallway! This borscht can be served hot or cold with a spoonful of sour cream or Greek yogurt. In a pinch: If you don't have fresh dill, use 1 teaspoon dried dill instead. Enjoy!
An easy, tasty soup that goes well with a crunchy piece of French or Italian bread! Leeks are a delicious vegetable, but they grow in sandy soil, so they need a good cleaning before you use them in recipes. 1) Cut off leek roots, slice leeks lengthwise, cut into desired pieces. 2) Fill a bowl with cold water, and add cut leeks. Swish around a few times. 3) With cupped hands lift leeks out of the bowl and place them on a plate or working surface. The sand will stay in the bowl.
In a pinch: If you don't have (or don't use) butter, substitute it for any vegetable oil. Enjoy!