Three Dinners, Zero Root Vegetables

IT'S REALLY SPRING!

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We're heading into summer for real now, celebrating with two hearty warm salads and a light soup that features spring vegetables. All are flexible enough to work for vegans, vegetarians, and less-meatarians. Be sure to check out the headnotes and variations. And you'll notice the prep and cooking directions are interwoven into the steps, so the process is seamless, so they might look a tad longer than usual. To slow down the action at any point, just lower — or turn off — the stove and set your own pace. It's summer, after all!

Vegetable Fajita Salad

Serves: 4 
Time: Less than 30 minutes (or a little longer if heating a grill)

Imagine a room temperature salad based on fajita components, minus the meat. (Or if you want that, just see the second variation.) Mushrooms and zucchini get a run under the broiler while peppers and onions sizzle away in a skillet. Or if you feel like firing up the grill — like I did — throw the mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers directly over a medium-high flame and maybe leave the onions raw. Either way, add crunchy corn, ripe tomatoes, and bright cilantro, then dress with lime juice and dollop with sour cream if you like. For a fancier presentation, you can plate the components separately on a large platter and let everyone serve and toss their own. Serve with warmed corn or flour tortillas or chips.

Ingredients

  • 2 portobello mushrooms (8 ounces)

  • 2 small or 1 large zucchini (1 pound)

  • 1/4 cup good-quality vegetable oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 bell peppers (any color)

  • 1 medium onion

  • 2 ears corn (or use 1 1/2 cups frozen)

  • 1 large ripe tomato

  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro

  • 2 limes

  • Sour cream for serving (optional)

Instructions

1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 4 inches from the heat. Trim the mushrooms and zucchini. Halve the zucchini lengthwise. Put the mushrooms and zucchini, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet, rub with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil, turning the mushrooms once, and leaving the zucchini cut side up until they’re tender and browned in places, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Trim, peel, halve, slice the onion and add it to the pan as the oil heats. Core, seed, and slice the bell peppers; add them to the pan, too. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper.

3. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. (Remember to check the food in the broiler.) Husk the corn, cut the kernels off the cob (or run frozen corn under cold water to thaw it) and put them in a large salad bowl. Core and chop the tomato; add it to the bowl. Chop 1/2 cup cilantro and add it to the bowl. Halve the limes and keep them handy.

4. When the mushrooms and zucchini are tender, slice or chop them as you like and add them to the bowl along with the peppers and onions. Squeeze lime juice over all and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss, taste, and adjust the seasoning, and serve with sour cream.

Variations

Vegetable and Black Bean Fajita Salad. Add 2 cups cooked or drained canned black beans to the corn, tomato, and cilantro mixture before tossing.

Steak, Chicken, or Pork Fajita Salad. All you need is a pound: sirloin or loin beef or pork; or boneless chicken breasts or thighs. Adds a little time but not much. Broil 1 pound skirt steak, boneless chicken thighs, or pork sirloin steaks before cooking the vegetables: Put the meat on the rimmed baking sheet, pat it dry, drizzle with an additional tablespoon of oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It should take about 10 to 20 minutes total, turning once about halfway through depending on what you're cooking. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and the pan juices to the bowl with the vegetables. Let the meat rest until the salad is ready to serve, then slice them thinly across the grain and drape the pieces across the top. 

—Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast

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Smoky Bulgur and Eggplant, with or without Feta

Serves: 4
Time: About 30 minutes

Here's a satisfying sort-of salad you can eat hot, at room temperature, or out of the fridge the next day. So it's as flexible as the salad. And it's easy to adjust toward vegan by skipping the cheese or putting it on the side. Check off all of the make-ahead, crowd-pleasing features that are perfect for pot lucks or picnics. 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed

  • 1 pound eggplant (any kind)

  • 1 medium red onion or large shallot

  • 1 cup bulgur (medium grind)

  • 1/3 cup tomato paste

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 2 teaspoons cumin

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley

  • 4 ounces feta cheese (about 1 cup crumbled; optional) 

Instructions

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Put 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Trim and chop the eggplant into bite-size chunks; add the pieces to the skillet. Trim, peel, and chop the onion; add that to the skillet, too. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently and adding drops of oil as necessary until the vegetables are brown in places and soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. When the water comes to a boil, add the bulgur and a pinch of salt, stir, cover, and remove from the heat to steep while you finish the vegetables. Peel and chop 2 garlic cloves; add them to the vegetables and stir.

3. When the eggplant mixture is soft but not too mushy, stir in the tomato paste, cumin, and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring frequently until fragrant, about a minute. Check the bulgur. It should be tender but still have some bite; if it hasn’t absorbed all the water, drain it in a strainer. Chop 1/2 cup of the parsley leaves (or more of the bunch if you like). Crumble the feta cheese if you're using it.

4. Add the bulgur to the skillet with the parsley and the feta (if you're using it), fluff with a fork, and turn off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning, fluff again before serving.

Variations

Smoky Bulgur with Zucchini and Olives. Substitute chopped zucchini for the eggplant and 3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives for the feta.

Smoky Bulgur with Red Peppers and Manchego. Instead of the eggplant, core and chop 2 red bell peppers. Instead of the cumin, use 2 teaspoons of dried oregano. Substitute 1/2 cup grated manchego cheese for the feta. Garnish with chives instead of parsley if you’d like.

Lemony Bulgur with Kale and Ricotta Salata. Replace the eggplant with 1 bunch of chopped Lacinato kale. In Step 1, the kale will only take about 5 minutes to become tender. Instead of the smoked paprika and cumin, use the zest and juice of 1 lemon to season the vegetables in Step 3. Use crumbled ricotta salata instead of the feta cheese if you like.

—Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast

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Broken Wonton Soup

Serves: 4
Time: About 30 minutes

Few people feel like filling and sealing wontons on a weeknight, even with packaged skins. The solution: Deconstruct the whole thing, pull together homemade wonton-style soup in minutes, then load it up with vegetables. Be sure to check out the different directions you can go with the variations.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1 inch fresh ginger

  • 3 scallions

  • 1 pound snap or snow peas

  • 1 egg

  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce, plus more for serving

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil, plus more for serving

  • 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder 

  • Salt and pepper

  • 12 ounces ground pork

  • 24 wonton skins

Instructions

1. Put the stock in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Trim the tough parts off the mushroom stems and save them for another use if you like. Thinly slice the caps and add them to the pot.

2. Peel and chop garlic and ginger. Trim and chop the scallions, separating the green and white parts and keeping them separate. Trim the snap peas and cut them on the bias into bite-size pieces.

3. Crack the egg into a medium bowl and add the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, white parts of the scallions, and five-spice powder if you’re using it. Sprinkle with a teeny bit of salt and lots of pepper and beat with a fork to combine. Add the ground pork and mix it into the seasonings, stirring gently until everything just comes together.

4. When the stock boils, adjust the heat so it bubbles steadily. Use your fingers or two teaspoons to pinch off and shape an imperfect walnut-sized piece of the pork mixture; drop it into the stock. Repeat until all the mixture is used. Cover and cook, adjusting the heat so the stock continues to bubble but not vigorously until the meatballs firm up a bit, about 2 minutes.

5. Separate 24 wonton skins (refrigerate or freeze what remains for another use). Drop them into the pot, stirring carefully after every few to prevent them from sticking together. 

6. Cook until the meatballs are cooked through, and the wonton skins are just tender, another minute or 2. Add the snap peas and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more soy sauce if necessary. Serve, garnished with the green parts of the scallions and passing some soy sauce and sesame oil at the table.

Variations

Broken Wonton Soup with Silken Tofu and Watercress. A long variation, detailing a flavorful plant-based alternative: In the ingredient list, omit the pork and egg. Substitute 1 bunch of watercress for the snow peas and add 24 ounces (2 boxes) soft silken tofu. Start by doing the shiitake prep in Step 1 and skip Step 3 entirely. Begin the cooking by putting 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until they’re brown in places, 3 to 5 minutes. Then circle back to Step 2 and do the rest of the vegetable prep while they cook, including trimming the watercress. When the mushrooms are starting to crisp, add the 5-Spice, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and scallion whites; stir a couple of times, then immediately add the stock. When it returns to a boil, add the wonton skins and tofu. Break the tofu into large pieces and when the skins are tender, taste and adjust the seasonings and serve, garnished with the scallion greens and watercress. 

Broken Wonton Soup with Spicy Shrimp and Snap Peas. Use peeled shrimp instead of pork. Pulse it in a food processor with the egg and seasonings from Step 3, adding a bit of chopped fresh green chile, like Thai, and continue with the recipe.

Broken Wonton Soup with Gingered Chicken. Substitute ground chicken for the pork (to grind your own, follow the previous variation) and an additional 2 inches of ginger instead of the garlic.

—Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast

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