Squash Parmesan, Lasagna Style

This dish is a lot like lasagna but with parmesan cheese between the layers instead of ricotta. I know it’s a little early for summer squashes but they are so tasty and now available year-round so I wanted to make something different, something fairly quick and easy which this dish definitely turned out to be. And so delicious with my favorite pasta sauce and parmesan. The only hard part of the dish is slicing the squash!

First, preheat oven to 450 degrees and line two LARGE baking sheets with parchment paper. Next, trim and slice lengthwise in about 1/4″ slices:

4-5 medium zucchini

4-5 medium yellow squash

About 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of squash. Place in a 9×12-13″ baking pan, and sprinkle with:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Using your hands or tongs, mix to coat the squash slices with the oil. Lay the slices of squash out on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle the slices with:

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until they are tender. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. In the 9×12″ baking pan (the same one you already used, it’s okay if there’s olive oil in the bottom), spread:

1/2 cup of your favorite pasta sauce

Line the pan with squash slices. Top with more pasta sauce and:

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Repeat once or twice depending on how many squash slices are left. I only had a few so filled some gaps and only had two layers. If possible, end with sauce and cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until cheese in browning and the casserole is bubbling. Let sit on the counter for about 10 minutes before serving so it sets. Serves 6.

TIP: Want a main dish instead of a side? Add 1-pound cooked ground meat, Italian sausage, or vegan protein to the pasta sauce.

As you can see, I ran out of sauce so ended with cheese only on top of the layer of squash.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage

Want a quick and easy side dish? Here’s one that even those who don’t care much for cabbage may enjoy. Use either red or green cabbage, or be lazy and buy a bag of cole slaw mix, doesn’t matter if there’s a few shredded carrots in there as well. Goes very well with any meat but for some reason cabbage especially likes pork or beef – steaks, chops, or roasts doesn’t matter. And feel free to change out the ground cloves for whatever spice your family prefers – cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, etc.

Heat a 10-12″ high-sided skillet over medium high heat and add:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat until shimmering and add:

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 large onion, sliced

Cook over medium heat until beginning to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add to the skillet:

2 cups shredded cabbage

Salt and ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons water

Cover, reduce heat to medium low and cook until the cabbage is softened, about 5 minutes. While it cooks, in a small bowl combine:

2 tablespoons vinegar (whatever kind your family prefers, I used white)

1 tablespoon date syrup (agave or maple would also work)

1/4 teaspoon celery seed or caraway

Whisk to combine and set aside. When cabbage is ready, pour the vinegar mixture into the skillet, stir to combine and let heat for about 30 seconds. Serve. Makes 2-4 servings.

TIP: Like braised cabbage, adding a diced apple or pear when the cabbage is added to the skillet and topping with some bacon bits would be great in this dish.

Honey Mustard Asparagus

Here’s a very quick and easy side dish if you like mustard and asparagus. Use either green or white, makes no difference. If your asparagus is more than pencil size, peel it to get rid of the tough skin. I used spicy brown mustard which is my favorite but feel free to use any mustard that your family enjoys. The same with the herbs – I used thyme because it’s my favorite but most herbs would work well in this recipe, either fresh or dried.

First, prepare by peeling and/or removing the woody portion at the bottom:

1 pound asparagus

Place in a steamer and cook until fork tender but still a little crunchy, about 4-7 minutes depending on the size of the asparagus spears.

While the asparagus steams, make the sauce in a medium bowl by whisking together:

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon honey (agave nectar or date syrup would also work)

1 tablespoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh herbs or 1/4 teaspoon dried herbs (I used thyme)

Once asparagus is cooked, remove from heat and add to the bowl of sauce, toss to combine. Serve hot or cold. Serves 2.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Onions

My grandson loves Brussel sprouts so for Christmas this year instead of simply steaming them, I decided to try something different. Quite an easy dish to make, these roasted sprouts get quite crunchy which only adds to the delicious combination of sprouts and bacon! I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo before we ate them all.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium size bowl combine:

1-1 1/2 pounds Brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved

2 small to medium red onions, peeled and cut into good sized pieces

1 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Toss to coat all the sprouts. TIP: I generally toss the sprouts before adding the olive oil. Spread mixture out onto large baking sheet in a single layer. TIP: I like to make sure all the sprouts are cut side down so they get extra crispy. Cut into thin strips:

1/2 pound bacon

Sprinkle the bacon strips over the Brussel sprouts and bake for 30-35 minutes until bacon is cooked and the sprouts are nicely browned. The onions will also be nicely caramelized. Serves 4-6. Serve warm.

Thai “Peanut” Sauce with Spaghetti Squash

My obsession with eggplant has been demolished and replaced with spaghetti squash. Such a versatile vegetable, low in carbs, and good either as a “spaghetti” type vegetable or as a mashed squash. In this instance, it’s used as a spaghetti. And of course, I’ve left out the peanuts and substituted tahini but really any seed or nut butter will work in this recipe. And feel free to adjust the last four ingredients in the sauce to meet your family’s tastes. I used a lot more of the red curry paste because I just didn’t taste it at the prescribed amount.

First, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut in half:

1 small to medium spaghetti squash (size depending on how many you want to feed)

Sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and place face down on a baking tray. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes or until a knife can be easily inserted into the skin side of the squash. Baking time will depend on the size of the squash. When tender, set aside to cool while you make the sauce.

In a medium size saucepan, combine:

1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk (if you can have coconut milk, it would work well here)

2/3 cup tahini, sunflower, pepita, or other seed or nut butter

1/4 cup date sugar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy substitute for vegans)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons red curry paste (I used about 2 tablespoons)

Whisk to combine thoroughly although some heat may be needed to break down the seed or nut butter. Cook over medium high heat until it reaches a boil and then reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a 12″ skillet, heat over medium heat:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add:

1/2 cup peas

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Cover and cook until the carrots and peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Using a fork, scrap the flesh from the inside of the spaghetti squash from end to end. Add to the skillet with the other vegetables along with 1/2 to 1 cup of the sauce. At this point, add:

1/4 cup chopped parsley (OPTIONAL)

Toss and cook for 2-3 minutes until squash is heated through. Serve with chopped nuts or seeds (I used roasted pumpkin seeds, delicious!). With a small squash as a side dish, serves 4.

This recipe makes about 3 times as much sauce as is needed for the dish. I spooned the remainder into 1 cup canning jars and put them in the freezer.

Mushroom Stuffed Potato Cakes

Delicious side dishes that the entire family will enjoy are hard to come by, especially if one believes the television commercials! Here’s one that takes a little time but is worth the effort. And it’s quite easy to adjust to a particular taste – the dill can be replaced by one of a dozen herbs or spices. Potatoes are the type of food that can be enjoyed with a multitude of preparations. I made the mushroom stuffing several days in advance, prepared the mashed potatoes for the cakes a day ahead so it cooled overnight (no one wants to try to form hot potatoes into disks!), and then assembled them on the third day. They take very little time to assemble and fry so plan accordingly. About 15 minutes before my protein was ready, I started and had them fried and salted just as the ribs were coming out of the oven.

First prepare the mushrooms. In a 12″ skillet heat over medium high:

1 tablespoon olive oil

then add:

1 small onion minced (the food processor does this very quickly and easily)

8 ounces chopped mushrooms (again, a mince is best although not required)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

When the mushrooms and onion are soft and slightly browned, about 5-7 minutes, remove from heat and add:

1 large stem dill, chopped (fronds only)

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of red pepper flakes (or a dash of hot sauce) [Optional]

Set aside to cool. Peel and dice:

2-2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes

Cover with cold water and boil until soft. Depending on the size of the dice, this could take 10-30 minutes. Once cooked, drain the water and mash the potatoes, being sure to remove all lumps. DO NOT ADD ANY LIQUID TO THE MASH POTATOES.

In a large soup dish or pie plate (or paper plate), mix together the dredge:

1/4 cup all purpose gluten free flour

1 tablespoon tapioca flour

Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon)

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

To assemble the potato cakes, in the palm of a hand, scoop:

1/4-1/2 cup mashed potatoes (depending on the size cake desired)

Flatten until about 1/4″ thick and then make an indenture in the middle. Add about:

1-2 tablespoons mushroom mixture

Cover with about 2 tablespoons-1/4 cup scoop of mashed potatoes, spread to cover the stuffing and then lightly seal the edges of the disk to form a cake. Roll in the dredge mixture and set aside. The mixture should make 6-8 medium sized cakes.

Heat in a large skillet over medium high heat:

1/2 cup olive and avocado oil (the avocado oil has a much higher smoke point than the olive so a combination works best)

When shimmering hot, add the cakes to the oil and lower heat to medium. Fry on each side until well browned, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel and salt to taste. After a minute remove from the paper towel so that the cakes don’t get soggy. Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped dill or scallions.

TIP: When I next make these, hopefully when my grandson comes to visit, I’ll add some crispy bacon bits to the mushroom mixture!

TIP 2: I think I’ll also try this recipe with sweet potatoes but it will need different handling since they are quite moister than russet potatoes. Flour will need to be added to the sweet potatoes before shaping. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it works out.

Greek Butter Beans

Butter, or lima, beans are a good source of protein as well as flavorful and very satisfying as a side dish. This recipe is very easy to make, especially if canned beans are used. It would work with any type of bean if butter beans are not to your taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray an 5x8x3″ baking dish. Heat over medium heat in a 12″ skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

When hot (shimmering), add:

1 small onion diced

2 small or 8-10 baby carrots, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, until the carrots are slightly softened and the onion is translucent. Remove the cover and add:

2 medium to large fresh Roma (or plum) tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried parsley

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped (OPTIONAL)

Salt and pepper to taste

Stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add:

1 16ounce can butter beans, with liquid (unsalted if possible)

Stir to combine and cook for 8-10 minutes over medium high heat until sauce starts to thicken. Transfer to the baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes. Top with chopped fresh parsley and serve. A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt would add some richness. TIP: If your family likes spicy food, consider adding a few dashes of hot sauce when the tomatoes are added to the pan. Serves 4.

String Beans and Mushrooms with Garlic Sauce

Far easier to make than eggplant with garlic sauce, string beans with garlic sauce is a much more commonly found Chinese dish. It’s just as tasty, sweet and tangy but since the string beans are not deep fried, don’t need to be salted and let sit to lose their bitterness, or dredged in corn starch, the dish is so easy to construct, taking just minutes. Pre-steaming the beans or using frozen ones makes it even quicker to prepare. Many vegetables lend themselves to this process – broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

First prepare the beans by steaming or thawing them – any color string beans works equally well:

1 pound fresh or frozen string beans (I used yellow [or wax as my father always called them])

Remove the stems and steam for approximately 3-5 minutes until starting to tenderize but still have a bite, like al dente pasta. In a 12″ skillet, over medium high heat:

2 tablespoons olive oil

When the oil is shimmering hot, add:

6 ounces mushrooms

Sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned and tender. Add the string beans and remove from heat. In a small saucepan (2 cup size), heat over medium heat:

1 tablespoon olive oil

When hot add:

1 small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 small can mild green chilis

Cook until the shallot softens before adding:

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup soy sauce substitute

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon date syrup

Stir to combine. Make a slurry of:

2 teaspoons corn starch or arrowroot

1 tablespoon water

Add to the sauce and stir until the sauce thickens. Reduce heat to low and let cook for 5-7 minutes. Add to the string beans and mushrooms and reheat the vegetables over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with scallion greens and serve.*

*I actually only used half the garlic sauce so put the other half into a 1 cup jelly jar and stuck it in the freezer for the next time I need it.

“Ratatouille” Gratin

All of us love ratatouille, one of our favorite summer side dishes, especially for my grandson. So when I saw a recipe for a summer vegetable gratin it occurred to me that if I added some eggplant to it, it would be a ratatouille in a casserole with a nice crunchy top. Sounded delicious and indeed, it turned out succulent and indeed the top was very crunchy. The most important thing is to cut the vegetables all about the same so they cook at the same rate. It does take time since getting the water out of the squash and tomatoes, and the bitter out of the eggplant takes about a half hour of sitting but that time can be used to make really delicious caramelized onions. But it’s very easy to make. While I used yellow and zucchini squash, one or the other will work.

First thing is to cut up the vegetables:

1 pound zucchini squash, smallish, about 2

1 pound yellow summer squash, smallish again about 2

1 medium eggplant, peeled (about 6″ long)

6 medium size, ripe tomatoes

Wash and slice the squash, eggplant and tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Place the vegetables on baking trays covered with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and let sit for at least 1/2 hour. Wash off the salt (except from the tomatoes) and dry thoroughly between paper towels to get the squash and eggplant as dry as possible.

While the vegetables are sitting, cut:

3 large or 4 medium size onion

Peel and then cut them in half and slice each half into thin slices. Should have about 4 cups of onions. Heat in a 12″ skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add the sliced onions and cook for a minute over medium high heat before reducing to medium heat. Cook, uncovered, stirring every few minutes so that they don’t stick to the bottom of the skillet, for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown. The heat may need to be reduced if they begin sticking. I wasn’t patient enough and mine didn’t get as brown as they should have but still tasted delicious.

Preheat oven to 400 degree. Spread in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Begin by layering the squash.

Now layer the eggplant on top of the squash. Next, mix together:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (pull the leaves off the tough stems)

1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper (or to taste)

Sprinkle half the mixture over the eggplant and then turn the eggplant over so that the mixture also gets to the squash. Now layer the onions on top of the eggplant and then the tomatoes on the onions.

Sprinkle the remaining mixture (garlic oil) over the top of the tomatoes and again, turn over the tomatoes so the oil can mix with the casserole. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes look a little brown. Remove from the oven and spread on top:

1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, plain

1 cup dairy-free parmesan cheese, grated (Follow Your Heart makes an excellent one)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (again, pull the small leaves off the tough stems)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper)

Return to the oven and bake about 15 minutes more or until the topping has browned.

Sprinkle with:

1/4 cup roughly chopped basil

Feel free to half the recipe. The 9×13″ size will easily serve 8-10.

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce

I know, another eggplant recipe! I can’t help myself, it’s so good right now. My local grocery has such fresh ones on hand, I just have to buy them. This recipe traditionally should be made with Japanese eggplants but they are hard to find. I used to get them at the farmers’ market when I lived in Massachusetts, haven’t found them here in Minneapolis as yet. So I used the common oval eggplants. Look for ones that are narrower, they’ll have fewer seeds and be a little less bitter. Also make sure when purchasing eggplants, that the stems are still green and the eggplant is firm to the touch. And always buy the ones with the inward flower end rather than ones with an outward end, they will also be less bitter.

Because this recipe was made using 2 oval eggplants rather than the Japanese, the proportions will be different if you happen to find the long, skinny kind. So double the eggplants needed if you strike it lucky and are able to use the Japanese. They also won’t need to be peeled!

First, peel and cut into bite size pieces:

2 oval eggplants, medium sized (about 6 cups of meat altogether before salting)

Place them in a large bowl and sprinkle with:

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sea salt

Mix thoroughly and set aside for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer is better. After they have sat, rinse thoroughly with water to remove the salt and then dry as thoroughly as possible with paper towels (or a clean kitchen towel). It’s not possible to remove all the water from eggplant since the meat acts like a sponge with any moisture. When dry, toss with:

1 tablespoon corn starch (or tapioca starch)

Mix thoroughly and then repeat with a second tablespoon of starch.

Heat in a large skillet (or griddle if you have one):

1/4 cup olive oil

When shimmering add the eggplant and cook on medium high heat for about 2-3 minutes until browned then turn to brown the other side, cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove pieces as they are browned and set aside. When all the pieces are well browned, and crunchy, and the skillet is empty, make the sauce.

In a medium skillet heat over medium:

1 tablespoon olive oil

When hot add:

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped white scallions (slice the greens for garnish)

1 teaspoon minced green chilis

Cook for a minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add:

1/2 cup soy sauce substitute (see recipe under sauces and condiments)

1/4 cup water

Stir to distribute and let cook for a minute or two while making a slurry with:

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon corn or tapioca starch (or arrowroot)

Add slurry to the skillet, stirring constantly until sauce is thick. Stir in the eggplant chunks. Remove to a serving plate and garnish with the greens from the scallions and some white sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.

TIP: Add some diced chicken, beef, pork, tofu, etc., to make this a complete meal.