Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto (Gluten Free)

Here in the Northeast, winter has started early. We have been seeing temperatures hover in the 30 degree mark for weeks. Normally we don’t experience this chill until late January early February. In fact, New York had one of it’s biggest snow storms in recorded history just two weeks ago dumping almost 3 feet of snow with the wind drifts.

My everyday walk with my dog for 40 minutes has now dwindled down to a quick hop and jump up the block and around in 10 minutes flat. So both my dog and I have a lot of pented up energy. He has been sniffing away at my garbage, wrestling with all my papers in there, and I have been cooking good ol’ comfort foods.

This past week I returned to my Italian fare… Risotto.

As a child I used to visit with my famalia in Italia every year, twice a year. I would stay with my aunt, who regularly made pasta every night for dinner. Sometimes she would indulge herself into making a Risotto. This would involve nursing this creamy dish for at least a good hour, while her armed tired from the stirring of this heavy dish. It was a good workout as beads of sweat used to gather by her brow. I think she enjoyed it.

Interestingly with all the pasta mia familia consumed, everyone of my cousins was THIN. Go figure… (no pun intended). Fresh pasta with a fresh suggo (marinara sauce) paired with red wine (for the adults) was a diet to thinness.

In any event, back to this Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto I prepared. The combination of leeks with the chewy texture of mushrooms already lends this dish to a hearty fare. The lemon just lightens up the flavor with a delicate sprinkling of Parmesan. What’s even more perfect about this dish is that everyone, including the kids will love it. It is just that good and versatile.

To clean leeks: with a knife slit the leek lengthwise and clean between the layers with running water
The rice is first cooked briefly in a soffritto (flavor base) of onion and butter to coat each grain in a film of fat, this is called tostatura. When it has evaporated, the heat is raised to medium high and very hot vegetable stock is gradually added in small amounts while stirring gently, almost constantly: stirring loosens the starch molecules from the outside of the rice grains into the surrounding liquid, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. At that point it is taken off the heat for the mantecatura when diced cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano cheese is vigorously stirred in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible. It may be removed from the heat a few minutes earlier, and left to cook with its residual heat.
Serves 4
2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and chopped
8 ounces Cremini mushrooms, wiped and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
6 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 3/4 cups short grain brown rice
5 cups hot vegetable stock
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesen cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic for 1 minute taking care not to burn it. Add the leeks, mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until softened and browned. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and cook the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until golden and soft.
  3. Stir in the rice and cook for about 1 minute. Add a ladleful of the stock to the pan and cook gently, stirring occasionally until all the liquid is absorbed.
  4. Gently stir in more liquid as each ladleful is absorbed; this should take 20-25 minutes in all. The risotto will turn thick and creamy, and the rice should be tender, but not sticky or gluey.
  5. Just before serving, stir in the leek and mushroom mixture, remaining butter, grated lemon zest and juice and half the Parmesan. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  6. When serving, sprinkle remaining Parmesan and springs of flat leaf parsley.

Baked Eggplant with Mint ~ Turkish Imam Biyaldi

The eggplant is native to the region along the Silk Route…. India, Pakistan, and Nepal which reaches all the way to Turkey. I am sure you have seen several varieties of eggplants, long and skinny, purple and big, pink and white and the one I will be cooking today is a small oblong one perfect for stuffing. That is the one on the top middle in the photo.
The actual name for this dish is Imam Bayaldi, which is a Turkish eggplant dish stuffed with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Turkish cuisine is a polyglot of many different cultures… Persian, Central Asian, Mediterranean and Balkan. Along the Mediterranean is where you will find dishes abundant in vegetables, garlic and olive oil. What I love about Mediterranean cooking is that the ingredients are so simple to the staple Mediterranean diet and yet so flavorful. The addition of mint to this dish is an unexpected freshness that creates a symphony of delightful surprise.
Serves 6
6 Italian eggplants, peeled with stems intact
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 large tomatoes, peeled and sliced
  1.  Make a slit, lengthwise, in each eggplant without opening the ends. Soak the eggplants in a container of cold water with 2 tablespoons salt for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse, pat dry and set aside.
    Slit the eggplant
    Salt the eggplant in a colander
  2.  In a large skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat and slightly brown the eggplants on both sides.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Arrange the eggplants side by side on an oiled baking dish.
  5. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add the mint, salt, sugar, ground cumin and tomatoes for the filling and sauté for another minute longer. Remove from heat.
  6. Open up the slits in the eggplants with your hands and stuff each eggplant with the onion mixture. Drizzle the remaining oil and ¼ cup water over them. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour or until soft.

Sweet & Spicy Veggie Balls

The intricate flavors of this sweet and spicy dish result in a culinary delight. You can add vegetables of your choice to this dish for a larger crowd or just stick to the straight forward recipe; either way you will love it. Best if served accompanied with a wild rice dish. These meatballs are made from Portabella mushrooms by the brand Franklin Farms available at many major supermarkets in the refrigerated section. I bought these meatball at Waldbaums. You can always go online and see which stores carry it. You will find a picture of the brand below.

Serves 6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon curry
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons duck sauce
¼ cup orange juice
1 zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
1 potato, cubed
2 carrots, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
  1. In a medium saucepan over a medium high flame, heat oil and sauté onion for 7-8 minutes or until translucent.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, curry, cumin, turmeric, duck sauce and orange juice to the saucepan and combine well. Cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add  zucchini, potato and carrots or any cut up vegetables of your choice and combine well.
  4. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer covered for 25 minutes.
  5. Add your meatballs and cook for an additional 12 minutes.

Sweet Savory Chick Pea Curry

This is an unusual twist on the classic curry dish, which has a sweet kick to it with fennel undertones. The raisins and carrots add a rich color and delightful taste that will satiate your palate. This dish comes from my mother in law, Shirley in South Africa where many African dishes have an Indian influence because they descended in the 19th century as indentured workers transported to work on the sugar plantations of Natal. The result is a fusion Indo-African dish, which is best served over basmati rice.

Serves 6

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, diced
1-inch ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cumin, fennel seeds
2 apples, finely diced
2 carrots, sliced and cubed
2 tomatoes, diced
1- 15 ounce can of cooked Chick Peas (Garbanzo Beans), drained and rinsed
½ cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup raisins
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped (to garnish)
      1                 1      Heat oil in a large pot over a medium high flame, add onions and stir for a few minutes. Add garlic, and ginger stirring to make sure mixture does not stick.

                              2      Once onions are translucent, add all the spices including salt. Stir for an additional 3 minutes.
                              3      Stir in apples for a minute, then add carrots and stir for another minute and then stir the tomatoes in.  Let cook for a few minutes.
                             4      Stir in the garbanzo beans and vegetable stock, bringing mixture to a boil.
                             5      Once boiling, lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Add lemon juice and raisins and simmer for another 10 minutes.
                            6      When done, serve garnished with parsley.

Puerto Rican Plantain Lasagana AKA Pastelon


When my friend Melisa who is from Puerto Rico told me about Pastelon, which I never heard of, I was only too eager to try it.

Who ever heard of a lasagna made from plantains?? Just a couple of weeks ago, Melisa came over to my place and we spent the next few hours preparing this dish. What is most time consuming is baking the plantains because you end up doing it in batches.

Typically the plantains are fried and is made with layers of beef Bolognese, however I created a healthier version by instead baking the plantains and using “Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo” for the sauce. Most latin countries have their version of chorizo, which is a type of sausage, this one is a Mexican chorizo that has the consistency of ground beef, though drier, due to a higher chile and spice content. It’s important to use ripe plantains for this dish, because when ripened they are sweeter and softer. This dish is amazing with a sweet and spicy savory flavor that blends together into a culinary bliss.


Use the blackest, scariest looking plantains you can find. If you can’t find these looking like the photo, then ripen in a brown paper bag for 10 days.

Peeling plantains

The outer layer of a plantain is tough and thick. To peel, start by slicing off both ends. Make an incision lengthwise down the “back” of the plantain with a sharp knife. Be careful not to cut into the fruit. Once the incision is made, open the peel and cut into the plantain lengthwise at 1/2 inch slices.


Serves 8-10

10 plantains, (blackened or black spots) peeled and sliced lengthwise into ½ inch slices
1 teaspoon salt
1 package Soy Chorizo
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 green pepper, minced
1 ¼ cup tomato sauce
3 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups white shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack or Cheddar)

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Coat a nonstick cookie sheet with cooking spray.
3. Arrange cut plantain in single layer and coat tops with cooking spray and salt to bring out the full flavor.








4. Bake, turning once for 10-15 minutes, until plantains are golden brown and very tender.






5. Once done, set aside on a plate as they will be used to layer the lasagna.

6. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
7. In a large frying pan, under medium high heat fry the onion in oil. After a few minutes, when the onions are softening, add the pepper and stir for another few minutes.
8. Add the Soy Chorizo and 1 cup tomato sauce to the mixture and stir well. Reduce heat to a medium flame and cook covered for another 5-7 minutes.
9. To assemble pastelon: Take your prepared rectangular pan and spread out ¼ cup tomato sauce.
10. Then a layer of plantains, then chorizo mixture, then a fistful of cheese, repeat.

11. You want to finish with cheese and plantains. Most likely you will get three layers.
12. Beat eggs with milk and pour over the pastelón. Let it sit for a minute allowing the egg to soak in. Top off with just a bit more cheese.
13. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.