Build Your Own Vegetable Curry

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Healthy dinners don’t fare very well if you refer to them as healthy dinners. You might know in your head that it’s a healthy dinner, but if you call it that, forget about it, everyone at the table’s going to groan.

So do what I do: package a healthy dinner inside a package everyone already knows. For example, make a vegetable curry. When you hear the word “curry” you think “oooh flavor, spice, heat, Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, toucha-toucha-toucha-touch me.” The best part is: once you have the basic technique down, you can apply it to a wide variety of vegetables. Let me show you what I mean.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Or, to put it another way, I lost my round of The Piglet. Granted, there was no way I could ever have triumphed over Naomi Duguid’s brilliant Burma. She totally deserved her win.

But I have to confess, I took great comfort the next day when Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem joined me on the loser’s bench. It helped me realize how arbitrary this all was. Jerusalem was a clear front-runner for Cookbook of the Year; but Marco Canora, who judged this round (and, incidentally, is one of the chefs featured in my book!), found Jerusalem wanting. Funny enough, he singled out a dish I had made a few days earlier to great fanfare and called it “not particularly exciting.” Again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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Lebanese Chickpea Stew

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The first post of 2013 has to be a winner–that’s a rule–and so it’s a huge relief to share with you a dish that I made for dinner the other night that’s such a winner, it portends very good things for the year to come.

I’m at the point now where I can read a recipe and I’ll know, pretty quickly, if it’ll be something that I’ll like or not. There has to be an X-factor, something sexy about it that intrigues me, that makes me go “Heavens to Betsy! What a good idea.” This Lebanese Chickpea Stew, which I found on BonAppetit.com, had that “Heavens to Betsy” quality I look for.

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Rustic Vegetable Ragu

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Cooking without a recipe. How do you do it?

You start with ingredients. My favorite way to do that is to open my refrigerator to see what’s there: on Friday night (when Craig was working late and his parents were flying in from Seattle) I saw carrots, I saw celery, I saw onions. I decided to cut them all up into big chunky pieces.

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Heirloom Tomatoes for Dinner

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There’s salad. There’s pasta sauce. Those are things you can do with heirloom tomatoes in the summertime to make dinner.

But try this: get a loaf of really good bread. Slice the bread thickly and set it aside. Now take an eggplant (preferably purchased from the farmer’s market) and cut it into rings; cut a red heirloom tomato into rings too. Place those rings on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper…

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Hummus For Dinner

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Hummus is many things: a party snack, a sandwich filler, a way to use up leftover chickpeas. But dinner? Hummus for dinner? Preposterous!

Hey: I understand where you’re coming from. Hummus is a glorified dip and who eats dip for dinner? But ever since I left New York, I’ve been missing my lunches at Hummus Place in the West Village. So last Monday, for dinner, I decided to recreate my regular lunchtime Hummus Place meal, only this time it would be for dinner.

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Oh, Ottolenghi: Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac / Couscous with Apricots and Butternut Squash

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A year or two ago, my friends Lauren and Amy gifted me with a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi called “Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.” And even though it’s a beautiful, tall book with colorful pictures and herb-flecked recipes from Israel by way of London, I hardly ever used it. I made mental notes to cook from it–the sumac chicken, for example–but nothing ever happened. And then something did, finally, happen: Ottolenghi published another book, Plenty, that’s all the rage now. Instead of running out and buying that, I reopened the Lauren/Amy Ottolenghi book and discovered a world of wonders within. I decided to cook two recipes from it for a dinner that I cooked for my friends Kenny and Brendan.

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What You Can Do With A Kaboucha Squash

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At the farmer’s market, when I bought those chanterelles, I also spied a Kaboucha squash. It’s a pretty squash, as you can see from the picture; the kind of thing that you might use to decorate your kitchen in the fall. (And here in Los Angeles, where things aren’t so autumnal, I can use all the help I can get.) Only; if you just used the Kaboucha to decorate, you’d be missing out on its great flavor.

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