Category: side dish

Mid-East Feast (Roasted Squash with Cardamom)

Walking through the Plateau in Montreal on a friday night is always a new adventure. I love to immerse myself in the hubbub – which exists in large part thanks to the plethora of ethnic restaurants, trendy cafes and re-vapmed dive bars that line the streets. Whichever side of the world you’re from, you’re guaranteed to find a restaurant in this city that has what you’re looking for. And, if you’re in the mood to try new things, you will never be short on options.

Many people have voiced to me in the past their discontent with my vegetarianism (whether directly or indirectly) as it is an “inconvenience” to have to cater to my needs. To that sentiment I say, “Ha!” Being a vegetarian should never be viewed as limiting – it should instead be viewed as exciting: an excuse to get creative and try new food! I was quite excited when a friend suggested that we check out this funky looking place on Duluth, Khyber Pass, an Afghan restaurant with a number of  appealing meat-free menu items.

The food itself was similar to many of the middle-eastern dishes that I’ve tried before – looking around, I spotted many different rices and stews, I noted the common use of onions, tomatoes and legumes. What stood out to me however was the combination of spices and flavours. I immediately recognized the unique taste of cardamom in my main dish – and I absolutely loved it. I’ve only ever used cardamom in teas or in desserts before, never in anything savory. What a fantastic spice! The flavour complimented the sweet earthy squash, balanced out with the acidity of tomato, and softened with a hint of yogourt. I just HAD to re-create this dish at home. And I did – with great simplicity and success.


Roasted Butternut Squash 
with Sweet Tomato Sauce and Cardamom
an original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need
1 medium butternut squash, cubed (about 3 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup basic tomato sauce*
2 tbsp real maple syrup
3 tsp cardamom powder / ground cardamom

for the garnish (optional)
1 tbsp plain yogourt
Roasted squash seeds

how to do it
Peel and cube squash, removing seeds. (Set seeds aside if roasting). Toss squash with olive oil. Wrap squash in parchment paper {How to: Cut double the length of parchment paper you’d need to line a 8×8” Pyrex dish. Place parchment in middle of dish and place squash inside. Fold paper over so that the squash is covered (the idea is not to let any of the squash be exposed.)} Poke holes in the parchment. Bake at 385F for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tomato sauce, cardamom and maple syrup. Once cooked, remove squash from parchment and place directly into pyrex dish while still hot. Coat with tomato sauce mixture. Return to oven uncovered and bake for another 10 minutes.

Garnish with yogourt and roasted squash seeds. Enjoy!

*For the tomato sauce, you can make your own, or shortcut and use some good quality store-bought. I used Classico Tomato and Basil and it tasted wonderful. To make your own tomato sauce, scroll to the bottom of the following post: Drunken Tomato Sauce

Big Sweet Easy (Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Sumac)


what you’ll need
1 large sweet potato, about 1.5 cups, cubed
1 tsp coarse ground sea salt
1 tsp coarse ground peppercorns
1 tbsp ground sumac
1 tbsp grapeseed or light olive oil

how to do it
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss sweet potato cubes with oil and spices. Wrap in parchment paper (papillote/envelope style) and place in baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool about 15 minutes before serving. 

Green Dream (Edamame & Avocado Hummus)

Summertime cooking tends to pair well with three particular descriptors: light, fresh, and fast. 
With pot-lucks and BBQs-a-plenty, it’s sometimes hard to stick to the “light” and “fresh” part of that equation. I’ve been known to generally bring along my no-fail-crowd-pleasing spinach dip whenever the occasion permits. Today, however, I felt like being a little different – I wanted to bring it up a notch. I decided that I was going to make something healthier, fresher, brighter… 

Leaning further toward the vegan side of life these days, I was inspired to make an egg-free, dairy-free dip. You’d think this would have limited my options, but in fact, it just opened a whole new door into the world of food. Last week, I fell in love with a simple salad that I picked up at the grocery store – edamame beans, cilantro and sesame. A flavour combination that would certainly blend well into a dip, I thought! Well, today was the perfect day to try it out. Gathering all my fresh ingredients, I knew I was ready to wow the crowd. I threw everything into my blender, hit pulse and… watched it fail. My blender just didn’t want to whip up something so thick and creamy. What a jerk! Just when I was about to give up, a tiny imaginary lightbulb hovered over my head and lit right up – hand blender to the rescue! The result: Hummus meets Guacamole at a party and they make a delicious baby together. 
Sounds about right. 




Edamame Hummus with Avocado
original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need
1 ripe avocado
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup shelled edamame beans, steamed (cooled)
pinch sea salt (to taste)
handful chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1tbsp lime juice
sesame seeds or cilantro for garnish (optional)

how to do it
in a small bowl, whisk together tahini and oil. Using a fork, mash in avocado. Mash in beans and chickpeas, a little at a time. (Mixture will be a bit chunky!) Sprinkle with salt, lime juice and cilantro. With hand blender, smooth to desired consistency. If dip is too thick/dry, add water, 1 tbsp at a time, and blend until desired consistency is reached. Serve immediately, or refrigerate well covered and stir well before serving.


Spring Fresh (Avocado & Mango Salad)

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest welcome to my most desired season: springtime. While blooming flowers begin to paint the city with their limitless palette and scent the warming air with their intoxicating perfume, while the days get longer and the skirts get shorter, and while the sunshine begins to lend my chalky skin a warm glow, my two favorite elements of springtime are, unsurprisingly, food-related. 



My favorite part of spring? Visiting the outdoor farmers’ markets to obtain fresh, local produce, and planting my vegetable & herb garden. (Harvesting my own garden is my favorite part of Summer, but we’ll get to that when it happens.) This year, I’m trying something new: a balcony garden. As many of you may have experienced, urban living often comes with the sacrifice of a yard. However, inspired by a friend of mine, I’ve decided to be more proactive about where my food comes from and have decided that a little lack of terrain will not stop me from relishing the joy of harvesting my own veggies at home! 

As it’s the first time I’ll be doing this, I’m keeping it quite simple, with an assortment of herbs, some lettuces and, (my favorite) yellow cherry tomatoes. If you have any advice on balcony gardening, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment here or on my facebook page. 

Until my garden grows, I’ll be getting my fresh produce at the markets, where it seems as though each week something new is in season, which is an encouraging way to consume variety and enjoy fresh flavours at their peak!

A recent pot-luck dinner that I’d attended showcased a delightfully refreshing mango salad, and it inspired me to add some variety to my routine mixed greens. Today, I wandered over to the market, where I was further inspired to throw this fantastical salad together. The following is a recipe that I’m going to be making about one million times this summer. Once you try it, you likely will be repeating it, too. 

The list of ingredients alone are enough to make any foodie drool: Mangoes. Avocadoes. Radishes. Mâche.  An odd combination, perhaps in your mind. But in your mouth, I assure you, it is like no salad that’s ever grazed your lips.

Oh, and to top it off, a nutmeg balsamic dressing. 
Yeah. That’s right. Nutmeg. 
Crazy you say? 
Delicious, actually. 

Note: if you cannot find mache in your area, it can be replaced with watercress or dandelion greens.


Avocado Mango Salad with Nutmeg
an original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need (serves 2)

salad:
3 ripe medium-sized avocadoes (1 cup, diced)
3 or 4 ripe medium-sized mangoes (about 1.5 cups, diced)
1 cup chopped baby spinach
2 cups mâche
10 medium radishes, slivered thin

dressing:
3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp dry mustard/mustard powder
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup light olive oil
2 tsp sea salt

how to do it
Combine all dressing ingredients into pouring cup. Whisk until well blended.
Combine mache and spinach. Toss with dressing. Lightly toss in radishes, mangoes and avocado. (Do not toss too much, as avocadoes will turn to cream!)
Enjoy immediately. 
Preferably on a nice spring day. 







Move Over, Minnestrone (Vegetable Soup)

I am generally not a soup person. The idea of having something that’s both liquidy and chunky at the same time on my spoon just doesn’t jive in my head, nor does it feel right in my mouth. That being said, there have always been a few exceptions: matzah ball soup, for one. And, well, who can resist clam chowdah (…in a bread bowl, in San Francisco, at that?) Otherwise, soup is rarely a headliner, neither a sidekick on my table.

However, today, while staring blankly into my fridge as I often do, I found myself staring at my box of vegetable stock and slightly craving a warm cup of broth to soothe my sore throat. Known to some as Jewish Penicillin, chicken soup has been widely known as the go-to meal for generations of cold and flu sufferers. However, my lack of wanting to eat chicken, combined with the medley of vegetables in my refrigerator that have decided to wilt in unison, inspired me to stir up a vegetable-based bouillon.
Chop. Pour. Simmer. Who knew three simple steps could release the most magical aroma into the air? 
Soon after, I sat on the couch, sipping the magical masterpiece with my roommate while discussing possible names for my most fantastic creation. His favorite part was the sweetness provided by the corn, whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the colourful combination. 
I suggested “Rainbow Soup.” 
He said, “That’s corny.”
I laughed. Hard. 

Corny Rainbow Soup
an original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need
1 box vegetable broth (I used Campbells)
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, diced
1 can sweet corn
1 can San Marzano plum tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp red pepper (chilli) flakes (Optional)
how to do it
Toss diced vegetables into pot. Cover with broth.  Heat on medium. Once soup comes to a boil, add corn & red pepper flakes & stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. 
Serve garnished with shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, if desired. 

A Fine Toast (Mushrooms with Thyme)

Dear: Mother Nature,
I would like to formally thank you for the incredible tease that you laid upon our wonderful city this week. You showered us with mild temperatures, sunshine and the smell of dog crap spring in the air, and then proceeded, as you often do, to throw upon us a blanket of snow, slush and cold. What gets me through winter in times like these? Two things: The Nuit Blanche festival, and good food. 

As I prepared myself to spend a night prancing around in the snowy abyss that our city has become, I decided that the best way to begin would be by indulging in a little bit of comfort – food, that is. I’m not talking Kraft Dinner (that was Wednesday), and I’m not talking grilled cheese – I’m talking about something real, something with substance, and something that will keep me satisfied.

Enter Mushroom Toasts!
I now present to you my favourite appetizer of all time.
This stellar simple recipe combines four wonderful things: olive bread, mushrooms, thyme and goat cheese. Oh, and did I mention butter? You can omit the butter, if you’re going the healthy route, but come on, this is comfort food we’re talking about here! You want it to stick to your ribs and warm you from the inside, remember? Now that that’s settled…

Mushroom Toasts with Thyme
an original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp salted butter
5 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed (about 2 tbsp leaves)
3 tbsp herbed goat cheese OR Boursin cheese
Sliced fresh ciabatta bread or olive bread
how to do it
Coat a medium sized frying pan with olive oil. Add butter and mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms and thyme on LOW heat until softened, continuously stirring with spatula. While mushrooms are cooking, toast bread. Stir 2 tbsp cheese into softened mushroom mixture, tossing to coat. Spread toast with remaining goat cheese, and top with mushroom mixture. Enjoy!

Chard Charade (Swiss Chard & Arugula Sauté)

Readers, friends, fellow bloggers, Mom… I’d like you all to meet Swiss Chard. She’s a lovely leafy green that tastes just like spinach, only slightly heartier, and possesses the most photogenic stems I’ve ever seen. I’ve shied away from Chard in the past, burdened with a fear of all that is unknown and green after an unfortunate mishap with raw rapini. To my sweet surprise, this chard did not leave the same bitter aftertaste on my tongue that do most greens. In fact, the striking similarity to spinach had me reaching for seconds. And possibly thirds… but who’s counting?

What to cook the chard with? Whatever’s on hand! When cooking with chard, don’t be shy – use the stems as well as the leaves to add a pop of colour to your dish. Use it in your favourite recipes in place of spinach, or, go ahead and make this easy entrée tonight and change up your routine!

Swiss Chard & Arugula Sauté

what you’ll need
1 tbsp light olive oil
1 cup Swiss chard, chopped
1 cup arugula (roquette), chopped
1/2 cup corn kernels, reserving 4 tbsp liquid from can
1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp cayenne/chilli powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

how to do it
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Toss in arugula, chard and liquid. Once greens begin to wilt, add in corn and tomatoes, constantly moving around in pan with spatula. Sprinkle on salt, cumin and cayenne. Cook about 4 minutes on medium heat, or until tomatoes begin to blister and liquid reduces.
Serve warm, optionally topped with plain non-fat greek yogourt.