Meatless Monday – Israeli Couscous with Asparagus, Spinach & Morel Mushrooms

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50 Shades of…. Spring.  Israeli Couscous, sometimes called pearl couscous (especially in the U.S.) or even Maftoul (aka Palestinian couscous), is the perfect backdrop for this lovely dish featuring spring’s finest;  asparagus, baby spinach, morel mushrooms and sweet peas topped with lemon zest and fresh herbs.  This is another easy and delicious dinner you can get on the table in about 20 minutes.  It’s so pretty it doesn’t look like a nutritional powerhouse but it happens to be loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.  All of the vegetables are low in fat and calories but high in food value, and all four are surprising sources of protein.  Morels are also a great source of Iron and Vitamin D. For another boost of nutrients use whole wheat couscous.

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So what is couscous anyway?  I’ve been wanting to make this dish for a while and I even tried to get away with making it during Passover with the claim that Israeli couscous should be kosher for Passover, until I was advised by my son, Eric, that couscous is actually a pasta product made with wheat.  I never gave it much thought but I suppose I always thought it was it’s own grain, like quinoa or bulgur.  Whoops!  Pearled couscous is larger than traditional couscous and round and smooth like a small pearl. It has a wonderful chewy consistency and makes a delicious and attractive base that showcases whatever you toss it with.  If you are unable to find pearled couscous, orzo, which is a rice shaped pasta product, would be a good substitute.  This spring dish is mostly shades of green (perhaps not quite 50) except for the splash of color given by the lemon zest.  Other good and coorful vegetable choices would be strips of sauteed red bell pepper or carrots.
TIPS: If you want to make this more filling, add a sprinkle of feta cheese or drained and rinsed garbanzo beans.
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ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH ASPARAGUS, SPINACH AND MOREL MUSHROOMS
8 oz couscous
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup morel mushrooms (or other wild mushrooms)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 cups baby spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, slivered
⅓ cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Zest from one lemon
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (if needed)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
½ Cup feta (optional)
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  • Cook couscous in 1 1/3 cup water and 1 Tablespoon olive oil covered until al dente (8-10 minutes).  While couscous is cooking trim asparagus and cut into 2 inch pieces.  Slice larger morel mushrooms in halves or quarters but leave smaller mushrooms whole. Chop parsely and chop or slice garlic into slivers.

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  • In a large saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil and saute mushrooms and garlic 2-3 minutes then remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

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  • Add asparagus to the pan and saute a few minutes. Pour vegetable broth around the asparagus and reduce a few minutes.

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  • Add peas and the morels.  Simmer 4- 5 minutes. Asparagus should be cooked but still bright green and slightly al dente.

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  • Fold spinach in until just wilted.

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  • Stir couscous into vegetable mix.

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  • To serve top with lemon zest and parsley.  Sprinkle with feta if desired.

Israeli Couscous with Asparagus, Spinach and Morel Mushrooms

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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8 oz Couscous
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup morel mushrooms (or other wild mushrooms)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 cups baby spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, slivered
⅓ cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Zest from one lemon
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (if needed)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
½ Cup feta (optional)
  • Cook couscous in 1 1/3 cup water and 1 Tablespoon olive oil covered until al dente (8-10 minutes).  While couscous is cooking trim asparagus and cut into 2 inch pieces.  Slice larger morel mushrooms in halves or quarters but leave smaller mushrooms whole.
  • In a large saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil and saute mushrooms and garlic 2-3 minutes then remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add asparagus to the pan and saute a few minutes
  • Pour vegetable broth around the asparagus, add peas and the morels back in.  Simmer about 5 minutes.
  • Fold spinach in until just wilted.
  • Stir couscous into vegetable mix.
  • To serve top with lemon zest and parsley.

Meatless Monday – Penne Pasta with Asparagus & Kale

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Thinking green for tomorrow?  Asparagus is in season, so it must be spring!  Hey it’s a spring vegetable and I’ve always considered asparagus a harbinger of spring even though I know spring doesn’t officially begin until the 2oth.  My Dad used to pile us kids into the car on sunny spring Saturday mornings, and head out to the countryside, armed with sharp knives and plastic bread bags (which ‘back in the day’ were used for everything including snow shoe coverings) to ‘hunt’ for wild asparagus.  Of course, now I know that some of the fields were really abandoned asparagus farms that were turned into open space after big business moved in, which was why asparagus were so abundant and easy for little kids to find.  Sometimes we would feel inclined to sample a particularly tender young spear right on the spot.  My brothers and sisters and I loved the hunter-gatherer experience and would return home flush with our victory spoils.  Then my Mom would make a huge pile of steamed asparagus for dinner.  Yum!   Just for fun I found a photo of asparagus growing in the wild compliments of Wild Asparagus Growing.  Brings back memories.

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This pasta dish is so delicious and it’s simplicity is refreshing in that it has minimal ingredients and you can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less.  That already makes it a big winner in my book… however, we can also talk about how good it is for you too.  You already know that Kale is a nutritional powerhouse packed with vitamins and minerals.  But did you know that kale has more health benefitting phytochemicals than an other leafy green veggie?  Yeah, there’s a reason so many people are riding the kale train.

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Asparagus is no slouch itself.  Here are five things you may not know about asparagus:

  1. It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
  2. It is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.
  3. Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, ranking among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.
  4. Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12—found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy—to help prevent cognitive impairment. In a study from Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility. (If you’re 50-plus, be sure you’re getting enough B12: your ability to absorb it decreases with age.)
  5. One more benefit of asparagus: It contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, and increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (an accumulation of fluids in the body’s tissues) and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.

So there you have it.  Simple, delicious and will make you live longer and healthier, younger and smarter.  What a combo!  Eat up!

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PENNE PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS AND KALE

3/4 lb penne pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 small bunch kale
1 bunch asparagus
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsn butter
1 Tbsn olive oil
1/2 cup scallions or spring onions, chopped
zest from one lemon
1 Tbsn fresh thyme
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded or flaked

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  • Cook pasta according to directions.  Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining. Wash and prepare vegetables.

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  • Stack kale leaves and slice them sideways into julienne strips.  If your kale has a prominent center rib, remove it first. Discard the stems.

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  • Saute the kale and garlic in the butter and oil for several minutes.

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  • Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces and add to kale. Saute for about 5 minutes. Kale should be soft and asparagus softened but still slightly al dente.

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  • Turn off heat and add lemon zest, spring onions and thyme and stir

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  • Add pasta and parmesan, if using, and toss to combine, adding pasta water to desired consistency.

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  • To serve, top with more parmesan, if desired.

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Penne Pasta with Asparagus and Kale

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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3/4  lb penne pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 small bunch kale
1 bunch asparagus
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsn butter
1 Tbsn olive oil
1/2 cup scallions or spring onions, chopped
zest from one lemon
1 Tbsn fresh thyme
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded or flaked

  • Cook pasta according to directions.  Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining.
  • Stack kale leaves and slice them sideways into julienne strips.  If your kale has a prominent center rib, remove it first. Discard the stems.
  • Saute the kale in the butter and oil for several minutes.
  • Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces and add to kale. Saute for about 5 minutes. Kale should be soft and asparagus softened but still slightly al dente.
  • Turn off heat and add lemon zest, spring onions and thyme and stir
  • Add pasta and parmesan, toss to combine, adding pasta water to desired consistency.
  • Top with more parmesan, if desired.

Meatless Monday – Asparagus & Goat Cheese Tart

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Looking for a simple and quick appetizer?  It’s asparagus season and I wanted an appetizer that would show case this perennial spring favorite.  This tart  recipe which I adapted from HuffPoste Taste has only four ingredients plus olive oil and a few fresh herbs and spices.  It takes less than 10 minutes to assemble and about 12 minutes to cook.  Slice into squares and you have an elegant and sophisticated hors d’oeuvre to serve your guests.  This is a very forgiving appetizer which doesn’t have to be served piping hot.  It’s just as good at room temperature which makes it perfect for a dinner party.  Just make the tart ahead and it will sit and wait until you’re ready to serve.  You can also halve the recipe to make just one tart, which is enough for 2 to 4 people as an appetizer.

This is not a typical recipe for me since I try to avoid white flour, however, I was intrigued by it’s simplicity and wanted to give it a try.  I am a newbie to phyllo dough, which can be tricky to work with since it’s so thin and dries out quickly.  Just make sure everything is ready before you unwrap the phyllo dough.  Don’t worry if it rips as you handle it because the rips will be hidden within the layers.  This is a fairly thin crust (2 sheets of phyllo dough folded in half per tart), just enough to provide a beautiful backdrop for the asparagus and give a satisfying salty, crispy, crunch.  If you like a more substantial crust, just add more layers of phyllo.  Thin asparagus spears work better than thick which may not end up fully roasted when the phyllo is done.  If you don’t like goat cheese, substitute ricotta or gruyere.  Fresh herbs are a nice accompaniement but dried herbs will work just fine.  If you make it, let me know how it goes!

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

  • Servings: 2 thin 8x12 tarts
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

4 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
1/4 cup olive oil
6 oz goat cheese (ricotta or gruyere)
1 bunch slender asparagus
2 Tbsn grated parmesan (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh thyme, rosemary and/or basil (optional)

 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Trim the asparagus spears to fit the width of the folded phyllo, leaving room for a one inch border on each side.  Toss asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil.

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  • Lay 2 sheets of phyllo dough on a baking sheet so half is hanging over the edge. Brush the half sheets of pastry in the pan with olive oil, and fold  the other halves, one at a time and brush each with oil.  Repeat with other 2 sheets of phyllo.  You should end up with 2 rectangles.  You may need two baking sheets if you don’t have a jumbo one like I do.
  • Crumble the goat cheese on top, leaving a border of pastry. Add the asparagus in rows.

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  • Season with salt, pepper, parmesan and fresh herbs, if using. Bake for 12 minutes, until the pastry is golden-crisp and the asparagus just tender.
  •  Top with freshly chopped or sliced basil, if desired.

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