Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Stuffed Squash with Spinach and Quinoa

I made this yummy squash for dinner the other night, and thought it would be great to share the recipe for those of you hosting a vegetarian at Thanksgiving.

While there are usually enough sides at a Thanksgiving dinner to fill up even a hungry eater, it's nice to have something that looks like a centerpiece.

I used a 4-cup squash, but there's enough stuffing to fill one twice the size.

Also, I baked the squash while cooking the stuffing on the stove, then filled the cooked squash and served it. You could also stuff the raw squash and then cook it at 350°F for about an hour. Or you could use a slow cooker - a much-appreciated device when all the burners and ovens are full with other dishes. Put the raw stuffed squash in the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. Fashion a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper into a sling and nestle the squash in it inside the slow cooker. This will make getting the cooked squash out of the slow cooker easier.

But don't save this recipe for Thanksgiving. It's great on any fall or winter evening. The quinoa and beans give it a high protein content, the spinach (or any other green you like) provides a nutrition boost, the rosemary and garlic boost the immune system. (Although you can omit the garlic if you don't like it.) Skip the feta if you're serving vegans.

Here's what I did.

Stuffed Squash with Spinach and Quinoa
1 winter squash
2/3 cup pinto beans (or 1 14 oz can of a bean of your choice)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz raw spinach, thick stems discarded, washed and coarsely chopped
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp smoked chile flakes
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup quinoa, rinsed first in boiling water then in cold water a couple of times
2-4 tbsp chopped black olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta (or more to taste)
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried)


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the squash and pierce the top with a knife a few times. Bake about 40 minutes until it feels soft and a knife slides easily in near the stem.

Pressure cook the beans for 23 minutes until tender. (Or cook them for a couple of hours in a pot of water on the stove. Or drain the canned beans.)

Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Stir in the salt, paprika and chile flakes. Cook another minute. Add the stock and quinoa, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the beans, olives, feta and rosemary. Stir to mix.

Cut the top off the squash and scoop out the seeds and any stringy guts. Spoon the stuffing into the squash, adjust the top jauntily, and serve.

Any extra stuffing can be served on the side. Sprinkle with extra feta if desired.

Serves 6

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Shopping

It was very busy at the Hollywood Farmers Market at 10 to 8 this morning. I guess people went early to shop for Thanksgiving dinner. I love holidays with lots of vegetables, although I've been restraining myself from buying too many squashes to use as decorations. Temperatures are set to head up into the 90s again - not conducive to storing squash.

Robin from Koda Farms was there on her monthly visit - just in time because we finished the brown rice this week. I was happy to buy another 5 lb bag. I store it in the freezer to keep it fresh, although we always eat our way through it quickly.

I also stocked up on red peppers from Tutti Frutti Farms. It's the time of year when they're less expensive, and I like to roast and peel them before stashing them in the freezer, ready to sweeten our soups and stews all year. I also picked up a handful of jalapeños to freeze, ready to spice up our winter meals.

Here's what we'll be eating this week:
yukon gold potatoes, onions, red peppers, broccoli, eggs, jalapeños, carrots, cilantro, oranges, brown rice, persimmons, avocados, grapefruit, tangerines, apples.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Corn and Sweet Potato Soup

As the evenings are cooler, a hearty soup makes a welcome supper.

The other night I made this southwest-style corn and sweet potato soup with cheese.

I took this picture on the second night of eating it. We re-heated it a little too much and the cheese curdled so it looks a little lumpy. It still tastes great.

Corn and Sweet Potato Soup
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups vegetable stock
1 bottle Mexican beer
2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
14 oz packet frozen corn, defrosted
1 poblano, roasted, peeled and chopped (or 4oz can green chiles)
2 tsp chili powder
cayenne pepper
2 cups milk
12 oz Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (optional)

Boil the sweet potatoes in 3 cups stock, beer, cumin and bay leaf until crisp tender, about 12-15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Do not drain.

Sauté onion and garlic in oil about 10 minutes until soft. Stir into sweet potatoes along with the remaining 3 cups of stock. Add corn, poblano, cayenne to taste, and chili powder. Gradually stir in milk. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes until warmed through.

Reduce heat to low and stir in grated cheese until just melted. Season with salt to taste.

Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Serves 6

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Shopping

We did a very speedy shop this morning at the Hollywood Farmers Market. We didn't eat as much as I expected last week, so we still have some veg from last Sunday's haul.

I realized I have been so busy enjoying fresh red peppers that I've been forgetting to put some up for the upcoming year, so I brought 3 to roast and freeze this week.

Here's the organic produce we came home with:
3 red peppers for the freezer, 12 plum tomatoes and basil for Sunday pasta supper, 5 yellow potatoes, cilantro, shisito peppers, 1 lb khadrawy dates from Bautista Family Organic Date Farm, 2 dozen eggs, red and green grapes, 4 plums, assorted cherry tomatoes, 6 honey tangerines to add to the Sunday o.j., 3 quinces, 1 ambrosia melon, 4 apples, romaine lettuce, 2 ears of corn, 1 cucumber




Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rice and vegetables

Having leftover rice in the fridge is like having dinner almost ready.

The other night, I sautéed some onion, green pepper and zucchini. Then I stirred in leftover cooked rice and some frozen peas.

It make a pretty main course that I served with some steamed vegetables for a good dinner.

Fast food is a working person's friend.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Canadian Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving is a much less stressful affair than the American version. Generally we clean out the garage, tune up the snowblower, close up the cottage — enjoy the fall colors and the fresh air before holing up inside for the long snowy winter.

At the end of the day — Sunday or Monday, there's no set rule — a simple meal of turkey and vegetables is served, maybe with a pumpkin or apple pie to finish. At least, that's how it was at my house.

This year, Larry and I celebrated Thanksgiving on Monday evening with a pumpkin stuffed with mushrooms and barley, the last harvest of green beans from our garden, a salad of crunchy lettuce with pistachios and red grapes, and an apple quince pie for dessert.

As we ate, we thought with gratitude of the organic farmers at the Hollywood Farmers Market who provided us with this bounty.

There are various ways to stuff a pumpkin. Usually I fill it with a grain pilaf and then bake it an hour or so until it is tender.

This year, however, I was late in from the garden, so I scooped out the pumpkin and baked it while I simmered the barley mushroom stuffing on the stove. Unfortunately, I baked it too long so it became soft and lost its shape. No matter, I filled it with the cooked pilaf and it made a lovely, if slightly lopsided, main course.

The mushroom barley pilaf is a delicious fall supper that is great even without the pumpkin.

Mushroom Barley Pilaf
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onion
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced
3/4 lb assorted mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, cremini), cleaned and sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups barley
4 sprigs thyme
3/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water (I used 1 1/2 cups of my strong stock and 3 cups water)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to brown.

Add the barley and stir to coat with the pan juices. Then pour in the stock, add the thyme and salt, and a liberal amount of freshly ground pepper.

Cover the skillet and let the pilaf simmer over low heat for about 40 minutes until the barley is tender. Keep an eye on it, and add more water if it gets dry. The barley should hold its shape and be al dente when done — not mushy.

Serves 4

Note: If you are serving vegans, replace the unsalted butter with olive oil. It will still be delicious. I do prefer mushrooms in butter, though.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Shopping

There was mist in the valleys on the way to the Hollywood Farmers Market this morning. The overcast skies made it feel autumn-y, even though there was no chill in the air.

This is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, so I bought a beautiful pumpkin at T and D Farms that I will stuff with mushrooms and barley and serve as the main dish at tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. I also bought apples for pie and a variety of greens because they were so beautiful.

Here's what we brought home with us this morning:
6 jalapeños, 4 ears of corn, 1 zucchini, 1 red butter lettuce, 8 small sweet-tart apples whose name I don't remember, red grapes, assorted cherry tomatoes, 4 sweeties (a kind of apple), 2 tomatoes, 1 red oak leaf lettuce, rainbow chard, purple mustard greens, 1 pumpkin, 3 onions, ginger root, 3/4 lb assorted mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, oyster), 8 shallots, 2 pears, 2 red peppers, 1 orange pepper, 1 green pepper, 1 liter Verni's olive oil, green beans, 2 plums, 1 eggplant, 2 lb bags of chickpeas and white limas from Suncoast Farms in Lompoc, 10 lbs valencia oranges (these will keep us in juice for a couple of weeks), 1 cantaloupe, a small feta from Achadinha Cheese Co. in Petaluma.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Roast Acorn Squash

The winter squashes call to me when I walk past the stalls at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. Now I have a cart, I am worried that I will buy more squash than we can eat in a week. And while I love to decoratively pile amazing squash on our hall table and coffee table, we're heading back into 90 degrees, and squash will not last long in that.

So last week I limited myself to two. I used the butternut squash in a bean salad and as a side dish. The acorn squash I sliced and then roasted with cumin and chiles. It was just wonderful. And, after the slicing (with a knife that was well-sharpened by Russ at the Hollywood Farmers Market), it was easy to cook.

I like this squash so much that I take leftover pieces to work and gnaw them down to the skin.

Autumn is great.

Roast Acorn Squash
1 tbsp (or so) olive oil
sprinkle of dried chile flakes
sprinkle of cumin seeds
1 acorn squash

Preheat the toaster oven to 350°F.

Warm the olive oil in a small skillet. Add the chile flakes and cumin and keep warming until fragrant. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, wash and dry the acorn squash. Cut it in half lengthwise. (If there's a thick stem, cut it off first.) Scoop out the seeds and guts and discard. Put a half on the board, cut side down, and cut it lengthwise in wedges 1-2 inches wide.

Dip the wedges of squash in the warm oil, rubbing them around to pick up oil and the spices, then put them on a baking sheet.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until a thin knife pierces the skin easily.

Serves 3-4 (and makes great leftovers)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Stuffed Peppers

Leftovers are my favorite dinner. The other night I had leftover beans and rice in the fridge. I stirred them together with a little corn from the freezer, seasoned them well, then stuffed them into halved red peppers, and warmed them in the toaster oven.

When the peppers were tender and the filling was warmed through — about 20 minutes at 350°F — I sprinkled a little pepper jack on top of the peppers and cooked them a little longer while the cheese melted and browned.

We had an awesome dinner that did not look like leftovers.

Kitchen magic!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Morning Fruit

Cantaloupe and red grapes. These fall colors are a beautiful (and delicious) way to start the day.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Vegetable Stock in the Slow Cooker

There is a chill in the air — okay, it's in the 70s — and I'm thinking ahead to a long winter of soups and stews.

The secret to a good vegetarian soup is an excellent stock. While there are many vegetable stocks on the shelves of the grocery store, I prefer to make my own so I can control the ingredients (no bht or msg or "natural flavors"). I make a good strong stock and freeze it in 1 1/2 cup containers. They are so flavorful that one container added to 4 1/2 cups of water makes a really good base for soup.

The vegetables used to make stock impart all their goodness to the liquid, and are pretty much tasteless mush at the end. I happily give them to the compost heap - they are full of fiber and minerals that feed the compost microbes. They turn it into black gold that I then spread on the garden.

The vegetable stock I stash in the freezer is a form of gold too. It will enrich every soup we eat this winter.

The key to a good stock is roasting the vegetables before simmering them. Think of the difference between golden sautéd onions and boiled onions. A few dried mushrooms contribute an almost beef-like richness. Vary the other vegetables, but if you find an organic parsnip make sure to throw it in. (I confess that I have hoarded last year's parsnips in my fridge all summer, pulling them out to make stock as needed. They get a little weird, but after peeling they're still good.)

Also, while a stock is a good place for diverse vegetables, don't add brassicas — they change the flavor and can get metallic-tasting when frozen. Keep to the base of onions, potatoes and carrots and your stock will enhance whatever soup (or risotto) you're making.

(When I buy fresh shiitake mushrooms, I wash and remove the stems, then dry them on a rack in the kitchen. When I add them to the stock, I feel like I'm getting free flavor!)

Here's the recipe for the stock I made this week.

Vegetable Stock
1 large onion
2 large carrots
1 large potato
1 large parsnip
1 stalk celery
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms (or an equal amount of dried stalks)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp tamari

Preheat oven to 450°F. 

Remove the papery peel from the onion and slice it thickly. Scrub the carrots and potatoes and cut in 1" chunks. Peel the parsnip and cut in 1" chunks. Chop the celery in 1" lengths. Place the garlic cloves, unpeeled, on your cutting board and crush with the side of your big knife. 

Place the vegetables in a lightly oiled baking pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly browned, turning once, about 30 minutes total.

Meanwhile, soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup water until softened. Remove them from the water and check for dirt or grit. Pour the soaking water through a coffee filter, straining out any grit. Reserve mushrooms and soaking water.

Put the roasted vegetables in a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add mushrooms and soaking water, bay leaves, peppercorns, tamari, 1 tsp salt, and 7 cups water. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Let cool slightly, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl. Press the vegetables against the side of the sieve with a wooden spoon to get the most liquid possible, although this will make the stock cloudy, so don't do it if you need a clear broth. Discard the vegetables.

Either use the stock right away, refrigerate it for a few days, or freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 8 cups.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sunday Shopping

It was overcast at the Hollywood Farmers Market this morning. The air was cooler than usual, and the piles of pumpkins emphasized that fall is here.

I was concerned that with our new cart, I would find it way too easy to load up on winter squash. But I managed to restrain myself to two.

Here's a list of the organic produce we brought home with us:
4 early girl tomatoes, 2 potatoes, 1 red onion, 1 butternut squash, 1 bunch mustard greens, 1 acorn squash, 1 green pepper, 1 cucumber, cherry tomatoes, 3 jonagold apples, 2 yellow summer squash, 1 cantaloupe, 2 dozen eggs.

And Russ sharpened a knife while we shopped.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Supper

I planned supper in my head on the way home the other night: cooked white beans in the fridge, a small butternut squash in the cupboard, and a bunch of tiny turnips - greens detached but in a bag with them - in the fridge. That sounded like the makings of a good autumn supper.

I went outside to pick some thyme and rosemary, then started dinner.

I gently warmed some garlic in a covered skillet with butter while I peeled and diced the tiny squash. I added the squash to the pan with a splash of white wine, covered and let it braise until tender, about 20 minutes. I stirred it occasionally to make sure the squash wasn't sticking.

I put the beans in a covered pot with a little water over low heat. While they warmed, I puréed about 2 tbsp of rosemary, 1 tbsp of thyme, a small clove of garlic and a good glug of olive oil in the blender. I added a little water to thin the sauce, then poured it in with the beans. The piny aromas stimulated our appetites.

I turned to the turnips, which turned out to be watermelon radishes. You can see how I cooked them here.

It was a lovely dinner - a contrast of flavors and colors: orange, buttery squash; sharply aromatic beans; and peppery green and red radishes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Cooking Radishes

Sautéed Radishes
I love getting to the Hollywood Farmers Market early - before it opens at 8 a.m. - and getting all my shopping done before the crowds show up.

A downside is that the farmers haven't completely finished setting up, and their nifty signs aren't always in place next to their vegetables.

Last week I bought a beautiful bunch of tiny turnips. When it came time to cook them, however, I realized they were watermelon radishes.

Have you tried one of these? They're white on the outside, then have a ring of pale green and then are pink on the inside. They really do look like small watermelons.

I decided to cook them the way I had intended to cook the turnips. After all, I was cooking dinner and needed a side dish.

I warmed a little butter in a small skillet, then tossed in the quartered radishes. I added a splash of water and a little salt, covered the skillet, and let the radishes cook until they were almost tender, about 5 minutes. I checked occasionally to make sure they weren't browning too much, adding a spoonful of water as needed.

While they cooked I washed and coarsely chopped the radish greens.

I removed the roots from the pan, added the greens with the water that was clinging to them, and sprinkled on a little salt and pepper. I covered the pan and let them cook over medium-low heat until they were tender. I added the radishes back in to let it all warm through, and served it.

With turnips I usually add garlic to the butter, but the radishes were great with just a little salt and pepper.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Shopping

It's definitely fall at the Hollywood Farmers Market — we bought the first organic quinces and pomegranates of the season.

We're missing Ha's Apple Farm — we hope they return to the market soon. We actually forgot to buy eggs today. It will be a week of supermarket eggs — we'll never forget farmers' market eggs again!

Here's a list of the organic produce we brought home with us:
3 red bell peppers, 2 jalapeños, 2 grapefruit, red grapes, 2 pomegranates, 2 quinces, 1 green pepper, purple curly kale, 2 zucchini, 2 garlic, 2 onions, 1 bunch of tiny turnips with their greens.

We also bought a hand of non-organic but locally grown ginger root.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Zucchini and Peppers with Feta

It is so easy to make yummy and visually appealing vegetable side dishes during harvest season.

Last night I reheated a bean and rice casserole for dinner. While it was warming in the toaster oven, I made this colorful vegetable sauté.

While a little olive oil warmed in a small skillet, I chopped a small red onion and slivered a half an orange pepper I found in the salad drawer of the fridge. I added these to the oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and let them sauté while I chopped a zucchini and diced a half tomato left over from lunch. These went in too with a little more salt and pepper. Then I cooked it over medium heat until the zucchini skin was tender. (Late season zucchini often has tougher skin, I find.)

As a finishing touch, I sprinkled some feta over the vegetables, turned off the heat and covered the pan. I let it sit while I took the casserole from the toaster oven and set the table.

It was a colorful companion to a delicious but brown rice and bean casserole.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Shopping

It was cool and overcast at the Hollywood Farmers Market this morning. I wore my hoodie for the first time since spring — fall is in the air.

We took our new shopping cart for a test run. It's big and flat and really should not be used when the market is full of people. But we're there before opening time when there's still space to move, so we felt okay about using it.

I was concerned that I would buy far too much food if I didn't need to worry about us carrying it in our cloth shopping bags. Would the cart make it too easy to splurge on pounds of produce?

Well, I think I did a good job of sticking to my list. The watermelon is probably the one thing I would not have bought if we didn't have the cart. And that would have been sad.

Here's a list of the organic produce we brought home with us: baby spinach, green pepper, orange pepper, 2 bunches of carrots, 2 onions, red pepper, cilantro, avocado, cipolline onions, 3 tomatoes, 9 oranges, watermelon, 6 corn, 1 dozen eggs, crenshaw melon, celery, 3 apples, ambrosia melon, 2 oval zucchini, 1 very small butternut squash, 2 peaches and some (non-organic) feta.

We also bought a basil plant from Logan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tofu and Peppers

We enjoyed this simple dinner of Tofu and Peppers last night — simple in preparation yet rich in flavor.

The tofu is marinated in red Thai curry paste for an hour or so — I did this then went out to putter in the garden. A couple of hours later, I sautéed onions and peppers to yumminess. They served as a bed for the fried tofu, and a blender sauce of poblanos, onions and garlic provided the final flavor boost.

With roasted poblanos in the freezer, the meal was a snap to make.

I've previously made this dish with green Thai curry paste — also delicious. The poblanos I used this time were stashed in the freezer late last fall, when the peppers at the Hollywood Farmers Market were fully ripe red instead of the usual green. If I'd used green poblanos, the sauce would have been green not red. Then I might have used green Thai chili paste for color coordination.

Tofu and Peppers
14oz container firm tofu
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, halved then sliced lengthwise in strips
1 red pepper, 1 green pepper and 1 orange pepper (I used a handful of orange lipstick peppers), cored,
seeded and slivered lengthwise
2 poblanos, roasted and peeled
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 shallot, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime

Cooking the tofu

Drain tofu and press for 5-10 minutes in a towel with a weight (like a jar of beans) on top. Cut it lengthwise into roughly 1/2 inch slices. Combine the curry paste with 1 tbsp water. Spread it on both sides of the tofu. Let sit at room temperature at least an hour. (2-3 hours is fine.)

Warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Cook the onion and peppers until soft and delicious.

Meanwhile, warm the other tbsp of oil in a heavy skillet. Add the tofu and let cook until crispy on one side, then flip and cook the other side. You can also cook the edges if you like.

While these are cooking, put the roasted and peeled poblanos in the blender along with the garlic, shallot, 1/2 cup olive oil and lime juice. Purée until smooth.

Put the peppers on a plate. Top with tofu, then pour the sauce liberally on top.

Serves 2 with extra sauce for another day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Slow Cooker Red Pepper Soup


I love red pepper season - there's nothing like that fresh sweetness, so during the next couple of months I will be indulging.

On Sunday I made this simple supper of beans and peppers cooked in the slow cooker. A little chipotle in adobe added the heat that played beautifully off the sweet peppers, and the beans made it a good stick-to-the-ribs meal after a day of gardening.

I pre-cooked some pinquito beans (28 minutes in the pressure cooker) for the soup. Other days I've used green lentils instead and added them in raw, adding an extra 2 cups of water for them to cook in. Sometimes I use half cooked beans and half lentils. You really can't go wrong with legumes.

Slow Cooker Red Pepper Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 chipotle in adobo, chopped
2 red peppers, cored and chopped
1 cup pinquito beans, cooked (yields about 3 cups cooked beans - you can use 4 cans of beans instead)

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion until it softens, then stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Add chipotle and cook, stirring another minute. Stir in the red peppers and let them cook 2-3 minutes until they are beginning to soften. Scrape the mixture into the slow cooker, making sure to get all the brownish bits off the bottom of the skillet.

Stir in the cooked beans and 3 cups water.

Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.

Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little red wine vinegar in if needed to balance the sweetness, or a little olive oil for richness.

Serves 8

The red peppers and onions before going in the slow cooker.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Chickpea Salad

Bean salads are the ultimate portable vegetarian lunch. They are high in protein and fiber from the beans, vitamins and minerals from the vegetables and herbs, and don't need to be kept refrigerated — although an ice pack in the lunch bag is a good idea.

This week, we're taking this chickpea salad with cilantro and celery to work. It doesn't have a lot of dressing on it, so we're less likely to drip oil on our shirts, and it's full of fresh flavors and crunchy textures that make it a pleasure to eat.

You can take this recipe as a guide and switch out ingredients depending on what is in your fridge: parsley and mint for the cilantro, green peppers and radishes for the celery, scallions for the red onion. With bean salads, the possibilities are endless.

I particularly like the munchiness of chickpeas, but I've yet to find a dried bean that doesn't make a good salad. The key is to cook them until they are tender, not mushy. You can use canned beans, of course, but they don't taste quite as good.

Dried beans are worth getting to know. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook up a batch of chickpeas in under half an hour. Or you can cook them in the slow cooker overnight. Or simmer them for a few hours on the back burner of the stove. Extra beans can be frozen, although when they're defrosted they're better in stews and soups than in salads — the freezing makes them a little mushy.

Once the beans are cooked, it's a snap to toss them with dressing and vegetables for a mouthwatering dish that will fill the lunch box for a few days.

Chickpea Salad
1 cup dried chick peas (or 2 cans)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 tbsp chopped red onion
salt and pepper
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil

Cook and drain the chickpeas. Put them in a bowl and add the two vinegars and plenty of salt and pepper. Let come to room temperature.

Stir in the celery, cilantro and red onion. Toss well. Pour the olive oil over top and toss again.

Serves 4-6.