It’s high tomato season here in California. They’re everywhere, those fragrant red orbs, and it’s hard not to just eat them all raw. But please, if you can bear it, set aside a few juicy specimens for this recipe. It’s my new favorite paella, and a truly wonderful late-summer party meal.
I’ve been trying for years to come up with a great vegetable paella. This blows away every other version I’ve tried. The difference is those tomatoes–ripe and juicy, cut into meaty wedges and scattered on top of the rice. Unlike other paellas I’ve made, this one starts on the stove and then gets a brief blast in a hot oven. The tomatoes wrinkle and slump, while holding their gorgeous form. Stick a spoon in, and you’ve got sweet tomato jelly on top of delicately seasoned rice. It’s a total winner.
This started its life as a Mark Bittman recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out the onions in his recipe in favor of peppers–both sweet and hot–and romano beans. I add a bay leaf for extra fragrance, and a splash of wine just for fun. To keep the tomato flavor front and center, I use water as the cooking liquid. Once the paella comes out of the oven, it gets strewn with parsley and scallion confetti. Serve with lemon wedges for folks who want a bit of zing, and the rest of that bottle of wine.
Years ago, I won a copy of Root-to-Stalk Cooking in an online raffle. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I plonked down on the couch with a pile of Post-It notes and bookmarked every recipe I was dying to try. Then I tucked the book away on my shelf of cookbooks and promptly forgot it existed. A couple weeks ago I pulled it down, pages still studded with little pink flags. This is the first of those recipes I’ve tried, and it’s good. Really good.
The secret here is chard stems–those beautiful, vivaciously-colored stalks that you should never, ever throw away. I love them pickled; I love them in soups and stews. And, if you blanch them until soft and tender, they make a fabulous hummus-like dip.
Yes, I said hummus. Turns out, cooked chard stems make an admirable–dare I say superior?–replacement for the ubiquitous chickpea. They blend up even smoother and softer than canned chickpeas, with no fibrous skins to get in the way. And their subtle beet-y sweetness is a perfect balance for the usual hummus suspects: nutty-bitter tahini, tangy lemon, and buttery olive oil. It’s delicious, thrifty as hell, and a great low-FODMAP alternative to traditional hummus.
One thing I didn’t expect: if you make this dip with red chard stalks, it turns out pink. Like, tutu pink. Millennial pink. I found this delightful, but it did lead to several party guests asking why there was a bowl of strawberry yogurt next to the chips. Fortunately, chard comes in a wonderful variety of colors. If you prefer a more neutral-colored dip, choose white chard stems, or a mix of white, yellow, and green. (I’d avoid full-on rainbow chard, which seems like it would turn an unappetizing shade of brown.)
That drizzle of olive oil means it’s hummus, not yogurt. Right? Right?
Sweet basil chicken is a big go-to of mine in Thai restaurants. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s fragrant, and it nestles oh-so-nicely over a pile of jasmine rice. Plus, because it’s stir-fried to order, I’ve now started asking for it without garlic or onions, which makes it lower in FODMAPs and easier to digest.
Until recently, I never would have thought to make Thai sweet basil chicken at home. But it’s turned into a staple dish in our household. As with so many stir-fries, it’s easily customizable–add or subtract vegetables you like, and dial the spiciness up or down as you prefer. Plus, unlike the no-garlic-please restaurant version, you can use tricks like garlic oil and scallion tops to restore some of that familiar allium spike.
I make no claims to authenticity here. Bringing this into my American kitchen–and adapting it to be low-FODMAP–means I’ve had to make a few tweaks and tucks to the recipe. It’s not an exact match for the restaurant version, and it’s not trying to be. But it is a darned tasty stir-fry, and much easier on my digestive system than the stuff in the takeout box.
Here’s the first bit of sacrilege: you don’t have to use Thai basil. Oh, you should, if you can find it–the sweet, licorice-y aroma will get the dish closest to what you’d find in an American Thai restaurant. But Italian sweet basil from the grocery store is just as delicious, and often much easier to find. If you’re forever buying a bunch of basil just to use a few leaves, then this is the recipe for you. Just toss in the rest of the leaves, and watch as the wok swallows them up.
One thing I’ve learned this summer: people go apeshit for homemade salsa. I don’t quite know why that is–maybe it’s just that my friends are so used to the stuff from a jar. But when I brought a batch of this salsa to a barbecue, it was nearly gone before Sam had a chance to photograph it.
Good thing, too, since I can’t comfortably eat storebought salsa anymore. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to whip up a delicious tomato salsa from scratch, customized to your needs and tastes. Start with ripe, in-season tomatoes–I like cherry tomatoes for their sweet, juicy snap. Then add some thinly sliced scallion tops, a splash of lime juice, a minced chile or two, and a handful of fresh herbs. Sometimes I add a little sugar to balance the tomatoes’ tang; sometimes it’s not needed. Season with salt and pepper, and you’re in business.
Once you’ve got the basic building blocks, there’s lots of room to play. My friend Andrea makes her own preserved limes, and adds a minced tablespoon or so into every salsa she makes. You could replace some of the tomato with diced fresh fruit–ripe pineapple or papaya are nice low-FODMAP options. You could roast the tomatoes and chiles in a hot oven until they blacken and char, then pop all the ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Or you could just make this same, simple salsa every time. I’ve certainly never heard a complaint.
If there’s a drawback to homemade salsa, it’s that it tends to turn watery as it sits. But there’s a solution! After chopping the tomatoes, toss them with some salt in a strainer and let them drain over a bowl for about 30 minutes. The excess liquid will drip down into the bowl, leaving you with firm, perfectly seasoned tomatoes for your salsa. And don’t throw away that tomato liquid–it’s delicious to drink on its own over ice, or mixed with a little vodka for a feather-light take on a bloody Mary.
So far, this has been the summer of herbs. As part of the quest to transform my cooking habits, I’ve been relying heavily on fresh herbs–parsley, dill, mint, basil, and chives–to add brightness and spark to our meals. One recipe, in particular, has been in heavy rotation around here.
Many years ago, I bookmarked Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for spinach and herb frittata. Inspired by an Iranian dish called kuku sabzi, it’s packed to bursting with greens and fresh herbs. A few weeks ago, I remembered the recipe and dug it back out. I’ve been making it at least once a week since, tinkering a little each time.
I’ve made no secret of my love for frittatas. They’re quick, wholesome, and welcoming to just about anything in the fridge. You can eat them warm, room temperature, or cold. They make a great grab-and-go breakfast or light lunch, or you can cut them small and serve them as appetizers.
My usual frittatas are full of cheese and sausage–delicious, but on the stodgy side. This green frittata is much lighter and brighter, with the assertive flavor and leafy crunch of barely cooked herbs. I’ve mostly been eating it straight from the fridge, but this could easily be an elegant summer party dish, tucked into a picnic spread or laid out with a cheese-and-crackers board.
A couple months ago, when I came home from the doctor with a pamphlet on FODMAPs and a brain full of questions, one of my first (slightly panicked) messages was to my friend Ida. Not only had she gone through the same process a couple years earlier, but she’s one of the most wildly creative cooks I know. So I invited her to dinner and picked the heck out of her brain.
Of all the tips and resources Ida shared–and there were a lot–one thing stuck with me. Choose one meal, she said, that fits your dietary requirements, that you love, and that you can make with your eyes closed. That’s your go-to meal. When you feel like there’s nothing you can eat, make that. For her, during the strictest elimination phase, that meal was fajitas. For me, it’s Vietnamese-style noodle bowls.
This isn’t really a recipe–it’s a method. I start by soaking some dried rice vermicelli in near-boiling water for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I make a punchy dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and some sort of chile. Then I root through the fridge for cooked protein, raw vegetables, and fresh herbs, and cut everything up into strips or morsels. Finally, I drain and rinse the noodles and combine everything in a big bowl. (I’ve written out a more detailed description of my method and proportions below the post.)
This is the perfect thrown-together summer food. It’s light and crisp, savory and refreshing. The dressing, fresh herbs, and scallions make it intensely flavorful and exciting. It comes together in 20 minutes or less, without turning on the stove (except maybe to boil some water, and I’ve got an electric kettle for that). It fills me up without leaving a brick in my belly. It accepts whatever mishmash of veggies and meat I have in the fridge. And it’s easily tailored to even a fairly strict diet. I’ve been eating this at least twice a week for months now, making it differently every time.
It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.
So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.
If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.
Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.