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A Healthfully Romantic Valentine’s Day Menu

By Kent Miller

his easy-to-prepare dinner features ingredients and flavors that will please vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike, despite the absence of meat. The recipes make about four servings, meaning this meal can be made for a double-date — or, if you'd like to make this a meal for two, you'll likely have some yummy leftovers to enjoy the next day! Recipes have been adapted from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas (Sterling, 2011). Nava Atlas is the author of numerous vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. Find lots of easy, healthy recipes and kitchen tips on her site, VegKitchen.com.

Valentine's Day menu, courtesy of Nava Atlas:
1. Appetizer — Ajillo asparagus with mushrooms
2. Salad course — Mixed greens salad with pears and glazed pecans
3. Entree — Pappardelle with Swiss chard

Suggested accompaniments:
  • A good red wine
  • A simple steamed green vegetable, such as broccoli or broccolini to serve with the pasta
  • Your favorite chocolate dessert
Ajillo asparagus with mushrooms
Start your meal with this tasty appetizer as your first course. This is inspired by the garlicky Spanish tapas dish, champiñones al ajillo, which relies on mushrooms alone. Asparagus makes it a more substantial dish — and, as befits the romantic spirit of the holiday, is considered an aphrodisiac. This is traditionally served with slices of warm, fresh bread. And since you've already opened a bottle of red wine, feel free to serve it with this appetizer as well.

Ingredients:
4 ounces asparagus
4 ounces mushrooms (cremini or baby bella with a smaller amount of shiitake is a nice combination)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons dry red wine or sherry
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked Spanish paprika) or more, to taste
Dried hot red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Trim about an inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Unless they're nice and slender, peel the bottom halves with a vegetable peeler. Clean the mushrooms, then stem and quarter them. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and then add the garlic and sauté over low heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and asparagus; raise the temperature to high heat for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Lower the heat back to medium and add the wine, lemon juice, dried red pepper and paprika. Cook for about three minutes longer, or just until the asparagus is tender-crisp and the mushrooms have softened. Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper. Transfer dish to a serving platter, and sprinkle with the parsley. This is good either served warm or at room temperature; makes four servings.

Mixed greens salad with pears and glazed pecans
Here's a salad that provides a burst of color for the plate. There's something sensuous about pear in a salad, and the pecans make it absolutely luscious.

To make the glazed pecans, you'll need:
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup pecan halves

Salad ingredients:
2 to 3 ounces mixed baby greens
1 good handful of baby spinach or arugula leaves
1/4 medium head radicchio, thinly sliced (or 1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage)
1/2 cup baby carrots halved lengthwise if slender (quartered if they're thick)
1 medium Bosc pear, cut into quarters lengthwise, cored, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat the agave nectar in a small skillet and sprinkle in the cinnamon and salt. When it's just starting to get bubbly, then stir in the pecans. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the pecans are nicely glazed, three to five minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients in a serving bowl and toss together. Just before serving, add the pecans and toss again; makes four servings.

Pappardelle with Swiss chard
Here's a sturdy pasta dish that's substantial, yet not heavy, which is filled with companionable flavors and nourishing ingredients.

Ingredients:
6 to 8 ounces Swiss chard (you may also substitute green chard or kale)
8 ounces pappardelle noodles (long, broad pasta; substitute fettuccine if it's unavailable)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow summer squash, quartered and thinly sliced
One 14- to 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes (try Italian style or fire-roasted)
1 cup canned cannellini (white beans), drained and rinsed
3 to 4 tablespoons sliced sun-dried tomatoes (oil-cured or not, as preferred)
1/4 cup dark raisins
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove and discard the stems and thicker mid-ribs from the greens. Rinse the leaves, then drain and coarsely chop them. Cook the pappardelle in plenty of rapidly simmering water according to package directions until al dente, then drain. Meanwhile, heat the oil in an extra-large saucepan or steep-sided stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and sauté over medium-low heat until it just begins to turn golden. Add the summer squash and continue to sauté until it is tender-crisp.

Add two to three tablespoons of water, followed by the chard. Cover and cook just until the chard wilts down, stirring once or twice (about three minutes). Then stir in the tomatoes, beans, dried tomatoes, and raisins and cook just until everything is well-heated through, about four to five minutes longer. Combine the cooked pasta with the chard mixture in a large serving bowl. Toss well; season to taste with salt and pepper, and then toss again. Serve at once; makes four servings.


Kent Miller is currently writing a comic young adult novel. His articles have appeared in Nintendo Power magazine, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The San Francisco Chronicle and The St. Petersburg Times (Florida). Want the rest of this story? Read How To Cook For A Carnivore On Valentine's Day.

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