The Kitchen Reader: Some recipes from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters

June 30, 2010

This month’s book for The Kitchen Reader is Food Matters, by Mark Bittman, which was selected by Elizabeth of Spike Bakes. The first 100 or so pages of the book are full of facts and figures designed to convince the reader that we should be eating less meat and processed foods, and more fruits and vegetables, because it’s better for your body and for the environment. The rest of the book is full of recipes that support his theory of eating. I’m not all that keen on facts and figures, and I didn’t need a lot of convincing, so I skimmed through the first part and then dove into the recipes. While this wasn’t my favorite book to read, I found a number of recipes that sounded great.

The first recipe I tried was Tabbouleh. I’ve made it before but it’s been a while, and I don’t know what recipe I used in the past. The first thing I thought was – where are the cucumbers? Isn’t that a staple in this salad? Then I thought – peas? What the heck is he thinking putting peas in there? I decided to have faith and I mostly followed the recipe and it was awesome! Especially the peas!

I was planning to eat this for lunch all week, but my husband tried it and declared “I like things like this a lot,” so I had to share. The recipe is at the bottom of the post. Give it a try! By the way, I’ve always called this Tabouli, but Bittman calls it Tabbouleh…I think it’s the same salad regardless of the spelling.

Next up was Vegetable Spread. This is a really loose recipe that you can customize according to what you have and what you like. Basically, you cook 2 pounds of vegetables and then puree them with olive oil. I roasted onion, carrots, red bell pepper, broccoli, and cauliflower with a little olive oil, then put them in the food processor with a little more olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Roasted vegetables are so flavorful, and after pureeing, this spread was a lovely mosaic of colors. My veggie-loving husband was really looking forward to this after he saw the roasted vegetables and asked what I was doing with them.

We ate this with this cracker bread; it would be great with any kind of crackers or bread. The roasted flavor and the combination of vegetables was so delicious! Another keeper that I’ll make again and again. Scroll down for the recipe. I wish I would have measured the amount of spread that the recipe made. Two pounds of vegetables sounds like a lot, but they shrink when roasted, and by the time they’re pureed, the amount doesn’t seem so huge.

Mark Bittman’s Tabbouleh

From Food Matters, also published online here My notes are in (red)

1/2 cup fine-grind (#1) or medium-grind (#2) bulgur (I bought some from the bulk section at my grocery store; I don’t know what size it was)
1/3 cup olive oil, or more as needed (I used 1/4 c, and would start with less next time)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped (omitted)
1 cup peas or fava beans (frozen are fine; run them under cold water to thaw) (used peas)
6 or 7 radishes, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
about 6 black olives, pitted and chopped, or more to taste (optional) (not optional! They’re great!)

Soak the bulgur in 1¼ cups boiling water to cover until tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the grind. If any water remains when the bulgur is done, put the bulgur in a fine strainer and press down on it, or squeeze it in a cloth (be sure to squeeze as much water out as you can). Toss the bulgur with the oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (You can make the bulgur up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before proceeding.) Just before you’re ready to eat, add the remaining ingredients and toss gently; taste, adjust the seasoning, adding more oil or lemon juice as needed. Serves four.

Mark Bittman’s Vegetable Spread

From Food Matters, also published online here

• About 2 pounds any vegetables, trimmed and cooked until tender by any method
• 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the veggies, any cooking method will work: Steam, boil, sauté, grill, or roast — though grilling and roasting concentrate flavors and make the spread more complex. Just make sure everything is quite tender.  Make sure the vegetables are relatively dry before starting. If you need to drain them, reserve the cooking liquid. To puree the vegetables, put them in a blender or food processor with the olive oil and as much of the cooking liquid (or water or more olive oil) as you need to get the machine going; or run the vegetables through a food mill. In many cases, you can simply mash the vegetables with a large fork or potato masher, adding the olive oil and cooking liquid as needed to reach the consistency you want.
Taste, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and taste again. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature. It will keep in the fridge for several days.

Veggie variations:

Eggplant spread
Eggplant, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley

Beet spread
Beets, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with walnuts and dill, serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt

Butternut squash spread
Butternut squash, cooked until tender
Flavor with fresh ginger, orange zest, and cilantro

Broccoli Spread
Broccoli, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil

Flavoring veggie spreads:
* Add up to 1/2 cup of fresh parsley, mint, dill, cilantro, basil or other mild herb leaves before pureeing.
* Add up to a tablespoon of fresh rosemary, oregano, or thyme leaves before pureeing.
* Squeeze some citrus juice — lemon, lime, or orange — into the puree.
* Include a few coins of peeled fresh ginger or a garlic clove or two with the vegetables as they puree.
* Puree the vegetable mixture with fresh (or reconstituted dried) chiles to taste, or add a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes.
* When you add salt, add a pinch of ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seeds or nutmeg.
* Add chili powder along with the olive oil.
* Instead of the olive oil, use peanut oil or coconut milk, and season with curry powder.
* Instead of the olive oil, use a combination of sesame and peanut oil, and season with five-spice powder.


  1. Hi, Jill. I loved this book, too. And vegetable spread was also the first recipe I tried. It was delicious! I look forward to seeing what you try next. 🙂

  2. Glad to hear the recipes were successful! I want to try that veggie spread- bet it would be great on toast

  3. I want to try the roasted veggie spread-I love roasted veggies and this sounds like a great way to enjoy them-I love that you found the recipes appealing!

  4. Great spread recipes!! thank you so much!! If i may, i would share some variation to the eggplant spread. Well i’m not sure you can call it just eggplant after it, but i alsow add some yellow and red roasted peppers and onions.
    I will try all the other spreads you have here, and if you don’t mind, will experement with adding something:)

  5. Love Bittman, and I don’t even mind that he mixes things up a bit and makes them his own…both these recipes look delicious. When you have something the hubs likes, it’s always a good thing, but if you were counting on him not liking it and he does, well, things can go awry…I think I got one tiny sliver of the Lime Meringue Pie at TWD as I was counting on them NOT wanting it. I was wrong. Looking forward to your India post…mine’s up! Yikes.

  6. this is the first Bittman I have read. It wasn’t one I would have chosen but it was a real eye opener. Have several recipes marked. Nice roundup of his main points. took me a little longer. Yours was quite short and to the point – much better.

  7. I love that you made some recipes already. I was so poky about reading the beginning that I didn’t have much time before posting to make anything, but there are some good recipe ideas in there! You were stronger than me, I couldn’t bring myself to skip the info even though it wasn’t new to me.

  8. The tabbouleh sounds really good! That’s funny that you ended up having to share. Mark Bittman had a column about grilling in today’s NYT, I told my boyfriend to read up since he’s the one who grills around here.

  9. That tabbouleh looks awesome–so perfect for hot summer weather!

  10. I love the recipes and I’ve always had good results with Mark Bittman. The spread looks especially awesome.

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