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Archive for the ‘legumes’ Category

We got quite a bit of the white stuff around here this weekend with a little over two feet in Central Park. It started snowing much earlier than expected (or at least much earlier than I expected), so I ended up having to struggle home from dinner Friday night in a pair of high heels. Not my best move. I’ve now swapped them out for boots, so I’m all good. My home town of Maryland was also hit pretty hard, from what I can tell, my friends are are still digging out, schools are cancelled, and government offices are closed.

In the days leading up to the storm, I’d been working from home, laid up with a case of the sniffles and a sore throat and a general achy-ness, and I made a soup that helped me muddle along and, since it’s one of those clean-out-your-pantry dishes, I figured it would be good for those of you still stuck inside with limited access to fresh anything until the stores restock. I intended to post it before the storm, but, well, sometimes life gets in the way, so you can think of this as preparation for the next snowfall.

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This red lentil soup is admittedly not dissimilar from one that I made on this blog almost 5 years ago. I even photographed it in the same bowl! You let the lentils melt in piles of onions and tomatoes and spike the whole lot with cumin, coriander, and a healthy pinch of cayenne. I amped up the tomato flavor using estratto di pomodoro – an intense tomato paste made by concentrating tomato pulp in the sun – that I toted home from Sicily. You can obviously use regular tomato paste if you didn’t have the luxury of having one of the best vacations of your life over the summer. This soup is a savior if you’re sick or holed up or just want dinner.

Red lentil tomato soup

Adapted from the New York Times. I didn’t have whole cumin and coriander seeds, so I used about half the measure of ground. 

Makes approximately 3 quarts

– 2 T vegetable oil
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, minced
– salt to taste
– 1 1/2 t ground cumin
– 1 t ground coriander
– 1 1/2 t curry powder
– 1/2 t cayenne
– 2 T tomato paste
– 1 28-oz can chopped tomato with juice
– 1 lb red lentils, washed and picked over
– 8 C vegetable stock or water (I actually used half stock, half water)
– 1/4 – 1/2 t ground black  pepper
– juice of 1/2 lemon
For garnish:
– yogurt
– chopped parsley or cilantro
– lemons, cut into wedges

Cook. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander, curry powder, and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is frangrant. Lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice.

Simmer. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add salt to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon).

Simmer more. Stir in the lentils and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, covers and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (I didn’t feel like it needed any more at this point) and continue to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes,  until the lentils have fallen apart and thickened soup.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add the pepper, taste, and add cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve. Top each bowl with a swirl of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of parsley or cilantro. Squeeze a lemon wedge over top.

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Rachel has started a weekly column in The Guardian called “Kitchen Sink Tales.” Each column starts with a photo of her Roman sink, filled with the freshest of produce straight from the market. Already her stories and recipes have sent me out to the store and then to the stove to cook up warm, inviting, homey dishes. Most recently I created a mishmash of two of her recipes: broccoli ripassati and white beans with wilted greens.

I started with the broccoli. In the original recipe, you boil a couple heads until they’re almost water-logged cafeteria fare. I know that doesn’t sound appealing, but bear with me; luckily you don’t stop there. You cook the broccoli even more, this time in a pan with a nice glug of olive oil, garlic and red pepper until it forms a creamy sauce excellent for tossing with pasta or topping toast (with a fried egg for good measure). I made the broccoli and stopped just shy of sauce for a chunkier version.

I mixed the broccoli with a can of cannelini beans spiffed up, à la Rachel’s wilted greens recipe, with some celery and onion that I had chopped but didn’t need for stuffing. Sure, it might be better with dried beans, lovingly soaked overnight and simmered for an hour or two, but I had what I had and I was thrilled with the results. What ended up in the bowl wasn’t company fare, really, but perfect for a hearty stay-at-home lunch.

white beans and broccoli

White beans with broccoli

Adapted from Rachel Roddy’s recipe for broccoli ripassati and white beans with wilted greens.

– 1 lb broccoli, separated into florets

– 4 T olive oil, separated

– 1/2 C onion, chopped

– 1/2 C celery, chopped

– 2 15-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 – 1 1/2 t red pepper flakes, to taste

– salt and pepper

Boil. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a fast boil – depending on the size of your pot, this may take quite some time. Get started on the rest of the recipe while you wait (and wait and wait).

Cook. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large deep frying pan over a medium flame. Cook the onions and celery until softened and fragrant and the onions turn translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Drop the flame to low and add the beans, a 1/2 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper and 1/4 cup of the boiling water. Heat the beans, stirring gently, until warm, about 5 minutes. Empty into a bowl and set aside. Taste for for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning. Don’t clean the pan – you’ll be using it in just a moment.

Keep boiling. By now, your huge pot of salty water is vigorously boiling. Add the broccoli and cook until they can easily be pierced by a fork, around 5-7 minutes.

Saute. While the broccoli is boiling, in the frying pan that you just cleared the beans out of, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over a low flame. Gently saute the garlic and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can always add more later) for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Cook. Use a slotted spoon to lift the cooked broccoli from the water into the frying pan with the garlic. Raise the flame to medium-low and move the broccoli around the pan so each piece is well-coated with the garlic-pepper mix. Allow the broccoli to stew for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, during which time it will break up, taking on an almost creamy aspect with a few stalks still recognizable.

Stir. Add the bean mixture to the pan with the broccoli and stir to warm everything up again, another couple of minutes.

Serve. I ate this as is, but I imagine it would be great with a squeeze of lemon and a shower of parmesan.

 

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I received an email the other day. The subject: Made this soup and thought of you.

sweet potato chickpea stew

The message was from my friend Nachama who I met in Boston several years back. We lived just a few blocks from each other and used to go to the gym together. It’s hard for me to motivate to exercise, so it was great having a buddy. She’d run on the treadmill, I’d swoosh along on the elliptical, and we’d meet up at the end to stretch.

Nachama now lives in DC. In her email, she described the soup: “It was warm, simple but tasty, smooth and thick, and had just a pinch of kick – reminded me of the times we would bunker down in the Boston cold and watch movies at your place.”

This was all the impetus I needed to pull out a large pot and get cooking this chickpea soup that, according to recipe, hails from Madagascar. Its base is a sweet potato broth that you make from scratch (or buy in a box). Toast a handful of spices (including types of red chile) with garlic, then add the broth, a splash of coconut milk, and a big pile of spicy mustard greens, and chickpeas.

After an hour and a half, the greens wilt into the broth and the whole mess thickens to a stew. I invited over some friends and we crowded around my table to finish most of the pot. We ate it with spoons, but forks would have worked just as well.

Thanks, Nachama, for the recipe and inspiration!

Sweet potato chickpea stew

Adapted from this recipe. If  you don’t want to make the broth from scratch, either substitute with sweet potato broth, or make a semi-homemade broth by simmering 3 sweet potatoes in 8 cups of vegetable broth and then pureeing with an immersion blender. 

Makes 12 servings.

For the sweet potato broth:

– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 medium onion, sliced
– 3 celery ribs, chopped
– 3 carrots, chopped
– 3 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 8 cups water

For the stew:

– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 T olive oil
– 2 t dried crushed red pepper
– 2 t ground red pepper
– 2 t ground coriander
– 1/2 t ground turmeric
– 8 C Sweet Potato Broth (recipe above)
– 2 C unsweetened coconut milk
– 1 bunch fresh mustard greens, chopped
– 3 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Make broth:
Cook. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add sweet potato, desired amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and water. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until sweet potato is tender. Discard cloves. Let mixture stand 15 minutes.
Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately, or cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container up to 5 days.
Make stew:
Toast. Sauté garlic in hot oil in a large saucepan over medium heat 1 minute; add red peppers, coriander, and turmeric. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes or until fragrant.
Boil. Stir in sweet potato broth, coconut milk, and greens. Bring to a gentle boil; add chickpeas.
Simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until greens are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Now that I’m getting settled in my new place, it’s time to get back to making something other than salads. First up: lentils.

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While they might not be lookers, these belugas are nothing short of delightful. They hold their shape nicely, are the color of dark dark chocolate, and keep you warm with cumin and a pinch of mustard seed. They make the type of homey, comforting dish that you want to eat on a snowy day, and lord knows we’ve had more than enough winter weather opportunities to sup (or breakfast) on these lentils.

Best part? They’re the first thing I cooked on my new stove in my new kitchen in my new apartment. I poured oil in a pot (yeah, I found a pot!) and dropped in spoons of spices (yeah, I found spices!), swirling the mix over the front right burner. With the first few whiffs of cumin, I dragged the edge of my knife across my cutting board (yeah, I found a cutting board!) and scooted onion and garlic into the pot. After a few minutes, I poured in the lentils and broth, brought everything to a boil, lowered the heat, and balanced a lid on the pot at an angle, with just enough room for delicate wisps of steam to escape. Every once in a while, I checked on my lentils, lifting the lid with a yellow striped towel and peeking inside at the gurgling mess, adding a dribble of broth if the pot was looking a little dry.

The afternoon was going so well until the acrid stench of smoke replaced the scent of cumin and I rushed to the kitchen to find that the yellow-striped towel that I had left on the lid had slid down a bit and caught fire. I grabbed another towel – this one with red stripes – and yanked the pot off the burner, tipping the lid and towel into the sink. I checked inside – yup, the lentils were fine, but not quite done. I turned on the faucet and doused the flames, flung open the windows and door to air out the apartment, and returned the lentils, with another splash of broth, to the stove for a few more minutes.

I ate the warm lentils under a dollop of yogurt, with the winter air whistling through every open window and a smoldering towel in the sink.

Now that I’ve mastered, er, broken in, the stove-top, I’ll turn my attention to the oven. Stay tuned…

Cumin-spiced beluga lentils

Adapted ever so slightly from Bon Appetit. If you can’t find beluga or black lentils, substitute French (du Puy) lentils – both hold their shapes and don’t break down or get mushy when cooked. If  you want a bit more  heat, add 1/2 teaspoon or so cayenne pepper or hot paprika with the other spices. Top with thick Greek yogurt or a fried or poached egg – the extra fat and creaminess complement the texture of the slightly dry lentils. 

Makes 4-6 servings

– 1 t cumin seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle

– ½ t mustard seeds

– 2 – 3 T olive oil 

– 1 small onion, finely chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

– 1 C black beluga lentils

– 3 – 4 C vegetable or chicken broth 

– 1 T sherry vinegar or lemon juice 

– kosher salt, freshly ground balck pepper

Saute. Stir crushed cumin, mustard seeds, and 2 tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sizzling, about 1 minute. If the pot looks dry at this point, add an additional tablespoon of oil. Then add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until just softened, about 5 minutes.

Simmer. Add lentils and 3 cups of broth and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, adding broth as needed to keep lentils covered, until lentils are soft, 30–40 minutes. I found I needed a total of 4 cups of broth. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar or lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve. Serve warm under a scoop of Greek yogurt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of cumin. Or top with an egg. Whatever.

Reheat. Whether you reheat the lentils on the stovetop or in the microwave, make sure to add in a tablespoon or two of broth or water so that the lentils don’t dry out. Once warmed, add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to add a bright kick.

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I never expected to publish this chili.

Vegetarian chili

It’s the clear-out-the-cupboard no-recipe recipe I’ve been making for years. You know the kind. Its starts like any soup or stew with the holy carrot-celery-onion mirepoix trinity softening and slumping in a slick of oil. The vegetables dance with a handful of spices, swim in a tomato sea, and cozy up to some beans. A sprinkle of cheese and you’re ready to face the cold.

Back when I was just starting to cook, I was pretty timid with my chili: the spices came pre-mixed in a seasoning envelope. Gaining confidence, I started to doctor the mix. A little extra chili powder. A sprinkle of coriander. Ooooh, red pepper flakes.

Pretty soon I did away with the mix altogether. There were failures, one so spicy it left me crying but, too stubborn to throw away the batch, I ate the whole pot, tears and all. There were success. But most of all, there were decent versions, good enough for sustenance and warmth against a winter’s day, but nothing particularly remarkable. With each batch, I dutifully jotted down my steps, my ingredients, my quantities. And then that sheet of paper sat on my desk or my coffee table or my kitchen counter, eventually drowning under a pile of other recipes that were more likely to make it onto the blog.

But this year, just as the November air grew brisk and I switched over my closet, I happened upon a spice combination that made this memorable enough that I wanted to remember it. The scribbled notes stayed at the top of the pile. And then I made it exactly the same way a week later. There are three different heats – chipotle in adobo sauce, cayenne, and hot paprika – that build on one another. With a nod towards the Middle East I added sumac, which gives the chili a sourness to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes. While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, don’t skip the tomato paste. Its concentrated flavor adds a meaty, or dare I say umami, quality to the chili, especially if you add it early on with all the spices and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.

Two hours later (most of the time is simmering), you have a simple, but perfectly simple dinner. And lunch. And lunch again. And dinner the next night.

Vegetarian two-bean chili

The starting point for this chili was a recipe from Whole Foods. It’s worth it to buy a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce – chop up the whole can and then freeze in ice cube trays whatever you have left over. I do the same with tomato paste. I like to serve this chili over brown rice or whatever grain I have in my pantry (these days I’m into freeke), and to top it with aged cheddar. This recipe makes a lot of chili, but it freezes really nicely. 

Makes approximately 12 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 large carrot, chopped

3 stalk celery, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 T finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce

2 T tomato paste

2 t ground cumin

1 t chili powder (I used cayenne)

1 t hot paprika

1 t sumac

1 1/2 t salt

1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their liquid

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) red kidney beans, drained

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained

Stir. Heat the oil until shimmering in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic  burn. Add tomato paste, chipotle, spices, and salt and stir to blend, cooking for another few minutes.

Simmer. Quickly pour in the tomatoes and then one tomato can of water. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits and pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add beans and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili gets too thick, add some extra water and cover the pot.

Serve. Serve over rice or another grain (I used freekeh) and top with shredded aged cheddar.

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A week and a half into daylight savings time and just a few hours before the first official day of spring, my balcony is blanketed with a fresh coating of snow, and the white stuff keeps coming down. Before we leave behind the hardy greens and show up at the farmers market each week to greet a new crop of, well, crops – pea shoots! morels! corn! zucchini! tomatoes! strawberries! blueberries! – I have one last kale recipe to share. You know, just in case the lamb part of March doesn’t arrive on schedule.

This kale story started last week. It was one of those evenings after work when I found myself  in the kitchen, hands on hips, peering listlessly into the fridge at a container of  baby kale, a bag of carrots, a few stalks of celery, and, oh yeah, a dwindling bowl of Meyer lemons. Resisting the gelato just inches away in the freezer, I turned on my heel and climbed on the couch, plucking a cookbook off a pile en route and balancing it on my cross-legged lap.

Canal House Cooks Every Day was the book. It had been floating around my apartment for a few weeks, from bed to coffee table to chair to said pile, spine-cracked but splatter-free. At first glance, the book is daunting. No picture on the front, no dust jacket, just a big red hardback with shiny gold and blue print. I could imagine mistaking it for a law text. Nestled among the gorgeous pictures, the recipes are written in big blocks of text that reminded me of one of my first cookbooks, Fannie Farmer, which, nostalgia aside, is not the most approachable of kitchen guides.

But, and there’s always a but, in this case a fortuitous but, on that particular evening last week, I brushed my fingers over the cloth-bound cover, soft and warm to the touch, and went straight to the recipe index. There was a single recipe under kale: Barlotti beans with sauteed baby kale, page 283.

The ingredient list was short. The instructions, once you skip the part about cooking your beans from dried, were short too.

kale and beans, dinner

Less than twenty minutes later, I sat down with my bowl of beans and greens and started the book from the beginning, no longer merely skimming recipe titles. I read about how the author duo, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer, left their commutes behind for a kitchen atelier in which to start a business, independently launching a thrice-yearly seasonal food publication. In between cooking and photographing sessions, the two women prepare lunch and other treats which turned into this cookbook, a compendium of a year’s worth of recipes. It’s what they cook every day without being everyday cooking (hence the title).

Many of the recipes in the book are simple, some more suggestion than instruction. In a less-than-stellar review of the first of the team’s seasonal series, Nora Ephron wrote, ” The cookbook has very few recipes and although many look perfectly workable, there’s almost nothing in Canal House Cooking that’s singing, Cook Me, Cook Me.  Which is one of the things I look for when I first open a cookbook.”

I’ll admit, I had the same initial impression of  Hamilton and Hirscheimer’s Every Day. Luckily I dug a little deeper to discover a gem. I suspect this first recipe will send me back to Every Day once that first spring produce arrives.

Happy end of winter, all. And good riddance.

Kale and beans

Greens and beans (or baby kale and cannellini beans)

Hamilton and Hirscheimer use borlotti beans and prepare them from dried, but I like tender, thin-skinned cannellini beans and I had a can of them just waiting in my pantry. The only thing this dish could use is a crunch. I think next time I’ll add some toasted pine nuts. 

2 servings

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (mine is 11-inches in diameter) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add a chopped onion and saute until brown (you’re almost stir-frying here). Lower heat and add 2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers. Saute until the garlic softens, but don’t let it burn. Add to the pan 3 large handfuls of baby kale (if you’re the measuring type, this is about 3 packed cups) enough to fill the pan to overflowing. Let the kale wilt, stirring periodically, until all of the kale is a bright dark green. Meanwhile, drain a 15.5-ounce can of cannellini beans and rinse a few times with cold water. Add them to the skillet and stir until warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Zest and juice a lemon over the skillet.

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oh là là

Let me set the scene for you.

Me. Hair blown straight, curled at the ends. Liner and mascara framing my eyes. Black and white knit jacket, zipper on a bias, edged in soft black leather. Black pencil skirt, black tights, black boots balanced on three-inch heels. Head to toe, ready to impress.

The room. One long table in front of the window, lined with wine glasses and bottles of red and bottles of white. Ten round tables, ten plates of macarons, ten seated men. The sound of French chatter. Lots of smiles. This is speed dating at the French Library.

I walk towards the empty chair, hand plunged into the depths of my purse, feeling for … for what? a pen? my phone? a beret? I don’t remember … for whatever I’m looking for. My fingers fumble over something they don’t recognize. It’s round and plastic and squishy. Eyes locked with my first “date,” I withdraw a totoche. Lilli‘s pink pacifier weighs awkwardly in my palm. I stare down at it. I stare up the man standing in front of me.

In my mind, I explain that last night I met my friends’ newborn daughter and, oh  là!, her binky must have fallen into my bag. Out loud I merely say, oh là ! and stuff the totoche back into my bag.

I tilt my head and brush back my hair and bat my lashes and shrug. He shakes my hand and says bon soir. We sit down.

That was my Valentine’s Day. How was yours?

bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Here’s a salad that I made for lunch a few weeks back. It has nothing to do with this story, but I’ve been meaning to share it for a while. Inspired by a pile of small cucumbers and a bouquet of herbs, I found this tabouli-inspired recipe. I added the extra step of peeling the chickpeas. This takes about 5 minutes per can and, while some might find it tedious, I find it soothing to fall into a rhythm while letting my mind wander

Makes 4 lunches

– 1 C medium or coarse bulgur (I used coarse)

– 2 C water

– 2 15-ounce can chick peas

– 25-30 sprigs fresh parsley (1/2 C finely chopped)

– 15 sprigs fresh mint (1/4 C finely chopped)

– 3 small (Persian) or 3/4 large (English) cucumbers

– 3 scallions

– 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

– 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

– 1/2 t cumin

– salt and pepper

Simmer. For coarse bulgur: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the bulgur and salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. For medium bulgur: Place the bulgur in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour on 2 cups hot or boiling water. Allow to sit for 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. Drain and squeeze out the water.

Peel. Rinse and drain the chick peas and then peel them. Grasp each chickpea between your thumb and forefinger, apply a little bit of pressure, and the outer transparent skin will slip right off. Each can took me about 5 minutes.

Chop. Finely chop the parsley and mint. Cut the cucumber into approximately 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the scallions into thin rounds up until the point where the green turns dark.

Shake. Shake in a jar (or whisk in a bowl) lemon juice and olive oil with cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss.  Mix the bulgur, chickpeas, herbs, and scallions in a bowl. Toss with half the salad dressing, adding more to taste. The salad is even better the next day.

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Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

– 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

– 1 medium yellow onion

– 4 cloves garlic, divided

– 2 carrots

– 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

– 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

– salt

– red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

– 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

– stale baguette

– lemon

– parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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I’ve been wanting to tell you about something amazing that I made. Well, two somethings to be exact. But I didn’t really know where to start.

The first draft of my post began with blah blah blah. Seriously, the text read “blah blah blah … <<INSERT RECIPES>>.” My second and third drafts were not much better. So I did what I could while my thoughts stewed. The pictures were taken and the best ones were chosen and cropped and sharpened and uploaded. The recipes carefully typed out. And then everything sat in an intro-less draft, gathering cyber dust.

Everything I wrote sounded like this: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Boring, no?

But today when I opened the latest Food & Wine, I realized what that meal was, and the recipes are finally ready for their debut.  Dana Cowen opens the issue with what almost sounds like a confession: “Over the past two years, I’ve joined the ranks for the world’s food pilgrims – people who plan a whole trip just to have a single meal.” She goes on to talk about recipes that inspire wanderlust and trips planned for the sole purpose of reaching a destination restaurant.

I’ve admitted — bragged even — that I travel to eat. That I’ve wandered the streets, lusting after the best a new city can offer. You hear it all the time, that life is the journey, not the destination.

But here’s my own dirty little secret: sometimes it’s just all about the destination.

I’ve told you about the destinationZahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Perhaps you could even say that I took a long journey to get there – that going to medical school in Philadelphia led me to business school in Philadelphia led me to an annual conference that brought me to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Yes, this was an important journey. But then I almost skipped the conference this year. And then I thought about Zahav. And then I registered for the conference. I didn’t go to the restaurant because I happened to be in town for a conference. Instead, I decided to go to the conference as an excuse to go to Zahav. Not that you need an excuse.

I was in Philadelphia for less than twenty-four hours. I landed, took a taxi to my hotel, changed my clothes, took a taxi to Zahav, ate an obscene amount of food, took a taxi to my hotel, went to the conference, took a taxi to the airport and headed to Vegas. There was no journey, just a destination. And it was worth it. The flight, the hotel, the conference, the calories.

I guess at the end of the day, I’ve still said what I always intended: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Enjoy…until you can go to Philadelphia for the real thing.

Zahav’s hummus with cumin, paprika, and sumac

I adapted this hummus from Chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe in Food & Wine. Most meals at Zahav start with a tower of salatim (cold salads), a dish of freshly house-made hummus, and  steaming rolled-up laffa bread. It’s worth taking the time to use dried chickpeas — the extra steps of soaking them overnight and then boiling them the next day result in a silky smooth texture that canned just can’t replicate. This recipe makes 4 cups of hummus which is quite a lot. My six guests and I barely ate half of what I made. The leftover hummus is great for a few days, but without preservatives, that’s about as long as you can keep it in the fridge. And, please, if you want to be authentic, call it hoo-moose with a guttural h if you can manage it.

–  1/2 pound dried chickpeas

– 1 T baking soda

– 7 (or more) large garlic cloves, unpeeled

– 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

– 1/4 t ground cumin

– 1/4 C tahina (tahina separates pretty easily, so  bring it to room temperature so that it’s easier to stir to incorporate).

– 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

– kosher salt

– cumin, paprika, and sumac for garnish

– 1/4 C chopped parsley

Soak. In a large bowl, cover the dried chickpeas with 2 inches of water and stir in the baking soda. Refrigerate overnight.

Simmer. The next morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Pour them into a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and bring everything to a boil. Turn down the heat (but not too low) and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender but not mushy. Scoop out about a cup of water (to use later) and then drain the chickpeas. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Peel the garlic cloves.

Puree. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with 1/2 C of the reserved cooking water, 1/4 C of olive oil and the garlic cloves. Then add cumin, tahina, and lemon juice. Continue to puree until really creamy. Season with salt.

Serve. Fill a flat serving bowl with the hummus, smoothing out the top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika, and sumac (or whatever spices you like) and parsley. I served mine in a pan and warmed the whole thing up in the oven for a few minutes before garnishing.

Middle Eastern chicken skewers

This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Solomonov’s lamb skewers in Food & Wine — I just replaced the lamb with chicken. The main dishes at Zahav are called al-ha’esh, literally on the fire. Their kitchen has a coal grill; in my apartment, I use a grill pan. I doubled the recipe and next time will triple it. There was not a single piece of chicken remaining among the six carnivores at the table. The chicken is really moist, so it doesn’t need extra sauce, but the marinade is so good, it’s a pity to waste. Boil it down (since it’s been mingling with raw chicken) and dip pita in it or pour it over couscous.

– 1 medium onion, quartered

– 1 garlic clove, peeled

– 4 (or more) sprigs of flat leaf parsley

– 1-2 lemons (for 1/2 t zest and 3 T of juice)

– 1 t ras al hanout spice mixture (I used this instead of allspice)

– 1 T kosher salt

– Pinch of saffron threads

– 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

– 1/4 C vegetable oil

Puree.In a blender or food processor, puree onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, ras al hanout (or allspice), salt, and saffron.

Cut. Cut the chicken into cubes, approximately 1-inch on each side.

Marinate. Fill a large ziplock bag with the chicken and then pour the puree over it. Shake everything around until the chicken is well coated. Zip the bag, pressing out any air. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).

Grill. Preheat a grill pan. Remove chicken chunks and thread them onto skewers (about 4-5 per). Reserve the marinade. Brush the chicken skewers with oil and grill over high heat until all sides are lightly charred, about 10 minutes or so. You want to turn the meat occasionally – you’ll know it’s ready to be turned when it easily releases from the pan. If it sticks, don’t touch it. Poke a knife into a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked all the way through and not pink inside.

Boil. Pour the remaining marinade into a pan and bring to a boil. Serve with the skewers or on rice or couscous.

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the weekend end

As I send this post out into the world, I’m sure most of you are getting ready for the weekend. I like to think that if weekend were a Jewish holiday, Thursday night would be “erev weekend” – the night before the weekend begins and the time to start celebrating.

But, I’m not here to talk about the beginning of the weekend or Friday night dinner. Today, we’re talking about the end of the weekend ritual. The Sunday search through the fridge, quick look on the web, consultation with a towering stack of cookbooks followed by a flurry of knives and cutting boards and pots and pans.

Soup is almost always on the agenda these days as the temperature drops below freezing and I am oh so thankful that I have an indoor parking garage.

For the past two weeks, the weekend end ritual fell on a Monday. A Monday! Twice in a row!

Last Monday, I came home to an empty fridge after hours and hours of flying back from Vienna. A quick trip to the store with an idea or two in mind, and a beautiful parsnip parsley soup emerged (thanks Jess).

This Monday was the end of another particularly joyously long weekend. After waking up late,  I settled on my sofa with a steaming cup of coffee, some toast spread with cheese that tastes better than butter, a pile of cookbooks, and my laptop.

The rummaging turned up a few pounds of  butternut squash, already cleaned and peeled and begging to be used. On the door of the fridge, a bouquet of cilantro in a glass of water. In a mason jar, preserved lemons that I made a few weeks ago, awaiting their debut. In the freezer, broth made last month from a couple of roasted chickens.

The flipping through pages, both virtual and real, turned up a hearty squash soup with a kick (you know how I like a kick).

The hearty would come from beans.

The kick from Middle Eastern spice.

Deciding to hibernate for the day, I made everything the slow, (almost) no shortcuts, from scratch way. I soaked and boiled and cooked and roasted and processed and blended.

The soup warmed the apartment and filled it with the scent of delicious.

Happy erev weekend!

Butternut squash and cannellini soup with chermoula

This soup is a mesh of a few difference recipes I found. The idea for using cannellini beans came from Bon Appetit. The spice mixture is based on Maroud Lahlou‘s red chermoula (Moroccan spice paste)and Yotam Ottolenghi‘s ultimate winter couscous.

This soup is a whole day affair, at least the way I made it with dried beans, oven-roasted squash, and chermoula.  But don’t be daunted. There are a few shortcuts you can take that should give you a very good soup in around an hour tops. First, use canned beans – you’ll just need to saute the onion and garlic in the soup pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. Second, don’t roast the squash. Third, skip the chermoula spice paste and just add half the amount of each of the spices directly to the soup with the squash.  

I use preserved lemons here. You can buy them jarred or make them from scratch. To make then from scratch, quarter lemons (regular or meyers) and layer them in a jar with tons of salt. Make sure the lemons are really tightly packed and have enough juice and salt to completely fill the jar. Let the jar sit in a cabinet for about a week and then transfer to the fridge for three weeks. Every few days, flip the jar upside down to mix everything around. Once the lemon rinds soften, they’re ready to use. When you want to add them to something, discard the pulp and only use the peel.

For the beans:

– 1 1/2 C dried cannellini beans or 4 C canned cannellini beans

– 1 bay leaf

– 1 onion

– 4 garlic cloves

– kosher salt

For the chermoula spice paste:

– 1/2 of a preserved lemon (~2 T chopped rind)

– 4 cloves garlic (~2 t chopped)

– 1 T cumin

– 2 t sweet paprika

– 1/2 t hot paprika

– 1/4 t cinnamon

– small bunch fresh cilantro (~2 T chopped)

– 2 T harissa

– 6 T crushed tomatoes

For the soup:

2 large butternut squashes (about 3 – 4 pounds total)

– olive oil

– 2 T cumin

– kosher salt

– 4 C chicken or vegetable broth

Make the beans. I used Michael Ruhlman’s instructions as a guideline.

Boil and soak. Pick through the dried  beans and remove any rocks or discolored beans. Bring to a  boil 3 parts cold water with 1 part dried beans (so, 4.5 C water, 1.5 C beans) and the bay leaf. Boil for 10 minutes and then turn off heat. Soak for an hour. Remove bay leaf, drain beans, rinse out pot, and add back the beans.

Simmer. Rough chop one onion, sliver 4 cloves of garlic, and add them to the beans. Fill the pot one inch over the beans with cold water (for this amount of beans, I used 6 cups of water). Simmer for 1 – 2 more  hours. When you can smell the beans and they’re almost tender enough (after 1.5 hour in my case), generously salt. By generously I mean a good palmful or two. The water should taste as salty as the ocean (similar to pasta water). Continue to cook until tender – you should be able to bite into them with almost no resistance. If the beans start to get mushy, it’s not a big deal because you’ll be pureeing the soup soon anyway.

Drain. Drain the cooked beans and onion and then add them back to the pot.

Make the chermoula.

Prep. Remove the preserved lemon peel from the flesh (slide your finger under the peel and the flesh should pop out pretty easily. Chop the lemon peel finely. Chop garlic.

Process. Put all the spices, cilantro, harissa, and tomatoes into a food processor (a mini one will do just fine). Pulse until everything comes together into a bright red paste.  Add salt to taste.

Make the soup.

Prep. Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized chunks — the bigger the cubes, the longer they will take to roast; I typically cut into 3/4 – 1 inch chunks.

Roast. Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Spread squash out in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and shake around in the pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through to make sure the squash cooks evenly. The squash is ready when it’s nicely browned and yields easily with a fork.

Simmer. Add squash to the pot with the beans in it. Add half the chermoula or spices now and mix everything together. Pour in 4 C broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the broth (without any squash or beans) has a nice flavor.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Serve. Garnish with a nice scoop of chermoula, some cilantro, and a few very thin slivers of preserved lemons.

Or … make it the easy way.

Saute. In a large pot, heat the  olive oil until it glistens. Saute garlic and onion.

Add. Add half the amount of each ingredient in the chermoula spice paste directly to the pan and mix with the garlic and onion.

Add more. Add beans (drained and rinsed) and cubed butternut squash.

One more addition. Pour in broth.

Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil and then drop down to a simmer until the squash is tender.

Blend. Whir the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

Eat. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and dig in.

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