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Archive for May, 2009

My husband hates lentils.  They were a staple in my kitchen for years, back in my fresh out of college, underpaid world saving vegetarian days.  I moved in with my husband almost six years ago, and I don’t think I’ve cooked them since. 

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I miss them and I frequently joke that one day, I’m just going to make them and he will just have to deal.  I haven’t carried through with this threat yet, probably because I don’t want him to take out his revenge on me through steaming bowls of French onion soup.

Well, he’s out of town this week, so I made myself a big pot of lentil soup for dinner, using carrots and sweet potatoes from our CSA box.   The carrots I used were Thumbelina carrots.  I felt guilty for chopping them up into unrecognizable little bits and not taking advantage of their adorable, pudgy shape, but such is life.

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I don’t remember how I used to make my old lentil soup since it had been so long, but I found a great recipe on Epicurious.  Maybe it was like stumbling upon an oasis after a long walk through the desert or maybe my cooking skills have just improved a lot over the last six years, but either way, the soup was better than I remember.   I may need to make him go out of town more often. 

The original recipe comes from the May 1998 issue of Bon Appetit and can be found here.  I halved it because I didn’t need 6-8 servings and tweaked it a bit, so I’m giving you my version. 

Curried Lentil Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion or large shallot, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, chopped
1 cup of carrot, peeled, chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry powder 
pinch or two of cayenne pepper
   * with the spices, I recommend starting with 1T and 1 pinch, then adding
      more later in the cooking process if needed
3 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice 
1  cup lentils (about 6 ounces), rinsed, drained
Fresh cilantro for serving

Directions

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, potato and carrot and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Mix in curry powder and cayenne and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Add broth, tomatoes with juices and lentils and bring to boil.  Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are very tender.  The recipe suggests 45 minutes, but I needed closer to an hour. 

Season soup to taste with salt and pepper and additional spices if needed.  Garnish with a bit of fresh chopped cilantro.

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On Thursday, my husband finished his first year of business school.  This meant several days of celebrating…parties, Thai food at a fabulous neighborhood restaurant, a trip to the wonderful winery Jessup Cellars, and delicious Greek food at the Oakland Greek Festival.  Yes, we really did all this in three days.  So, when Sunday night came, I was tired, full, and ready to embrace nutrition once again.

We had some chard from our last CSA box, so I made this salad from the July 2004 issue of Food & Wine.  This is a fantastic way to prepare chard.  You can serve it warm or cold, and the yogurt-tahini dressing is delicious.  I think next time, I may add a can of chickpeas to it to make it a nice vegetarian main course.

Swiss Chard Salad with Garlicky Yogurt

Ingredients

1 medium red bell pepper
2 pounds Swiss chard, leaves only, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup tahini, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

I changed a few things.  First, I used jarred roasted red peppers from Trader Joes.  Their peppers are both yellow and red, which made the salad extra colorful.  I used Greek yogurt instead of regular plain, and I only used about half the recommended tahini because it just seemed like a lot.  My suggestion would be to add the tahini in slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until you get the flavor you want.

Finally, instead of red pepper, I used Aleppo pepper.  While in Napa on Saturday, we swung by Oxbow Market and I bought some at the spice counter there and I was itching to try it out.  Aleppo pepper is essentially sun-dried peppers from Syria, ground up into tiny flakes. 

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 It’s got a wonderful, spicy, smoky taste.  To approximate the flavor, you can mix 3 parts smoked paprika with 1 part cumin, though you won’t get the interesting, oily texture of the dried peppers.  If you add a bit of water to it, the peppers reconstitute somewhat and make a thin paste.

Directions

If you aren’t using jarred peppers, roast the red bell pepper directly over a gas flame or under a preheated broiler, turning as needed, until charred all over. Transfer the pepper to a bowl, cover and let steam for 10 minutes. Peel and seed the pepper, then cut it into 1/4-inch dice.

Put the Swiss chard in a large colander set in the sink. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt over the chard and toss it through the chard, rubbing it in.   Let stand for 1 minute, then rinse the chard, and squeeze dry.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add 2 of the minced garlic cloves and cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the Swiss chard and cook, stirring, until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add the roasted red pepper and cook for 1 minute.  If you want to serve cold, transfer the vegetables to a platter and spread them in an even layer until they cool.  Otherwise, serve them up right out of the pan.

In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the tahini, lemon juice, and the remaining 3 minced garlic cloves.  Season with salt.  Spoon the yogurt sauce over the Swiss chard.

If you are using the pepper flakes, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet.  Add the crushed red pepper and cook over moderately high heat until the pepper begins to sizzle, about 10 seconds.  Pour the pepper oil over the yogurt sauce.  If you have Aleppo pepper, mix one teaspoon of the pepper with two teaspoons of water.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then spoon it over the yogurt sauce.

I didn’t have any parsley, but if you do, sprinkle some on just before serving.

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At the farmers market on Saturday, a vendor was selling fresh chamomile.  I had no idea what a person does with fresh chamomile, but it was a $1.50, smelled good, and looked pretty.  I figured at the very least, $1.50 was a small price to pay for something that would look cute on my windowsill for a few days.

I had some time though so I wanted to find something to do with it.  There are a handful of recipes floating around on the internets for chamomile.  Nothing really struck my fancy, so I searched for lavender recipes, thinking that the two would be somewhat interchangeable.

Since I also had a huge bag of strawberries, this recipe for strawberries with lavender syrup on Epicurious intrigued me.  I had to change it up to use things that I actually had in my fridge and because I wanted a cold, not warm, dessert.  I was really pleased with the finished product.  The chamomile adds this wonderfully sweet, floral taste to the syrup and it makes for a nice light, fresh spring dessert.  The original recipe recommends serving it with sour cream or creme fraiche, but I had greek yogurt on hand, which worked really well and made it much healthier.  It would probably be nice over vanilla ice cream as well.

Strawberries with Chamomile Syrup and Lemon Sugar

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
20 fresh chamomile flowers
1-2 pints of fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced

Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, ice cream, or sour cream to serve.

Mash 1/3 cup sugar and lemon peel in small bowl to blend well. 

Bring 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, honey, and chamomile to boil in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chamomile flavor is pronounced, about 3 minutes.  Let the syrup cool and strain.  Pour the syrup over the sliced strawberries.

I let the syrup sit for about an hour to macerate the berries a bit in it.  With one pint of strawberries, the mixture is quite syrupy so feel free to add more if you’d like a thicker sauce.

Scoop about a half cup or so of Greek yogurt (or whatever creamy thing you are using) into bowls and spoon a couple spoonfuls of strawberries and syrup over the yogurt.  Sprinkle a bit of lemon sugar on each bowl and serve.

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I’ve been curious about Nate Appleman of San Francisco’s A16 and SPQR ever since I saw him battle Michael Symon on Iron Chef.  Now that he just won a James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef, going to one of his restaurants is topping my list of things to do this summer.  In the meantime, however, this month’s Food and Wine magazine comes through with a couple of his recipes.

We got a huge bunch of asparagus in our farm share on Friday, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try his Smoky Glazed Asparagus recipe.  I never would have thought to marinade vegetables in a mayonnaise-based sauce before cooking them, but it works.  Most of the sauce cooks off as you grill them, so they don’t taste mayo-y at all, but rather, get this great creamy, charred taste to them.

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The recipe comes in two versions, so if you want to make Sean Hannity cry, you can opt for the fancy mustard flavor.

Smoky Glazed Asparagus

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika 
1 teaspoon kosher salt  (The recipe called for 2 teaspoons, which was way too much.)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds  (I used 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin powder.)
1 pound thick asparagus, trimmed

Directions

Light a grill. In a shallow dish, whisk the mayonnaise with the oil, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, salt and cumin. Add the asparagus and toss; let stand for 30 minutes.

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Grill the asparagus over moderately high heat, turning, until tender and blistered in spots, 6 minutes; serve.

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Lately, I’ve been obsessed with stinging nettles.  I only ate them once, on a pizza at Chez Panisse a year ago, but they were delicious.  I thought it would be fun to cook them, and since they are a spring vegetable, I’ve been on a quest to find some.

I went to Berkeley Bowl, the local produce mecca, to try to find some.  This place houses every fruit and vegetable known to man and yet they did not have nettles.  Sigh…  Determined not to leave without some weird produce, I bought a handful of ramps.  I’ve never cooked ramps, but they smelled like they’d taste good and in any event, they’d be better than the durian they were selling.

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If you’ve never eaten ramps, they taste like a cross between a leek and garlic.  You can eat the entire thing – bulb, stalks, and greens.  They sound expensive (mine were $11.99/pound) but a little goes a very, very long way.  I only bought a quarter pound of them (about 25 stalks), and didn’t even use all of that for this recipe.  A quick google search reveals a bunch of different preparations for them, so if you can get your hands on some, buy them and cook them.  They are delicious, and from what I understand, only available in the spring.

To keep with the spring vegetable theme, I also bought some local asparagus.

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I decided I would make a white pizza with these vegetables.  Food and Wine has a recipe for ramp pizza that was the inspiration, though my end result differed significantly.  I was really happy with how it turned out, it was absolutely delicious.

A word of warning, however.  Most of the recipes for ramps or asparagus on pizza involve chopping them up into little bits.  I wanted a pretty pizza, so I didn’t do that and left them whole.  Well, there’s a reason chefs recommend chopping them up and that is that asparagus and ramps are both very fibrous vegetables, making them difficult to just bite into.  So, if you leave them whole, this wouldn’t be the most elegant pizza to eat with your hands.  You really need a knife and fork to cut through the vegetables so that you don’t take a whole stalk off with one bite.  So, think about how you’ll be serving this before you decide how pretty you want it.

White Pizza with Ramps and Asparagus

Ingredients

Pizza dough – I used this recipe, which is a little on the chewy side.  You can use a different one if you prefer a thinner, crisper crust.

4-6 ounces fresh mozzerrella, shredded or torn up into small bits
2-3 Tablespoons grated parmesan
15 or so asparagus stalks, woody ends removed
15 or so ramps
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.  If you want to preheat the cookie sheet or pizza stone as well, you can do that and you’ll probably have to reduce the cooking time by a couple minutes.  I’m not adept enough to transfer my assembled pizza to a hot pan quickly, so I don’t bother with that step, though I realize it probably results in a better crust.

In a pot of salted water, blanch the ramps for 30 seconds and then the asparagus for about 3 minutes.  Just remove the ramps with tongs and add the asparagus right in so you don’t have to heat up a second pot of water.  Toss both in a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roll out pizza dough to a rectangle so it fits a standard cookie sheet and lightly brush a tablespoon or so of olive oil on it.  Sprinkle the pizza with the mozzerrella.

Place the asparagus on the pizza, alternating the tips with the bottoms, across the entire length.  Then place the ramps between each stalk of asparagus, alternating the white bulbs with the green leafs, across the entire length.  You should be able to get about 15 or so of each vegetable all the way across.  Sprinke the entire pizza with the parmesan and pine nuts.  

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Bake it in the oven at 450 for 10-12 minutes, until the asparagus is nicely roasted and the crust of the pizza is starting to brown.

Let it cool and cut it with a very sharp knife.

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The end result was delicious.  While I’m still on the hunt for nettles (anyone in this area see them for sale anywhere?), I’m very happy that I discovered ramps.

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