Mum’s Everyday Red Lentils

(Recipe source: Food Network, Aarti Sequeira, 2010)

Maybe it’s the changing weather, but we’ve been craving soups and stews and nice bowls of something hot and hearty. Then I discovered we had several bags of Bob’s Red Mill Red Lentils in the cupboard. I googled for recipes and the following one looked particularly good. I made it on Monday and Michelle asked for it AGAIN this week! Most of the following are from the original recipe, however, I increased the seasonings and added a little more heat. I also wanted a heartier version of dal (more like stew rather than soup), so I added half a bag of Trader Joe’s kale. This one is a keeper!

Lentils (Dal):

1 cup masoor dal red lentils, picked through for stones
2 cups water
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of kale, chopped (bigger stems removed)
1 jalapeno chile, minced
1 teaspoon chile flakes

Tempering oil (bagaar):

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Garnish:

Handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges

Directions

Put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. Add them to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of water, the onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, chile, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any scum from the surface. DO NOT ADD SALT YET; it will toughen the lentils, thereby lengthening their cooking time. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer until the lentils are tender, almost translucent, and almost falling apart, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Whisk the lentils, releasing its natural starch, and mash some them so the mixture becomes thick. Add salt, to taste.

Tempering oil (bagaar): In a small bowl, combine the cumin and mustard seeds. In another bowl, combine the spice powders. Have all the ingredients ready because this will move very fast!

In a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add seeds and immediately cover so you don’t get covered in spluttering oil and seeds! Add the spices. They should sizzle and bubble a little – that’s the blooming and it’s exactly what you want. (I have never bloomed anything before, so this was a learning experience.) Don’t let them burn. The mixture should bloom for about 30 seconds, no more.

Pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don’t get hurt when the mixture splutters again. Stir to combine. Transfer the lentils to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Modified from the original recipe, which you can find here, along with nutritional information. This recipe is super easy to make – total prep time is about 35 minutes, total cook time is about 40 minutes. Serves 4.

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Kale Pesto

I was going to name this Amy Lee’s Kale Pesto, but since she didn’t share the recipe with me, I can only acknowledge her for the inspiration. If you have a buttload of curly kale from the garden, like I did, this is a wonderful addition to your menu. I had to do this in a couple of batches because there was so much kale. You can reproportion this to suit your taste.

I modeled this recipe after a similar experiment with broccoli. Traditional pesto is usually too hot (from all the basil) and too garlicky for me. So I swapped half the amount of basil for a whole head of steamed broccoli. The result was an amazingly creamy and light (and more nutritious) version of pesto.

I think you will like the kale version too. Because kale is more of a bitter green than broccoli, I would recommend adding the juice of a lemon to brighten it up a bit — but it’s not necessary. You could use this in a pasta dish, or as a marinade/rub for fish and chicken. It’s really delicious.

The following yields 4 cups of kale pesto. There was so much of it, I had to package them up and freeze them for later use.

Ingredients:

1 armful of kale, approximately 8 bunches if store bought.
1 really big bunch of basil
8 thumb-size cloves of garlic
1 cup of pine nuts (or walnuts)
1 cup grated parmesan (I used pecorino romano)
1/2 C. olive oil (this is about half the recommended)
1 lemon (juice)

Since I used pecorino romano, I did not add any salt, because it’s a saltier hard cheese. If you use parmessan, you might want to add a pinch.

Remove the stem (rib?) from kale and steam-cook them until soft. Remove stem from basil. Throw everything together in a food processor. Pulse and process for a couple of minutes until well blended. (Unless you have a really big food processor, I would recommend doing this in a couple of batches.)

Bob’s Red Mill Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix

Last night Michelle had a hankering for nutritious whole grain bread. Naturally my first thought was “Yay, I get to try out my Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch® Nonstick Perforated French Bread Pan“. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, since 1) I’ve never made french bread before, and 2) gluten-free breads aren’t known for their, um, fluffiness. Well, imagine my surprise when this turned out as well as it did.

Let me first say that if you just follow the instructions on the package, you cannot go wrong. The bread turned out “moist, fluffy, delicious, and bursting with flavors” — just as Bob’s Red Mill claims! I also liked the fact that it’s milk-free (not quite dairy-free, since you have to use 2 eggs.) And, even though I managed to screw up the instructions (I added a Tablespoon of cider vinegar instead of a teaspoon), the bread still turned out phenomally. It is the next-level of homemade bread! (Juniper, eat your heart out!)

Besides Bob’s Red Mill Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix, the main ingredients you’ll need are:

1)  1-3/4 cups water
2)  1/4 cup oil (I used organic extra virgin olive)
3)  2 eggs
4)  1 tsp. cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s apple cider vinegar)

You can also use a bread machine if you want — I didn’t, and I don’t think you need to drag out your bread machine for this. And remember, I screwed up, in more than one way. The water I used to dissolve the yeast was probably too warm (it never foamed). After mixing the bread, I scooped it out directly onto the bread pan — without greasing it (the pan was supposed to be non-stick anyway.) And then I stuck the whole thing in the oven at 100°F for 30 minutes to let it rise (instead of 45 minutes at 75°F). Then, I left the bread in the oven and turned it up to 375°F, and baked for 45 minutes (instead of 1 hour). But, I figured that since we were making two smaller loafs than one big one, the amount of oven time was appropriate. Besides, I didn’t want it to burn too much. Needless to say, it was the longest 45 minutes ever, because the whole house smelled like a real bakery and we just want to taste that hot bread as soon as it came out of the oven. (“What do you mean we have to let it cool completely before slicing?”)

The loafs don’t look all that pretty, but boy, were they tasty! We had some last night and again this morning. What I hadn’t mentioned is that I also added a handful of pumpkin/sunflower/hemp seeds to the mix — for that extra nuttiness. It was delicious. This is definitely a keeper!

Grilled Greek Chicken and Mediterranean Orzo

This is an emergency request for Michelle because she’s going to cook this down in LA this afternoon.  So I’m going to post this so that she can have the list of ingredients. I’ll post pictures later to go with it. This is a delicious meal — quickly becoming one of our favorites and go-to meals to make for the week ahead.

I modified this recipe from the original Rachael Ray’s that I saw on the Foodnetwork while working out on the elliptical. I just tried to look for the recipe from her official website, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe she called it something else.

If you have someone helping to slice and dice, this should take about a half-hour to prep, and maybe another half-hour to cook the whole thing.  It’s also low-cal, but very tasty from the infusion of citrus and herbs.

Grilled Greek Chicken:

3 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks (can use thighs, or combo — your preference)
3/4 C. green olive tapenade (or a small jar from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 C. chopped fresh oregano
1/4 C. chopped fresh rosemary
1 small bulb garlic, crushed & minced
1/4 C. olive oil (or “EVOO”, as Rachael Ray calls it)
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinate chicken pieces for at least 15 minutes before grilling. Depending on the size/thickness of the chicken chunks, grill about 3 to 5 minutes per side. If I remember correctly, this was supposed to be a kebob-type meal. Regardless, if you don’t have a grill, pan-fry over medium-high heat until chicken is cooked through. Save the sauce to spoon over chicken and Mediterranean Orzo (I’m completely addicted to this orzo dish).

If you have one of these grilling pans, you can do it over the stovetop…

(Orzo grows in size exponentially; keep that in mind before doubling this recipe. On the other hand, it is SO good, you might want to double it anyway.) (The “optional” were what I added to the original recipe).

Mediterranean Orzo

1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 small persian cucumbers, chopped
1/2 C. pine nuts, toasted (optional)
1 C. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 C. shredded reggiano/parmesan (optional)
1/2 C. chopped kalamata olives
1 C. (or a very big handful) italian (flat) parsley, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 C. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
salt/pepper to taste
1 C. orzo (about 1/2 package), cooked per instructions

Prepare all ingredients while the orzo is cooking. You’ll want to mix this all together while the pasta is still warm so that the cheeses melt.

Really quick, really good tofu loaf!

Ingredients:

1 lb. tofu, medium soft
1 C. bread crumbs
1 egg (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ C. diced carrots
½ C. corn
½ C. diced zucchini
½ C. chopped mushrooms
½ C. peas
½ C. seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, whatever you have on hand)
½ C. chopped parsley
½ C. ketchup
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. soy/tamari sauce
Olive oil spray

Total prep time:  20 minutes or so, just to chop everything up.  Preheat oven to 375.  Sautée onions with all the vegetables (except parsley) in a skillet, until the onion is translucent. Add seeds and sautée for another minute or so. Crumble tofu into a big bowl. Add bread crumbs and mix well. (You can do this in a blender/mixer, too).  Add egg and mix well (you can omit this step – I never use the egg and it works well.) Add everything, including the parsley, to the tofu/bread mixture.  Spray a baking dish/loaf pan with olive oil. Smoosh the tofu into the loaf pan, and pat down top to flatten. Squirt some extra ketchup and a drizzle of worcestershire on top. Bake for an hour.

 Note:  You don’t have to use all the vegetables listed. You can mix and match. You can add additional. My favorite combination is carrot, corn, peas, and mushroom. Keep in mind that the more veggies you add, the less cohesive the loaf will be, and it will fall apart instead of remaining in the “loaf” position (that’s where the egg comes in, I suppose).

Note:  Same thing with the seeds. You can use all or just one. Or none. I like a little bit of crunch to the tofu loaf though. If you use bigger seeds like walnut, you should chop them up.

 Note:  Picture is “borrowed” from the internet – but it looks pretty similar to what I made.

Quinoa Salad

My friend Juniper B. has a great fondness for food, especially for ingredients that have been forgotten or not as commonly used in American cuisine. She has a great fondness for other traditional foods, too, but the stuff that I learned about, like the following recipe, is the stuff that I would have never even heard off if it wasn’t for Juniper.

This recipe calls for quinoa, a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. It has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous.

We modified Juniper’s original recipe a little by adding chopped radishes and diced cooked green beans. The results were outstanding. Trader Joe’s now carry two varieties of quinoa – both organic, regular and red – and the recipe works well with either.

Since I am terrible with quantities, the following are only approximations. You’ll need to adjust according to taste.

1 C. quinoa
2 C. water
1/2 bunch of radishes, quartered and sliced thinly
1/2 C. cooked green beans, diced to 1/4-inch size
1/2 C. chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
1/4 C. olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa in water and bring to a rapid boil. Stop the cooking process when the germ begins to “unfurl” and separate from the seed. Drain. Toss in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Juniper said that you’d be surprised how much apple cider vinegar you will need. She’s right. The half-cup is just an approximation – you might need to add more.