Tag Archives: vegetarian

Lentils of Love

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I admit I was at a loss as to what I should get for my Dad. He’s an avid fisherman, but trying to buy someone a present connected to their passion, if it’s not one that you share, is one of the trickiest shopping trips you can embark on. My brother has gone on numerous fishing expeditions with him, and so has a better sense of which fly might tickle his fancy or what the latest fishing gear is that might not already be in his collection. I tried fly fishing a few times, but found I’m more of a cook than fisherwoman. Plus his preferred choice of catch and release fishing doesn’t bring home much salmon or trout.

Joe and Jay at Togaik Lake

While fishing is not where we connect, food is. I love to cook and my Dad and I both love to eat. His repertoire in the kitchen is primarily the grill, his infamous champagne punch, and willingness to help punch down the bread dough. Where he really excels is as a volunteer taste tester. I don’t think I’ve ever had him pass on taking a nibble or slurp or bite of something, “just to make sure it’s good”. Even when he’s not asked. Self sacrificing all the way.

Dad preparing to punch down dough

When I was going through my first vegetarian phase I made a dish called Funistrada. It sounded great in the cookbook – noodles with a cream sauce – but as this was the 70s and because vegetarian cuisine wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it’s become this recipe had a serious flaw. The cream sauce was made using all whole wheat flour and no herbs or seasonings, though it may have had some cheese. It was as if you made a vat of paper maché goop and layered it between seven layers of noodles. For some reason Dad hadn’t wandered into the kitchen as I was putting it all together so there was no taste testing that day. Which is too bad because Funistrada is disgusting.

I told everyone to dig in as I brought the salad and bread to the table and Dad happily dug in and kept eating. My brother, who has not always been known for his tender ministrations toward my feelings, took one bite of the stuff and spat it back out announcing loudly that it was so awful it might kill him. I was horrified, but after one spoonful I had to agree. It was inedible. My father looked relieved and wanted to know if this meant he didn’t need to finish it all. He had been ready to sit at our kitchen table and eat this nasty stuff because his daughter had made it. I don’t think I would have made the parental sacrifice myself if faced with a plate of Funistrada. So as an honest taste tester perhaps he’s not so good, but as a Dad he’s great, plus he let us order out for pizza that night.

For many years I baked Dad his presents. Cookies were easy to bake and mail, but when he was diagnosed with diabetes the gift of cookies didn’t seem like such a thoughtful present. He manages his illness really well, but it seems unfair to give someone gift they had to take a pill for. So I’ve made donations of honeybees and goats in his name, which is actually a great thing to do for someone who has enough stuff (and who shouldn’t be eating sugar). Then yesterday I was wishing I could just make him something yummy and healthy. I came up with Lentils of Love.

Lentils of Love salad

It’s a dish I made last weekend for Russell’s non-graduation celebration (yes, my youngest is skipping his senior year in high school and instead heading off to Simon’s Rock College this fall). It’s what a good vegetarian/vegan recipe should be. Flavorful, interesting, and edible. I’ve made it on and off for years after I was first introduced to le puy lentils. While some foodies will tell you must use the small green pulses grown in the volcanic soil around Auvergne, France I can tell you the world will not stop spinning because you use green lentils instead. I’m not saying le puys aren’t great, because they are, but rather that the secret to this recipe is a lentil that won’t fall apart and get mushy when you cook it.

The real trick, which Russell’s godfather Rick reminded me of, is to cut the vegetables into teeny, tiny squares, hardly bigger than the cooked lentils themselves. In the past I’d chopped my carrots, celery and onion into small cubes, which was just fine. However, when Rick minced those same three vegetables into a micro mirepoix instead of chopping them I found it elevated the dish to the next level.

Micro mirepoix vegetables

Now, as you will probably note this is not something I can send to my Dad in the mail, so the bonus of these Lentils of Love is that I’ll need to take a road trip to see him, and make them for him in person. Maybe he’ll join me in by cooking something on the grill.

Lentils of Love

1 1/4 cup Le Puy or green lentils

2 1/2 cups water

1 small bay leaf (or half of a large one)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

2 carrots, peeled and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

3 celery ribs, trimmed and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into micro squares (about 3/4 cup)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

dash or two of cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring the lentils, bay leaf, thyme and water to a boil, then cover and cook until the lentils are they are soft, but not mushy about 35-43 minutes. There should be almost no liquid left, but keep an eye on things so you don’t simmer them dry. If there is any liquid left drain it then cool the lentils a bit.

While the lentils are cooking cut up your mirepoix. Place in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled lentils (you want them to be warm enough to suck up the oil and vinegar, but not so hot they cook the vegetables), olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. If you need a brighter note to this salad add a few dashes of cider vinegar.

You’ll want to retaste this when the lentils have cooled down to see if you need to tweak the oil/vinegar/salt/pepper ratios. I will often double or triple this recipe thinking there will be tons left over, but no mater how much I make it all seems to disappear in a day or two. Just letting you know.

You could also top this with some chopped walnuts or pecans. Or a crumble of cheese. There is a myriad of possibilities.

Here’s another variation on this recipe (so many tweaks are possible) from Heidi Swanson who tweaked one of Deborah Madison’s recipes.

Dad and me

 

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Turn Up the Heat

We’ve been thinking a lot about driving lately. Isabelle takes her driving test today. Russell is studying for his permit test. Which means everyone is learning about stuff they didn’t know. Like how to parallel park (trickier than you might think), how tinted the windows of your car can be (35% who knew?), and what to do if your car starts to skid out of control (don’t break and steer into the skid). The last one got me to thinking that if you should turn your car into a skid does that mean when the weather gets nasty-hot outside should you turn up the heat in your food?

Last week the weather was brutal. One friend wrote on her Facebook wall –

“Even in this putrid, humid heat, I’m reading all kinds of status updates of people running 5 miles, biking, etc…and I’m just sitting here thinking how proud I was when I went and got the mail without fainting.”

That pretty much sums it up, surviving this most recent heat wave feels like an accomplishment. The question is how do you cook dinner when walking into the kitchen causes you to break a sweat? Do you serve popsicles and plates of uncooked food? In part that has been my default strategy – when the temperatures are close to 100° I stop actually cooking (which is ironic since many restaurant kitchens I’ve worked in were 101° + in the summers). But if you apply the skid rule to food then when the temperatures soar you should turn up the heat in your food rather than trying to make it colder. In counties where it is really hot the cuisines often have a spicy component to them. Think of Indian curries and tandoori or the hot jabanaro peppers used in Mexican cuisine. It’s not that everything from these cuisines will burn your tongue off, but taking a bite of something that makes you sweat seems to counteract the heat outside.

hot peppers

So I’ve been adding more zip and spice to our food. Extra raw garlic in the pesto, and hotter peppers in our Samosas. Samosas are savory Indian pasties meant to be served as an appetizer or snack. My gang likes them so much we make a meal of them. Our favorites are the Aloo Samosas which are filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and plenty of spices. In the winter I use jalapeno peppers and bake the samosas in the oven. The more traditional method is to fry them, which I do in the summer. I also use cayenne or Thai peppers (easy to grow or find them at most farmer’s markets) to bring up the spice level in the warmer months. Despite the main ingredient being potatoes these little pockets of yummy are full of flavor – coriander, garam masala, fresh ginger, and of course hot peppers. This recipe is a tweaked version of Julie Sahni‘s from her book Classic Indian Cooking.

Baked potato samosas

Potato Samosas

Dough

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 – 3/4 cups cold water

Put the flour, salt and shortening in a medium bowl. You then want to rub the fat into the flour so you take some flour in your hand and a little shortening and smear them together. You keep doing this until all the fat has been smooshed between clumps of flour and all the flour has bits of shortening in it.  Then add around 1/3 cup of cold water and mix. Keep adding more water until the dough comes together. The amount of water depends on the weather/humidity so start slow and work up. You don’t want the dough oozing, nor do you want it crumbling. When you think you’ve got it right knead the dough for about 10 minutes. If it feels a bit dry dribble in more water. It should be as soft as a baby’s bottom when you’re done kneading. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest for 30-60 minutes.

stuffing samosas

Filling

1  1/2 pounds potatoes, cut into chunks (7-8 medium)

1 medium to large onion, chopped into small pieces

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground coriander (or you can use the seeds)

2  1/2 – 3 teaspoons garam masala

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3 fresh chilies (jalapeño or Thai), seeded and finely chopped

1-2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2  1/2 – 3 1/2  teaspoons salt

1 generous cup peas, or more if you like peas

Boil the potatoes until you can easily slide a fork or knife in them. Peeling (or not) is up to you. While the potatoes are cooking sauté the onion, ginger, coriander, and garam masala in vegetable oil. Your nose will go into hyperdrive at this point. When the onions are soft, add the chilies. Depending on which chilies you use your eyes may start to water. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and throw them into the sauté pan with the cooked onions, you may need to crumble them with your fingers to make them smaller – you don’t want mashed potatoes, nor do you want large chunks which can break through the dough. Add the salt and lemon juice to taste. When you’ve had two or three tastes stir in the peas and taste once more.

baking samosas instead of frying

If you’re baking the samosas turn the oven on to 400°F and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. If you’re frying them get out a cast iron fry pan and fill it with 1″ vegetable oil. To make the samosas you’ll need some flour for rolling out the dough and a bit of water to seal the pastries. Cut off large walnut size lumps of dough and roll into a 5″ circle. Cut in half and scoop a generous Tablespoon of filling into the half circle. Dab a little water along the cut edge and pinch the seam together. Then with a little more water dabbed on the curved edge fold it over and seal. You’ll have a lumpy little triangle-esque form.

frying samosas

Depending on your cooking method either place samosas on the jelly roll pan or into the hot vegetable oil. If you’re baking them drizzle with olive or vegetable oil and bake 30-40 minutes, flipping once and adding more oil if necessary. The look and texture of the dough is different from baking (they’re not fried after all), however they are still very yummy.  If you’re frying them have the oil at medium high and cook until all sides of the samosa are a golden brown. Drain on paper towels. We like to serve them with chutney.

potato samosas

This weather has been intense. Our Sumac Deforestation project is on hold because I’m worried we’d all suffer from heat stroke. I’ve been fantasizing about moving somewhere near the arctic circle. That sounds nice and cool. Also rereading this post and this one from last summer. What are you doing to stay cool?

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Hand Held Salad

I’ve been on a roll lately – Vietnamese Spring Roll that is. It started because we had one of those wicked curve balls mother nature loves to throw at New England in late spring. Between mud season and summer we get slammed with a few beastly hot days. Hot enough to make your brain so fried you only think about finding a swimming hole and all the ways to not cook dinner.

After the mini heat wave I had to make food for a few events where there were folks who couldn’t eat gluten. My answer again was platters of Vietnamese spring rolls. Loads of crunchy vegetables and rice noodles wrapped inside a paper-thin pieces of rice paper. They fit the gluten free (and vegan) needs beautifully. 

I also love them because similarly to make-your-own pizzas or maple syrup sundaes you can customize them to anyone’s taste. If you make them small enough so there isn’t any double dipping, they are a great addition to a casual outdoor party. You can also eat them with your hands so I give them a high-five for being fabulous finger food!

vietnamese spring rolls

The secret to Vietnamese spring rolls is prep, prep, and more prep. You really can’t start assembling them until all your ingredients are washed, sliced, and diced. I use my Japanese mandoline for much of the julienne work. Mostly my fillings are based on a hunt through the fridge and garden to see what is available at that moment. If I’m out of scallions I use red onion. My son Russell doesn’t like avocados or mint so I leave then out of his rolls. The noodles don’t need to be cooked – just soaked in hot water for several minutes then drained. If the rolls are more of a dinner item than hors d’oeuvre add a little protein with  either cooked shrimp or tofu. The possibilities are endless.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Carrots, julienned

Hydroponic Cucumber, julienned (I use the skin, but not the seed part)

Mint leaves

Avocados, thinly sliced

Scallions, thinly sliced

Lettuce or baby greens

Rice Noodles, soaked in hot water then drained

Red Onion, thinly sliced

Cooked Shrimp, sliced in half

Firm Tofu, drained and sliced in batons

Spring Roll Papers

Dipping Sauce (we use sweet chili sauce)

making spring rolls

Bowls of prepped vegetables ready to roll

I find these easiest to make one at a time. I wet some paper towels and place them on my work surface then dip a rice paper into the bowl of water making sure all of it gets wet. Don’t leave it to swim. Just dip in, pull out and let drip, then lay it down on the paper towel. It only takes a few seconds. As it starts softening from the water you can start building.

If you want to see a step by step tutorial check out the White on Rice Couple’s blog post on spring roll assembly. I like to close both ends, but if you want to try Diane’s version with one end open go right ahead. Another thing to keep in mind is whatever you put down first will be what shows through the rice paper so if you’re going for pretty build accordingly.

It’s a good idea to put some of the softer foods next to the delicate rice paper to minimize (or hopefully eliminate) tearing. Which means save the carrot sticks for the middle. If, despite your best efforts the spring roll tears when your rolling it up then you have cook’s prerogative to taste test.

rice noodles and wrappers

The choices of spring roll skins is pretty vast. I find them at supermarkets, co-ops, natural food stores, and my international market. The skins are hard discs until soaked in water which means when you store them you want to keep them from getting damp, so don’t forget to seal your ziplock bags tight!

vietnamese spring rolls and dipping sauceI’d love to hear what your favorite combinations are.

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Green Pea Jelape

I am not sure what May flowers we’ll be seeing after a mere two days of April showers this month. The lack of rain has been truly astonishing. Things are so dry our town clerk Lynn Sibley put out a robo-call to let everyone know that not only had spring burnings been prohibited but the fire department and town selectman didn’t even want us firing up our grills to cook dinner. Despite the lack of precipitation somehow the landscape has still managed to green up. Week by week the yard, trees, and garden have gotten greener and greener.

"green april foliage"

"early chives and rhubarb"

Being surrounded by all of this green has made me crave green, and one of the greenest foods I know is Green Pea Jelape. That wasn’t its original name. I’m sure it had a dignified, lovely, even appetizing sounding name when it was featured in an article in Food and Wine magazine a few decades ago. The problem is that at an Easter dinner long ago my brother Jay dug into a bowl and asked, “What is this awesome stuff–green pea jelape?” I couldn’t think of its name after hearing that. If you can come up with a better name (or know the actual title from that long ago F&W article) leave me a message below.

"Mint infused pea jelape"

While I associate this appetizer with spring, it actually can be made at any time of year since it uses frozen peas. And while I can’t recall its name I do remember that in the original version the recipe called for pancetta, which at the time was a new ingredient to me. In the ensuing years I’ve substituted bacon for the pancetta and when I’m serving vegetarian friends I leave out the meat completely and flavored the dip with mint instead. The recipe calls for you to let the peas defrost, though if you forget to do this step simply give them a quick saute to quickly thaw them after you’ve cooked the bacon and shallots but before you dump them into the food processor. The finished dish will be a brighter green if you don’t need to cook them, but it will be delicious either way.

Personally I like this dish served as a dip, but some ladies at my church use it as a filling for tea sandwiches. It’s quite tasty when spread between two slices of buttered, crustless white bread (thanks Sue and Olivia). Drought or no, spring or no, vegetarian or meat eater I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

"ingredients for green pea jelape"

Green Pea Jelape

4 slices bacon or pancetta, cut into small pieces

1-2 largish shallots, minced

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 pound frozen peas, defrosted

1/2 cup chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

Saute the bacon until it starts to brown and crisp, drain on a paper towel and set aside. Wipe out the pan, add the shallots and olive oil and saute until soft. Toss the shallots, bacon, peas and chicken stock in a small food processor and zap until everything is pulverized. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with crackers.

Mint Green Pea Jelape

Use the recipe above but omit the bacon and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Before adding to the food processor add the leaves from 4-7 sprigs of fresh mint.

"minted pea jelape ready to whiz in food processor"

If crackers aren’t in your cupboards you could always serve this with some lightly toasted slivers of baguette.

"bacon infused green pea jalape"

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Pot Luck Perfect

Beware what you bring as a pot luck offering since it may earn you a reputation for that dish and ever after you will be forced to bring that same dish to every pot luck you attend as your reputation will proceed you. I know because it happened to me. Not that I mind, I chose well and my “signature dish” is not bound by the seasons or weather. Ask anyone who goes to my church or my kid’s school or at my bee group. They may not know my name, but they will know that I’m the lady who brings the sesame noodles. Is that all I’m known for–no there’s also a cupcake reputation I carry around, but sesame noodles are my savory dish moniker.

Why sesame noodles?

  1. They’re made from ingredients I have in the house most of the time.
  2. They can be made in the time it takes to boil a pot of water + 10 minutes.
  3. They work for most diets including vegans.
  4. They don’t rely on an ingredient that is ever out of season.
  5. Best of all they’re cheap.

They weren’t inexpensive when I first discovered them in the deli case of my local Whole Foods over a decade ago, but that is what caused me to try to recreate them at home. I love to scan the deli case while I’m shopping for delicious tidbits of food that I might not make at home; just a taste of luxury or better yet a recipe inspiration which sends me scurrying back to the isles for a few more items to throw into my cart. One day I spied a giant platter of glossy brown noodles sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Isabelle, Russell and I shared a small bowl and quickly decided we wanted more. The problem was I balked at buying a large quantity of the nutty brown noodles given their $7.99/pound price tag. Until I looked at the ingredient list they posted for people with allergies (or sneaky cooks like me). Spaghetti, Tamari, Toasted Sesame Oil, Black Sesame Seeds. That’s it. I probably don’t even need to give you a recipe now because now you know how to make them. So simple, so quick, and so cheap. My sesame noodle come in at under $2.00/pound, depending on where you buy your ingredients, which means you can show up at a pot luck with two pounds for less than five bucks. Noodles worthy of a pot luck reputation.

"sesame noodles"

Pot Luck Perfection

Sesame Noodles

1 pound spaghetti (white or brown, though I usually use white)

Tamari or low sodium soy sauce

toasted sesame oil

black sesame seeds

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and give a quick rinse in cold water, but don’t completely cool off the pasta–you want a little bit of warmth to help suck up the sauce. Mix the tamari and toasted sesame oil in a 3:1 ratio. Depending on taste you’ll need 1/2 cup or more total sauce to give the noodles their flavor. Taste as you go and toss frequently so all the noodles are well coated. You don’t want them sitting in a puddle of sauce so it’s better to start slow and work your way up till it tastes good and you seem to have reached the noodle saturation point. Note this recipe requires repeated taste tests, in our house it often requires the entire family to taste test. To finish sprinkle with black sesame seeds, I go until they look good, somewhere between 2-4 Tablespoons and a little extra for the top. Serve at room temperature, though if you make it the day before throw it in the fridge until you leave for your pot luck. You may want to bring some tongs with you as the noodles can prove elusive if you try to serve them with a fork (though they can be eaten with a fork, a dichotomy I haven’t quite figured out).

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