SUMMER LENTIL SALAD

It’s the last few days before school starts back up—in-service, at least—which means my brain is ceding territory that has, up to this point, been reserved for the book project I’ve been lucky enough to spend the summer working on.  In creeps thoughts of the classes I’ll be teaching this year, how I want to structure and improve them, new approaches I want to try, goals for myself and my students.  Because I am someone who thinks in academic calendar years (2016-2017), this is a season of scheduling, making sure all of the dates are written down and cross-posted, birthdays and play dates and travel dates accounted for.

This is preparatory time, and that extends to food, too; things are about to get really busy around here, and I know myself well enough to know that it makes a huge difference in my sanity and overall health to have easy, appealing options in the fridge, ready to go.  (And conversely, *not* to have certain other things around that I am not-so-great at resisting, particularly when I am in a rush or stressed.) 

Summer Lentil Salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

Hence this humble little lentil salad.  My mom served it to me a few weeks ago, and I immediately asked for the recipe—it couldn’t be simpler, but is definitely more than the sum of its parts and keeps beautifully in the fridge.  I love pairing it with muhammara dip, another current fridge staple, some cheese and crudités for a light lunch.  There’s a recipe for muhammara on this blog, but these days I’ve been using Heidi Swanson’s recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, with a few tweaks.  First, I add an onion in along with the red peppers—I love the sweetness it brings.  Second, instead of roasting the peppers, as Heidi suggests, or leaving them raw, as my old recipe calls for, I cut them (and the onion) up into chunks, drizzle them with olive oil, and place them under a low broiler until they become blackened in places.  This way you get char and softness without having to spend a lot of time prepping or heating up your oven.  If you have a gas stove, you could certainly char the veggies over one of your burners instead.

Another thing I’ve been doing, inspired by Heidi, is making fresh turmeric-infused honey to keep on hand for sweetening teas, both cold and iced.  I grate fresh turmeric with a microplane into a mortar filled with local honey, add a few cracks of black pepper and a generous pinch of cardamom, then bash it all together.  It’s a really delicious, different flavor profile, and since turmeric has been touted forever by my people as a treatment for inflammation, I figure it can’t hurt.

Other recipes I wanted to share—and I realize we are getting into “hodgepodge post” territory now—were a few of the things I made for Shiv’s birthday party in July that were super well-received:

-Boozy Arnold Palmers, which I made using this Serious Eats recipe.  Seriously worth what may seem like extra-fussy steps, and actually very easy to do for a party because you prep it all ahead of time.  I doubled the recipe as written here, then added 2 cups of bourbon. Yeehaw!  I could have easily made more than I did, because it disappeared *fast*.  It bears mentioning here that I trust Serious Eats recipes to be well-tested and reliably delicious, which is why I went for this one.  We also have this pepperoni pizza currently on heavy rotation.  Even with store-bought sauce, it tastes like the roller-skating rink pizza of my nostalgic childhood dreams.

-Watermelon aguas frescas, for the kiddos (and also non-imbibing grownups).  I did this last year, and it couldn’t be easier: you process big chunks of watermelon in the blender, adding some lime juice and simple syrup to taste.  Strain to remove any seeds, DONE.  You can make this ahead of time, too, just know you’ll need to shake/stir the liquid before serving.

Lemon-glazed madeleines!  Shiv has long favored this cookie, and is also fond of the children’s book character of similar name (“To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh.’”)  If you read too many madeleine recipes on the internet, you’ll scare yourself into thinking you can’t pull them off, but thanks to the encouragement of Stella Parks, who is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered on Twitter and a fountain of pastry chef knowledge, I talked myself into tackling them.  Shiv helped—cracking the eggs and learning to fold gently, gently—and, even with the chaos of party day, our madeleines came out just fine.  Now that I know that they aren’t the bogey-man everyone says, I plan on trying other versions, like maybe a pistachio and also a chocolate?  Just know that you need a little lead time to freeze your molds and chill your batter so that your cookies will puff prettily.  They’re best eaten the same day, and that wasn’t a problem for us—ours disappeared so quickly that there wasn’t a single one leftover.

SUMMER LENTIL SALAD


ingredients
:

2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable broth

2 cups green lentils

1/2 cup finely diced celery

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup white vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)

1/4 cup olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste

Combine lentils and liquid; bring to a boil.  Cook until the lentils are tender; drain.  While the lentils are cooking, combine the onions, celery, & wet ingredients in a large (non-metal) bowl.  Add the lentils and toss to combine.  Taste & add salt + pepper as desired.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving; the salad will become more flavorful over time.

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RED BEANS & RICE

Oh friends, I am sorry.  It’s been over three weeks since my last post.

red beans & rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

Life is full and busy and fast-moving for all of us, to be sure.  We find ourselves at the end of another month, wondering “How can it be almost April already?” or “When did this baby get so BIG?”

Still, when I scan back over the days since I last wrote, there are points of distinct aliveness that stand out from the blur, occasions when time seemed to slow down a little and I let myself slip into it.  For me, these moments often involve food—both preparing it and eating it—and there is a magic to this, I think, a kind of blessing.

We are trying to teach our son about daily pleasures, trying to teach him that enjoyment in the every day is a key component to a happy life.  In turn, he is teaching us, showing us how to see things through his new eyes—tonight, as he relished a crunchy piece of bok choy, grown by friends and charred on the grill, I thought about how often I take it for granted when food tastes good, feels good, is good.  It’s no small thing, really, as Shiv reminds me when he joyfully chirps, chews, raises an eyebrow, urgently grunts, leans forward, and opens his mouth for more.

I have heard from a lot of you who found meaning and resonance in my last post.  Thank you, as always, for reading, and for generously allowing me the room to share what’s really true and present for me.  I am humbled to know that what I said made a difference for some of you.

Last thing: my essay, “Sonata,” was published this month in Trop Magazine.  This is one of the pieces included in my forthcoming collection, and it was also previously published on this site.  For those of you who may have missed it or would like to read it again, here’s the link.

RED BEANS & RICE
adapted from Gloria Glenney

I know we’ve all got our eye on spring, but should you be experiencing a little last-gasp-of-winter cold snap around your parts, I highly recommend these here red beans and rice.

red beans & rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

1 lb. kidney beans, soaked overnight
1 ham bone OR 2 smoked ham hocks OR ¼ lb smoked ham, diced
2-3 slices bacon, sliced
½ lb. sausage of your choice, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T salt
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne (depending on your taste)
few dashes Tabasco
2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used the last of my post-Thanksgiving turkey stock, because I needed to do something with it, and it worked just fine)

In the bottom of a heavy pot, cook the bacon first to render out the fat.   If using diced ham, add it to the bacon and allow it to brown a bit.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for just a minute or two before tossing in the sliced sausage, celery, and bell pepper.  (If using ham bone or ham hocks, brown them in the pot briefly before the next step).

Once the vegetables have softened, pour in the stock, beans, and all seasonings.  (At this point, if you’d like to transfer everything to a slow cooker, you can.)  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until beans are soft and creamy.  On the stovetop, budget around 2-2 ½ hours.  In the slow cooker, my beans were perfect after 4 hours on “high.”  Remove bay leaves before serving.

Serve with white rice and garnish with green onion.

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GUEST POST: COOKING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY

Lauren Bernstein and I attended the same high school in Memphis; thanks to the magic of Facebook, we’ve been able to keep up with each other’s lives over the last few years. I have watched in admiration as she and her husband Justin (see picture at the end of this post) quit their jobs in New York and joined the Peace Corps, heading to Morocco to teach English.  

You can follow Lauren and Justin’s adventures in teaching, travel, and adapting to a brand new culture on Lauren’s blog, Life is calling.  Her pictures (especially of food!) are wonderful, as are her explanations of the sights they’ve seen and the work they are doing.  

Below, Lauren talks about what it’s like to cook in Morocco, as opposed to cooking back home, and shares a recipe for Moroccan-style white beans and homemade tortillas.  When we made the white beans, we served them with this recipe for Moroccan-style roasted vegetables.  Many thanks to Lauren for taking the time to share with us!  –NJM

Last week, my husband and I decided to make dinner for our family who hosted us when we first moved into our community in Morocco. We wanted to make an American-style meal, so we settled on fajitas and apple pie. As I undertook the process of planning and making the meal, I thought back upon how much has changed in my cooking since I came to this country. For fun, I compared the process that went into this meal to what it would have been in America:

AMERICA

Night before:
–    Research and choose recipes, make list of ingredients needed .

Morning of:
–    Go to the grocery store and buy everything I need: pre-packaged chicken breasts, vegetables, pre-made pie crust (if I’m being lazy), bag of tortillas, some packaged pre-shredded cheese.

Afternoon:
–    Cut up and saute meat and vegetables, prepare pie and set it to bake at the oven’s standard temperature, set the timer, walk away and have a glass of wine!
–    Take tortillas and cheese out of their packages when ready.

MOROCCO

Night before:

–    Research and choose recipes, make list of ingredients needed .
–    Figure out what ingredients are actually available here (no brown sugar for the apple pie!) and adjust with substitutions.
–    Make sure I know how to say or write everything that I need in Moroccan Arabic (still don’t know how to ask for nutmeg, though I don’t think I could find it here anyway!).

Morning of:
–    Go to the local market and visit each individual stall to get what I need: the onion guy, the peppers guy, the cheese guy, the spices guy, the egg guy, the oil guy (squeezed fresh from olives!), the flour guy, the butter guy… and let’s not forget the chicken guy. I choose my chicken and they slaughter and clean it for me.

Afternoon:

–    Wash and clean the chicken to remove excess feathers. Take out the innards (most of which I am still unsure of what they are exactly). Then break down the chicken and cut into small pieces to be sautéed.
–    Prepare pie crust (from scratch) and refrigerate.
–    Prepare tortillas (from scratch) and put aside.
–    Cut up and sauté meat and vegetables and grate cheese.
–    Prepare apple pie, put in oven and check it obsessively because the oven here doesn’t have regulated temperatures and I have yet to get it totally right yet. The top burns a little but easy enough to scrape off.

Total meal prep in America: 4 hours

Total meal prep in Morocco: 10 hours

As you can see, it’s quite a different experience! Each meal here is a challenge in learning how to plan, buy, and prepare foods in a totally new way. But I have already learned some valuable lessons that I will bring back with me when I return to the U.S.:

* Food tastes better fresh! None of this pre-packaged nonsense. Make the below tortilla recipe and you will never eat the packaged ones again

* Knowing where my meat comes from: You always hear in the U.S. about being separated from the source of your food but you don’t realize it until you see it the other way. While it’s tough to deal with an animal being killed in front of you for food, it makes you think much harder about what you choose to eat.

* Less meat, more beans and vegetables: In Morocco, meat is a lot more expensive than most other food items and families tend to eat a lot of beans instead. I have rediscovered my love for white beans and I will never be the same!

* New methods and tools for cooking: I am going to single-handedly bring the pressure cooker back into fashion in the U.S… why more people don’t use it, I don’t know! But every Moroccan household uses it and it is truly amazing.

In my cooking experiments here, two of my most favorite recipes have been some of the simplest. I hope you enjoy the below recipes; when you make them, think about how your experiences might be different if you were cooking somewhere unfamiliar or in a new way. And be happy you don’t have to learn how to say each ingredient in Arabic!

MOROCCAN-STYLE WHITE BEANS
Adapted from About.com
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This recipe calls for dry beans and uses a pressure cooker (I told you I am bringing the pressure cooker back into style!). You should soak your beans in water overnight before you cook them. And if you happen to buy them from a big sack in the market like I do, you may need to spend an hour or so pulling out the twigs and rocks and thoroughly cleaning them!

ingredients:

1lb. dry white haricot or Cannellini beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 ripe tomatoes, grated or diced
1 medium onion, grated or diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 T chopped fresh parsley
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T salt
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup olive oil
2 quarts water

Mix all ingredients in a pressure cooker. Cover and cook on pressure over medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender. (Note: “On pressure” here means that you start timing it once the top on the pressure cooker starts spinning around).  Run the cooker under cold water before opening the lid carefully.  If the beans are still submerged in sauce, cook uncovered for a bit to reduce the liquids until the sauce is thick (just keep an eye on it to make sure that the beans don’t burn). Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.

Editor’s note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker or don’t want to use it, I recommend using a slow-cooker instead.  You can sauté the onion & garlic in a saucepan on the stovetop first, then toss them, along with the rest of the ingredients, into the slow cooker and let them cook on “high” for several hours, or until the beans have reached the desired tenderness. You can also cook in a covered pot on the stove top for several hours, but the convenience of a slow-cooker means you can walk away while the beans cook!

HOMEMADE TORTILLAS
Adapted from Peace Corps Morocco’s “Kitchen Guide,” provided to all new volunteers
Yield: 8-10 small (6-inch) tortillas, or 4-6 large (8-10 inch) tortillas

Editor’s note: We have also, in my house, become obsessed with homemade tortillas.  I tend to make mine with lard, using this recipe, but when cooking for vegetarian/non-pork-eating friends, I plan to use Lauren’s recipe below.

ingredients:

2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder (optional)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
¾ cup warm water

Preparation:
Sift flour, baking powder (optional), and salt together (for larger tortillas, omit baking powder, which will keep them from stretching). Work in oil and mix well. Slowly add water and knead until dough is springy. Divide dough into 8 balls for small tortillas, or 6 balls for large tortillas, and place on a clean surface; cover and let rest for 20-30 minutes. After the dough has rested, one at a time place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface, pat it out to about a 4” circle, and then roll out from the center to create thin circles (6” across for small tortillas, 8-10” across for large tortillas). Bake on a hot un-greased griddle until speckled brown on both sides (keep a close eye on them or they can burn). If tortilla puffs while cooking, just press it down.

Let tortillas cool before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Lauren’s note: I made this recently with 1cup semolina flour and 1 cup regular white flour and it has a less floury, more corny taste (but not super corny). I also varied the thickness of the tortilla when I rolled it out, and I found that I liked them really thin. The more you play with it the more you’ll love them!

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QUINOA-BLACK BEAN PATTIES

Listen, it’s time for some quinoa patties.  You know, quinoa—the super-grain that’s been having its moment in the sun for quite some time now?  We at my house are quite obsessed with it; I buy giant 10-lb. bags of organic quinoa at Costco more frequently than you might imagine.

My mom is the one who turned me on to quinoa.  She fell in love with it to such an extent that she even adapted many Indian recipes that normally call for rice to be made with the nutty grain.  When you think about how committed we South Asians are to our rice, this is saying something.

2012 is shaping up to be a big year for my mom; she turns sixty-five this year, which means she can retire from her long and successful career as a special education teacher.  She is planning to put her house on the market this spring, and when it sells, move down here to Houston.

My parents and I moved into said house when I was a mere eighteen months old—apparently I scared the dickens out of mom by hiding in the empty kitchen cabinets while she unpacked!  I also remember laying down on a pallet of blankets in the hallway that connects the kitchen and dining room, because my mom was up late cooking and, sleepy as I was, I didn’t want to miss anything.  That house has seen countless giggling girl sleepovers, hosted huge Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day feasts, watched me do hours of homework (and spend a near-equal amount of hours on the phone—remember how much we used to talk on the phone?), and was the last place I saw my father alive, happy, and vibrant.  There’s so much memory and meaning wrapped up in that house that the idea of my mom not living there anymore is a little hard to wrap my mind around.

Thing is, I want my mom not to live there anymore; her moving has been the plan for the last five or so years, and I am so ready for her to live down the street from me and Jill so I can see her EVERY. DAMN. DAY.  It’s just a little bit wild to realize that something I’ve imagined and thought about happening somewhere off in the future is here now.

Whatever milestones you are anticipating this year, or the ones that may crop up and surprise you, I wish everyone a very prosperous and peaceful year!  If you need a little break from heavy holiday foods, give these quinoa patties a try—they’re awfully good for you and surprisingly delicious.

 

QUINOA-BLACK BEAN PATTIES
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I gave my quinoa patties a Southwestern twist, but the original recipe calls for kale instead of beans, feta instead of queso fresco, and completely different herbs.  You can make all kinds of changes/substitutions to these patties; as long as you get to the right consistency in the end, they should cook up well and taste great.

Once cooled, the patties will keep for several days in the fridge and for 2-3 months in the freezer–so great for when you need a healthy dinner but don’t feel like cooking!

ingredients:

2 cups quinoa, cooked, which will yield about 2 ½ cups once cooked (I like to cook my quinoa in broth for added flavor)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cooked black beans
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup minced onion (I love red, but if you don’t, use yellow or white)
½ cup queso fresco, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until translucent.  Set aside to cool.  Combine the quinoa, eggs, beans, bread crumbs, cilantro, cumin, & salt.  Mix well before adding the cooled onion and garlic.  Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes before gently adding in the cheese.

Your mixture should, at this point, be wet enough to clump together in your hands but dry enough to have some structure.  If you need to, adjust the consistency by adding more bread crumbs or another egg.  You can also use flour, water, or broth.  Err on the moist side, as this will prevent your patties from becoming too dry when cooked.

You can cook the patties one of two ways—in the oven or in a skillet.  I’ve tried both ways; the pan allowed for more browning, but the oven makes it easier to cook a large batch.

For the oven, heat to 400°.  Form the patties to your desired size, making each one about 1-inch thick.  Use a little olive oil to grease the baking sheet before sliding the patties into the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes on one side, then flip and bake another 5 minutes to brown the other side.

In the skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat.  Add as many patties as you can fit and still be able to flip them—cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the bottoms have browned.  Flip the patties and cook for another 7-8 minutes on the other side.

We served our patties with some sliced avocado and sour cream.

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MY MOM’S DAAL

Does this ever happen to you?  A food you grew up eating, something you would call “ordinary,” something you like but never found exceptional because it was such a regular part of your diet—is introduced to others (who did not grow up this way) and suddenly pronounced “amazing!”  “delicious!”  “so good!”  They are dazzled.  They are wowed.  They want seconds.  And you’re like, “Umm, that?  Really?”

Really.  Like this daal, for example, made by my mama when she was in town a few weeks ago.  (Side note: we actually shared a kitchen together and didn’t drive each other nuts!  A first).  No doubt the daal was delicious, but I grew up on this shit, so no big deal.  NOT SO for my white people friends, who raved and raved and took containers home.  And demanded that I blog the recipe immediately.

So apparently, things that are obvious to me aren’t always obvious to everyone else.  Which means I’ve taken to making regular declarative statements on the chance they might be revelatory/welcome/surprising for someone else.  Like—hey, I think you’re awesome or thank you for buying me dinner and making me laugh or I will miss you a ton when you move to Oregon, —etc.  Occasionally I feel silly doing this, but mostly I’m getting pretty good at being That Girl Who Likes to State the Obvious, aka kind of a weirdo.

So this weirdo would like to do a little Blog Stating of the Obvious:

1)    I haven’t really been on my blogging a-game this winter/spring.  Which I hate.
2)    But you people have kept reading anyway.  That is crazy!
3)    And by crazy, I mean amazing.  Thank you.
4)    Cancer totally sucks.
5)    Jill is the prettiest bald person I’ve ever seen.

Anyone else want to make some declarations?  It’s kinda liberating.  Consider this an open invitation.

MUNG DAAL

I love this daal because it comes together quickly (mung daal does not have to be soaked ahead, unlike many Indian lentils) and makes for a hearty meal, whether you serve it alone as a soup or atop some basmati rice.  It’s traditional to serve a bowl of cool, plain yogurt on the side as well.

The daal-making process may seem intimidating the first time you do it, but once you have the ingredients on hand, I swear it’s straightforward.  Part 1 = cook the lentils, Part Two = make the vagar, Part Three = combine and serve.  That’s it! You can use this method for many kinds of lentils, just be sure to check cooking times and water: lentil ratios.

ingredients:

1 cup whole mung beans
½ cup “washed” mung (the inner part, rid of its dark green hull)
9 cups water
2 tsp. each, ground cumin, coriander, & salt
1 tsp. turmeric

Combine the above ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and top with a lid, leaving it tilted to the side a bit so that steam can escape. Cook at a gentle boil until the whole mung has split open and the washed mung has “disappeared” into the mixture (meaning you can’t pick out their little yellow bodies anymore).  This should take between 35-40 minutes.

While the daal is cooking, make the vagar (traditional sauté of spices & aromatics in butter and/or oil):

3 T each, butter & vegetable oil (you can also substitute ghee for one or both parts)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
¼ cup finely chopped ginger
½ tsp. Indian red chili powder (lal mirch)—adjust if you’re heat-shy or heat-crazy
pinch of asafetida

Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the cumin seeds; they should hiss and crack open.  Add the asafetida, then the onion and sauté for a few minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, ginger, & red chili.  Cook until the aromatics are caramelized, 15-20 minutes.

When the daal has been cooked completely, add:

1 small can (8 oz.) of tomato sauce
the vagar (above)

Stir together and cook on low heat to combine, no more than 5 minutes.  Check for salt and serve, topping with chopped cilantro if you like.

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VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

Sometimes what you need is a turkey antidote.

Don’t get me wrong, I like turkey just fine—I plan on eating quite a bit of it myself, and I love the traditional trappings it comes with, the dressing, the cranberry sauce, the green beans.  I love standing in a pool of light from the fridge, pulling apart breast meat with my fingers, slapping it onto bread slathered with mayo and layering it with a few spears of Jill’s pickled okra for the best midnight sandwich ever.  I even like making turkey soup, simmering the carcass with carrots, tossing in some barley and kale, sopping up bowlfuls with hunks of sourdough.

But at some point, we all tire of the turkey.  Don’t we?  And it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.  AND WE JUST WISH IT WOULD GO AWAY.  Because we’d like to eat something completely different (but still tasty and homey and wintry) now.

Enter this chili.  If you’re planning to host or be hosted this holiday, if you need to feed a passel of people on the cheap (and before you can bust out the turkey, or after you’re exhausted its ability to feed you), I recommend this recipe.  Toss it in the slow cooker, preferably a few days ahead of when you plan on serving it, and set it out with cheddar, sour cream, chips, & cornbread.  The best part?  If you get tired of it, you can throw it in the freezer for later.

VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

a former coworker brought this in for lunch one day & I fell in love.  adapted slightly from the recipe he kindly provided

2 medium eggplants, sliced into thick rounds

3 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds

2 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed

2 green bell peppers, seeded & halved

2 onions, diced

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes

2 14-oz. cans black beans, drained

2-3 cups vegetable broth, depending on how thick or thin you prefer

½ cup chopped cilantro

2 ½ T chili powder

2 T ground cumin

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

optional: ¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne

Line a baking dish with paper towels, then layer the eggplant on top.  Generously with salt and let the eggplant sit for about an hour.  Rinse & dry the eggplant, then toss it in a bowl with the bell peppers, & mushrooms.  Drizzle in balsamic vinegar, salt, & pepper and toss the vegetables to coat.

Grill the vegetables (or use a grill pan, as I did) to achieve a bit of char.  Cool before  charred a bit on the outside and cooked through, then dice them all.

In a large soup pot, sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil until fragrant.  Add the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, black beans, broth, herbs, & spices.  Salt to taste and cook over low heat for at least 45 minutes or up to a few hours.

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GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD

I do not think like a Chef.

Folks who distill complex philosophy, who sew their own clothes, who know exactly what color paint a room needs, whose eyes frame perfect photographs, whose hands build and fix furniture.  All of these I know, and in them I recognize the same thing; I can’t do that.

Our brains work the way they work—certainly we can stretch and challenge them, but I know my limits.  I shan’t be fixing my own car anytime soon, for example, unless I want to break it.  And though I love food and think about it most nearly all the time, I know my brain does not work like a chef’s.

I can tell you when a dish is working, or when it isn’t, but it’s 50-50 whether I’ll be able to diagnose how to repair it, or even what’s in it in the first place.  I can follow recipes, tweak them, streamline them, know a good one when I see one and an overly complicated one when I see those, too—but it’s rare that I generate a downright amazing dish on my own.

Which makes it all the more fun to watch and learn from folks who think about food and flavor and technique in ways I can only dream of, hoping that a little bit of that genius will rub off.

GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD
adapted from Alex Seidel of Denver’s Fruition in this year’s “Best New Chefs” edition of Food & Wine

This salad was absolutely delicious—grilled green beans, who knew?—but its leftovers didn’t hold up very well.  To that end, I recommend serving this to a crowd (it would make a lovely side dish for a roast chicken, for example) or cutting the recipe in half.

ingredients:

1 cup black beluga or small brown lentils
1 lb. green beans, washed & ends trimmed
8 baby patty pan squash, quartered
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 oz. piece of pancetta, cut into a large dice
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh or ½ tsp. dried oregano
pinch of crushed red pepper
olive oil
sherry vinegar
fresh basil, for garnish

Sauté half of the shallot and half the garlic in olive oil until translucent.  Add the lentils, bay leaf, oregano & 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer the lentils until cooked through; remove from heat, discarding the bay leaf.  Drizzle generous amounts of olive oil & sherry vinegar atop the lentils, dressing them as you would a salad.  Stir in the remaining shallot & garlic.  Set aside.

Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.  Toss the green beans with a little olive oil, then season with salt & pepper before grilling them over high heat, turning when they char.

At the same time, cook the diced pancetta in a large skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned.  Add the squash, crushed red pepper, & a bit of salt and cook until the squash begins to soften. Toss in the tomatoes at the end, if you like.

Arrange the green beans on a large platter, then arrange the squash on top.  Pour the lentils atop everything and garnish with a little fresh basil.

GREEN LENTIL HUMMUS & HARD LEMONADE

As Jill recently announced to the whole world in a blog post, we read the Declaration of Independence aloud on the Fourth of July.  Geeky, I know, but we’re both so moved and inspired by our nation’s founding document—seriously, have you ever read it?  It’s grand and angry and beautiful.  They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Of course, once you start reading the Declaration of Independence aloud on the Fourth of July, it’s not like you can quit.  These rituals take on their own weight and significance; they transform into tradition.  And me?  I’m like that dude from Fiddler on the Roof. I love me some tradition.

So share away—what are your Fourth of July traditions?  Or, for friends up north, Canada Day traditions?

GREEN LENTIL HUMMUS
barely adapted from Food & Wine

Admittedly, this play on hummus is not the most beautiful color in the whole wide world…but it tastes delicious, so try and look past that, would you?  If you’re in a chickpea hummus rut, give this one a whirl—lentils are good for you!

ingredients:

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup green lentils
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 garlic cloves*
¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste

optional:

cayenne pepper, for heat
sweet or smoked paprika, for garnish

Bring the stock and lentils to a boil with the bay leaf & cinnamon stick.  Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are cooked through, about 45 minutes.  Uncover and turn up the heat, to cook away the excess liquid, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let the lentils cool.

In a food processor or blender, combine the lentils, garlic, tahini, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice, & a pinch of cayenne (if using).  Process until a paste begins to form, then drizzle in the olive oil slowly.  Mix until smooth, then add salt and taste-test.

Serve the hummus with pita chips and/or vegetables, sprinkling paprika on top and drizzling with a little extra olive oil.  Make a day ahead & keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

*I used garlic I had previously roasted and it added a wonderful flavor to the hummus.

HARD LEMONADE

A while back, the lovely Julie van Rosendaal of Dinner with Julie wrote a sweet blog post about an impromptu lemonade stand, including a recipe for this lemon syrup, promising that it made the perfect lemonade easily achievable.  My thoughts immediately turned to the possibilities of a “grownup” lemonade-leave it to my devilish mind.

I used frozen strawberries as “ice cubes” because we keep a giant bag from Costco in the freezer, but feel free to sub in frozen raspberries or blueberries, or make your own ice cubes with mint leaves suspended inside, for a color & flavor twist.

for one serving, I used 2 T lemon syrup, topped with fizzy water, a shot of vodka, & a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

for a pitcher, I’d recommend 1 cup lemon syrup & 1 ½ cups vodka, fill to the top with fizzy water & the juice of 4 lemons.

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ROASTED CHICKPEAS

We celebrated Blue Jean Gourmet’s first birthday last night with a backyard happy hour: beer, margaritas, two kinds of sangria, & lots of snacks.  It was a beautiful, overcast-but-not grey day and we were blessed with the presence of friends, fans, & even a few strangers (i.e. Twitter friends we’d never met in person!) to help us commemorate the day.

Party pictures and a more detailed menu still to come, but in the meantime I bring you chickpeas, because we served them yesterday, because they are delicious, and because they also serve as a nice Mother’s Day crossover.  You see, when you have a mother like mine, who is an incredible, instinctive cook and from whom you learned everything you know about making food—it feels like a real victory to introduce her to a dish or a method or an ingredient that she ends up loving.  There’s nothing more fun than your culinary badass mama calling or emailing to say “I love that!”  And roasted chickpeas are one such victory.

In one hilariously ironic twist, my mother now fusses at me on the phone, “Don’t work too hard, don’t do too much,” when all I ever saw her do as a kid was work hard, both inside and outside of our house, and cook beautiful meals for eager guests, never letting anyone help, insisting on doing every bit of the prepping, cooking, & cleaning herself, all the while making it look easy and being incredibly gracious.

So when I find myself sending guests out the door with leftovers or insisting “I’ve got it,” when someone tries to help, or when I notice how much like Veena I’m starting to look in pictures as I get older, I’m thrilled.  And sometime soon, I hope to notice myself worrying and fussing over a child of my own, raising him or her with as much freedom, love, and unconditional support as I have been blessed to receive over the last twenty-seven years.

To all mamas—biological, adoptive, step-moms, aunts, big sisters, grandmothers, and the women who take on mothering roles in our lives—Happy Mother’s Day.

ROASTED CHICKPEAS

If you have not discovered how delicious chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans or ceci beans) are when roasted in the oven, please remedy as soon as possible.  This is a dead-easy snack; you can make a big, inexpensive batch for a crowd by soaking & cooking a bag of dried beans before roasting, or drain a can at a moment’s notice when unexpected company comes calling.

These spicy chickpeas are a fantastic partner to beer, margaritas, even champagne—you can season them a dozen different ways—and the best part?  Healthier than potato or tortilla chips.  But no less addictive!

ingredients:

cooked chickpeas
a few tablespoons of olive oil
sea salt
seasoning of your choice*

oven: 425˚
pan: baking sheets (optional: line with parchment for easy clean-up)
Drain the chickpeas well, then get them as dry as possible.  I like to line my salad spinner with a few paper towels & send the chickpeas flying.  Not only does it make a cool noise, it helps the olive oil stick.

Toss the dried chickpeas with a few drizzles of olive oil—you want them to be lightly coated, not drowning.  Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, checking after the 15 minute mark to shake the baking sheet to ensure that the chickpeas don’t burn.

Once the chickpeas have browned nicely, remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before sprinkling with salt & seasoning of your choice.  Serve warm or allow to the chickpeas to cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight container for up to a week.

*For each can of chickpeas, I recommend between 1-2 tsp. of seasoning.  My favorite flavorings include: za’atar, smoked paprika, cumin & cayenne, thyme & lemon zest, or chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

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GREEN LENTIL SOUP

Forgive me in advance for my discombobulation.  Is “discombobulation” really a word?  No, it’s not.  But I’m an English teacher and so I think my made-up words should count.

Tomorrow morning I leave to chaperon the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. We’ll be packing in some l-o-n-g days of sight-seeing and I just don’t know that any blogging is going to happen while I’m gone.  I bet I’ll have some excellent stories to share when I get back, though; I’m fairly certain this trip is going to be exhausting, educational, and highly entertaining.

After D.C. comes Passover break!  (Some of you may recall that I work for a  Jewish school).  And, what do you know, Jill and I are actually GOING ON VACATION.  To a resort.  On a beach.  Just the two of us.  Where they make drinks with little umbrellas in them.  Aside from road trips to see my mom or her parents, Jill and I haven’t taken a non-work related trip since I graduated from college.  Which was five years ago in May.  So, it’s time.

Fret not, though, while I’m lounging on some sunny beach and finally reading The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, two excellent guest bloggers will be taking care of things around here.  And once April rolls around, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

In the interim, I present you with some lentil soup.  Should you be experiencing the “cold snap” (feels more like the weather BROKE if you ask me, since it was sunny & 70 degrees yesterday, now blustery & 41, what gives?) that we are, or should you live somewhere that’s just straight-up cold, give this soup a try.   It’s very hearty but actually healthy at the same time, doesn’t take too long to throw together but gets better as it sits in the fridge for a few days.  Should you prefer a vegetarian version, Jess from Sweet Amandine read my mind and posted one.

Last but not least, I’m very proud to share that the Houston Press named Blue Jean Gourmet one of ten “Blog Stars” for the city!  You can read the full story here (and find me on page 5).

GREEN LENTIL SOUP

ingredients:

1 ¼ lb. sausage*
2 small yellow onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled & diced into small chunks
3 ribs celery, diced into small chunks
2-3 gloves garlic, minced
3 cups green (French) lentils, picked over & rinsed
6 cups water or chicken/vegetable stock (I used ½ & ½)
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (I like fire-roasted)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp dried thyme
splash of red or white wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Slice the sausage into thick rounds and brown it at the bottom of a stockpot or Dutch oven.  There’s no need to cook it all the way through, just get good color on both sides, then remove it from the pot and set aside.

My sausage wasn’t very fatty, so I added a little olive oil before tossing in the onions.  You might not need any extra fat, or may even want to remove some of the sausage grease—it’s up to you.  Either way, get the onions going, and once they become translucent, toss in the garlic, carrots, & celery.

When the vegetables have lost a bit of their “tooth,” throw in the lentils, liquid, tomatoes, & aromatics (bay leaf, cinnamon, thyme, & about a tablespoon of salt).  Cover the pot and let everything cook until the lentils have reached your preferred softness, about 30-45 minutes.  You may need to add additional water or stock as you go.

At the end, stir in the vinegar and generous grinds of pepper, along with extra salt to taste.  Serve up in big bowls with a hunk of crusty bread or wholegrain crackers.

*I used a garlic sausage that we get from our meat share, but I think a mild Italian would work well here, too.

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