Monday, October 18, 2010

Moroccan lentils and couscous

Jon has moved to Chicago to start a new job, and I have taken his absence as inspiration to eat down some things in the pantry and freezer that have been sitting around for a while. Looking around for lunch one day, I decided I wanted to use up some couscous. I also had half a bag of lentils in the pantry and a cup of cooked kidney beans in the freezer. To season, I went to the veggies I had on hand and my spice cabinet. Couscous makes me think North Africa, so I just put in everything that reminded me of Morocco, and it turned out pretty well. The hot smoked paprika was especially key, in my humble opinion. I don't know if that is Moroccan, but the spiciness and rich smoky flavor really pulled everything together.

Something like this is a great pantry-cleaning meal. Of course, the problem with pantry-cleaning is that it makes me think I need to buy more things to fill the pantry up again! I'm trying to hold off. I think the pantry still has plenty of meals in it before it needs a restock. (And I like the creative aspect of figuring out what those meals are.)

Are there any pantry items you tend to have around but don't use all that much? Couscous is probably the worst culprit for me.

Moroccan lentils and couscous

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 diced green pepper
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup dry brown lentils
1 cup cooked kidney beans

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder (I used Penzey's Balti seasoning, which isn't as fragrant as some curry powders. I think it blends well with other spices if you're not looking for a classic curry flavor.)
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 cup whole wheat couscous

Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan or medium saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onion, pepper, celery, and carrot and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir to coat in oil. Add broth, 1 cup water, and lentils. My kidney beans were on the crunchy side, so I added them at the same time, but if you're using soft or canned ones, wait until later. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until lentils are soft, about 35 minutes, adding more water if the lentils dry out.

In the meantime, prepare couscous. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, and cover. In about 10 minutes, open the lid and see if the couscous is soft and the water is absorbed. Drain or place over high heat for a few minutes if the couscous has a good texture but is too wet.

Serve a blob of lentil stuff over a blob of couscous. You'll probably want to add salt at the table; there is a ton of flavor in here but no added salt. (You could, of course, also add salt to the lentils or couscous while cooking, but I myself prefer to salt at the table.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Evelyn's amazing chili paste

This is the story of how I, a girl with a Midwestern-level spice tolerance, invented a chili paste that my husband, who gets the food with four chilis next to it at Thai restaurants, loves. It all started in Malaysia. I loved the food, but of course it was all too spicy. (Seriously. Even breakfast. At a hotel that caters to westerners. I really am pathetic.) I really liked nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk with various stuff on the side. The stuff on the side varied, but there were always peanuts and sambal, a blisteringly hot chili paste. I liked the texture, but I could barely use any. When I made my own version of nasi lemak at home last week, I wanted a similar condiment, but one that I could comfortably eat. Obviously, it couldn't be entirely chili-based, but I had to replace that flavor with other Southeast Asian flavors so it would still pack a punch. I decided that tomato paste and fresh tomatoes would add some depth of flavor in addition to non-spicy volume. Then I threw in basically everything Southeast Asian in my spice cabinet. The result is a really flavorful paste with just the right texture that even my poor wimpy taste buds can handle.

I wasn't sure if something like this would be up Jon's alley because he likes the truly fiery real chili paste, but he absolutely loved it. He has been eating it with anything he thinks it will work on, including on bagels with cream cheese. When he first tried it, he didn't know it had tomatoes in it. I had been worried that the tomatoes would be too acidic and overwhelming, but they just contributed to the overall depth of flavor without adding too much acidity or characteristic tomatoey-ness. It's a winner. Not very Malaysian, but really nice on coconut rice (or bagels).

Evelyn's amazing chili paste

2 dundicut or other whole dried chilis, or to taste
1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 lemongrass stalk, tender inside part only, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp good curry powder (Penzey's Maharajah is great)
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
16 grape tomatoes, quartered, divided
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp hoisin sauce

Place the chilis, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander seeds, and curry powder in a food processor (a small one is nice if you've got it). Grind until it's pretty ground up. Add the tomato paste and half the grape tomatoes and process until paste-like. Heat the vegetable oil over medium in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the paste from the processor and the rest of the tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes. It should be thick and smell insanely delicious. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil and hoisin sauce.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unitaskers and the whisk

Jon loves Alton Brown, and one of Alton Brown's "things" is his anti-unitasker stance. (Except in the case of using dried beans as pie weights, but I digress.) In general, Jon and I try to avoid unitaskers, but quite a few have found their way into our kitchen. (Moving seems to be the best cure for unitasker accumulation, and we have lived in the same place for more than two years now, so they've built up a bit.) I find a pastry cutter really useful when making pie dough, but it definitely can't do anything else. We have a coffee maker and a Teavana tea maker (which is surprisingly great). And yes, we have at least one ice cream maker. We let unitaskers in when they make a common kitchen task significantly easier or more successful and don't take up an inordinate amount of space.

Which brings me to the whisk. Are we the only people who feels that a whisk is not only a unitasker but a unitasker that is not very good at its one task? Usually I reach for a fork instead of a whisk because the forks are in a more convenient location in my kitchen. When I do go to the trouble of getting a whisk out, I usually switch to a fork after a few minutes because it is better at whisking. Maybe I'm just bad at using a whisk. I don't know. In any case, I don't think our whisks will be making the next move with us.

What about you? Do you have any favorite or least favorite unitaskers? Any tips for more effective whisking?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Split pea veggie patties with cabbage salad

I got this recipe out of the October 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times, and I’m going to come right out and tell you that it has an Achilles heel. Like many Vegetarian Times recipes, it doesn’t fill me up, at least not at anywhere near the suggested serving size. I think VT is very health-conscious, which is great, but their form of health-consciousness is a little different from mine. I think that by eating a wide variety of foods, mostly not-very-processed plants, I am doing OK. I am not trying to lose weight, and I don’t count calories. VT has a little bit of a war on calories. I think 350 Calories is their definition of “lite,” and I think they try to make sure a high percentage of their recipes come in under that mark. I am a hungry girl, and 350 Calories is not a meal for me! I halved the original VT recipe, which claimed to serve 6, and had a little more than a third of it for lunch. An hour later, I was hungry and ended up having a not very nutrition-dense snack of bread and butter. I had the rest of the recipe for dinner, and while I didn’t go to bed hungry, I wasn’t terribly full either. So the original recipe probably serves more like 2-3 people than 6. This is both an advertisement and a warning. This meal is yummy and full of good veggies, but it might not fill you up for long. (In case you were wondering, the recipe says that 1 of their servings, which is 2 patties and 1 cup of salad, has 190 Calories. If I had read that first, I probably would have known that I needed to increase the serving size dramatically.) If you are looking to cut calories and lose weight, this is probably a great recipe for you.

Now that I’ve ranted about VT’s mission to deprive me of satiety, let’s move on to the recipe. The patties are held together by leftover split pea soup and an egg, which I think is ingenious. I have made veggie patty-type foods quite a few times, and often they don’t hold together very well at all. The soup really takes care of that. Some carrot, sugar snap peas, and corn round out the patties. I like that the patties are flavored with sesame oil, soy sauce, and ginger, but those flavors are not overwhelming. It’s served on a terrific bed of cabbage and carrots. This might have been my first time to eat Napa cabbage. It is not exotic to me, but it’s something, like turnips or radishes, that I see all the time in the store and never eat. Napa cabbage is pretty awesome! I guess I kind of just thought it was expensive white cabbage, but it has a less bitter flavor, and the leaves are easier to work with than cabbage leaves. I guess it’s more like lettuce that way. I really liked the crisp texture of the cabbage in the salad.

Split pea veggie patties

makes about 6 patties, 3 VT servings, 1-2 Evelyn servings; multiply as needed

1 cup split pea soup (of course, you could use canned)

1 egg

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup sugar snap peas, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen are fine)

1 green onion, chopped (both white and green parts)

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated

Whisk together soup and eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in cornmeal, followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a nonstick or your preferred frying pan over medium. Add some oil if you need it, and once the pan is hot, drop 1/4-cup scoops of pea mixture onto the pan. Flatten into disc shapes with a fork and cook 5 minutes, or until bottom is slightly browned. Flip and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve 4 patties each on a bed of cabbage salad, below.

Cabbage salad

makes 1 salad; multiply as needed

4 leaves Napa cabbage

1/2 cup grated carrot

2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted if you feel like

Miso salad dressing or other salad dressing (An Asian-ish one makes a lot of sense, but I think this would be fine with a vinaigrette or whatever you have. OK, not ranch.)

Thoroughly wash and thinly slice cabbage leaves. Combine with grated carrot and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Dress salad with 3 tbsp or so miso salad dressing (probably less of other salad dressings). Place 4 veggie patties on cabbage salad and dress with a little more dressing to taste.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Miso-basil salad dressing

I had the same package of miso in my fridge for well over a year, and I still hadn’t gotten around to making a salad dressing out of it. I really like miso salad dressings, so on Monday while I was waiting for my split peas to soften, I used the last of the miso to make a salad dressing for my salad at dinner. I love my lemon-sesame dressing, and I think it’s great when I’m in the mood for some Asian flavor on my salad, but I wanted a change of pace.

I figured Mark Bittman would have a miso salad dressing in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and I was right. I made his recipe with a few variations. First, I added some Thai and regular basil because I have a ton of it and it’s really bright, a nice foil for the richness of miso. I also added some soy sauce. Bittman says to use sake or water to thin the miso. 3/4 cup of sake seemed like too much. I didn’t want to be able to make a cocktail out of my salad dressing, so I used 1/4 cup sake and 1/2 cup water. The sake flavor adds complexity without giving it any alcoholic taste. Bittman uses no oil in the dressing, which means it’s low in fat, but it’s also very thin. In this form, I think it would be a great marinade or sauce for cooked vegetables, but I had higher-viscosity dreams for my salad. I added some sesame oil directly to the dressing and combined about 1/4 cup dressing with 1 tbsp vegetable oil for my salad that night. I recommend that you add some oil when you make it or as you go along if you want a typical salad dressing consistency.

Miso is delicious. Every time I eat it, I promise myself I will use it more often because it’s so rich and has a great slightly sweet, fermented, salty taste. Looking through my mountains of cookbooks and recipes, I see quite a few with miso, and I hope to be trying more of them soon.

Miso-basil salad dressing

makes about 1 cup before adding oil

6 tbsp miso

1/4 cup sake or water

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp sweetener (I used agave nectar; sugar or honey would be fine)

1/2 cup Thai or regular basil, finely minced

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, or more to taste

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Vegetable oil, optional

Combine miso, sake, and water and whisk with a fork until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients except for vegetable oil. Season to taste with rice wine vinegar. Add vegetable oil until your desired consistency is reached.