Dal - Lentil Stew

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No, not dull. Dal. And it’s anything but. If you like lentils, you will love Dal. Why?, because Dal is lentils- a lentil stew.

I’ve made lentils before. Both as a soup and as a side dish. Both using mirepoix for the base. But, I have never made Dal before. I looked up what spices are traditionally used in making Dal and decided I would use my own version. Ballsy, I know, but what the hell.

If you read last week’s blog post, and I hope you did, you know I had an inspiration spurt propelling me to create a complete Indian meal for JC, my sis Jill and myself. It started with the rice. Then moved onto what will go with the rice.

That’s where the Dal came in.

I used a couple of items that might not be traditional Indian ones but they blended beautifully in the dish.

I had roasted tomatoes. Boy, did I have roasted tomatoes since I just finished making 100lbs. of tomatoes. No, that wasn’t a typo; 100 glorious pounds. JC thought I was nuts. (I must admit that after the first 25lbs, I thought I was nuts too!) So, with plenty of roasted tomatoes on hand, I figured why not use them in my Dal. I also had celery and long hot peppers and wanted to use those up. I always taste as I go, so when I cut into the peppers, which I thought were supposed to hot, they didn’t seem to have the heat I expected. So, I added a jalapeño, too. Believe it or not, the spice level ended up being perfect for my palate. Not so spicy that I couldn’t taste anything else or not be able to detect that my tongue was still attached to my mouth. Yet spicy enough to wake up the senses.

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Ingredients

3 c yellow lentils
1/2 c onion, small dice
2 T celery, small dice
1/3 c red & green long peppers hot, sliced
1/4 c jalapeño, minced
1.5 T crushed garlic
3 T oil
1 T turmeric
1 t cumin seeds
2.5 t curry powder
1 t salt
1 c roasted tomatoes + their juices
2.5 c water

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.


Instructions

I chopped everything up into a small dice, slice and a fine mince. I wanted to create a sofrito, if you will. Then sautéd those in a pan with oil.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Once the fresh aromatics were softened, I added the dried spices and let them get all cozy together until they created a lusciously blended ‘sofrito’ base.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

When you have homemade roasted tomatoes, then that is what you use. They were made with love, so…

(If you don’t have roasted, you can also use whole tomatoes in a can. And then add them in with love.) In went the tomatoes and lentils. Then I added water, covered the pan and let simmer until done.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

And that is just how easy it was to make Dal. Again, boasting is not my style, yet two weeks in a row, it’s seems to becoming a trend. Here I am tooting my own horn again, because this Dal dish came out super tasty. I was worried about the spice level having added the jalapeño plus the long peppers, but it was quite on point. Again, I got the thumbs up for Jill and JC, both lovers of Indian food.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m some sort of expert, nor is this a traditional Indian Dal. But I am seriously happy at my first real foray into using Indian spices to create delicious dishes. I’m all for learning the traditional methods, staying true to a cultures cuisine. But I also believe that you have to just dive in and not be intimidated by it’s complexity. And that’s what I did here. Plus my style has always been, get a glimpse then make it my own.

Don’t forget to make the Indian Spiced Rice to go along with this. In the coming weeks, I will post the potato pancakes and cauliflower. Here’s to spicing up your life!

Sunday Brunch - Part Homemade/Part Not

A bounty of yum.

A bounty of yum.

Hosting a brunch can be easy, or a lot of work.  It can be made up of all the usual suspects, or a mash up of the expected and the unexpected.  I am never one to shy away from hard work, but I am also a huge fan of working smarter not harder.  So the idea of creating a sumptuous brunch spread that would serve up that mix with as much ease as possible was what I was aiming for.

One of the keys to achieving success; a good mash up of homemade items with banging good store bought items.  This greatly cuts down on the amount work.  Another huge help is asking guests to bring an item or two.  I'm sure your guests, as do ours, always ask, "what can I bring?" This is the perfect time to say "Bagels, or lox".  Or both!

Such was the case when we hosted a Sunday family brunch.  Our guests provided the bagels, lox and cream cheese. While we prepared the remaining dishes. 

For me, the perfect brunch is a like a moveable feast.  As with any party that isn't a sit down meal, there should be a decent variety of items ranging in temperatures and protein choices. A to and fro of movement.  Nibbling here, picking there. Foods that can last for several hours of conversation without too much fuss.

Here is what we offered up, and what was consumed with zeal.

When you buy quality products, the best plan is to let them shine with maybe just a few embellishments. That was the case with all of the "some assembly required" items. The Spanish sardines were enhanced with cucumbers and tomatoes. 

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in.

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in.

You've seen me use boquerones before. This brunch crowd loves them so, of course, I would serve them.  These fresh anchovies dressed with chopped garlic and parsley and good olive oil always get gobbled up.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections. I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years. Yes, you read that number correctly.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections. I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years. Yes, you read that number correctly.

Cheese/Charcuterie platters are another easy to assemble ahead offering that everyone loves.  And a perfect brunch item.  So go ahead and create one chock full of your favorite combinations.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

The lentils were partially homemade, in that I used delicious precooked lentils that I get from Despaña but enhanced them by sautéing onions, carrots and celery then adding the lentils to warm through.  That simple.

This group of guests hadn't had my Eggplant Gemolata dish yet, so why not make it again. I did alter the feta topping, keeping it simple and not using the sun-dried tomatoes, olives and lemon zest but adding oven roasted tomatoes to finish the dish.  It was a huge hit with no left overs. This is one of those dishes that you can prep, then cook right before serving.  The flavors are powerful and beautifully melded. It has never let me down, no matter the event or the guest.

Eggplant with feta gremolata.

Eggplant with feta gremolata.

A little something for the meat lovers. Pork belly, lovingly prepared by JuanCarlos, cut in bite sized chunks and simply served on a wooden board.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked. Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked. Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

The usual brunch suspects, bagels, lox, cream cheese are always welcome and always the perfect Sunday comfort food.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers. Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers. Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Make your life easy with the table setting.  Throw a graphic cloth down the middle as a landing strip for all the dishes. Then a simple stack of all the right plates, bowls and utensils in an easy to grab fashion keeps the laid back feeling going.

Finish with a little something sweet, Apple Tart.  And that's how part homemade/part not is done.

Create the vibe you want by selecting food that fits that mood.  A spread that spreads love.  One that invites conversation and fills their bellies and their souls.  What a great way to mark a Sunday, or any brunch day.

 
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Kale, Potato, Lentil, Cauliflower... Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup

This is a little story of what happens when I decide to pull everything out of my refrigerator and start cooking.  Yesterday was just such a day, as the chill of autumn has descended upon us, I thought I would make soup.  Since I had cauliflower I was figuring on making my old standby (and very first blog post) Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup.  Alas, and I will say thankfully,  I opted to go back to my roots of not repeating recipes too often but instead exploring new territories.  

As I've said before, when I go shopping I buy what looks fresh without necessarily having a plan for how to cook them. Such was the case during last week's shop.  As I took these ingredients out and placed them on my board, my first thought was to make separate dishes with each.

Here's what I found: Cauliflower, Kale, French Lentils, Fingerling Potatoes, Red Onion and Garlic

Here's what I found: Cauliflower, Kale, French Lentils, Fingerling Potatoes, Red Onion and Garlic

And because the original plan was individual dishes and use the cauliflower for soup, that soup idea grabbed a hold of me and wouldn't let go.  It was just then when the it dawned on me that EVERYTHING I had could indeed be SOUP. Now here's the triple play of culinary delights:  
I didn't have to make separate dishes.
I was still sticking to my original idea of soup.
Plus the big bonus of throwing it all together...  ONE POT!

I had to think this one through to make sure that I cooked this one in the correct stages without having to switch pots.  Also fair warning for this recipe, I won't be giving amounts as this one really harkens back to my something from nothing style.  Use what you have in the quantities you have.

ingredients

Cauliflower
Kale (chopped)
French Lentils
Fingerling Potatoes (cut in bite size pieces)
Red onion (cut in small pieces)
Garlic
Magic 3 (Oil, Salt, Pepper)

Instructions

I started out as if I were making the cauliflower soup (click on the link for recipe reference) but cut the onions small since these were not going to be blended up but in fact be a supporting player in the soup.

When the cauliflower was about cooked about ¾ done, I added the potatoes pieces and lentils. 

Once everything was tender, I pulled out about half of the cauliflower because I didn’t think the soup needed that much cauliflower.  I figured I would blend up the removed portion and still have faux creamy cauliflower soup.   Then I realized that adding some of that back into this soup would add thickness and richness. (But by that time I ate some I only had about 2/3 cup to add to the main soup. Add as much or as little as you want to achieve a 'creaminess' level of your liking.)

 I then added the kale, checked for seasoning and turned the heat off.  The soup is warm enough at this point to wilt the kale.

This came out hearty and earthy and a really lovely blend of a handful of odd and ends from my fridge.  So, let’s recap.  You can follow this recipe as I stated.  Or you can look through your kitchen and create a soup out of what you have.  Here are some ideas for replacement options for the ones I used.

other potential leading characters

Kale = spinach, escarole, mustard greens
Cauliflower =  broccoli, cabbage
Potato = sweet potato, turnip, yucca
Lentil =  chick peas, cannellini beans

Well, you get the idea.  Try my version or play around with any of the above suggestions to make your own version of the “Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup”.  Falling into the crispness of this season isn’t so bad when you can be warmed by a soup like this.  

Footnote:  As you can see this made a nice big pot of soup which left enough for the next day.  I made jasmine rice and added it to the day old soup.  Yup, it made it even yummier.

A Something from Nothing Sunday, featuring lentils

I had a true something from nothing Sunday morning back in February.  Since both JC and I had been super busy, and it had been freezing in NY,  we hadn't wanted to venture out much. This left us with only a few odd items in the fridge.  We were so low that we didn't even have garlic, which we ALWAYS have.  

The first order of business was to pull everything out and see what I had to work with.  The stars of the day: carrots, fennel, acorn squash, shallots, a tiny bit of cilantro.  In the cupboard, I found basmati rice and French lentils.  Well, I can make stuff with that and thus the cooking off of odds and ends began.

First, I made 3 uncooked cups of basmati rice so I can have an abundant amount to mix with the vegetables, add to soup or just have as a side dish.  I was thinking about having enough to take for lunch during the week.  I also decided to sauté one and half finely chopped shallots in oil and added that to half the cooked rice, plus seasoned with salt, pepper and minced cilantro.  I like adding onions or garlic with some fresh herbs to cooked rice.  It makes rice a better side dish.

 

Then I sliced the acorn squash, skin on and left the carrots whole with their greens on. I roasted them in a 425 degree oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper until they got nice and caramelized.  I LOVE  LOVE LOVE roasting vegetables.  The high heat just a bit of olive oil brings out all the nature sweetness of any veggie.  

Basmati rice sauteéd with shallots and cilantro

Basmati rice sauteéd with shallots and cilantro

Sweet and earthy - Oven roasted acorn squash and whole carrots

Sweet and earthy - Oven roasted acorn squash and whole carrots

While those were roasting away, I got started on the lentils.  Please note that my style of cooking is without measurements.  I just use what I have and add salt, pepper and spices as I see fit.  However, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with that methodology, especially my sister Jill.  She isn't a big fan of cooking but can follow a recipe and does a great job. Over the years I have had to write down impromptu recipes so that she can replicate them.  With her in mind, I took out my notebook and jotted this down.  But please keep in mind that this recipe is meant to be a true something from nothing.  Meaning, you can use whatever you have in the fridge to make these lentils, and in whatever quantities you have.  I just used up what I had but measured it for ease of repeating.

French Lentils with carrots & fennel

Ingredients:

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3 T olive oil
2 c chopped red onion
2.5 c chopped carrot
1 c chopped fennel
2 tsp salt
1/2 t crushed pepper
1 t tumeric
2.5 c French lentils
4 c vegetable or chicken stock  
(if you don't have any stock, use all water)

Instructions

Put all the oil in a deep pan and sauté the onion, carrot, fennel, salt, pepper and tumeric until slightly softened.  Do not overcook these as they will continue to cook with the lentils.  Add the lentils and the liquid and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.  Lower the heat and let cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.    You can cook these to your liking.   If you want to use them to add to a salad, then I would leave them al dente.  If you want to puree this mixture to make a thick soup, I would cook the lentils longer until very tender.

Lentils cooking away

Lentils cooking away

I left mine on the al dente rice because I like the bite of them.  I also used them for the week's lunch.  
Monday:  room temp lentils over mixed greens with a side of roasted carrots/acorn squash
Tuesday:  warm lentils in vegetable broth & basmati rice
Wednesday:   Quinoa pasta with lentils and feta cheese

That exhausted the batch of lentils I made, and gave me a three yummy, hearty lunches for the frigid NY winter days, plus there was enough for Jill and JC too.  Remember, the something from nothing rule: there are no rules. Use what you have. Any vegetable and in any quantity will work.