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Turkish Dinner Part 1: Summer Lentil Soup with Lemon

I woke up the other morning feeling like soup. A light, summery soup, but not a cold one. Not yet. Temperatures were barely grazing 70  so I decided to wait for a real heat wave before bringing out the gazpachos and cold yogurt soups.

Jonah and I honeymooned in Turkey this time of year about ten years ago, and absolutely fell in love with their classic red lentil soup, known as Mercimek Çorbasi. It is beyond humble in terms of ingredients yet the squeeze of lemon and dash of sumac and cilantro at the finish results in something delicious and satisfying either as a light meal or a first course.

Soup preparation also sparked some last-minute inspiration, which I always appreciate, especially on a Wednesday. I spied a pound of ground lamb hanging around the freezer, and turned the simple soup dinner into “Turkish Night.” The ground meat became lamb burger sliders, which we served in toasted pita, drizzled with yogurt sauce. I’ll share those recipes in a separate post – they were amazing. According to Ava, so amazing that the dinner “could be served in a buffet.” There is no higher form of compliment.

PS I just realized I’ve been on a lentils kick. This will pass soon. I promise.

Preparation

Adapted from the New York Times

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 5-10 minutes; total time: 40 minutes

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add 1 large chopped onion and 3-4 minced garlic cloves, and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes.

Stir in 1 tbsp. tomato paste, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1/4 tsp. each kosher salt and black pepper and a pinch of chili powder or cayenne (yes – even for a family meal. It won’t be spicy, I promise!). Sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add 1 quart of chicken/vegetable broth and 2 cups water (or 6 cups of water) to onion-spice mixture along with 1 cup of red lentils and 2 diced carrots. Bring to a gentle boil, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Cool soup a bit, then purée half the soup using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor. Add pureed soup back to pot. The soup should have some texture.

Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in juice from 1/2 to one lemon (to taste). Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, a sprinkle of sumac if you have it on hand and a drizzle of olive oil.  You can also dust it lightly with chili powder if desired.

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Baked Eggs with Spring Vegetables

Father’s Day is around the corner, and perhaps like many of you, I’m mulling over special Dad’s Day breakfast menu options. Which got me thinking about the awesome brunch my crew made for me a month ago, in honor of Mother’s Day, featuring Baked Eggs with Vegetables. All you need to pull off this gorgeous and delicious dish is spring/summer produce (asparagus, fava beans, tomatoes and green beans are excellent options) and about 15 minutes of your time. Plus a large skillet (or two, depending on how many you are making). Throw in some good bread or roasted potatoes plus the requisite Bloody Mary/mimosa/fancy cocktail, and you are on your way.

I also happen to appreciate that this dish satisfies anyone who is fussy about their eggs (namely, my children). You have total control over cooking time and thus how “done” the whites and yolks become. It’s fairly easy to end up with perfectly cooked whites and gorgeous runny yolks, which is my personal preference.

Preparation

Inspired by Esperanza Pallana of Pluckandfeather.com

4 servings per 12″ (oven-proof) skillet

Preheat broiler

Rough chop a combination of spring/summer vegetables – green beans, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, summer squash, any mix you have on hand. Finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic.

Heat olive oil in pan and gently saute garlic. Turn heat to medium-high, add vegetables and cook for 2-4 minutes, until they soften and brighten in color. Clear open a few spaces for eggs and break in the pan (you should have room for 3-4 eggs in a 12-inch skillet). Fry them sunny side up for a few minutes until the bottoms set. Place the pan under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the whites firmed on top, but the yolk is still runny (or leave them in a bit longer if you prefer hard yolks). Season with salt and pepper and serve.

This is for all the amazing Dad’s out there, including my own!

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Kale Chips

On my quick farmers’ market run yesterday afternoon, I spotted kale chips selling for $5 per small bag. Which got me thinking…. raw kale goes for about $1.50 a bunch this time of year. And while the packaged version was quite a fancy food product, mixed with a vegan cheese and apparently shelf-stable, homemade kale chips sure are a delicious and seriously guilt-free addiction. Provided you don’t eat too many in one sitting, as I have certainly known to do!

Preparation

Serves 4-5
 

Preheat oven to 350°

Remove kale (I prefer to use dino/lacinato kale but others work just as well) leaves from stems: I find the easiest technique for this is to fold the kale in half lengthwise, and cut along the center stem. One cut should remove leaves on both sides.

Rinse well and dry. Tear or cut the kale into chip or bite-sized pieces. Toss well with (extra virgin) olive oil and (sea) salt. Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes, taking care not to burn the edges.

Add further seasonings of your choice – chili powder and lime comes to mind. Substituting tamari soy for sea salt is delicious, especially with a sesame oil and sesame seed combo.

Enjoy immediately as a snack or side dish – but remember, pace yourself!

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Vegetable and Whole Grain Salad with Preserved Lemons

My cousin introduced me to preserved lemons over bagels and lox earlier this year, and I came home from that visit totally hooked. I immediately picked a few up at the store, but my enthusiasm waned when I realized I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Luckily, my brilliant husband  suggested tossing them into a wonderful grain salad that we make as a vehicle to use up miscellaneous vegetables we have on hand. A citrus and olive oil dressing is all it needs – with a little harissa (Moroccan chili paste) to spike it if you love a spicier flavor like we do. I will say that I had no expectations of the girls enjoying this, and they didn’t even try it the first five times it appeared on the table. But the last time, without any prompting, curiosity got the best of them. They both tried a quinoa version, with favorable, if not exactly glowing, reviews.

Preparation

Preserved lemons can be found at most specialty stores and Middle Eastern markets. But they are also very easy to make at home (which is what I decided to do after using up the store-bought ones). They take about a month to cure in a dark pantry, then last for a long time in the fridge. David Lebovitz’s recipe is a good reference:

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/12/moroccan-preser-1/

Before

After!

Salad (serve 4-6 as a side dish)

Combine 2-3 cups or more of cooked quinoa (I love to combine the red and white varieties), farro, brown rice or another whole grain of choice with a mix of raw or gently cooked vegetables. In version pictured above, we lightly sautéed radicchio (any chicory adds wonderful flavor contrast). Red cabbage and carrots works great. As would arugula, small broccoli pieces, sautéed zucchini in summertime, etc. Chop the rind of preserved lemon into small pieces and add to salad. If you have fresh herbs on hand, throw those in too. Cilantro, parsley, mint and tarragon would all be good options. Toss with a light citrus dressing, salt and pepper and serve. This works great for a meal anytime of the year, and for picnics too, which are on my mind as we slowly inch our way toward warmer weather.

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Pizza at Home

I used to think I hated pizza. The thin limp/lifeless/Domino’s versions I typically encountered in my teen and childhood years really were awful. Then I was introduced to deep dish via Zachary’s in Berkeley and everything shifted. Fast forward fifteen years and a full explosion of fabulous Neopolitan-style, crispy thin crust creations all over San Francisco. Guess what? I love pizza! So as typical when I love a food, I eventually embark on the process of learning how to recreate it home. I tried various recipes; I took a class; I lowered my expectations. And voila – I learned that pizza at home is actually a simple 30-minute meal, provided you make the dough in advance.

Before we proceed to instructions, I wanted to share a few things I’ve come to terms with in order to make the most successful and enjoyable pizza at home:

1) A home oven – even the “prosumer”  variety – can never match the high temperatures of wood-burning ovens so unless you have a real pizza oven at your disposal, crust expectations have to be adjusted. But the pizza will still be delicious.

2) Flour matters.  To some extent. I’ve played with a variety of flours at this point – the superfine “00″ flour favored by pizzerias, soft whole wheat, bread flour, etc. The combo below is what I’ve finally settled on but I’m not averse to using what’s on hand in a pinch, and encourage you to experiment as well.

3) Because the pizza will bake at a lower temperature in  your home oven, it is far easier to use fresh mozzarella that is not packed in water or if using fresh that is packed in water, you need to drain it thoroughly to avoid a liquidity pool in the middle of an otherwise lovely pizza. Any dry cheese – Gruyere, soft goat,  provolone, etc, will work great.

4) When in doubt or low on time, store-bought dough  is a good option (Trader Joe’s dough comes to mind). That said, I usually struggle to roll the store-made dough – no matter how much I warm it up or how much flour I add, the damn thing bounces back upon stretching. Which is why I ended up learning to make my own dough in the first place – it’s a breeze to roll out.

Pizza Dough

Inspired by The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

Active time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yields dough for 2 8-10″ pizzas and freezes beautifully if you don’t use both

1. PROOF 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast in 1 cup of very warm water: 100-110° water to yeast along with a teaspoon of sugar. Stir gently several times and allow yeast to develop for five minutes. If you see foaming or bubbling at the top, your yeast is alive and ready to use. If you see no activity after 10 minutes, this yeast is no longer viable.

2. ADD 3 cups of flour to a mixing bowl: my favorite combo is 1 c. all-purpose, 1 c. whole wheat flour + 1 c. cake or pastry flour. Use a soft wheat flour here, it will work best. Add 2 tsp. of kosher salt (about 1 tsp. with other salts). Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in yeast mixture.

3. Gradually MIX flour and liquid together, stirring with a wooden spoon at first, then with your hands.

4. When the mixture is ragged and pulls cleanly away from the bowl, turn in out on a lightly floured board to knead OR leave in bowl if using a  stand mixer.

5. KNEAD dough for about 6-8 minutes by hand or 2-3 minutes using a dough hook in a stand mixer on a low setting. The dough is ready when it is light and elastic, like a baby’s bottom, apparently.

6. Coat another mixing bowl with a light layer of olive oil. Set dough in the oiled bowl. Turn it to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a 60-70° room to RISE for 1.5-2 hours.

7. Once the dough has doubled in volume, turn it back onto the floured board, punch it down and knead briefly just to knock out air holes.

Pizza

Active time: 5-10 minutes

Cooking time: 5-8 minutes

1. If using a pizza stone, set it in a cold oven and PREHEAT oven to 550° for at least 30 minutes. If you have a convection setting, turn that on too. Anything that brings up the heat in the oven will result in a tastier pizza. Otherwise, just preheat oven to 550°.

2. DIVIDE the dough you just made into two even balls using a knife or pastry cutter.

3. Pat ball of dough into a thick circle then ROLL using a rolling-pin to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

4. Generously SPRINKLE the pizza peel with coarse flour or cornmeal to ensure that pizza slides easily onto the pizza stone. Transfer dough onto the peel or if not using a peel, onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.

5. Finally, the fun part! TOP with various toppings and slide into the oven.I like to also “paint” the pizza edge with olive oil and sprinkle gently with salt.

6. BAKE for 5-7 minutes, until the crust is blistered brown and the toppings bubbling.

7. DRIZZLE the top with olive oil once it comes out of the oven and serve.

I tend to make one simple “cheese” pizza Margherita and a more complex one with greens if I’m making two. It used to be that the kids would squarely stick with the Margherita. But last time, both tried and approved of the “adult” option much to my delight. My favorite pizza combos include:

  • mozzarella, basil, oregano
  • mixture of grated cheeses (Asiago, provolone, mozzarella, etc).with mushrooms and a good salami
  • any pizza topped with slices of capocollo cured meat
  • greens sautéed with garlic and topped with either fresh goat cheese or shredded Gruyere. Not only is this a great way to use up leftover veggies, it is simply delicious.
  • Any of the above with capers, olives or artichoke hearts

What are your pizza favorites?

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Split Pea Soup with Potatoes


The girls and I got caught in a most torrential rain storm this morning, leaving all of us soaked despite what felt like substantial rain gear. They demanded lunch as soon as we stepped into the house, despite it being 11:15AM and me still not being adequately caffeinated to face the day ahead. I fended them off for a while as I dug through the fridge trying to come up with a low-key lunch option. And then I remembered the split pea soup in the freezer! My tendency with soup is to make enough for 20 even though our household maxes out at 4. And its been worse since I bought a huge Le Creuset dutch oven a month ago.

I usually regret this approach when I’m cooking because it does take longer to cook large portions. But I’m always grateful to have a full freezer of good food so the initial investment does pay off.

We love making split pea soup with potatoes – they add a wonderful texture to the soup and make it an even heartier meal. My version is vegetarian, so I rely on lots of oregano and bay leaf to create flavor. A friend turned me on to using smoked salt recently as a way of faking the smoky ham aroma (though you do see crispy pancetta bits on top of this one, just happened to have it on hand). Years ago, Ava and I started making cornbread muffins alongside split pea soup. They make a wonderful accompaniment and only take about 20 minutes to make (including baking time) if you use a mix.

Preparation

Adapted from Parker’s Split Pea Soup, Barefoot Contessa

Serve 8-12

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 1.5-2 hours

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions or leeks
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots
  • 1 cup medium-diced celery
  • 4-6 small-medium sized potatoes (fingerling, red young potatoes, yukon gold, etc)., in chunks
  • 1 pound or 2 cups dried split green peas
  • 8 cups water

In large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper over medium heat until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the carrots and celery then saute for 5 more minutes.

Add bay leaves, potatoes,  split peas, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer 1.5-2 hours or until all the peas are soft. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom. Taste for salt and pepper – this would  be a good time to add smoked salt if you like. Serve hot with cornbread. And don’t forget to freeze some for a rainy day!

mushrooms

Another option: Mushroom Bolognese

I just spotted this Mushroom Bolognese recipe on Chowhound and was  inspired to share. I’m a huge mushroom lover, and though I haven’t tried making this yet, I can see how they can hold their own in terms of flavor and texture compared to the meaty traditional bolognese I posted earlier.

Give it a try  and let me know how it turns out. And I promise to do the same.

Bhavna and Patrick, this one’s for you!

Preparation

Courtesy of Chow.com and Yasmin Le Sauce

Total: 60 minutes

Active: 25 minutes

Makes: 6-8 servings

  • 1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil, separated
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 dried red chili, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 c madeira wine
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1L (about 4 c) tomato puree
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. In a food processor, pulse the onion, carrot and celery together into small pieces.
  2. Add 2 tbs of oil to a large pot and heat over medium-high heat. Transfer onion, carrot and celery mixture to the pot. Add 1/4 tsp of salt, stir and sauté for about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, add 1/3 of the mushrooms to the food processor and pulse coarsely. Add another 1/3 of the mushrooms to the chopped mushrooms and pulse again. Add the last 1/3 and pulse until roughly chopped. The first batch will be almost pureed and the last should be mostly large pieces.
  4. Transfer the mushrooms to the pot and add 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Stir and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates.
  5. Add the remaining tbs of oil, the garlic, chili, marjoram and thyme, and stir. Cook for 3 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and sugar, stir and cook for 2 more minutes.
  7. Add the madeira wine and red wine vinegar and stir. Cook for one minute to allow some of the alcohol in the wine to cook off.
  8. Add the pureed tomatoes and the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.
  9. To serve, ladle some sauce over cooked linguine or parpadelle and mix to coat the noodles well. Serve pasta onto individual plates and add a little sauce to the top of each. Drizzle with olive oil and/or shaved parmesan, if desired.
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Favorite Lentil Soup

Lentils are an established “superfood” and lucky for us, a general favorite in our household for soups, daal (and salads for the adult crew). I started making this lentil soup, adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, when Ava was a toddler. I remember pureeing batches for Talia when she started eating solid foods, and she couldn’t get enough. It was the perfect way to include her into our family dinners without making separate “baby food.” Yes, that kid has an awesome palette and appetite but she’s turned into quite a carnivore as she’s getting older (loves nothing more than salami and cheese for breakfast, perhaps with a small cracker to appease Mom and Dad who are constantly striving for balance). So its exciting for me that she’ll still eat this simple, vegetarian soup with gusto.

 

Preparation

Serves 4-6 + leftovers

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/3 cup finely diced carrot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup French, brown, or beluga lentils (I prefer a mix)
  • 2-3 handfuls of chopped greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.)
  • 1 cup of cooked penne or fusilli (optional) or 2 cups of smaller pasta (shells, orecchiette or other)

 

 

Heat olive oil in a soup pot, add onion and saute until it softens, about 5 minutes. In the meantime, pound garlic in a mortar with 1 tsp of salt until it become a paste. Add tomato paste to the onions and work until they come together.

Add garlic paste, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and parsley, then cook for about 3 minutes.

 

 

Add the lentils, 2 quarts of water, 1 additional teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer partially covered until the lentils are tender. This takes 30-40 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, add the greens and let them wilt in the soup – spinach should take just a minute or two, chard and kale about 10, to soften. Toss in the pasta if using.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese – or mix in a couple teaspoons of soft chevre as Ava loves to do. It melts into the soup and adds a lovely dimension of flavor.Crusty bread and gruyere are also a favorite addition.

SLOW COOKER PREPARATION: Follow instructions above for sauteing the vegetables, etc. Once they are cooked in a regular pan on the stove, transfer to the slow cooker, add lentils and 7 cups of water. Cook on high setting for 3-3.5 hours.

NOTE: This soup freezes nicely and tastes better a few hours after it is cooked.

 

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White Bean and Greens Stew (What To Do with Beans, Greens and Grains?)

My kids love pinto and black beans, but have been reluctant to expand their repertoire beyond the Mexican food frame. But in the spirit of introducing foods many times over before giving up, I decided to try out a simple version of white bean stew, featuring kale and served over quinoa that happened to already be cooked and ready to go in the fridge.

Preparation (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Here’s the basic approach, and like most of my recipes, feel free to improvise with what you have on hand (suggestions will be offered):

Steam kale (or chard) until leaves are wilted but still bright green. If using spinach for this recipe, skip this step and add it directly to the stew.

Saute chopped carrots, onion, celery (+/- ½ cup of each, shallots OK to substitute for onions) and garlic (2-3 cloves). As an aside, I find that chopping carrots in preparation for cooking is a nice excuse to offer my little ones a carrot stick. Warm up about 2 cups cooked of white beans with some water and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme – about 15 minutes or so.


Once your flavor base (above) is soft but not brown, add about ¼-½ cup of dry white wine, bring to boil and lower heat to reduce the liquid by about ¾ and the alcohol smell disappears – you’ll be left with a sauce.

At this point, you are ready to add the beans. In this recipe, cannelloni works perfectly and is easy to find canned. Though I would encourage folks to consider making beans in bulk from scratch, given recent emerging concerns about the bisphenol-A that is found in the lining of canned foods.

Add 1-1.5 cups of chicken broth, bring the entire stew to a boil and simmer with the herbs (rosemary/thyme + 1-2 bay leaves) for 15 minutes. Add kale/chard/spinach and cook for 5 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over a cooked grain of your choice (rice, quinoa, farro, barley, etc) and top with a fried egg or as is. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar for a dash of extra richness and flavor.

If there are leftovers, add more broth or water to turn the stew into a delicious soup!

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Stone Soup

The classic folk tale “Stone Soup” was a favorite of my daughter’s when she was a preschooler. We read that book endlessly, yet neither of us grew tired of the story, with its wise messages of cooperation and community through the lens of sharing food.

So imagine how excited Ava was when her after-school “Cooking in the Garden” teachers decided to make “stone soup” one cool Monday afternoon in October! At pick up time, she couldn’t stop raving about how delicious the soup was, how healthy, how she loved it DESPITE the (judicious) addition of canned tomatoes (not a favorite), and how thrilling it was to share some with me. “Stone soup” was the topic of conversation all evening long and could not be laid to rest until I promised to make some at home. So we did. As luck would have it, the soup fit all of our respective criteria for a successful dinner: the girls loved how “good” it tasted and emphasized that making it was “fun!” The soup became a veritable rainbow of vegetables – that holy grail of healthy kid cooking. Add a side of bread and cheese, and you’ve got yourself an easy weekday meal.

“Stone Soup”  (Adapted from “Cooking in the Garden” after-school class, Grattan Elementary School)

Preparation

Dice carrots, celery and onion and saute this mirepoix with olive oil in a soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes.

Rough chop a variety of vegetables* and add to the base.

Add a bit more olive oil for flavor, a bay leaf if you desire, about 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, a dash of pepper and enough water or broth to cover all of the vegetables plus an inch. Bring to a boil then reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add ½ cup of chopped, canned tomatoes (or more/less to taste) and any quick-cooking vegetables like spinach and mushrooms toward the end of cooking. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This is the perfect soup to empty out the miscellaneous vegetables floating around in your crisper drawer or pantry. All you need is 1-2 of each, with the emphasis on variety and color. Suggested options include but are definitely not limited too: purple/red/white new potatoes; sweet potatoes; rutabagas; parsnips; kale; yellow/red/orange beets; corn; spinach;

(I originally posted this on my friend Simran’s excellent blog, A Little Yumminess)