Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eat: Kale and Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary sent me a recipe for kale and lentil soup. She said she was surprised at how much she liked it and encouraged me to give it a whirl. I figured if someone enjoyed a dish enough to email me the recipe, it was probably worth my time. I figured correctly. The combination of spices gives this soup a smokey, savory flavor which can be heightened by adding merguez, a spiced North African sausage. Detailed below are multiple ways to modify this recipe to suit your tastes. I stayed fairly consistent with the original recipe from Feast , only substituting a pinch of Cajun spice blend and cayenne pepper in place of paprika.

This recipe also held the appeal of a new ingredient to try: kale. I had never even eaten kale before, much less cooked with it. Kale is a form of cabbage available at most grocers. It has full curly leaves and can be either purple or deep green in color. Kale is a great source of several different vitamins and minerals. It even contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, chemicals that have strong anti-cancer properties. You have probably encountered kale far more than you realize since it is also used to garnish just about every buffet in existence.

TIME: 1 hour and fifteen minutes
YIELDS: 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons of oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3-5 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
1 cup of lentils
5 cups of broth
½ teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of Cajun spice blend
dash of cayenne pepper
1 bunch of kale, chopped
1 tablespoon of red curry
salt and pepper, to taste

Once all of your ingredients are prepared (get ready for lots of chopping!), heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and cook a few minutes or until translucent.

Next add the garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook an additional minute or two.

Add the lentils, broth, cumin, Cajun spice blend, cayenne pepper, kale, and curry. Stir, cover, and and cook on medium/low heat for twenty minutes.

After twenty minutes, stir the soup and season it with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional fifteen to twenty minutes, until the soup begins to thicken and the lentils are tender. If adding meat, do so during this second session of cooking.

Tip: you will likely need to add some extra water to keep the soup from getting too thick. ½-1 cup should suffice. Also, be careful not to overcook the lentils as they may begin to disintegrate.

Serve garnished with reserved celery leaves or curried yogurt (if desired, see below).


Add ½ lb of chopped merguez or ham (Mary’s suggestion) to the soup near the end of cooking time.

Top with curried yogurt – ¼ cup of plain yogurt mixed with red curry, to taste.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eat: Delicious Veggie Curry

Recently, my husband and I hosted a dinner party with exclusively vegetarian guests. Such ingredient limitations presented a good opportunity to try out a vegetable-based dish. What’s more, I knew that these particular friends were all culinarily open-minded and would enjoy something a bit more exotic. The final result was this week’s recipe, Vegetable Curry. In Western cultures, “curry” tends to be used as a general term for dishes hailing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, or other Southeast Asian areas. A wide range of spices can be used in algorithmic ways to create an array of flavors. This particular recipe features turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and yellow curry powder. I think this recipe is a great introductory dish for those who are tepid about curries since the flavor is full but not overpowering. It also has a nice cilantro-yogurt sauce that is a cinch to make and offers a cool creaminess to the meal.

I suppose I should mention that I have historically been quick to identify myself as a carnivore. However, I have gradually been drawn to more and more vegetable-based dishes. If my veggie pursuits continue to turn out as fantastic as this one did, I may find myself roaming the produce section more often.

TIME: 30 minutes prep + 5-6 hours cooking
YIELDS: 6-8 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Vampire Weekend


½ cup of fat free plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons of dried cilantro (or ¼ cup fresh)
1 ½ teaspoons lime or lemon juice
1 of clove garlic, finely chopped
dash of salt
dash of freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerated until served.

Additional garnishes include raisins or sweet chutneys like mango or apricot.

Vegetable Curry…

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of yellow curry powder
½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium eggplant, cubed (1”)
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup sliced ( ¼“ ) baby-cut carrots
15oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 cups uncooked brown rice or couscous

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onion is translucent, add your garlic and cook a few more minutes while continuing to stir. Blend in the curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper. Stir the mixture over heat for an additional 30 seconds.

Note: be careful when handling turmeric as it can stain skin, clothing, and even countertops! Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way…

2. Coat a 3-quart slow cooker with butter, oil, or cooking spray. Combine all of the ingredients (including the onion mixture) in the slow cooker, leaving out the spinach and rice.

3. Cover and cook on low setting for 5 to 6 hours. Approximately 5 to 10 minutes before serving, add the spinach to the curry.

4. Prepare the rice or couscous per packaging directions. I made brown rice which took 40 minutes to cook. Stir the curry before serving over a place of rice or couscous; top with sauce.

This week’s recipe can be found on Betty Crocker’s wonderful website!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eat: (not your average) Pumpkin Soup

Earlier this week, after narrowing down my recipe choices, I called my husband to ask if he had a preference. The first option: spiced apple cake. The second option: pumpkin soup. Before I could even finish the sentence, Matthew eagerly declared “pumpkin soup!”. Thus began this culinary adventure. I was intrigued by this particular recipe because it includes several ingredients that I had never before seen in pumpkin or squash soup, like pureed black beans, balsamic vinegar, cumin, and shallots. Suffice it to say, this is not your grandmother’s pumpkin soup. What it lacks in appearance (dark brown instead of the soft orange I had imagined), it makes up for in rich and savory flavors. In the end, we both agreed (as did our dinner guests) that this soup does not actually taste like pumpkin at all. However, that does not mean that we didn’t like it. In fact, we loved it!

The original recipe, found in the November 1996 issue of Gourmet, uses Sherry and Sherry vinegar. Since I am not a fancy-pants lady, I did not happen to have either of these on hand. Fortunately, I found there are several alternatives. In place of Sherry, one can use dry white or red wine, vanilla extract (1 tsp for every 2 tbsp), apple cider vinegar, wine vinegars, or even citrus juice. I used apple cider vinegar but would only recommend it if you don’t mind the strong kick of vinegar. Should I make this again, I will try white wine instead. Similarly, in place of Sherry vinegar one can use red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or cider vinegar.

TIME: 1 hour
YIELDS: 9 cups
MY SOUNDTRACK: Steve Martin & the Rare Bird Alert

three 15oz. cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of diced tomatoes, drained
1 ¼ cups of chopped onion
½ cup minced shallot (or ¼ cup dried)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon & 2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ stick of unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
4 cups of beef or vegetable broth
16oz. can of pureed pumpkin (not pie filling!)
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Optional: ½ - 1 pound of cooked ham, diced

1. In a food processor, combine beans and tomatoes. Puree coarsely.

2. Heat a large (at least 6-quart) pot to medium heat. Stir together the butter, onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. I added the butter first and let it melt before putting in the other ingredients.

3. Once the onion has softened and begins to brown, stir in the bean-tomato blend. Next add the pumpkin, broth, and apple cider vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, for approximately 25 minutes. Stir the dish occasionally to avoid burning along the bottom of the pot. You can check its progress by dipping a spoon into the pot; the soup should get thick enough to coat the spoon.

4. Before serving, add the balsamic vinegar and ham (if desired) and cook until heated through. You may garnish the dish with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Eat: A tart that tastes as good as it looks

Get ready for something a little different. This week’s recipe for a Pear and Gorgonzola Tart had me feeling like a fancy housewife from the fifties--minus the pearls and A-line skirt. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I was wearing pajamas when I made this, but that is beside the point. The point is that this dish is downright beautiful and boasts a full, complex flavor. Named after an Italian village, gorgonzola is a fairly common cheese known for its green-blue coloration and sharp taste. “Fun” fact: the distinct kick of gorgonzola actually comes from the penicillin mold that is added to the otherwise creamy and subtle cheese. Feel free to share that tidbit at your next soirée to score major points with your highfaluting friends.

I found this recipe on a carton of cheese that I used for my (amazing) Fig & Pear Pizza. The recipe was swiftly cut from the packaging and secured via magnet to my refrigerator. It has been waiting there patiently until this week when I finally resolved to try it. Now, I recognize that there may be those who hesitate to try something with a strong cheese flavor but I encourage you to bake outside of your comfort zone with this particular recipe. It is worth noting that my husband isn't shy about his dislike of most cheeses, so as I labored I became mentally prepared to eat the entire tart alone. But after one bite, he was hooked! So go ahead, be adventurous and give this dish a try.

TIME: 15-20 minutes
YIELDS: 10-12 servings

2 tablespoons of butter
2-3 pears, cored, peeled, sliced lengthwise
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
4-5 oz. crumbled gorgonzola cheese, divided

approximately 24 graham crackers
6 tablespoons of butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. To prepare your crust, place the graham crackers in a plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, roll until finely crushed. This is easier to do in small batches. In medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press the mixture into a pie pan and bake for 8-10 minutes.

2. While the crust is baking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Add the pear slices and cook for 8-10 minutes. Occasionally turn the pear slices, checking for a light golden color.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and heavy whipping cream. I recommend first cutting the cream cheese into small pieces to make combining easier. Stir in half of the gorgonzola cheese, blending thoroughly.

4. Spoon small portions of the blend into the crust and spread evenly. The smaller portions you use, the easier it will be to spread. Otherwise you might break up the delicate crust.

5. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Arrange the pear slices in whatever pattern you choose. I fanned them in a circular fashion. Serve at room temperature and store in a refrigerator.