Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Word About Lentils

Lentils are native to SW Asia and are in the legume family. The lentils that we eat are actually the seeds of the fruit pods. Lentils are widely used in both Greek kitchens and Indian kitchens and commonly also called dhals. Lentils have a high protein content so are commonly used in vegetarian cooking. They are most often used in soups and stews. Lentils (and beans in general) are relatively inexpensive and easy to cook, hence they are a good staple to always have on hand at home.

There are several different types of lentils. If you are looking for a lentil that will cook down and almost disappear (great as a thickener), use red or yellow. For lentils that will hold their shape, use brown or green.

Unlike most other beans, lentils are generally cooked while the dish is made instead of pre-soaking and boiling in advance.

Lentil Sauce Over Pasta

This is a meal that can easily be cooked for lunch or dinner. It is not only kid-friendly, but hearty enough for company (not to mention just plain healthy!). If you don’t have fresh tomatoes on hand, you can substitute 2 lbs of canned tomatoes (whatever you have – crushed, whole, stewed, etc.). If you have some leeks or jicama, you can dice and toss in with the carrots.

I usually double this recipe. If you make it right after breakfast, it will be ready in plenty of time for lunch.

2 T extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, diced (this adds great color to the dish)
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced (or 2 T garlic powder)
10 large tomatoes, chopped
1-1/2 C water, separated
1-1/2 C green or brown lentils
1 t sea salt
1 t black pepper
1 lb uncooked pasta (not spaghetti or angel hair)
¼ C Parmesan cheese, grated

In a 2 qt. pot, heat the EVOO over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook until soft, but not yet browned. Add the carrots and garlic and cook about 10 or 15 more minutes, or until the onions and carrots are lightly browned.

Increase heat and add ½ C tomatoes and 1 C water. Make sure to use a spatula to stir in the caramelization that may be stuck to the bottom of the pot (for this reason you should NOT use a non-stick pot). Cook until the water is boiling.

Add the lentils, rest of the tomatoes, and ½ C water. Bring back to a boil, cover and reduce heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the lentils are tender. DO NOT ADD the salt until the lentils are soft as this may slow down (or even stop) the softening process. Allow up to 1 hour for this process (the older the lentils are, the longer they take). Remove the lid and cook to desired thickness.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pasta according to the directions and drain. Serve individual portions of pasta and ladle the lentils over the top. Sprinkle the grated cheese over each portion.

Timesaving Notes:

From time to time I will cook some pasta al dente, drain, then freeze it. When I want to use it I just pop it in a pot of boiling water for about 60 seconds and it is ready to go.

You may wish to cook the lentils in advance and then warm to serve. If you do this you may need to add a bit more water so it doesn’t become paste-like.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Indonesian Yellow Rice

This recipe is similar to what Indonesians call “Nasi Kuning

3 C basmati rice, uncooked
2 T turmeric powder
2 Coconut milk – fresh is great but you may have to settle for canned
3 cups water
1 bayleaf
2 kaffir lime leaves (this can easily be found in Asian markets)
1 T fresh lemongrass, crushed or 2 T dried
1 teaspoon sea salt

Put all ingredients in a heavy pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally until the rice is done (about 20 - 25 minutes). If it seems too dry, add 1/2 cup water. Remove from heat and let sit, covered for 5 minutes. Stir well and put in serving dish.

Remove bayleaf and Kaffir lime leaves before serving.


If you have a rice cooker, put in all ingredients, and cook as per instructions (usually 20 – 25 minutes). Check at the end of the cooking time – you may need to add another 5 minutes or so as basmati rice sometimes takes longer to cook. If it seems too dry at the end of the cooking time, immediately add another ½ C water, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

Spicy Hummus

I really enjoy eating hummus. For those of you who don't know what it is and think it might be something strange, just think of it as a type of bean dip (now that sounds normal, right?)

I make many combinations (usually depends on what I have in the house at any given time). This is a spicy version (but not hot pepper type spicy).

2 C garbanzo beans (chickpeas), canned or prepared dried
2 T cashews, soaked in water overnight
2 T sesame tahini
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/4 C lemon juice
1 t black pepper
1 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t fennel seed
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
3 T water

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until it tastes smooth (it looks smooth before it tastes smooth). If mixture appears to be too thick, add 1 teaspoon water at a time until the desired consistency is obtained.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Spiced Nuts (not sweet)

Here are a couple different recipes I use for spiced nuts. The preparation instructions are the same for both ingredient lists and you can choose to use EITHER the microwave instructions or the oven instructions.

I am allergic to almonds so I usually use pecans or walnuts, but you are free to use whatever whole nuts (or pecan/walnut halves) you wish.

Nuts that would work well include pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, and almonds. The nuts should be stored in an airtight container after they have cooled.

Ingredient list #1:

1/2 C butter
4 C nuts
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T soy sauce
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t garlic powder

Ingredient list #2:

1/2 C butter
4 C nuts
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t chili powder
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper

Oven (my preferred method):

Preheat the oven to 300°. If you are unsure of the accuracy of your oven temperature, it is better to err on the side of a lower temperature than a higher temperature. You want the nuts toasted, but not too browned.

In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan, melt the butter and stir in the Worcestershire Sauce and then the nuts until well-coated. Bake the nut mixture until it is toasted, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven and sprinkle the mixture evenly with the dry ingredients. Toss until well mixed


In a 2-quart microwave safe dish (make sure it isn't too wide for your microwave), melt the butter and stir in nuts. Mix well and microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce, and stir well to coat. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the nuts and stir again.

Note: Because microwaves have different power levels, make sure that you are keeping an eye on the mixture. If your microwave is a high-powered one, you may wish to lower the temp to a lower power setting. You don't want your spiced nuts to be overcooked (or even burned).

After nuts have cooled:

Store in a tightly sealed container. I usually put a folded paper towel in the bottom to absorb any extra butter.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Homemade Baking Powder

Baking powder is an essential ingredient for many recipes but, unfortunately, most brands contain sodium aluminum sulfate. This is a quick and easy way to make your own aluminum-free baking powder.

1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon corn starch (optional, but recommended if you are going to store it)

Combine the ingredients well.

Yield: One tablespoon of baking powder.

To store baking powder: Add a teaspoon of corn starch to the mixture, and stir. This will absorb any moisture from the air, and prevent the baking powder from reacting before you need it. Store in an air-tight container.

Crockpot Taco Pasta Soup (Meat-free)

12/7/2008: Whoops - I forgot to add the pasta to the ingredient list! Recipe updated and comment added at end of recipe.

Crockpots are an awesome invention. When we have traveled out of town, I take one along to make meals in the hotel room (although you do need to choose meals that don't require sautéing, precooking of anything, or browning of meat).

This is a quick and easy (not to mention delicious) meal.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
3 C vegetable broth (can substitute beef broth)
2 C canned or prepared black beans
3 C tomatoes, diced (with liquid)
1 box (13 - 16 oz) pasta, uncooked
1/4 C vinegar
2 C water
1-1/2 C sweet corn kernels
2 T jalapeño peppers (remove seeds for less heat)
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 T cilantro (optional)
2 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
1/2 C cheddar cheese, grated
sour cream (optional)

Sauté onions and garlic in oil . Combine all ingredients except cheese and sour cream. Cook on low 2-3 hours, or until pasta is cooked.

Serve in bowls, top with sprinkling of cheese, and add a dollop of sour cream.

Upate: 12/7/2008. One caution is that if you don't have a family big enough to eat it at one sitting you may have a problem with overcooked pasta. A modification to avoid this is to cook the pasta separately in the 4 C of the liquids (your choice) and add 1 cup of either broth or water to the total liquid. When draining the pasta, save the drained liquid and add to the soup. Serve the soup over the cooked pasta.