This is a great side dish for potlucks when you want to offer a healthier option than the usual chips and dip. Without the optional goat cheese it even qualifies as vegan (though if your friends are as carnivorous as mine I wouldn’t recommend announcing that as you arrive at the potluck). It holds up really well in the fridge for leftovers the following day or two, which helps make up for the fact that with all the cooking and cooling it does require plenty of plan-ahead time and multiple pots and pans.
If you want to serve this as a one-dish meal add diced avocado (sticking with the plant-centric theme) or diced chicken. But if you’re expecting leftovers, serve the avocado on the side rather than mixing it in.
A word about salads like this that count on layers of flavor. It can be tempting to count on the combination of ingredients and dressing to make the dish work, while being a little sloppy with the preparation of each element. But this dish will really sing only if each part of it can stand on its own. Remember to include salt in the cooking – bland lentils or quinoa will be the fastest way to turn all your work into a disappointment.
Potluck Grain Salad
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup millet, cooked and cooled
1/3 cup french green lentils, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup wild rice, cooked and cooled
1 sweet potato, diced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1 handful nuts – pine nuts or almonds
fruity clear vinaigrette**
crumbled goat cheese (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Cook the quinoa, millet, lentils and wild rice according to package instructions. Be sure to cook with a pinch of salt. Drain and cool.*
Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato. Toss with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on baking sheet and roast until tender. Cool.
Spread the nuts in a skillet and place in oven. Toast until golden. Cool.
Chop the scallions, including white and green parts. Chop the parsley.
Combine the quinoa, millet, lentils, wild rice, sweet potato, nuts, scallions and parsley. Add dressing, salt and pepper to taste to taste. Top with goat cheese if using.
*If you are pressed for time, spread on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for quicker cooling.
**I like to dress salads like this with a vinaigrette made with white balsamic. The color of regular dark balsamic will detract from the looks of this dish.
I have a few general ‘food rules’ I try to follow, things I’ve found are pretty much guaranteed to make me feel healthy. One of those rules is to eat legumes in some form every day. I came to rely on legumes first because I found they were so good at helping to keep my blood sugar (and therefore my energy and mood) steady. But I don’t complain that they are also cheap, store easily, take spices and flavors beautifully, and introduce me to cuisines from all over the world.
I feel well-prepared for any week if it starts with some sort of lentil soup as well as a container of homemade hummus in the fridge.
This recipe is adapted from Meera Sodha’s Made in India. I actually started off making it by the book. I was weirdly proud of myself for pulling out the measuring spoons. Until I realized I wanted more spices (there’s a life motto – more spice!) and I would be swapping the dairy milk for coconut milk anyway. So who am I kidding – Following a recipe is just not for me.
Improvisation aside, this recipe is not about spontaneity. You have to soak the beans, boil the beans, and simmer the dal. Plan to start the actual cooking 2 1/2 hours or so before you want to eat, though most of the time is unattended. Or do as I often do with long-simmering dishes. Get the pot on the stove, make something else for dinner, and by the time you’ve eaten and cleaned up, tomorrow night’s dinner* will be finished. Love cooking or not, most of us just don’t have time to do it every night!
Black Lentil Dal
7 ounces urad dal(black lentils) 4 tablespoons butter, divided 1 onion, diced 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped 5 cloves of garlic, crushed 3 tablespoons of tomato paste 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon chili powder 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds 3/4 cup coconut milk
The night before you are to make the dish, soak the lentils. Rinse the lentils well and place in a large bowl. Cover with water and soak overnight or up to 24 hours.
Rinse and drain the soaked lentils and put in deep pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Leave at a low boil for 45 minutes, skimming the water as necessary.
While the lentils are boiling, put 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the diced onions. Cook them slowly for 15 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook a further 5 minutes or longer, being careful not to burn. Add the tomato paste, salt, chili powder, cardamom, and cumin. Stir and remove from heat.
When the lentils have boiled, drain off most of the water, leaving just enough to cover. Add the tomato and onion mixture. Add the coconut milk. After bringing to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 and a half hours. Add more coconut milk if necessary to keep the lentils from boiling too dry.
Adjust the salt and spices to your taste. Add 1 tablespoon butter just before serving and stir.
*Try freezing the dal as well. I can’t promise success since I haven’t had a chance to defrost and eat mine yet, but I find lentil dishes freeze very well.
When it comes to either/or questions I try to remember first to question the question. Why should I choose one or the other? Form or function? Yes please. Republican or Democrat? No thank you. Healthy or tasty? Of course.
Hummus is the proof you don’t have to choose. Tasty enough to make an afternoon break with vegetables something to look forward to and packed with protein and fiber, hummus fills both sides of the equation with flair. Flexible enough to dress up with any number of spices or flavors, it’s also incredibly cheap to make and freezes so well that the slight inconvenience of planning ahead to soak the beans is more than made up in the ease of making and storing a large batch. Though if you are in a hurry, hummus made with canned beans still out-performs the store-bought stuff any day.
Hummus to me is bound up with a memory of making batch after batch in a sunny kitchen with only a mini food processor while my roommates and friends sat around the table eating it with lime chips and laughing. At the time I improvised my hummus recipe but for some reason was intimidated to use anything other than canned beans. Since then I have been converted to using dried beans and experimented with different techniques and flavors, throwing in dill or paprika, using freshly toasted and ground cumin, sometimes roasting my garlic. I even tried peeling the chickpeas (Yes, peeling the chickpeas gave me a lovely creamy hummus. No, it was absolutely not worth the hassle). There is always homemade hummus in the freezer.
When my friends ask for my hummus recipe I want to tell them to just look at the ingredients list and pull out their food processor – it’s that easy to figure out. But if you would like to have more specific guidance, check out these two recipes. You can’t go wrong.
I was recently accused of having perhaps too many kitchen tools. I’m not sure whether or how to defend myself. Ok, ok, I have way too many bread-rising baskets for someone who hasn’t made a loaf of bread in at least a year. But when it comes down to it I think it’s awfully hard to have too many spatulas, or colanders for that matter. The right tool for the job always makes the job twice as fast and twice as fun. That’s a fundamental rule for life, not just the kitchen.
I’ve been eating a little more tofu lately. I love the way it takes in flavors. And that it cooks up so quickly to a filling meal. I do a version of this bun vermicelli bowl with tofu because it’s amazingly tasty and lends itself to prepping ingredients ahead for the week. Tofu recipes tell you to press it so I thought I was doing right by my tofu by giving it a squeeze between a couple of tea towels. Then I ran across the concept of a tofu press and realized I’ve been neglecting my tofu prep.
So yes, enter yet another tool for my overstuffed tiny kitchen. And it’s elevated my tofu from a convenient like to look-forward to love. Well-pressed tofu is toothsome and fries up with a nice crunch even faster that half-heartedly pressed tofu.
Tonight’s dinner was a quick tofu fry with lots of vegetables drizzled with the panang curry from a Thai restaurant doggie bag. It was lovely and filling and the kind of meal that makes you feel well-nourished. And since the tofu was waiting in its press in the fridge the meal took all of 15 minutes start to finish. That makes the tofu press a tool that has earned its place.
Saturday night and the fancy grocery stores with helpful butchers have closed. I’m standing in front of the pork section trying to remember the various cuts and what they are good for. I want something that won’t be too expensive and will enjoy a good long slow cook. I don’t need much – I’m looking for flavor rather than substance. I’ve just about resigned myself to buying the smallest shoulder I can find, cutting off what I need and freezing the rest, in what spot in my jam-packed freezer I couldn’t say. Then my eyes land on a pork neck. Intriguing. Cheap. I’ve never cooked with a pork neck but I think it will do the job just nicely.
This recipe was inspired by a tin of Smoky Paprika Chipotle Seasoning I picked up on impulse a couple weeks ago. I try to avoid spice mixes. It’s more useful to have the separate ingredients and blend my own as needed, but lately I’m a sucker for anything chipotle. And paprika. So there it is.
A word about the cumin and coriander. You can skip the toasting and grinding by hand. That’s the joy of being able to buy the pre-ground. But if you can spare a few minutes, that moment you inhale the scent of the freshly ground and toasted spices will remind you why you cook instead of buying frozen dinners. Incomparable. The freshest jar of pre-ground spices can’t offer you that.
This is a simple soup. Hearty and filling and subtle on the spices. Top with a dollop of plain yogurt and a squeeze of lime. (There are few dishes that can’t do with a dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lime.)
Chipotle Bean & Pork Soup
3/4 lb black beans, soaked overnight and drained 1/4 lb navy beans, soaked overnight and drained 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds 1/2 lb pork neck 1 Tablespoon olive oil 1 can diced tomatoes 1 onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced 1 tablespoon smoky paprika chipotle seasoning* 1 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 tablespoon salt
In a small skillet (cast iron is best for this), toast the cumin and coriander until fragrant. Remove from heat and crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet. Brown the pork neck on all sides. Place pork in the slow cooker. Add freshly ground spices and the rest of the ingredients, adding more stock if needed to cover everything. Turn the slow cooker to high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for four to five more hours, until the beans and pork are tender. Add salt to taste.
*A blend of chipotle chili powder, paprika, garlic, sea salt, sugar and smoke flavoring.
When I lived in Lithuania cabbage rolls were frequently on the menu. The filling was meaty, the cabbage tender and sweet and the sauce was just sharp enough to pull the whole dish together.
I haven’t figured out the secret to cabbage in my own kitchen. It never quite gets to that tender and sweet stage. So it’s never made it into my repertoire. Still, just about any time I get the urge to diversify my vegetables, a head of cabbage makes it into the vegetable drawer. Figuring my tenderness issue might be fixed with my new slow cooker, I recently tried Southern Slow Cooker Choucroute from Food52.
I’ll give it a solid B. Part of the lack was that I couldn’t find the right sausages. I think next time I’ll cook the cabbage longer. And I think I’ll add more apple.
In the meantime, I’ll try to get to my favorite German restaurant. They don’t have cabbage rolls but they do have craveable sauerkraut.
(I may have to add a new tagline to my blog – this was not the recipe I intended to make)
This week’s menu plan revolved around a couple of sweet potatoes I picked up a little while ago that I need to eat. Sadly, by Monday evening the plan was already knocked off schedule and my slow cooked sweet potato and black bean burritos did not happen. I came to Tuesday evening with a need for a quick finish sweet potato recipe. Clearly an off-plan improvisation was needed.
I remembered the scant handful of sage picked from a friend’s neighbor’s sharing garden (she plants herbs along the sidewalk and encourages those passing by to help themselves.) It’s been sitting on my counter and drying nicely and is very aromatic. And a couple of pieces of pancetta were left in my fridge. What all that added up to was a quick little sweet potato dish that cooked nicely while my chicken was grilling.
Sweet Potato with Sage and Pancetta
Though my meals are usually made for one, I rarely cook without creating intentional leftovers. This was an exception – a single serving dish. Mostly because though I think the julienne peeler is more convenient than julienne with a knife (at least at this whisper thin size) I still don’t enjoy using it. So I prepped enough sweet potato for one and no more. You can easily scale this up for a couple or family size.
1 slice pancetta, diced A few leaves of fresh or dried sage, to taste 1 quarter small sweet potato 1 Tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper to taste
Over medium heat, cook the pancetta til it begins to become translucent. Add sage and stir. Continue cooking until the sage is aromatic. Add olive oil and sweet potato. Cook until the sweet potato is tender.
Vegetables and I are not exactly soulmates. When I’m hungry I don’t instinctively long for broccoli or any of its cousins. I have to plan, set goals*, and regularly remind myself of how good I feel after I eat the vegetables. Let’s not even start on how undeservedly virtuous I feel when I’ve added a healthy dose of greens to my post-workout smoothie. Oh yes, I pat myself heartily on the back when I act like an adult and actually eat my veggies.
In my world, one of the best tricks to get me to perform this grown-up responsibility (aside from adding bacon or butter) is to make it convenient. Enter the leafy green purée.
My grocery stores give the option of buying spinach or kale in clamshells or plastic bags or in super large bunches. Even if the produce in the clamshells or plastic bags didn’t smell faintly of death upon opening, all of the options are too much greenery for one person to eat before things start to wither. So I purée and freeze them in mini silicone muffin cups. They take up hardly any space in my freezer, I’m no longer feeling guilty about wasted wilted produce, and they conveniently sit right next to the frozen bananas also intended for a smoothie. A couple of mini muffin’s worth of greens is plenty to earn me a vegetable pat on the back for the day.
This doesn’t exactly rate as a recipe, but it is one of my favorite kitchen tricks. Stay tuned for a soup recipe that makes use of the frozen greens.
Leafy Green Purée
1 bunch Spinach or Kale Enough water to purée A splash of lemon or lime juice
Combine all ingredients in your food processor or blender. Process until as smooth as you like. Pour into cups. Freeze. Once frozen, I prefer to remove the purée from the cups and store them loosely in a Ziploc bag.
Alternatively, throw a can of coconut milk in with or instead of the water.
*Currently, my vegetable goal is at least one daily serving of leafy greens, at least one daily serving of a red or orange vegetable, and at least one daily serving of legumes. And yes, it takes painful amounts of self-control to meet this goal.
This was supposed to be soup. This was supposed to be soup because it’s November and there is a chill in the air and I love soup and so of course I was going to come home from church and make a big pot of something to simmer. Because a big pot of something simmering on a chilly Sunday afternoon is just about the best thing in the world.
Also, I just bought some new smoked paprika. And this soup was supposed to be all about an excuse to use the paprika. A smoky paprika-flavored soup simmering for an hour or two on my stove to celebrate (yes, celebrate!) the cold weather. Hibernation food.
Then I got to the moment when I needed to add my chicken stock and the intense scent of bacon and onions and paprika hit my nose and cried out to remain undiluted and I realized I was using canned beans so there is no need to simmer for hours. So I thought – stewed beans!
If you’d prefer soup, increase the chicken stock by a cup. Toss in some chopped greens for a more nutritionally complete one pot meal.
Beans with Paprika & Parmesan
Serves: 3 or 4
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil 1 1/2 slices bacon 1 Onion 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika 2 Carrots 1 15 1/2 ounce can of Navy Beans, rinsed and drained 1/2 cup Chicken Stock piece of Parmesan Rind* Salt and Pepper to taste
In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil. Meanwhile, dice the bacon and onion. Sauté the bacon until the fat starts to render. Add the onion. Dice your carrots.
When the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, add the paprika. Stir and heat through – about a minute. Add the diced carrots, beans, chicken stock and parmesan rind. Simmer until the carrots are tender, adding liquid if needed.
Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Be careful of over salting. Between the bacon and the parmesan and the canned beans, you may already have plenty of saltiness.
Remove the parmesan rind. Serve.
*if you don’t have a parmesan rind, simply throw in a piece of parmesan or even some of the grated stuff
My Brazilian uncle goes by Eric, Eurico or Rico, depending on who is shouting. He has a larger than life personality (hence the shouting). And this is his signature dish. I first remember having it the morning of the day he officially joined the family by marrying my Aunt Joan. The table in their house was full of food for people to nosh on but the thing my cousins (who grew up down the street) were excited to eat was this tuna. We ate it on perfectly toasted English muffins generously spread with butter and I immediately understood why my cousins had been clamoring for it.
Ever since that day this tuna has been a mainstay in my diet. I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or afternoon snacks. I tweaked the ingredients and proportions a bit – I don’t think Uncle Eurico uses dill by the handful.
My college roommates called it orange tuna for the color the carrots gave it. When I lived overseas I ate it on soft subway style rolls with plain salty potato chips on top. For a while I ate it in a pita with shredded lettuce, a kosher dill pickle and sliced olives. Sometimes I swap the pita out for a flour tortilla, fresh spinach and a little mustard. And on days when I feel sluggish and overindulged a spoonful of this alongside some edamame drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar let me get my energy back so all is right with the world.
Tuna Salad with Carrots and Dill*
Yield: 4 or 5 servings
2 Carrots, shredded (this is the time to use the smallest holes on your box shredder) 9 oz Tuna (preferably oil packed) 3 Scallions, minced 2 Eggs, boiled and chopped 1 Tablespoon Dried Dill, or more to taste Salt and Pepper to taste 2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
Combine carrots, tuna, scallions, and eggs and dill. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and enough mayonnaise hold it together.
*There is no magic proportion on these ingredients. Measuring, in this case, is strictly forbidden. Taste as you go and all will be well.