Cocktails for a Cold Winter’s Eve

2 Jan

ImageI’ve never been much of a bartender aside from basics like gin and tonic or a Bloody Mary that has way more horseradish than any normal person would want but the resurgence of the cocktail culture has motivated me to give it a try. While some of the cocktails at our local bars seem more like the random experiments of a hipster mad scientist or an excuse to use as many unfamiliar words in a sentence as humanly possible, I do appreciate the creativity of many of them. I also really appreciate the fact that I can easily find something that leans more toward bitter or smoky than sweet. I cannot stand sugary drinks. In college, one of our favorite bars gave away free toys, such a plastic lizard on a keychain that would stick out its tongue when you squeezed its belly, but only with its signature tiki drinks. I spent more time than was healthy convincing the bartenders to make exceptions for my gin and tonics or scotch and sodas so I could add to my collection of useless junk without suffering the indignity of fruit juice mingling with my liquor. I’ve recently had a couple of cocktails that I felt I could reasonably approximate at home, without going to the extreme of creating a shrub, bitters, tincture or anything else that sounds like it’s better enjoyed when produced by someone else. The first was a twist on a French 75 that I had at Bar Cesar in Oakland. They call their drink a Holiday Sparkler and it was a tart and refreshing mix of gin, pomegranate juice, creme de cassis, lemon and cava. The second was a drink called Fire in the Orchard, which is actually something my husband and mom got at Husk in Charleston, SC but something I wished I’d ordered. I don’t quite remember what went in it but it involved apple and something brown and smoky. Both of these drinks involve fruit juice, which usually is banned from my cocktails, but they bear no resemblance to a Cosmo, Screwdriver or anything in the punch domain so I’ve made a happy exception. The third drink I’ve added to my repertoire is a hot toddy. I started drinking a version of the hot toddy when we lived in Cyprus. A friend of our swore that raki, mixed with lemon juice, honey and hot water was the best cure for a cold. I’m not sure how medicinal it was but it tasted better than Nyquil and had pretty much the same effect.

The Shana Tova (my take on the Holiday Sparkler)

I’m calling this the Shana Tova because Holiday Sparkler is an inane and frou-frou name for a delicious drink (sorry Cesar). Shana Tova is Hebrew for “Happy New Year” and is the traditional greeting for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Pomegranates are also traditional for Rosh Hashanah–it’s said that there are as many seeds in a pomegranate as their are mitzvot (commandments). Although I made this for the regular New Year, it would be just as appropriate for Rosh Hashanah and would probably make services a lot more fun.

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 oz. creme de cassis
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Cava, champagne or sparkling wine

Mix the gin, pomegranate juice, creme de cassis and lemon in a flute and top with cava or sparkling wine.

Oaktown Apple Juice

This is my attempt to recreate the flavors of the Fire in the Orchard cocktail I stole sips of in Charleston. It’s probably nowhere close but it’s pretty damn tasty and looks good in one of our neglected brandy snifters (a spur of the moment wedding registry add and inhabitant of the back corner of our kitchen cabinet).

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. smoky Scotch (such as Laphroaig)
  • 1 oz. applejack or Calvados
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Dash bitters
  • 3 oz. chilled apple juice or cider

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and stir, then strain into a brandy snifter or glass of your choice (I’m not too picky about these things). Or just be lazy and mix it all in the glass–I promise it’ll still be good.

Temescal Toddy

Hot toddies are usually made with honey but after we ran out, I tried one with maple syrup. This is equally as good with honey though. Hot toddies are perfect on a chilly evening, when you have a cold, or on New Year’s morning when you want to chase away the cobwebs but still achieve all-important hydration.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 oz. bourbon (you could also use another type of whisky or brandy)
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 8 oz. hot water

Mix the bourbon, maple syrup and lemon in a glass or a mug, add your hot water and stir.

 

 

 

 

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Date Night In: Sweet Potato, Blue Cheese and Tatsoi Pizza

12 Nov

It was Saturday night. We were hungry, having missed lunch, and in the mood for a special dinner. Monday through Friday mean pasta, salad, a quick stir-fry—the weekend calls for something a bit more, something that can take a little longer without resulting in a midnight dinner (great for vacation in Spain, not so great for the American workweek).

The meal had two stipulations: it had to be made at home, using primarily things we already had in the house, and it had to involve blue cheese. The first stipulation was a result of an overextended restaurant budget mainly but not entirely due to our recent trip to Charleston, and the second was a result of an impending expiration date. One should never let good cheese go to waste.

Our arsenal included the aforementioned blue cheese, a small bag of baby sweet potatoes and two bunches of tatsoi. All of them were at the “use it or lose it” stage.  I had first tried tatsoi, an Asian green similar to spinach, the week prior in Charleston. When I saw it at the farmers’ market two days after our return, the veggie nerd in me had to have it. The tatsoi’s original destination was a stir-fry, but somehow tatsoi and sweet potato stir-fry with a blue cheese sauce did not sound entirely appetizing, even if I could try to pass it off as French-Asian fusion.

Having finally purchased a pizza stone and realizing that yes, it really does make a better crust, we decided on pizza. We could slice the sweet potatoes paper thin using the mandolin we’ve been afraid to un-sheath, caramelize some onions, sauté the tatsoi and finish it all off with crumbled blue cheese. We bought a bag of whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe’s to save time and I grabbed some rosemary to round it out. Mission nearly accomplished. We had only two things standing in our way: 1) could we use the mandolin without a trip to the emergency room and 2) does tatsoi go with sweet potatoes and blue cheese? It seemed like it would but having only tried it once, I really had no idea.

The mandolin was a bit tricky with baby sweet potatoes but Ben managed it well with no blood and only a bit of cursing. I stood on the sidelines offering helpful hints gleaned from the instruction pamphlet and within a few minutes, our sweet potato slices were roasting in the oven with a bit of olive oil and fresh rosemary. As for the tatsoi, I decided to go with leaves only and saved the stems for a future stir-fry. I sautéed up some garlic chips first and after setting them aside, I added a bit more oil to the pan, toasted some chilli flakes and tossed in the tatsoi leaves for a brief wilt.   We started the pizza with just some olive oil, rosemary and sea salt to get a nice, crisp crust and then added the toppings for the second half of cooking. In addition to the greens, roasted sweet potatoes and cheese, we included caramelized red onions for additional sweetness and depth of flavor. This also helped to balance out the strong blue cheese.

In the end, the mission was accomplished. We wound up with a sweet, savory and incredibly flavorful pie—definitely worthy of a Saturday night.  Sweet potatoes, tatsoi and blue cheese do indeed go together and the mandolin was worth the effort. Keeping the slices super thin helped keep the pizza light and also cut down on roasting time. If you don’t have a mandolin, just slice the sweet potatoes as thinly as possible and keep them in the oven a bit longer if needed.  Can’t find tatsoi? Try another green like spinach, chard, or kale.  Hate blue cheese? Fontina would probably be great or just go with mozzarella. When it comes to a kitchen-sink pizza, the possibilities are endless.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag pre-made pizza dough (we used the whole wheat dough from Trader Joes—you could also make your own)
  • 4-5 baby sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced paper thin
  • Few sprigs rosemary, minced
  • Few cloves garlic, cut into thick slices
  • ½ large red onion, sliced into rings (you could also use yellow onion or shallots)
  • 2 bunches tatsoi, leaves only, roughly chopped (save the stems for something else)
  • Chili flakes
  •  ½ wedge blue cheese, crumbled (we used a Point Reyes blue)
  •  Olive oil
  •  Salt & pepper

Directions

  1. Toss the sweet potatoes with some olive oil and rosemary and roast at about 400 degrees until browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Pull out of the oven and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Set potatoes aside and turn heat up to 450. Put your pizza stone in to heat up.
  3. Saute the red onion in olive oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely soft and brown; set aside.
  4. Heat some olive oil on medium-high heat and briefly sauté the garlic chips until just lightly golden—do not let them brown past this point. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside.
  5. Add a bit more oil to the pan and add chili flake to taste (I added a healthy sprinkle). Toast for about 30 seconds and add the tatsoi.
  6. Cook just long enough to let the tatsoi wilt—this will be less than a minute. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  7. Roll out your dough and place onto a pizza pan, sprinkled with a bit of cornmeal. Lightly coat the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and rosemary.
  8. Cook the pizza about 10 minutes until it’s lightly golden and then pull out to add the toppings.
  9. Add the sweet potatoes, onions, tatsoi, garlic and blue cheese and put the pizza back in the oven for another seven minutes or so until the pizza is fully golden and the cheese has melted.

Kale Two Ways

22 Oct

Is kale the new spinach? Can kale cure all of your health woes, give you the strength of Superman (or Wonder Woman) and paint your house, all at the same time? Will drinking a kale smoothie every morning rid your body of toxins and send you on the path to greater enlightenment? According to the latest foodie news, all of this is possible though I caution against kale smoothies or any drink bearing resemblance to the slime that floats up from the bottom of lakes to ensnare unsuspecting swimmers’ feet. If you’re feeling sluggish in the morning and need a vegetable boost in your beverage, a Bloody Mary is a far better idea. I promise that enlightenment will be yours. However, if you find yourself staring at a bunch of kale and a) wondering if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be and b) if there’s a way to prepare kale that doesn’t involve your blender or a wheat grass supplement, the answer is yes, and put the blender down and/or walk away from the juice bar. Besides being packed full of nutrients, kale is delicious and like most leafy greens, versatile and easy to prepare. It’s also filling and unlike greens like chard and spinach, does not cook down to nothingness in a matter of moments. Kale is always a go-to for me and with the (admittedly slow in the Bay Area) advent of fall, it’s been showing up on my table even more. Kale is abundant in cooler months and it’s rich flavor and slightly chewy texture make it an excellent partner for other fall flavors, such as apples.

Here are two easy recipes I created this month. The first was my inaugural attempt at a brown rice risotto. The end result was delicious though I will probably keep tinkering with the recipe to find the easiest path to the right risotto texture. The second is a super quick salad–perfect after a long day when you don’t feel like making an effort in the kitchen but are trying to resist the lure of takeout. Usually I let kale salads marinate in an acidic dressing for an hour or so to soften up the leaves but if you have a nice tender bunch of kale (as we did) you can skip that step.

Kale and Apple Brown Rice Risotto

This risotto was definitely a bit chewier than when I’ve used white arborio rice but it still had the creamy texture you’d expect. In addition to being healthier (and less coma-inducing), the nutty flavor of the brown rice paired well with the fall flavors. We happened to have cashew cream in the house from a vegan soup experiment but you could always replace it with butter.

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale, cut into ribbons (I used dinosaur kale)

1 box (or 4 cups) light vegetable broth (such as Imagine’s No-Chicken Broth) heated
1 cup short-grain brown rice
1 big apple, cubed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c shredded Gruyere
1 onion, minced
1/3 c nut cream (I used cashew–could do butter instead)
Few sprigs thyme
1/3 c walnuts, chopped and toasted
1/3 c dry white wine
2 tbsp olive oil (more as needed)
Walnut oil and chives, to garnish
Preparation:
1) Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-low heat
2) Add the onion and saute until it’s softened and translucent
3) Season with salt and pepper
4) Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, being careful not to let the garlic burn
5) Add the rice and the time and stir to coat with the onion, garlic and oil
6) Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine evaporates
7) Add about half the hot broth, in increments, stirring constantly and letting each addition of broth be incorporated before you add the next
8) Midway through this process, add the kale, cover the pot and let the kale wilt; this will take about 5 minutes
9) Add the remaining broth, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes or until rice is tender
10) Five minutes before the rice is done, add the cubed apple
11) When the rice is done, add the nut cream (or butter) and cheese, cover and let the mixture sit off the heat for 3 minutes
12) Add the nuts and stir to incorporate and season with salt and pepper as needed
13) Serve, garnishing each portion with a drizzle of walnut oil and a sprinkling of chives
Kale, Apple and Trout Salad
Salad Ingredients:
1 bunch kale, cut into ribbons
2 treviso radicchio, cut into strips
1 crisp, tart apple (such as Granny Smith), cubed
1 filet smoked trout, flaked
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut into quarters
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped
Dressing Ingredients:
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp mustard
1-2 tbsp champagne vinegar (any wine or sherry vinegar would work)
Mix of olive and walnut oil, to taste (I prefer a dressing heavier on acid than oil)
Salt and pepper
Preparation:
1) Toss the kale and radicchio together and dress with 2/3 of the dressing
2) Let the salad sit about 30 minutes, if possible
3) Add the apples, walnuts and trout and toss with the remaining dressing, reserving a bit to drizzle on top
4) Plate the salad and top with the quartered eggs, drizzle with the reserved dressing and garnish with freshly ground pepper

Turnips Part Deux: This Time It’s Delicious

17 Jun

It’s odd, yet also fitting, that a turnip would awake me from my blogging slumber. The last time I posted, I triumphantly shared a tale of conquering the wild turnip, pureeing it into a healthy and tasty soup. But I wasn’t convinced. The color was a bit too brown and the taste was good but not “I can’t wait to make this again” good. Mainly I was happy to 1) have the turnips out of the house and 2) have created something that was farther toward the palatable side of the scale than the garbage disposal side.  When turnips made another appearance in our CSA (community supported agriculture) box, I, perhaps subconsciously, nudged them toward the back of the fridge. Turnips are hearty; there was no need to deal with them right away. Two weeks passed and another box arrived on our doorstep, brimming with vegetable surprises. And turnips. More turnips. Now I had five plump turnips staring me in the face, daring me to let them go bad. I spent the next few days brainstorming.  Soup seemed like the best option.  Soup is a forgiving canvas. There’s always something you can do–add a new flavor, add some water, add a topping–to recover from a misstep.   Once I had decided upon soup, my mind wandered east. My last turnip soup, while flavorful, just wasn’t that exciting.  It needed something to pump it up, something that would turn my turnip ambivalence to turnip appreciation.  After considering Indian curry and Thai curry, I continued east until I landed in Japan.  Turnips can have a sweet, delicate flavor and Japanese food is also delicately flavored.  It seemed like a good match. Plus, I could use miso and bonito to add a savory counterbalance and keep the soup firmly out of the sweet zone that root vegetables can often move into.  Finally, it gave me something to do with the small bag of fava beans we also received in the box–not enough to use as the main component in a dish but perfect to inhabit a wasabi puree garnish.

The result? A tasty turnip soup that I would happily make again.  Unlike the past two years, it seems that we’ll actually have a real summer so I don’t know when I’ll see turnips again. But when they come, I’ll be ready.

Turnip Miso Soup with Wasabi Puree

Broth
8 c light vegetable broth (you can use a box but look for one that’s lighter, more in the vein of a chicken stock)
1/3 heaping cup white miso
Handful bonito
Fish sauce to taste

Soup
Broth
5 turnips, peeled and cubed
1 small head cauliflower, cut into small chunks
Thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
One white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp canola oil
3/4 c silken tofu
Few tablespoons mirin
2 tsp rice vinegar
Additional fish sauce to taste
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Wasabi Puree
1/2 c shelled fava beans
1 tsp canola oil
1 spring onion
3 cloves garlic
Water
Few tablespoons silken tofu
Dash rice wine vinegar
Big squeeze wasabi paste (I used the prepared wasabi in the tube; you could also mix your own from powder)

Chives and sesame oil to garnish
Make the Broth
1) Bring broth to boil
2) Add bonito
3) Turn off heat and steep 5 min and then strain
4) Mix miso with bit of water and add to broth
5) Add few dashes of fish sauce to taste and season with fresh pepper (add salt as well if you think it needs it, though fish sauce is quite salty)
6) Set broth aside

Make the Soup
1) Sauté ginger, garlic and onion in 1 tbsp canola oil til softened
2) Add cubed turnips and chopped cauliflower
3) Season with salt and pepper
4) Add broth, bring to boil
5) Lower to simmer and let cook 30 min
6) Take the soup off the heat and let it cool a bit, then puree it in a blender with the silken tofu
7) Put back in pot, season with mirin, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, salt and pepper

Make the Wasabi Puree
1) Sauté garlic and onion in 1 tsp canola oil
2) When softened, add the shelled fava beans and stir to coat
3)Add a bit of water, cover and simmer 10 min
4) Uncover and simmer 10 more min; add more water if needed
5) Take off heat and purée with wasabi, tofu and dash rice wine vinegar
6) Season with salt and pepper

Top soup with dollops of fava bean purée, chives and bit of sesame oil

Note: Fava beans only show up in the spring so you could try something else for the puree in other season. I think avocado would be good as long as you add some liquid so it’s thin enough–if you wind up with a guacamole-like texture, it will sink to the bottom of your soup.

The Tale of Too Many Turnips

3 Jan

It’s the last night of our three-day New Year’s weekend and we decided earlier this afternoon that wanted to cook something fun–something that would allow us to hang around the kitchen, drinking wine (or even better yet, leftover champagne) and listening to Underground Garage on Sirius, all while purporting to be productive. The fridge was overflowing so I was sure there would be something exciting within. What I found was a lot of turnips. Three bunches to be exact–turnips that had survived our last CSA box and turnips that showed up in our latest shipment on Friday. The husband loves turnips and was excited by this turn of events. I don’t dislike turnips but I wasn’t nearly as intrigued as I would have been by a hidden stash of wild mushrooms or even a big bunch of kale (crazy, I know). We also had a bunch of potatoes (russet potatoes, small yellow-fleshed potatoes and red potatoes) courtesy of both our CSA box and overzealous Chanukah shopping, some giant leeks (CSA) and a plethora of yellow onions (again, Chanukah shopping). The answer to our turnip bounty or predicament, depending on who you asked, seemed to be soup. The onions would provide a good balance to the sweetness of the turnips and the potatoes, some heft and creaminess, helped along by some goat milk. The goat milk appeared as the result of a dinner party bread pudding and also needed a home. We would have way too much soup for two people but the leftovers could sustain us through a long week of being attached to our desks. And the best thing about soup is that it’s extremely conducive to drinking leftover champagne, half of bottle of which happened to be in the fridge, nestled alongside the turnips. Here’s what resulted from our holiday soup-venture:

Four Onion and Turnip Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 cups mixed leeks, shallots and yellow onions, diced
  • 3 heaping cups peeled and cubed turnips
  • 3 heaping cups cubed yellow-fleshed potatoes (we didn’t peel ours but you may want to for a more appealing soup color)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (add more broth and/or water if needed)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup milk (I used goat)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 small bunches green onions, chopped
  • 1 handful of fennel fronds, chopped
  1. Heat the butter and oil in a soup pot over low to medium heat until the butter starts to foam
  2. Add the mixed onions, shallots and leeks and cook, stirring often, until the onion mix is softened but not browned
  3. Season the onion mix and then add the turnips and potatoes, stirring to coat them with the onions, olive oil and butter
  4. Cook the veggie mix for about 5 minutes and then add the broth and the wine
  5. Bring the soup to boil and then turn down to a simmer
  6. Cook the soup until the vegetables are soft and you can easily squish a potato on the side of the pot with your spoon (this will take about 30-45 minutes, depending on how young and tender your veggies are)
  7. Using a blender, puree the soup with the milk (if you have an immersion blender you can do this right in the pot–just be sure to take it off the heat first)
  8. Return the soup to the pot if you’ve used a blender and season to taste; reheat gently if necessary
  9. Heat the additional two teaspoons of olive oil (extra virgin is preferable) in a small saucepan
  10. Add the green onions and fennel fronds and saute just until they soften, then season to taste
  11. Serve the soup topped with the green onion/fennel garnish

p.s. If you’re feeling ambitious and/or too lazy to go to the store (as in my case), try making this easy oat and herb bread to go along with your soup. It comes from my first-ever and still-beloved vegetarian cookbook, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, and it’s yummy, healthy (especially if you sub in whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour) and pretty much impossible to screw up.

Herb Oat Bread from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures

  • 1 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup unbleached flour (I replaced this with whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (I used 1/4 cup unbleached flour–you could probably use all whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/8 teaspoon crumbed dried rosemary
  • Note: I had various fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, basil) leftover from holiday cooking so I used about a handful of minced fresh herbs instead
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/4 cups plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F; butter and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan (I used parchment paper instead)
  2. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and grind until almost powdery; pour into a large bowl and mix in the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and herbs
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the oil and honey and heat until just blended; remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt and beaten eggs
  4. Pour in the flour mixture and stir until just evenly moistened (do not over-beat); scrape into the prepared pan
  5. Bake 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean (if the top of the bread begins to darken before it finishes cooking, lay a sheet of foil over the top of the pan and bake until done)
  6. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes before removing from the pan; cool completely before slicing

Heirloom Tomatoes Get a Kick from Curry

25 Jul

A few weeks ago, heirloom tomatoes appeared in our Friday “Farm Fresh to You” veggie box. Usually this would be a happy surprise but given that it was the middle of June and I had yet to see tomatoes make an appearance at the farmer’s market, I was a bit suspicious.  While I love tomatoes, out-of-season tomatoes join peas and zucchini at the top of my produce sh**t list.  Yes, I realize that peas are beloved the world over and zucchini, according to many, many restaurants is beloved by every vegetarian ever to turn their nose up at a steak, but they both make me extremely unhappy. This is also the case with out-of-season tomatoes. Their mealy texture and bland flavor have ruined many a salad and bruschetta.  The tomatoes in question, red-orange with stripes, appeared fat and juicy and when I cut into them, they didn’t appear as if a vampire had sucked the red life out of them.  After some consideration, I decided that while I wasn’t ready to spring for some fancy mozzarella and do my first caprese salad of the season, I would give them a shot in a fresh tomato soup. And just in case the flavor was lacking, I’d be ready with some spice to save the day.

I have to give it to the farm–the tomatoes were good. And they played quite nicely in the pot with some ginger, chilies, curry powder and red lentils.  The result was a fast, easy, healthy and yummy dinner–probably one of my favorite things I’ve made this summer.

 

Curried Heirloom Tomato Soup

8 medium tomatoes, preferably heirloom (mine were red, orangey, stripey ones), peeled and chopped, juices reserved
1 large sweet onion (or yellow or white), chopped
1 large (2″ x 2″) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Thai chili, seeds removed and finely chopped
Few cloves garlic, minced
Small handful cilantro stems, minced
1 c red lentils
4 c light veggie broth or water
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp canola oil
1 heaping tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
Pinch asafetida (optional)
Fresh cilantro, minced

1) In a food processor, blitz onion, ginger, garlic, chili and cilantro stems until minced, almost a paste.

2) Heat 1 tbsp canola oil over med high and add onion mixture, cooking about 10 minutes.

3) Add tomatoes with their juices and lentils, stir to coat with the onion mixture and cook one minute.

4) Add broth and curry powder, bring to boil.

5) After the soup comes to boil, turn down to simmer and cook, partly covered, for about 20 minutes or until lentils are soft.

6) Make the spice oil: heat 1 tbsp canola oil in skillet. When hot, add mustard seeds, fenugreek and asafetida and heat until mustard seeds begin to pop, taking care not to burn the spices. Add to soup and take off the heat.

7) Garnish each bowl with minced cilantro and serve.

p.s. I didn’t have any yogurt, but that could make a nice garnish as well.

Corn Salad a la Rue Chifflet

10 Jul

Fourteen years ago, I spent my junior year abroad at the Universite de Franche Comte, in Besancon, France. While my year in Besancon lacked the wonder of my post-freshman year summer in Paris–where every turn around a corner produced another postcard moment of some monument or some cafe scene that I’d ogled in history books and travel magazines–it gave me a glimpse into everyday life in France. That was the year that I fell in love with the idea of visiting a city, any city, and just wandering, taking the time to get to know its random neighborhoods and absorb its vibe.  Travel can be shallow, ticking off famous sites on the checklist and at the end, winding up with a bunch of photos of old buildings, churches and columns that you can no longer identify (Europe has  A LOT of Roman ruins). Immersion means that you may return home wishing you’d had the time to visit X, Y, Z but that you also come back with memories that focus more on the essence of a place than of its transportation system.

One way my friends and immersed ourselves in the local life was by hosting dinners. When we weren’t terrorizing the poor neighbors with our loud parties, we would explore the local markets–the green grocer downstairs, the boulangerie next door, the corner market with its ample supply of affordable and drinkable Cotes du Rhone–and then cram into my tiny kitchen and create a delicious mess.

Between classes or on days following dinner parties or parties of the sort that terrorized the aforementioned neighbors, cooking was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted something quick, cheap, easy and healthy. Usually, that involved some combination of corn, mustard, tuna and chickpeas. Besancon is about 45 minutes from Dijon, home of the famous mustard. Our grocery store featured a giant wall of mustard and I quickly fell in love with it, the stronger, the better. For some reason–perhaps a French thing or perhaps a broke college student thing–I also ate a lot of canned corn.  Corn, mixed with mustard and some red wine vinegar, became a go-to lunch. Sometimes tuna joined the party and if I was getting fancy, some onion and tomato would go in as well.

This week, we got three fat ears of corn in our CSA (community supported agriculture) box. That, combined with the presence of a shiny new jar of strong French Dijon in my refrigerator led to a strong craving for my corn and mustard concoction from my days on Rue Chifflet. Here’s my interpretation, classed up a bit for an adult audience:

Corn Salad a La Rue Chifflet (influenced by Oakland)

Dressing:

1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 small bunch chives, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Note: I realize this is a lot more acid than oil. I prefer it that way as I like strong flavors but you could decrease the mustard, vinegar and/or lemon or increase the olive oil if you prefer a milder dressing.

Salad:

3 big ears corn, boiled 5 min, kernels removed
1/3 c Vidalia or red onion, blanched a couple of minutes if you want to take the bite out, and diced
9 oz cherry, grape or strawberry tomatoes, halved if cherry or grape, quartered if strawberry
1 can tuna packed in olive oil (I recommend you spring for a good quality tuna if possible)
1 ball fresh mozzarella, diced
1 handful fresh basil, cut in ribbons

To serve:

4- 5 c baby argula, dressed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper
1) Mix the dressing ingredients in a large bowl, starting with the acidic ingredients (mustard, vinegar, lemon) and seasonings, then adding the chives, and finally drizzling in the olive oil.

2) Prepare the salad ingredients and toss all but the basil with the dressing. Refrigerate for an hour, if time allows, to let the flavors blend. If you don’t have time, it will still be good eaten straight away.

3) About 15 minutes before serving, add the basil. If you add it too early, the basil will wilt.

4) To serve, toss the arugula with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Mound the arugula on a plate and top with the tuna and corn salad.

This is  great with some crusty bread–baguette or otherwise–and a glass of white wine.