Cooking by the Book

There are some dishes I can just count on. I know that Aunt Bev will be serving Brussels sprouts with leeks at her Thanksgiving in a few weeks. I know my mother-in-law will be rolling out chocolate peanut butter balls for the annual Carroll Christmas party. And I know that my mother will be serving red lentil stew this Shabbat.

Let me explain this last one, because, well, it needs a little explaining: The Torah is divided into 54 portions, and every week, in synagogues around the world, we read the weekly portion, or parsha. Right now we’re in the Book of Genesis, and this week’s parsha, Toldot, tells the story of the twins Jacob and Esau. More specifically, we’ll be reading about the sneaky trade Jacob made with his brother, Esau the Hunter: a bowl of red lentil stew for Esau’s birthright. It’s a really great story, in a really terrific book of Torah, so my mom always serves a red lentil stew in honor of the portion.

(If this sort of thing interests you, definitely check out my friend Elisha’s blog where she cooks up dishes inspired by the weekly portion. Red lentil stew is just the beginning for her. Think agua fresca for last week’s parsha where some matchmaking is done by a well, or squash lattice baskets for the parsha where baby Moses is sent down the Nile. Just great stuff.)

I’ve been meaning to post a red lentil stew for this week for three years running, and to make sure it would happen in time for you to cook it for Shabbat this year, I actually took photos of this dish when I made it last winter, when Rich’s friend Brian came for Shabbat dinner. The soup was great, and aren’t those flowers that Brian brought me amazing?

This soup is a Mollie Katzen recipe, so you know it’s a good one. Although the dried fruit might sound a little odd, it’s really wonderful.

Lentil Soup with a Hint of Fruit Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

Preparation time: 45 minutes (10 minutes of work)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups red or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 cups water (maybe more)
2 cups minced onion
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup minced dried apricots
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
3 to 4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or, to taste)
Black pepper and cayenne to taste

OPTIONAL GARNISHES:
Extra slivers of dried apricot
A drizzle of yogurt
A sprig or two of cilantro or parsley

Directions

Place the lentils and water in a soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the onion, cumin, and mustard, and continue to simmer, covered, until the lentils are very soft (about 15 more minutes). Add small amounts of additional water, if it seems too thick.

Add the garlic, apricots, and salt, cover, and let sit for another 15 minutes or so. Stir in the vinegar, black pepper, and cayenne to taste (and correct the salt too, if necessary). At this point the soup will keep for several days.

Heat gently just before serving, and serve hot, topped with a few slivers of dried apricot, a drizzle of yogurt, and a sprig of cilantro or parsley, if desired.

 

Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

Choppin’ Broccoli

Darn it, shoulda used extra-firm tofu.

I think Rich and I broke a holiday party record yesterday: four parties in nine hours. And the food. Oh boy, the food. Highlights include warm ricotta dip, fig and caramelized onions on parmasean tarts, Swedish meatballs, homemade marshmallows, roasted Brussels sprouts, two separate brie en croutes –all warm and melty with caramelized onions and cranberries spilling from underneath their puff pastry shells — a divine cheese platter and rich chocolate ganache cookies. I also drank some wonderful homemade merlot and was introduced to a fresh cranberry and vodka drink that needs further exploration.

So it’s no surprise that Rich and I woke up this morning still pretty full, and a little, just a little bit, grossed out by how much food we ate yesterday. So tonight I turned to my favorite dish I cook up when I think we need to hit pause on our holiday eating.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu Cookbook. I’ve found her original recipe to be too vinegary and lacking in soy sauce, so over time I have rejiggered it. She also calls for water chestnuts, which I never seem to have on hand, although last time I made this, I tossed in a can of baby corn. The dried black mushrooms are a pantry staple, thanks to Ocean State Job Lot. Tonight I added a block of medium firm tofu, although looking through the photos, should have been extra firm. Nonetheless, it still tasted great. The red chili flakes give it a good kick, so if you think it’s going to be too spicy for you, just use less than a teaspoon. Rich loves the extra kick and even adds Siracha sauce to his.

Broccoli and Black Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce

Adapted from Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Preparation time: 40 to 45 minutes (The actual stir-frying, once all prelimanaries are ready, takes only about 10 minutes.)

Yield: 4 main-dish-sized servings

Helpful hint: Put your rice on as you start to collect the ingredients, and it will be warm, ready and fluffy when the dish is done.

6 Chinese dried black mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

1/4 cup rice vinegar (cider vinegar will also work in a pinch)

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized cloves garlic, coarsely minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut or sesame oil

1 bunch broccoli (1 to 1 1/2 lbs.) stems trimmed and shaved, cut in 2-inch spears

salt, to taste

1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and sliced, OR 1 can baby corn, OR 1 package extra firm tofu — the choices are really endless, and entirely up to you

1) Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add boiling water, cover with a plate, and let stand at least 1/2 hour (preferably a whole hour). Drain the mushrooms, squeezing out all excess liquid. (You may wish to reserve the soaking water for soup stock.) Remove and discard mushroom stems, and slice the caps in half.

2) Combine the vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt, garlic and red pepper in a bowl.

3) Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add some of the sauce, whisk until dissolved, then return this mixture to the rest of the sauce. Leave the whisk in there; you’ll need it again.

4) Have all ingredients ready and within arm’s reach before starting the stir-fry. Place a medium-large wok over high heat for about a minute or two. Then add the oil. After about a minute, add the broccoli. Salt it lightly, and stir-fry for several minutes over consistently high heat, until the broccoli is bright grean.

5) Add the black mushrooms and water chestnuts, or tofu or baby corn, and stir-fry a few minutes more.

6) Whisk the sauce from the bottom of the bowl to re-integrate the cornstarch. Pour the sauce into the wok, turn the heat down just a little and keep stir-frying over the medium-high heat for another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats everything nicely. Serve immediately, over rice.

I Dream of Eggplant.

I think I was frying eggplant in my dream, but curry will do nicely.

Last night I dreamed about eggplant. When I do remember my dreams, I like to check the online dream dictionaries so I don’t spend my morning thinking things like, “What on earth does a bicycle (or an eggplant) appearing in my dream mean?” For some inexplicable reason, none of my go-to dream interpretation websites offered an answer. Eggs, yes. Plants, yes. But no eggplant. (OK, I’m not really shocked there isn’t an interpretation for dreaming about eggplant, but I can’t be the only one! Can I?) My own interpretation of my night of nightshade leans towards me falling asleep while trying to figure out what to do with the eggplant sitting in my fridge right now. Eggplants are .79/lb. at Russo’s this week. Cook that up with some rice or quinoa on the side, we’re all set for dinner and some lunches, too.

I’m on the fence about salting, which is said to prevent a prickly bitterness on the tongue. I used to be fanatical about it, but I didn’t the last two times I cooked eggplant, and I thought it was fine. Nonetheless, this is how I prepare my eggplant for salting: First I peel it, then slice the eggplant into fourths. I put it on a baking pan and sprinkle it with kosher salt. I wait about 20 minutes, and in the meanwhile, do things like chop up onion and get out my spices. After 20 minutes, I return to my eggplant, which now looks like it has spent the last 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym as the salt has sweated out a lot of the bitterness to the top of its flesh. This has also made my vegetable less watery and less able to soak up oil. Some people suggest running the eggplant under the faucet to get the salt off. I lean towards wiping it down with a wet paper towel. Now your eggplant is good to go.

Schvitzing Eggplant

I’m a little embarrassed that my first recipe for my blog is a curry. I feel like I am being lazy somehow. Copping out: Oh, a vegetarian blog featuring a curry? What’s next, chickpeas and sprouts? But the truth of the matter is, this is my go-to recipe when I have an eggplant and just can’t think straight anymore.

Eggplant Curry
Adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen’s Classic Cooking)

If you’re new to this whole veggie thing, and would like a good starting off point, I cannot say enough good things about Moosewood. Seriously, if you were to own just one vegetarian cookbook, this is the one. Every few years the publishers do some sort of update, making the rich-in-dairy dishes a little more heart friendly, but any edition of the book would be an excellent addition to your cookbook shelf.

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
(Put up rice when you begin)

2 to 3 Tbs butter and/or peanut oil

1 Tbs mustard seed

2 Tbs. sesame seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 1/2 to 2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne (possibly more depending on your tolerance/preference)

2 medium eggplants (7 to 8 inches long; 4-inch diameter at roundest point), cut into 1-inch cubes

water, as needed

1 cup frozen peas

optional: 1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, minced

1) Heat butter or oil over medium heat in a very large, deep skillet.  Add seeds, and saute until they begin to pop (About 5 minutes)

2) Add onion, salt, turmeric and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent (12-15 minutes)

I’ve noticed that the pan gets very dry at this point, so I often find myself adding a little more oil so my seeds and onion don’t burn.

3) Add eggplant and salt. Cook, stirring from the bottom regularly, for 15 to 20 minutes — until the eggplant is soft. You might need to add a little water if the mixture is too dry. Cover the pan between stirrings.

4) About 25 minutes in, the eggplant should have lost all will to behave like eggplant. It should be really mushy. At this point, stir in the frozen peas. Give it another 7 minutes or so, so that the peas cook up with the curry.

5) Serve the curry over rice, and top with fresh cilantro.