Kitchen Helper

“What’s your house like?” asked a little girl Lilli was on a playdate with. “It’s…messy. Really messy.” I’d actually found myself in a similar conversation with a rabbi I’m working with days before. There are always projects going on — not renovations, more like this morning’s empty milk carton is about to become a robot’s head. And used toilet paper and paper towel rolls are clearly supposed to be arms and legs of figurines waiting to be made. Empty pizza boxes are dragons’ mouths; close your eyes and you can practically already see their teeth.

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And then, of course, are the kitchen projects. Nowadays Lilli is always by my side, armed with a butter knife, ready to cut anything soft enough. Ripe stone fruit work. So do tomatoes and some cheeses. And then there is the veggie sausage she cut for the vegan jambalaya, made with the okra Lilli and I would hand pick at the farm each week. That sausage came from a Western Mass company called LightLife, which invited me to enjoy some of their vegan sausages and hot dogs this summer.

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They also sent us a cute little portable grill, with a case that doubles as a cooler; a very handsome set of grilling tools, and Sir Kensington condiments. Beatrix, as it turned out, is a Lightlife hot dog fanatic. She gobbles them up, then asks for more while smashing her hands to sign “more” to hammer home the message. I ended up sending cut up pieces of the fake dogs in her lunch box this summer.

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I can report that Rich grilled the hot dogs successfully on the tiny grill, though he felt slight ridiculous with his Weber kettle standing at the ready. But let’s talk about this jambalaya recipe I developed this summer and love making. It starts with New Orleans Holy Trinity flavor base of onions, green peppers and celery. I add a healthy dose of tomato paste, which I keep flattened in a plastic Zip Loc in the freezer, to bolster the flavor.

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Once the veggies are softened, I browned the sausage, then added the okra, a small can of tomato sauce, then stock or water. My personal choice is water and the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon. To keep things simple, I use a can of black beans, drained. And instead of rice, which is totally fine to use, I tend to reach for the 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. That really cuts down on the prep time, making this an easy weeknight dinner. Because there is always squash in the fridge, I’ll sometimes quarter one and add it to the pot when I add the okra.

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This makes an immense amount of food. It can serve four adults as a main, with leftovers for days. It also freezes well; I have some in the freezer now.

Vegan Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 package Lightlife sausages, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 fresh okra, chopped or 1 cup frozen

1 small yellow summer squash, quartered

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro or 1 cup brown rice

2 cups vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)

Salt

Directions:

In a very large, lidded skillet with sides, soften the pepper, onion and celery in the tomato paste. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Once softened, add the chopped sausage; brown it. Add the okra and summer squash; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, black beans, farro and stock. Stir and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

Cook the stew until the farro or brown rice has softened. If you’re using the Farro, check it in 15 minutes. If you’re using the brown rice, it will be closer to an hour.

Check to see if the farro has cooked. Serve.

This post was sponsored by Lightlife. Opinions are my own.

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Little Black Dress

My mother swears that the only thing I ate until the age of 12 was broccoli. Sylvie agrees, and a family friend once reminisced about my being in a high chair, too young to form full sentences, but making my points using fistfuls of broccoli. Well, Lilli is a bit like her mom in that regards. She is a broccoli fiend. It’s very cute to watch because she eats it upside down: She holds the floret in her fist and starts at the stalk. I keep on trying to explain to her that the stalk is the perfect handle, but she seems very set in her ways for now. Hey, she only learned her name about a month and a half ago. Baby steps.

Lilli and her broccoli

I’ve only served it to her roasted, which, in my humble, broccoli loving opinion, is the yummiest way to eat the vegetable. When you roast it, bits of the shrub brown and caramelize and taste almost candy-like. Sylvie was in Seattle last January, and something called blasted broccoli had become very chic in the city. That, and Macklemore. I kind of can’t believe I just wrote that there’s a hot new broccoli dish around, but I did. I poked around online and gave blasted broccoli a shot. It was good, but unnecessary. All you need is a sprinkling of kosher salt, some olive oil, and a hot, hot oven.

I mention my broccoli love well into the third year of writing this blog, because there is a farro and roasted broccoli salad that I make pretty constantly. For me, it’s a bit of a little black dress recipe: Something that’s totally reliable and always tastes good. It’s so the norm in my kitchen that I’ve never bothered to mention it, but, it’s been a weeknight staple in our house for a long time. Roasting broccoli takes about 20 minutes, which is how long it takes to cook the farro in my pressure cooker.

roasted broccoli and farro salad

When both are ready, I heat a pan with oil, add some minced garlic, break off about a tablespoon of tomato paste I keep on hand in the freezer, then add the farro and roasted broccoli and cook it all up for about five minutes. I’m not exactly sure where I came up with this method, but a few months back I was reading about the history of Israeli cous cous (extremely fascinating and worth the read) and I noticed that the tomato paste sauté is a popular way to serve the pasta in that country. I don’t remember learning that at any point, but perhaps it’s my Zionist leanings leading the inspiration.

Although I’ve read a few places online recently that you don’t have to soak your farro, I consistently do. I can’t risk having uncooked grains when we need to have dinner. I promise you, soaking grains is simple and not a big deal. Right before I go to bed, I pour a cup of farro into a bowl on my counter top, cover it with water, and walk away. That’s pretty much my go-to with all the grains and beans in my pantry. Except for lentils; those I know for certain don’t need any soaking. At some point, I’ll share a killer lentil soup recipe. Good freezer recipe, I might add. Speaking of freezers, farro, like most grains, freezes beautifully. I wouldn’t freeze this salad, but if you have extra farro in your fridge and worry you might not get to it, just pop it in the freezer. It defrosts like a dream.

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad

1 bunch roasted broccoli

Pinch of kosher salt

About a Tablespoon and a half of olive oil

1 cup dry farro

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Directions

Soak your farro the night before. See note above for more of an explanation why I insist on doing so.

Preheat oven to 400F.

When ready to cook, add the farro to your pressure cooker. Cover with water. I tend to add water until it’s a half an inch past the grain.– I always add a bit more water to the cooker than I might need to. I’d rather drain off water than scorch my pot. The farro will cook in 20 minutes once pressurized.

While the farro is roasting, clean your broccoli by giving it a good rinse, trimming the green leaves off the stalk, and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. I use my stalks too; just trim off the woody parts and it’ll be fine.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. I do this first, a. because my hands are about to get oily because of the broccoli toss and b. so I don’t have to give the pan a good scrubbing in my kitchen clean up.

In a large bowl toss the broccoli with the kosher salt and enough olive oil to coat. Dump the broccoli onto the foil-covered baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the broccoli roasts and the farro is cooking, mince up two garlic cloves.

When both are done cooking, and you’ve drained your farro in a colander in the sink, heat up a skillet with enough olive oil to coat the pan, and add the garlic and tomato paste. Because I always use frozen tomato paste, it really becomes a matter of melting the paste into the garlic and oil. Once the tomato paste has coated the garlic, add the farro and broccoli. The farro will turn an orangey hue. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Heat everything together so that it combines. This should take about five minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Last week I decided to add a little chile pepper to the tomato paste step. Good stuff if you have it on hand, but not necessary.

The L-Words

A few years ago, I bought three pounds of green lentils for about $3.50 at Arax Market, one of the Armenian shops on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. All of the markets on that block are wonderful resources for dirt cheap spices — think half a pound of saffron threads for under $5 — nuts, candies, baked goods and freshly prepared Middle Eastern specialties.

Not long after, I won my trusty pressure cooker as a door prize at a bridal event at Macy’s, and the lentils got set aside in the pantry as I explored the world of long-cooking beans: cranberry, black, kidney, Northern white, chickpeas and the like. So my lentils sat in the pantry, untouched for more than three years, until this past fall when I was scrambling for recipes to use up the pounds of leeks in my CSA box.

Leeks are a really great mild allium that can hang out in the fridge for a few weeks. But they can also be really filthy, and require a tad more prep than their round cousins. The ones I got in the CSA were some of the dirtiest I’d ever seen; I had to wipe down my counter several times prepping them. When cleaning a leek, the first thing to do is get rid of the tough exterior layers. Cut off some of the really tough dark green parts at the top as well, then slice the leeks in half lengthwise on your cutting board. Take the leek half to the sink and run water over it, running your fingers through each layer to remove hidden dirt. After this rinsing, you can slice them up for your recipe.

The recipe I have here is from Darra Goldstein’s The Vegetarian Hearth: Recipes and Reflections for the Cold Season. (Darra is the editor of the amazing food studies periodical Gastronomicaand the author of a number of great cookbooks.) It’s a great pantry dish, made of stuff you should just have around the house. Give the lentils a good rinse in a colander before you start cooking with them. You might have to cook them a little longer if they’re on the older side, but don’t worry; age does not affect its taste.

And here’s a tip for the tablespoon of tomato paste: You can buy a really great tube of tomato paste at high-end grocery stores. It comes with a screw top, so you can take what you want and put it away until the next time. It should cost less than $10. However, you can get a can of tomato paste for about .75 at any grocery store. To save the rest of the can, empty the contents into a plastic baggy, squish it flat and toss it in the freezer. The next time a recipe calls for tomato paste, just take the baggie out and break yourself off the correct amount.

I love this dish so much that my three pounds of lentils are just about down to two cups. We ate this all fall long and into the winter. I like to add Brussels sprouts, adding them right at the beginning, with the leeks and carrots. It’s not necessary, but it just tastes really great.

Lentils and Leeks The Vegetarian Hearthby Darra Goldstein

2 pounds leeks, well-rinsed and sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/4 cup olive oil

2 1/2 cups water

1 cup green lentils

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan toss the leek and carrot slices with the olive oil. Cook over medium heat for 8 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover the pan and simmer the mixture for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. To keep the leek slices intact, do not stir. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish, 2 to 4 as a main dish.