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Power Through It – Super Foods Salad

I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for the lapse in our posting, but it has been a long week and a half. Since we last posted Dustin and I have packed virtually every item in our little home into boxes. We have meticulously planned our move, transferred utilities, found adequate transportation, and recruited assistance from very kind friends, only to find that on our planned moving day our road will be closed virtually all day for Nashville’s Music City Marathon. We will not have access to our street, or to the alley behind it, and will not be able to park within a 4 block radius of our current dwelling. So much for meticulous planning. After spending Saturday morning panic stricken, I came up with a slightly nutty plan B that will put our now free morning to use by installing the raised beds we have planned for our very first home vegetable garden.

A few weeks back I spent several hours perusing the Burpee catalog for the best possible array of organic seeds that could be direct sown into the garden. Just before ordering Dustin and I ventured out to Whole Foods, where we discovered that our local store had its own great selection of seeds, with no shipping required. Our current design is for four – four by four foot raised beds, arranged according to the length of the growing season (some we are hoping to get two seasons out of – be reaping, tilling, and resewing in late august) and the amount of water needed to grow the crops. We are also planning a salad table, a shallow, portable, and lightweight raised bed that can be used for growing delicate salad greens and have high hopes to grow “trash can” sweet potatoes.

I never used to be much of a fan of sweet potatoes. In my mind, they were part of the “potato” category, which I dismissed entirely as bland and starchy. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, on a camping trip in Kentucky, that I finally realized how wrong I had been to eschew this brilliant tuber. The powers that be that bestowed the name on this veggie got one thing right, they are indeed sweet, its hard to fathom that so many recipes for sweet potatoes call for additions of sugar, maple, or even, gasp, marshmallows. When roasted for long periods of time these bright orange gems literally ooze with sugary sweetness that is entirely their own.

In this dish, which was sparked by a sweet potato and quinoa side dish on Sprouted Kitchen, I combine sweet roasted sweet potato nuggets with smoky paprika, earthy lentils, nutty quinoa, and a zingy jalapeno dressing. The strong flavor components of the dish are inspired by the traditional smoky, hot and sweet notes of good southern barbeque. From a nutritional perspective this dish has it all covered. The sweet potatoes provide an almost unsurpassed source of Vitamin C which is best activated when combined with a small amount of fat, which can be found in the olive oil in our zingy vinaigrette. The lentils provide a great source of folate, iron, fiber, and protein. The quinoa is yet another great punch of fiber in this dish and a nice nutty and almost creamy texture to the salad. And I cannot even begin to sing the praises of Kale, it provides and excellent source of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as dietary fiber and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. So don’t hesitate to dig in and enjoy this super healthy, super delicious salad.

Super Foods Salad

For the Salad Dressing
2 Jalapenos, Cut in Half (Seeds In)
3/4 C Chopped Cilantro
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
Zest (Minced) and Juice of 2 Limes
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Quinoa
1 Lg Onion, Diced
1/2 TSP Ground Corriander
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 C Water

For the Sweet Potatoes
2-3 Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes (1.5-2 lbs) Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 TSP Smoked Hot Paprika
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
Olive Oil to Lightly Coat

For the Lentils
3/4 C. de Puy or Beluga Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
1 TSP Kosher Salt

1 Bunch of Kale Roughly Chopped

To make the Salad Dressing – preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rub the jalapenos lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast on a foil lined sheet pan for 15 mins, or until softened and slightly browned. Once roasted, place on a cutting board and allow to cool before mincing the jalapenos. Place the minced peppers in a small bowl along with the other dressing ingredients and mix well to combine, set aside.

To make the sweet potatoes toss the potato cubes with the spices and add just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Placed on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, turning the potatoes over at least once during the roasting process.

While the potatoes roast make the quinoa. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a saute pan, add onion and sautee until softened and beginning to brown, add quinoa and spices and stir, allow spices and grains to toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes before adding the water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 mins, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To cook the lentils, place lentils in a sauce pan and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Add bay leaves and salt and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender (be careful not to over cook them as they will turn to mush.) As soon as the lentils are cooked, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water (or shock in an ice water bath) until the lentils are just cooled (this will stop the cooking) allow to drain completely.

To serve the salad combine the sweet potatoes with the lentils, quinoa, and kale in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add the dressing, a bit at a time, until just dressed (the kale will wilt slightly reducing the body of the salad, so err on the side of under-dressing as more can be added later.) Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional dressing, salt, and pepper as needed. Serve and Enjoy!

Addicted to Ottolenghi – Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas

For the last month or so Dustin and I have sought solace from the cold winter weather in hearty meaty sauces, stews, and chilis. This past weekend, with warm weather on the horizon, we looked to change tempo with a meat free weekend of cooking. Thinking of ways to make protein packed vegetarian mains my mind drifted straight to lentils. Lentils are by far my favorite vegetarian protein. I love that they are so amazingly versatile, the many different varieties make them well suited for a variety of different types of dishes. Firmer lentils such as puy and beluga add a nice toothsome bite to salads and can withstand longer cooking times without turning to mush. Yellow and red lentils, on the other hand, are easily transformed into smooth soups and make an excellent base for silky purees and dips.

There are few cooks famous for vegetarian cooking, and even fewer who approach meatless cuisine with the same innovative zeal as Yatam Ottolenghi. I love looking through Ottolenghi’s archived recipes on the BBC’s website. The hundreds of vegetarian recipes provide a breath of fresh air when my usual fail safe flavors prove boring and stale. This can be especially useful during the winter months when the variety of produce is limited and inspiration is hard to come by.

As if that wasn’t enough reason to scour the web for Yatam’s delicious dishes, many of his dishes offer creative ways to take advantage of dried legumes and whole grains, all of which are relatively inexpensive and incredible healthy. We typically have a wealth of stored legumes in the pantry but if you don’t have these on hand it is fun to peruse the dried goods section of Whole Foods (or other health foods markets that offer bulk grain bins) looking for new whole grains to try. I have been reading lately about many of the bargain options available at Whole Foods, it appears that many of their stores offer tours to show shoppers thrifty and healthy options.

This dish certainly packs a healthy punch. The lentils themselves are rich in protein. While they are members of the legume family, unlike beans they are free of sulfur an, therefore don’t cause the same “wind” issues as their beany brethren. Lentils have been a dietary mainstay since biblical times. They are, in fact, featured in the book of Genesis, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils. The coconut milk in this dish provides a nice substitute for heavy cream – which is more often used to create a creamy flavor in pureed soups. It also keeps this dish vegan friendly. I recommend using Chaokoh brand coconut milk, which is typically available at Asian markets – it is amazingly rich and smooth. While you can use lite coconut milk, I recommend using the full fat variety as it adds needed body and richness and helps the spices shine. The tofu and chickpeas are both “optional” – if you don’t have the time or don’t want to fry up the tofu it can easily be omitted. Both of these add a nice textural contrast to the smooth creamy soup.

Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas Adapted from a Recipe from Yatam Ottolenghi

2 TBSP Sunflower Oil
1 Large Onion, Chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
One 3 Inch Piece of Ginger, Chopped
¾ TSP Each Ground Cumin, Turmeric, and Coriander
One Pinch Each Ground Cardamom and Ground Cinnamon
400ml Good Quality Coconut Milk
250g Red Lentils
Thickly Peeled Skin of ½ Lemon, Plus Juice of 1 Lemon

For Chili Oil
1 TSP Cumin Seeds
¾ TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes

For Fried Tofu
50g Corn Flour
220 Firm Tofu, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes

For Chickpeas
1 Can Cooked Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 TSP Smoked Paprika
1/4 TSP Salt

To Garnish
3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro

Heat two tablespoons of sunflower oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and on medium-low heat sweat for eight minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and ground spices, and cook, stirring, for eight minutes. Add 900ml water, the coconut milk, lentils and lemon skin (not the juice). Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the lemon skin, add one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and some pepper. Allow to cool slightly and then blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt to taste.

Pour another two tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and heat. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and cook on low heat for a minute. Tip out into a heatproof bowl.

Wipe clean the saucepan and pour in enough oil to come 2cm up the sides. While the oil is heating up, mix the corn flour with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Toss the tofu in the corn flour, shake off any excess and fry in batches until golden, about five minutes (the oil must be just hot enough gently to fry the tofu). Drain on kitchen towel and set aside somewhere warm.

For the chickpeas – preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the chickpeas with 1 TBSP sunflower or olive oil and the spices. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until browned and crunchy and 25 minutes.

To serve, heat up the soup, stir in the lemon juice and divide between four bowls. Top each with some fried tofu, crunchy chickpeas, and a drizzle of the cumin and chilli oil, and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.

A Summer Picnic – Curried Lentil Salad with Currants

Dustin and I had the wonderful pleasure of joining a friend of ours on her birthday celebration at a local vineyard this past Saturday. We were fortunate to be invited to take a tour of the wine storage and bottling facilities and I was extremely impressed by the caliber of this small vineyard located in the middle of Tennessee. As part of her birthday celebration our friend, Tarjani, planned a pot luck style picnic. As soon as I heard about the picnic I immediately set about musing as to what to bring. One of my favorite all time recipes came to mind quickly.

This recipe comes from a blog I often read called “My New Roots” which focuses on healthy and nutritional recipes. This lentil salad has fantastic earthy flavors. The curry powder adds spice and intrigue to the creamy lentils while the capers and currents play off of each other to add both salty and sweet flavors to the dish. The salad is then tossed in an interesting dressing composed of mustard, cider vinegar, and maple syrup. It was a big hit at the picnic and really an easy recipe to toss together.

I use Du Puy Lentils in this recipe as they tend to hold together well after cooking and don’t get mushy like other lentil varieties. I have added celery to the initial dish as I think it adds a nice fresh crunch and some bright herbaceous flavoring to the dish – feel free to use the inner stalks and light yellow and green celery leaves for this dish as well! The celery should be diced to match the size of your onions. I have also added red bell peppers to this recipe before with great success, but they are a bit of a pain to dice so I omitted them this time.

In terms of Curry Powder, I use a basic curry powder blend that I purchased from Penzy’s spices. I highly recommend sourcing a nice fragrant curry powder like this one for the dish. Many Indian and Super Market varieties are harsh and bitter but the Penzy’s curry is amazingly mild and balanced.

The success of this dish really rests on how cooked the lentils become. If they are undercooked they will taste raw and crunchy. Overcooking the small pulse will bring down the flavors of the dish and diminish the lentils integrity. Even du puy lentils, when overcooked, turn to mush. Feel free to make your mark on this dish by adding ingredients you love. Nuts would be a great addition, as well as crumbled feta or chevre. The salad makes a great side dish for salmon or steak and is also phenomenal served over arugula.

Curried Lentil Salad with Currants

Adapted from My New Roots
2 ¼ Cups (1 lb.) Du Puy lentils
1 Medium Red Onion Diced
1/2 Cup Dried Currants
1/3 Cup Capers

1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 TBSP Maple Syrup
1 TBSP Grainy Dijon Mustard
2 TSP Kosher Salt
2 TSP Freshly Ground Pepper
1 TBSP Curry Powder

Rinse lentils and place them in a medium sauce pan. Cover with 3 inches of water and ring pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 12-17 mins or until lentils are JUST tender.When finished drain lentils and run them under cold water to cool. Drain and dry well.

In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard, syrup, S&P, and curry.

In a large bowl mix together lentils, onions, currants and capers. Lightly dress with vinaigrette and mix gently.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve and enjoy!

Why I Love Home Goods – Israeli Couscous Salad with Sardines and Tomatoes

I love Home Goods. I really love Home Goods. If you don’t have a Home Goods (which is related to Marshalls and TJ Maxx and sells, well, home goods, at a mere fraction of other store’s prices) near you, I’m sorry, you’re missing out. The one near us is simply phenomenal (the selection from store to store tends to vary quite a bit, I have been in others that aren’t quite as good). I love to go in on days when its not too busy and make a B Line towards the gourmet foods section some days the finds are better than others at times the selection may be quite slim but I still always find some cool new spice or or salt or jam to take home and add to the arsenal I keep in the pantry for which I use when I need some inspiration to a dish (or in times of desperation when I get back from a business trip to find that there is no fresh produce in the house and raid the pantry in hopes of scrounging up something meal-worthy.)

On this particular trip the selection was amazing, I got some great nut oils (walnut and hazelnut) and can of stir fry oil which is flavored with ginger and garlic, I also came across some high quality hot smoked Spanish Paprika, which I love to add to sauteed greens for breakfast. Nestled in among some salts on the bottom shelf were some small tins of cured fish. I selected some smoked mackerel and a container of smoked trout, a tin of herring, and a small can of Portuguese sardines in Peri Peri sauce which I put to use in today’s featured recipe which is a take on a great recipe for Pearled Cous Cous with Roasted Tomatoes which I found on Smitten Kitchen last summer and immediately fell in love with.

While we are speaking of favorite things, I have used a particular favorite ingredient in this recipe that I want to talk a little more about. Garlic. Specifically Raw Garlic that I buy FROZEN from Trader Joes. It comes in a little flat that looks like a miniature ice cube tray and holds small squares of frozen minced garlic which are each equivalent to approximately one large clove. I am a garlic junkie so I used two in this recipe which I put in a large mixing bowl with the oil and allow to simultaneously thaw and infuse the olive oil with its garlicy goodness while I prepare the remaining ingredients for the dish.

While we are on the topic of specific ingredients lets talk about sardines. Before you wrinkle your nose let me tell you I was a bit apprehensive about what to do with them once I opened the can and peered inside at chunks of silvery fish which included both skin and spine. I am assured that you can eat both but I slit them in half and removed the spine before slivering the flesh into the salad. I might recommend to other first timers that you follow a similar path. To other more experienced sardine eaters, please, by all means, eat the fish spine and all, I am told there is good calcium in doing it this way but I will stick to my gut for now and keep taking the spines out (I have to say the spine removal process is a very simple procedure – hardly a taxing surgery by normal cooking standards.) If you’re really not sure about the fish, leave them out, I wont stop you, but you’ll be missing out on the hint of salty ocean flavor they bring to this Mediterranean summer dish. The salad makes a great side dish for a summer feast, it would go well with a simple meal of grilled meats or vegetable kabobs and is perfect for a summer picnic.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Sardines and Tomatoes

3/4 Cup Puy Lentils
1 Bay Leaf
2 Cups Israeli Couscous
2.5 Cups Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
2 Cloves Minced Garlic
1 Quart Grape Tomatoes Cut in Half Lengthwise
1/2 Cup Olives Chopped
1/4 Cup Basil Cut into a Chiffonade
2-3 TBSP Lemon Juice
1 Tin of Sardines in Peri Peri Sauce, Spine Removed and Flesh Flaked.
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Bring a medium pan of water to a boil, add lentils and bay leaf and reduce to a simmer, simmer until just tender, approximately 20 minutes. When just tender remove pot from heat, drain lentils and run under cold water until cooled.

While Lentils are cooking bring chicken broth to a boil in a separate pot, once boiling add couscous and simmer uncovered for approximately 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 20 minutes until cooled.

Place garlic in a large mixing bowl with the olive oil while you halve the tomatoes and chop the olives and basil. Place the tomatoes, olives, and basil in the bowl with the garlic and olive oil and mix. Add couscous, lentils, and lemon juice and stir. Add flaked sardine meat and taste for seasoning.

Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

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