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Lentils find their way onto so many of those lists of foods we SHOULD be eating but in my house, shoulds are widely ignored. We eat what we crave, and finding ways to make lentils craveable was easier than I ever expected. Over the last year, I've fallen in love with the lowly lentil. From Mujadara (brown lentils, wild rice and caramelized onions) to Moong Dal (yellow lentil soup with carrots and potatoes) to my new favorite Spicy Red Lentil Soup. The pop of fresh herbs and the bite of hot peppers elevate this red lentil soup to a whole new level.

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Rockin Stew

There is something seriously comforting about stew on a rainy day, but for the longest tme, the only stew in my repitore was the standard beef and potatoes. In an effort to branch out, decrease our meat intake and increase the diversity of the vegetables we consume, I plucked a Moroccan vegetable stew from one of our cookbooks and tinkered with it a bit. The result is this Rockin' Moroccan Stew, chock-full of root vegetables, plumped up with chickpeas for protien and sprinkled with spices because, a little spice makes everything better. The recipe is super simple and from start to finish takes less than an hour to prepare. I serve it as a main course, but it would also make a great side and a tasty way to get more veggies onto the plate. You can mix and match your root veggies, use raisins or dried plums if you don't like figs, and up the heat by doubling the amount of crushed red peppers. (Recipe Follows) 

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Not long ago, quinoa was heralded as NEXT BEST thing the grain/protein of the moment. (That’s right kids, it is a grain AND a protein. How cool is that?)  I first gravitated to quinoa last year, when I was looking to expand my vegetarian options and now, I consider it a cupboard staple, something to always have on hand. I’d like to say that I gravitated towards this groovy little grain for purely lofty reasons like my family’s health, a love of kittens and the environment, but in all honesty, I was trying to stretch our grocery budget and honey, meat ain’t cheap.

Quinoa is a funny little grain, which puffs up a bit when cooked, turning almost translucent except for the germ ring around the edges. That’s right, its called a germ ring, and I can’t explain it, but you’ll know it when you see it. Unlike couscous, quinoa has a very specific flavor and texture, but just like couscous, you can dress it up in countless ways. As a gluten-free grain, it is frequently recommended for people with Celiac Disease and it is considered a safe Go To food for IBS-sufferers as well. None of this matters though if it isn’t tasty, right?

Luckily, when rinsed well and cooked right, it can be delicious and its versatility makes it great for warm breakfasts, healthy lunches, quick side dishes and light dinners. There are really only two things you need to know when cooking quinoa. 1. Rinse it thoroughly with cold water (a netted strainer, cheesecloth will work great) and 2. Don’t overcook it. Like rice, it will get clumpy if you leave it on too long. Below, I have linked to three of my favorite quinoa recipes. If you have a favorite of your own, feel free to let us know.

  • My current craving is for this Firecracker Quinoa with Chickpeas and Artichokes from The Vegetarian Times via Wendy of Cooking Quinoa. I am a big fan of both chickpeas and artichokes and adding Sriracha to the balsamic dressing gives you as much or as little kick as you like. (Myself, I like a lot.)

  • Quinoa with Scallops and Snow Peas, featured at Eating Well makes a great one-pot dinner. I use raw veggies as often as I can for their full flavor and nutritional punch. This dish is a perfect way to incorporate them and my picky eaters don’t even seem to notice.

  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the recipe, which made me fall in love with this funny little grain in the first place. This Tex-Mex Quinoa recipe comes from Mo at Womanologie and is complete with its own Perfect Taco Seasoning blend, for which you can find all manner of exciting uses.

I get my quinoa at Trader Joe’s for $3.99 a box (which is more than enough for two 4-person dinner entrees) but I’ve also used Fresh & Easy’s brand with similar results. You don’t need the pre-seasoned stuff (stocked alongside the Rice-a-Roni and such) but if that’s all your store carries, give it a whirl.

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Despite not being a vegetarian (I hold firm to the belief that until there are no longer more chickens alive than there are people, they have the capacity to turn the tables and start eating us) I have developed a great respect for vegetarian cooking. It is a logical conclusion, I suppose, that vegetarians work a kind of magic with vegetables that omnivores would have probably never gotten around to on their own. The same could be said of vegans, whose dietary restrictions have focused attention on many an underrated and underutilized ingredient. That said, the dish I’ve chosen to sing the praises of today, while being perfectly appropriate for both vegetarians and vegans, comes not from recent culinary advances/explorations, but from way way back and half a world away. It is, some have suggested, the Middle Eastern comfort food equivalent of Mac “N Cheese.

My version of Mujadara (pictured here with chunks of lamb, sweet red peppers and a cool cucumber tzatziki sauce) consists of only three ingredients: wild rice, brown lentils and caramelized onions. I use a little olive oil and Kosher salt when cooking the onions, but beyond that, nada. Seriously, I don’t even use pepper. It is not the most attractive dish, though Rivka at Food 52 makes it almost pretty, but of all the craveable comfort foods I can think of, this one now rates mighty high on my list. There are no hard and fast rules for Mujadara beyond the three-ingredient combination of rice, lentils and onions and so I am not going to give you a traditional recipe. Instead, I’m going to give you this one the way my friend Susanne gives me recipes (My favorite recipe of hers begins with “take a cow and grind it up”), which is to say fast, casual and as if it is the easiest thing ever, because in this case, it honestly is.

1 cup prepared wild rice, ½ cup prepared brown lentils (don’t forget to rinse them before cooking), 1 medium onion (white and yellow are fine, but I adore sweet red torpedo onions for this when they are in season) thickly sliced and sauteed into submission (20 minutes) with olive oil and Kosher salt. Mix all three ingredients together in a dish and let sit for 15 minutes to 24 hours. Serve at room temperature or warm.

This dish holds up fine to the fridge for a couple of days and actually improves with time. I have served it with tzatiki as a side dish, but my preference is actually day-old Mujadara with no fuss, no extras and nothing to get in the way of its super tasty, ridiculously healthy goodness.

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You can get the recipe for these Chorizo-Stuffed Baby Potatoes at Shoestring With Style today.