Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bulgur and Red Lentil Soup with Browned Onions

Kolkeh is a hearty, filling Syrian soup with simple ingredients: bulgur, red lentils, garlic, onions and practically nothing else. Conceptually, it's very similar to a soupy mjeddra, with lentils, whole grains and crispy onions combining to be more than the sum of their humble parts. The chewy bulgur and the broken-down lentils have a great textural contrast.

3/4 cup cracked bulgur
3/4 cup red lentils
3 cloves garlic, peeled
water to cover
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1/4 cup canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
salt to taste
Sour cream or yogurt
Lemon wedges for squeezing

Place the bulgur, lentils and garlic in a medium-sized saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer about 30-35 minutes, until lentils break down and bulgur is tender.

Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add the sliced onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until they are crispy and brown. Remove them promptly with a slotted spatula to prevent burning (but keep the cooking oil).

When the soup is cooked, stir in the onions, a teaspoon or two of the onion-frying oil, and plenty of salt. Serve with sour cream, yogurt or lemon wedges.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dark Chocolate Mousse Pie with a Coconut Crust

Tonight we're heading over the annual Wine and Pie Party at our friend Tanya's house. While all pies are welcome, the rock-star challenge this year was to make a pie that everyone could eat, including attendees who are gluten-free (hence the nut crust), sugar-sensitive (hence the agave nectar) or vegan (hence the coconut milk and coconut butter) and at least one person who can't eat corn (hence the arrowroot powder in lieu of cornstarch). Our entry is this decadent creation, and we think it's a contender. With the chocolate and coconut flavors, it's like a Mounds bar, but without the nasty milk chocolate and too-sweet aftertaste.

To minimize insanity, you should:
(1) Have everything measured out before you start. You're dealing with coconut, nuts and chocolate, all of which burn easily, and you don't want to turn around to chop something and turn back around to find something smoking.
(2) Either have an electric mixer or a cooking partner, since there's a ton of stirring involved.

For the crust:
3/4 cup almonds (or walnuts)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup coconut butter (you can totally use butter or margarine if you don't feel like shelling out $10 for a jar of fat. We understand.)
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons coconut butter

For the filling:
2 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons arrowroot powder
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups chopped unsweetened baking chocolate (chop well so it will melt easily!)

First, start the crust. Grind almonds in the food processor until they're finely chopped, then add in the remaining ingredients and pulse until well-mixed. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a pre-greased 10-inch pie pan. Pop the pan into your broiler and cook for 5 minutes or less, only until browned. Keep an eye on it! You're just toasting, not cooking, and if the crust burns, you'll probably cry. Stick it in the freezer to cool while you make the topping and filling.

For the topping, heat the coconut butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add coconut and stir frequently until golden brown, 2-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Filling time! Make sure you have everything measured out and ready, because this will come together quickly. In a medium-sized saucepan*, bring the coconut milk, agave and salt to a light simmer. Create a slurry in a small cup by mixing together the arrowroot with a few tablespoons of water. Add the arrowroot slurry a little bit at a time (you may not need all of it), stirring vigorously with a whisk or immersion blender, until the coconut milk thickens to a loose pudding texture. Remove from heat and cool for a minute. Add the vanilla extract and chocolate and continue stirring (see what we mean about the incessant stirring?) until chocolate is melted. Spoon the filling into the crust and top with the toasted coconut. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or until you're ready to serve. Meanwhile, lick all of the utensils.

*If you have a double boiler or are comfortable improvising one with two pots, that works well. The only change to the recipe is that you don't have to bring the coconut milk all the way to a simmer and you don't have to remove your pan from the heat before adding the chocolate.

UPDATE July 2009:

Phoebe's sister made a vanilla version of this recipe and said it was delicious! She just added more arrowroot to get it to firm up, swirled with raspberry jam, and topped with fresh raspberries. We've also made Meyer lemon variations that we'll share with you once we have the recipe just right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Roasted Asparagus and Green Garlic with a Fried Egg

Certain ingredients come in season at the same time and practically beg you to cook them together, like strawberries and rhubarb or tomatoes and basil. To that list, add green garlic and asparagus--they're both welcome bursts of green at the end of winter, with flavors that make you want to do a no-more-winter-squash victory dance.

This was originally intended as a side dish, and you could certainly leave out the fried egg and serve it that way. But as springtime progresses and more and more delicious vegetables become available, consider this: fried egg plus anything equals meal, zapping your prep time and enabling you to enjoy the extra daylight.

Green garlic, as we've mentioned before, is worth seeking out. But if the farmer's markets haven't started up where you are yet, you can certainly do this with a crushed clove of garlic or even a finely chopped leek in lieu of the green garlic.

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, chopped into 1 and 1/2 inch pieces
3 stalks green garlic, white and pale green parts only, diced (you can use the floppy dark green part for vegetable stock)
1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
Thinly sliced Jarlsberg or Gruyere cheese, for the top

Preheat oven to 375. Toss asparagus, green garlic, olive oil and salt together on a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes, until asparagus is tender, with touches of brown.

When asparagus is ready, fry eggs. Top each egg with the asparagus and a slice of cheese. Eat, and then get yourself outside!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Parsnip, Carrot and Kale Frittata

This frittata is quick and packed with vegetables--perfect for a spring evening, since you can have dinner in no time and still go for a bike ride before it gets dark out. Grated carrots and parsnips cook up speedily and sweetly, tempered by the kale and enveloped in a savory custard of eggs, fresh herbs and sour cream.

2 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, grated
1 parsnip, grated
10 leaves lacinato kale, slivered into fine ribbons
6 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill (or 1 tablespoon fresh, if you have it)

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add the parsnips, carrots and kale and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the kale is totally wilted. Beat the eggs, sour cream, parsley, dill, salt and pepper in a bowl and pour over the vegetables. Cook on the stovetop for a minute, then transfer the skillet to the broiler and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until eggs are set and the top is golden. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Black Bean Soup with Carrot and Cilantro

This soup is sweet with carrots, rich with coconut milk and protein-packed with black beans and a touch of peanut butter. Best of all, you can basically knock out a bunch of cilantro, stems and all, thus avoiding the dreaded "Oops, I bought this cilantro because I needed 1/4 cup a week ago, and now it's black and slimy" situation. It comes together in no time and, paired with a salad (we had our soup with this one), works very well for a quick weeknight dinner.

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup minced cilantro stems
1 small green chile, minced
1 carrot, grated
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
Optional but invigorating garnishes: extra minced cilantro and grated carrot

Heat butter or oil in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 3 minutes, then add cumin, salt, cilantro stems, chile and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are wilted and starting to brown. Add the black beans, coconut milk and water and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the peanut butter and cilantro, and pulse until smooth. Taste for salt --if your peanut butter is unsalted, you'll probably want a little more. Top with cilantro and grated carrot if desired; the crunch and juiciness of the grated carrot is especially nice against the hot, creamy soup.