Miso. Carrot. Sesame.

I can’t really explain what sort of diet Chris and I have been on lately. I suppose it isn’t a diet, rather it’s just a newer way of eating that we’ve had to implement.

The basic premise is that we try to eat as light and as healthy as possible during the week, because the weekend is always a caloric disaster. Pretty simple, right?

I’ve said this a zillion times – the food here in San Francisco is undeniably better than any food in any city I’ve ever lived (or visited for that matter). Maybe that’s a bold statement, but living here for almost a year and a half has given me a little time to audition the city’s food, and it’s true. We take full advantage of it, too. If we aren’t going out with local friends, we’re showing visitors our favorite spots instead.

For example, this past weekend my sis-in-law and her husband were visiting, and we went to Flour+Water (tasting menu!), got ice cream, and had some of the city’s best Ramen, bubble tea, and a slice of a porchetta sandwich – all in two days’ time. Oh, and Nopalito, but that goes without saying when visitors are here.

So, to help both our waistlines and our wallets, we’ve made it a point to try to stay in during the week, and to make really smart choices when we do so. That generally means a lot of vegetarian eating, including a lot of healthy grains, egg dishes, and kale – typically in salad form. Now, some of you may not like kale. I guess that’s understandable, but hopefully there is some sort of green aside from iceberg lettuce that you do like. I’ve become a huge fan of the following mix: kale, shaved brussels sprouts (which I used to despise, but now, they have a sweet spot in my heart), and spinach.

The greens alone create the most perfect trifecta. Sure, I switch them around some here and there, but generally, those are included in the mix. A few sprinkles of shaved coconut, a sprinkle of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, a handful of dried fruit and a couple of chopped apples? You almost have the best kale/whatever green salad you want that you could ask for.

But one thing’s missing. One thing of utmost importance. One thing to bring it all together, to make a salad seem like so much more than a salad. And that’s this dressing. I promise you, it is so totally worth a search for the miso paste (or a click here for a bulk version). Salty and tangy, it pairs nicely with toasty sesame oil, and the slight sweetness added by agave nectar (or even honey) makes a perfectly balanced dressing. I’m sure it would be great on things other than salad, but for me, it begs to be tossed into the mixture I described above.

The fact that I’m writing about salad dressing for an entire blog post should be proof enough that this is an amazing dressing, but if you need one more urging, I’ll say it again. This here, friends, is an a-ma-zing dressing.

Miso, Carrot, & Sesame Dressing
Adapted from Bon Appetit, makes 1 1/2 cups

toss this dressing over a mixture of greens (we prefer kale, any kind) and add whatever you like. We make a habit of eating the following combo: kale, shredded coconut, raisins, fresh chopped apples, and a handful of nuts/seeds. If you use kale or any other sturdy green, give the dressing time to settle into the salad. You can even make it the night before for a lunch salad, and with kale at least, there’s not wilty action.

p.s. – I usually double this recipe and the dressing will last for a week or two, as long as your ingredients are fresh.

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c white miso
5 T canola oil
1/4 c finely grated peeled carrot
2 T finely grated peeled ginger
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 T roasted white sesame seeds, optional
2 t toasted sesame oil
2 t honey or agave nectar

instructions
Place all ingredients plus 1/4 cup water in a resealable container. Cover and shake vigorously until well combined. Add more water to thin out, if desired.

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party in your mouth

What was your all-time favorite snack when you were a kid? Did you eat a ton of Chips Ahoy cookies? Oreos? (and let me clarify – it’s totally a-ok to still consider these your favorites.) Twizzlers? How about some Combos? Oh, those were the days – I chose the ones in the green bordered bag. And man, I used to swoon over Bugles, so much so that I ate AN ENTIRE BOX of them in one sitting, which subsequently led to hours of stomach pain. Haven’t really dug them since…

After the Bugles craze, I moved on to Chex Mix. I could have probably eaten the entire blue and white bag of crunchiness all at once, too, but I learned from my mistakes. I just ate most of it. The little bagel chips were my favorite. And don’t tell anyone, but I always left the rye chips in the bag…so if you were always wondering why your Chex Mix had an obscene amount of rye chips, well, now you know.

That said, I have never actually made Chex Mix, unless you count Puppy Chow as a version of it, but I’m guessing that’s a no. I’ve had a box each of rice and corn chex in my pantry since Thanksgiving (unopened, duh.) and never really felt the need to do anything with them but let them take up space. And then, the date of our Paso Robles road trip with Liz & Kevin approached. As if it was meant to be, I came across a recipe for an ultra-spicy version of chex mix on Pinterest. Ah, Pinterest.

I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one – these mo-fos are SPICY! And this comes from someone who orders their curry dishes “Thai hot” and is rarely satisfied with that. Think about the spiciness of these as being up there with the “fire” or “atomic” versions of wing sauce. Or close, at least – I’d probably add a little more Sriracha next time around… but that’s just me. I like to live on the edge.

I like the idea of a party in my mouth. And I don’t mean that to be taken the wrong way, so stop the nonsense.

Sriracha Chex Mix
adapted, barely, from Taste for Adventure via Pinterest; makes 10 cups

time commitment: 1 hour and 10 minutes (most inactive)

printable version

ingredients
3 c Corn Chex
3 c Rice Chex
1 1/2 c pretzels
1 1/2 c wasabi peas
1 c peanuts
1/4 c butter
1/4 c Sriracha
2 T soy sauce
1 t ginger, grated
1 t garlic, minced

instructions
Preheat oven to 250 F. Mix all the solid ingredients together.
Mix all the liquid ingredients together. Add ginger and garlic. Microwave to melt butter and warm the mixture. Pour the sauce over the cereal mixture and toss to evenly coat.
Bake at 250 for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so until crunchy and flavorful.

Fair and Square

One of our favorite types of food these days is ramen. No, not the 10/$1.00 packs that come in all sorts of flavors, like chicken, oriental, and beef, but the actual kind that you are given in a restaurant, in a gigantic bowl filled to the brim with steaming hot broth, ramen noodles, pork (or fried chicken. fried chicken!), and all sorts of other ingredients that have me salivating right this second.

We’ve tried a handful of spots in the city over the past few months, and every time I’m feeling the need for some warm comfort food my mind goes straight to ramen. I can’t get enough of it.

Of course, while waiting for said ramen to make its appearance at the table, it’s never a bad idea to have an appetizer or three. Many of these ramen joints make killer meat skewers, but often times all I want is a freakin’ potsticker. Something about a little sheet of dough enveloping a bite of meat and veggies, and then steamed and served alongside some sort of amazing dipping sauce makes me so amazingly happy. So happy that I could likely eat a couple orders of them and call it a night, if it weren’t for the ramen making its way to the table.

But when you’re home, that’s another story. I’ve eaten potstickers only quite a few times.

Potstickers are those little treats that look so damn hard to make, but are in all reality, probably one of the easiest dishes to throw together, minus the time. You toss the filling into a food processor, which means your initial chopping skills really don’t matter all that much, as long as things are similarly butchered to smithereens. You put the filling onto pre-made wrappers. You fold them (which is what people think is so dang hard. It isn’t.), and then you steam them. The sauce is nothing but a handful of ingredients whisked together (and for that, there are thousands of choices, but I’m a fan of a spicy peanut sauce, I am). Then you’re ready to chow down.

Sure, they look intricate. And sure, it might take some precision and a little patience, but there isn’t much that can go wrong, even if the wonton shapes aren’t winning beauty pageants. Either way, what results are little pockets of delightful goodness that you, I promise, won’t be able to resist.

You can even take them to a potluck if you want. And when that potluck gets canceled without your knowledge, you can smile a little on the inside, because they just turned into lunch, which means you can eat like, 10 of them, instead of 2. That’s what I call winning – fair and square.

Shrimp & Ginger Potstickers w/ Spicy Peanut Sauce
makes 24 potstickers – 4 servings as a meal, 12 as an appetizer

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
potstickers
3/4 c Napa cabbage, shredded
1/3 c scallions, chopped (+ more for garnish, optional)
1/4 c carrots, julienned
2 T cilantro, chopped
1 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t fresh ginger, minced
1 t dark sesame oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 lb shrimp, cooked
sriracha, optional but totally not optional
24 small wonton wrappers
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 T canola oil, divided
1 c water, divided

sauce
1/4 c water
1/4 c reduced fat peanut butter
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T chile paste w/ garlic (sambal oelek)
1/2 t sugar

instructions
combine 1st 10 ingredients (sriracha to your liking) into food processor and pulse ~4 times, or until coarsely chopped and mixed together.

working with 1 wrapper at a time, spoon 1 1/2 t of filling into the center. wet the edges of the wonton with a small brush and bring opposite corners together, pinching to seal. place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch/arrowroot powder.

heat 1 1/2 t canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 potstickers to pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. slowly add 1/2 c water, cover and cook for 4 minutes. uncover and cook 3 more minutes, until the liquid evaporates. Repeat again with remaining oil, potstickers, and water.

prepare sauce by combining all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and whisking until mixed.

serve potstickers with peanut sauce, garnishing with green onions, if desired.

The New Staple

There comes a time in all of our lives that we eventually have to grow up and start fending for ourselves. Specifically, we have to feed ourselves; the days of coming home to mom and dad’s fresh-baked meatloaf, fried chicken, and steak n’ potatoes fade into the past, quickly becoming memories as opposed to everyday life.

For many of us, we have college as a “buffer” from the inevitable days of reality. We have the dining halls serving up lukewarm pizza, cereal in bins with pitchers of warm milk at the adjacent counter, and last but certainly not least – yesterday’s leftover fruit, usually a lot of honeydew melon and grapes. And let’s not forget the $.10 ‘oodles of noodles’ (chicken flavor! Oriental flavor!) that saved me from ordering Gumby’s pizza on many the occasion.

Eventually, the dining halls also fade into the background as we are forced to get “real jobs” and become part of a functioning society. Takeout still serves its purpose, but there becomes a point sometime after college that the pounds start to pack on a little more quickly, and walking from the dorm to lecture hall no longer constitutes the requirement of exercise. Oof.

Despite what some of you might believe, my time in the kitchen was not always spent with perma-grin. I was not “born to cook”, and I didn’t grow up begging to wash dishes, or wait impatiently in hopes of being allowed to add paprika to the deviled eggs at Thanksgiving. I didn’t even want to learn how to make my gramma’s pound cake – as long as she had one waiting for me every Sunday I was as happy as a pig in pooh.

But even so, I had a “go to” dish – spaghetti. I’d get home and quickly throw some noodles into a pot of boiling water, and I’d cook those noodles until they nearly fell apart (I didn’t have a freakin’ clue what al dente meant until probably 4 years ago). Usually, I’d have a jar of Newman’s Own marinara sauce in the pantry and I’d toss some into the microwave and dump it atop my pasta with a nice hefty shake or two of the Kraft “parmesan”. If I was feeling fancy, I’d put some red pepper flakes in the sauce, but otherwise that was it.

I’ll bet you have your go to dish as well. My problem, if you can call it a problem, is that I don’t have that go to recipe anymore. I make a dish once usually, twice if it’s really good and it’s posted here (which means I still have the recipe), and then I’m finished with it. I can’t seem to shake the habit, but maybe it’s just because I’ve never found a replacement for the spaghetti dish from years ago.

Until now. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for weeks (remember the curry meatballs?) – weeks! I never read through it, and I simply assumed it would take a long time and we haven’t had any nights where I had a long time to cook in the last month or so. But this past weekend, I picked up the book again and went straight to the page of this dish. It looked easy! It sounded amazing, as it always has, and I knew I’d be giving it a try. All I needed to do was procure some amchur (dried mango powder – duh) and I was set.

I promise you – it took me 30 minutes, and there is limited prep, limited chopping, and lots of goodness. Honestly, it tastes just as good as the restaurant versions. For serious. It’s gonna get made a whole helluva lot around here, now that I’ve realized these facts. And the only problem with this new plan? I’ll have to find another staple dish to order when we want Indian takeout, because I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to pay $10 for a dish I can make in 30 minutes, with 4 servings, for much less than that. Something tells me that isn’t much of a problem either, though.

 

Chana Masala
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking; serves 4 as a meal

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
3 T coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 t cumin seeds
1 large onion, diced
1/4 t g cinnamon
1/4 t g nutmeg
1/4 t g cloves
1 t g coriander
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t grated ginger
4 T tomato paste
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cans chickpeas (save ~ 4-5 T of liquid)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon amchur*
1 c uncooked basmati rice
garlic naan, for serving
cilantro, for garnish

instructions
Heat coconut oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds and once they begin to darken (will happen quickly), add onion. Saute until starting to brown (about 8 minutes).

Turn heat to low and add cinnamon through coriander. Mix together, then add garlic and ginger. Turn heat up a little and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes.

Add chickpeas and the saved liquid. Add salt, cayenne, and amchur. Mix well, cover, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir gently every couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, cook basmati rice and warm garlic naan in the oven. Once chana masala is cooked, garlic with cilantro and serve atop some rice and with naan.

 

*amchur (or amchoor) is available at Indian markets and here. Jaffrey says you can sub in 1 T lemon juice if you can’t locate it.

For Everyday Life

I’ll confess – I meant to leave you with a sweet treat before heading out for vacation, I swear it. Because I knew that when I got back, I’d be cutting back on the sweets for a while. The truth is, I totally forgot to, and there’s really no excuse other than that. I opened up this here site after another week of being away from it and saw that I’d started this post, meaning I’d added the pictures and the recipe according to my usual system of doing things, but that was it.

Funny how things like that happen, eh?

Anywho, we’re back from the weirdest vacation I think I’ll ever take (in a totally good way) and I’ll tell you all about it once I get the chance to clean up the pics and sit here for a while. But the summary is this: we had a bunch of quick, fun trips from the Midwest through the Deep South, and I’m not kidding when I say we ate our way through each and every stop. You won’t be surprised to hear that we even found a few wineries along the way.

But we’ll get to the rest later – promise.

Today, I wanted to finally share these gingersnaps, since I didn’t manage to pull through last month. More ginger cookies? Why, yes. Sure, we have graham crackers and triple ginger cookies already, but can you have too much ginger? I think not. Plus, they’re all just a little bit different. Graham crackers? Well, silly, those are for s’mores (there’s a gluten-free version, too!). Triple ginger cookies? Those are for eating over the Holidays with a mug of spiced (or spiked) cider at the fireplace. Gingersnaps? These are for everyday life.

These aren’t nearly as crisp as the ones in the goldenrod bag that you buy from the snack aisle in the grocery store. These are crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle. They remind me of a cool, fall Chicago morning – those mornings you wake up to and just know they’ll be perfect. They’re meant to be eaten on a day when the leaves are falling, crisp and brilliantly colored – brick, burnt orange, and pumpkin-tinged. For days when the sun glistens through the trees and reflects brightly off the windows, but the breeze around the corner provides that perfect counter-attack against the heat that is slowly waning for the year. Man, I miss those mornings some kinda bad.

If you’re like me, and perhaps those sure-fire signs of Fall aren’t quite lining up for you the way you’d like, that’s fine too. Summer in October suits me just as well, truth be told. Either way, gingersnaps are a welcome addition to any day – warm, breezy, and fall-ish or sunny, clear, and reminiscent of July.

Gingersnaps
from David Lebovitz’s Ready For Dessert; makes 60

time commitment: 2 hours (includes 1 hour for the dough to chill)

printable version

ingredients
3 c all purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 1/2 t g cinnamon
2 t g ginger
1 1/2 t fresh g pepper
1/2 t g cloves
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/4 c sugar
1/4 molasses
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temp
turbinado or regular granulated sugar, for coating the cookies

instructions
in a medium bowl, combine flour through ground cloves and whisk until mixed well.

in a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar, mixing on medium until smooth. mix in molasses and vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. add flour mixture and mix until completed combined.

divide the dough into four pieces. lightly flour a surface and roll each piece into an ~8″ log, then roll up in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour (alternatively you can freeze for less time).

preheat oven to 350 F. pour coating sugar into a small bowl. working with one log at a time, slice into 1/2″ cookies, and press one side of each cookie into the sugar, then place the other side down on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. bake for ~10 minutes. if using two sheets, rotate sheets halfway through to even cooking of each sheet. remove, let cool for a few minutes, and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

ps – you can store the dough in the fridge or freezer if you want to bake sections off at a time. or you can do it all at once – whatevs. 

Great Balls of Fire

I am on a huge Indian kick lately. You wouldn’t know it from what you’ve seen posted around these parts lately, but I’m dead serious. Those of you living in the Bay Area already know this – there are a plethora of Indian eateries around these parts. Because of that, I’ve decided that Indian food is my new favorite take-out staple.

Sorry, Thai food, but I’m giving you the boot for a while. Maybe forever. It’s just that no one seems to make my yum woonsen salad like Thai Lagoon did, and it didn’t hurt that they were exactly 6 doors away from our house.

We ordered take-out from the neighborhood Indian joint the first weekend we lived here, and I was immediately sold. I ordered a HUGE “combo meal” the weekend Chris was in Singapore, and while sopping up my chana masala with garlic naan, I happily watched Something Borrowed (laugh it up) and almost drank an entire bottle of New Zealand Pinot by my lonesome. It was amazing (the food and the wine, that is. the movie served its purpose, which meant I was able to choose the movie for a change, because no one was home!!).

I’m sure we’ve had takeout from the same spot at least a handful of other times too. Despite their unwelcoming demeanor when I walk in to pick up my order, I always graciously take my food, somehow deciding that they’re allowed to have shoddy service so long as my food rocks, because in the end, we all win.

I decided I must learn to make chana masala, the tomato-y chickpea dish that I get almost every time I get Indian food, and as a result I surfed the Internets to figure out where I might find such a recipe, and for that matter, a good Indian cookbook. After Googling and Amazon-ing for a while, I finally decided on Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking“, and although I’ve yet to cook from it, I am slowly perusing through it, waiting for the right moment to finally give that chana masala a try, and the other recipes I’ve bookmarked so far.

Today though, I’m sharing a recipe from another Indian chef I admittedly adore watching, Aarti Sequiera on the Food Network. She won “The Next Food Network Star” a while back (actually, the last season we watched it), and I was rooting for her all the way. Sure, part of it was because she wrote a food blog (and ironically just posted a recipe for chana masala), but the other part was because I really wanted an Indian cooking show to watch. Plus, I can only take so much of Giada’s boobs (or her large head, for that matter), and the other shows on that channel (other than Iron Chef, duh) are pretty lame. But! I did just learn that Michael Chiarello (of Napa’s Bottega) is going to be on The Next Iron Chef, and you best believe that will be DVR’d with a quickness.

So yeah, on to sharing. We had some friends in town this past weekend, and since they were coming in right around suppertime on Thursday night I’d volunteered to make dinner. My requirements were that the dish had to be straightforward, void of constant tending-to, manageable on a weeknight (night before prep a plus), and easy enough to make for 5 people without dirtying up every dish in the house. A homemade curry was a no brainer, and I remembered a recipe Aarti made the other day where she added an Italian twist (meatballs) to a curry dish – perfect!

The meatballs were easy peasy to throw together, and they probably benefit from being refrigerated overnight anyway, so that they can adhere together a little better. Plus, it saved me some time the night I made it since step 1 was already complete. The Serrano chiles were super spicy and perfect with the creamy coconut curry. The recipe below is essentially a doubled version of hers, which is meant to serve 8, but either our guests were starving or it was that damn good, because there was 1 serving left by the time it was all said and done.

The added bonus? You’ll probably have some leftover sauce when all the meatballs have been eaten, and I just know it’ll go with just about anything you toss into it. Better yet, a spoon would probably work just fine.

Meatball Curry
Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes

printable version

ingredients
meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
2 serrano chiles, minced (I seeded one of them)
4 t fresh ginger, minced
4 T fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt

curry
5 T coconut oil or canola oil
1 t brown mustard seeds
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2-inch piece) ginger, peeled and minced
4 t g coriander
2 t g cumin
1 t cayenne pepper
4 medium tomatoes, medium dice
2 cans light coconut milk
Kosher salt
3 T fresh cilantro, minced
juice of 1 lime

1 1/2 c uncooked jasmine or basmati rice

instructions
for the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, chile, ginger, cilantro and 2 teaspoons of salt together using your hands until just combined. (Don’t mix any more than this or you’ll end up with tough meatballs!) Roll the meatballs into 32 similarly-shaped balls, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the fridge when they’re all rolled until ready for use.

for the curry: In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil until nearly smoking. Add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid so you don’t get popping seeds all over you. When the spluttering subsides, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and cook until golden brown. Then add the ground coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir, and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Right after you add the meatballs, start the rice. Add rice and 3 c water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

To finish the curry, add the cilantro and lime juice. Shake the pan gently to mix them in, and then taste for seasoning. Serve over rice.

Otto-who? Otto-what?

Over a year ago, I had this crazy idea of going vegetarian. Okay, I’m not telling the truth here. I had the idea of going pescatarian, and only for a month – it was not to be a permanent change. It seemed doable, and this is coming from someone who tends to really like meat. I fought my way through it, even tossing away a lovely piece of pork that I mistakenly ordered, thinking it was a dish full of wheat berries and ramps (don’t ask how I screwed up there….). I didn’t order beef pho the first time I went to a place that served it, and at a tapas restaurant, I chewed on cheese and peppers, drank lots of wine, and tossed back mussels like it was my job.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Would I ever give up meat completely? I seriously doubt it. For one, I couldn’t imagine a visit to the South without barbeque (not the fake stuff). And two, I love the smell of cheeseburgers on the grill. Also, bacon is pretty awesome.

But sometimes, I do manage to go a few days without eating meat, and I can honestly say that I usually don’t even notice it. I’d even go further to say that, sometimes, eating vegetarian is a lot healthier, as long as you watch the cheese and carbs.

It seems that every time I talk about vegetarian food, I feel the need to insure you people that I do not intend to eat this way full-time. I’m not sure why? Maybe because I know many of you enjoy the meaty posts, and I assure you they are here to stay.

But the other day, I discovered lentils. Don’t ask me why I’ve never cooked them before; I have no intelligent answer. A friend of mine let me borrow a cookbook of hers that is all-vegetarian, and while I didn’t expect this to be the case, I have a lot of the pages marked and as a result, wonder if I should just buy the dang thing myself.

Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is that book. And of course, I’ve cooked a slew of things (no, I haven’t written about them all) from Heidi Swanson’s new book too, which also happens to be vegetarian. What I’ve realized is this: as long as flavor is brought to the dish, I don’t miss the meat. But the second you make something bland and boring, I may as well be eating tofu from the container. Or tempeh, which is still gross to me.

Ottolenghi seems to know what’s up on that front. His secret? He’s not vegetarian. Of course, some people seem to have a problem with that, but for me, it’s a match made in heaven. He knows that meat tastes good, and he knows that many vegetarian dishes lack flavor. The result? He makes his recipes scream with flavor, belting out ingredients like mustard seeds and curry powder, fenugreek and pomegranate molasses – and it works.

Also! he made me fall madly in love with lentils, an ingredient I’ve never really taken an interest in before. So yeah, maybe I just realized that I’m probably never giving this cookbook back to my friend (shhhhh!), and maybe as long as I locate vegetarian recipes that are actually locked and loaded with flavor I’ll be able to eat somewhat like a ‘flexitarian’, or whatever it’s called. But at the end of the day, I’m sticking to my beliefs – and that’s that meat is meant for me to eat, and I was meant to eat meat.

Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt
adapted from Plenty; serves 4 as a light dinner 

time commitment: 1 hour, about half of which is active

printable version

notice the piece of naan tucked alongside this dish. I didn’t make it this time, but you can. Or you can just buy some :). also, one of these spices is possibly tricky to find: fenugreek. It’s nice, if you have it, but don’t sweat it if you don’t.

ingredients
1 c split red lentils
1 1/2 c water
half a regular bunch of cilantro
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 1-2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chile
1 1/2 t black mustard seeds
4 T sunflower oil
1 1/2 t g coriander
1 t g cumin
1/2 t g turmeric
1/4 t sweet paprika
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 t sugar
1/4 t fenugreek (if you can find it)
1 small container of Greek yogurt
1/2 of a cucumber, finely diced
1 1/2 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 1/2 T fresh lime juice
salt and pepper

instructions
wash the lentils under cold water and pour into a bowl with the water. let soak for 30 minutes. get the rest of your ingredients ready and chopped.

meanwhile, cut the cilantro bunch halfway between the top and bottom. give the leaf top a rough chop and set aside. add the bottom stalky part to a food processor along with the onion, ginger, garlic and chili. pulse a few times until ingredients are broken up, but not pasty.

grab a heavy pot (Dutch oven time!) and turn on medium heat. add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped mixture and the sunflower oil. cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the coriander through the paprika, and continue cooking/stirring for five minutes. the mixture may appear very dark, which is just fine.

add the lentils and their soaking water, tomatoes, sugar, and fenugreek, as well as a little salt. cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked. you’ll probably want to check on them occasionally, as mine were about 5 minutes overdone since I abandoned the kitchen for too long…

meanwhile, make the  yogurt by whisking the yogurt, cucumber, and olive oil together. add salt and pepper to taste.

once the lentils are cooked, stir in the butter, lime juice, and most of the cilantro leaves. season with salt/pepper if needed. divide into 4 dishes, topping each with a large dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves to garnish.