Mediterranean Lentil & Couscous Salad

As you may have gathered, we like lentils in this family. It’s just that they are so versatile, and cheap, and healthy! I like the peppery flavor of Du Puy (French green) lentils. Continuing on from the vichyssoise we have another a French-inspired summer dish. It’s great to make ahead and goes nicely with some grilled tarragon chicken. If you Google tarragon chicken you’ll find approximately eight jillion recipes. Adapted from Epicurious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (250 ml) du Puy lentils (French green lentils)
  • 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) water
  • 1 cup (250 ml) couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 bag (100 g, approx) arugula, chopped
  • 2 cups (200 g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 200 g feta (or similar cheese, such as halloumi), crumbled
  • fresh lemon juice

Instructions:

Put lentils in a small sauce pan and cover with 2 inches of water. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes until they are tender but not falling apart, rinse carefully with cool water and drain well. Put lentils back in the saucepan and stir in 1 tablespoon vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Put dry couscous and another pinch of salt in a large bowl. Bring water to boil on the stove top (I use an electric kettle, much faster). Pour water over couscous and stir with a fork, then cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and cool completely.

In a small bowl (or in the mortar you used to mash the garlic) whisk together garlic paste, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir lentils and dressing into couscous. Chill salad, covered, for 45-60 minutes (or overnight if you really want to make-ahead). After this time stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill additional 30 minutes and give the salad a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before serving.

Servings: Six. 260 calories.

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Falafel

falafel + garnishesI have been attempting to post this falafel recipe for weeks now, and I kept getting stuck. Reason being? I couldn’t think of a clever intro or witty anecdote about why I decided to make homemade falafel. Truth of the matter is I wanted falafel and that was that.

Ps. Once you make homemade falafel you’ll never go back.

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar (400 g) chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1/2 cup green spring onions (white and light green parts)
  • handful fresh cilantro (coriander)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4-6 TB all-purpose flour
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Sunflower oil for frying
  • chopped tomato, cucumber and mint salad for garnish
  • pita bread
  • tahini sauce

Instructions:

chickpea mixIn a food processor, pulse garlic, cilantro, onion, hot pepper flakes, salt and cumin until it’s finely chopped (not quite a paste). Scrape down sides and add baking powder, lemon juice and chickpeas. Pulse until well-blended but not pureed, scraping down sides every 10 pulses or so to make sure that everything is well mixed.

Turn the chickpea mixture out into a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle mix with 2 TB of flour and blend in using a spatula. Add another 2 TB of flour and blend in. You may need to add 1-2 TB more depending on how wet the mix still is. If you try to make a small ball in your hands and a lot of the chickpea mix sticks to your skin, you will need to add a bit more flour.

Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I use this time to make the garnishes – a fresh chopped tomato, cucumber, lemon juice and mint salad is easy to do, and you can make yoghurt sauce with 150 ml greek yoghurt, 1/2 cup peeled and finely diced cucumber, 1 finely diced clove of garlic and salt to taste.

In a deep frying pan heat 1/2″ of oil over medium heat (it’s ready when it seems shimmery). Test one small ball of falafel, if it starts to fall apart when frying you need to add more flour to the chickpea mix. Form evenly sized balls of the mixture and flatten slightly with a spatula. I like to make falafel “burgers” so the mixture makes about eight 3-inch patties, but you can make them smaller if you like.

tomato cucumber saladFry over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown.

Serve with pita bread, fresh garnishes and tahini sauce.

Servings: Four. 250 calories.

Sweet Potato & Leek Soup

It’s October, so I can start making autumn/winter food now if I want, even if the temperatures don’t really match (the high today was 25º C / 77º F). This time of year you start seeing little huts all over town near the metro stations and at major intersections where they roast sweet potatoes and chestnuts and sell them in paper cones. The first time you buy a roasted sweet potato it looks pretty dubious, as it’s sort of blackened and shriveled and not at all appetizing to look at. The attendant wraps it in paper and lops off the top with a sharp knife, and inside the sweet potato is bright orange, steamy and soft and you eat it with a spoon.

I’m a big fan of the sweet potato in nearly all its incarnations (save the sickeningly sweet marshmallow topped version you see at Thanksgiving) and the flavor and nutritional value far outshines that of regular potatoes. This soup is a twist on traditional potato & leek soup and it can be spicy or not depending on your tastes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg sweet potatoes*, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed and trimmed (white and light green parts only), split lengthwise and chopped roughly
  • 1 medium onion, chopped roughly
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 2-3 tsp raw ginger, chopped finely
  • 1 liter of chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make this recipe vegetarian-friendly)
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • fresh cilantro and smoked paprika for garnish

* If sweet potatoes aren’t in season or you’re looking for a little variety in your life, you can substitute 1 kg of any mixture of orange vegetables (pumpkin, carrots, etc.)

Instructions:

In a large soup pot, sauté leeks, onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped sweet potatoes, broth and spices. If the liquid doesn’t cover the vegetables add a bit more water. Simmer over medium heat until the sweet potatoes are soft, approximately 20-25 minutes. Purée the soup using an immersion blender (or mini-pimer as we call it here) until it’s smooth. Serve immediately with a bit of smoked paprika sprinkled on top and some freshly chopped cilantro.

Servings: Six, approx. 206 calories.

Lentil Chili

We loooooove lentils. They are chock full of fiber (and gas!) and best of all, they’re cheap. Lentil chili is probably our favorite version of lentil soup because it’s spicy (well, the way I make it) and it’s just as satisfying as meat-based chili. As you may have figured out we aren’t vegetarians by a long stretch, but I do like to moderate the amount of meat I eat, and we eat meatless dinners several times a week.

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams (about 1 cup) dry brown/pardina lentils, rinsed to remove any dirt
  • 1 large jar of kidney beans (400 grams), drained and rinsed well
  • 2 cups of onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a large red pepper, chopped coarsely
  • 2 cans of 400g tomate triturado (plain tomato puree)
  • 1 TB sweet pimentón (paprika)
  • 2 tsp pimentón de la vera (smoked paprika)
  • 2 TB oregano
  • 2 tsp hot pimentón
  • 1-2 tsp cayenne (which is hotter than hot pimentón, leave this out if you can’t stand the heat)
  • some canned jalapeño slices if you’re into that
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder*
  • 1/2 tsp dried onion*
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 TB olive oil (the cooking kind, not the good stuff)

* I use both fresh and dried garlic & onion in this recipe because I think that they have a distinct flavor, and I don’t use pre-mixed chili powder as it contains weird random stuff. Chili powder is merely a blend of paprikas, garlic and salt, so why not make your own!

Instructions:

In a largish pot (or pressure cooker) lightly sauté the chopped onions, red pepper and garlic in 2 TB olive oil. When the onions start to go translucent add the lentils and lightly fry, this step helps the lentils keep their shape. Then pour in the triturado and two cups of water and stir. Add all the herbs, spices and salt, etc., stirring through. Add the red beans, mixing them in gently.

Now here’s where things get crazy: you can either pressure cook them (at full pressure which is 15 dpi) for 25 minutes (using the slow release technique) or simmer them on the stove (covered) for at least an hour. If you simmer them on the stove top keep an eye on the liquid, as lentils suck up a lot of water. You’ll also have to stir them on occasion to make sure they don’t burn to the bottom.

Serve as you do regular chili; with pasta, chopped onion, cilantro, cheese, whatever your fancy!

Servings: Approx six. 275 calories (without any cheese, etc.)