Monday, March 26, 2012

GREEK LENTIL SOUP (Fakés Soupa, Φακές Σούπα)



I have been trying to get around to making Greek lentil soup for a month now. Today was the day.  I added lots of soup vegetables to compliment the lentils. I used parsnip and leeks which are not found in traditional versions of Greek lentil soup, but why not amplify its flavor a bit?  The amount of tomato used depends on the cook.  If you like a really strong lentil flavor, cut down on some of the tomatoes and tomato paste.  If you like tomatoes, use them. The important thing is that anyway it's cooked, lentil soup is always fragrant and tastes oh so good. Lentils are very high in protein, dietary fiber, thiamine and iron.  They are a very healthy food.  Be sure to always soak lentils before cooking.  An hour or maybe two is good.  Soaking not only makes them softer for cooking, but also increases their nutritional potency. 

Ingredients:


2 cups green lentils
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, divided, chopped
2 leeks, washed very well, white and light green parts, chopped
4 or 5 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, chopped…I love smashing garlic!
6 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
optional - 1 parsnip, chopped very thinly, or better yet, grated 
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste, depending on how "red" you want the soup
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (well, I may have used a little more) 
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano  
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or filtered water, plus additional liquid  as needed
optional - vinegar to be served on the side 
optional - some grated Pecorino Romano cheese such as "Locatelli," to top the soup, if you're like me and do not like vinegar 


Lots of vegetables in this soup...  More than you see in the picture...

Directions:
  • Pick over the lentils to make sure there are no small rocks or other debris mixed in.  Rinse them and place them in a large bowl.  Cover them with water.  Let them sit in the water for about one hour.  Drain and reserve for use in the soup.  You'll notice that as the lentils soak and absorb water they will start to turn greener than they were in their dry state.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large heavy Dutch oven and sauté one of the onions, the leeks, and the garlic for 10 minutes.  (You may think we are using a lot of leeks and onions, but you'll see that they will decrease in volume as they are being  sautéed). Turn off the heat. 
  • Add the other onion, the celery, parsnip, tomatoes, carrots, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley.  Mix well
  • Add the lentils (drained), and mix well.  
  • Add the 6 cups of stock, the tomato paste, and the bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper, turn on the heat and bring to a boil.  
  • Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.  If the heat is on low and you are using a heavy Dutch oven, you don't even need to lift the lid and stir the soup.  Just let it simmer and perfume the house with its beautiful aroma!
  • After an hour check on the soup, give it a good stir and add the oregano. Taste it and season with more salt and pepper if needed. It will probably need to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.
  • At the end of the cooking time add the rest of the parsley.  You may need to add more stock or some water to bring the soup to the consistency that you prefer.
I served it with toasted olive fougasse bread.  It was bakery bought and  excellent!
  • Serve the lentil soup hot.  Offer some vinegar at the table because it's a tradition to top the soup with vinegar.   In our house there are two camps:  pro lentils with vinegar and anti lentils with vinegar. I belong to the latter camp.  I don't care for vinegar, but I do love cheese, so I top my soup with a little grated Parmesan.  That's not traditional, but... hey, this is my recipe!.  
  • I made a simple salad to go with the lentils:
  • One English cucumber peeled and sliced, half a red onion, and some olives.  Place in a bowl and mix.  I mixed it so well, that the olives can't be seen in the picture!  Trust me, they are in there.
  • Top with feta cheese cut into chunks and season with olive oil, your favorite vinegar (or use lemon juice or a combination of the two), black pepper and oregano.  No salt in this salad, since there is salt in the feta cheese and the olives.  
This was a great Sunday dinner which all of us enjoyed. After dinner we each tasted some spanakopita which my mother and a friend had made earlier.  They prepared homemade phyllo dough, which was spectacular. Thin and crunchy.  I should have taken pictures, why didn't I take pictures?  They made three and a half batches.  The three pitas will be frozen and cooked for Easter, and the small pita was baked and shared between us.  I'm having some spanakopita for breakfast tomorrow, and more lentil soup for dinner.  Lovely!


I am linking this post to Souper Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen. Every Sunday, Deb, from “Kahakai Kitchen” has a round up of contributed posts featuring recipes of soup, salad or sandwiches.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD


This fruit salad which I served as dessert was a big hit at my house!  I got the idea from Ramona's blog called Curry and Comfort.  If you're looking for a quick and delicious desert, this is it!  Fresh, healthy, sweet, delicious.  Everyone had seconds.  There was a small bowl left, and my mother told me that she polished it off the next day for breakfast.  Here's how to make Tropical Fruit Salad:
Ingredients:
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced into chunks
1 mango, peeled and sliced into chunks
1/4 cantaloupe, peeled and sliced into chunks
3 kiwis, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 pound of strawberries, hulled and cut in half if they are too large
2 bananas, sliced
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup sweetened coconut,
1/2 cup dates, pitted and cut in pieces


Directions:

  • In a large bowl combine all the pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe.  Mix and then add the strawberries, and kiwis.  
  • You can stop there, cover and refrigerate the bowl if you want to make the fruit salad ahead of time for company.  
  • Right before serving, slice the bananas and add.  You want to add the bananas at the last minute, otherwise they will become mushy and start to get discolored.  
  • Carefully fold in the dates, lemon juice, honey, and coconut.  
  • Guess what?  That's it!  You're done!  Serve and enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SRI LANKAN VEGETABLE AND CASHEW CURRY


I read a lot of recipes about Sri Lankan cooking, and I read a lot about Sri Lankan ingredients.  I feel comfortable enough to call this recipe my own, although I borrowed ideas from about a dozen sources.  However, the final combinations are mine, and I am so happy I was able to do this.  I loved the way it tasted.  The key here is not to overcook the vegetables. 
When having dinner, Sri Lankans set the table with a variety of dishes that range from mild to really spicy.  Usually meat curries are spicy.  This vegetable curry has very little heat, and since I can't eat cilantro I used Italian parsley. Vegetable and cashew curry was a nice accompaniment to aromatic Sri Lankan rice.

Ingredients:

1 cup chicken broth
½ cup cashew nuts
1/8 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/3 cup coconut milk
2 carrots, cut up
½ medium head cauliflower, cut into florets 

1 cup frozen peas
about 3 tablespoons canola oil
1 red onion, chopped
5 curry leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped well
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (I used parsley because I am allergic to cilantro)  
Juice of one lime
Rind from one lime


Directions:
  • In a medium sized sauce pan add about one tablespoon oil and saute the curry leaves, garlic and mustard seeds.  Sauté  until the mustard seeds begin to pop.  
  • Add the broth, coconut milk, madras curry, turmeric, and cashews.  Mix and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes until the nuts are soft. 
  • Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and cook until it starts to soften.  Don't overcook the vegetables.  Remove from the heat.  
  • Meanwhile, as the vegetables are cooking, get a large sauce pan and add the rest of the oil to it.  Place it over a medium high heat, and when the oil gets hot add the onions. Sauté, mixing occasionally, until the onions are soft.  
  • Add the cauliflower mixture to the onions and shake to mix.  Add the cilantro (or parsley), lime rind and lime juice and fold in gently.  Turn off the heat. Serve with rice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

SRI LANKAN AROMATIC YELLOW RICE

I found this recipe for Sri Lankan aromatic yellow rice in a beautiful web site called  Curry and Comfort.  I was nervous about making it, never having made a dish with the combination of spices listed in the recipe.  I needn't have worried. This is one of the best rice dishes I have ever made or tasted!  Highly recommended! It is truly fragrant, and truly delicious.  The stars of the dish are, I think, the coconut milk and the curry leaves.  These two ingredients are also the stars of Sri Lankan cuisine.  They are used in most dishes and contribute excellent flavors. 
 A curry tree with its beautiful leaves.  The area around these trees must be really fragrant!  Will I ever visit? (picture from Wikipedia)

Curry leaves should not be confused with curry powder.  Curry leaves grow on curry trees and are used as an ingredient in curries.  Their flavor is unique and citrusy, a little bit reminiscent of limes.  Some people say one can substitute bay leaves for them, but I don't think the tastes are even close.  

Curry leaves are usually not sold in supermarkets.  One would have to find an Indian market and buy them there, which is what I did.  I didn't even have to drive into Philadelphia to find my curry leaves.  There is a culturally diverse section in our nearby suburb of Upper Darby.  I knew if I headed there I would be bound to hit pay dirt.  I did!  I found a very nice place called "Indian Super Market and Grocery." It's located on Market Street, near the 69th street terminal, an area close to my heart because that is where I grew up!  (Let me digress for a minute.  Below I have some pictures of this historical area)!

That's a newer pedestrian walkway bridge at 69th street, and behind it is the McClatchy building, built in 1926.  This building is the cornerstone to a large open shopping area, that was built around the same time and was the first of its kind in the US.
Another view of the building, which is a very fine example of art deco architecture.

The 69th street terminal when it was first constructed in 1908.  It was known as the gateway to Philadelphia's western suburbs, which saw a great surge in development after the terminal was built.  Today, most of the facade looks the same, everything else is renovated.  And now, back to the subject at hand....  Sri Lankan rice!


When I was growing up, the Indian supermarket was a bar, and I had never ventured in there.  Now it's a beautiful and busy market that carries all types of groceries and an amazing array of spices.  Lentils?  I am crazy about lentils, and this market had any type and color lentil I wanted.  I spoke with the proprietor for a little while and we discussed the neighborhood and the lovely old buildings in the area.  I will be going back to that market again.  If you don't live near an area where you can find an Indian super market, do an internet search.  I found a nice site with very reasonable prices that will ship spices and curry leaves from Hawaii. I didn't order from there.  I went to dear old 69th street, and found everything I needed! 
Ingredients:
2 cups white basmati rice
10 curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half
5 cloves
1 onion chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup of coconut milk
4 or 5 cups low sodium chicken stock (can use water if you need more liquid than this) 

a few cashews and some peas for decoration
some freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Directions:
Place the rice in a strainer and wash it well.  Allow it to drain for about 20 minutes so that it dries and does not splatter while sauteing. While the rice is draining get the mise en place ready.  Imperative for me, because I don't work with these ingredients every day and I want everything to go smoothly.
Kind of a sloppy picture, but here we have the onions, chicken broth, coconut milk, turmeric, grated ginger, curry leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, garlic, ground cardamom... the rice is around there somewhere...

Tear up some of the curry leaves so that they can better perfume the oil while cooking.
In a large pot heat the oil and add the curry leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves. Allow to cook for about a minute until they become fragrant.
Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes. 


Add the rice, turmeric and cardamom.  
Sauté  for about 3-4 minutes until the rice turns opaque in color. Stir continually so that it does not burn but rather has a chance to become toasted.
The rice is toasted, time to add the broth.

Add the chicken broth and coconut milk, bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat to simmer. 
Cook until the liquid evaporates and the rice is soft.  My liquid evaporated long before the rice was soft so I added more broth and coconut milk. Five cups of broth, as listed in the ingredients, is what I used in total. 
Near the end of cooking I added a few cashews, and later I added just a few peas 
for decoration.

If you make this you may have to adjust the amount of liquid that you use.  It all depends on the rice, I suppose.  Taste it and make sure it's soft.  You don't want a crunchy rice, so if it's still crunchy keep adding liquid.  Also make sure your heat is on medium.  Not too high, not too low.
I seasoned with a little black pepper, but this is optional.

When done, fish out the cinnamon stick pieces, and the cloves if you can find them. Or, you may decide to leave them in and to eat your way around them, because they look kind of pretty and decorative in the rice. 
Done!
This rice will serve about six hungry people.  You can serve it just as is, or garnish it further with some cashew nuts, sautéed onions, and peas.   In my case, I chose to serve it with a vegetable and cashew curry.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

THE CAT'S TABLE AND COOKING SRI LANKAN: NOVEL FOOD # 15

This is my contribution to Novel Food, a quarterly literary/culinary event hosted by Simone from Briciole.  We prepare a dish of our choosing that has a connection to a published literary work, and then we publish a post about it.  Show the food, talk about what we have read.  Simple as that.  Well, I went outside of my comfort zone this time.  No, not where the reading was concerned.  I read Michael Ondaatje’s beautiful novel “The Cat’s Table,” a subtly powerful work conveyed in language that reached into the core of me and will remain there from now on.  
Michael Ondaatje 
The author, made famous when he published “The English Patient,” is a native of Sri Lanka.  So I thought I would try to cook a few dishes that are eaten in Sri Lanka.  Never tasted nor cooked the stuff before.  I went on a culinary adventure, outside my comfort zone, and I am glad I did.  I learned quite a bit about southern Indian cuisine and cooking ingredients.


“The Cat’s Table” is about an 11-year-old boy, “green as he could be about the world,” who takes an indelible sea voyage in the early 1950s.  If the captain's table is the place to sit on a sea voyage, then Ondaatje's cat's table is just the opposite: one of the least privileged dining assignments aboard the cruise ship Oronsay.  The table is populated by an assortment of eccentric characters, and the invisibility that the cat's table bestows upon them allows them to behave more or less as they wish. The ship is sailing from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to England, a twenty one day journey by way of the Suez Canal. Among the nine passengers at the cat's table sit three dissimilar boys sailing toward a reunion with parents they have not seen in years.  The young "Mynah" or Michael, is the narrator, Cassius, is a seemingly tough guy, and Ramadhin, is a frail and thoughtful type.  The three become fast friends and join together to form a feral group that becomes the terror of the ship. They seem to be everywhere; they can be found having breakfast in a lifeboat or wandering around the furnace rooms.  Somehow they know everything that goes on in the ship, and they slip in and out of adventures and dangerous situations.  They snoop, they eavesdrop, and whatever they cannot understand because they are young they store in their imagination and allow it to come to fruition there.  What they see and learn on the Oronsay shapes their adult lives. The Cat's table is a novel of painful journeys and passages:  Away from childhood into an adult world, and away from home into a strange country.  Highly recommended!
I made three dishes to celebrate this wonderful novel, and they are as follows:






All these recipes appear in separate posts.  Just follow the links!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

IRISH SODA BREAD



Irish soda bread is a type of quick bread.  It's relatively easy to make, requires just a few ingredients, and it's inexpensive.  In Ireland it was meant to be made with ingredients that everyone had on hand at any time.  It was baked daily and sustained households which had to be frugal.  There are the soda bread purists who insist that the only ingredients which belong in the bread should be flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk.  Then there are those who add things like raisins, butter, baking powder, eggs or caraway seeds.  I am not a purist.  I brake rules.  I like raisin bread.  SO, I opted to add raisins in my soda bread. Also, I added a little butter, hoping that the extra fat will make the bread softer and help it rise more.  Sugar?  I added sugar also, just because. Actually, I always add sugar to dough since I believe it makes the final product crunchier.  Here is a confession: I've never tasted nor made soda bread before, although once I was given a freshly baked loaf as a present.  It was heavy and dense as a rock.  That put me off from a desire to make any or eat any.  Until today that is, when a cooking group I joined chose Irish soda bread as a project.  By following a few simple steps, I made a delicious Irish soda bread which I will be making again and again.  It was so quick to make, and so worth it!  A nice way to commemorate St Patrick's day! 



The group I joined is called Tuesdays with Dorie, and we'll be baking from Julia Child's book "Baking with Julia."  "Dorie" stands for Dorie Greenspan, who co-authored "Baking with Julia," hence the name of the group, Tuesdays with Dorie.    "Baking with Julia" is a wonderful cookbook, full of enticing and sophisticated recipes, demonstrated by professional bakers for the home cook. It was published in 1996, and it accompanied the television program by the same name, which was actually filmed in Julia Child's home kitchen.  I bought the book a few years ago, because I had heard about a recipe for an "upside down chiffon nectarine cake" that was included in it, so I had to find out what that was all about.  Fast forward two years later, when this cooking group was formed.  I decided to join because I want to bake some of the breads and other delicacies that are included in "Baking with Julia."  Plus, I need some help with my baking skills.  I hope that by participating I will become a better baker. 
Now let's get back to the subject at hand:  Here's how I made the Irish soda bread:


Ingredients:
4 1/2 cups of cake flour plus more for dusting 
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 cups of buttermilk at room temperature


Irish flour is soft, so I opted to use cake flour which is also soft.  All-purpose flour can be used, but not bread flour which is high in gluten, and requires yeast to rise.  In soda bread there are two ingredients that interact to cause the rising action:  bicarbonate of soda, whose pH is alkaline or basic, and buttermilk, which has an acidic pH.  The reaction starts the minute these two ingredients meet.  It's vital to work quickly and get the bread into the oven without delay so that it can rise while baking.  When making the dough no kneading is required.  Just use a light touch and mix with your fingers only.  Have every ingredient ready before beginning so that you can work fast and get that loaf into the hot oven.   


    
Directions:
  • Grease an 8 inch glass pie plate and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400° F with the rack in the middle of the oven.  Don't start making the bread until the oven is good and hot. 
  • Shift the flour, baking soda, sugar and salt.  Place the ingredients into a large bowl and add the raisins if using.  Mix them with the flour.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk, butter and raisins.  
  • With a light touch bring the flour in from the edges and mix until all the ingredients come together into a dough.  Remember that the dough should not be overworked. 
  • Place it on a floured wooden board and shape it into a round about 6 inches across.  
  • Move it to the prepared pie dish, not allowing it to touch the sides.  
  • Cut a cross in the dough about a half inch deep all the way across (helps distribute heat, keeps the top from cracking).
  • Bake for about 50 minutes until the slash widens and the bread is a nice golden brown.  When you tap the bottom and hear a hollow sound, the bread has finished cooking. 
Before cutting into slices, let the bread rest on a wire rack until it has cooled completely. 



Traditionally, the Irish have soda bread with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It's an all day bread and should be polished off the day it's made, because it does not keep well; it gets hard.  A nice way of storing it for the day is to seal it in plastic wrap and then in a clean kitchen towel.


  
***On this St Patrick's Day, God bless the Irish, and may St Paddy always intervene to help you make the best soda bread possible!*** 

 Here's Julia Child on You Tube, making the bread with Mary Cunningham:

Friday, March 16, 2012

EGG and AVOCADO SALAD SANDWICH



Do you like green eggs and ham?  If you do, I have the perfect green egg salad for you.  It turns green when avocado is mixed in the recipe. I started eating avocados after I had gastric bypass surgery.  Their texture is smooth and they are easy on the stomach, so they have become good friends of mine. Almost two months after surgery I still have avocado about twice per week.  The other day I mixed half an avocado with an egg and a little light mayonnaise.  It tasted pretty good, so I got the idea of combining the ingredients to make a salad.  Below you'll find the recipe I came up with.  I ate an avocado and egg salad sandwich for dinner, plus I had leftovers!  While I was eating, I pulled off the top layer of bread because I could tell I was becoming full.  I ate about 3/4 of the sandwich.  My dogs, 2 bichons named Linus and Kelly, were kind enough to scarf up what I couldn't eat.  Aren't they darlings?  
Now you might say that the salad looks like guacamole, but it doesn't taste like it.  It has it's own unique taste.  Mild.  There is no garlic, there are no spices.  Also, because of the eggs, the salad is high in protein. Post gastric bypass patients must have a high protein intake.  This salad fits the bill!  Other types of protein I eat are chicken, fish, turkey, and legumes.  So far I can't tolerate red meat.  I tried it once, a month post surgery, and I felt as though I had swallowed a pound of led.  Relief came when I became nauseous and threw up. That's the dumping syndrome.  However, my green egg and avocado salad is tasty, mild, and can be had as a sandwich or it can be scooped on a bed of lettuce leaves and enjoyed that way.  There's enough to make 4 sandwiches.


GREEN!
Nutrition: Avocados are very high in potassium, vitamin E and fiber.  Studies show they can lower blood cholesterol in both LDL and triglyceride levels.  Currently, avocados are under research for potential anti-cancer activity. 


Ingredients: 
3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs 
about 2 tablespoons light mayonnaise 
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard 
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1 stalk celery, chopped 
2 scallions, chopped, white and lite green parts only
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped 
1 ripe avocado, chopped 
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dill, chopped
salt and pepper to taste 
Romaine lettuce and tomato slices 
Whole wheat bread slices, which are my favorite, or use your own favorite, toasted if you like 




Directions:
In a large bowl mash the eggs and fold in the avocado, celery, scallion, dill and parsley. 
Stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. 
Toast the bread slices and then top half of them with egg/avocado salad. 




Add the lettuce and tomato and top with the rest of the bread.  That's it!  Enjoy it!!!




I am linking this post to Souper Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen.
Every Sunday, Deb, from "Kahakai Kitchen"  has a round up of contributed posts featuring recipes of soup, salad or sandwiches.