Sunday, May 24, 2009

Green Beans with Ginger and Mushrooms Recipe

















This is a bold and succulent way to eat green beans; highly spiced and strongly flavored, it is not your meek vegetable side dish. Serve it on rice with a little yogurt on top, or as a side with a meat or grain dish. I loved it with the Chicken and Tomato Curry and the Fresh Coriander, Ginger, and Chile Crêpes that I also made this week.

The mushrooms soak up all the flavor of the ground spices, and since the ginger is sliced in slivers, and not minced, it's possible to really sense the texture of this root here. A powerful anti-inflammatory, and known to work nearly as well as conventional drugs for arthritis pain, I am convinced that when I load up on ginger, my chronic knee pain lessens. Delicious and healthy, I think I'll keep this recipe in frequent rotation, and who knows? Perhaps with a little more ginger, I'll be able to reverse the damage I've done to my body from all that dancing. And if not, at least I'll be a happy girl. A happy, green bean eating girl.


Green Beans with Mushrooms (Sem Aur Khumbi)
from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

6 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into very thin slices
5 to 6 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
1 (1 1/2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very fine rounds, then stacked and cut into very fine slivers
10 ounces white mushrooms, cut into thick slices lengthwise
1 1/2 pounds green beans, cut into 1-inch segments
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the oil in a large wok, frying pan, or saute pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 10 seconds and then put in the sliced onion. stir and fry until medium brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a few seconds, or until the garlic turns golden. Put in the mushrooms. Stir and fry until the mushrooms lose their raw look and turn shiny. Add the beans, coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne, and salt. Stir to mix. Add 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook gently for 15 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Stir once about halfway through this period. Uncover and boil away most of the liquid, turning the beans gently as you do so. (The beans may be easily reheated.)

Similar recipes on A Hungry Bear Won't Dance: Spring Fava Beans with Dill and Garlic Yogurt Recipe, Gingered Tofu and Seaweed Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sesame Seeds Recipe

Fresh Coriander, Ginger, and Chile Crêpes Recipe (Rava Dosa)

















Making these dosas always reminds me of living in the East Village, in a wonderful high-rise with a view of the Chrysler Building, and a great, open kitchen. The building was the one-time headquarters of the Black Panthers, and then home to Iggy Pop, who I would sometimes sit near on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, or pass in the lobby saying hi, pretending to know him.

I remember lazy days with Lisa at Life Cafe, drinks at Mona's, creating my first email account, taking the bus to work. I remember trying to make soap in that kitchen with my friend Jared and nearly burning the skin off our hands, and I remember my ex-boyfriend, Tim, cordoning off the bathroom area with duct tape barriers and a large Do Not Enter sign when he was startled by a water bug in there, the flying kind, the enormous kind. I was away a lot then, on tour, but when I was home we would cook, taking advantage of the many Indian markets near our house. We used these spices frequently, their scent hanging on our clothes in the heavy humidity of summer, pungent enough for one friend to rename Tim Marrakesh. South Indian, not Moroccan, these dosas are rich with memories of my first serious experiments in the kitchen.

Fresh Coriander, Ginger, and Chile Crêpes (Rava Dosa)
from Flatbreads and Flavors, a Baker's Atlas, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

I make the full recipe, but only cook what I want at each meal, keeping the rest of the batter in a covered container in the refrigerator, and this time, I used a smaller omelet pan to make the crêpes, and they turned out fine. They might even be easier to flip if you make the smaller version.

2 cups semolina flour (this time I used chickpea flour, for a richer tasting dosa)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 red chile pepper or jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh or dried curry leaves; if using dried, soak in water for 10 minutes before using
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water

You will need a medium-sized bowl, a large cast-iron or other heavy griddle, a flat wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, and a metal spatula.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the semolina flour, yogurt, chile, ginger, curry leaves, coriander leaves, and salt. Stir in the water a little bit at a time until you have a smooth batter. Cover the bowl and let the batter rest for approximately 1 hour.

Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy griddle over medium-high heat. Using a paper towl, lightly oil the surface of the griddle, and reserve the towel for use between each dosa. When the griddle is hot, pour on 1/2 cup of the batter. As you pour, move in a circle out from the middle, distributing the batter in as large a circle as possible; then use the back of a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to spread the batter to cover the gaps, again increasing the diameter of the dosa, to at least 9 or 10 inches. (Don't worry about making it too thin; the thinner the better.) Cook the dosa for 1 1/2 minutes; after cooking for 1 minute, begin to loosen it from the griddle with a metal spatula. Coax the dosa, don't force it, as it will come off easily when it is golden brown and ready. Flip to the other side and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned in spots. Remove to a plate.

Rub the surface of the griddle with the oiled paper towel or, if it's particularly dry, add a little more oil. Continue cooking until all the dosas have been made. They can be stacked one on top of the other as they are cooked, or served immediately as they are made.

Makes 8 thin crêpe-like breads, about 9 to 10 inches in diameter.

Chicken and Tomato Curry Recipe

















I had been craving Indian food, so last week I pulled out Flatbreads and Flavors, a cookbook with a favorite Indian dosa recipe, and Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian Cookbook for a savory vegetable side. I wanted to make some type of curry to spoon up in the dosas, so I picked a shrimp curry with coconut milk, that I would modify with chicken, and having forgotten the coconut milk on my trip to the coop, ended up modifying totally.

I used organic chicken thighs in this braise, an inexpensive way to eat organic meat, and virtually impossible to mess up; the longer you cook the chicken, the more tender it gets. Use many thighs, and you have enough for several meals; heat up the portion you will consume, and keep the rest in the refrigerator.

Chicken and Tomato Curry

(adapted liberally from Flatbreads and Flavors, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)

1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use canola oil)
2 pounds chicken thighs (about 8 thighs)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
20 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 28 ounce can and 1 14.5 ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon store-bought garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken thighs, and season them liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add a few chicken thighs to the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Sear them on one side until golden brown. If the chicken won't turn, let it cook on that side a little longer. When it has seared, the skin will easily release from the pan with a gently touch. Sear on the other side. Remove the thighs to a plate, and continue searing the rest of them.

Discard the chicken fat from the pan, and add a little fresh canola oil. Heat the oil, and saute the onions until soft, scraping up the chicken bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, the ginger, the jalapeno, and the curry leaves, and stir quickly. Do not let the garlic burn. Add the garam masala, and mix well. Add the tomatoes, increase the heat, and let the mixture cook a bit, until the tomatoes soften. Bury the chicken thighs into the tomato sauce, lower the heat, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, and the meat releases easily from the bone. Stir in the salt and the chopped cilantro.

If you like, skim off the excess fat from the top before serving with Fresh Coriander, Ginger, and Chile Crepes (Rava Dosa), or rice.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

John Cage Cookies Recipe

















Last week my Juilliard students performed at school for the final time before graduation on Friday, and my childhood friend, Eva, was memorialized in a Zen Buddhist ceremony in upstate New York. I made 101 John Cage cookies for both events (101 being, also and coincidentally, the title of a John Cage score). My students have not only been learning Merce Cunningham's dance technique, but I have been exposing them to some of the many collaborating artists in Merce's work, the musicians, visual artists, and other significant players who are part of this long history. John Cage was Merce's long-time partner, the musical director of the Cunningham Dance Company until his death in 1992, a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, a macrobiotic, and a wicked cook. As Eva was a student of Zen, too, making John's recipe seemed appropriate for both events, however disparate they were in mood: the yin, the yang, the black the white, the sorrowful, the joyous, the noisy, the silent.

I am offering this recipe to you, my gifted students, in the hope that when, and if, you make these cookies, it will bring back memories from this year. I know that when I make them again, I will think of all of you.

I will remember our first class, your nervous faces, your apprehensive comments, and I will remember how those same faces warmed as you took on the movement, as the movement became yours, as you grew comfortable with these new ideas of space and time and imperfection. You showed me how the material was enriching your dance experience, and you came to me when you had difficulty understanding something. I will remember watching in awe as you accomplished near impossible feats of physicality, goosebumps covering my skin when you applied a correction, and it helped you jump higher, or stand straighter, or focus your direction with clarity. I will see your gorgeous limbs slicing up the space, this way, that way, focus up, turn, turn, hang in the air, rebound. I will remember learning from you, too, watching you work out a particular movement riddle, or asking a question I needed to research. Your choices were sometimes heroic, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes confident, sometimes funny, always right.

You gave me a wonderful gift in our final class. I will hear your sweet voices, laughing and crying through your dancing, your excitement at moving on to real adulthood mixed with that heavy nostalgia of giving up your youth. I will have a clear image of you all, your boldness and fragility mixed in some perfect concoction where utter freedom and openness is the result, where the real dance lives.

Thank you, Class of 2009, for a spectacular year. Now, go make some John Cage cookies!

John Cage Cookies

(Adapted, said Merce, by John Cage, from a macrobiotic cookbook, and graciously shared by Laura Kuhn, director and co-founder of the John Cage Trust, and loyal friend to Merce and John)

1 cup whole wheat flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground oats (I grind both the almonds and the oats in a food processor)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup almond oil
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use the seeds from the inside of one whole vanilla bean, instead)

1/2 cup pure fruit jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix together the wet ingredients.  Fold all together.  Roll into small balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Make a well in the center of each with your thumb, then add a small dollop of pure fruit jam.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown, turning the cookie sheet back to front halfway through to ensure even cooking.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup Recipe

















This soup is divine. I cannot imagine a better way to eat your greens and to feel mom's warm hug at the same time. It is light, with a touch of cream, and a vague saline scent that evokes the sea. I had made a simple sorrel soup once before, a classic French recipe with pureed potatoes, but this time I wanted something lighter, a soup dense with only greens. I bought two bunches of sorrel, a plant with large, delicate, oval-shaped leaves that is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and many minerals, too. Raw and cooked, sorrel tastes a bit sour, almost like the weed we called sour grass that I used to eat out of nearby wooded areas when I was a kid. Those of us who remember playing dodge ball, or kick-the-can out in the suburban street, and then later scavenging for edible wild goodies, pretending to make our own complete meals, might like sorrel raw, on sandwiches, or in salad. But I only had two bunches, and I wanted to use both of them in the soup.

My food coop is an emabarrassment of riches, particularly at spring time. I forced myself from buying large quantities of gorgeous organic produce, knowing I have a limited appetite, hours to cook, and pots to hold my creations. But when I saw the wild stinging nettle, I couldn't resist. Nettle soup is also French, often prepared similarly to the sorrel one, so a combination of the two might work well, I thought. It did. The sourness of the sorrel was mitigated by the nettle, and the soup remained greener than it would have with sorrel alone, as sorrel has a tendency to turn a bit brown during cooking.

The only caveat: be careful with the nettle! It stings. For real. Mine were trimmed and in a bag already, so I simply filled the bag with water to rinse the leaves, drained them, and added them to the pot directly. If you feel you need to trim the woody stems of yours, please use gloves, or you will end up with a painful rash that can last hours.

My husband said this soup reminded him of one his mother used to make when he was a child in Switzerland. She floated a poached egg on top, and hearing that, I saved the last bit in the pot for an experiment today. The only way this soup might top all expectations is with that egg! You may make this dish with only nettle, or only sorrel; you may add those potatoes or the egg (poached, or even hard boiled, sliced, and added as a topping). Experiment. I only hope that farmers' markets everywhere will be selling these greens so that all of you will be as satisfied and blissful as we were this week.

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup

2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bunches of sorrel, washed of all the sand, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 medium bag of stinging nettle, trimmed and cleaned
6 cups of water or stock
3/4 cup half and half
about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (add slowly, as nutmeg can overpower, but you want the essence of the flavor, so don't skimp, either)
2 teaspoons salt
(eggs, for poaching, if using)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil or butter and saute the onion until translucent, but not brown. Add the garlic, and stir until it turns soft. Add the sorrel and the nettle to the pot, stirring so that it wilts. When it is all wilted, add the water or stock, and bring the soup to a bowl. Lower the heat, and simmer for about ten minutes, making sure the vegetables are cooked. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the half and half, the salt, and the nutmeg, and simmer until all the flavors are combined.

If you are adding the egg, crack it into the simmering soup, and cook it until the white is set.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raspberry and Blueberry Whole Wheat Muffins Recipe

















Since I almost never eat anything I don't make, I began to miss baked goods. I am not a baker. I don't even really have a sweet tooth, but every now and then I have a craving for something cake-like with a touch of sugar. In my freezer was a bag of mixed berries that I generally sprinkle on granola, or blend into morning smoothies, but this week I put them to better use in these wholesome muffins.

I used whole wheat pastry flour, and substituted sucanat, a non-refined dried cane sugar, with all its molasses content intact, for the sugar. I nearly halved the amount of sugar called for in most recipes, and added a little maple syrup, so I think it's safe to say that this recipe is fairly healthy. It contains all of the antioxidants of the red raspberries and blueberries, and just a touch of dairy. I am warning you, though; these muffins are so outrageously delicious that after I photographed them for this entry, I subsequently downed three of them in a row. Mmm...homemade raspberry and blueberry muffins...what's better?

Raspberry and Blueberry Whole Wheat Muffins
(makes 12 medium-sized muffins)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with the germ (that's what I have at the food coop; if you can't find that, use regular all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup sucanat (or, if you like things sweeter, any amount up to 1 cup. If you add more sucanat, eliminate the maple syrup.)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2/3 cup half and half (only because that's what I had in the fridge. You may use milk, if you like.)
2 cups mixed fresh or frozen blueberries and raspberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease a muffin pan with a little vegetable oil, or line the muffin cups with individual muffin liners.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix gently to combine. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit more half and half or milk; if it is too wet, add a bit more flour. Gently fold in the berries. Be careful not to over mix!

Scoop the muffin batter into the muffin cups, almost filling them. Bake the muffins in the oven until the tops turn golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the middle of one comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Charmoula-Baked Tempeh with Beet Greens Recipe

















One of my favorite cookbooks is one I gave to my sister for Christmas. She adored it, cooked through it, and the following Christmas, gave me a copy with stars beside her favorite recipes, and lovely personal notes about how to improve them. It is The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley, and it is fantastic. He was the chef at Angelica Kitchen in the early 90s, an East Village vegan restaurant, a place I went to from time to time, marveling at the fussiness of the orders from the clientele, and the patience of the servers. Even more than how I felt about meals at the restaurant, what I make from this book has bold flavors, interesting ingredient combinations, and make-again appeal.


My sister highly recommended a recipe for a Moroccan tagine with tempeh. I made it, preferred the tempeh on its own (as did she), and have made it repeatedly, without the tagine, over the years. This time, since I added beet root to the Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions, I thought I'd use the beet tops in the tempeh. It resulted in more liquid in the pan after baking, but the flavors were great, and I had a beautiful looking dish when I piled the tempeh with beet greens on top of the grains with beet root for lunch. If you don't want to add the beet greens, don't. The tempeh is delicious on its own.

Thanks, Elif, for the great book. I wonder if my copy is as worn as yours.

Charmoula-Baked Tempeh
from Peter Berley, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

For the Tempeh:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, crushed (I use more, because I love garlic)
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 pound tempeh, cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. To prepare the tempeh, whisk together the oil, water, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.

3. Arrange the tempeh cubes in a single layer in a baking dish. Pour on the marinade and cover securely with the foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tempeh has absorbed the marinade. Uncover and bake for several minutes longer to brown.

(If you are using the beet greens, wash them well, chop them into medium sized pieces, and add them to the tempeh before you cover the baking dish and put it in the oven.)

Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions Recipe

















Again, this week, I made the kind of food I usually make for myself: no frills, healthy, quick to make. And again, I nearly discarded these recipes and photos because the food isn't sophisticated or decadent. Then I got a phone call.

It was my friend Jean, on her way to the store, asking exactly what type of lentils to use for last week's one-pot Swiss Chard, Lentils and Bulgur Wheat. I am heartened that my self-proclaimed non-cook friends are attempting some recipes, and it gives me the will to continue. Afterall, my blog is about getting people in the kitchen, and empowering those who lack the confidence to cook. It is about realistic recipes, saving money, and eating healthily. It is for people like Jean. So, Jean, take your sweaters out of the oven, and fire up your burners; here's another!

Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 scallions, chopped finely
2 beets, diced
1 1/2 cup millet
1 1/2 cup quinoa
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the scallions until a little soft. Add the chopped beets and stir briefly. Stir in the millet and quinoa until all of the grains are coated with the olive oil. Add the water, and the salt and pepper. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat so the water is simmering. Cover, and cook over low heat until all of the water is absorbed and the beets are tender, about 30 minutes.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Almond and Sun Dried Tomato Basil Pesto Recipe

















I thought I had invented something really big. I was in Switzerland over the winter, and wanted to make a spread for a bruschetta type thing, or a filling for sandwiches. I often use walnuts as a base for spready things, so I thought I'd change it up a bit with almonds, and add some sun dried tomatoes and basil, a little parsley, and some garlic. As a spread it was good, if unremarkable, but later, and in need of an easy dinner, I was surprised at its balance when I used it as a pesto on penne pasta. The garlic and herbs warmed on the pasta and released their flavors; the almonds and olive oil were so rich it was as if I had added cheese; and the tomatoes, well, the tomatoes rounded everything out to pasta sauce perfection.

The point of pesto genovese is the basil, and excepting when I devoured this dish nightly in Genoa, its birthplace, where it is combined with green beans and potatoes, I feel it lacks tomatoes. My concoction was perfect! I had suddenly become Italian! How could the world not know about this decadent tomato-basil-almond pesto? I wanted to run straight out of the apartment building and to the neighboring mountains and shout so loud those in the Italian alps would hear.

But not wanting to claim the rights to this perfect dish prematurely, I looked up the ingredients online, and of course, it has existed beyond those alps for years. Pesto Garganico, is its name, and it reportedly hails from the Gargano region of Puglia. No matter. I am happy those smart Italians invented it, and happy that by past life regression, or e.s.p., or simply by combining ingredients that grow together, I was able to recreate it.

My father turned seventy-three last Sunday, and I made him my original copy of this pesto (complete with fresh oregano from the garden), as an appetizer before his birthday dinner. Happy birthday, Baba. Here's to thirty more.

Almond and Sun Dried Tomato Basil Pesto

2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 cups of almonds
2 1/2 cups of sun dried tomatoes
the leaves from 4 large stalks of basil
a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
the leaves from 2 stalks of oregano
bit of crushed red pepper, to taste
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, chop the garlic into small bits. Add the almonds, and process until the almonds are completely chopped. Add the sun dried tomatoes, the herbs, and the hot pepper (if using) and blend well. Pour the olive oil into the bowl while the machine is running, and mix until a smooth paste forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread on toasted slices of baguette, and top with parsley or basil leaves.

And/or, use as a pasta sauce on penne (or other hearty, formed pasta). You might need to warm the pesto in a small pan with a little of the pasta's cooking liquid before incorporating it with the pasta.

I even sprinkled some of this pesto into a spinach omelette, and it was delicious. Be creative.

This recipe makes a lot of pesto. Halve it if you don't want leftovers, or freeze it, or make a lot of pasta!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swiss Chard, Lentils, and Bulgur Wheat with Parsley and Garlic Yogurt Recipe

















I headed to Florida last Saturday with my husband to celebrate my father's 73rd birthday and I needed to clean out my fridge. Because it was a twenty minute throw-together endeavor, I was reluctant to blog about this one, but, after a little reflection, I realized this might be exactly the type of food that might make hesitant cooks take to the kitchen. Though unsophisticated, this one pot meal is nutritious, simple to make, and inexpensive. It packs easily in a container to take for lunch, and reheats nicely for quick suppers. There are some middle-eastern flavors here, but you could spice this as you like, changing it to your whim. You might also add your choice of vegetables, and use kale, collards or mustard greens instead of the Swiss chard.

Swiss Chard, Lentils and Bulgur Wheat with Parsley, Garlic Yogurt

2 large shallots (or one medium onion), chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
7 cups water
1 bunch swiss chard, cut into pieces (I use the stems, too, and saute them in the beginning, with the onions)
approximately 1 cup parsley (for the one pot meal, and for the yogurt sauce), chopped
1 1/2 cup (about) yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and the swiss chard stems (if using), and saute until soft, but not brown. Add the carrot, let it cook until a little soft, and then add 2 of the garlic cloves. Stir a couple of times, and then add the ground cumin seed. When the cumin is incorporated, add the tomato paste, and stir it around until it turns a darker red. Add the bulgur and the lentils, and combine the ingredients so that all the grains and lentils are covered in the tomato mixture. Pour in the water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with some salt (I used 1 teaspoon) and pepper. Add the chopped Swiss chard and stir to combine. Reduce the heat so the mixture is on a low simmer, cover, and let it cook until all the water is absorbed, about 35-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add the other minced garlic clove (or less, if you are not a fan), and some of the parsley to the yogurt. Season, to taste, with salt. Set aside in a warm place (I leave it on the stove).

When the lentils and bulgur are done, stir in a handful of the fresh parsley and top with the garlic yogurt mixture.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel Recipe

















My husband and I were remiss in signing up for our food coop shifts in advance, and so, in order to avoid being suspended from shopping, signed up for two-in-a-row 5:30 am produce stocking shifts. It wasn't awful; the store is closed, so shoppers weren't banging into our knees with their carts while we stocked blood oranges or daikon radishes, and we felt as if we had the full day ahead of us when our shift was finished at 8 am.

During the shift, and while organizing the red peppers, I saw a sign for cardoons hanging over an empty bin. I was anxious to retry this unusual vegetable after my cardoon fiasco in France two Decembers ago, so when the box arrived for us to stock, I was thrilled. Eating them for the first time, all smothered in gruyère, at one of Lyon's famous bouchons, I adored how (though different in look and texture), they evoked the artichoke, and when I saw them at the market, their sturdy stalks like celery on growth hormone, I was eager to make them myself. I failed. It happens.

This time, following the directions on the label, and hoping to rid them of their bitterness, I soaked the branches for a few hours in water, and then, inspired by flavors I'd use in a vinaigrette for an artichoke dipping sauce, I made a meyer lemon, garlic and thyme béchamel. I poured this over the cooked cardoons and topped them with lemony breadcrumbs and gruyère cheese, and baked them until bubbly and golden brown. My husband loved it. I thought it was fine. The flavors in the béchamel were overtaken by the strong cardoons, so next time I might add a bit more lemon and thyme. In the future, (and because the vegetable gave off a little more water than I expected), I'd leave the béchamel on the thicker side before baking the whole thing in the oven. Otherwise, not bad for a second attempt, but not Lyon bouchon worthy, either. I'll keep working on it.

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel

1 1/2 lbs cardoons (or one bunch), cut into 3 inch lengths
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (or more) fresh thyme leaves
1/2 (or 1) meyer lemon, juiced (if you use a regular lemon, you will need less of it, as meyer lemons are a bit sweeter)
3 slices stale bread (I used spelt bread)
1/4 cup gruyère cheese, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon (use the one you used for the juice)
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Soak the cut-up cardoons in some cold water for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the cardoons in a large pot of salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook them until they are fork tender, but not mushy. Set aside.

For the breadcrumbs:

Make crumbs out of the bread slices by mixing them in a food processor. Combine the crumbs with the lemon zest and the gruyère, and a little salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the béchamel:

Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted. Whisk in the flour, and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly, until the flour turns light golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time, taking care that the sauce doesn't form lumps. When all the milk is incorporated, add the garlic and thyme, and bring the milk to a low boil. Immediately lower the heat to a simmer (you don't want to scorch the milk), and keep whisking as the sauce thickens. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more milk. Remove from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice and salt, to taste.

Put the cardoons into a baking dish and pour the béchamel sauce over them. Top with the breadcrumb mixture, and drizzle a little olive oil all over the top.

Bake in the oven until the top is golden, and the béchamel is bubbly.

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