Inspirational Mediterranean Lentil Salad

I got a cynical outlook on life, sometimes dark, sometimes pessimistic......and then once in awhile I am humbled. I am humbled to have a son like mine, with his forgiving, optimistic outlook on life.  Unmarred or disillusioned.  Is he really mine?!  I've got better over the years, if you think I got a sharp edge you had to meet me few years back.  I got softer, maybe only slightly but nevertheless softer, and then I had a brief encounter with Mollie Katzen and the sharp edge dulls a bit further. It was a twitter encounter. I told Mollie Katzen, about twelve years ago I had a lentil salad of hers , I fantasize about to this day.  I saw her and followed her on twitter for couple of months now, but felt strange approaching her.  Did not feel like 'pouncing' on her or seem star struck.  At some point I saw how nice she was so I mustered the courage to tweet her. I could never in million years guess the ingredients in that salad.  I got couple of cookbooks by her, went to bookstores over the years to leaf through some of the others authored by her, just to find that recipe.  I even googled for it to no avail.  I must admit about twelve years ago, in Israel, in the expat community near Tel Aviv, when this Jewish American girl invited us to dinner, looking intently at this cookbook by one Mollie Katzen, I was clueless.  The American Jewish girl was 'chattering' away with another friend, an African American girl, while chopping away, to what sounded to me like an excited chatter 'Moose this and Moose that'. I was watching them with doubtful eye, skipping a heartbeat at the thought that soon we will have to consume this disasterous salad.  I cringed as the American Jewish girl was chopping up a storm, and adding to the bowl, what seemed to me as sweet or fruit to a savory dish....and then.......I tasted it..... and fantasized about it ever since. How can you not love a person, even though a stranger in essence, when they are so gracious. When I pieced the story together for Mollie Katzen on twitter and email, she 'tweetered' (I like tweetered) me back "Great story. Thanks for piecing it together- a poetic tweet-quilt with email stitching". What a woman, in a brief encounter I found a whole world of inspiration . Soothing, calm, gracious and generous, maybe a 'shanti goddess?! :). Chips away at the edges of my roughness!! Check out her site at , recipe and get the Still Life with Menu Cookbook for the Mediterranean lentil salad recipe among other great gems.

*Please note I have made this salad on multiple occasions, with orange sections and orange and lime zests and without.  My personal taste and preferred version is without!
Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Golden beet salad on a bed of golden beet leaves

The golden beets and beet green were so young and tender that I had to grab couple bunches.The salad is lightly flavored with Moroccan spices, just a tad of a Moroccan twist while still keeping the beets pure in their essence, while giving the beet greens a quick saute to serve as a bed for the beet salad. Keep in mind that I flavor them more boldly when red. 

Golden Beet Salad
2 bunches of small golden beets
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1/2-3/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon paprika
Handful of chopped parsley
1/2-1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
Salt to taste
Peel and cook beets, in a pot, covered with water, until tender, top 20 minutes.  Slice as you wish or with a wavy knife found at any kitchen supply stores, see pic as an illustration.  Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and adjust for salt.  Chill in refrigerator before serving. Keep in mind if using red beets, you can be slightly heavier handed with the spices.  As a general rule make this salad and salad greens below your own by adjusting amount of ingredients to your liking. 

Beet greens
Beet greens, chopped
1/2 finger of ginger, microplaned
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, diced
Fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Sautee onions, garlic and ginger in oil until soft.  Add chopped beet greens and toss with onions, garlic and ginger.  Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste and mix.  Top with a lid and cook for five minutes or so until wilted but still green.  Toss couple times during those five minutes. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

FRESHFARM Dupont Circle bounty lunch today

On a sunny beautiful day at FRESHFARM Dupont Circle market I found a vibrant, bountiful market today.  With a bag full of organic produce, artisanal breads and cured meats, and a quick in and out of Kramersbooks, my morning was complete. The guys lunch today was a sandwich made entirely of the delicious and mostly organic findings at the market.  Arugula, mache and two kinds of radishes from Next step organic farm, Nathan Anda's cured beef pastrami and bresaola, whole grain multi seed bread from one of the bakeries at the market, a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon and a touch of salt to brush the bread with and lunch was complete.

Majadra - rice and lentils

Majadra is an ideal vegetarian dish. A staple in every household in Israel as well as the entire Middle East. My apologies to the vegetarians among us for the pic...but a vegetable skewer will go beautifully with the Majadra just as well as the chicken one.  I am marking this a vegetarian dish since the chicken skewer recipe will be in a separate post.  With only handful  ingredients you achieve big nourishing and pure flavors. Rich in protein! I could have it as a dish all on it's own!!

1 cup green lentils (brown lentils)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice  (basmati)
2 medium/large onions, diced
Black pepper, freshly ground
2-4 tablespoons canola oil
3-3 1/2 cups water reserved from lentil water

Rinse rice to rid of impurities and starch and let it drain in a sieve. Rinse lentils in cold water, add to a pot, cover with 4 cups of water, bring to a boil, turn down and cook on low/medium until soft, but still retaining their shape. Save 3 1/2* cups of the lentil water liquid for the rice and drain lentils thoroughly. On medium heat saute onions in 2-4 tablespoons of canola oil until soft and translucent and add the rice to the onions. Continue sauteing rice and onions while mixing gently for few minutes. Add 3 cups of reserved water from lentils, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Gently mix lentils in with the rice and immediately reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and cook until liquid evaporates. If you feel it needs more liquid as the lentils absorb some as well, sprinkle some of the leftover 1/2 cup of lentil water over the rice. Cook on low covered until all liquid is absorbed. Let sit for 10-20 minutes with lid on if you got time or serve immediately. Great reheated the next day as well. Serve with Eggplant, bell pepper and cherry tomato Moroccan salad from previous post and vegetable or chicken skewers.

*Cook's note: If you do not have 3 1/2 cups of reserved liquid left from lentil water you can add regular water.

Eggplant, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes Moroccan salad

Just delivered a meal to a friend of mine.  I know this friend for twelve years now, since her days in Israel, when her husband was with the American Embassy there.  Jonathan was on a two year project in Israel at the same time, and to me the opportunity to be back in Israel was coming full circle. Although my friend's kids aren't the same age as my kid, neither the same gender (not that you can't befriend the opposite sex but that is a whole different discussion altogether), a lasting family friendship was formed while our kids went to The American School in Israel. We picked up where we left when both found ourselves back in the DC area. This is first installment from a dinner of Mediterranean chicken skewers marinated overnight, Majadra (rice and lentils) and roasted eggplant, bell pepper and sauteed cherry tomatoes Moroccan salad.  Can't shake that Mediterranean theme from my repertoire, just a second nature.  I also made another batch of the chocolate chip banana muffins last night so I brought some over.  Had broccoli as well, but broccoli is not exactly a signature Mediterranean veggie.  Gave it a quick saute with garlic, salt and a twist of lemon.  To 'Moroccanize' the broccoli I chopped some of my Moroccan preserved Meyer lemons and sauteed couple more minutes with the preserved Meyer lemons. Please find the cooked salad recipe in this post the rest of this aromatic meal is coming soon.

Eggplant, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes salad:
1 large eggplant
4 red bell peppers
1/2 cup plus cherry tomatoes
1-2 scallions
2-3 garlic cloves
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon
1/2 -1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cumin
Canola oil

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Pierce eggplant all around with a fork and place on baking sheet.  Half and seed bell peppers and place skin side up on baking sheet next to eggplant.  Roast under grill mode in oven until skin of bell pepper is somewhat charred.  Turn eggplant as it broils to broil all sides.  If using outdoor grill obviously grill bell pepper skin side down:). Remove bell peppers from oven and place in a ziploc bag and seal, it will be easier to remove skin that way. Meanwhile remove skin of eggplant and chop to a roughly mashed consistency.  Take one bell pepper at the time out of ziploc bag and peel skin off.  Once done with the rest of bell peppers, slice into thin strips and add to eggplant.  Half cherry tomatoes and toss in a bit of canola oil (2 tablespoons approximately), on high heat for couple of minutes until cooked but still retains it's shape. Add tomatoes to eggplant/bell pepper mixture.  Add parsley, garlic, lemon and diagonally, thinly sliced scallion(s).  Add couple more tablespoons of canola oil, paprika, cumin and salt according to taste.  Keep in mind you can adjust proportions if ingredients according to you tatse, but this is to begin with is an excellent start.
Enjoy over challa or baguette, as part of your weekend or weeknight meal, or bring your sandwich to complete new heights by adding this cooked salad. Can also be perfect as a bruschetta. Enjoy!

Barley minestrone Winter soup

Watching Wanda Sykes on HBO, talking about the White House correspondence dinner, and laughing while writing this post.  Truthfully some good, honest and funny new material she got, even if the language offensive to some. Might be a short post. While sitting down for dinner tonight we were discussing the why(s) of Vegetarian Monday. I said....and that is one of the many language transggressions I committed over the years, and not the most offensive one of them. I said, carbon copy, Jonathan just looked at me, I could recognize by the look, that I messed up some, and we all bursted out laughing. Obviously, I meant carbon footprint.  I think kids today know what a carbon footprint is, not so sure about carbon copy.  This soup we had tonight was a wholesome vegetarian soup with some cheese on sliced fresh baguette on the side. You can make soups million ways, can use any vegetable you have in the fridge or beans in your pantry but still comes out fantastic every single time. I incorporated some potato to this sort of minestrone to give creaminess to it.  The potato is used as a thickener and flavor. Instead of cannelleni beans I used pink beans....and then somewhere along the way, I could not resist but adding barley instead of pasta. There is nothing that says Winter soup better than barley.  Barley brings back memories of my Israeli army days when I was only eighteen. I was yearning now for barley soup for awhile, wonder now if it were yearnings of some of other sorts?!

Barley Minestrone (kid friendly too, mine liked it)
2 ribs of celery plus celery leaves, diced and chopped
2 large garlic cloves
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
2-4 tablespoons canola oil
2-4 springs of thyme
2 large potatoes, diced
2 cans of 15.5oz pink beans (or cannelleni), rinsed and drained, see tip on beans at bottom
4 grated tomatoes
1/3 bunch parsley, chopped
1 vegetarian bullion (optional)
1/2 cup plus barley
Black pepper
6-8 cups of water

Sautee onions, celery, garlic and carrots in canola oil until soft. Add tomatoes, potatoes and the rest of the ingredients and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to low medium for about an hour.  Mix occasionally and adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with cheese on a fresh baguette, or just a fresh baguette.

Tip on beans:
If you do not wish to use canned beans, buy any kind of dry bean you wish to use in this soup. Cover in cold water in a bowl overnight.  Next morning, drain and rinse and put in a pot covered with fresh water.  Boil until soft.  Drain, rinse and add to soup.  The more traditional way is to bring to a boil once, cook for 10-20 minutes, drain and rinse and repeat process 3-4 times. I don't know if that is a old wives tale, but supposedly the process eliminates gastrointestinal issues related to beans by following this process:).

Pics will be coming out when I make the next batch. I was not happy with first round of photographs.  Turns out although very delicious the soup was not too photogenic, or might be just me?! By the time I got around to shooting more pics, the soup was gone!

Fantasy came true - Chinese Dumplings

After multiple searches over the years for dim sum recipes I landed on Anita Lo's excellent video tutorial for Chinese dumplings recipe on Epicurious.  Over the years saw many recipes, the dough for example, simple you should think, right? but some asked for cold water some for warm or hot.  The first call I made was to my mom in Israel.  Just in case you wonder, what is it to this Indian lady and Chinese dumplings?! But, the dough reminded me very much of a sweet Indian steamed dessert my mom makes, Laru, and the pleating, that was one of my jobs.  With six kids in the family, it was like a factory production line workers.  No child labor to you but just some of the better, endearing childhood memories to me. The verdict was in, hot water it is!!  I guess, to say, that this is my first attempt at making dumplings proves to be false. The labor was worth the while.  My first dumplings visually looked like only a mother could love, but once I got the hang of it again, they were beautifully pleated as well as tasty . Don't stress about how pretty and perfect the pleating is, trust me once it gets golden and crispy from frying, they all are beautifully delicious!! This is an adaptation of Anita Lo's recipe.  The main ingredients, was switched to organic ground chicken breast. Whole Foods ran out of chives, during the storm, go figure, so I used double the amount of scallions, white parts included. I sprinkled red pepper flakes when not asked to and as it turns out, did not have neither sherry nor rice wine in my pantry so I substituted half the amount asked for in a form of rice vinegar combined with sugar.  Lastly, I used red cabbage instead of Napa, sauted it al dente in a bit of oil, it adds a bit of fat to the chicken and great color to the dumpling. Think of of the red of the beet showing through translucent ravioli dough. At first I thought if she knew, she would be devastated I butchered her recipe, but then when all was said and done, and consumed, I think she would have been proud. I fried the dumplings this time around, since I am familiar with the method of steaming these little potstickers (name for fried version), at least in the Indian sweet form of Laru. Steaming is the quickest, easiest way to cook the dumplings and healtier too.  The frying version is very low fat, I was really surprised how little oil you use to fry the dumpling in, and it gets a great crispy texture and a beautiful golden color.
I am no expert on Chinese history, customs, beliefs, food and zodiac but know some about lunar calendars. I wonder about leap year in the Chinese calendar?! Any clue? Just read that the Year of the Tiger officially begins on Valentine's Day.  We got a Dragon (me), a Snake and a Monkey in our house.  From the shallow research I've made over the years, the three are harmonious and balance each other.  If you know any differently, I hope you don't get an urge to enlighten us:).

Chinese Dumplings
Ingredients for filling:
1 lb ground chicken breast
1 tablespoon rice vinegar mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 head medium red cabbage, thinly sliced, sauted al dente in 1 tablespoon canola and cooled
4 scallions thinly sliced diagonally, green and white parts
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 finger (as a measuring stick) fresh ginger, grated on a small hole grater (watch your fingers and discard the shabby 'hairs' left after grating or use it to infuse tea)
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-2 tablespoons sugar, depending on taste
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
Directions for filling:
Mix all ingredients well and keep in refrigerator until ready to use.

Ingredients for the dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
Directions for dough:
Mix flour and salt in a large bowl and pour boiling water in. Mix with a wooden spoon and knead for about 8 minutes until forms a smooth round dough.  I kneaded inside bowl. Cover with saran and let rest for 20 minutes. Roll into a long log and cup about 40 discs.  Roll out each disc on a floured surface to a 4 inch in diameter circles. Flour top of each rolled out discs and stack on top of the other until ready to be filled and pleated.  I use a small wooden rolling pin from India my mom gave me, but any rolling pin should work.

Ingredients for dipping sauce:
1/4 cup low sodium, soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian chili garlic sauce
1 scallion diagonally thinly sliced, green and white parts
Directions for sauce:
Whisk together all ingredients and keep in air tight container in fridge until serving.

Ingredients for frying:
4-6 tablespoons of canola oil
Directions for filling, pleating and cooking:
I could not have put this better than this excellent tutorial please see epicurious. You will also find the original recipe there if you wish to make a pork/dried shrimp/chive version.

Blizzard's chocolate chip/banana and Meyer lemon/blueberry muffins

It's been a crazy day yesterday, after the last Blizzard (and it deserves an upper case), I held my breath, when the snow was swirling around with the high winds, in this pocket of air in an enclave outside our dining room window. Like a mini hurricane within Blizzard number II. I was hoping not to lose power, although surprisingly enough, I, with my emotional upheavals, am keeping a calm front.  But then I went mad, when realizing we are not losing power, came up with the oddest combination of cooking project yesterday.  On the menu were two sorts of muffins, chicken dim sum. Sorry, SURE pork must be tasty, but can't bring myself to cook with it.  Never been introduced in my diet and better that it wasn't.  Lastly, onion soup. I must have gone MAD, some would say I was to begin with:). Strange cravings and making up for lost time this past weekend with no electricity, heat or water for close to three days.  We are on a well.  When was it that I become a country girl?! This house was charming little cottage when we bought it, beautiful yard, great curb appeal, brick walls directly out of one of my favorite childhood fables, the three little pigs.  Little did we know these brick walls retain heat in the Summers, but this weekend, chances are nothing might have destroyed these brick walls, but if the heat would not have come back on, we would at the least would suffer through hypothermia. Not to sound morbid, but all kidding aside, we do love our little haven of a home and when the electricity is on, cook up a storm. Now I hear there are couple of eight, nine year olds following my blog occasionally. This same basic version of muffins with two different dress ups is dedicated to these young budding chefs. The same idiom from my Red and Golden beet Winter salad spot is relevant to this post.  Don't want to bore you with yet another lecture on the subject.  I bake these muffins, not often, but once in keep things interesting an playful. I especially like them the next day, they are absolutely to be devoured.  The original recipe I found within Fine Cooking magazine, which I followed as a cult member, until they went somewhat mainstream.  The recipe is by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston, with couple of bakeries and a third one on the way in cambridge.  I believe she owns a restaurant as well. For years, wished to visit her establishment in Boston, promise to do so next time we are up to visit family.  Looking forward to her baking book coming out in 2010, that is one I must have as part of my kitchen repertoire!  The basic recipe is the same for both but the flavoring such as, Meyer lemon, vanilla, or the type of fruit, bananas or blueberries gives each muffin it's own unique twist. The batches came  out with perfectly round tops, although I am more of a....oh well, never mind.....that is for another time....
I had a bit more liquid added to the Blueberry/Meyer lemon version but it did well with the muffins!!

Basic muffin ingredients:
3 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup milk at room temperature
1 cup sour cream at room temperature
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk at room temperature
10 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and slightly cooled

For chocolate chip/banana ingredients:
Add to above basic muffin recipe..
2 cups combined of Chocolate chips (I use mini) and diced bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Meyer lemon/Blueberry ingredients:
Costco find: Meyer lemons
Add to above basic muffin recipe..
Zest of two Meyer lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice of one Meyer lemon
2 cups blueberries

Mix all wet ingredients with sugar and whisk together.  Sift together all remaining dry ingredients.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula.  Do not over mix, batter should be lumpy. Grease dozen large muffin tins.  Tablespoon batter into large greased muffin tins in heaping mounds, over the top rim. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 35 minutes, tops should be golden. Let cool in tins for 10-20 minutes before removing from muffin tins.

Glaze for Blueberry/Meyer lemon muffin:
1 cup confectioners sugar
Juice of half or whole Meyer lemon
In a sauce pan melt the sugar and Meyer lemon juice and glaze the muffins while still warm but not too hot.

Be playful, change ingredients around and flavors. SO DELICIOUS!!

Snowy day granola

Today is a perfect day for making granola.  This is the simplest but to me an intimidating task. I have never taken it on in all my years cooking. I have searched many blogs, cookbooks as well as chefs takes on it and felt at comfort with Bittman's guidelines as my best course of action.  Intimidated by granola?! For few reasons.... first a mental adjustment, can't think of granola without nuts, but had to come up with nut-free version.  Also never made sense the amount of 'fats' in it, although love the idea of the clumping of the granola, but isn't it supposed to be a healthy breakfast snack? Lastly, (not true completely....there is yet a fourth reason), was concerned about my toughest critics reaction to me trying to rehabilitate them from their store bought commercial breakfast cereals 'habit'. Daddy and son going and buying their 'junky' food supplies at the local supermarket ritual. It's a true challenge and undertaking, much tougher than perfecting granola.  And the withdrawal begins.....

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup of mixed toasted unsalted sunflower seeds and sesame seeds
1/2 plus cup maple syrup or honey
1/2 cup shredded dry unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
Dash of salt
2-4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or canola oil (optional)1/2 plus cup dried cherries (dried blueberries, raisins or any other dried fruit)

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl except the cherries or dried fruit  Add maple syrup or honey and oil (optional) to dry ingredients and mix. Bake at 300 for about 20-30 minutes.  Add cherries, raisins or currants after granola has cooked off, and prior to storing in an air tight container.

Just as I used Mark Bittman's recipe as a guideline, use this one as yours.  Add any ingredients you wish and adjust sweetness level to your likings.  I made this sweeter to appeal to my guys and win them over.