28 April 2012

Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is a great weekday dinner.  It can be ready, start to finish, in about thirty minutes.  And most of the ingredients will probably be things that you already have on hand, or can pick up from any grocery store on the way home from work.

You will need:
  • 3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large potatoes (or 4 Yukon gold - they will hold their shape better)
  • 5 oz kale, stems removed and cut into 1-inch strips
  • 15 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 32 oz chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth or water if you are vegetarian)
  • hot water
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
First things first.  Saute the onion in olive oil for a few minutes.  Toss in the garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the crushed tomatoes and cook a few more minutes.  I would suggest covering this, because the tomatoes will splatter.  And hot tomato juice and olive oil will leave a small welt.  Not that I would know about that, of course.

While the tomatoes are cooking, chop the potatoes into large chunks and the carrots into rounds.  I personally prefer to leave the skins on for two reasons.  The first is that I like the texture and taste of the skins.  The second reason is that supposedly a lot of the fiber and nutrients associated with potatoes are either in the skins or just under them.  So if you don't mind trying the potatoes (and carrots, for that matter) with their skins, give them a good scrub and go for it!

When you have those ready, toss them in the pot with the tomatoes and onions.  Give them a stir and add the lentils.

Add all of the broth, stock or water.  Since the carton of broth is only about 4 cups, I also add about two cups of hot water to bring it to a nice 6 cups.  You could use all broth or all water.  I've done it both ways and personally prefer the mix.

Bring the soup to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are almost tender.
Stir in the kale.  Let cook another 5-10 minutes (until the potatoes are fork-tender) and then take the pot off the burner. I find that because of the canned tomatoes and broth, I do not have to add any extra salt.  If the flavors seem to be muted, try adding in a bit of fresh lemon juice.  This can boost and clarify the flavors without the extra sodium.  Another good trick is to crumble some feta on top.

Serve with crusty bread for a simple and healthy supper.  Leftovers are great the next day, too, when the flavors have really had time to come together.

24 April 2012

Vegetable Lasagna

Ok, so lasagna most definitely is not from the Caucasus.  But I have yet to meet someone from there that doesn't love it!
This is my version of a meatless lasagna.  I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms, so for a protein boost, I used chick peas.  Kale gives it color and has great nutritional value.   However, this meal is by no means low fat.  I use whole milk mozzarella because it tends to melt better and tastes wonderful.  And for an occasional treat, that's fine!

  • 1 15 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • dried thyme
  • dried oregano
  • fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 oz fresh basil
  • 5 oz shredded kale
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • red wine
  • curly-edged lasagna noodles
  • 15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb whole milk mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
  • 1 egg
  • 1 oz parsley

Heat oven to 375°F (190°C).

Boil the noodles until they are al dente.  (For those who prefer pasta that is cooked until it is not so firm, remember that the noodles will soak up some sauce and soften even more while they cook in the oven.)  Drain them and set them aside.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and carrots.  Saute both in olive oil.

 While the onions and carrots are cooking, finely chop your garlic.  You can use a garlic press for this, or, if you are like me, you can use the side of a large knife to smash it (lay the side of the knife on the garlic, and then give it a good smack with your hand).  And then chop it into small pieces.  This method releases tension.

 Add the garlic and dried spices and saute until just fragrant.  Then you should pour in a generous amount (about a glassful) of red wine.  I used a Shiraz, but any dry red will do.

 Let the wine reduce and then add the diced tomatoes, sauce and paste.  

Add all of the kale and basil; cook until the kale has wilted.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Next combine the ricotta, egg, chopped parsley and 1/2 cup Parmesan in a bowl.  If it looks too dry (mine did) add a splash of milk.  This will help it to stay nice and moist in the lasagna. 


Now we are ready to assemble the lasagna!  In a 9 x 13 baking dish, spread a little of the sauce on the bottom.  Then lay three noodles on top of that.  Splat some of the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and spread it around somewhat evenly.

 Spoon on some of the sauce and spread it over the ricotta.  Then cover that with a layer of mozzarella slices.

Repeat that layer with more pasta, ricotta, sauce and mozzarella.  If you still have more sauce at the end, spread it over the top of the mozzarella.

Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes.  It should get bubbly and brown on top and the cheese should melt deliciously.
Sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan toward the end of the baking time and let that melt too.
 Let it stand about ten minutes or so before cutting.  That will help it stay together as you try to slide the pieces onto a plate for serving.  Garnish with a little chopped parsley and enjoy with a fresh salad.


Satsivi (chicken in walnut sauce) is probably one of the most famous Georgian chicken dishes.  It's a fairly simple recipe, but with very complex flavors.

One of the spices that I list is khmeli-suneli, which is actually a blend of spices.  Since most of the ingredients can easily be bought in the States, I will experiment with the right amounts to make your own khmeli-suneli (and other spice blends from the Caucasus) and post them soon. 
In the meantime, you can look for it at any of the Russian stores I've listed on the resources page.  Phoenicia will not have it, but it does have a huge selection of other spices.  

For the satsivi, make sure you have the following:
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) chicken breast
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • water
  • 4 cups shelled walnuts
  • garlic, minced (to taste - I used half a head)
  • 1.5 tsp khmeli-suneli
  • ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • salt and pepper

The chicken needs to be poached, so leave it whole for this step.  Heat a little olive oil in a dutch oven and add the chicken in a single layer.  Meanwhile, heat water in a kettle or separate pan. An electric kettle like the one pictured will boil water in a couple of minutes and save space on the stove.  And it makes tea so much easier!

 Brown on one side and then add the cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, cloves and bay leaf.

When the other side has browned, add hot water to cover the chicken.  Simmer, covered, for 12 minutes.  Take off the heat and let the chicken stand in the hot water another 10 minutes.  Then take the meat out and let it cool.  Discard the spices but save the broth.

While the meat is cooling, you can make the sauce.  Using a food processor, finely grind the nuts.  Depending on the size of the food processor bowl, it may need to be done in a couple of batches.

 Put the ground nuts back into a serving bowl.  

 Next, add the minced garlic.

 Begin to ladle some of the chicken broth into the nuts.  Go slow with this and mix in one ladle-full of liquid at a time.  Remember that the sauce will thicken somewhat as it cools, but you still don't want it to be soupy.  It should be just loose enough to coat the chicken completely.

 Check to see how easily it slides off of a spoon.  If it doesn't slide easily at all, add one more ladle of broth.

Now the sauce should slide smoothly off of the spoon.  Make sure there are no lumps.

When you have the texture right, you can start adding spices.

Pour in a teaspoonful of white vinegar.

Then mix in the khmeli-suneli.

 Sprinkle on as much cayenne pepper as you like.  I tend to only add a little since my three-year-old (to be known here as Bulldozer - an appropriate name in so many ways) will not eat anything spicy.  Except for pickled garlic cloves.

It does taste better with more spice, so if you aren't cooking for a kid, try it with a little more cayenne.

 Cut the cooled chicken into chunks.  Then add them to the sauce and toss to coat.  Salt and pepper to taste, and you're done!

To garnish, sprinkle with a little more red pepper or paprika and add a parsley leaf or two.  Satsivi is served cold and makes a great dish to take to picnics or other gatherings. Serve with a simple salad and crusty bread for getting the last of the delicious sauce! 

19 April 2012

Green Beans with Tomatoes

Technically speaking, this is yet another kind of lobio.  But because it is made with green beans, I feel like it is a nice change of pace.  I do a lot of bean recipes because they are cheap, filling and incredibly nutritious.  I know that they aren't everybody's favorite, but that is part of why I'm posting ways to cook them that are a little different.

A note about olive oil

If you've noticed, I tend to use a lot of olive oil.  I also tend to not measure it (goes back to the whole cooking by sight thing...).  Have you wondered why I use olive oil, as opposed to other fats like butter or, in the case of beans, bacon or ham hocks?

Mainly, I do this for the health benefits.  I do like the richness and taste of dishes cooked with butter and the smokiness that the bacon can give, but the problems associated with animal fats tend to outweigh the benefits.  I find this especially true when it comes to beans, since, as you may have guessed, we tend to eat them a lot.

Olive oil is chock full of monounsaturated fatty acids.  This type of fat is actually good for you.  It's good for your heart and can help to reduce cholesterol levels.  Some research is also beginning to show that it helps with insulin and blood sugar levels.  Yes, it is still fat.  And it is still high calorie.  But your body does need fat in order to absorb certain vitamins and antioxidants (remember lycopene in the tomatoes?)  So the trick is to make sure that the fat you are putting in your body is the best for it.  And butter and bacon, even though they may taste great, are certainly not the best for you.

Moving right along...

You will need:
  • 2 lb (1 kg) fresh or frozen green beans
  • 5 onions, halved and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 lb (700 g) tomatoes, sliced into wedges
  • 1 Anaheim chili pepper, diced
  • dried summer savory
  • large handful cilantro
  • large handful parsley
  • small handful dill
  • small handful basil
  • red wine vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

The first thing you'll want to do is cover the beans with water in a large dutch oven.  They don't need to be thawed, if you are using frozen.  The hot water will take care of that nicely for you.  Simmer them until they are just crisp-tender.  You really don't want them to get too done because you will be simmering them again later with other ingredients.  Green bean mush is not our goal here.
When the beans have cooked, save about a cup of cooking liquid in a measuring cup or bowl.  Drain the rest.

Next add a good drizzle of oil around a skillet.  One of the benefits of cooking by sight is that you're not wasting oil by leaving some on a measuring spoon, and there are less things to wash.  That may or may not have been the deciding factor in my learning how to cook by sight.

Once the oil is shimmery and pretty (and your kitchen starts to smell like olive oil), add the onions.  Let them cook until they are soft and starting to caramelize.  Pour them into the pot with the green beans.

In the same skillet, cook the tomatoes in a little olive oil.  When they start to get juicy, add about a tablespoon of savory.  Let that cook until the tomatoes thicken slightly and are soft.

Meanwhile, add a few drops of red wine vinegar to the cooking liquid from the beans.  I didn't measure it, but it only took a few drops to change the color of the liquid from pale green:

to slightly pinkish.  That's a technical term, by the way.

Then add chopped cilantro, minced garlic, chili pepper and salt to the liquid.

Add the tomatoes and the dressing mixture from the previous step to the pot of beans.  Cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes.

While that is cooking, chop the rest of the herbs (parsley, dill and basil).  Put a little aside for a garnish if you like.

After about five minutes, the beans should look about like this:

Then add most of your herbs (or all if you aren't saving some for a garnish).  Stir them in and cook two more minutes.

Serve with boiled potatoes (dill optional...), feta and maybe a little more olive oil drizzled over the top.  Just for good measure.

Приятного аппетита!