Celery & Onion Saute with Lentils

Lentils are, seriously, the vegetarian equivalent of ground beef. Not in that they are a vector for foodborne illness, but that they are fast, filling, and easy to work with. This I threw together between arriving home from work and a 7:30 concert on Friday night. We had it over whole-wheat penne. The concert was Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group – and they were terrific.

olive oil for the pan
1 large onion, cut in slivers
1 bunch celery (yep, I love celery) cut in julienne (thin little sticks – cut the biggest stalks in five or six pieces lengthwise, then cut in 2 to 3 in. lengths
salt and pepper
1 1/2 c. black or green lentils (Puy lentils)

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick pan over very high medium-high heat. When it is hot, in with the onions. Sauté them for a few minutes, until they begin to wilt just a little, then add the celery. Increase the heat to pretty darn high, and stir-fry, basically, until the moisture from the celery and onions has largely evaporated and they’ve picked up some nice brown spots. This will probably take 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I cooked my lentils in salted water in the pressure cooker for 5 minutes, then removed them from the heat and allowed the pressure to drop by itself. I started them as I was starting to chop, and they were ready to be opened by the time the celery was done. Drain the lentils and season with salt (if necessary) and pepper, plus a good slug of olive oil.

To serve, place pasta on each plate, top with lentils, then the celery.

Cabbage Koftas

This was stupendous. If you make these for your friends, they will love you forever, probably even if they don’t love cabbage. These koftas are wonderfully crispy on the outside, with a tender, moist interior. Just phenomenal. And they go together very quickly. Frying them takes a while, but it’s not too bad.

I served these russet-colored items on a bed of arugula (you have to do something virtuous if you’re serving something deep-fried) with a thick stripe of garlic-and-cilantro raita made with organic lowfat yogurt. We had kidney beans in a spicy tomato sauce and some basmati rice alongside.

I have made something like this before. My note on this recipe (which comes from Yamuna Devi’s The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking) tells me I last made this on March 20th, 2002. I wrote that as written, the recipe wasn’t bad, but that it was a little one-dimensional, being composed of just cabbage.

So tonight, when I decided I would make a cabbage kofta for dinner, I looked this one up and decided I would use it as a base, adding onion. Other than that, I changed a couple other small elements; the recipe called for fresh chiles, and I used chili flakes, and the recipe included grated coconut, and I passed on that.

This recipe can be doubled for a party amount – remember, though, that the mixture will become looser as it sits waiting to be fried, so if you start shaping these and do them all at once, the first few will be very firm and by the end they’ll have a very casual attitude toward sticking together. You can deal with it, or mix a little more chickpea flour into it. Even when they get pretty loose, I haven’t had them blow apart in the oil.

Oil for deep frying (safflower has a high smoking point & is your best bet – canola will work)
3 c. finely shredded cabbage (Use your food processor shredding disc, if you’ve got one. Saves knuckles.)
1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
1/2 in. piece of peeled fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. chili flakes
1 t. turmeric
1 t. garam masala
3 T. minced cilantro
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 c. chickpea flour

Get the oil heating. Bring it to about 320. This is on the top end of medium-high and the bottom end of high on my stove. A candy/frying thermometer, which I use, is a good investment. If the cabbage is very wet, squeeze some of the moisture out of it with your hands. Then mix all the ingredients together. Shape into logs about an inch in diameter and about 2 inches long. Place gently into the hot oil and fry for about 6-7 minutes, turning occasionally to brown all sides. Remove and drain on several layers of paper towling. Finished koftas can be placed in a preheated 200 degree oven to keep warm until all are finished.

Indian-Inspired Potatoes & Peas

This is a resounding success adapted from Paulette Mitchell’s Vegetarian Appetizers, my book of the week this week. She puts these potatoes in phyllo cups, but if you’re not serving them as an appetizer, why bother? I would happily eat this without the peas as well.

2 lbs. waxy potatoes (i.e. boilers, not bakers), scrubbed, but not peeled
3 T. canola oil
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 t. cumin powder
2 t. curry powder, or to taste
2 c. frozen baby peas, nuked (about 5 minutes should do it)
salt and pepper to taste

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then salt the water. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 10-15 minutes (mine took 10). Be careful not to overcook. Drain well and rinse with cold water. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1/4 in. dice. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a minute or two. Add the cumin and curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, until the spices have toasted enough to lose their raw smell and the onion is slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Careful with the heat – the spices can burn easily. Add the potatoes and fry until lightly browned, then add the peas. Stir until evenly coated with spices. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Mushroom Caps with Basil-Pecan Stuffing

Sigh. When *I* say something has a lot of wheat germ in it, you can be sure that There Is A Great Deal Of Wheat Germ In It. I promise to put up my wheat-germ containing granola recipe soon, so that anyone who happens to make this will have another outlet for their wheat germ. Why does it come in such big jars, anyhow?

Michael was happy with this, but I didn’t really like it. As you know if you read this page, mushrooms are a tough sell for me. I could have improved it by cooking the mushrooms with more oil and soy sauce at a higher temperature, and by replacing some of the wheat germ with Panko.

This is another one from Vegetarian Appetizers by Paulette Mitchell.

6 large white or cremini mushrooms (about 2 1/2 in. in diameter)
olive oil for brushing

1 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. toasted wheat germ
2 T. finely chopped pecans
2 T. freshly grated parmesan (eh, I had Dry Jack and used that.)
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. minced fresh parsley
1 T. minced fresh basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Finely chop enough stems to yield 1/2 c. and set aside (use the rest for another purpose). Brush the mushroom caps with oil. Place the caps, rounded-side down, on a baking sheet ligned with parchment paper (it sticks to the sheet better if you rub a little oil on the sheet too.) Place in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Add the mushroom stems and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms and onion are tender and the mushrooms are significantly reduced in volume. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in all the remaining stuffing ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Fill the mushroom caps with the stuffing – it is best to press it in with your hands. It may need a little water – a couple tablespoons – to stick together enough. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the stuffing is heated through and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Roasted Garlic

This may not be as in style as it was ten years ago, but it’s still awesome, can improve a great number of things, makes you look like you really can cook up a storm, and happens with almost no effort. What could be better?

1 head garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
herb(s) if you want: thyme, rosemary, sage

Preheat the oven to 375. Cut about the top 1/3 off the head of garlic – just enough to expose most of the cloves. Place the head in a small dish (a little Pyrex ramekin is a good fit) and add enough water to come about halfway up the garlic head. Season the garlic with salt and pepper. Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil over it. Toss on some herbs – fresh or dried – if you wish. Cover the dish tightly with foil and pop in the preheated oven. Bake for about an hour. Remove the garlic from the cooking liquid, place it in the foil, separate the cloves somewhat with a fork, and place it in the freezer for five minutes. Take it out and squeeze the cloves from the papery skins onto a plate. Using a fork, mash the pulp with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil.

You can eat this straight if you’re brave and the others around you are willing to do the same. If you are not so brave, add some of it to butter or oil and use it on bread or as a seasoning for just about anything besides breakfast cereal.

Fast, Fresh, Crispy Carrots

This was a food processor experiment. I know, I used it a lot today. Michael didn’t know that you can make julienne with a food processor – I think he’ll be more enthused about our julienne vegetable recipe now that he knows there’s a way to do it without an hour of painstaking slicing and chopping. Since he didn’t know, I thought there might be others among my constituency who didn’t either. So I share, to make your life easier.

I have not a lot in the house right this minute, so I made a dish of Nothing But Carrots since I had two pounds of them around. These went over some whole-wheat pasta tossed with the Parsley Pesto. Pesto and carrots – how strange, you say, right? Well, that pesto was made with a substantial amount of parsley, and guess what botanical family parsley is in? Yep, the carrot family. Buddies.

5 large carrots, peeled (mine were HUGE – about a pound worth)
a little oil (some olive would be nice)
salt and pepper
1/8 t. cayenne pepper

Cut the carrots into about 3 in. lengths. Install the slicing blade in your food processor. Place the carrots into the feed tube on their sides, and process to produce carrot slabs. Remove the slabs to a bowl. Stack the carrot slabs up and place them in the feed tube again, this time with the edges of the slices to the blade. Process again to yield effortless julienne. You may end up with some less-attractive slabs after the first process – you can forge ahead with these if they’re not too uneven, or reserve them for another purpose. They could easily be turned into shreds for carrot salad, or cooked for soup.

Heat a little oil in a nonstick frying pan. When it is pretty darn hot, add about 1/3 of the carrots and stir-fry for two minutes. If you like them More Done, you can stir-fry them until they are tender to your taste. Remove to a platter, and repeat the process with two more batches. Don’t try to do them all at once – if you do they’ll not get evenly cooked. Small amounts in quick succession is actually faster than trying to wrestle them all into a pan.

When the last batch is finished, toss the carrots with a little salt and pepper and the cayenne pepper. Serve hot!

Parsley Pesto

I found out years ago (through my work at WFM) that the pestos I liked best weren’t the super-authentic all-basil garlic pine nut Parmigiano Reggiano ones. Mostly, I found that using all those ingredients didn’t result in a balanced pesto, but one that had a harsh edge and an overwhelming flavor. It’s expensive to make, too. I fell in love with a Texas-born WFM spinach pesto – I still have the recipe for it, but it’s in foodservice quantities. Hard to translate a pesto recipe that makes a gallon down to a usable amount.

But this one is in that one’s spirit. This is an improvised one I made this evening – it is quite good, has a pleasant light herbaceous taste, and doesn’t knock you out of your chair. No, the garlic is not missing, I just didn’t use any. You certainly could add some minced garlic – I just think it’s nice to have it without it once in a while.

A food processor is indispensable for this.

1 1/4 c. curly parsley, finely chopped (do this part with a knife – works better)
1/3 c. walnut halves (trust me)
some basil – tonight I had about 10 leaves left, some big, some small
about 2 oz. hard cheese – I used Dry Jack, but Reggiano or Romano would work fine
olive oil to process (Put some in. If it’s not moving in the processor, add more)
salt and to taste

Using the knife blade of the processor, process the parsley, nuts, and basil with some olive oil. Change to the shredding disk and shred in the cheese. Switch back to the knife blade and combine the mixture, adding more olive oil if necessary. Turn out into a bowl and season with salt to taste. If it’s too pastelike and looks like it won’t toss over pasta well, add more oil. If you’re spreading it on bread, you might want it pastelike.