Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Slumped Cherry Tomatoes

Sometimes the in-between state, the half-cooked state, is better than the raw or the well-done. Cherry tomatoes are perfectly good uncooked, but at that point, most of them are a blast of sweetness and not much else. A quick turn around a very hot pan with a little oil or a blast from the broiler loosens the tight skins so that instead of popping wide open on fork or tooth contact, they yield and yield and then burst – a bit more voluptuously than a raw cherry tomato does. In this dish, doing that produces warmed bright, sweet tomatoes that provide great contrast to the garlicky, savory lentil salad.

I found these black lentils at Whole Foods a few weeks ago. I love lentil salads in the summer – these tiny legumes lend themselves so well to a variety of chopped-up accompaniments and dressings – and these looked like they’d be perfect for such an application.

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Fasoulakia Salata

(Photo snapped in the doorway of my office’s kitchen.)

Back when we lived near D.C., we used to throw this great party called the Gyroscope. Chimp threw it annually for a motley bunch of graduate students before we were together, and when I came on the scene, the guest list expanded to include a bunch of food professionals and there was more and better food to go with the copious booze.

It’s not necessarily easy to mix academics and foodies – you have to find sneaky ways to get them to connect, or else you’ll end up with a party where the two groups will eye each other warily across the room all night, like a middle-school dance.

So two things that we did were this:

First, we made everyone put on name tags when they arrived – it didn’t have to be the wearer’s actual name; if they preferred to go incognito, they were free to party under an assumed name. In addition to the name, they were asked to put on the tag an interesting fact about themselves (or their adopted persona).

Second, we put an electric skillet on the coffee table and put someone in charge of getting the halloumi started, because we knew the Cardinal Rule of Fried Cheese: most people are perfectly willing to talk to total strangers if it will result in getting fried cheese.

The food at the Gyroscope was loosely Greek, though as in that region, influences from neighboring countries tended to sneak in, so it was a bit of a liberal interpretation. I made homemade spanikopitakia, a whole mess of falafel, hummus, and these green beans, which have long been a summertime favorite, among other things, the last year we threw the party.

My good friend Syn-D’s son Ben, who was about two at the time (and now a Weblos…yikes), ate a bunch of these off of a plate his mom gave him, then stood next to the table where the bowl was, and delicately took one after another after another out throughout the course of the party. Nobody minded. It’s pretty hard to mind a two-year-old voluntarily gorging himself on green beans.

So when presented with the sheet for our office 4th of July potluck, I thought to myself, Okay, whatever it is, it needs to be easy, cooling, and vegetable, and this immediately came to mind. It was a hit – at least one person took some home that night – and the potluck as a whole was roundly recognized as our best in recent memory. (A good deal of that might have had something to do with the sugar buzz caused by my co-worker bringing in Whoopie Pies, made from a recipe in the latest issue of Cook’s Country – phenomenal – but I’ll take a little of the credit too.)

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Another Day, Another Dal

A couple weeks ago, I had suggested Chimp use yellow moong beans for a dish he was making for our dinner. When I came home from work, I found Chimp in the kitchen with a batch of lentils draining in a mesh strainer and another batch on the stove.

“What’s with all the lentils?” I asked him, looking at the first perfectly-cooked batch in the strainer.

“I ruined the first batch. They totally disintegrated.”

“That’s what they’re supposed to do.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yes,” I said, tasting the second batch, which was just finishing cooking, “and these are perfect too.”

“I meant to do that.”

“So we have extra lentils?”

“I guess so.”

“Why don’t we just stash the first batch in the freezer, then, and I’ll use them sometime soon.”

Saturday morning was the day. I was up at 6:30, at the farmer’s market by 7:30, and home a little after 8. I made this right then, and it was done by 10 a.m. When Chimp woke up, around that time, I told him I’d already finished this and a batch of curtido, and he muttered into his pillow, “Jocelyn: she cooks more before 10 a.m. than most people cook all day.”

I have a great dal makhani recipe up already. I even have a cabbage dal recipe up already. This one, though, is less rich than the first one, richer than the second one, and has more vegetables than either, so it gets a place too.

I was out of garlic, so this has no garlic – you could certainly add it, if you think you just can’t live without it. Because I was out of garlic, I compensated by adding plenty of other rich flavors – the ginger, bell peppers and tomato all provide dimension.

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Lunch with the In-Laws

It’s a real pleasure to have someone else around to cook for and eat with. Chimp called his parents at the hotel in the morning and said, “Come on over when you’re ready; Jocelyn’s making lunch.”

He had cooked some lentils the night before, and I figured it would be quick work to turn them into a simple soup with some garlic, olive oil, zucchini and lemon juice. I had planned to make another batch of chickpea-flour based fritters this week, too – I had cooked the carrots in anticipation of that – and then I realized that I also still had the beets I’d roasted. The cutlets became carrot-beet cutlets.

If I had blended the cutlet mixture less, I could have had an orange cutlet studded with red squares of beet, which would have been pretty spectacular. However, I think achieving that might have required something like the food stylist trick of placing the individual chocolate chips strategically in the specially-shaped ball of dough before baking.

The accompanying salad contains lettuce and cucumber from our CSA box and sunflower sprouts from Nueva Frontera Produce at the farmers’ market.

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Something Simple with Zucchini

This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.

For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)

I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.

Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:

Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.

This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.

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Naked Samosas

At the farmers’ market on Saturday, I bought some pea shoots. I’ll admit, I hadn’t eaten breakfast and was rather hungry, so I bought about six cups of pea shoots. I was excited, too, which might have contributed to my overbuying; I’ve never seen them for sale, so I’ve never had pea shoots except for at restaurants. On those occasions, there have always been about four or five artfully arranged atop whatever I’ve ordered, and it’s never been enough to satisfy.

So this was my chance to do what I like to do with produce: overindulge.

Is that possible?

I didn’t have a plan for them; I knew I could eat them as sprouts or wilt them slightly. I came into the kitchen around 4:45 that afternoon. I remembered that we still had some potatoes from a batch Chimp had bought a while back for something. I used to be such a potato lover, and I hardly eat them any longer. There were four, though, and I figured I could make Chimp some mashed potatoes and throw some wilted pea shoots on top of them. That would be nice; potatoes and peas, very homey.

I also had some chickpeas soaked and ready to cook. I could put pea shoots on top of those like I usually do spinach or arugula with some lemon and olive oil, I thought. That would be nice too, though it would be kind of a weird dinner…mashed potatoes and chickpeas, both with pea shoots.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, I thought Peas and potatoes. Samosas. Samosas sometimes have chickpeas in them too. Holy cats, this could be great! Spiced potatoes, garlic- and red pepper-spiked chickpeas, garlic-laced pea shoots with a tiny squeeze of lemon…oh boy. This could seriously go somewhere.

What I ended up with, as you see above, is a sort of naked samosa, made up of the typical ingredients in samosa filling, except the peas are replaced by pea shoots. It tastes phenomenal. I have to say, I think these are some of the best potatoes I’ve ever made – and I have made many, many potatoes.

I’ve doubled the potato recipe from what I made in order to create an even number of servings of all the components.

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Chickpea Pancakes with Shredded Zucchini

This is another example of getting halfway there on the Eat Local Challenge: the zucchini are emphatically from around here. These were the first organic zucchini I’d seen this season; they came from K.M.K. Farms of Kingsburg at the Vineyard Farmers’ Market, as did the green onions.

However, the chickpea flour for the pancakes was bought at Whole Foods and is good ol’ Bob’s Red Mill, from Oregon.

Even if they’re not local, I love these little chickpea pancakes, which are adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. Learning to make these was worth the price of the book. They’re easy as pie, gluten-free, delicious, incredibly versatile, and relatively fast if you have two small non-stick skillets. I’ve made a version before that she suggests with peas and cilantro added, which is wonderful as well, but these are the plain-Jane version, the batter for which you can whip up in about three minutes.

The way they’re spiced now, these pancakes would make a wonderful wrapper for a great many vegetarian dishes – just about anything with an Indian flavor would work well, from chickpea stew to buttered greens to spiced potatoes to roasted cauliflower.

Shredding is one of the tactics I’ve begun using more since I’ve had chronic fatigue syndrome, when I have the energy to cook, and zucchini lends itself especially well to it. The food processor does most of the work, and shredded vegetables cook in an instant. If I have enough energy to stand and chop an onion, I can make this filling.

The raita I made for this was an arugula one; this would be equally good with a cucumber, cilantro or mint raita, but arugula was what I had. It had a nice peppery bite.

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