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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Hot Weather Classics – Hummus & Sautéed Squash

Okay folks, that’s it; it’s officially too hot to cook here, though for some strange reason we persist. It’s too hot to take pictures too, or at least too hot to try very hard. I’m also not sure that hummus is blog-post worthy, but I’m putting it down, for my reference if for no other reason, as that was part of why this site got started in the first place.

I didn’t put much parsley in this hummus. I asked Chimp, “Do you want parsley in the hummus?” and he said, somewhat warily, “A little.”

Sensing his apprehension, I said, “When have I ever put an excessive amount of parsley in anything?” Before he could answer, I said, “Okay, always.”

The rest of this weekend dinner was whole-wheat pita, sautéed zucchini, yellow zucchini and zephyr squash. (It’s the half yellow-half green one in the foreground. It was the sweetest of the three.) The squash are great because you can do them fast and the burner doesn’t stay on long. After cooking, they’re sprinkled with a mixture of chopped parsley and minced garlic – simplicity itself, and delicious.

Okay, I need a glass of water, a cool compress and a horizontal surface now. Seriously, my CFS has been beating me down pretty badly the last few days.

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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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Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes with Zucchini and Poblano Peppers

Welcome to Zucchini World. We’re into the time of year where it seems like we will all be overwhelmed by squash if we drop our guard for even a moment. I had a pile I got from K.M.K Farms at the farmer’s market, and then more arrived in the CSA box, so I had to dispatch some tout-suite, because everybody knows if you leave it in your fridge unattended it will multiply.

This reminded me of my favorite enchilada recipe a little bit, but it’s different enough with the addition of the peppers to be an interesting new preparation. The poblanos have some heat and a little bitterness, which is a nice foil to the sweetness of the zucchini.

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Vegan Zucchini, Tomato & Onion Gratin

“Do you like zucchini?” my co-worker asked, peeking into my office.

“Of course!” I said.

She put the two globe zucchini she was carrying down on my desk.

“Are these from your mom’s garden?”

“Yes…”

“Oh, they’re still warm!”

“She just picked them.”

“Thank you!”

I had to keep working, of course, but looking at the two of them sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about what to do with them. Later in the afternoon I popped out to her desk.

“How about a zucchini and tomato gratin? How does that sound? It’s pretty standard, but I think it’d still be good.”

“That sounds great. Do you need more?”

“Oh, no. I’ll just make a small one to start. I have a red onion – maybe with some onion too?”

She nodded in agreement. I nodded back.

Since today was Wednesday, I stopped by the farmer’s market to get tomatoes. I grabbed four of an heirloom type called Black Russian and headed home to do the assembly.

Well, the two zucchini and the four tomatoes was enough to make a 9×13 pan worth, and I think I could have spread the vegetables out on a jelly roll pan and done just as well. This may not be a true gratin – no breadcrumbs, no cheese – but the idea is there. If I did this again, I might add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic to the cornmeal mixture.

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Poblano Peppers with a Black Chickpea Filling

Looking at the picture, you might think that looks like a lot of work.

You would be correct. Stuffed peppers are a lot of work to do well.

They can be done poorly very easily: slap cooked rice and some other stuff, mostly tomato sauce, into a raw bell pepper with the top cut off; bake until listless and flabby. Remove from oven. Eat; regret eating.

A good stuffed pepper, on the other hand, needs to start out with a thin-skinned variety, needs roasting or frying to make its flesh savory and flavorful, careful work to open the peppers up, and a filling with some character to give the whole thing a reason to live.

Black chickpeas have that character. They’re truly nutty and have slightly tough skins that keep them from cooking to wan split starchiness, as regular chickpeas will if unattended. For that reason, they grind up well in bits once cooked, rather than easily becoming hummus. Their toothsome nature occurred to me as a good texture for this spot where ground meat is usually found.

When it gets hot in Fresno, and boy, is it getting hot in Fresno this week, I tend to turn to Mediterranean foods. I flipped through a few of my Greek cookbooks to get ideas for this recipe, and not having looked at them for a while, I remembered why they seem like such a good idea in the summer – all those cool flavors and vegetable salads.

So the filling is Mediterranean-influenced. Onions, both raw and cooked, make an appearance, as well as copious garlic, salty feta and olives, bright lemon juice and green notes from parsley and mint.

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