Sunday, September 25, 2011

parsley lentil pasta

I'll just come right out and say it: I love lentils.

I think I eat them almost every week of the year: red, yellow, blue, green, brown, beluga, French . . . lentils have a regular spot in my stomach.

This pasta is the most unassuming little dinner that you can knock off in half an hour after work – and have some tasty leftovers for lunch the next day.

It has been on my regular rotation for more than ten years, ever since my friend Leanne whipped out a can of Unico lentils and told me we were making the recipe on the label. 

She peeled off the label and I looked at it dubiously: it didn’t look very saucy for a pasta dish. Lentils and onion and parsley and parmesan . . . and, well, nothing. It seemed a bit simple.

But Leanne is a very good cook – and a nutritionist, to boot – so I put a smile on my face and said, “Sounds good!”

 And you know what?

It was good.

Really good.

It is simple, but it works. The earthy lentils highlight the fresh parsley, while the onions provide a buttery base and the parmesan brightens it up. (In fact, it is possible I would like almost any pasta dish smothered in freshly-grated parmesan, but I digress.)

This pasta also has the added bonus of using ingredients we usually have on hand. And did I mention you could make it in 30 minutes? 

Thirty minutes! I should enter it in some magazine contest, since magazines are always advertising “meals you can make in minutes.” (I am highly suspicious. Do you notice most of the recipes call for a lot of prep before their clock starts running? Meals in minutes if you have a sous-chef, I suppose. Anyway, this is a true meal in 30 minutes you can make without a sous-chef.)

Unico has long since stopped printing the recipe on the label, so this is my version that has grown up over the last 10 years. Just think: if this recipe were a child, it would be starting Grade 5 this year!

parsley lentil pasta

serves 3 - 4

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small to medium onion, minced
19 fl. oz. (540 ml) canned lentils
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2/3 c. parsley, rinsed and minced
9 oz. (250 g.) uncooked pasta
1 – 2 c. parmesan, grated

Heat frying pan over low heat. Add butter and olive oil. Throw in the onions. Watch that they cook gently without colouring.

In the meantime, boil your pasta in nice salty water. Grate the parmesan and set aside.

After about 9 minutes, when the onions are soft and translucent, add the lentils, salt and pepper to them. You are just heating the lentils here and letting the flavours mix. Taste after 5 minutes to see if everything is hot and if you need more salt and pepper.

Once your pasta is al dente, strain. Add the pasta to the lentil-onion mixture and toss. Heat again if necessary. Taste to make sure you have enough salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley.

Serve with a big bowl of parmesan on the table to garnish.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

hop & go fetch it: german edition

See this? It is a very good slice of chocolate-nut cake.

It was so good that it makes me want to recommend the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin.

But I can't. Because I paid a shamefully-high amount of money for the tea that went with it. The lukewarm tea that went with it. Even if we did have real silver and sat in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

So there you go. Possibly the most expensive hotel restaurant in Berlin just missed getting included in hop & go fetch it.

Don't despair! I discovered other mouth-watering - and less expensive! - places to tell you about in Germany.

Hop on over to hop & go fetch it and I will tell you all about my favourites in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Osnabrück and Lübeck. Oh, and just because I like to mix it up, I've also added a couple new favourite restaurants in Vancouver, Victoria and Portland.

Guten Appetit!

last september: falling for a side cookie

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

salmon for dinner

Last week, we had friends from Germany over for dinner.

At first, I was planning to make them my summer 2011 standard: German zucchini soup and arepas.

But then I realized that they were in fact German and probably already knew their way around a zucchini soup. They were coming to see the west coast of British Columbia, Washington state and Oregon. There was only one thing to make them.


We have very good local salmon here. Scott and I eat it so often that we’ve almost stopped thinking about it as special, as “company” kind of food.

But luckily I remembered.

It’s taken a lot of experimenting – and some pretty darn good taste-testing along the way – but we do believe we have now found the best way to cook salmon.

It’s so simple it’s almost scandalous, but I swear we both like it better than the salmon we get at very good restaurants. Really. It. Is. That. Good.

Credits are due to three people:

1.     Our friend James in Kelowna for frying us some mighty good salmon last August
2.     A Vancouver hotel chef (whose name I cannot remember!) whose sugar-salt salmon rub idea I played on the radio last summer
3.     Mark Bittman, who suggested scattering salt on the pan

In the hopes that our favourite salmon – which also happens to be extremely easy – might become your favourite salmon, let me walk you through it.

Whenever you think of it – let’s say anywhere from 2 hours to 1 minute before you plan to eat dinner – make a rub.

Mix one part salt with two parts sugar. I usually do 1 tablespoon of salt to two tablespoons of sugar. (I have a bit left over, but it’s always better to have more rather than less rub.)

If your salmon is not already cut into nice, individual-sized filets, do that now.

Using your fingers, rub the rub into the salmon flesh, but not on the skin.

Put the salmon in a dish and let it stay cool in the fridge until you’re ready to fry it up.

Just before you’re ready to eat, set the pan on the stove to heat. Turn it up just beyond halfway on your heat gauge. On our stove, that’s 6.

Wait 10 minutes, so your pan can get good and hot.

Once it is indeed good and hot, sprinkle salt over the bottom to loosely cover.

Carefully, place your prepared salmon filets in the pan, skin side down. Cover.

Depending how thick your salmon is, open the lid and take a peak after 3 – 5 minutes. See how happy and plump it’s become! 

If it’s starting to look opaque, flip it over. (If your pan is at the ideal temperature, the salt should prevent it from sticking very much.)

Cook for 1 minute if you like your salmon medium-rare. If you like it cooked through, give it a tiny bit longer. (Be careful: salmon overcooks very quickly!)

You can serve the salmon with whatever you like. We are really into Mark Bittman’s lentils right now, although we use beluga lentils or lentils du puy instead of the green ones he calls for. We find beluga lentils and lentils du puy don’t take as long to cook and are more fun.

Eat your new favourite salmon! Serve it to guests!