Sunday, March 24, 2013

spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon

One of the things that drives me bonkers about women's magazines is when they advertise recipes for "dinner in 20 minutes flat!"

They're everywhere and they're generally completely unrealistic. I mean, do these magazines think we have a sous-chef who's right beside us in the kitchen, chopping vegetables faster than the speed of light and measuring spices into little prep bowls?

In my experience, a good meal takes between one and two hours to make. (The only way around this I've found is the humble sausage. Frying sausage, boiling potatoes and few veggies can be done in about 40 minutes. But I cannot eat sausage every night.)

When I say "good meal," I mean one that feeds at least two people and leaves lots of leftovers for lunch the next day and tastes good. It also usually includes all of the food groups.

So I get pretty excited when I find a recipe I can make in just under an hour that meets all those requirements. These recipes are not usually very sexy.

Case in point: when I was looking through the lovely Laura Calder's newest cookbook, I was about to flip right by her recipe for spiced red lentil stew with spinach and lemon.

Yes, I do eat a lot of lentils, but I wasn't exactly looking for lentil inspiration in a French cook book. However! Laura knows me well and the headnote to the recipe began, "Please do not overlook this recipe . . . " and proceeded to list why I should make it.

Merci, Laura. I made this recipe soon after and it has become one of the best recipes we've discovered in the last while. In fact, I do believe we've made it at least five times in the last five months.

It is a brilliant recipe and I can make it all in under an hour. (Imagine how much faster I'd be with a sous-chef!) The lentils cook down in their spicy broth and remind me of dahl. I am not really a spinach or greens lover, but even they just work piled on top of the lentils. Then the bits of lemon juice squeezed on top wake it all up and make each bite different. I like to put this all on a bed of short-grain brown rice  you know the kind that almost pops in your mouth?

It's all divine. If I had my own magazine, I'd advertise, "dinner in just under an hour!" and I'd know you really could do it by yourself  and enjoy it.

How many copies I'd sell would be another story.

one year ago: cheddar corn chowder and lemon gumdrops
two years ago: grand forks borscht and up island
three years ago: canadian boterkoek and sophisticated marshmallow squares
lentil-love: dahl for dinner, dahling and parsley lentil pasta and salmon with sugar-salt rub and Mark Bittman's lentils

spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon
slightly adapted from Laura Calder's Dinner Chez Moi

brown rice (I like this short-grain brown rice best)
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (or peperoncino, crushed, if you can get it)
2 tsp. (10 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp. (5 ml) ground coriander
1 tsp. (5 ml) curry powder
pinch of turmeric
1 c. (200 g.) red lentils
398 ml (14 oz.) best-quality canned tomatoes
 3.5 c. (about 700 ml) chicken stock*
salt and pepper
100  200 g. (4  8 oz.) Swiss chard, spinach or other greens, stems trimmed
lemon wedges for serving

Get your rice going, so it can cook while you prepare the lentils and greens.

Put a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the oil. Stir in the garlic, jalapeño, cumin, coriander and curry. After about a minute, the garlic should be light brown. Pour in the lentils, tomatoes, stock and turmeric. Cover and bring to a simmer, stirring every so often, until the lentils have broken down and become a purée, about 20  30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Next, prepare the greens. Wash them and put them into a big pot with water droplets still on the leaves. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Steam them for 3  5 minutes, tossing them with tongs a couple times to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Once they are just wilted, turn off the heat.

Ladle lentils over rice in wide shallow bowls. Top with a tangle of greens. Serve with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze over.

*If you add 4 cups of stock, you will have a stewy soup and you don't need to serve it with rice. But I like the rice!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

panna cotta

Panna cotta is creamy and wobbly with a light gelatin set. It poses nicely for pictures.

This particular panna cotta is also half buttermilk, so it has a certain brightness that is hard to describe when I'm also calling it creamy. Just trust me.

I discovered it about a year ago and it is entirely possible that I have made it at least ten times since then. (In fact, if you've come over to our house for dinner in the past year, I bet you recognize this.)

It works with almost every dinner we like to make and I love how I can make it up ahead of time  in 15 minutes  and it's all ready to go.

The original recipe calls for it to be served with saucy blueberries. I have tried it with saucy berries, but I think they just smother that delicate, wobbly disk of panna cotta.

I like it best with a simple syrup: rhubarb in spring and red wine the rest of the year.

Since it is clearly not yet spring here (as I look out my frosted window at snow and a smoking chimney), I'm doing the red wine syrup right now.

It is also very simple: simmer any kind of red wine with a bit of sugar and the merest speck of black pepper. It gets thick and syrupy and that's all you have to do for that.

Then I like to shave chocolate curls on top. I use a good milk chocolate because it's much easier to curl than dark.

That's all.

Panna cotta: simple, creamy, wonderful.

one year ago: caramel chocolate mousse
two years ago: grand forks borscht
three years ago: dahl for dinner, dahling

panna cotta
from Molly O'Neill 
in Amanda Hesser's The Essential New York Times Cook Book

1 c. + 2 tbsp. whipping cream
1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. cold water
1 envelope powdered gelatin
1 2/3 c. buttermilk
1/8 tsp. kosher salt

Get out your ramekins, whatever size you like. (I prefer ramekins that hold about 1/4 cup.)

Stir the cream and sugar together in a medium saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and stir every so often until the sugar dissolves, about 7 minutes.

In the meantime, pour the cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it stand for 5 minutes.

Once the gelatin has stood for 5 minutes and turned into a big gelatin mass, stir it into the warm cream. Use a whisk to make sure it dissolves. Stir in the buttermilk and salt and take it off the heat.

Ladle the liquid into the ramekins. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap and carefully set them in the fridge. They should be set in about 2 to 3 hours.

To unmold, run a knife around the edges of the ramekins. Place each ramekin in a half-filled bowl of warm to hot tap water for 20 to 25 seconds. (No longer, or they will melt!) Unmold onto individual plates. Add a teaspoon or two of red wine syrup and milk chocolate curls to serve.

red wine syrup
from David Lebovitz

1/2 c. (125 ml) red wine
3 tbsp. (50 g.) sugar
small sprinkle of black pepper
milk chocolate curls to garnish

Stir the wine, sugar and a tiny bit of black pepper together in a small pot. (You don't want very much pepper because the flavours will concentrate as they cook down.) Bring it to a simmer over medium-low heat. Turn the heat down so it maintains a steady simmer.

Cook until it has reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the pot to a bowl to cool down. Serve at room temperature. Pour a teaspoon or two beside the panna cotta, and shave a few chocolate curls on top of the panna cotta.