Lentil Salad

Lentils range widely in size and color from yellow, red- oranges, greens, browns, and black.  The most common lentils in my local grocery stores are brown or red.  I have unpleasant memories of brown lentils from childhood.  My mother has always strived for good health and nutrition, and lentils are a superstar in the world of legumes.  Obviously mineral content wasn’t what I was looking for in my food at that time and I was very suspicious of the mushy little beans.  I now recognize that they are powerhouses of nutrition and can be prepared in a variety of ways.  They readily absorb flavors and can be used for soups, stews and salads.  Lentils are surprisingly high in folate, iron, magnesium, protein, and fiber.

There are two varieties that are less likely to get mushy and therefore good choices for salad.  French green lentils (du Puy) and Beluga black lentils are both small and remain firm when cooked.  I usually cook with French green lentils and they are pretty good, but I really wanted to try the small black ones named for looking like caviar.  I had a recipe from Jacques Pepin for Beluga Lentil Salad, but was not able to find Belugas until recently. 

This lentil salad is the best I’ve made.  I often leave out the mint in savory recipes even though it grows nearly year round right by my front door.  I absolutely loved the mint in this salad.  It is light and tasty, but also satisfying and filling; I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it.  The recipe and ingredients are simple and easy to keep on hand, so this will be a great lunchbox meal from now on.

Lentil Salad

recipe from Jacques Pepin

1 cup dry Beluga lentils

water

salt

1 bay leaf

1 large clove garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots ( I substituted sweet vidalia onion)

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Feta cheese for garnish

Begin by sifting through the lentils to check for stones.  You probably won’t find any, but this is good policy any time you cook with dry beans.  Rinse them under running water.

Soak the lentils in 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt for 1 hour.

Drain and cook in a saucepan with 3 or 4 cups water, 1 whole garlic clove, 1 bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until desired firmness.

Drain and discard the garlic and bay leaf.

For the dressing, combine the olive oil, white wine vinegar, olives, mint and shallot in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste.  A great tip when working with raw onions is to chop them, then rinse with cold water to remove some of the sharpness if you don’t want them to overpower the salad.

Add the warm lentils and toss to coat.  Serve warm or cold, topped with a little feta cheese.

Roasted Green Beans

Why did I plant green beans if I don’t like to eat them?  Well, I dunno… they’re easy to grow and they’re really healthy right?  So now that they are growing, I have to pick them, snap them, cook them and eat them.  Maybe it will be character building for my son to help out.  Most vegetables are better roasted, so I tried it with my green beans.  There are a few tips and tricks to get the most flavor out of any roasted vegetable, and I used them all to make beans appetizing.  I consider this recipe a success.  I ate my beans, and I liked it.

Roasted Green Beans

-Fresh green beans

-Red Onion

-Lemon

-Sea salt, sugar, pepper, olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 and if you have a convection option, use it.  Place your pan in the oven to preheat with it.  I like to line the pan with foil for easy clean up.

Trim and wash the beans, then let them dry thoroughly.  It is important to start with a DRY vegetable if you’re trying to get a crisp edge.  Any moisture will steam the vegetables.  Slice the red onion very thin and toss with the beans.  Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil – more or less depending on the amount of beans you’re working with.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Here’s a little tip:  sugar will make anything brown better, so add just a pinch of sugar to get those tasty crunchy browned spots.

Spread the beans on the hot pan in a single layer.  Again, if your pan is crowded the vegetables will steam instead of getting crisp around the edges.  My pan was a little too crowded and the beans were borderline too soft.  I should have used two pans.  Roast until desired doneness.  I like my vegetables pretty well done which takes 10-15 minutes, but if you’re getting a good browning action, these beans would be good still  a little crunchy.  You can take the pan out and stir halfway through cooking.

Finally, remove the pan from the oven and zest your lemon over the hot beans – just a little zest.  Then squeeze about half the lemon juice over the beans and stir around before serving.  They’re really yummy from the onion and zing of the lemon – they hardly taste like green beans at all.

 

Easy Baked Zucchini Quesadillas

Folks, it’s zucchini time.  We’ve been eating lots of zucchini lately and since National Sneek Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbors Porch Day isn’t until August, I’ve been experimenting.  The good news is that this abundant veg makes a delicious cake, and it also goes really well with…. cheese!  This is more of an idea/method than a recipe.  You will need some zucchini, some onion, maybe garlic, cheese of your choice, and tortillas.

Chop the onions first and saute in olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent.  Add the garlic if you’re using it, then the zucchini.  Cook the veg all together to desired doneness.  I like my squashes very well done, so this step took a while.  I also love to have leftovers, so I made a LOT.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler in the oven and slice or shred your cheese.  Place tortillas on baking sheets and cover with cheese and the cooked zucchini mixture.  I took a picture of my tortillas spread with cooked veg and slices of cheese, but it was not a photogenic phase of the preparation process.  Place the pans in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted, then remove the pans and carefully fold the tortillas to ‘close’ the quesadillas.  Return pans to oven and broil until the tortillas are puffed and lightly browned.  Take the pans back out of the oven and flip the quesadillas, then brown the other side.  This only takes a few minutes per side, so keep an eye on it.  Serve with rice, beans, and fresh avocado!

Cool Cucumber Soup

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A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in – what more could he ask?  A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.’ – Victor Hugo

This is the time of year when gardening is a pure pleasure.  It is that magical time in between spring and summer when everything is still lush, green, and full of promise.  Flowers are blooming, bees are busy doing their work, and the first of my favorite summer vegetables are coming in.  Cucumbers are absolutely the best when they are small and fresh off the vine.  My son loves pickles, so most of ours go into mason jars, but this year I tried something new.

Refreshing cucumber soup is so easy to make!  Just remember to blend the soup and chill for at least 8 hours before serving.  After a long rest in the refrigerator, the soup will be creamy and thick and delicious.  This soup is a wonderful appetizer since it is so light, or you can serve it with some sourdough bread sliced thin.  Absolutely yummy.

Cool Cucumber Soup

2 cups cucumber – peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

1/4 cup sweet white onion or scallion – roughly chopped

juice from 1/2 lime or lemon

3 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt

3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

fresh dill to taste – about 1 large piece

1/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

You will need about 4 or 5 small to medium cucumbers for this recipe, but the amounts do not have to be exact.  Wash, peel and seed the cucumbers.  To get the seeds out, slice them into long quarters and slide the knife down on an angle (see the picture above).  Place all the ingredients in a blender, food processor or smoothie maker and blend until everything is very well incorporated and smooth.  Pour the soup into a container, cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.  Serve cool with a garnish of fresh dill.  Let me know if you try this recipe! 

Radish and White Bean Salad

Look what I grew!  Radishes are so much fun to pull out of the dirt.  Beautiful bright red and fuchsia bulbs just pop right out of the brown garden soil.  The only question after planting the seeds (fun!) and pulling the radishes (also fun!) was what to do with them???  I’m not a radish lover, but I really want to eat what I grow.

I’ve tried two radish salads this spring, and I really like this one.  It’s very simple to prepare.  It’s a nice balance of fresh and zippy with the comforting heft of the beans.  Perfect for spring.

Radish and White Bean Salad

1 can cannellini beans – rinsed well and drained

1 lemon

parsley – about 1/2 a bunch, or to taste, chopped fine

radishes – sliced very thin

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Slice the radishes very thin.  I use a mandoline so it’s very easy and quick.  Zest the lemon over the radishes ( you can omit this if you can’t find an organic lemon).  Add the lemon juice from your lemon.  Chop the parsley and add it to the bowl.  Drain the beans well and mix everything together.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste and a good amount of olive oil – like 1/4 cup.  If you’re not serving the salad right away, don’t add the salt yet.  Salt will draw the liquid out of the vegetables and make your salad a little soupier.  Just wait and salt it right before serving.  I use a coarse sea salt.

You could also add celery sliced on an angle to this salad.

Egg and Tomato Pie

Is it a quiche?  Is it a tart?  Let’s call it what it really is:  egg pie.  My version has eggs but no cream, so it’s not really a quiche.  I like plain eggs in a pie crust and find creamy quiches too rich.

You will need to plan ahead a little for this one, but it’s not hard and well worth it.  First, roast a head of garlic as seen here.  You can do this an hour before assembling your pie, or you can do it a day or two in advance.  Next, pre-bake a pie crust until it’s lightly brown.  You can use frozen puff pastry instead if you don’t like to make your own.  This is called blind baking.  You weight the crust so that it keeps it’s shape while baking and is ready for filling.  I learned about this the hard way 6 years ago. 

Experience has taught me that the little extra steps and attention to detail make all the difference in a perfect pie.  The crust is crunchy and flaky and buttery.  This filling is savory with a hint of mellow garlic.  We had this as an appetizer because it’s a small pie.  It would also be a great main dish with a green salad or even good for breakfast.

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Egg and Tomato Pie

One blind baked pie crust

2 roma tomatoes

1 or 2 cloves roasted garlic

3 eggs

about 1 cup sharp cheese ( I used a mixture of sharp white cheddar and romano – something very salty like feta would be good too)

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and let them stand 10 minutes.  This draws out some of the moisture so they behave while baking.

Spread the garlic all over the pre-baked crust.  Sprinkle half the cheese on top.  Lay the tomatoes on next.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper, then pour over the tomatoes.  Top with the remaining cheese.

Bake until the eggs are puffed and the top is slightly golden.  Serve warm.

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Easy Fruit Bars

I’ve tried many fruit bar recipes over the years and they’re all good.  However, the recipes I return to are the easiest to assemble.  This is a perfect recipe for yummy snack bars because the bottom crust and the top crumble are the same.  There’s no need to get out another bowl and mix up a separate topping.  This particular recipe also makes the filling quick and simple by using fruit jam mixed with fresh or frozen fruit.  It gets bonus points for using rolled oats, which means it’s totally fine to have for breakfast.  20170204_102858You can make these bars with any fruit and jam or preserves that you have on hand.  I had strawberries in the freezer and a fresh meyer lemon, so I used those.  I used a rectangular pan and the bars were too thin.  Use a square pan for thicker, sturdier bars.  I really love the toasty, buttery crust and the zing of the lemon with strawberries.  This recipe is easy and satisfying.

Easy Fruit Bars

For the crust:

1 cup rolled oats (plus 1/4 cup for the topping)20170204_103536

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter – cold and cut into cubes

4 Tablespoons cold water (or maybe more)

zest of one lemon, lime, or orange – optional but yummy!

For the filling:

6 ounces preserves or jam

juice from half a lemon (you could use lime or orange juice)

1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit chopped into bitesize

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the dry ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add butter and pulse about 10 times.  Add the cold water and lemon zest and pulse to combine.  Take the top off the food processor and check your progress.  The dough should be crumbly but hold together when pinched.  Add more cold water if needed.

Press a little more than half this dough in to a square pan and bake for about 12 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup rolled oats to the remaining dough mixture and save for the topping.

Take the pan out of the oven and spread the jam on top, then the fruit and sprinkle the lemon juice all over.  You could mix this stuff up in a separate bowl first, but why bother?  Crumble the remaining crust mixture on top and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes.  Let cool before attempting to slice.20170204_115135