Monday, February 22, 2016

Sylvia's Lentil Soup

The first time I encountered lentil soup it was one of the most disgusting things I had ever seen.  I was about ten years old and we walked into my parents' friends' house and there was a huge pot of it simmering away on the stove.  When I looked into the pot I saw a thick brown sludge that looked like what I imagined porridge would look like, based on my child's imagination.  It did not smell much better if I remember correctly.

Given my initial reaction to it I can't imagine what could have made me actually taste it, although I suspect some form of parental threat was involved.  And imagine my surprise when I found it so delicious that not only did I have no trouble whatsoever finishing the serving I had been given, I even found myself asking for more.

I owe my friend's mother a big thank you for that, as it opened my mind to all kinds of beans and lentils throughout my life and therefore served as my entree to a whole new world of delicious flavors.

At some point I got the recipe from her, but over the years I found myself cooking with less and less meat and I never seemed to have a soup bone just hanging around my kitchen.  I would stumble across it every once in a while when going through my recipes and consider making it, until I realized that I did not have a soup bone and in all honesty wasn't even sure how to get one.  So back in the box it went.

And then I decided to make a stew from a bone-in chuck roast I had bought on sale.  As I was cutting the meat away from the bone I started thinking about what I could do it.  And I am very glad that the recipe for that delicious lentil soup popped into my head.  It took only a second for me to decide to make it.

And it was just as good as I remembered it being (I was a little afraid that it would not live up to the memory).  The low, slow cooking brought all of the flavors together and the lentils were soft and flavorful.  The thyme adds an additional layer to the already earthy flavor of the beans and the meat rounds out the flavors perfectly.
In spite of the lengthy cook time, the soup itself can be thrown together quickly so it is the perfect thing to make on a cold winter weekend day when you don't have to be anywhere but don't want to be tied up in the kitchen.  

While I will continue to mostly cook and eat my lentils without meat, every once in a while this version is the perfect thing to eat on a cold winter's day.  
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables


Servings: 8-10

1 lb lentils
2 Tbsp butter
2 medium onions
2 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup sliced celery
2 bay leaves
3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 quarts water
1 medium potato, grated
soup bone

Soak lentils in water for 3 hours or overnight.

In large soup kettle saute onions and carrots until onions are golden. Add lentils and the rest of the ingredients. Simmer until lentils are tender and soup has thickened.

exported from Home Cookin v.8.66 (

Monday, February 15, 2016

Butternut Squash with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

I am always on the lookout for new ways to prepare butternut and other squashes, and this one makes for a nice change.  It is also quick and easy, which makes it a great candidate for a weeknight dinner. The cilantro and lemon juice give it a light, citrusy flavor that would go well with any meat as a side dish, and it would make a great vegetarian meal over pasta.

Two thumbs up (both mine, of course).
Home Cookin v.8.65 Chapter: - New Recipes

Makes 6 side or 4 main servings

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1-1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.

Toss butternut squash with two tablespoons of the olive oil and about half a teaspoon salt, then arrange in 1 layer in a 17x12x1-inch baking pan and roast, turning occasionally, until golden brown on edges, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast pumpkin seeds in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until seeds are puffed and beginning to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and cool.

Place the cooled seeds in a food processor with the cilantro, lemon juice, the last tablespoon of olive oil and saltand pepper to taste. Pulse together until a rough paste is formed.

Combine the squash with the pesto and toss. Season to taste. Serve immediately.

adapted from Gourmet Magazine (RIP), November 2007

Exported from Home Cookin 8.65 (

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Red Cabbage Slaw

I had half of a head of red cabbage in the refrigerator.  I had sauteed the first half with red peppers and red onion and it was quite tasty but I wanted to do something different with the second half.  I also had some mayonnaise I made up for cheese sandwiches that needed to be used before it spoiled so I decided to throw together a quick slaw.  I grated a carrot and added some chopped red onion.

I had an almost-empty container of buttermilk so I added what was left to the mayonnaise along with a splash of apple cider vinegar for the dressing.  I tossed in some golden raisins for sweetness.

It only took a few minutes and I ended up with a fresh, tasty side dish that I will definitely make again, and often.  I might add toasted walnuts for special occasions.

Home Cookin' Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 6 side servings

1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, grated
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins

For the dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Place the cabbage, carrot, onion, and raisins in a large bowl.

Combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and whisk together. Add to the cabbage mixture and stir will. Season with salt to taste.

Let the flavors combine for at least half an hour before serving.


exported from Home Cookin v.8.66 (

Monday, February 01, 2016

South Asian Shepherd's Pie

As busy as the past year was, I made sure to make time for my spice and my bread group meetups.  That guaranteed that I did at least some cooking and socializing during that time and kept me from going completely insane.
In addition to meeting great people, both meetups challenge me to stretch outside of my comfort zone and work with ingredients and techniques that are new to me.  Sometimes my efforts are not so successful, and sometimes they shine.

Like this take on Shepherd's Pie.  The spice for our monthly potluck was curry leaves.  I had heard of curry leaves but had never seen them and had definitely never cooked with them so I was intrigued but had no idea what I was going to do with them.

The curry tree is native to India and can be found both in the wild and cultivated.  The leaves are rich in essential oils and have a strong earthy, slightly citrus flavor that enhances any dish.  In addition, as I discovered when I brought them home and opened up the package, they have a pungent aroma that is unlike anything I have encountered before in my cooking history.  They filled my senses the way that menthol does, but without the menthol flavor. 

The one thing almost everyone who grew up with them commented about on the sites I visited while looking them up online is that because the leaves can be hard to find outside of India they are often omitted, and while good, the dish is definitely not the same without them.  And after having used them, I can see why they say that.

I wasn't sure what I was going to make for the potluck, but I had two pounds of ground lamb and a package of peas in the freezer and potatoes in the pantry, so I started thinking about Shepherds Pie, which usually consists of leftover lamb cooked with peas, carrots and onions topped with mashed potatoes and baked until the potatoes are golden brown. It seemed to me that those ingredients would lend themselves well to an Indian interpretation and I always have carrots and onions on hand so I decided to give it a try.  I also had a bag of cauliflower florets in the freezer, which is another vegetable often found in Indian cuisine so I decided to use that instead of celery.  But I think celery, which is more traditional to the original version, would be fine to use here instead.

The result was more successful than I anticipated.  Once the ginger and other spices were added as I was cooking the lamb and vegetables I knew I was on the right track.  And adding the Madras curry spices and coconut milk to the potatoes was a stroke of genius if I do say so myself.

It would have been delicious with those ingredients alone.  But the curry leaves added a deep citrus-like overtone that enveloped all of the separate ingredients and elevated them into one amazing flavor, while still allowing the individual ingredients their place at the table.

I will not lie, this dish does not come together in a few minutes.  But if you want something that will impress a crowd and have the time, it is worth every minute it takes to put it all together.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
Servings: 12

[Note: The only fresh curry leaves I could find down on Devon avenue here in Chicago came in a big package that had many more leaves than needed for this recipe.  In my online research I discovered that you can fry the leaves in a little bit of oil and freeze them, which I did.  It works.]

2 medium-large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp grapeseed oil
36-48 curry leaves, divided
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp garlic-ginger paste* (or 1 Tbsp each minced garlic and minced fresh ginger)
1 large red onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 lb ground lamb
2-3 Tbsp madras curry powder, divided (or to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
1 tsp ground coriander (or to taste)
1 Tbsp garam masala (or to taste)
1 Tbsp tomato powder (or 4 oz tomato paste)
1 13.5-oz can coconut milk, divided
1 bag frozen cauliflower florets, thawed and chopped (optional)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1-2 tsp smoked hot paprika

*Garlic ginger paste: chop equal amounts of garlic and ginger and place in a small processor. Add about 2 tablespoons of grapeseed or canola oil for every 1/2 cup of garlic and ginge and process until a lumpy paste is formed. Will keep in the jar in the refrigerator for a couple of months.

Place the chopped potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan, setting the burner as low as it will go.

Drain the potatoes and return the pot to the stove. Add about half of the coconut milk, 1 tablespoon of the Madras curry powder, and 1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil and mash until soft. (This can be done ahead and refrigerated, but the coconut milk will set so the potatoes will need to be reheated before they can be spread.)

In a large skillet heat the 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add 24 of the curry leaves and let cook for a few seconds, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. Let the mustard seeds pop (cover if you want to avoid the splatter), then add the garlic-ginger paste, onions and carrots. Cook until the vegetables are translucent. Add the lamb and cook until it is browned. Add the remaining Madras curry powder, cinnamon, coriander, and garam masala. Cook for another two minutes, stirring constantly, until the spices bloom. Add the tomato powder/paste and the remaining coconut milk. Cook until the mixture comes back up to heat. Add the cauliflower and the peas and cook until everything is heated through and the flavors are well blended. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Layer the meat mixture on the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top and sprinkle with smoked hot paprika. Bake for 30 minutes uncovered, then check the topping. It if looks like it is drying out, spread a thin layer of grapeseed oil over the top to keep it from getting hard. Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes. During the second half of baking, heat a thin layer of oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the remaining curry leaves and cook until they turn a bright green then remove and place on paper towels to cool and drain, then crush them loosely. When the top of the dish is browned, remove from the oven and sprinkle with the crushed curry leaves.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.63 (

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