Carrot and Coconut Dal

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Fall is on the edges here in MPLS. Aaron has put our old, ineffective air conditioner back into storage and we’re no longer sleeping with a fan. We’ve made the official switch from serving cold soup to hot soup at work. The temperature falls into the 50s at night, even as it sometimes hits 80 during the afternoon. People are breaking out the flannel and even the occasional puffy vest again. And my old friend, seasonal allergies, has come back for a visit.

I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m allergic to, whatever it is it’s all around. I have the full monty- itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion. And sneezes. Oh, the sneezes. Once they start they just won’t stop. I would describe them in more detail, but this is a food blog whose goal is to make you hungry, not grossed out, so I’ll stop.

I have no objection to taking an allergy pill, but all of ours seem to have disappeared. It’s a temporary problem, as I’m making a Target run tonight. But in the meantime I figured that food, while not able to cure my allergies, certainly couldn’t hurt.

To this effect I give you this carrot and coconut dal. It’s full of the types of food you want to eat while mildly sick- ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, and black pepper. It’s warming at a time when I want to eat something warm, but still light enough for the end of summer. The red lentils dissolve just enough to bring in a beautiful, soft texture. There’s three types of coconut- oil, milk, and flaked for the topping- to bring some sweetness and creaminess. The whole thing is deeply flavored, slightly tart, bright, and earthy. The spice is there, lingering softly after each bite.

This dal reminds me of the soups that I liked to eat in my college house.We used the heat as sparingly as possible there to save money, and so would wrap ourselves in sweaters and blankets. I almost always had something warm in my hands then, whether it was a bowl of soup or a mug of tea. I also ate most of my meals either perched on the couch next to friends, or lounging on the floor. Vegetables and lentils were cheap, much cheaper than dairy and meat, and so I ate them in abundance. This dal is not the same as I would have made then- it is more subtle in its spicing, and made with a more patience and care. But it has the same sort of warm, earthy, straightforward qualities that I’ve loved in lentil soups, past. I still love the clean goodness of lentils in the present, and am certain I’ll continue to love them in the future.

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Carrot and Coconut Dal

adapted from Good + Simple by Jasmine Hemsley and Melissa Hemsley

If you’d like a spicier dal you could double the chili powder. This dal would be an easy one to make your own by changing the spices- cinnamon, ground mustard, or cumin would all be delicious here.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
a 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 ounce can of coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
3/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, for serving
roughly chopped cilantro, for serving

Heat a dutch oven or other soup-sized pot over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat for a minute. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not dark, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and chili powder and stir well, then cook for another minute. Add the lentils, vegetable broth, and coconut milk. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 or so minutes, until the lentils are tender.

While the dal is cooking heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut and cook, stirring constantly, for two or three minutes, until the coconut is golden and smells toasty. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Once the lentils are tender add more water if it’s a bit thick- I added a cup of water to mine. Add the lemon juice, tamari, salt, and pepper. Stir well, and taste. Adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with the roughly chopped cilantro and the toasted coconut.

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Marinated Feta

Feta 1

It was just a block of shrink-wrapped feta that was on sale at a local cafe/bodega. I picked it up on a whim, bought it, and carried it home in my purse. I don’t know what appealed to me about it- maybe that it wasn’t precious. It’s easy to get into a bubble sometimes, where I can get hand pulled mozzarella in bulk and assume everyone can find champaign vinegar. I’ve been spending some time in that bubble recently.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a tween my parents somehow ended up with a subscription to Food and Wine magazine. My parents are many things, but “foodies” is not one of them. I read that magazine greedily. I wanted to go to the aprés ski parties in rustic modern mountain houses where they ate braised short ribs and hot chocolate affogato. I also wanted to know where in Sam Hill I was supposed to find adobo sauce and drinking chocolate that dotted those recipes. I know where to find both of those now. I’d still like an invite to the aprés ski parties.

It seems like in the past ten or so years our cultural interest and access to food has exploded. But this explosion was not evenly distributed. I get frustrated that it’s hard to find sumac or za’atar here in Minneapolis, and then get a text from my mom where she can find farro. And there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a recipe for, say, baked peaches that has the headline “Don’t even try to make this if your peaches are less than perfect.” Perfect peaches. What makes a peach perfect and where do I find them? And if I do find them is baking them, which is a clever trick to turn much-less-than-perfect fruit into almost-perfect fruit, really the preferable use for those perfect peaches than eating them over the sink with the juices running down your arms?

All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about food quality and food cost. We spend a slightly embarrassing amount on our grocery bill here, and are trying to cut down. It’s true that if you have top quality ingredients it’s easy to eat well. But it’s false that the only way to eat well is to have those top quality ingredients.  Sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity.

To whit, I made this marinated feta. I used the aforementioned block of shrink-wrapped feta- there was nothing fancy here. I chopped together garlic and mint, stirred with red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and olive oil, and poured over the block, then let it hang out in the fridge for 6 hours. The result is a flavor packed feta that’s far more elegant than its original incarnation. I tossed some pasta with this feta, chopped tomatoes, and the last of some roasted red peppers that had been hiding in the back of the fridge. Aaron made rice and beans, our customary pantry meal, and topped the whole mess with cubes of marinated feta, which brought a flavorful punch. I have plans to use the last bit as an omelette filling, but there’s a whole host of possibilities here. I think it’s fantastic with the first of the tomatoes (I’ve been choosing hydroponically grown tomatoes and feel no shame), and this could be a great component on a bruschetta or replacing the mozzarella in a caprese salad. This would also make a mean pizza topping, and I bet that blended with a bit more olive oil it would make a fantastic spread. And, of course, you could swap out the lemon peel for orange peel, the garlic for shallots, red pepper flake for your dried chili of choice, mint for almost any herb (but I bet oregano would be especially fantastic) or add in spices (saffron would be beautiful if you want to get spend-y) or pantry staples (anchovies or capers would be excellent).

Marinated Feta

one 8 ounce block of feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
small bunch of mint, chopped (about 1/4 cup chopped)

Place the feta in a small bowl or container where it can lay flat. In another small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and mint and whisk together well. Pour over the feta. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

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Skordalia


Before Aaron sold out and got a job with health insurance and a 401k and PTO with a big company, he was a bartender. He started when we were in college, and bartended more or less full time for 5 years. He had a knack for finding the best possible place for him at the time. When we were living in England he worked as a bar back at a high volume cocktail bar that we frequented with friends for the Alice in Wonderland themed drinks. In our sleepy college town he worked behind the bar at the hotel where presidential candidates stay during their tours of Iowa. When we moved to Minneapolis he finagled his way into a bar back role at a fine dining restaurant that held one of Minnesota’s three James Beard awards. That role eventually morphed into bartending. I used to stop in on my nights off with a book. I would sip on a cocktail Aaron would slide over to me, watching the people around the room revel.

Back then I was a preschool teacher. When I decided to make the change to cooking, I was able to find a good job for someone so green right away because of the connections Aaron had made bartending. We were young and just out of college, and spent most of our “extra” money on eating out. It was hard not to- there were so many options out there. We had so much to learn. It felt like we were playing catch up. And there was always a new place to try. Some we heard about from Aaron’s coworkers. Some were recommended to us by the servers and bartenders we had become friendly with from our many late nights. Other times Aaron might mention a place offhand he wanted to try. “They’re in NSBG,” he’d say.

NSBG was the North Star Bartender’s Guild, Minnesota’s version of a bartender’s union. They provided the option to buy health insurance and continuing education and put on Iron Bartender every year. Most restaurants that had strong bar programs had bartenders in the guild. After meetings Aaron would complain about the drama of it all. There was always bad blood between some restaurants, and that would manifest in sniping. But he would also get to try new spirits that were just started to be imported to the US, and once he got a free hat, so it seemed to be a fairly even trade.

One hot August night we were in Rochester, Minnesota, looking for a place to get dinner. Aaron mentioned a place nearby. “They’re in NSBG.” In fact, he elaborated, they were the only restaurant outside the Twin Cities to make the drive for meetings. It sounded good, and much better than the Olive Gardens that Yelp was turning up, so we hit up Zzest Restaurant.

It was already full dark when we arrived, but we were still shown to a wrought iron table in the patio. Patio is the wrong word for it, though- it was like a full garden. People were sitting in clusters, some sipping wine, some snacking on truffle oil popcorn. Laughter drifted in the air. When the server arrived we ordered generously, and included a starter called skordalia. “It’s like a mashed potato hummus,” he told us, and with a description like that, how could we resist?

It came, a smooth white mound. It was creamy and light and fluffy, filled with a brave amount of garlic. The menu proclaimed that it contained both potatoes and white beans, a combination I’ve not seen anywhere else. It was so good I ended up running my fingers over the finished plate to lick the last bites off. Everything we had that night was delicious, but only the memory of the skordalia has stayed with me.

I’ve only had skordalia at Zzest, but the memory has stuck with me. It lives in the small notebook I carry with me at all times, the list of ideas for here that just keeps growing and growing. After Easter I was scanning that notebook. I needed a way to use up potatoes. 15 pounds of potatoes is far too many for 5 people, it turns out. Among the other suspects (roast potatoes with mustard, loaded potato wedges, shepherd’s pie) skoralia stuck out. It was time to make mashed potato hummus.

It’s quite easy to make. You roast potatoes, mash, bash garlic, and mix. It’s deeply flavorful, garlic-y and savory and slightly sweet. It would be a great dip for a party, as it’s the rare combination of unique and comforting. I imagine it would also excel in any role that mashed potatoes are commonly stuck in.

Happy April! I’m wishing you all beautiful weather and delicious potatoes.

Skordalia

The recipe originally calls for “ground almonds”. I made the substitution for almond flour, as it’s the same thing just already conveniently made. If you don’t keep almond flour on hand and have a food processor, go ahead and grind those almonds yourself. Additionally, the original recipe called for 1 cup of olive oil (and no water). If you are braver than I, please try it and tell me what you think.

Adapted from this recipe from the Culinary Institute of America via Epicurious

Yield: About three cups

1 pound small, starchy potatoes (I used half white, half purple potatoes)
5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup almond flour
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water

To serve
Olive oil
Slivered almonds
Cut raw vegetables of choice, such as carrot batons and radish rounds
Crackers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork or small sharp knife. Roast the potatoes until tender. The time will depend on how large your potatoes are. Mine were quite small, and took about half an hour, but they may take an hour or more. Remove the potatoes when they’re tender, and set aside until they’re cool enough to touch. Once they’re cool enough to touch, place in a medium sized bowl and mash using a potato masher until tender.

In a mortar and pestle, or using a knife and cutting board, pound the garlic cloves with the salt until you have a smooth paste.

Add the garlic paste, yolk, pepper, almond flour, lemon, olive oil, and water to the smooth potato mash. Mix well and taste. Adjust the lemon, salt, and pepper according to taste, and if you’d like a looser consistency add more oil or water.

To serve, drizzle with olive oil and top with slivered almonds, and arrange vegetables and crackers as desired.

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Garlic Soup


Garlic soup. The name sounds wan. It sounds like a thin, aggressive soup with bracing bite. It sounds like the type of soup that’s medicinal, where the sharpness makes it difficult to keep eating even as you know it’s good for you. It sounds unpleasant.

But that’s not what you get. Instead you get something rich. Something creamy. Something with a warm sweetness of roasted garlic without the time commitment, with woodsy earthiness from rosemary and a hit of brightness from lemon. You get a sophisticated soup. You get a soup that’s been transported from a warm bistro on a rainy night to your dining room table. You get something light enough for a healthy lunch, and decadent enough as an impressive starter for a dinner party. Garlic soup, despite its lumpy sounding name, is a good thing.

Just imagine. You sweat an onion until it’s sharp edges are mellowed out then add in a mess of garlic. When everything smells fragrant and heady you stir in some rosemary, lemon zest, and stock (I used Better than Bouillon, but homemade would be incandescent). The whole thing bubbles away, becoming concentrated and savory and rich, and then it’s blended up and has eggs and sherry vinegar whisked in. If you want to gild the lily, you could top it with garlic chips and a drizzle of good olive oil. And it comes together in about 30 minutes.

If that’s not enough tempting enough for you, consider this. I’ve been laid up with a cold. Then I made garlic soup. My cold is now retreating. That may be coincidence, true. Or it could be evidence of garlic soup’s magical properties. It doesn’t taste medicinal, but it is healing.

Garlic Soup

adapted from A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorrison

The fastest way that I’ve found to mince a large amount of garlic is to peel apart the cloves and then smash then using the flat side of your knife. The paper comes apart easily, and you can chop the garlic inside much quicker.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 head of garlic, cloves minced
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves roughly chopped
5 cups vegetable stock
zest of half a lemon
salt
pepper
2 eggs, seperated
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

To serve
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

 

In a large pot warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt, cooking, stirring occasionally, until softened but without color. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked but without color, about 2 minutes. Add the rosemary, the stock, and the lemon zest. Bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In a small skillet warm one tablespoon of oil. Saute the two cloves of garlic, stirring often, until golden brown, about two minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Whisk the egg yolks with the tablespoon of sherry vinegar.

After the soup has simmered, blend, either in batches in an upright blender or with an immersion blender. Return to the pot if using an upright blender.

Very slowly, whisk the egg whites into the warm soup, beating constantly. You want to go as slowly as you can so the egg whites don’t cause large streaks. After the egg whites are whisked in, slowly whisk in the egg yolks, beating constantly.

Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve immediately, toppped with garlic chips and a drizzle of olive oil.

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