Coconut Red Lentil Dip

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At our wedding, almost three years ago, Aaron and I gave bookmarks to our guests as tokens of our gratitude. These bookmarks were printed with various lines from a few of our favorite poems. One was the closing stanza of Margaret Atwood’s Variations on the Word Sleep:

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

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Lentils are stodgy things, unassuming and cheap. There’s an hippie strain about them, tainted with the implications of under-salted, uniformly brown meals. It’s easy to obsess over the beauty of fresh produce. There’s a vitality, brilliantly colored and beautifully arrayed. If lentils inspire love, it’s the love of gratitude. It’s a long running marriage to an heirloom’s passionate affairs. Lentils are supportive. There is always more they will be willing to give.

Perhaps we ought to celebrate lentils more. Lentils are accessible. They are sustaining. They give, quietly and without complaint, again and again. And they are happy to fade into the background, allowing their more glamorous accompaniments to take the spotlight. They are unnoticed. They are necessary.

In the spirit of generosity I offer this red lentil dip. Earthy from the lentils, sweet from coconut milk, and with a kiss of heat from ginger. My dreams of taking this dip on a picnic were destroyed by Aaron devouring half of it when he arrived home from work. I’m not fond of this habit of assigning any mashed beans the moniker “hummus”, because there’s no tahini and no chickpeas in most. But this is satisfying in the same way as hummus, with a similar texture and similar balance of flavors. And because red lentils are the uncelebrated workhorse of the kitchen, this dip comes together from start to finish in about twenty minutes. Pretty remarkable for something so unnoticed.

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Coconut Red Lentil Dip

Be careful when blending the dip- too fast or too long and it may start to take on paste-y quality. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth- in fact, a slightly nubby texture is delightful.

Makes about 2 cups of dip

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt
1 cup red lentils
1 fifteen ounce can coconut milk
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime

to serve

sesame seeds
crackers
vegetables

Melt the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook gently for about five minutes, until the garlic and ginger are fragrant but not taking on any color. Add the coriander, black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, then continue cooking for another minute. Stir in the red lentils until they are coated in the spice and shiny with the oil, then stir in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and stir often, cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender but firm, about ten to fifteen minutes. If the liquid is absorbed but the lentils are still hard, add water at half a cup at a time and keep simmering. You don’t want the lentils to dissolve for this.

Transfer your cooked lentils to a blender and blend until the lentils are mashed. While the blender is whirling, add in the olive oil, lime juice, and 1/4 cup of water. Taste, and add any salt you deem necessary. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with sesame seeds surrounded by crackers and crudités of choice.

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Rose Posca

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During and after college Aaron worked as a bartender. The places he worked at ranged from good to great, and he took to the work with a single-minded enthusiasm. Need someone to explain to stir or shake a cocktail? Curious about why a drink uses this specific bitter Italian liquor and not that nearly identical bitter Italian liquor? Have an opinion about jiggering in ounces verses measuring with milliliters versus free pouring? Aaron’s your guy. We have a bookcase in our dining room that’s filled with booze. There’s ancho chili liquor and local sour cherry cordial and approximately 50 types of bitters. There’s the stuff he’s made himself like Green Tea Vodka, Hibiscus Gin, and Popcorn Rum. He collects cocktail glasses, name drops cocktail historians, and chats up local bartenders about ratios. He’s been passionate about cocktails since we were able to legally drink.

I’m not passionate about cocktails. I appreciate a well-made drink, but usually choose a Manhattan or Sidecar over a deeply imaginative confection. But passion is sexy and fascinating, and in this case it’s deeply convenient. Aaron takes care of the drinks, and I manage the food. He carefully selects the wine for date nights and I roll out the pasta. At dinner parties he’s whipping up spicy Palomas while I bring cake. He suggests the brewery to meet up with friends and I make the snacks. We sit at the bar in restaurants, Aaron chatting up the bartenders and I investigating the menus. It’s a happy pairing (pun intentional) but it has its downside. I have made perhaps five cocktails in my entire life.

That may not seem notable to you. Let me just emphasize again I have a bookcase full of booze three feet from where I write this. There is all the equipment and resources that I could need, including dozens of cocktail books. And I have no aversion or hangups about alcohol. I just don’t ever put in the effort to make my own drinks. This habit extends to non-alcoholic drinks as well. We had friends over this weekend for the afternoon. I assumed we’d drink water. Aaron whipped up jasmine-lemongrass Arnold Palmers instead.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I get inspired rather than lazy by Aaron’s passion. This inspiration usually manifests in non-alcoholic beverages. Have you heard about posca ? It’s an ancient Roman drink, essentially vinegar, water, herbs, and perhaps sweeteners. There’s no known recipe, and the exact proportions have been lost to history. But I love the idea of it- tart brightness from vinegar, honey for sweetness, herbs to keep things interesting. It’s lemonade before lemonade, a refreshing summer drink.

For this posca I took a hint from my bartender husband and instead of honey made a rose syrup. The syrup is simple, floral, and brilliantly pink. I mixed it with apple cider vinegar (because apples and roses are botanically related. Science!), water, and ice. The drink is beautiful, ended up a pale shade of millennial pink and with a lovely, light blend of sweet and tart. It’s, as they say at my work, extremely quaffable. I’ve been drinking it in the sun while reading a master’s newest book and hiding from this terrifying news. If you need a spot of sunshine (and I certainly do), this rose posca performs admirably.

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Rose Posca

Dried rose petals can be found at health food stores and co-ops (mine sells them in the medicine section) as well as some spice stores. The formula I give here is to my taste. Feel free to play with the levels of vinegar, syrup, and water to make your house version of posca.

Serves 1

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried rose petals
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a small saucepan combine the sugar with the rose petals and 1/2 cup water. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring once in a while to dissolve. Once the sugar is dissolved, set the syrup aside and let the rose petals steep. I found 2 hours gave me the strong rose presence I wanted, but if you have less time the syrup tastes of rose after 15 minutes. Strain into a clean jar. Refrigerate if not using right away.

To make the posca, combine 1 cup of water, the apple cider vinegar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the rose syrup in a glass with ice. Stir well. Drink in the sun.

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Mujadara

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I first made mujadara in college. I spent senior year living with friends in a run down house half a mile from campus. When my dad came to help me move into the house he just looked at me and shook his head. It was dirty, but more than that it was rickety. It felt vaguely illegal to live there, even with paying rent and electricity. The landlord had no interest in maintaining something that he felt that college students would just ruin. Our roof was damaged by hail the year before. When my friend Hannah signed the lease he promised, on his word, that he would fix it. Conveniently written into the lease was that he was under no obligation make any repairs that were not written into the lease. It was a disappointingly adult lesson in the perils of promises.

But I loved that house. I loved the small yard where we strung a laundry line between two trees and our neighbors who allowed us to use their compost pile. I loved the front porch where we’d sit on summer nights and eat dinner, drinking wine out of mason jars. I loved my room, the first and only space I’ve ever had to myself with its mint green walls, sloping ceilings, and countertop where I kept my very own electric kettle. I didn’t love the creepy cellar underneath the house, but I loved the night when we invited all our friends over, got drunk, and painted the walls of the cellar.

We had one small kitchen between six girls. There were always fights about dishes and who used up the milk and didn’t replace it. But it was also a place where we’d study and catch up and share meals. Meals like mujarada were always on the stove- easy and cheap and delicious, and ideal to prepared while studying.

Mujadara. It’s a musical name for such a simple dish. Mujadara is made up essentially of four ingredients- olive oil, onions, lentils, and rice. It’s cheap and easy and mad delicious. I first heard of mujadara during that magical year of college from Orangette by Molly Wizenburg, whose elegant and clever writing paved the way for the abundance of food blogs we have today.

When I was in college I made mujadara much the way Molly describes. Now that I’m an adult and share my space with one person, not five and have a slightly larger grocery budget I add spices to the mix. Cumin, cardamamom, and cinnamon all accentuate the rich sweetness of caramelized onions. Bay leaves layer the earthy taste of lentils. Kept the same are the deeply caramelized onions, soft lentils, and tender rice. It’s comfort food in a deep way- you keep watch over a pot on the stove and just let it work its magic. I still use the same two and a half quart dutch oven and the same burnt wooden spoon. Across the years mujadara still is a celebration of things good and simple.

Mujadara

The base of this dish is the deeply caramelized onions. Don’t be afraid here- just keep an eye on the onions and stir occasionally. The color is where all the flavor lies. Ideally you’ll take these just to the teetering edge of burnt.

adapted from Orangette

serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 cup green lentils, picked through for rocks
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup long grain brown rice
salt

In a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid warm the olive oil over medium low. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring as often as necessary, until the onions are deeply caramelized. If they start to brown on the bottom of the pot make sure to scrape the brown bits up- that’s where all the flavor is. Depending on a whole gauntlet of features from your onions to your pot to your medium low heat, this could be anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour.

While the onions are cooking add the lentils and the bay leaves to a pot and cover generously with water. Bring the lentils to a boil, then cook for twenty minutes. They should be tender by this point. Drain, remove the bay leaves, and set aside.

Once the onions are dark amber and soft stir in the cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add the lentils and rice and a half teaspoon of rice. Stir well, then add in 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer.

At twenty minutes, check the mujadara- you’re looking for the water to be absorbed without the pot being dry and the rice to be tender. If it isn’t there yet, return the cover and and continue cooking. If the water is absorbed and the rice isn’t tender yet, add more water and continue cooking and checking periodically.

Once the rice is tender and the water absorbed, taste your mujadara and add salt as necessary. Serve warm.

 

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Chana Masala

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It’s Inauguration day as I write this. A man who lost the popular vote and embodies so much contention and cruelty is taking the sacred oath of office. It almost seems trite to post food here. Almost. There are so many other things that demand our attention. But no matter what, we have to keep feeding ourselves. We may as well do ourselves the kindness of doing it well.

I was telling Aaron the other day that there is a silver lining in all of this muck. We’ve seen people come and fight together in these two months more than any time in my memory. It may seem like faint consolation. But the ACLU‘s website crashed after the election due to the influx of donations. The Woman’s March on Washington, in all its messiness, is expected to be the largest protest in history. Services are popping up to help keep you in contact with your congressperson (I use this one). To keep fighting, you have to hold on tight to the good you find.

There’s no easy transition from resistance to chickpeas. But this chana masala is quite good. It’s saucy and tender and bright and complex tasting, the spices turning and twisting as you eat. And it’s simple. You sweat an onion, add in a mixture of garlic, ginger, chilis, and cilantro, then stir in spices. The whole thing then gets cooked with tomatoes and chickpeas, then finished with lemon juice and garam masala. It’s an easy meal, satisfying and inexpensive. And once you’ve made it yourself you can customize as you like. It’s an excellent back pocket meal- you probably already have the produce you need (because I assume that you, like me, keep cilantro on hand at all time) and the spices are easy to find. It’s both comforting and fortifying- the sort of food we need right now.

Stay safe. Stay strong. We’re in this together.

Chana Masala

adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe for The Guardian

Garam masala is a popular spice blend from India. Like most spice blends, there’s no definitive recipe. It’s become fairly easy to find, but if you can’t find it, you could make it yourself. I like the look of this recipe, but imagine that a quick, equal parts mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and a pinch of cloves would stand in admirably. You can easily adjust this to your preferred spice level- use more chilis and chili powder for spicier, fewer for less.

serves 4

1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1-4 chilis (I used serrano), stems removed
small bunch of cilantro, stems included
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 fourteen ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon garam masala

cilantro leaves, to serve
yogurt, to serve

In a small pot combine the chickpeas with 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it chill out.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot over medium heat melt the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is taking on a golden color, about 8-12 minutes.

While the onion cooks and the chickpeas boil combine the garlic, ginger, chili, and cilantro to make a paste. You could do this one of three ways. You could use a food processor to quickly blitz them up, you could smash and pound using a mortar and pestle, or you could manually chop everything together, over and over, until everything is well combined and very small. Whatever method you choose, you want all the pieces to be a cohesive whole- no enormous garlic chunks and ground cilantro leaves.

Once the onion is golden add the garlic-ginger mixture to the onion. Stir well and cook for a few minutes, until it’s starting to take on some color and is fragrant. Add the coriander, chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. If everything is a bit stiff, you could add a splash more coconut oil. Cook, stirring often, for just a minute or two- until the spices are fragrant.

Add in the chickpeas with their water, the diced tomatoes, and the salt. Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until the juices are saucy but not thin. Add the lemon juice and garam masala, then taste. Adjust for seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with cilantro and yogurt.

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Grapefruit and Bay Leaf Marmalade

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Marmalade is such a delightfully old-fashioned word. It reminds me of reading Matilda as a child, being whisked away to Miss Honey’s tiny cottage where she drank tea with milk and ate bread and butter and reveled in her freedom. I don’t remember if Miss Honey ate marmalade. Perhaps she couldn’t afford it, being in such debt to Miss Trunchbull. I do remember looking at Miss Honey’s life and thinking that even as sad as her situation was, it sounded impossibly cozy.

Cozy sounds good any time of year, but most of all this time, when we have snowy days and cold evenings. I love winter- I often say that I moved to Minnesota for the winters- and one thing I love most about winter is that it’s a season to be kind to yourself. In winter I find myself going on leisurely walks, drinking more tea, cuddling with Aaron and a book under blankets, and lighting candles. The Danish call it all hygge, a phenomenon that’s been welldocumented. It reminds me a bit of our American buzzword of self-care, but with less juicing.

I like that cozy is accessible and personal. There’s no insistence on designer workout gear that costs me a day’s work. I don’t have to forgo meals in favor of juices. I can make a bright, sweet-tart marmalade and eat it on toast in the morning. I can practice yoga sequences (I’m about to start this series) before work in my pajama pants. I get to choose what makes me happy, and that’s no small thing.

If this appeals to you, I would recommend making this marmalade for a cozy morning. It’s both hygge and self-care to me- I have a comforting spread for my toast, jewel bright and bittersweet. And I get to control the ingredients, which here means tart grapefruit, earthy bay leaves, sweet oranges, and enough sugar to set it.

A word of warning- there’s quite a bit of sugar here, and if you’re avoiding the stuff this isn’t the recipe for you. But this makes quite a bit of marmalade, and unless you eat a large amount of marmalade every day it will last you a long time. The finished product ends up with about 12 grams of sugar per tablespoon, which is well below the current recommendations for your daily recommended amount of sugar. I will gladly forgo desserts for a morning hit of marmalade, and perhaps you’re the same. Perhaps not. Either way I firmly believe that you know yourself best, and when you have all the information you can make an informed decision.

Whatever your marmalade decisions, I wish you cozy mornings and good breakfasts.

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Grapefruit and Bay Leaf Marmalade 

Making this marmalade is a bit like making caramel- you need to watch it carefully and use a large pot. Long sleeves and shoes are both advised, as is keeping others out of the kitchen- whether it’s pets, children, or curious partners. I would highly recommend using a thermometer to make this- in fact, I used two (a candy thermometer and an instant read to verify the candy thermometer). But if you don’t have a thermometer, watch the bubbles carefully as I describe below. You’re trying to reach the thread stage, as described here. In the past when I’ve cooked a marmalade a bit further than is ideal, I’ve been able to warm it back up with a good hit of water and bring it back to a spreadable consistency.

Makes 8 cups

2 and a half (1 pound 6 ounces) thinly sliced medium grapefruits
8 1/2 cups (3 pounds, 6 ounces) cane sugar
5 cups water
zest and juice of 1 orange
3 bay leaves

Combine everything into a very large pot. If it feels silly to cook that much marmalade into such a large pot, you’re on the right track. The marmalade will bubble quite aggressively towards the end and you’ll be grateful for the extra space. Warm the pot over medium heat, and stir together well. Bring to a simmer, and allow it to simmer, stirring often so the bottom doesn’t burn, for 40 minutes. Skim all the bright orange foam that you can as it rises to the edges of the pot. The more foam you skim, the more brilliant your marmalade will be.

After the marmalade has cooked for 40 minutes crank the heat up to high. Attach a thermometer to the side, and let the marmalade cook to 223 degrees Fahrenheit (106 degrees Celsius). Watch it very carefully. It will take a while for it to get close, then will go quite quickly. The marmalade will first froth with small, quick bubbles, then larger bubbles will start to appear. Once the whole thing is bubbling aggressively, with medium sized bubbles that are thick and sputter just a bit when they pop, you are at 223 degrees. Remove immediately from the heat. Allow it to cool, remove the bay leaves, and transfer into clean jars.

The marmalade will stay good (without being canned!) in the refrigerator for weeks.

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