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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Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

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Yesterday I was debating with Aaron about whether it was really that cold outside. My argument hinged on the fact that my eyes didn’t burn when I walked outside. I may be wearing fur-lined boots, mittens over gloves, and layers of wool, but if I can feel my face then it has to be at least -10 outside. As you may expect, Aaron won.

January is brutal. It’s sharp and cruel. It’s ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that January is the month so many of us are trying to do things better. Survival can be dicey- or at least it feels a bit uncomfortable. But I think that the sharpness of January helps spur us to make changes. For all of January’s hard angles, there’s a sparse brightness that’s beaconing. January is clean and spare. The days are getting longer, minute by minute. The sun is out once again. If we can do well in January, why can’t we do well in any month?

I wrote a bit about New Year’s resolutions in my last post. One of my resolutions is to keep creatively engaged with the work I do. I want to try out new ideas, new techniques, new point of view. To that end I’m going to try and cook from a different book every month. For January, in honor of this spare wildness, I’m using Amy Chaplin’s revered and weighty At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen. Amy writes passionately about grains, vegetables, beans, and a wide variety of superfoods and condiments that I’ve yet to use. It’s a beautiful book, but most excitingly it’s a fundamentally useful book. And although we play with a lot of the same tools, Amy uses them in a completely different way.

This soup, for instance. If I were to make a hearty winter miso soup, I’d probably caramelize onions in butter, add some squash, kale, and a can of beans, add water, and stir in a tablespoon or two of miso once everything’s cooked all together. I imagine it would be tasty, but it likely wouldn’t end up here.

But Amy’s soup is a beast, hearty and perfect for January. She has you soak then cook adzuki beans from scratch with kombu and shiitake mushrooms, then cooks onions, carrots, and squash in sesame oil. You add in kale, wakame, and 2 types of miso, then stir in a hit of fresh ginger juice. It tastes savory and earthy and sweet and bright. It’s warming and hearty. It’s a soup that’s a match for January, meeting intention for intention and sharpness with warmth.

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Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

adapted from At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin

This soup calls for a small amount of ginger juice, which is very easy to make at home. Finely grate ginger, then squeeze using either your hands or cheesecloth to extract the juice. For the 4 teaspoons specified, I needed about 2 inches of fresh ginger. As for ingredients, I’ve found kombu, dried shiitakes, and wakame all at both natural food stores and Asian markets.

Serves 4

1/2 cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 two-inch piece of kombu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot (or 3 small carrots), halved and thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons dried wakame
3 tablespoons dark miso
3 tablespoons light miso
4 teaspoons ginger juice
thinly sliced scallions, to serve

Drain and rinse the adzuki beans. In a medium pot combine the beans with the shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the beans until they’re tender all the way through, 30-50 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the kombu and discard. Remove the shiitakes and thinly slice, then return to the pot.

In a large pot warm the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and squash and cook for another minute. Add the beans and their liquid and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. The vegetables should be soft by this point. Add the kale and wakame and cook for another minute. Place both miso into a medium strainer and lower the strainer into the soup. Stir well, so that the miso dissolves into the soup. By the end there will only be husks left of the miso. If you don’t mind a less than perfectly smooth broth, you could add the miso husks to the soup. Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat. Serve topped with scallions.

 

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currant and Pine Nut Relish

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Hi! It’s good to be back.

I wasn’t planning on being gone for so long, but the combination of celebrating Christmas/ being with my family/ having 5 consecutive days off/ turning 27 made me reluctant to open my computer. This past week has been packed full of good things, from a 2 hour game of Clue with my family to late night drinks with friends to finally finishing the book I was reading. I hope that whatever you celebrate, your week has been similarly refreshing.

Two weeks ago I wrote about our date nights. Last week, right before my family came into town, I made a version of this salad for a light, pre-holiday date night dinner. And now I’m here to share it with you. The inspiration for this recipe came from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin, an inspiration of a chef and owner of one of the restaurants I most fantasize about visiting.

But something happened when I was making this salad- I was reminded of work.

Last year there was a meat pie on my station. It was a relatively straightforward dish- meat, potatoes, gravy, pastry. And making everything from scratch was a 4 day process. Even if the recipe was mine to share, I would only share it with the most ambitious of home cooks. And then only with plenty of caveats. A lot of restaurant recipes are like that. Your eye is towards consistency of result. You’re making a huge amount of food. You’re not shying away from sub recipes. And you’re relying on the person who is making the recipe to know how to adjust it.  That makes following any recipe from a restaurant a slightly fraught proposition. My first few weeks cooking at a restaurant I couldn’t stop asking the most annoying questions- I didn’t understand how restaurant recipes differed from the ones I was used to following.

Aaron and I devoured the salad. It was delicious- hippie chic, if you will. And it’s lovely in an earthy way- blacks and browns and greens. But as tasty as it was, I still had some qualms. There were some steps that made little sense. Goin had you reduce balsamic vinegar by half before you added it to the salad, making it thicker and sweeter, but it was so sweet that I spiked the salad with additional vinegar before serving. Farro and forbidden rice were paired together, and they were delicious, but they were cooked separately with almost the exact same ingredients and very similar cooking times. And despite the gorgeous ingredients- sweet, plump currants, toasted pine nuts, peppery mustard greens, gently cooked onions- the salad tasted little flat. If I had been at work, I would have added more salt, but I was wondering if there was another way to bring that spark in.

While eating it Aaron and I started to make notes on how we would change it. It became pretty clear quite quickly that those changes might make it easier. It might be suitable for the home cook who doesn’t possess an infinite amount of pans, a walk-in full of fresh herbs, and an employee whose job is to wash dishes. I swapped the forbidden rice, which can be difficult to find, in for lentils, which also make the salad more filling. I added capers to the relish. Lentils and farro were cooked in the same pot, with the same aromatics. Sweet balsamic vinegar was changed out for slightly less sweet sherry vinegar. The tartness could sing, and finally the sweetness came from the currants and onions alone. Capers rounded everything out. Mustard greens provided a sharp relief. Aaron told me he liked the second version even more. I agreed. I had to order him to stop eating it so I could save some for work on New Year’s Eve (hello, double).

This complex restaurant dish didn’t magically turn into a 30 minute, 1 bowl meal. It still takes time and a few components. But by my account, I halved the pans used and streamlined the process, turning it from a special occasion meal to a leisurely weeknight dish. And isn’t that what we want from a hippie chic salad?

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currants and Pine Nut Relish

adapted from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin

This salad is highly adaptable. If you can’t find mustard greens or Aleppo pepper, I would replace them with kale and red pepper flakes, respectively. This salad makes a great light meal. Goin mentioned pairing this with white fish if you’d like a restaurant quality dish, but I found adding a soft boiled egg to the leftovers is a great way to make it more hearty.

Serves 4-6

Salad:

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup farro
3/4 cup French green lentils
2 big handfuls of mustard greens, chopped

Relish:

1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
1 small rosemary stalk
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegear
salt and pepper

In a medium pan over medium heat warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, the bay leaves, the chopped rosemary, the Aleppo pepper, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and smell incredible, about 8 minutes. Add the farro and lentils, and stir well. Cook, stirring often, for about 3-4 minutes- just long enough so that the farro and lentils start to toast a bit. Add 8 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until both the farro and lentils are cooked through- about 35 minutes. (I started checking at 20 minutes, then checked every 5 minutes after that.) Drain the farro-lentil mixture, then spread it out on a sheet tray to let it cool and dry. Remove the bay leaves.

While the farro and lentils are cooking, place the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat. Stir often, until the pine nuts start to smell fragrant and take on some color. As soon as they’re golden but not dark, tip the pine nuts into a medium bowl. This will only take a few minutes, so make sure to give the pine nuts your undivided attention- they will burn quickly. Add the dried currants to the same bowl.

In a sauté pan, warm 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the rosemary stalk, the capers, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to color. Add in the sherry vinegar, and immediately turn off the heat- you just want to warm the sherry vinegar through. Pour the whole mixture onto the pine nuts and currents. Remove the rosemary stalk. Let it all sit and infuse together while the farro and lentils cook.

Once everything is ready, warm the last 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. It can be the same one that you cooked the onions and capers in. Add the farro-lentil mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon. You want to stir often enough that you can scrape up the brown bits on the bottom before they burn, but not so often that the farro and lentils can’t crisp up. Once everything is warmed through and crisped (this took me about 5 minutes), add in the mustard greens. Stir them to combine well, and let them wilt down. Once they’ve wilted down, add the pine nut-current-onion mixture and stir well. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This is one of those rare dishes that’s as good warm as it is at room temperature. And it’s even better after it’s sat a bit, and allowed all the flavors to mingle.

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