A Sad note

This is to let you know that there will be no new posts for about a week. My father-in-law of almost 31 years and Frances’ grandfather-in-law died last night after suffering a massive stroke. He was 89 years old and was surrounded by his children, wife and grandchildren. May his memory be for a blessing.

Cool and exotic for a hot summer night

watermelon salad platter

These are the dog days of summer and at 91 degrees, the last thing I am about to do – even with central air conditioning – is cook. However, we still want to eat and this salad is refreshing and simple to make. All it really needs is some good pita or naan, a glass of refreshing wine and you can dine well without ever breaking a sweat. Fresh, high quality ingredients are key here. You are not masking anything with some slow-cooked sauce and it must be aesthetically pleasing as well.  While I highly recommend making the effort to find watercress, which has a distinctive flavor, you can make this successfully with only arugula, which might be more easily accessible. This salad cools you down in a flash. We may even decide to eat out on our terrace tonight.

Watercress Salad with Watermelon, Feta Cheese and Mint Dressing

Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For Salad:

Half of a seedless watermelon, halved and then sliced, with the rind removed

8 ounces of a full-fat feta cheese block, cut into thin slabs

3 cups of arugula

2-3 cups of watercress

For dressing:

2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves, with about 10 leaves saved for garnish

2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley

Juice of 2 fresh lemons

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup fruity olive oil

Garnish:

1/4 teaspoon sumac, optional

2 Tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. When ready to serve, arrange the greens on a platter.
  2. Make the mint vinaigrette by placing all of the ingredients for the dressing, except for the EVOO in a blender. Puree until smooth.
  3. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the EVOO and process until emulsified.
  4. Toss the greens with a few tablespoonfuls of the dressing. Do not drown the greens! Any extra dressing can be stored in the fridge for several days in a glass jar.
  5. In a way that looks attractive (there is no ONE right way!) layer your watermelon slices over the greens. On top of the watermelon, lay thin slabs of feta cheese. Drizzle some more of the vinaigrette over the top and scatter the fresh, whole mint leaves over that. Voila! (Hopefully your watermelon will be redder and sweeter than this particular watermelon of mine was.)

watermelon salad plated

Who knew that being frugal could taste this good?

chicken with lentils

One of the very early TV chefs on WTTW Public Television was someone called Jeff Smith aka The Frugal Gourmet. I used to watch him with my mother and I even bought two of his cookbooks. The recipes are generally quite good and he was kind of a kook – fun to watch and read and seemingly unpretentious.

Unfortunately, his name and show went down in flames when it came out that he was also a sexual predator. I seriously considered tossing his cookbooks when I found out, but I came to my senses and realized that the recipes were innocent of any wrong-doing and I had already spent the money years earlier.

I was looking for a particular recipe when I came across the one I am making for tonight’s dinner – Chicken and Lentils. I will serve it with pita and a green saladwith heirloom tomatoes. A crusty bread is also fine. This is real comfort food – meant for family and close friends. It is not highly spiced, but it is deliciously seasoned. One perfect bite and you will just smile.

Chicken with Lentilsadapted from the Frugal Gourmet

Yields: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, rinsed (I’m using red lentils but almost any kind will do)

1 generous teaspoon crushed or finely minced garlic (You can buy the jars in the produce section. It saves time and I go through it so quickly it stays fresh.)

1 teaspoon salt

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons oregano, crushed between your fingers

1 teaspoon dried dill weed, crushed between your fingers

4 cups unsalted chicken stock (You can use all water if you prefer.)

up to 2 cups water

3-4 pounds chicken pieces bone-in, skin on

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

4 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (Juice of about 2 lemons)

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

3 -4 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Sumac (optional) for garnish

Directions:

  1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a 6 quart pot with the garlic, bay leaves, oregano, dill, salt and chicken stock. Add enough water to cover the lentils by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for about 35-45 minutes until the lentils are very tender but still are holding their shape. (This may vary a little depending on the lentils you use.)
  2. Add the lemon juice to the finished lentils.  Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. In a heavy-duty pan (I love, love, love Lodge cast iron) brown your chicken pieces in Canola oil (or some other oil that can take the heat and won’t add a lot of flavor) after lightly seasoning them with the Kosher salt and cracked black pepper.
  5. Place the browned pieces into a casserole or Dutch Oven.
  6. Pour the lentil mixture over the top. Cover and bake in the 350 degree oven for 1.25 hours.
  7. Serve with a good dollop of Greek Yogurt and some chopped parsley for garnish. Sprinkle with a little Sumac, that wonderful fruity, lemony Middle Eastern spice which can be purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online at Nuts.com. I love lemon so I squeezed on a bit more just before taking that first perfect bite.