Greek Red Lentil Soup

finished red lentil soupThe days are so changeable now. One day its 90 and humid and the next it’s in the 60s. Soup is the perfect meal for days like that and this simple, and very flavorful Greek red lentil soup is vegan and totally satisfying. However, if you wish to add some sausage to it or a dollop of Greek yogurt when serving it, I certainly won’t complain. All this needs is good bread and a simple green salad. This soup is so quick and delicious, I have even made it before leaving the house for work! What’s not to love? Afterall, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of these delicious lentils.

Greek Red Lentil Soup adapted from soup served at George’s Restaurant in Astoria, NY

Yield: 6 -8 first course servings or 4 dinner servings

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 carrots diced or cut into rounds about 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly or diced (about 1 cup)

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

1.5 cups dried red lentils, picked through and rinsed (try to buy the really small red lentils, although either large or small will work) dried red lentils

1 28 ounce can or 1 large box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, with the liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent – about 3 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally (How much salt you use will depend on several factors: tomatoes and celery are high in natural sodium and I use unsalted stock. I don’t like things heavily salted becasue I want to taste the food not the salt. However, your tastes may be different and you may use stock that is already salted. You can always add salt later.)
  3. Add the celery and carrot and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. lentil soup stage 1
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

NOTE: The soup is ready to go at this point, but if you are serving it as a first course to company and you want it to be a bit more elegant, take an immersion blender (thank you Matthew and Frances for that wonderful GIFT!) and puree the soup to the desired consistency. You can do this in a blender but make certain that the soup is cool and you do this in batches. I learned the hard way about the mess that blending hot soup can make. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme if you have it.

Lentil Salad with Raisins, Tomatoes and Tarragon

Lentil Raisin salad with tarragon

I absolutely love lentils – any lentils. The red ones or the tiny lentils de puy or even the lowly but versatile green lentil. I love them in salads and soups and mixed in pilaf. They are a wonderful source of protein, especially when eaten with whole grains.           Lentils uncooked

In Israel, every meal, including breakfast starts with salads – multiple salads. While this lentil salad doesn’t come directly from any particular cuisine, it is certainly inspired by Mediterranean cooking. If you can find fresh tarragon, I encourage you to use it. If not, this salad will still be delicious using only a good French dried Tarragon. it will lose a bit of its lustre if kept for a couple of days, but none of its taste or texture. It’s a great way to get children to eat this magical legume because of the raisins. Try it.                            raisins

Lentil Raisin Salad

Yileds: 6-8 generous servings

Ingredients:

1.25 cups dried green lentils

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons Fig Vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup EVOO

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/2 of a small onion thinly sliced or chopped

1/2 cup raisins (dark, light or mixed)

1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 additional teaspoon dried

Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. After picking through the lentils to make sure that there are no tiny stones or grains, place them in a medium pot and cover with water by about 2 inches. Add the dried tarragon. I like to layer my seasonings so not only do I put tarragon into the mixed salad but I cook the lentils with tarragon. You can also add a little salt if you want but I don’t. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cookuncovered for about 18 minutes. Drain well and run cold water over the lentils to stop the cooking.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the other ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Add the lentils once they have cooled. Enjoy!Lentil raisin sald stage 1

Spinach and Black-Eyed Peas – Greek-Style

Spinach black-eyed peas finished

When I was a young girl, we used to shop in a grocery store whose produce section was run by a loud and generous Greek woman named Carla. She always had a smile, story and a treat for her special customers – and with Carla, everyone was special. One day she was telling us about this dish that her family made and it sounded delicious and easy to make. There never was a recipe – just Carla’s story – but ever since then I have been making this dish – first with my mother and now on my own. If it has a name, I don’t know it, but what I do know is that it is delicious and over the years I have never tired of making it. Now Frances makes it too.

I make mine with country pork ribs because that was how Carla told me the recipe, but I think it could be equally delicious with beef short ribs. You would simply need to adjust your cooking time to be somewhat longer for the beef, which also means you would add your black-eyed peas and spinach later. Try it that way and let me know how it works out. For now, here is my version of Carla’s family recipe.

Spinach and Black-Eyed Peas with Country Ribs

Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 – 28 ounce can or 1 large box of crushed Marzano tomatoes with their liquid

4 meaty country ribs

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 teaspoons finely chopped or crushed garlic

1/3 cup red wine (choose anything you would enjoy also drinking that deals well with tomato)

12 ounces fresh black-eyed peas (See Note)

16 ounces of frozen chopped spinach or its equivalent fresh

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1 -2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon fresh oregano or 1.5 teaspoons good quality dried Greek oregano

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

NOTE: I have made this dish with fresh, canned and frozen black-eyed peas and it has always turned out delicious. If you use canned peas, be sure to drain and rinse the peas. I use two cans around 15 ounces each. If I can’t find frozen or fresh or canned black-eyed peas, I have also used Crowder beans. And while the dish called for spinach, I believe it would also be tasty (different) with kale or even collard greens. Don’t be afraid to try what is freshest or most easily available.

Directions:

  1. Using a large, deep pan with a lid or a Dutch oven, saute the onion in the EVOO until just beginning to get translucent – about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and stirring, gently, saute this for another 3 minutes. I like to salt and pepper in layers. I don’t use any more this way, but I know that my onions are flavored and then my ribs etc.
  2. Add the ribs by pushing the onion and garlic towards the side of the pan and brown them quickly, turning once. This will only take a few minutes. You should have enough oil in the pan, but if you feel the need to add a smidgen more, that’s okay too. If your pan is hot, the ribs shouldn’t really stick. Spinach black-eyed peas stage 1
  3. Add your tomatoes, bay leaves and red wine. If you are using dried herbs, add them now. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, add your beans, spinach, fresh oregano, salt and pepper and cook for 15 -20 minutes more. Yup, that’s it! And when you eat this dish, raise a glass to Carla, wherever she may be.

Eat with a lovely crusty bread (something with sesames would be great) and salad and serve the remainder of the red wine. This can be made ahead and gently reheated.

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

I love Mediterranean food and while I am an omnivore, I don’t actually eat a lot of meat and frequently make vegan meals or side dishes that serve as a great left-over lunch the next day. I have never met a legume or grain that I didn’t like and I’m always on the lookout for new recipes, especially those that use a lot of herbs.

I don’t remember how I first heard about the grain freekeh, but the name Market grains Israelintrigued me enough to learn a bit more about it and to find out where I could buy it. I already loved faro and wheat berries, so why not freekeh? As it turns out, freekeh is roasted green wheat. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and stands up well to salads or soups. It cooks up in about 35 minutes. I purchase mine through Nuts.com, a wonderful source for dried fruits, grains, spices and of course – nuts.

 

The following salad is adapted from one I found from Martha Rose Shulman. I have been making her vegetarian recipes for over 25 years and they have never failed me. While the beautiful fresh herbs may lose a little color by the second or third day, the flavor is just as wonderful. That assumes that you will actually have any left-overs. It’s that good!

Freekeh, Chickpea and Herb Salad

Yield: 6 servings as a side

Ingredients

  • 1 cup freekeh
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery, plus 3 tablespoons chopped leaves
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • juice of 3 lemons – more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 tablespoons EVOO

Preparation

  1. Heat a medium-size heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and add freekeh. Toast in the dry pan, shaking pan or stirring, until freekeh becomes fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 cups water and salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until water has been absorbed. Turn off heat and uncover. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and return lid. Let sit at least 10 minutes. Uncover and allow freekeh to cool another 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine freekeh, chopped herbs, celery, scallions and chickpeas and toss together. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil; toss with salad. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. Serve right away or let sit for up to 1 hour before serving.
  • Advance preparation: The salad is best served within a few hours of tossing with the dressing, when the herbs are their brightest, but it will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. The cooked freekeh will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.

Getting in the mood for the 4th of July

I love holidays and the 4th of July is no exception. This holiday has special meaning for me because my father died on July 3rd and I used to think that the fireworks were for him. I have a few traditions that I started. My house goes all red, white and blue, we hang a flag from our terrace, watch the movie musical 1776 and later, after the sun goes down, we stand on our terrace and watch all of the fireworks in the Western suburbs. They cascade across the sky and it always conjures up the Star Spangled Banner for me with “bombs bursting in air.” And for some reason, that I honestly cannot remember, July 4th mostly means Southern cooking. You know – oven fried chicken, cornbread, greens and either my Bourbon Pecan Pie or Blueberry Pie. We’re most definitely NOT from the South – my father’s family was from New England via Kiev and my mother’s family came from New York via The Pale of Settlement. And I have no memories of any childhood traditions for this holiday, but oh well, there you have it.

This year, however, everyone is away. Frances and Matthew will be out of the country and on a separate trip so will my sister and niece and her family. That leaves my 92 year-old mother and my husband. So now you know why I am trying to work myself up into the mood. I hate cooking for just the two of us or even 2.35 if you count my mother and the way she eats. So tonight I am eating some wonderful Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Heirloom Beans that I slow-cooked in my crockpot and a “mess o’ greens.” I was introduced to this incredible source for great dried beans when Frances and I and our husbands took a trip to Napa Sonoma. We ate dinner one night at the Culinary Institute of America and they were serving some amazing beans. Everything in California is “sourced” and you didn’t just eat meat, but meat from such and such farm that ate only a grass-fed diet and was sung to sleep each night to the melody from Fur Elise. After that wonderful meal, it seemed that everywhere we went had some Rancho Gordo beans. I got a bit carried away this winter and ordered 20 pounds of beans which for two people is quite a lot of beans. So I’m trying to use them now in things that go beyond soup. They are great in soup, especially the Christmas Lima Beans, but that’s still a LOT of beans. I made some wonderful beans last week that I will tell you about another time, but I digress.

Soooooooooooo to get back to the 4th of July, along with this wonderful pot of beans and I have collard greens and kale (they were out of mustard greens) that I cooked slowly with sweet onions and speck, instead of smoked turkey leg or ham hocks and I’ll grill up some garlic chicken sausages for dinner. If I have time when I get home, I just might make a recipe I found for Blueberry Buckle. I’ll let you know how it turns out. And if this doesn’t get me in the mood for July 4th, well at least we ate well!