Sweetened Lentils with Cumin and Tomato Served with Cracker Bread

Sweet Lentils with Cumin and TomatoLentils are really great when you need to cook something tasty in a relatively short time frame.  Although the folks that cook lentils a lot seem to draw relatively fine distinctions between different varieties, availability usually dictates which variety I use.  In this dish, standard brown lentils are flavored using a spice blend that includes cumin, mustard, cayenne, turmeric, and asafetida.  Brown sugar is added to lend just a bit of sweetness and tomatoes provide acidity to keep the dish from being cloying.   Green chili and cilantro add some finishing notes to the flavor profile.  Asafetida is a ground resin from a fennel-like plant native to the middle and far east.  It can be obtained at some middle-eastern groceries or from the folks at World Spice.

My brother in law seemed to appreciate this quite a bit.  As luck would have it, Brinn had prepared some really wonderful cracker bread the previous day.  As you can probably see in the photo, the cracker is topped with a broad variety of spices and seeds laid out in strips across the width of the bread; pretty fun way to add some interest to this basic bread…. 

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Zucchini and Artichoke Hearts with Charmoula

Zucchini and Artichoke Hearts with CharmoulaThis side dish is really just another version of pan-seared vegetables with “insert descriptor”-sauce.  But in this case, it’s a pretty tasty sauce.  There are certainly more complicated formulations of charmoula out there, and I encourage you to experiment with them.  I chose this one because it was quite simple yet still had the citrus notes and slight bitterness that I was looking for.  I think the seared garlic played well with it as a complimenting flavor.  The way that it coated the vegetables was delightful, and I caught Brinn ramming some helpless artichoke down into the bottom of the serving dish in an effort to soak up more of the sauce…. 

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Green Beans with Gorgonzola-Balsamic Vinaigrette

DSC_0001I am a big believer in the concept that really rich, delicious food does not need to be complicated.  This side dish is one example; it relies on a host of sharp flavors to punch up the flavor of briefly cooked green beans.  The range of distinct flavors contained in the dressing is rounded out by the creamy richness of the Gorgonzola cheese.

As luck would have it, this recipe is very simple to prepare; briefly cook the shallots and garlic in the oil, add the rest of the ingredients except for the cheese, and reduce the volume, remove from heat and then add the cheese.  All that is left is to pour it over some blanched and cooled green beans.  I guess you could also steam them if you prefer.  Makes no difference to me.  There is so little to screw up about this dish that it can make even those who feel clumsy and tense in the kitchen look pretty impressive.  We served it with some pork that had been marinated in harissa and then pan seared…. 

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Burdock and Mushroom Rice

Burdock and Mushroom RiceUp until about a year and a half ago, burdock root was not something that I had used extensively in cooking.  Like at all.  These long-slender roots are about 2 to 3 feet long, up to an inch in diameter, and jam-packed with some outstandingly earthy flavors.  They pair perfectly with mushrooms to produce a rich, woodsy flavor that your really should try.  This dish, uses both, accepted by the mellow taste of leeks to great effect.  In my case, I used just cremini mushrooms, but this dish is excellent when you use a wide variety of mushrooms; shitake, oyster mushrooms, enoki.  I use a kamado-san donabe for preparation for a couple of reasons: firstly, the even heat steams the rice to perfection; secondly, it is just a super-cool pot; but most importantly, the even heat from the clay steams the rice but does not overcook the mushrooms or the leeks.  One of these days, I will get around to writing something about the relative merits of this particular pot.  Burdock root is available at most Asian grocery stores, and is identifiable as a long, brown root, usually bundled in sets of 2 or 3, wrapped in plastic wrap.  cut into convenient lengths and placed in a gallon ziploc, it keeps for a very long time in the refrigerator.… 

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Baba Ghanouj Salad

Baba Ghanouj SaladThis chunky, fresh-tasting salad comes dangerously close to being a salsa.  It boasts the bright, clean flavors of scallions, citrus, and mint.  This is backed by the smooth and somewhat smoky taste of the broiled eggplant.  The pomegranate reduction adds a unique sharpness to round out the dish and provide even more depth.  This is a really versatile salad that will be right at home with a variety of meat dishes.  In our case, this meat was smoked chicken.

Preparing this dish is going to take a bit of time on your part, because it simply takes time to broil, peel and chop the eggplant.  It is, however, well worth the time investment, as you will end up with a richly flavored side that is really quite special.  Nothing else about this dish is particularly difficult, and after you make it once, you will probably be quite comfortable adjusting the ingredients to customize the flavor.  For example, in the version that we prepare, we use less walnuts and also prefer dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds.  Try either the version below or the original that Suzanne Husseini published in her book, Modern Flavors of Arabia.  This is an excellent book if you are interested in exploring this type of cuisine or simply like the blend of flavors represented by this dish…. 

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