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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Lentils with Chilies and Black Pepper

Lentils with Chilis and Black PepperSo, Sunday dinner was coming up and I had a problem on my hands.  We we going to serve a new variety of smoked chicken (Americana), an eggplant salad (Mediterranean), smoked corn on the cob (also Americana), and……something.  So what should that something be?  The amount of food was not an issue.  The eggplant salad seems to cover both the vegetable and side dish categories.  But something else was needed.  Should it be a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern style pilaf or should there be some type of bread represented at the table?  The cruel reality that confronted me was this; if we were going to have bread, I needed something for that bread to do.  In my opinion, bread without purpose is wasted  bread.  Since there was nothing for the bread to do while at the table (and, frankly I was a little tired of rice), I reached for the ever popular paste-of-legume strategy.

It is generally a good idea to have some form of carbohydrate represented at the table.  This can be a potato, a squash, or a yam, but more commonly you see one of the three workhorses at our table; pasta, bread, rice.  They are the purest representatives of family Carb, and are that family’s ambassadors.  But none of these ambassadors can stand alone; they need staff.  … 

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Coconut-Smothered Black-Eyed Peas

DSC_0096Love these things.  Around the house they are known as “Muppet Peas” due to the black, inanimate eyes of the peas that stare blankly at the diner.  I think the name became popular after a wine-soaked evening spent reviewing odd translations of names for Chinese dishes.  Anyway… out of all of the extremely tasty dishes that Raghavan Iyer chronicles in his book 660 Curries, this is one of my favorites.  This curry is very creamy in texture and has a slight sweetness from the coconut.  Add some heat from the Serrano chilis and muskiness from the mustard seed and curry leaf and you have a winner.

There is some debate regarding when a recipe becomes “original”.  When you consider that most cooks naturally try to express themselves through their cooking and instinctively make changes, the debate seems a little silly.  I like to err on the side of respect and simply cite the source of inspiration, assuming that it hasn’t been lost to the fog of history.  I think the true boundary is when you, as a cook, know that the creator of the recipe would view your creation as an abomination.  This version of the recipe has slight changes from the original that punch up the heat, add a bit of intensity to the spice profile, and also deal with the fact that fresh curry leaves are hard to come by in our area.  Hopefully, you will find that it stops short of abomination…. 

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Black-Eyed Peas with Mushrooms

Black Eyed Peas with MushroomsMy Grandmother Doris was from Missouri and moved out west after the family farm failed during the Dust Bowl.  So, why is it that I never, until my adult years, wrapped my lips around a black-eyed pea?  Guess she just didn’t like them or something… Once I tried them, I was sold.  As it turns out, there is a good reason that there are so many of these suckers grown and eaten every year.

Black-eyed peas are creamy in texture, musky in taste and take a variety of spice additions in stride.  They provide a really nice addition to your legume repertoire.  Combine this with some mushrooms sautéed in spice and you have an almost meaty dish.   I scabbed this recipe from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer.  Really excellent book, especially if you like legume and vegetarian curries and aren’t reliant on photos…. 

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