Chickpea, Cilantro and Cumin Salad

Chickpeas with Cilantro and CuminWe cook a lot of legume-based curries as side dishes.  While they seem complicated at first, due to the sometimes intricate spice combinations, they are really pretty simple, quick to cook and follow some familiar patterns.  This dish is no exception, although it originates in the Middle East and is referred to as a salad in the reference cook book Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey.  The spices, in this case cumin and asafetida, are toasted in oil over reasonably high heat, the remaining ingredients are combined, and the whole thing gets simmered to combine the flavors.  Not much could be simpler, especially if you already have the cooked legumes handy or are using canned ones.  As I have probably mentioned, cooking with legumes is greatly facilitated by using a pressure cooker.  Modern pressure cookers are a really safe and efficient way to cook.  You deserve one.

One bite of this dish lets you know what makes it special.  Hell, one sniff of the air wafting out of the house would tell you; it’s all about the cumin.  It would be unusual to find a dish that is more aggressively spiced with cumin, and if you are not ready for the heat that comes along for the ride, it is surprising, especially since there is a chili in there for backup.  This dish is not about balance…. 

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Butternut Squash, Bulgar and Orange Soup

Squash Bulgar and Orang SoupThis soup was what Brinn served with dinner last Monday.  Oh, Monday dinners; always a special event.  Somewhere along the line, someone decided that starting the week off with a good meal was just as important as ending it with one.  Ever since, Monday’s table has been host to some particularly tasty spreads.  On this particular Monday, the soup discussed here was joined by Chickpeas with Cilantro and Cumin and Seared Pork with Citrus and Chipotle; all nestled in on a bed of couscous.  Wonderful.

The soup, however, deserves particular attention;  hearty enough to be the cornerstone of the meal and only need a simple side of salad, possibly some bread to augment it.  This was fantastic.  There is a great deal of depth to the flavor, with the sweetness of the squash offset by the bitterness of the walnuts.  There is even a floral note that comes from rose water.  This recipe was only slightly modified from the book Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij…. 

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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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