Curried Lentil Salad

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You all know that I love lentils. They’re delicious and healthy, but they’re also versatile. Once they’re cooked, you can serve them as a side dish, as an entrée, a soup, a dip, or a salad!

Well this salad I’m posting on today is delicious year ’round. It’s equally good in the winter as the summer months, and every month in between. It’s a lentil salad tossed with a curried garlic-citrus dressing. The dressing I made is as important as the salad itself.

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I feel it’s very important to match dressings or vinaigrettes to salad ingredients, which is why I prefer to make my own dressings from scratch. And when it comes to salads made predominantly, if not exclusively with legumes, I find that lemon- or lime-based dressings are preferable over vinegar. And I love vinegar, don’t get me wrong. There’s just something about that acidity that pairs well with the legumes. I find it true with grain salads as well.

So today’s salad is a combination of cooked lentils, with some celery, carrots, and dried pomegranate seeds. Good, but not great. In addition, I’ve made a fabulous lemon juice-based dressing with a little twist. I hope you enjoy it.

I am not posting an exact recipe, because none is needed. Just go with what you like in the salad as well as with the dressing. Remember – no rules. It’s your food, you make it how you like it!

Lentil Salad

For the salad, I simply borrowed some lentils that I’d cooked the day before. Make sure the lentils are well-drained for the salad, if there’s an abundance of cooking liquid with the lentils. Alternatively, or use a slotted spoon to collect them. Then place the lentils in a medium-sized serving bowl, depending how big your salad is going to be.

To the lentils add thinly sliced celery and carrots. You could also add shallots or purple onions as well.

At this point, taste the lentil salad and make sure it is well seasoned. There’s no need going forward if the lentils aren’t seasoned to your liking. Salt and pepper should do the trick.

I cook my lentils, typically, in water with a chicken broth powder added. It’s a wonderful I’ve talked about before, that I buy in 1 lb. packages online. The chicken flavor of the broth adds enough seasoning to the lentils so that for me, no more is required. It “rounds” out the lentil flavor nicely. And the powder is much less expensive than purchasing broth.

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Toss the salad gently, and then make the dressing.

Curried Garlic Citrus Dressing

Juice of 3 lemons, strained, about 1/3 cup
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons orange-infused oil
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

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In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, and oils. Then add the garlic and seasoning.

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Give everything a good stir, and you’re ready to go.

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Place the lentil salad in bowls for serving, and top with the dried pomegranate seeds. Raisins or dried cherries would work just as well.

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Add as much of the dressing you want to each salad; I like a generous amount.

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Toss gently to get the lentils coated with the dressing, and enjoy.

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This salad is best slightly warmed or at room temperature.

Spiced Cauliflower Soup

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Sometimes I end up with too many vegetables in my refrigerator. And when that happens, I make soup.

Case in point? I happened to have a lovely head of cauliflower that I didn’t want to go to waste, so I cooked it and made it into a creamy soup. Cauliflower has a lovely flavor that is so good on its own. But I couldn’t stop there with just a creamy cauliflower soup. I wanted it spicy.

So I reached for my handy dandy ancho chile paste. Every so often I make a large batch of it and store it in jars in the freezer. That way I always have some to use in recipes, like this soup. Immediately the soup became something altogether different – flavored with layers of chile peppers and lovely Southwestern spices. Fabulous. And so easy.

This is what I did, and you can do it, too!

Spicy Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed, broken into florets
1 leek, cleaned, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Broth of choice, I used chicken broth
1 can evaporated milk, or any non-dairy substitute
3 tablespoons ancho chile paste, or to taste
2 teaspoon ground cumin

Place the cauliflower, leek, celery, and onion in a large stockpot, and cover with water or broth.

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Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot, and then simmer until the cauliflower is fully cooked, about 20-30 minutes.

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Place the cooked vegetables in a blender jar, and only add a little of the liquid. You can always add more later if you need to thin the soup.

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Add the evaporated milk. Depending on the size of your blender jar, you might have to blend this soup in two batches, so use about half of the vegetables and half of the evaporated milk for each batch. At this point I also added my chicken broth powder.
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Blend until smooth. Add the ancho chile paste and cumin powder, blend, and taste. You might want salt. If you do, start with just 1 /2 teaspoon. If you make the soup too salty, there’s no turning back!

I needed to add a little more ancho chile paste when I added the cumin, which is why you see more of it. It totaled about 3 tablespoons but if you’re unsure of how much to use, start out with just 1 tablespoon. Of course, it also depends how much soup you’re making. Just taste taste taste! It’s your soup, so make it according to your taste!

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Serve the soup hot. I added just a little grated Parmesan for fun.

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Some queso blanco or just plain goat cheese would also be fabulous with this soup.

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Sure, it’s easy to make a cream of cauliflower soup. But go a little crazy for a change! Add some ancho chile paste and spice things up. When I tasted the soup I realized I’d made the chile paste with some chipotle peppers as well as ancho chile peppers. They really added something to this soup.

Indian-Inspired Sliders

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I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.

husband: You’ve just got to try these!
me: What are they?
husband: She calls them Bombay sliders. They’re Indian!
me: After a bite… You do realize there’s mayonnaise in them, right?

My husband hates mayonnaise. Or, I should say, he thinks he hates mayonnaise. He was raised on Miracle Whip, which I find extremely inferior in flavor to real, good mayonnaise. But he thinks all mayonnaise tastes like Miracle Whip.

So for years, I’ve been banned from using this substance. When I started cooking for him he also informed me that he hates cream cheese. Which is funny, because he eats cheesecake.

Anyway, the above conversation took place years ago at a food and wine event in Park City, Utah. My husband had come across a woman at a booth handing out these Bombay sliders, and just knowing that they were Indian, he accepted one and ate it. And went back for another, completely ignoring the white creamy sauce inside the slider.

These little Indian-inspired turkey sliders really were fabulous, so I went to the woman’s booth and asked her about them. She told me she found the recipe on Epicurious.com, and that I could, too. At this moment I don’t remember if the woman was a representative of a turkey company, or something else. But I did go home and look up the recipe. And there was the mayonnaise.

We’re not a huge sandwich family, but occasionally, just for fun, I will make these sliders. First of all, sliders are just cute and fun. And, these days, you can actually purchase slider buns at the grocery store. But most of all, if you love all flavors Indian, you’ll also truly enjoy these little sandwiches.

I’ve altered the recipe slightly, but you can find the original here.

Indian-Inspired Sliders

sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons good curry powder, I use this one

sliders:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 2 ounces ground turkey*
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup mayonnaise
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece, 1″ square, of ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt

Slider buns

For the sauce:
Firstly, mix together all of the ingredients for the sauce; set aside. If you’re wary of curry powder, start with 1 teaspoon and taste first.

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For the sliders:
Place the pork and turkey in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients.

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Mix everything together using your hands, but don’t overmix.
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Make uniform-sized burgers with the pork-turkey mixture to fit into the slider buns.

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Heat a griddle over high heat. Add a little olive oil. Cook the burgers on the first side for about 3-4 minutes. They should be nicely browned.

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Then turn them over, reduce the heat slightly, and continue cooking them for about 5-6 minutes. These times will vary, of course, depending how thick your burgers are.

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Place the burgers on a serving platter, and continue with the remaining meat.

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To serve, place the warm burgers on a room temperature bun, and top with the sauce.

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I always serve extra sauce as well, before the combination is just so good.

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* You can use 100% ground turkey in this recipe, or even use lamb instead.

note: Unless you’re against doing this for safety reasons, I always make sure the burgers are a little pink in the middle. That way they’re nice and moist.

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Enjoy!

Chili Pecan Buns

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Back when I was a personal cook for a family, I made bread at least every few days. And I never made the same bread twice. It was perfect for me, because it’s just the kind of thing I like to do in the kitchen – mix it up! And bread is so versatile, with various grains and flours from which to choose. Not to mention the liquids as well as the different seasonings you can use in your bread to really enhance a meal.

I always made bread for my family as well, but a certain family member has recently eschewed the merits of whole-grain carbs. I know. Boo. But to be fair, he has a specific wheat allergy, so of course, I will occasionally “force” home-made gluten-free bread on him. In spite of his carb issues, the bread always disappears quickly.

But occasionally I like to made bread the old-fashioned way with wheat. And today I wanted a rich spicy bread to go with a very mild bean and green chile, if you will. So since I was thinking Southwestern flavors, I came up with using chili powder and pecans. It turned out fabulous, I must say.

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I’ve included photos representing all of the steps, just in case you’re not familiar with the bread-making process. Relax, it’s easy. So here’s my recipe:

Chili Pecan Buns

1/2 cup warmish-hottish water
2 teaspoons yeast
Sprinkling of sugar
1 1/2 cups milk*, warmed
2 – 3 tablespoons chili powder (I used 3)
2 tablespoons plain oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup pecan halves, toasted, ground up
2 cups unbleached bread flour
plus a little more for kneading

Place the warmish-hottish water in a large bowl. You should be able to hold your finger in the water and it not burn. If it’s too hot or cold, adjust accordingly. If you’re a perfectionist, the water should be 110 – 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Also make sure the bowl doesn’t cool down the water.

Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar. Wait about 5 minutes.

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Then whisk the mixture together and let it sit another 5 minutes or so.

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This is called proofing, and the mixture will look all bubbly and doubled in volume. If none of this happened, your water was too cold or hot, or your yeast isn’t working. But I doubt the yeast, because I’m still using at least ten-year old yeast that I bought in bulk and store in my freezer. It always works.

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At this point, add the warmed up milk, oil, salt, and chili powder.

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Add the whole wheat flour and whisk the mixture together until very smooth. It will look like this:

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Cover the bowl and place it in a warm place for about an hour. It will double in volume. Remove it from your warm place and whisk the mixture again. Now is when you add your ground pecans.

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Stir the pecans into the batter, and then add one cup of flour and stir until well combined. Add the second cup of flour and stir as well as you can to incorporate it. At some point, when the dough isn’t too sticky, you need to remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. You have to use your instinct for this – sticky dough can be dealt with by patiently using floured hands. If you prefer your dough less sticky, incorporate more flour into it before attempting the kneading process.

Knead the dough and incorporate flour as needed for about 5 minutes. What that means is, if the dough is sticking to your work surface, add a sprinkling of flour. If your hands begin to stick, add a sprinkling of flour. In my experience, it is best to use as little flour as possible, while still managing to knead your dough properly.

Leave the dough on your work surface and cover with a damp towel for at least an hour. After it has risen, remove the towel.

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Knead the dough a little bit, and then cut into half. Since I made buns, I wanted them to all be about the same size for baking purposes, so I used a scale to weigh out the halves. My dough ended up in eight pieces, at about 5 1/2 ounces each. They ended up the size of hamburger buns, so if you want them smaller, cut your dough into 16 pieces.

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Make nice round buns by rolling the dough in between your hands, them place them on a greased cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining buns. Then let them rise in a warm place until they double in size once again.

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Bake the buns for about 20 minutes. Again, if you’re a perfectionist, test a bun with a thermometer – it should read 195 degrees Farenheit.

Remove the buns from the oven and let cool slightly. They are best served warm, but they reheat really well.

* Just for fun, I did not use a dairy milk for this recipe. I’ve always loved showing people how easy it to substitute ingredients in cooking – especially in simple, every day kind of cooking. So, surprise! I used coconut milk in this recipe!!!

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note: If you don’t want pecans or other nuts in this bread you could always add about 8 ounces of grated cheddar to make a Chili Cheese Bread!!!