Tag Archives: Middle Eastern food

Red Lentil Falafel with Millet, Lemon Ginger Dressing + Quick-Pickled Onions

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I’m reading this novel right now, Sweetbitter. It is a coming-of-age about a young  girl who lands her first post-college job as a back waiter in a prestigious New York City restaurant. Broken up by seasons in her first year, I’ve just reached the point of early spring and the first thing she does is mention the Hungry Gap, the short phase in the year when even the hyper-local restaurants scramble for produce and need to source from afar, the season where we’re sick of winter but warmer days are fickle and food is just sort of ho-hum.

I’ve definitely been feeling the hungry gap season and have reached the point, which inevitably happens every year, where the only meal that sounds good is plain, steamed vegetables (mostly cabbage), a plain grain and protein, and if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, a leftover dressing or some random seeds sprinkled on top. William is extra lucky he’s working long days because of tax season and his office often feeds him. Mutiny would come quickly if he had to endure more than one or two nights of my “plain steamed veg” for meals.

Thanks in part to The Recipe Redux for the march theme of making due with what’s on hand, i.e. spring cleaning the cupboards, I decided to use my creativity an extra bit and make the first day of our new season include more than steamed carrots, turnips, and cabbage.

So here we have red lentil falafel, an extra delicious lemon ginger cashew-based dressing, and pickled onions. This just might be the meal that gets me back into eating a little more adventurously. And maybe you too?

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Red Lentil Falafel with Millet + Lemon Ginger Dressing, serves 4
I love falafel, especially baked falafel with lots of accompaniments like pickled onions, but the lemon ginger dressing is the real star of this dish, in my opinion. After enjoying a lemon ginger dressing at a super hipster Portland restaurant a while back, I’ve been trying to get a homemade rendition right all winter. It may have taken all season, but this version might just be better than its inspiration. Make sure to be liberal with both lemon zest and ginger!

Red Lentil Falafel:
1 cup red lentils, soaked
3 garlic cloves, peeled + roughly chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. sea salt + more to taste
freshly ground black pepper pepper
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cooked millet

  • In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the soaked lentils and 2 cups water to a boil. Turn down, and simmer for 20 minutes. They do not have to be completely soft all the way through. Drain and turn into a food processor.
  • Then, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • In the food processor with the red lentils, combine the garlic, spring onions, spices, apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Pulse the mixture until it comes to a chunky paste but is not completely a puree. It should be fairly wet so add a little liquid if it’s not. Then turn it into a large mixing bowl along with the one cup of cooked millet. Combine the grain and lentil mixture well.
  • Next form about 20 falafels with your hands or with a medium cookie scoop and place them on the parchment lined baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are lightly browned and a little firm to the touch.
  • Serve the falafels with extra millet or flatbread, the sauce, lettuce, and pickled onions if desired.

Lemon Ginger Dressing, makes about 1 cup
1/2 cup cashews, soaked + drained
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water + more if needed
2 Tbs. freshly grated ginger root
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1  tsp. maple syrup (optional)
1 Tbs. light miso

  • In a food processor or blender, combine the soaked and drained cashews, lemon zest, and remaining ingredients and blend until it comes to a consistency that is spoon-able but not runny. Add more water as necessary to reach this consistency.

To Serve:
Quick-Pickled Onions
lettuce
additional cooked millet or flat bread, if desired

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Sprouting Broccoli, Za’atar, Tempeh, + Harissa Yogurt

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Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, and the question came up, What are you totally obsessed with right now? I love that question, and in lieu of sharing links and things, here are a couple of life updates/current obsessions:

 

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  • The microbiome and its potential role in virtually all aspects of health and disease. I listened in to most of the Microbiome Medicine Summit last month, and all the new information only cemented this interest.
  • Herbal remedies for stress, sleep, and anxiety: I’ve been taking an introductory class on Herbal Medicine this term and at the beginning of January, we picked one herb to study in depth. I’ve been studying American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and I picked it for its nervine (nerve-supporting), anti-anxiety and anti-spasmodic properties. It’s been fascinating to learn about not only skullcap, but the whole host of other herbs that support sleep, stress, and anxiety, particularly because this is an area I’ve been struggling with. I’ve been carting around a review article titled Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep and instead of reading feel good books, I’ve been re-reading it in my free time (see, obsession!). Also, I’ve been taking a series of herbal formulas which include valerian, lemon balm, chamomile, and passionflower, among others. Like skullcap, these are all sleep and stress-supporting herbs. I’ve been seeing positive results.
  • Positive self-talk and self-care: I’m almost done with my first term in nutrition grad school! It’s been an interesting few weeks, as I began with A LOT of class work, and then gradually dropped off the load and finished classes throughout the term. I have one week left of one class and then a couple weeks break. I’m already excited for next term and in particular, a foundation health and wellness class that focuses on self-care and behavior change. I consider myself somewhat good at self-care, but I’ve been obsessed lately with positive self-talk. As I work on it, I’ve noticed the negative self-talk is gradually improving. I’ve also noticed that I’m usually self-deprecating when I receive compliments, and though I’ve always thought it was just part of being humble, I’ve realized I do not have to make an excuse every time I receive a compliment. I can simply say, thank you, and leave it at that. There are huge things to be gained from building oneself (and others!) up, instead of tearing down.
  • Broccoli. I have eaten so much broccoli these last couple months in the form of broccoli raab, purple sprouting broccoli, romanesco, and just plain, straight-up broccoli. Every time I think I’m ready for a broccoli-break, it ends up in the fridge and I gobble it up. William likes broccoli too, (he’s the one that started this whole broccoli bandwagon), but tax season has him eating away from home so much that I’ve eaten the major share of our broccoli purchases. I’ve also been really into broccoli with tempeh. For forever, I avoided soy products, but something about the fermenty flavor and texture is just so delicious right now. I’ve been adding it in to meals every other week or so, and alongside roasted broccoli and harissa, it’s simply delicious. Also: if the amount of broccoli I’ve eaten parallels how many times I’ve written broccoli in this paragraph, it may be time for a mini-break!

 

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Sprouting Broccoli, Za’atar, Tempeh + Harissa Yogurt, serves 2

This is the kind of comforting bowl-food that I enjoy eating, always. Harissa, a north African hot sauce, is spicy and contributes a lot of the flavor. Add as much or as little as you prefer but keep in mind the yogurt balances the heat, as do the other ingredients. This is the sort of recipe that can easily be switched up depending. William is not so big a fan of tempeh, and I can imagine this would be just as good with any number of other protein types. Likewise, the harissa would be equally good mixed into a little thinned cashew cream for a different sort of sauce, sans yogurt. 

1-2 bunches sprouting broccoli, sliced into 2-inch pieces

coconut oil

6 oz. tempeh, cubed

1 Tbs. za’atar or more as needed

½ cup coconut yogurt

1-3 Tbs. harissa, to taste (I used Ottolenghi’s recipe, but you can also purchase)

steamed millet, to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and toss together broccoli pieces, tempeh, za’atar and a little coconut oil. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice throughout.
  • While the broccoli is roasting, stir together the yogurt and harissa. Start with a small amount of harissa and adjust according to taste.
  • Once the broccoli is done, serve with steamed millet or another grain, and top with harissa yogurt.

 

Reference:

Head, K.A. and Kelly, G.S. (2009). Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review, 14 (2), 114-133.

 


Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

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I go on stints where I cook almost exclusively from one cookbook or blog. Actually, I take recipes, apply their concept, and change almost everything. I’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem lately.

I also share recipes on Food52 sometimes and I received the kindest comment on my beet and lentils with flatbread there. It made my whole week and reaffirmed why this blog remains mainly about food. The comment made me think, too, about the decisions I’ve made that were true turning points. One of those was during my senior year in high school when I decided to go to university rather than culinary school, and then after university, deciding to find a job rather than going back to Ireland for a course at Ballymaloe.

Sometimes I feel as if I was born to cook and feed people. I’ve loved everything about cooking for as long as I can remember. I love the creativity of selecting ingredients and flavor combinations. I love both its meditative aspects and the more fast-paced balance of doing multiple tasks simulanteously. I love sitting down to a special meal with William and sometimes friends or family, turning off the phone, computer, TV, pause and say grace, and then invite in the experience of enjoying a meal.

I remember bringing a beef and mushroom stew over to a friend’s one time in college, and how her then-boyfriend took two bites and then paused, looked at me, and said, Bec, I can tell this was made with love, before proceeding. And it was.

I know a lot of my friends and family do not get the food I make. I’ve long felt sensitive about it, as I’ve been cooking creatively since the beginning. When William and I first began dating, it was summer and I was in town for a week. There was very little to eat in my college house as my roommates and I were largely absent for the summer. I invited him over for lunch, knowing there were approximately five ingredients to make a meal—and I knew they could combine to provide a pretty spectacular combination. William survived college up to then on his grandma’s spaghetti sauce, made by his family and frozen in huge quantities, tuna sandwiches, plain spaghetti, pizza, and kraft mac + cheese. Anything outside of that lineup was super adventurous, and he didn’t exactly appreciate what I thought was a fabulous summer lunch—with ingredients largely from my self-watering garden. For months after, he approached every dinner I’d make with trepidation, knowing it was going to be awful, and a breach from his standard American diet. But he’d try it anyway. Nine times out of ten, he’d end the meal telling me he was pleasantly surprised, again. The weird things I made actually tasted good. All he had to do was try.

When left to my own devices, I tend to veer strongly in the direction of cooking with middle eastern influences. I don’t know exactly when I picked this up as I didn’t try the cuisine until mid-college at least. I like the combination of savory and sweet grains and spices, the vegetable-heavy emphasis of the traditional recipes, and the infinite possibilities as even the simplest of ingredients can taste rich and flavorful and nourishing.

 

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As I reflect on the statement above, I feel as if I was born to feed people, I realize I still haven’t found exactly what this means for me. I know my place is not actually feeding people in the standard chef/culinary sense. I know it is not in producing food, as I also once contemplated. Perhaps it is in sharing recipes here or elsewhere, but more likely, it might be in feeding people something other than actual food, in the form of kindness, hope, understanding, or inspiration. Ultimately, I know for me to be able to do that with authenticity, I have to be able to provide it to myself first.

William has been working late these days, and I’ve often been feeding only me. So I’ve been cooking with more mindfulness, taking recipes and adapting them intuitively to what I need, trying to eat meals a little more slowly with less distractions. I’ve been focusing on allowing the process to fill me up in ways that stretch far beyond the meal itself, to let light shine into the dark internal corners I’m afraid of, and let self-compassion and love in, when for so long I’ve projected it only outward, onto others.

I’m at a real turning point just now, and it feels like a good one. I’m finally coming to know and appreciate me. I’ve been learning (and still often failing) how to feed myself the essential nutrients that come from genuine self-care, rather than merely “nutritious food.” This is one of the meals I’ve been enjoying lately through the process.

 

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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

The inspiration for these two recipes are drawn from Jerusalem. Mejadra is an ancient dish in the Arab world, considered a meal for the poor but fit for kings. At its simplest, it is rice and lentils cooked together with caramelized onions. Crazily enough, those simple ingredients can taste heavenly. I’ve incorporated a few wonderful spices in keeping with Ottolenghi’s version, and for William, I’ve added raisins. He loves raisins. He added another handful for good measure as he gobbled it up.  The Swiss chard and tahini-cream will make for a nice side. I’m loving Swiss chard lately, when for so long I discarded it completely. The trick, I think, is a quick sauté. 

For the Mejadra:

1 very large onion (1 1/2 lb.), sliced thinly into rounds

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. allspice

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 cup long-grain brown rice, soaked and rinsed

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup raisins, optional

3 1/2 cups water

  • Begin by soaking the brown rice for at least 8 hours in a large bowl of water with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. This breaks down some of the phytic acids which can bind the zinc, magnesium, calcium, and other important minerals. Prior to cooking, rinse and drain the rice.
  • In a large sauté pan, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and heat to medium-high. Then, add in the sliced onions, cook and stir for 3-5 minutes, and then turn down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and caramelize, about 25-30 minutes.
  • While the onions are cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil, spices, rinsed rice and lentils, pomegranate molasses, raisins, and water to a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to low, cover, and allow to cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.

For the Swiss Chard:

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped, leaves sliced

salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add garlic and chard stems and allow to cook until beginning to soften. Add a little water as necessary to help the chard stems soften up.
  • Then add in the sliced leaves and heat just until they begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the Tahini-Cream:

2 Tbs. tahini

1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced

2-4 Tbs. water, as needed

salt and pepper, to taste

  • Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl, thinning as necessary with water.
  • Spoon the tahini-cream atop the Swiss chard as a side to the mejadra.

 

 

 


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