Lentil, cabbage, and bacono salad

I’m on about under-appreciated vegetables this evening. I just reblogged a post on beet soup so now it’s on to cabbage (which I think is also under-appreciated–just relegated to “slaw” which is often just horrible). This is a great modification of this recipe. Thanks!

Al dente adjustment to a Jacques Pépin lentil, cabbage and bacon salad

Salad dressings…

I’m in the midst of an indexing project that’s taking a lot of time–it’s reduced my cooking to pretty rudimentary–like making salads and sandwiches.  Thankfully summertime is good for salads and there is always the tomato sandwich.

One of the things I do with salads, even when rushed, is make my salad dressings.  Here is a link from The Kitchn for some easy salad dressings.

Bleu cheese is one of my favorites, so I’m always looking for a better bleu cheese dressing.  Have a wedge of Roth’s Kase Buttermilk Blue in the fridge just waiting to have a bit of it go into a bleu cheese dressing.  Maybe tomorrow…depending on how the indexing progresses.

Check out this recipe….

We’re into hot, humid weather now so I’m always looking for hearty, meal-type salads.  I just found this one which has gone into my must-try category.  From The Honor System:  Chipotle Chicken Salad.

Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Preparation

  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

Adding to panzanella….

dark purple eggplant

Black beauty eggplant fruits

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about one or two of the prominent summer vegetables–eggplant and summer squash. Well, here’s something that looks like it would be a good use of the ubiquitous eggplant that I’ve ignored except for baba ganoush and caponata. I no quarrel that eggplant nutritious, inexpensive, and the like.

I’ve already posted about another summer favorite of mine–bread salad or panzanella so I was pleased to see this recipe for a bread salad using grilled eggplant.  This kind of salad is so easy to fix single-serving amounts that I wanted to pass this along as another way to make use of a summer vegetable.  The image below was included with the recipe on the website Chow.com.

bread salad with grilled eggplant closeup

Indigo Rose Tomatoes

When you’re just getting thoroughly tired of winter–about late November or  very early January–the seed catalogs start to appear in the mail box.  You spend hours happily looking through them and anticipating planting seed.  There are all those gorgeous pictures and the descriptions.  For me this is especially a problem with tomatoes.  So, every year I end up wanting something new–in addition to those heirlooms that I always want (Black Krim, Cherokee Purple). Last year my new addition was a Japanese Black Trifle.  It’s now become one of the regulars, and is close to replacing the Black Krim because it tastes wonderful and produces more tomatoes.

This past winter the tomato that aroused my curiosity most was an Indigo Rose, described in Johnny’s Select Seeds as a cocktail sized tomato, dark purple because of the anthocyanins (anti-oxidants) which develop in areas of the skin exposed to direct sunlight. To further titillate, it was described as ” good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Moderately vigorous. Compact indeterminate. Organically grown.”  Now, who could possibly resist that in the midst of grey skies and cold rain?  Yes, I ordered some seeds.

Sprays of unripe Indigo Rose Tomatoes on the vine

unripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

Now we are harvesting them from the garden and fields–the acid test, so to speak.  I’ll concede that they are moderately vigorous, compact indeterminate, and very striking when you see them in the garden even when unripe the purple anthocyanin pigment is really obvious.

As they ripen to red (thus, the “Rose”, I guess) they really are lovely–impressive to be perfectly honest about it.

The very first ones that I tasted left me somewhat ambivalent about the taste–maybe I  tried them before that were appropriately ripe, or maybe I just like a different style of tomatoes–anyhow, there were different opinions.

Ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

ripe Indigo Rose on the vine

Now that I’ve tasted some that I’m sure are really ripe, and tried them in several different ways, other than just eaten out of hand, I’m more interested in exploring different things to do with them.

I have to say that they are not going to make it on to my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich–not nearly tart enough to stand up to the really good dry cured kind of bacon that I like to put on my BLTs.  (I would put a Black Krim, or a Japanese Black Trifele, or a Brandy Boy on my BLT, though.) But–there are lots of tomatoes that I really like for different uses that don’t make it onto the BLT either–so no strike against the Indigo Rose for that reason.

My impression eating them out of hand is that they are a very low acid tomato.  Usually I prefer higher acid tomatoes–a balance of tomato-tart and tomato-sweet.  So this is not going to be my choice of tomato for my sloppy, eat-over-the-sink-with-mayo tomato sandwich (which needs to be on white bread, too, by the way!) either.

But–one of my other summer favorites is insalata Caprese.  One of the fun things to do when making this salad is to have different kinds of tomatoes–lots of visual appeal–like Green or Red Zebras, some pink, some purple–whatever!  I tried these with the fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil, and just a tiny drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar.  The sweet-tartness of the balsamic really showed the sweet tomato flavor of the Indigo Rose tomatoes.  I did not (I know Indigo rose tomatoes in basket after pickingit’s heresy, but I did not) put basil on this salad–I used Syrian oregano, and it was a lovely salad.

For more taste and visual contrast I might combine these with an orange or yellow (also lower acid) tomato, but not with high acid tomatoes–I think that would just make the Indigo Rose ones taste bland–but that’s the next experiment!  A reason to go tomato shopping at the Wake Forest Farmers’ market tomorrow.

Another way that I’d like to try them is slowly oven-roasted to concentrate the flavors–I think that will really bring out the sweet, plummy flavor–again another experiment.  They are a good size to use in green salads, but I’d want a pretty mellow vinaigrette with them–maybe just extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Panzanella (Bread Salad)

lots of tomatoes laid out on table

tomatoes, tomatoes…

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes! So many ways to eat tomatoes…caprese salad, good old-fashioned tomato sandwiches–good white bread, mayonnaise, and juicy tomatoes; a sandwich that has to be eaten over the kitchen sink.   Then there is the BLT!  All good, but what else can you do with the summer abundance of tomatoes? Obviously  you can freeze some, or make sauce to freeze for winter use,  but one of my summer favorites is panzanella, or bread salad.  Since stale bread is a fact of life, even when you bake your own pretty much “on demand”, here is one of my favorite ways to use it up and to enjoy summer tomatoes.

This is a summary and adaptation of  my “go-to” recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 554-555):

Ingredients

  • 1/2 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2-3 flat anchovy fillets, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon capers, soaked and rinsed
  • 1/4 yellow bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups firm bread (cut into 1/2-inch squared), trimmed of crust and toasted
  • 3 fresh, ripe, firm tomatoes
  • 1 cup cucumber cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
  • fresh-ground black pepper and salt to taste

Preparation

  • Mash the garlic, anchovies, and capers to a paste.
  • Toss  the pepper, garlic, anchovy, olive oil, and vinegar together in a bowl.
  • Put the toasted bread (and any crumbs) in a small bowl.
  • Purée one tomato in food mill; add to bread an allow it to steep for 15 minutes or longer.
  • Skin and seed the other 2 tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (picking out some of the seeds if there are too many).
  • Add the cut tomatoes and the bread squares to the bowl with pepper, garlic, anchovy, oil and vinegar mix, and  add the cucumber and the onion; toss thoroughly.

While the recipe calls for peeling the tomatoes, I don’t usually do this unless the skins are very tough–I’ve no objection to the extra fiber, and some objection to the extra work that peeling them takes.  I don’t pick out seeds either–I think that the “jelly” surrounding the seeds adds extra flavor and an acidity that is lost by removing them–however, if you want a more refined version, by all means peel and remove seeds. (If you keep the “jelly” and seeds, it increases the tartness of the tomatoes, so you might want to decrease the wine vinegar–just taste it and season accordingly.) You can add fresh herbs of your choice–basil, marjoram, oregano, Syrian oregano (zaatar)–whatever strikes your fancy!

If this cookbook is not in your library, there is also a recipe for a simpler version of panzanella at Epicurious.com.

If you’d like to make this a meal in itself, add some good quality canned tuna or your homemade tuna confit to it. Cucumbers and onions are certainly optional.  Some fresh mozzarella would work here too.

The basic recipe above makes four to six servings, but it’s very easy to cut this down to make a single-serving quantity–just eyeball it!

I decided that this had potential for a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad so I did some modification: omitted the anchovies, capers, and the pepper.  I prepared the bread and the tomatoes as for the panzanella, and substituted balsamic (or rice wine) vinegar.  I kept the cucumber for it’s crunch and freshness and the sweet onion, even though they are not part of the BLT.  I added crumbled crisp bacon, and had this over romaine lettuce.

Since I did this improvisation  (it just wasn’t something that I needed a recipe for), I’ve googled “BLT salad” and found lots of variations on that theme, especially with the dressing.  Since I’m one who does like mayonnaise with my BLT, I’ve looked for dressings using it, but haven’t found anything I like better than the basic oil and vinegar, though I may be adventurous and try a creamy dressing with mayonnaise, thinned with buttermilk in the future.

A son goût!  

About lentils

lentils in Mason/Ball jar on pantry shelf.

lentils

Lentils (Lens culinaris), closely related to beans and peas, are dried after harvesting; you’ll find them on the shelves of your supermarket, gourmet stores, and online. They have been a staple food in many areas for over 8000 years, likely originating while in Turkey.  They are a staple food for many south Asian cultures, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean countries.  The Latin word for lentils, lens, was used in the 17th century to describe eye glasses because of the similarity in shape

Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly.  Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, which lets them pair well as side dishes, in salads, and soups.  Lentils have traditionally been used as a meat substitute.  Like other pulses, when paired with grains they offer excellent quality protein in our diet.

Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris–usually they are quite free of debris, but it’s always good to check them before cooking.  Unlike dried beans and peas, there’s no need to soak them. Lentils cook more slowly if they’re combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last.  Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook.  Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Substitutes: dal OR split peas OR black-eyed peas  More varieties are appearing even on the supermarket shelves, but specialty sources offer a wide variety with which to experiment.

The quick cooking and nutritious nature of lentils make them an obvious choice for winter soups. They are also good cooked and chilled for salads or mixed with bread crumbs to stuff vegetables. Blend lentils with middle eastern couscous and use as a bed for seafood and poultry.  Use them instead of beans  for summer salads with fresh tomatoes and other veggies.

Here is a little information about the various kinds of lentils.  More synonyms and alternative names can be found in the Cook’s Thesaurus.

  • Brown Lentils:  The average grocery store lentil is the brown lentil. You’ll likely find these on the shelves with the dried beans.  They tend to get mushy if overcooked.  If you want them to be firm, add oil to the cooking water and cook the lentils just a short while, say 15 minutes.
  • Black beluga lentils are a very popular legume in South Asia, they are used to make a beautiful black lentil soup. Some of the names that they my go by are Beluga lentil = black beluga lentil = beluga black lentil = petite beluga lentil. When they’re cooked, especially in salads with a tiny bit of oil, they glisten so that akes them look like beluga caviar.
  • Petite crimson lentils are “crimson” in color, which is a deep orange-red. These lentils tend to lose their shape when they are cooked and are an excellent choice for thickening soup.
  • Petite golden lentils are a small firm, golden lentil that is rounder in shape than many other  lentils; one of the reasons that this lentils holds its shape so well when cooked.  They have a soft texture.
  • Ivory white lentils are a creamy white colored small lentil that is really a peeled black lentils, known in India as urid dal.
  • French green lentils: (also called French green lentils, du Puy lentils,  lentilles du Puy, lentilles vertes du Puy.)  By many chefs, these are considered the “best”, most delicate lentils.  They have the typical earthy flavor, but also  are a bit “peppery”. These hold their shape well better than many other lentils,  but take longer to cook, but still do not need presoaking. While I love all lentils, and typically have several kinds in the pantry, these are the ones that I would not want to be without!)
  • Red lentils are the common seen in the supermarket.  It’s a lovely salmon pink in the dried form, but it turns golden when cooked.  These lentils cook faster than others.  They’re best in  purées or soups.
  • Spanish pardina lentils (also known as Spanish brown lentils or Continental lentils) are smaller the brown or red lentil–about the same size as a petite green or black lentil.  They have a particularly nutty flavor, and they hold their plump, round shape when cooked. This makes them a particular favorite with e for use in summer vegetable/lentil salads.
  • Dal is the Indian term for peas, beans, or lentils that have been split and often skinned, but the name is sometimes used for all lentils, peas, or beans, or to cooked dishes made with them. Split lentils don’t hold their shape well, so they’re often cooked into soups or purées.

Most of these can be interchanged in recipes as long as you take into account how quickly they cook and the final textures–some are softer than others. Generally the split ones tend to lose shape faster, so don’t do well for salads, or side dishes where you want them to keep their shape, but will be fine in soups–especially if you’d like your soup to be a little thicker.  Any of these would work in the lentil soup recipe that I gave earlier–though I usually use the lentils du Puy even for that.

Aside from using them instead of beans in summer salads, I think that lentils make an awesome side dish to go with grilled salmon–there’s something about the earthy flavor that combines SO well.  If you have “leftover” grilled salmon, try using it with some lentils to make a cool, but hearty summer salad with some tomatoes and cucumber to it.  Combined with a grain, this can be a very nutritious vegetarian dish–or not.

Here is a link to a lentil salad that makes me drool on my keyboard just looking at the recipe:  Warm Salad of Lentils with Duck Fat from the Hudson Valley.  Love’s description of the lentilles du Puy is marvelous.  (Each time I cook duck, I carefully keep some of the fat, sealed and refrigerated to use for things like this.)  Add some greens, and this is a one-dish meal that’s in my group of comfort foods.  Lentils will also work in the sausage, beans and greens one-dish meal.

Lots of uses, quick-cooking, nutritious, tasty, inexpensive…what more could you want?  Try some!

Under-appreciated vegetables: celery

bunches of celery in the Harris Teeter produce department

celery

It seems that celery is a problem for many of us who do single-serving cooking!  I’ve seen comments to that effect in several cookbooks dedicated to cooking for one.  One of my “things” to do with that head of celery is to make mirpoix or soffrito and stash it in the freezer so that I’ll have it to facilitate making a quick meal.  That works, but you need only so much of that in the freezer and how many celery sticks can you munch on?  Buying the precut celery stick is the produce department is NOT  an option–they keep even less well than the whole head of celery.  Admittedly, I like celery ribs stuffed with peanut butter and pimento cheese, but again, how many can you–or should you–eat?  Or, buy it off the salad bar at the supermarket–but then you may not have it when you need it unless you’re willing to make a trip

One thing that I’ve found helpful is to store the celery in a partially open zipper-lock bag with a paper towel that’s been dampened and then squeezed as dry as possible.  This extends the storage time, but still I end up tossing a lot of celery on the compost heap.  There must be a better solution.

I think that perhaps the best solution to this is to recognize that celery is a vegetable with nutritional value and learn to use it as a vegetable and not just as a seasoning.  Until I started this research I was not aware of many recipes treating celery as a vegetable on its own.  (I’m not including its use in salads or as a snack, or even to add crunch to caponata.)  I’ve been looking for more celery recipes.

My first stop was my favorite vegetable cookbook (note that I did not say vegetarian cookbook), The Victory Garden Cookbook (see bibliography).  I was amazed at how many recipes were given for celery–I think that this goes to show my  under-appreciation of celery!  (Yes, I know it’s popular in stir-fries, too–but there’s a recipe for a stir-fry of celery as a veggie!)

There are recipes for braised celery (p. 79-80), celery slaw (p. 78), and salads (Celery Antipasto p. 78 and Celery Rice Salad, p. 78) as well as the expected Cream of Celery Soup (p. 81) I found a Chilled Celery-Lemon Soup (p. 81) that certainly looks intriguing as a way to use celery as a vegetable. There are other recipes here that look as if they have potential for celery as a vegetable.  (At least go to the library and check this book out and try some of these.)

I went to Eat Your Books and ran a search on the books that I’ve added to my bookshelf.  Turned out that there were lots of recipes for celeriac (later discussion), but I did not find many for simple stalk celery; here are a few of the ones that I did find:

  • Celery à la Grecque (Céleri à la Grecque) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One by Julia Child and Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.
  • Braised celery stalks with onion, pancetta, and tomatoes from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • Braised and gratinéed celery stalks with Parmesan cheese  from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • Risotto with celery from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

If you feel like trying this approach to the celery crisis that often afflicts those of us who do single-serving cooking here is a starting point–all it really takes is a trip to the library!  If you do an online search you need to search for “stalk celery”, “rib celery”, or “celery stalks” or you will probably get lots of recipes for “celeriac” or “celery root” which is a great vegetable, but likewise under-appreciated in American every-day cooking!

Another solution might be to search for recipes for Florence (bulb) fennel and substitute celery in some of those with possible changes of seasoning.

That is not a lot of recipes–I think that it likely reflects celery as seasoning, not as a vegetable, but I think well worth exploring.   Have celery–I’m going to experiment.  I’ll keep you posted!

A son goût!  

Tuna salad

Not that there’s anything wrong with traditional American tuna salad, but there are lots of other things to do with  tuna.  I like tuna, but I don’t want “tuna salad” in the traditional sense every time, so I’ve come up with lots of variations.  Some of the best are made with the “leftovers” from grilling a lovely big tuna steak or with my homemade tuna confit.

My “salad” might have onion and celery (if present in the refrigerator) but it’s certainly not a requirement; no mayonnaise either (though I do like the stuff).   Home from work, not going back out to the grocery store; it’s warm enough that I don’t want anything hot for lunch.  What have I got to work with from the pantry and the refrigerator?

If you think about the basic American tuna salad, it has very few ingredients:  usually mayonnaise, celery, onions, and maybe hard-boiled egg, or sometimes pickle relish.

Personally I find the usual supermarket canned tuna to be unappetizing–dry and crumbly if it’s water-packed white albacore, sometimes mushy  and fishy lacking in any real texture,  so I understand why it’s often hidden in the mayonnaise, but there are now  reasonably priced alternatives available.  If I don’t have homemade confit, I’ll be using a single-cooked canned tuna that more nearly approximates the quality of European canned tuna.

Starting with good quality  tuna, unless you want to go all the way and make salad à la niçoise you really don’t need many ingredients.  You don’t really want to overwhelm the tuna (since we are using good tuna here) so the components you need are:

  • some contrasting texture and flavor ingredients
  • just a bit of oil
  • a little acid to brighten it up.
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • some fresh herbs for extra flavor

Starting with a six-ounce can of tuna, here are some possible things to do:

  • For something light, refreshing  and crunchy for a sweltering day, I like to use diced cucumber, scallions, red onion or sweet onion like Vidalia (depending on what’s in the fridge), fresh-ground black pepper, salt (if the tuna has no added salt), about a teaspoon of very fruity extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some finely chopped spearmint.
  • For something really quick, I’ve  added some  fresh onion, sweet bell pepper,  diced chile peppers for texture and some salsa  from a jar.  Chipotle salsa can give you a warmer, smoky taste.
  • If you want a heartier salad, add to your tuna some drained, rinsed white beans (great northern or cannellini are my favorites), tomatoes, chopped onion, green or black olives, some extra-virgin olive oil or aïoli (easy to make a quick version if you have decent mayonnaise in the fridge) and some fresh oregano.
  • If you have some pesto in the fridge, try chopped onion (almost always use this), diced tomato, capers, or olives. If there’s pasta around, that can be added too.
  • I usually have a jar of a fruit salsa in the fridge as well and that makes a good start.  Add sweet onion like Vidalia or Walla Walla, more fruit such as peaches or mango, some ripe bell peppers.
  • Black beans, diced tomatoes, onions, chile pepper, ripe bell pepper (I’m just not fond of green bell peppers so I don’t use them), celery, and even some corn and a vinaigrette with a light touch of chilli powder added.
  • For an oriental take on the tuna salad,  a bit of sesame oil (the kind from roasted sesame seeds) with some ginger, green onions, a little garlic if you like, with cucumbers, celery.
  • That extra serving of roasted vegetables–even potatoes–with cherry tomatoes, and a splash of vinaigrette, maybe some fresh thyme.

Obviously, a many of these suggestions would work equally well with chicken if you have that instead, or don’t like tuna.  It’s easy to improvise a quick salad if you start with a serving of meat. The possibilities are really almost endless–just follow your own taste.

A son goût!