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14
Lentil Soup: my last lunch.


One year and three days ago, at 3:30 in the afternoon on 11/11/11, I was eating lentil soup.  I am able to tell you exactly that, as it was the meal I finished just as my water broke for the birth of my son.  Truthfully, it was lentil soup followed by a scoop of my husband’s homemade vanilla bean ice cream, topped with a generous drizzle of David Lebovitz’s perfect hot fudge recipe, and it may or may not have been then topped with a few crushed peanut M&Ms that had been unclaimed by trick or treaters eleven days earlier.  If there was ever a time to treat myself to a tasteful hot fudge sundae in the middle of the afternoon, my due date seemed the best day of any.

Standing at the edge of the new parent cliff, really having no idea what the next many weeks would hold for us, I had been furiously putting meals away for days and days.  I don’t know what I expected, but my level of anxiety was fairly appropriate.

And when I get anxious, I cook.

When someone is struggling, I cook.

When things seem grim and I have no idea what to do, out come the cookbooks.

And so for the very expectant weeks prior, I had been cooking and cooking.  Our chest freezer in the basement was a culinary tetris, packed tightly with calories to keep us going in the 3ams of the coming weeks.  Quart container after quart container of warming stews, gumbos, and soups were obsessively stacked alongside a half dozen bags containing fifty frozen dumplings each, devotedly hauled home from Chinatown in the city.  I may have been facing a month without leaving the house or having both hands free at once, but I was not going down on an empty stomach.  I didn’t know who I’d be on the other side of all of this, but I knew I’d still demand great food.

Lentil soup has been a comfort food staple for me through most of the very varied episodes of my life.  Cheap, simple, high in protein, and even vegetarian—for that twenty-year phase I went through—its sum is definitely more than its parts.  And this will always be the last thing I cooked as a person who wasn’t someone’s mom.

As soon as it gets dark before quitting time and a tiny chill shimmies under the door, I crave this recipe.  And eating it again this year, days before I became a person who is the mom of a one year old, I am brought right back to a year ago, or my lunch break room in graduate school, or the kitchen in my first apartment in New York, and also my tiny dark brown dorm fridge.

I look at the photo we snapped just before walking out the door to drive to the hospital, and am astounded by how I feel like I don’t even know those people.  But it is indeed me, as is the girl hosting her first dinner party in a studio apartment, or the girl with the giant mug in her window seat in college, all recognizing each other by the smells and tastes of the recipes that make up my life’s cookbook.

Happy first birthday darling boy.



Lentil Soup

Makes about three and a half quarts.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onion, from about one large onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lb lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups crushed tomatoes and juice, bonus points for using your own canned tomatoes
7 cups stock (chicken or vegetable) or water
2 cups diced carrots, from about 4-5 large carrots
salt
1 bay leaf
8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

In a large soup pot, gently heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and saute on medium-low heat until softened.  Add the garlic and continue to saute for a few minutes, lowering the heat if the garlic starts to brown at all.  Add the cumin and cinnamon to the pot, adding a bit more oil of the mixture seems dry, and saute the dry spices in the oil for a couple of minutes to wake up the flavors, being very careful not to burn.

Add the carrots, bay leaf, lentils, tomato, stock and a half teaspoon of salt, scraping any browned onions or spices stuck to the floor of the pot.

Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for one and a half hours, until the lentils are tender.  Taste and add more salt if desired.

Just before serving stir in spinach leaves, until just wilted.

Serve topped with grated sharp cheddar or a swirl of plain greek yogurt, and maybe some grated lemon zest.

The soup is even better the next day, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. It can also be frozen, for emergency late-night nourishment.



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15
Wild Rice Stuffing with Cranberry, Apricot, and Scallion


My friend, and great cook, Cathy Elton asked me to contribute to a thanksgiving recipe series on her heart-healthy blog "What Would Cathy Eat?".  One recipe she requested was a "stuffing made without meat or butter".  Not an intuitive leap for this French Culinary Institute-trained, duck-fat-loving chef.

I started musing on wild rice.  Deeply flavored, elegant, and a little unexpected, it is also a really smart choice in the middle of a seemingly endless table of fatty simple carbohydrates.  This nutty whole grain is actually not technically rice, but rather a seed from the aquatic grasses surrounding fresh water lakes in northern North America.  It has twice the protein of brown rice, and almost eight times the protein of white, serving up 6.5 grams in one cooked cup, with 3 grams of fiber.

There is a rich mysterious aroma to the grains, reminiscent of tannins and black tea.  I added tart dried cranberries and apricots, woken up with some light vinegar, which will offset the richness of turkey and gravy.  This dish would also be wonderful for lunch the next day, as a cold rice salad with leftover pieces of turkey added, or made with chicken any time during the year.

And with this smart side dish choice, just think of all the extra pie you can justify.


WILD RICE STUFFING WITH CRANBERRY, APRICOT, AND SCALLION
By Catie Schwalb

Serves 6, can easily be doubled or tripled.

1 1/4 cups Wild Rice, uncooked
2 1/2 cups Stock, Vegetable or Poultry, or water
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1/3 cup Dried Apricots
2 TBS White Wine Vinegar, plus more to taste
6 Scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced, about 3/4 cup loosely packed
2 large Garlic cloves, slivered
2 TBS Olive Oil
1/2 cup Pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
Salt, to taste

Combine wild rice and 2 1/4 cups of stock, or water, in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a fast simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, let stand for 10 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.

In a small bowl, combine cranberries, apricots, 2 TBS white wine vinegar, and 2 TBS warm water. Set aside for about 20 minutes.

Sautee scallions and garlic with olive oil, gently, until just wilted, but not browned.

Drain cranberries and apricots. Thinly slice apricots.

Combine cooked wild rice, pecans, cranberries, apricots, and scallion and garlic mixture, including all of the infused olive oil in the pan you sauteed them in. Season with a generous pinch of salt. Taste. If needed add more salt, a few drops of vinegar, or a little warm stock if it feels too dry.

Can be served cold, at room temperature, or warmed in an ovenproof dish tented with foil.



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ctober
20
Use those apples
Though apples are excellent long-keepers, and will be around for months at the markets, they never taste better to me than right now--sun still warm in the sky, "transition" jacket getting pulled out of the closet, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and halloween fast approaching.



Grab a few extra apples at the farmers' market this week, and try this salad I posted in the early spring.  Pea shoots might still be available, but if not, late season salad greens, particularly arugula, would be a great addition.

Pea Shoot, Celeriac, Apple and Hazelnut Salad


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{ welcome! }
Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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