Ambush of Spices Chick-Pea Stew

I learned a lesson recently that is very important:  no two powdered cinnamons are created equally.  Some are bland and cardboard-like and others can almost light my mouth on fire.  This (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-chickpea-stew-recipe.html) recipe could vary wildly depending on what kind of cinnamon was used.  But that’s not the only ambush — for me, the ambush was the lack of spices listed in the ingredients list.  Once again there is much importance for a Kitchen Kleric to read an entire spell — you don’t want to invoke the Kooking Kthulhu because you trip up half-way through a recipe.

  • 2T ground cinnamon
  • 2T ground cumin
  • 2T ground corriander
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz. (200g) carrots, halved and coarsely chopped (about 4 … ish)
  • 4 oz. (100g) sweetcorn (1 cup)
  • 8 oz. (200g) courgettes (zucchini)
  • 8 oz. (200g) chick-peas, cooked (or 2 tins of pre-cooked chick-peas)
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tbsp. tomato purée

Mix dry spices.  Heat 2T olive oil and saute onion and carrots for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in dry spices.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in sweetcorn, courgettes, chick-peas, water, tomato purée.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes.

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Maybe I Can Make This Better Yellow Split Pea Dahl

This recipe (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-dahl-recipe.html) isn’t quite a failure, but I usually really like dahl.  So what went wrong?  The Kooking Kleric went wrong, that’s what.  When composing your special entree golem, using the right ingredients is so important that if you don’t you could end up with a puddle of yellow-brown stuff (or Cthulhu) instead of what you expected.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit some of the substitutions I made, but let others learn from my mistakes (or missing limbs of my pride).

  • I ran out of cumin, so compensated with more garam masala — mistake.
  • I used canned chili peppers which, unbeknownst to me, had been rendered impotent — mistake.
  • The recipe did not call for onion — and it would be much improved by one.
  • It is not a crime to use salt to liven things up — and I should have.

So here is the recipe as it should be, at least according to this Kitchen Kleric.

  • 8 oz. yellow split peas  (soaked overnight — that’s 12 hours)
  • Dried chilli (or 1/8t cayenne pepper / chili powder)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice (maybe even 1T)
  • (1 tsp. salt)

Soak the split peas overnight. Boil them for one hour in fresh water (about 6 cups).  Drain and rinse.

If you have the right ingredients… Heat 1T (ish) Olive Oil in a small, heavy pan.  Add a small piece of chilli and fry (printed book says “until blackened”… not sure about that, so let’s say “very well”).  Add the cumin seeds and fry.  Add this mixture to the cooked split peas.  Also add the mustard, garam masala and turmeric.  Boil until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes).  Add lemon juice.

But this is how I’m likely to make it… Add the mustard, garam masala, turmeric, red pepper (or chili powder), ground cumin, and salt to cooked peas.  Add just enough water to cover the lentils, but not more. Boil until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes).  Add lemon juice.

I would try this again both with the right ingredients as well as my substitutions.

Garbanzo and Spinach Mixup

This recipe (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-chickpea-spinach-recipe.html) was the first I made from this cookbook.  I managed to get a bit ambushed by not reading the ingredients list right and wondered where all the spices came from — for me, they’re a little understated in the ingredients list.  But I can be a bit pedantic when it comes to that.  The result was very good.  This is a repeat for certain.

Original recipe:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 8oz (200g) spinach
  • Cumin seeds
  • Chilli powder, ground coriander, cumin powder
  • Lemon juice

Boil water and cook spinach until soft. Drain and chop.

Heat some oil and fry 1 tsp. cumin seeds. Add chopped onion and cook until brown.

Add cooked spinach and chopped tomatoes. Add some salt, 1/2 tsp. chilli powder, 2 tsp. coriander, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. lemon juice.

Stir in chick peas and 6 fl. oz. (150ml) water.

Cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

My rewritten “For Level 1 Wizards” recipe:

  • 8oz (200g) spinach
  • 1 onion, julienne cut
  • 1t cumin powder
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cans chickpeas (normal, soup-can sized cans)
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/2t chili powder
  • 2t coriander
  • 2t cumin
  • 1t sugar
  • (1t sesame seeds)
  • (1t minced garlic)
  • 1T lemon juice
  • 6oz water

Combine dry spices and set aside [1].

Steam spinach until soft.  Watch carefully when steaming as this shouldn’t be cooked to serve, but merely wilted.  Drain and chop.

Heat 1T olive oil in a large pot.  Add onion and cumin.  Cook onion until slightly fried — beyond sauteed.

Add cooked spinach, tomatoes, dry spices, and lemon juice.  Stir in chick peas and water.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

My minor improvisation was not using cumin seeds.  Nothing dramatic, but I’m sure I missed something in the flavor.  One thing I would add in the future would be some toasted sesame seeds (1t) and, of course, minced garlic (1t).

[1] Something I finally learned is to prep all my dry spices in advance.  Measuring out 5 dry spices, then the lemon juice and the water is a tad annoying compared to tossing them in all at once.  Small bowls (be they specifically for this or the little custard bowl — I prefer the latter) are invaluable for this.

Mediterranean Vegetable and Grain Salad

This was last week’s offering for the pot luck dinner. Much less work than tonight’s dish.

One cup of the same old baked barley I’m always talking about. 375 degree oven, 3 cups of water, one hour. Blah blah blah.

While that is cooking, in the food processor combine

  • a dozen cloves of roasted garlic (I make huge batches of this by getting bulk peeled garlic at Costco)
  • lemon juice (a fair bit)
  • olive oil (to match, you’re making a dressing)
  • red pepper flake
  • smoked paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • sumac
  • thyme (dried)
  • sesame seeds
  • cumin
  • oregano (dried)
  • cilantro (dried)

Render that into a dressing.
Course chop the following (either in the processor or by hand)

  • green, black and kalamata olives.
  • artichoke hearts
  • one can stewed tomatoes
  • capers

Toss the barley (after it has cooled and been fluffed) and the chopped veggies with a can of garbanzo beans and a can of black beans. Toss in the dressing.

Salads like this taste best if allowed to mellow overnight, but taste just fine after a couple of hours setting up. Served immediately upon combining, they will seem flat in a way you can’t put your finger on, somehow.

Tomato Soup of Vegan Defiance

I found some vegan cheese in the hopes of having a good old grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch.  My bread is vegan [1] and I reckoned that tomato soup would be as well.  HA ha HA ha HAaa…  Most tomato soups have some form of milk in them.  Sitting right next to my tomato soup is cans of stewed and diced tomatoes (T is for tomato, after all…).  So I declared “Oh, yeah?!” at the pre-packaged soups, grabbed a large can of tomatoes and headed for my modern fire pit.

The list of ingredients for this was rather random.  As I recall, it went something like this:

Can ‘o tomatoes; that’s a good start.  Milk kinda creams this so how about some Silk soy milk.  But then we need some flavor.  What do I like with tomatoes?  Basil and oregano should work.  Perhaps a little salt and pepper as well.  Oh, and garlic is nice too, so garlic powder, come on down!

What I should have done was check tomato ingredients for salt.  Many canned tomatoes have salt added.  Thankfully, I did not add too much.  Having selected my components, now came the mighty incantation.

Empty can of tomatoes, juice and all into a 3+ quart pot.  The pot should have enough room for the contents and enough depth to withstand splattering.  Add 1/4c soy milk (SWAG).  Break out the magic wand [2] and transform the chunky puddle into a creamy puree (could also do with a blender).  Set pot on burner at medium heat and add remaining spices “to taste”.  If I was to guess at the amounts, I probably added 1/2t basil, 1/2t oregano, 1/8t salt, 1/4t pepper, 1/2t garlic powder.

Stir occasionally until steamy hot.  Serve and enjoy.

It was good enough to try again; definitely good enough and fast enough to make to consider skipping canned tomato soup altogether.  I need to work on the slight sharpness of the tomatoes without adding sugar.  I know that works, but I dislike the idea.

Some slight changes I would try would be (a) use minced garlic and puree it with the tomatoes and soy milk, (b) add 1T of of olive oil, (c) experiment with other spices such as celery seed, cumin, and onion powder.  Perhaps if I were very clever I might sauté some onions and then puree those with the liquids.

Endlessly Absorbing Grain (+3 against curries)

This past Wednesday I needed to prepare a dish to take to a pot luck dinner which was occurring after Lenten Vespers. The parish I attend is overwhelmingly dominated by Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian families. I neither know how to cook the food of The Levant nor would I want to go toe-to-toe with some of the mothers and grandmothers who can. So, for these kinds of events, I turn to the vegetarian fare of “The Sub-continent” aka India. At least as a starting point. Almost nothing I cook could ever really be seen as an attempt to produce an “authentic” ethnic dish.

So, the plan for this past Wednesday was roasted vegetables, legumes and barley in a coconut milk curry. Pause to store provisions, memorize spells and tune your weaponry, this is going to be long.

1 cup hulled barley
1/2 cup yellow dal
1/2 cup green lentils

Combine with five cups of water in a Dutch oven, bring to a boil, cover and put into a 375 degree oven for an hour.

1 can heavy coconut milk
1 cup tomato soup (I like the tomato and roasted red pepper in a carton stuff, myself)

Place this in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Work in these spices. I grind them all in a coffee grinder to a fine powder both to “wake up” and reduce textural impact.

red pepper flake
smoked paprika
garam masala
muchi curry
turmeric
coriander
cardamom
cumin
garlic powder (not salt)

I use a fairly balanced amount of each, and not much of any. If you want to get precise, I’d start with 1/8 teaspoon of all, if that seems under seasoned after 15 minutes of simmering, go up to 1/4 teaspoon of each.

What follows had been prepared previously

roughly chop a balanced amount of each of these items:

yellow sweet onion
red onion
several garlic cloves
zucchini
baby carrots (can be left whole, or roughly chop big carrots)
celery
fresno peppers
orange or yellow bell pepper [1]
brussel sprouts (whole or halved if fairly large examples)

Combine with a small amount of oil and salt into Dutch oven 425 degree heat, uncovered, for at least an hour. You’ve got a lot of water to drive out, here. Stir every 10 or 15 minutes so that neither to top nor the bottom get burnt. Basically continue this until you worry they’ll get absolutely mushy. You’re doing dry cooking, so you aren’t losing any nutrients anywhere, just driving out water which is tasteless and has no nutrition.

This kind of vegetable combining and roasting is one of my “staple” techniques. I make fairly large batches of this and then re-use it in many ways. Most of the previous batch got rendered down into sauce by pureeing it and adding stewed tomatoes and basil.  I deliberately leave it without seasoning or spice to keep it as versatile as possible.
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Returning to real time…

Fold some of this vegetable mixture into the red curry such that it is neither sparse nor overwhelming. combine this with the lentil and barley mixture.

Ideally, served with naan or some other similar flat bread and eaten with the hands, but as it has grain in it, you can just dive in with a spoon.

What you are supposed to end up with is a kind of thick stew of red sauce in which you find vegetables, grain and legumes. But I needed to make this in the early afternoon, and services were at 6:30. So when I was done, I put this into the serving dish I was going to use, and put it back into the oven at 200 degrees. I should have put it in covered. I was worried it would get watery if I did. What ended up happening is that the barley sucked all the water out of the coconut milk and the soup and so what I served, instead of being a very loose, saucy kind of stew, was a thick, sticky, almost spreadable kind of situation. And most of the color cooked out of it, too, so it was all brown.

It was still tasty, just not what I set out to serve. The good news, I guess, is that it was easy to spread into a piece of pita bread and eat.

[1] Colors equate to specific sweetness levels. Green are bitter. Red aren’t as sweet as orange or yellow.

What Good Is a Spell-book Without a Pouch Full of Physical Components?

I have been wracking my brain trying to remember blatant “happy accidents” since John invited me to co-author on this blog, but so far, I haven’t been to sufficient therapy sessions, it seems, to un-repress them. Soon, I promise. Meanwhile, I will continue a bit on the theme from my first entry with regards to flexibility and working with left overs.

One key to establishing flexibility and adaptability in the kitchen is to develop a core set of “go to” items which you understand deeply and which occur over and over in your spell-book, ehem… cookbook. For me, these items include cans of stewed tomatoes, cans of tomato paste, marinated artichoke hearts, olives (green, black and kalamata), garlic, onion, capers, and then wet items such as olive oil, lemon juice, various vinegars, vegetable broth and then staples like lentils and barley. These are the physical components for casting the spells in your spell-book. I use these things to make everything from pasta sauce to tapenade, soups, stews, and cold salads. I buy them in bulk at warehouse stores. Seriously. Huge quantities. Notice that they’re all things which are unlikely to spoil. That’s the key.

With careful honing of skills, advanced Kitchen Klerics can also use them to polymorph yesterday’s soup into tonight’s sauce or stew.

Behold.

Last night I made lentil soup (what is it with us and lentil soup?!?!). On purpose. Here was my approach for the soup:

Simmer half a cup of green lentils in water until nearly fork tender. I use roughly a 3 to 1 water to lentil ratio. The trick is to not go 100% dry when you reach “done-ness” but you don’t want too much left over, either. Saute chopped leafy greens in olive oil until soft but not disintegrating. Lightly pulse one can of stewed tomatoes w/ basil until rough chopped. Combine with vegetable broth to create 4 cups of flavorful liquid. Add new liquid and greens to tender lentils, retaining any water still not absorbed by the lentils. Season with salt, all three: hot, half-sharp and smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro. Bring all the new liquid up to heat quickly so the lentils and greens don’t go to mush. Add already cooked barley (see Alton Brown’s technique for baked barley) and serve.

To clarify, the salt, half-sharp paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro were in a blend provided by Penzey’s which they call “Turkish blend”. The hot and smoked paprika I added myself. Also, as a point of order, that’s as close to a formal recipe as you’re ever going to get from me. Fair warning.

Now, part of last night’s experiment was to avoid past disasters in which creating correct proportions between ingredients resulted in eight quarts of soup for two people. This was probably enough soup to serve four hungry people. I had some left over for lunch after last night’s dinner, and so tonight’s goal would be to use up what remains without simply eating more soup.

There was also a carton of mushrooms (baby portobello, which I think are really just re-branded button mushrooms) in the fridge. I hate mushrooms. I will eat nearly anything. Often in states of cooked or uncooked that would terrify most other people. I am a genuinely adventurous eater. My “no freaking way” list is very short. Wax beans are on it, and mushrooms are on it. Haggis is probably on it, but I intend to never find out. But we ended up with this carton of mushrooms because my wife wanted to make a particular recipe which called for them last Friday. I talked her out of including them in that recipe, but we already had the carton in the house. What to do? Clearly, I need a high level spell which will obliterate the evil fungus into something I can eat. This is where those “go to” components shine.

In a skillet saute chopped garlic and chopped mushrooms with a generous amount of olive oil. In a second skillet defrost a bag of sweet peas. Once the peas are no longer cold and the mushrooms have reduced down considerably, add a proportional amount of peas to the mushrooms (put the rest of the peas in the fridge and combine with black beans for a nice salad later in the week). Add some of the chopped leafy greens from the night before which didn’t go in the soup because you made too much of them (they were also from a frozen bag). Add chopped up artichoke hearts, drained of their marinade. Put last night’s left over lentil soup into the blender and render into a liquid. Add this to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and drive out most of the water. Serve over baked barley or pasta. If it isn’t Wednesday or Friday, add a hard, well aged cheese, shredded.

There is no way I am going to taste those mushrooms. Viola! Food doesn’t get wasted, I don’t have to hold my nose while I eat, and once again, my tried and true “go to” elements save the day.

Speaking of skillets, I remain relatively convinced that the only cooking vessels you really need to own are one large pot for boiling pasta, a Dutch (or French) oven, two cast iron skillets, a couple of simple steel sauce pans and a wok. If you cook eggs, you need something nonstick, otherwise you don’t. The only items here that may ever wear out are the pasta pot and the sauce pans. The cast iron and the wok should actually get better the more you use them. Think of these items as the armor which is permitted for your Kitchen Kleric. Huge arrays of shiny pans or entire sets of nonstick are out of bounds for your character class.

I promise not to mention lentils or lentil soup again anytime soon. Really.