Coconutty Chana Dal

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I’ve always made lentils fairly frequently, but lately it seems we are never without a pot in the fridge. This is partly out of laziness, because I can make them with my eyes closed with pantry ingredients that don’t require the foresight of a trip to the store, and they make for days of lunches and side dishes. Usually I whip up the split red lentils that cook in a snap – as in my Weeknight Lentils – but since it was the weekend I decided to get a little crazy and make chana dal.

A weekend warning, apart from the longer cooking time: “lentils” may sound like rabbit food, but with creamy coconut milk and a pat of butter, these are pretty decadent.

Chana dal take longer to cook and than red lentils and they hold their shape instead of dissolving into a starchy mush. They have a very nice nutty flavor. I like just a little sweetness in my lentils (I usually put a drop of honey in my French black lentils) which I got here from carrots. It’s just enough sweetness for me without Shan accusing me of adding sugar. Also, I’ve been getting into cooking with coconut oil lately. I already love the nutty note it gives a dish, and though it’s a saturated fat, I’ve been reading more about its health benefits. So multipurpose, I like to oil my hair with it too.

Dinner was a collaborative effort; we had friends over and enjoyed this with basmati rice, a lovely cucumber raita made by our friend, and my husband’s famous Lahori tilapia.

Coconutty Chana Dal

2 tbsp coconut oil

whole spices:
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods (cracked)
1 cinnamon stick

1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated

ground spices:
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
black pepper

2 tbsp tomato paste
zest of 1 lemon
2 carrots, finely chopped in food processor
1 1/2 c chana dal
several cups water
1/2 c coconut milk
1 tbsp butter
salt

Heat oil in a good-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, and add whole spices. When they smell fragrant, add the onion, stirring until it begins to turn translucent, then add garlic, ginger, and whole spices. Cook, stirring, a few minutes, then add tomato paste, lemon, carrots, dal, and water to cover by an inch or so. Reduce heat to a high simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring fairly frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The dal will begin to absorb the water so add more as necessary. The final consistency should be wet but not watery.

I’m not in the habit of timing things, I just cook them until they’re done. I will say the cooking time is a little lengthy, enough to do the dishes, make the rice, give Zoeya a bath and put her to bed (Shan babysat the pot while I was upstairs so it didn’t burn). Cook until the dal is soft. Stir in coconut milk, butter, and salt to taste.

Pretty when garnished with cilantro, but mine wilted in the thousand degree heat.

Cherry Tres Leches Cake

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A little about my friend Gloria. We met long, long ago (I’m getting old) when I moved back to Charlotte after school. She was the friend who inspired me to cook. Back then I barely knew my way around the kitchen, whereas she was a kitchen genius and everything she made was mouthwateringly delicious.

We have been though a lot since then. Boyfriends and breakups and babies and relocation, crazy nights out and cozy days in. She is always so sweet and thoughtful, and is a wonderful friend. Just recently after my heartbreak, Gloria flew into town and swept me away for a girls day at the vineyard. I am truly blessed to have someone like her in my life.

She also had a foodie goodie basket for me with all kinds of fancy salts, vanilla beans, and an adorable little recipe book she made herself. This past weekend when she was in town she hosted a barbecue at her boyfriend’s house. The theme was latin, the food was delicioso, and I used the vanilla bean she gave me to make this cake.

Cherry Tres Leches Cake

Adapted from Alton Brown’s Tres Leches Recipe, to include lovely vanilla bean and the mound of cherries I had in the fridge.

I pretty much made the cake exactly as is, so I won’t repeat that part of the recipe here. The only thing I did differently was to omit the vanilla from the cake batter and instead to gently heat the glaze with the split and scraped vanilla bean (remove the pod before glazing). I also added the cherry filling below, so follow the cake directions up until it is baked and cooled but not yet glazed.

Spiced Cherry Filling

One pound cherries, pitted and roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
4 cardamom pods – crack and use the seeds, discard casings
1/3 c sugar

Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until cherries are broken down some but still have texture, and the mixture is thick and reaches the gel point. (Good job. At this point you’ve basically made cherry preserves).

Remove cooled cake from pan. Slice in two lengthwise. Poke holes in the bottom half and slowly pour the tres leches over it, poking it to make sure it absorbs as much as possible. I had milk leftover so don’t stress out if it doesn’t take it all. Spread cherry mixture evenly over the bottom half, then place top half on top. Poke holes in top half and glaze top half.

At this point you can follow the rest of the recipe (refrigerate overnight, then top with whipped cream the next day).

Garnish with cherries.

And…here’s us stuck in the rain at the vineyard.

Greek Pizza with Lamb Meatballs

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Pizza is a surefire hit at our house. Zoeya is absolutely gleeful when I tell her we’re having pizza for dinner and Shan, although more subdued, usually ends up eating more than his fair share. I love to make pizza at home because it feels like a treat but it’s actually pretty healthy.

This particular pizza made me nervous until the end. I made a whole wheat dough when I usually make white, so I was anxious to see how that would come out. The components themselves weren’t perfect: the meatballs a little in need of salt, the sauce WAY too salty (must remember that happens when you reduce reduce reduce), the salad on top a little too lemony, but when put together a little miracle happened and the flavors melded just right.

Small disclaimer: As much as I love to spend a good chunk of my weekends in the kitchen, making pizza dough from scratch, pizza sauce from scratch, meatballs from scratch, none of them particularly difficult in themselves, was altogether more time-consuming than I would have liked. Luckily, all three of these things are easy to make double and freeze. If I ever get better at planning ahead, that’s going to be my strategy.

To save a little time, instead of making meatballs, you could just saute the ground lamb with the garlic, herbs and spices and top your pizza with the mixture, but I made meatballs so I could have some leftover. We ate them the next night as wraps with yogurt and cucumber. They’d also be great just by themselves with a side of lentils.

So with no further ado:

Greek Pizza with Lamb Meatballs

For the dough:
I used the pizza dough recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance which I wrote about here, substituting a cup of whole wheat flour for a cup of the white flour. I can report that this turned out wholesome and yummy and is my new recipe.

For the pizza sauce:
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
seasoning (you can adjust accordingly for the type of pizza) – 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano
4 good-sized tomatoes (and can I just say that ugly farmer’s market tomatoes brilliantly outshine the perfect-looking yet tasteless grocery store tomatoes), peeled and chopped
salt

Heat olive oil and add garlic, garam masala, paprika, and oregano. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, salt (be conservative! This is going to reduce down quite a bit) and a cup of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t burn, until tomatoes are completely broken down and sauce is nice and thick. If the sauce thickens before your tomatoes break down, add more water and repeat. Makes enough for a thin layer on 2 pizzas.

For the meatballs:
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
salt & pepper
zest of 1 lemon
small handful mint, finely chopped
small handful basil, finely chopped
scant 1/2 c bread crumbs
1 egg
1 lb ground lamb
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir well everything through the egg in a glass bowl, then add lamb and mix until everything is just combined. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Roll medium sized meatballs (about 1 1/2 tbsp) and place in pot. Brown on one side, then turn with spoons to brown on the other. Cover and finish cooking through in oven.

For the pizza
Pizza dough, pizza sauce and meatballs from above (you’ll have leftover meatballs)
Red onion, thinly sliced
Feta, crumbled
Spring lettuce dressed in olive oil and lemon juice

Heat oven to 500 degrees (hot!). Divide dough in half and roll out, toss, etc., then place onto 2 round stones or baking sheets greased with olive oil (or do one by one). Cover with a layer of pizza sauce and sprinkle with quartered meatballs, red onion, and feta (just a good sprinkle, you’re not trying to cover the whole thing like you would with motz). Bake for 12-16 minutes. Remove from oven and top with dressed greens, which will wilt prettily from the heat.

Slice and serve. Opa!

Note: garam masala is obviously not Greek, but I throw it in because it’s always in my kitchen and contains a lot of the same spices used in Greek cooking. You don’t need to run out and buy it if you don’t have it, just use cinnamon, cumin and black pepper, or whatever combination you like.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice

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Yesterday evening I was puttering around in the kitchen, wondering what to make for dinner, and came up with this little weeknight one-pot meal. Well, two pots if you count the coconut rice, but I had that leftover from the weekend barbecue. I’m a little smug about my invented method of steaming green beans on a bed of Jamaican-inspired chicken. Also a bit smug about using homegrown thyme from my windowsill.

These spices are nice, but if you are not cooking for little ones, I encourage you to turn up the heat.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice

For chicken and green beans:
1 lb chicken legs and thighs, skinned
olive oil
4 allspice berries
4 cloves
salt & pepper
paprika
ground thyme
cayenne (optional – I skipped it)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp butter
a few sprigs fresh thyme

Heat olive oil with allspice berries and cloves. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and a generous dusting of paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Brown chicken on both sides and remove to a plate. Saute garlic and shallots for a couple of minutes and add chicken broth, plus a cup of water. Scrape brown bits off the bottom of the pan, add back the chicken pieces. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Add a splash more water if necessary and toss green beans on top of chicken. Cover and steam until green beans are cooked al dente.

Arrange green beans and chicken on top of rice. Stir up and reduce pan liquid to a quarter cup or less. Stir in pat of butter, and pour over chicken and green beans. Garnish with fresh thyme.

For coconut rice:
1 c basmati rice
1 c coconut milk
1 c water
1 cinnamon stick
salt

Soak and rinse rice. Combine rice, coconut milk, water, cinnamon stick and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a low simmer until rice is cooked, about 15 to 20 min.

Note: I serve this rice with everything. It’s easy and it goes with all kinds of food.

I chose this as my best recipe in July!

Independence Day

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This weekend we celebrated America’s birthday. Although I don’t think our country is inherently superior to others, and I don’t always love the actions of our government, or people who personify the American stereotypes (oh, the ignorance, the obesity), I am still absolutely proud and thankful to be an American. This is a country filled with all sorts of people, who are the for the most part hard working and good hearted and who respect and embrace diversity. I know my daughter will grow up in a place where she can be whoever she wants to be.

No recipes today, just our yummy Independence Day menu, meant to inspire you to mix it up. The dishes sound exotic but the whole thing really couldn’t be more American. Where else can you find all this on one plate?

My husband marinated and grilled the meat and I whipped up all the fixings. We welcomed friends and family and had a great day.

Independence Day Menu: Tandoori Taco Bar

Pani Puri
Potato and Pea Samosas
Tandoori Drumsticks
Red Thai Curry Flank Steak with Basil and Lime
Coconut Rice
Pickled Shallots
Yogurt, Lime and Cilantro Corn Relish
Mango Chutney (which I got from Rasa Malaysia, it rocked)
Warm Tortillas and Naan
Kheer
Honey Grilled Apricots and Dates
Rooh Afza
Spiced Pineapple Sangria

Doesn’t that just make you want to dance?

Zoeya Dancing from Carrie Rashid on Vimeo.