Friday, January 10, 2014

Long Live Lentils

Beluga Lentil "Caviar" on Potato Blini.
(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
How old are lentils? Here’s one clue: People who say lentils are shaped like lenses have the reference backwards. Turns out that the world’s first lenses got that name because they were shaped, yes, like lentils. The lentils came first. Way first.

Lentils are Pompeii old. Ezekiel old. Ancient Sumeria old. Stone Age old.

Before there were virtually any other legumes, there were lentils, offering up protein and iron and an earthy, nutty flavor to anyone smart enough to boil some water and cook them. Their appeal endures: They’re a staple of Indian cooking, they’re featured in one of the national dishes of Egypt, and if you were in Italy or Brazil or Chile on New Year’s Day you probably ate lentils in some form as a symbol of prosperity (they also resemble coins, not just lenses). Still, it’s all too easy to take them for granted. We’ll always have lentils, won’t we?

In America, where their cookery is relatively young, there seem to be several phases of lentil awareness: 1) The soup/stew phase, a.k.a. the Moosewood phase, in which chilis and burgers and loaves abound. 2) The French phase, a.k.a. the salad phase, in which we learn how to pronounce “du Puy.” 3) The dal phase, a.k.a. Indian-food-is-so-much-more-than-curries phase. 4) The anything-goes phase, a.k.a. the true-lentil-enlightenment phase, in which we start to ask: What can’t lentils do?

I’m squarely at the beginning of Phase 4. As a relatively new vegetarian, I’ve been realizing that lentils can — nay, should — be nothing short of a dietary staple. Let’s quickly review the reasons: They’re nutritious. They’re inexpensive. They’re quick-cooking. (All together now: No soaking!) But what I’m realizing is that, possibly best of all, they’re more versatile than I had ever imagined.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thankfully, Vegetables Take the Stage

Tamari-Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
A funny thing happens when you host a vegetarian Thanksgiving: The whole shebang gets a heck of a lot easier.

Consider all the questions you no longer have to answer: Did I order the turkey in time? Is it fresh, or frozen? If frozen, do I have time to thaw it? Do I have space? Should I brine? Wet or dry? Do I have a bag or bucket big enough? Space in the fridge? 

And that’s before the oven even gets preheated.

I’ve long said that vegetarianism too often focuses on the absence of the meat rather than the presence of the vegetables, that the produce itself gets short shrift when the dishes are defined that way. (Hence, I wish we had a day of the week that starts with the letter V so we could have Vegetable V-days rather than Meatless Mondays.)

Still, I have to admit that the best thing about cooking my first all-vegetarian Thanksgiving last year might have been the fact that there was so much more room — in the oven, on the table, on the to-do list and, finally, in our stomachs — because we had declared the whole event to be fowl-free. In its place, thankfully, were all the vegetables we wanted to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kohlrabi, On Its Own Terms

Cookbook author James Peterson compares its flavor to those of turnips and radishes. In her “Vegetable Literacy,” Deborah Madison says it reminds her most of cauliflower. To Washington Post gardening columnist Barbara Damrosch, it can be as sweet as a parsnip if harvested in late fall.

They’re all talking about kohlrabi, but about the only things they agree on are that it tastes relatively mild and looks relatively strange. (In “Vegetables, Revised,” Peterson writes that the round orb with stems and leaves shooting straight up looks “like an organ on life support,” while Damrosch prefers a Sputnik analogy.)

Like many cooks, I’ve mostly eaten kohlrabi raw, used as crudite or grated into a salad. At this time of year my impulse turns to soup. Area farmers market maven Robin Shuster has been telling me for years that when she cooks kohlrabi into a chunky soup, it carries the flavors of both cabbage and potatoes. When I’ve pureed it, I’ve found the texture a little watery, so I’ve started including an actual potato in the mix, too.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Let's Lunch: Vegetables, Me, and Guaca-chi

Guaca-chi. Read on for the recipe.
(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
When I heard that this month's theme for Let's Lunch, the virtual gathering of food bloggers that I belong to, would be in honor of my new book, "Eat Your Vegetables," I blushed about as red as a nice ripe peach. Really? Little old me?

Oh, who am I kidding? I love the attention, and am excited to see what my fellow Let's Lunchers come up with in answer to the question: What's the first dish that made you fall in love with vegetables? Or, if (like me) you can't remember that far back, what's something veg-heavy that you like to make these days?

For me, it's a hard call, given that: a) I spent the last year developing single-serving vegetarian recipes for "EYV"; and b) I write a column every Wednesday for The Washington Post, Weeknight Vegetarian, that showcases a new family-sized recipe. How on earth could I choose?

Well, this week the two came together when the Post's Food section ran an excerpt from "EYV" and, because it was our annual no-cook theme, included one of those recipes from the book. I thought it would be fitting to share that one for Let's Lunch because, well, I've had a little kimchi thing going for those posts, and why stop now?

So here it is, after the jump: Guaca-chi, so named because, in a Bennifer and Brangelina kind of way, it's a mashup of two of my favorite things: guacamole and kimchi. Or, more honestly, avocado and kimchi, because I don't actually like to mash it up, literally, for this. The avocados stay in chunks, and the kimchi gets chopped, and you sprinkle in a little lime juice and salt if needed, and that's about it. An instant party appetizer, good for those days when you're feeding not just yourself but, in the Let's Lunch spirit, a few friends.