Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!

Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.


Spring Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad
Here in Minnesota, we’re emerging from the coldest winter in about 30 years. Temperatures are slowly warming, a lot of that hip-deep snow has melted and ducks and geese are returning to our still-frozen, but gradually thawing, pond. So understandably, we’re experiencing an epidemic of spring fever and I have not been spared!

Pastels and Easter décor are taking over the house, freshly-pedicured feet long for open toes, the liner has been removed from my trench-coat, I’m itching to hike or trail run, and I’ve got the urge to create light, bright meals full of color and crunch.

This resulting recipe is full of vibrant hued veggies, made light by slicing paper thin, combined with a burst of strawberry and fresh mint and served over substantial, yet delicate quinoa. A honey-kissed balsamic vinaigrette and shaved parmesan top off this eye-pleasing dish that makes a satisfying full meal. Enjoy! And happy spring!

Spring Quinoa Salad

1 cup uncooked traditional or red quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable stock
½ teaspoon salt (if using water)

1 small zucchini, sliced paper thin
1 small yellow squash, sliced paper thin
2 medium carrots, sliced paper thin
3-4 radishes, sliced paper thin
4 Brussels sprouts, shredded
4 medium ripe strawberries, sliced thin
A handful of pea shoots, chopped
¼ cup chopped herbs (I used mint, Italian parsley, and tarragon—heavy on the mint)
Salt, to taste

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Good quality parmesan cheese, shaved thin (optional)

Rinse and drain quinoa. Place drained quinoa in a medium saucepan. Add water or stock, and salt (if using water). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Using a mandolin if you have one (or your best sharp knife, if you don’t), slice zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, and radishes into paper thin slices. Place in a medium bowl. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts, strawberries, pea shoots, and chopped herbs. Toss. Sprinkle with salt and toss again.
Sliced veggies

To make vinaigrette, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon, honey, salt, and pepper in a small jar and shake until combined.

To serve, spoon quinoa onto serving plates, top with vegetable mixture. Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with shaved parmesan. Makes about 4 servings.

A New Year’s Eve Dinner Party: Grilled Pear Crostini and Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous

Happy 2014 to you all! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season full of family, friends, love and great food!

Pete and I were fortunate to have a little vacation time right after Christmas and spent a couple nights in favorite cities sandwiched around a couple nights at the cabin (while Otis enjoyed a little vacation of his own at the pet resort). Arriving at the cold cabin, it was around 30 F. degrees outside, but even colder inside. After Pete got an inferno going in the wood stove, the temperature climbed to a balmy 32!Thermometer (940x1280)

Gradually the warmth spread throughout the cabin and we had a comfortable evening listening to the WTIP’s eclectic programming and relearning backgammon (neither of us had played since college!). The next day was an active one spent running and snowshoeing in gently falling snow, but the outside temps plummeted that afternoon and by our second morning “roughing” it, outside it was -15 F., which made it all the more challenging to keep the cabin interior toasty, but we remained close to warm—lots of layers helped!

The sub-zero temperatures rewarded us with stunning views lakeside. Ice formations were spectacular and the steam rising off the warmer-than-air-temp lake gave the sunny morning an extraordinary look.


Back home now for a couple days, we decided a New Year’s Eve dinner in was the celebration of choice. One of my favorite Christmas gifts, from my brother and sister-in-law with impeccable taste, was Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. Trying out a few new recipes was a perfect way to spend the evening.

Grilled Pear Crostini was our first course. Adapted for taste preferences and what we had on hand, this was both pretty and delicious, and is an appetizer that would go over big at any dinner party. Make sure your pears aren’t too ripe or they will fall apart on the grill pan.
??????????????????????OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur second course was a re-do of the salad I made for Christmas, an orange-pistachio salad, flecked with red onion and tossed with orange juice-Dijon vinaigrette. Recipe coming in a future post.

A bold and hearty Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous was our entrée. Spicy and filling, the perfect dish for a celebration dinner on a night where temperatures continue to remain stuck below zero. Wanting to avoid a trip the grocery store, I adapted it for what I had in my fridge and pantry, and have included both recipes as I made them.

Dessert was thawed from the freezer—leftovers of our Christmas Apple Pear Galette with Cinnamon-Buttermilk Glaze, paired with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream. After dinner champagne by the fire brought us to a midnight toast and welcome of the New Year. May it be your best ever!

Grilled Pear Crostini
Makes 2-4 servings

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 slices whole wheat baguette, cut 1 ½ inches thick
2 semi-ripe pears (unpeeled)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-5 ounces good quality mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a food processor, process pine nuts, 4 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and a bit of salt and black pepper to a coarse paste. Spread a thin layer of paste on each slice of baguette. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut each pear lengthwise into 6 wedges and remove the core with a knife. Toss the pear wedges in a bowl with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, sugar, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.

Heat a ridged cast iron grill pan over high heat until very hot. Using a tongs, place the pear slices in the pan and cook for about one minute to make char marks, then turn with tongs and cook for one minute longer on the other side. Remove the pears carefully with tongs.

To assemble crostini, sprinkle each toasted bread slice with cheese and top with a couple pear slices. Bake for 3-4 minutes, until cheese is somewhat melted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped tarragon and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous
Serves 4

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
10-12 baby blonde or gold potatoes, cut into quarters
4 large or 8 small shallots, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ teaspoon five spice powder
3 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon hot paprika (or sweet paprika, plus a pinch of cayenne)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 ¼ cups cubed winter squash or pumpkin

½ cup golden raisins
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, reserving liquid
Vegetable broth or stock to make 1 ½ cups when combined with reserved bean liquid

1 cup Israeli couscous (or regular or whole wheat couscous; quinoa for a gluten-free version, cooked according to package directions)
large pinch of saffron
1 ¼ cup vegetable broth or stock
2 tablespoons butter, broken into pieces

1 tablespoon harissa
Zest of half a lemon
Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

Chopped tarragon, Italian parsley, or cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large baking dish, combine the carrots, potatoes, and shallots with cinnamon sticks, five spice powder, bay leaves, three tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining spices, until vegetables are evenly coated. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the cubed squash, tossing to incorporate, and continue cooking for about 35 minutes, until vegetables have softened, but are not mushy. Add raisins, chickpeas, and broth with reserved chickpea liquid. Cook an additional 10 minutes, or until heated through. Stir the harissa, lemon juice, and lemon zest into the vegetables. Taste and add salt, if needed.

About 10 minutes before vegetables are done, heat to boiling the 1 ¼ cup vegetable broth, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, saffron and a pinch of salt. Add Israeli couscous, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir into couscous and cover until butter is melted.

To serve, place several large spoonsful of couscous in a shallow bowl. Top with a large ladle full of vegetable mixture, including liquid. Garnish with chopped tarragon, Italian parsley, or cilantro. Enjoy!