Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup. It doesn't sound very appealing, does it? It sounds like some kind of pathetic'70's hippie health food joke. And frankly, it doesn't look all that appealing either; it's got that drab, khaki color. BUT - you saw this coming, right? Every time I cook it, I am amazed at how truly delicious and satisfying it is. Plus, it's packed with protein and flavor, it comes together quickly (lentils cook much more quickly than most recipes out there imply), it can be made vegetarian or vegan if you so choose, AND, drum roll puh-lease: it's low on the glycemic index, so with some modifications, even I can eat it! (Of course, it does have plenty of good quality carbohydrates, so if you are counting them, keep counting.) I can hear you out there; you're doubting me on this one, right? Sometimes, my friends, you just have to go on faith. Have I steered you wrong so far?

Lentil Soup

Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
Cooking Time: About 1- 1 1/2 hours

1 pound smoked sausage, such as kielbasa

Group I.
1 lb (2 cups) raw lentils
5 cups water or stock
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
optional: 4-6 sun-dried tomatoes

Group II.
1 chopped yellow onion
2 stalks chopped celery
3-4 chopped carrots
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 large, or 1 small/medium celery root (celeriac), peeled and cubed

Group III.
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
2 (ish) TB dry red wine
2 (ish) TB fresh lemon juice
1 (ish) TB red wine vinegar
(1 (ish) TB brown sugar or molasses - optional)
Cayenne pepper to taste
A few dashes of hot sauce

Optional: 3-4 potatoes instead of the celery root

One of the nice things about this recipe is that you can continue to chop and add to the pot as you go, speeding up the cooking time.

If you have enough time, soak the lentils in the water or broth a few hours before starting the recipe; it's okay if you don't. When you are ready to start cooking, bring the ingredients in Group I to a boil in a big soup/stock pot, then lower to a simmer and cook, covered, while you do the next steps.

Chop your sausage into the desired sized pieces and then brown in your (preferably iron) skillet. While they brown, begin to chop as many of the vegetables in Group II as there is time for, starting with the onion. When the sausage is browned, remove it to another bowl or plate with a slotted spoon. Reserve it to serve in the bowls of soup later; this keeps the flavor/salt from leaching out of the sausage while the soup cooks.

If there is any fat left in the pan, you can keep two TB or so (TB = tablespoon) in the pan to brown the vegetables. Discard any fat that is excess or unwanted, and use olive oil to make up any deficits. Now it is time to start on the Group II ingredients; starting in this order: gently cook the onions over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When you are not stirring, chop the remaining vegetables and keep adding them to the pan, stirring with each addition. If things are browning too rapidly, lower the heat. Add the garlic close to the end to prevent scorching. Cover the pan for a while to capture the heat and cause the vegetables to "sweat" in their own juices, stirring occasionally to make sure it isn't burning or sticking.

When the vegetables are tender and lightly golden, add them to the lentils and stir in. Continue to simmer. When things are coming together nicely, add the rest of the seasonings from Group III. If you desire, now add the potatoes. These should be added soon before you serve to prevent them turning to mush. If at any time the soup is too thick, add more liquid. When the lentils and vegetables are tender, adjust the seasonings. Put some sausage in each bowl, and serve. This makes a great one-dish meal. I especially like a hearty, crusty bread like Levain with this, with sweet butter, and a glass (or two) of red wine. Obviously, if you are trying to reduce carbohydrates, these are optional.

p.s. This is a great "travel" dish. You know, like when you're renting a ski condo with friends, or, true story - cross country skiing 5 miles to get to your cabin with friends, carrying all your food and gear on your back. The ingredients are compact, not very perishable, and not very heavy.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Sausage-Stuffed Baked Apples

There are some recipes I make that are so simple I hesitate to post them; this is number one on that list. However, in speaking to friends I found that so many of them who had never had this dish before, I knew that I had to include it. My mother made this all the time when I was growing up; I loved it then, I love it now, the rest of the family loves it, and now that I am "Atkins Girl" and can no longer throw a pot of pasta on the stove in a pinch, I appreciate it more than ever. There are only 2 ingredients in this dish, and it comes together super fast. As they bake, the juices of the apples combine with the juices from the sausage in a completely savory-sweet, toothsome and delicious way.

Sausage-Stuffed Baked Apples
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

6 large, tart, organic baking apples

1/2 pound well seasoned sausage meat or small links

1. Preheat oven to 375 F

2. Wash, dry, and core the apples. Scrape the opening generously to make room for the sausage. Put the cores in your compost bucket, but save any extra, edible apple bits and add them to the baking pan.

3. Stuff the apples heaping-full with the sausage, and put them in a heavy ceramic or glass baking dish just big enough to hold them. If you have any extra sausage, make little balls out of them, or cut links up into bite-sized pieces, and add them to the pan.

4. Put the pan into the oven, and bake them until tender and a fork easily pierces them, about half an hour to 45 minutes.

These are lovely served with well-seasoned brown rice, or noodles - be sure to serve the juices as a tasty sauce. Come to think of it, latkes would be completely delicious, too, if potatoes are on your list of foods you can eat.....

Notes: Apples - I like to use Pink Ladies, Fujis, Baldwins.... Whatever apple you choose, just pick one that cooks well and has a strong flavor. Why Organic? Aside from the usual reasons, if you must pick and choose how to spend your food dollars, apples are one of the key places to do it. The poisons used on apples are particularly likely to stay with them when you eat them. Sausage: my Mama used conventional breakfast sausage links, and I, of course, being Foodier Than Thou, make my own sage-seasoned sausage with pork from my rancher friend, Mary Pettis Sarley. I have never used a non-sage sausage for these, but another type might make interesting results. If you do, would you please report in? Use your judgment, but do try to get as sustainable a sausage as you can. If you use a very lean sausage, such as turkey or chicken, you may wish to add a little water or apple juice to the pan. The Pan: Why should the pan be "just" big enough? If you put the apples in a bigger pan, and/or a lighter pan, the juices will evaporate, and you will not have the yummy sauce. Moreover, the pan will be harder to clean, because the juices will stick to the pan as they evaporate.