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Mujadarah, Slap Chop, and a question for you

PlatingCloseUp

Still not back in the groove of trying new recipes yet, but I am cooking. Tonight was mujadarah, with collard greens on the side.

AddingRedLentils

I used red lentils this time, which makes for a slightly creamier and smoother dish. Green lentils keep their shape and texture more distinctly; red lentils melt in a bit.

AddingToRice

I’ve started using whole allspice, cloves and cumin seeds as well as a cinnamon stick. I got curious about how well it would work, and I have all these allspice berries. It can be a bit tricky to dig out the whole spices before serving, but the cloves are the only ones reliably hard to find, and they’re not going to hurt your teeth if you bite down on one.

OnionsInOven

I’ve also taken to using a lot less olive oil for the onions than the original recipe calls for. They still roast quite well. I start out with this amount of onion:

SlicedOnions

And end up with this much at the end.

RoastedOnions

For a green vegetable accompaniment I made collard greens. I start by sauteeing chopped garlic in olive oil, then adding a bit of kosher salt and red pepper flakes. Then I toss in the chopped collard leaves and toss to coat with the oil and mix in the flavorings; after a few minutes of that I add a little bit of water, put on the lid, turn down the heat, and let it steam for about 15 minutes, more or less.

CollardsToSteam

I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out the Slap Chop, which I received at the office holiday white elephant gift party. (I was only a little bitter about losing out on the bottle of Brooklyn bourbon.) I was pretty skeptical about the merits of this device. I’m kind of in Alton Brown‘s camp here: if it isn’t a multitasker, I’m not sure there’s room for it in my kitchen. And he has a WAY bigger kitchen than I do.

SlapChop

The Slap Chop promises to be “your all purpose chopper for all your chopping needs.” This is only true if all the items you need to chop can fit beneath the blades — about a two-inch clearance. So if you have something larger to chop, like an onion, you have to cut it down to size, which means for a lot of food you’re already going to have to get out a regular knife.

SlapChop

I decided to try it on some garlic, four cloves of which fit easily within the chopper lid. (You don’t need to use the lid; you could place it right on the cutting board, so you could chop things that are broader than the base of the device but not taller.) I pushed the plunger several times and ended up with well-chopped garlic, not perfectly uniform — but no worse than I usually get it with a knife.

GarlicAfterSlapChop

I think the garlic chopping went more quickly than if I’d used a knife. Of course, then I had to disassemble it to wash. It’s not especially difficult to wash, and I wouldn’t say it’s any less safe to handle than a sharp chef’s knife, but it does take up a lot more space. And a chef’s knife can also be used for chopping larger items, slicing, peeling (well, you do have to be careful with that, other knives are better but it can be done), smashing a clove of garlic, and doing more precise cuts. The Slap Chop can’t do any of that. So if you really like to have lots of gadgets around, you may like this one, but if your space or funds are limited I’d recommend investing in a good kitchen knife and the time it takes to learn to use it skillfully.

SlapChopInDrainer

Anyway, this is a nice hearty meal for a cold night, and it’s totally vegan. Which means you can either enjoy it as part of a vegan lifestyle, or feel virtuous enough to eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert later. Not that I am talking about anybody in particular.

PlatedMujadarah2

So now I have a question for you. Just because I think the Slap Chop is a little silly, that doesn’t mean all kitchen gadgets and tools are silly. In a few months I’ll receive my “Jeopardy!” winnings, and should have a little bit left over from taxes and paying debts to have a little fun. What are your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets? If you had an extra few dollars in your budget — maybe even $100 or $200 — what’s the next kitchen item you’d buy, and why? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

Veganomicon and the Web: Vegan Supper

kale chips, mujadarah

We’re thinking of going vegan, or at the very least becoming more serious about doing the “vegan before 6” plan that Mark Bittman describes in Food Matters. But I don’t want us to be lazy about it — what the Vegan Freak Radio folks rightly deride as “potato chip vegans.” A big part of what I want to do is make smarter choices about food in general, and to make a greater effort to put vegetables at the heart of our diet.

So I’ve been looking at vegan cookbooks, not just to get new recipes but to learn what some of the principles are for things like baking. Or at least that was the plan; I haven’t got very far in the cookbook canvass and so I haven’t really gotten a full understanding of what you do in place of eggs. I got sidetracked in Veganomicon by a blast from my past: lentils and rice with caramelized onions, which I knew as Mujadarah when I was in grad school in Cleveland and spending too much money at Aladdin’s on Cedar. I usually pride myself on trying new dishes when I eat out, on not getting into a rut and always eating the same thing, but I could never resist the crispy toasted onions and the hearty lentils and rice.

MujadarahPlated2

So I had to make it for myself. It’s not at all difficult but it does require a bit of time from start to finish. I began by weighing onions, as the recipe called for 2 pounds. I sliced these into thin rings and put them into a baking pan, and then tossed them with olive oil (the recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup and I followed it but I think that was too much; I’ll use half a cup next time). I set them roasting in a 400-degree oven. They were supposed to take 25-30 minutes to get crispy and caramelized, but I had to turn up the heat partway through and add a good half hour to the cooking time before I was satisfied. I think our oven runs a little cool, and it’s a more pronounced difference at the higher end of the temperature range.

RoastedOnions4

Still, there was plenty of time for the onions to catch up. My next step was to put 4 cups of water on to boil, then rinse a cup of rice and add it to the boiling water along with a stick of cinnamon, some allspice and some ground cloves. (Just how much of those two is not clear; the recipe didn’t list ground cloves in the ingredient list but named it in the instructions, and mentioned allspice twice, so I improvised a bit.) I brought the mixture back to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer 15 minutes, then added a cup of rinsed lentils (I used brown lentils but you could use red, which I will try another time) and some ground cumin, covered the pot and brought it back to boil, and let it cook another 45 minutes. I took it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then discarded the cinnamon stick and stirred in the caramelized onions. Well, I saved a couple of spoonfuls to lay atop the served-out bowls.

KaleChips6

To go with it, I served kale chips. These are child’s play to make, but took a bit of digging to find; the one thing I can report is that none of the vegan cookbooks I currently have from the library includes a recipe for them. I ended up searching the Gluten Free Girl site and using this recipe. You rinse the kale leaves; I cut out the thick center ribs, which with my bunch made for a lot of small chips, but you could probably trim those ribs down without removing them and end up with larger chips. Anyway, once you’ve dried them well, you toss them with olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake them at 350 for about 12-14 minutes or until they’re crisp but not browned. (Well, some of mine got a little brown; Shauna warns against that because the browned bits are bitter but I rather like the taste as part of the overall balance.) Then you dust them with a mixture of salt, paprika and garlic powder, and then challenge yourself to have any left by dinnertime. The recipe doesn’t indicate how long they keep; I don’t think it’s an issue. You probably won’t have any left by the end of the day.

KaleChips4

Anyway, we served up the Mujadarah with kale chips, which were a fine complement; the spicy salt balanced the heartiness of the lentil and rice dish. One bite and I was transported back to grad school and Cleveland Heights. It’s not a picturesque dish, but it’s delicious: hearty and spicy and comforting. It’s terrific cold, too.

Vegetables Every Day: A Green Leafy Respite to the Bisquick

kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar

KalePlusOnionsVinegarWhen I was deciding what to cook from the Bisquick cookbook, I knew we would need something green and leafy to accompany it. Something healthy, non-processed, made of real food. So I reached for Vegetables Every Day.

This is a very handy cookbook for people who want to add more vegetables to their diet. It’s ChoppingKaleorganized by vegetable, so you can pick something up at the farmers’ market and be confident that you can find some way to prepare it. Each vegetable gets an intro section with general guidance — seasonal availability, how to recognize quality, how to store, basic preparation techniques — and then several more detailed recipes. This is the book that taught me how to roast BrowningOnionsasparagus (which was a revelation). Everyone should have a copy, and use it regularly.

I decided that kale would be a good balance to the beef-and-pancake nonsense, and chose the recipe for kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. It’s not at all difficult. You stem and chop some kale, then toss it into boiling water with some salt and CaramelizingOnionslet it cook for about 8 minutes, then drain. Then you halve and thinly slice a couple of onions, heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onions 12-15 minutes or until they’re golden brown. At this point you sprinkle on a bit of sugar and continue to cook them another 10 minutes or so, until they’re very brown and verging on crispy. Now it’s time to add the kale and toss it together KalePlusOnions2well, cooking for 2 minutes or so. Then you pour in a bit of balsamic vinegar and grind on some fresh pepper, and it’s ready to serve.

This dish was wonderful. I’m not sure there is a better smell than onions cooking in olive oil, and the caramelized onion flavor is wonderfully complex, smoky and rich. The kale is still pungent enough to provide a contrast, but not aggressively so. The vinegar adds a nice tart overtone, and if I’m not mistaken it helps make the nutrients in the kale more available to your body.

Verdict: Success. I’m going to make this again, alongside a main dish more worthy of it.