107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

rice

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.

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: The Cute Overload of Casseroles

enchanted broccoli forest

BakedBroccoliForest2I’ve had the book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for probably 20 years now, and it’s a great cookbook. It has a wide range of tasty entrees, plus one of the best instruction sections for how to make bread that I’ve seen anywhere. But I had never tried the title recipe, “enchanted broccoli forest,” before tonight. It really seemed kind of silly, and I was always more interested in BroccoliTrees3distinctive dishes like soups or pasta than in a rice casserole. But of course when I reached this title in my blog planning, Scott and I agreed: I needed to make the forest.

The idea is fairly simple, really: spread a brown rice casserole mixture in a baking pan, add broccoli florets so that they look like little trees, drizzle on some CookedRicelemon butter, cover with foil and bake. The assembled ingredients don’t sound all that exciting — as I said to Scott, “If I’d said I was going to make a broccoli-rice casserole you’d have yawned” — but the presentation makes it rather fun.

I started by cooking some brown rice. While it cooked, I cut some broccoli into long-stemmed SpicedOnionsflorets, then set it to steam; when it was just tender I rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking. I also chopped up some parsley, beat some eggs together, juiced a lemon, melted butter, and mixed up spices, while Scott chopped an onion and a clove of garlic and shredded some cheddar cheese.

When the rice was ready, I pulled it from the heat and fluffed it with AddingCheeseMixture2a fork. Then I sauteed the onion and garlic in some melted butter, and added a mixture of dried dill, dried mint, salt, pepper and cayenne. I mixed the onions into the rice. Then I lightly beat the eggs with the parsley and cheese, and mixed that into the rice as well. I spread the rice mixture in a baking pan.

Then I poked the broccoli RiceInPan“trees” into the rice mixture, finding that I had to trim a few of the stalks so they would stay upright. As a once and future Oregonian, I also added a few of the bare stalks to the pan as “stumps of mystery.” With all the broccoli in place, I mixed the lemon juice and melted butter together and drizzled it over the broccoli. Then I carefully covered the pan with foil and put it into the oven.

BroccoliForest2The baked dish looked a little more finished than when it went into the oven: the rice mixture had firmed up a bit, and the broccoli had lost a bit of its brightness during cooking. I didn’t bother to photograph the mixture on the plate, because it’s really not possible to keep the stalks standing up and it didn’t look particularly exciting. But it tasted terrific: the rice had a rich and hearty flavor, and the lemon butter made the broccoli really delightful.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again. I don’t know if it would be an effective way to get kids to eat broccoli, but it might motivate adults who know they ought to be eating fewer cheeseburgers.

Twofer: How to Cook Everything and The Chicken Parts Cookbook

rice with fresh herbs, How to Cook Everything
drumsticks gremolata, The Chicken Parts Cookbook

DinnerPlateStill careening around my life without managing to quite get back on track with the blog, I’m afraid. In theory the weekend would have been a fine time to get caught up, but on Friday night I was out, on Saturday I was out for most of the day and in no state to cook from scratch (not least because I had not bought groceries), and on Sunday we had pizza out for a low-key Valentine’s Day. I hadn’t been planning to cook last night because I thought Scott had an evening engagement, but he did not, so after some dithering we got sandwiches. This is how these things go.

DrumsticksToCookI hadn’t planned to cook tonight either, because I’m on call for work and can’t usually count on having time. But then, I also hadn’t planned to work from home; I’d brought home my laptop just in case the snow got heavy, but the weather seemed perfectly reasonable to me when I left for the train. Evidently the signaling system a few stops away disagreed, and after waiting on the platform and watching train after train go past too full to board, I thought, forget this, I’m going back inside. So at lunchtime I found myself with time to make a grocery run, and to make a quick riffle through a cookbook before it. I wanted something that would require me to turn on the oven, because it can get kind of chilly in here; also, I wanted something that would require minimal prep.

GremolataMixtureI noticed The Chicken Parts Cookbook on the shelf. I got this book years ago when we tried the protein diet, and although I cannot recommend the diet I can strongly recommend the cookbook. It’s organized by part, so that you can quickly find a recipe for what you have on hand (as the cover notes, “The best part of the chicken is the part that’s on sale”). Within those sections there are two kinds of recipes, Quick and Easy and a shorter list of Simply Sophisticated — which are a little more elaborate, but not much. An introductory section also helps you with conversions (e.g., if I planned to make a dish calling for breasts but the thighs were on sale, how do I adjust the cooking time?). I leafed through and found drumsticks gremolata, which could hardly be easier: oven-roast drumsticks, chop together garlic and parsley and lemon zest, put it on the nearly-done chicken, cook a bit longer. I figured I’d make that plus some Swiss chard that I already had on hand and needed to use, and that would be dinner.

GremolataOnDrumsticksWhen it actually came time to cook, though, I realized I was going to want a little something more, some kind of starchy accompaniment. Since we had plenty of rice, I thought I might be able to take care of another blog cookbook while I was thinking about it, so I interrupted my (minimal) prep to scan the shelves for something new to do with rice. This brought me to How to Cook Everything, of which I am a passionate fan. I adore the book and its clear, excellent recipes. I’m a regular reader of Mark Bittman’s blog on the New York Times site. I don’t cook from scratch as often as he does (despite possibly having a larger kitchen), but I endorse his philosophy of doing so as much as possible.

MeltingButterWhen I set up the blog, and in all the re-jiggerings of the schedule since, I firmly believed that I would use How to Cook Everything to experiment with something big and elaborate: a crown roast, or a cream soup, or an elegant dessert. But as I scanned the shelves this evening I realized that I have a lot of books that can help me make a crown roast but can’t give me the first idea what to do when I have a hankering for rice and no time for a second run to FoodTown. This book, however, has given me not just a recipe but a formula: Melt butter, sautee herbs, add rice grains and cook briefly, add water and bring to boil, cover and cook. Endless permutations possible, endless flavors to explore.

RiceButterHerbsMy prep was a bit disorganized since I had chosen the rice rather late. But it was not difficult: chop half a cup of fresh herbs for the rice (I mixed thyme, mint and parsley), chop a bit more parsley for the chicken, stem and chop the chard, mince two cloves of garlic separately, zest a lemon. I buttered a baking pan, seasoned the drumsticks and set them to bake, 20 minutes before turning and 20 minutes after; while they cooked (and once I had the other dishes under control) I mixed the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. When the timer went off I pulled the chicken out of the oven, topped it with the parsley mixture, and slid the pan back in to bake about 6 minutes longer. Voila.

RiceCooked2For the rice I melted butter, sauteed herbs and then grains of rice plus some salt and pepper, added water, brought the pan to a boil, covered it and let it cook for 15 minutes; at that point I turned off the heat but left the pan alone and untouched for another 10 minutes. Then I stirred in more of the herbs and fluffed up the rice a bit before serving. To make the chard I heated olive oil, sauteed some garlic and the chopped stems of the chard, then added the leaves and a bit of water, tossed them to coat them with the oil, covered the pan and lowered the heat, and let it steam roughly 10-12 minutes.

The rice was wonderful, buttery and rich but with a strong herb flavor. The chicken was delicious too, with the edge just taken off the garlic by cooking and the lemon taste permeating the meat. And the chard was awfully good, and virtuous to boot.

Verdict: Success. Both of these recipes go on the list. The rice should be especially fun when fresh herbs really start coming into the Greenmarket.

The Spice Box Vegetarian Indian Cookbook: More Spicy Fun

turnip koftas curry (shalgam ke koftas), lemon rice (neebu chawal)

DinnerPlated2It’s time for Indian food again! Unlike Curries Without Worries, The Spice Box is a fully vegetarian cookbook. Author Manju Shivraj Singh provides introductory sections that explain different spices and ingredients that are key to Indian cooking, as well as a list of places to find the ingredients. One of the stores listed is only about ten minutes by subway from my home, but as LemonRiceIngreds3it happens I was able to find nearly everything I needed in my usual neighborhood grocery stores. Or, in the case of most of the spices, on my pantry shelves.

I decided to try the turnip koftas curry because I’m a big fan of the vegetable kofta, a sort of Indian veggie meatball. I accompanied it with lemon rice, which recommended itself in part FryingMustardSeeds2because it’s supposed to be as good cold as warm — meaning I could make it ahead and let it sit while I made the koftas, which were a bit labor-intensive.

For the rice, I started by cooking some rice, starting with about three cups’ worth of dry rice. I let it cool a bit while I prepared the vegetables for the flavor mixture. I heated some oil in a skillet and ChilesSplitPeasadded some mustard seeds, which I cooked until they started to pop. Then I added some diced chiles and yellow split peas, and cooked them all together a bit longer. At this point I added some turmeric, cashews, and lemon juice. I was also supposed to add curry leaves, but that was the one ingredient I hadn’t found, so I substituted a little parsley and cilantro; I don’t know if that was LemonRiceIngredsclose, but it was something. I cooked this mixture for five minutes more, then stirred in a little salt, and then stirred the whole mixture into the rice and mixed it up well, until the chunky ingredients were evenly distributed and my rice paddle was a lovely fluorescent yellow. (Hooray for turmeric!) I put the lid back on the rice pot and turned to my koftas.

LemonRice2I started by peeling, slicing and boiling a pound of turnips. While they cooked I finished the rest of my veggie prep: I diced chiles, ginger root and cilantro for the koftas, and chopped onions, garlic and tomatoes for the sauce. I also chunked up some onions and garlic and pulsed them in the food processor until they were very fine. Once the turnips were cooked, I drained and mashed SlicedTurnips2them. Then I stirred in the processed onions and garlic, some chickpea flour, some Cream of Wheat (semolina flour would have been OK too), and some turmeric, cayenne, coriander and salt. This mixture made a coarse sort of batter; in fact it was a little moist, which I think was because I hadn’t perfectly drained the turnips before mashing them, but I added a little more chickpea StuffingKoftaflour and Cream of Wheat until the consistency seemed right: a loose dough that would hold its shape if formed into a ball without breaking apart or giving up moisture.

I shaped lumps of this into round — OK, sort of round — balls that were probably too big, but I had to shape them to contain a center mixture of diced chiles, diced KoftasBeforeFryingginger root, cilantro and raisins. I think in the future I might mince the filling mixture fine, but the chunky filling worked well enough this time. While I continued to shape and fill koftas, Scott fried the shaped balls in oil, following the detailed instruction in the recipe (“Deep fry these balls and set aside”). They did fry up nicely, with a beautiful golden crust and a nicely light, flavorful interior. FryingKoftaOne of the koftas broke apart when Scott turned it, but it still tasted good, and the others held their shape beautifully.

For the sauce, I heated some oil in a skillet and added some cumin seeds, which I fried for about two minutes. These did not pop. I then added some onions and garlic and cooked them until the onions were golden, about seven FriedKoftasminutes. Then I added some hot water, the chopped tomatoes, and spices: salt, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander, and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce had thickened. I took it off the heat and stirred in some garam masala, then carefully added the koftas.

The rice was delightful: spicy and savory, and not as hot as you KoftaSauceCooking2might expect. (I fully expect the heat to build as the leftovers sit in the fridge, though; oh, darn.) The koftas were savory, with a crunchy outside and a perfectly cooked interior. Good work, Scott! The sauce was thick and spicy, and went nicely with the koftas.

Verdict: Success. I may not make the koftas again soon since they were rather work-intensive, but the rice was pretty easy and will definitely have to go into the rotation.