Thursday, April 22, 2010

one-pot lentils and quinoa

I was watching Lidia the other day: the episode where she visits an Italian farm where a woman raises rare, heritage poultry breeds. I love Lidia: love how she begins every dish with garlic sizzling in lots of olive oil, love how she says Itly, instead of Italy, just like my tiny Italian grandmother did, love how she holds court in that awesome kitchen of hers like the matriarch that she is. When Lidia returns to her kitchen on Long Island, she roasts a lovely, fat duck, and serves it with a one-pot side dish of lentils and rice. One pot! That's my kind of Tuesday night meal (well, minus the roast duck; no way thats happening on a weeknight).

I love making lentils for dinner during the week, since unlike most bean varieties they do not need to be presoaked and cook quickly. For my one-pot meal, I decided to replace rice with quinoa, my favorite pseudo-grain, which, like lentils, is quick-cooking and doesnt need to be pre-soaked.

This simple dish could be a side or a main course, depending on the situation. It starts with the usual combination of vegetables and aromatics - onion, carrot, celery, garlic - whizzed in the food processor till finely minced. (Lidia also threw in some pancetta, which I didnt have in the fridge. No problem, I just added some smoked paprika later on -- not quite the same effect as pork, but it adds a nice smokiness). Saute the veg mixture for a few minutes in olive oil, stir in a spoonful of tomato paste, and deglaze with white wine, savoring the resulting whiff of deliciously fragrant steam. In go the lentils, spices, and water. Simmer. Quinoa hops in. Simmer some more. Stir in fresh herbs.

And, voila, its done: tender lentils and rice, cooked to a creamy, risotto-like consistency. No, I cannot report that these lentils and quinoa were accompanied by pieces of succulent roast duck, its skin burnished and crisp. Maybe next time. But this protein-packed combination performed very well on its own, accompanied by a tumble of quickly sautéed kale. A delicious, home-cooked weeknight dinner. 

To finish the dish, I drizzled the lentils and quinoa with good extra virgin olive oil: as Lidia says, to make it glow. Or is it glisten? Or shine? Oops, I cant remember right now. Either way, it always feels like the right thing to do.

one-pot lentils and quinoa
Inspired by Lidia's Lentils and Rice

extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sized onion
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used a lemony sauvignon blanc from Chile)
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper

1. Pulse the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a food processor (or chop by hand) until finely minced.

2. Heat 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil in a pot, add vegetable mixture and a pinch of salt, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are fragrant, about 5 minutes. 

3. Clear a spot in the pan (Lidia referred to it as a hot spot), add the tomato paste, stir it in the spot for a minute or so, and then stir to combine with the vegetables (Im not sure exactly what this accomplishes, maybe it amps up the flavor of the tomato paste before it gets mixed in with the vegetables? Who knows. Lidia did it, so I did it.)

4. Add wine, stir to deglaze, and simmer for a few minutes until almost completely evaporated. 

5. Stir in lentils, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes. Add 2-1/2 cups of hot water (I boiled it in a tea kettle; adding hot just makes things go more quickly), bay leaf, and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the liquid level and add a bit more water if it looks like the lentils are getting too dry.

6. Add quinoa and an additional cup of hot water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until lentils and quinoa are tender. (Lidia said she was aiming for the texture of risotto, moist but not soupy, so I did the same. The dish is pretty forgiving, so you can add water if needed, or let it cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end to dry it out a bit). Stir in fresh herbs and 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. 

7. Drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil before serving.

Friday, April 9, 2010

seared scallops with cauliflower puree and caper-raisin emulsion

Travel always brings unique culinary pleasures, ideas, inspiration. On a trip to Atlanta in mid-March, I fell in love with crisp-fried, cumin-dusted chickpeas, lightly pickled baby root vegetables served in a mason jar with luscious homemade buttermilk dressing (from the "Food in a Jar" section of the menu - does it get any more adorable?), and roasted beet and arugula salad with lemony fresh ricotta at the restaurant Abattoir. At R. Thomas' Deluxe Grill, an eclectic place where the chef really has a thing for quinoa (it's in at least half the dishes on the menu) and also for exotic birds (not on the menu, but on the premises; they have a sort of makeshift bird sanctuary surrounding the entrance), I tucked into a soul-soothing take on Southern comfort food called The Southern Vegetarian. And, though I was and continue to be utterly shocked by this, I had some amazingly sweet-smoky-vinegary stewed collard greens at a lunch buffet spot in the convention center (I don't normally seek out convention center food, but I was on a work trip. And these were among the best collards I've ever had; of course, I'm from the northeast, so you can take that with a grain of salt!).

But my most-swooned-over dish was a main course of pan-seared sea scallops with cauliflower puree and caper-raisin emulsion at Peasant Bistro. My goodness, what a combination. Each bite was a chorus of flavors and textures: sweet, tender mollusc, velvety and savory puree, briny-sweet-pungent sauce. The addition of a few stems of lightly sauteed broccoli rabe, nestled into the puree, were an ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the scallops. I adored everything about the dish, but it was the cauliflower puree that really hooked me. So silky and full of flavor -- as satisfying as mashed potatoes, but lighter and more elegant. At first taste, I thought, this is definitely a dish to make at home. 

Although it was new to me, the combination of scallops, cauliflower, and caper-raisin sauce apparently is not a recent invention; Jean-Georges Vongerichten's signature dish at his flagship Jean Georges, right here in NYC, features scallops with roasted cauliflower and caper-raisin sauce. Admittedly, I don't get to Jean Georges very often (I would love to be a regular, but I've dined there only once), so I ended up traveling nearly 1000 miles to try this combination. Maybe one of these days I'll get to Jean Georges again, and if I do I will definitely try his version. For now, though, I'll enjoy my home-kitchen creation.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops
Sea scallops (3 to 6 per person, depending on size)
1 Tbsp XVOO
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dry the scallops by patting them with a paper towel, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a cast-iron (or heavy-bottomed stainless steel) pan over medium-high heat. When butter stops foaming, add scallops and cook for about 2 minutes per side, until they are caramelized and cooked to desired doneness (I like mine medium-rare: still translucent in the center).

Cauliflower Puree
yield: about 3-1/2 cups, serves 4 to 6 

1 medium cauliflower, base and leaves removed, and cut into florets (about 3 cups)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk, scalded
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (I grated it on a microplane)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Steam the cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife (alternatively, blanch the cauliflower for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water).
  • Transfer cauliflower to a food processor. Add butter, hot milk, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and blend. I wanted a very smooth and creamy puree, so I blended it for 2 to 3 minutes; for a more chunky mixture, 30 seconds to 1 minute should do.
  • Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and serve. If made ahead, the puree can be reheated on the stove top, stirring often, until heated through.  

Sauteed Greens
serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp finely chopped spring garlic (looks like scallions but with purplish bottoms; regular garlic or shallots can be substituted)
1 bunch (5 to 6 cups) dark leafy greens of your choice (great with broccoli rabe, or purple kale as pictured above; spinach, green kale, or collards would also be good), rinsed well and chopped coarsely
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Heat olive oil in a pot or deep saute pan over medium heat. Add spring garlic and saute for a minute, stirring.
  • Add greens in big handfuls, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring well. When greens are wilted, add a splash (2 to 3 Tbsp) of water, cover pot, and steam for about 10 minutes, until greens are tender. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

Caper-Raisin Emulsion
yield: about 1/2 cup, serves 4 to 6 (i like to double the recipe just in case - the leftover sauce is delicious stirred into steamed grains)

1 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp raisins (black or golden)
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
  • Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend for 2 to 3 minutes until very smooth, and season to taste with pepper. If sauce is too thick, it can be thinned with a little more lemon juice or water.
I plated the dish in the Peasant Bistro style: a big dollop of cauliflower puree with the sauteed greens arranged on top, then placed a few scallops over the greens, and drizzled it all with the caper-raisin emulsion.

Note: updated 2/13/12 with yields for each component of the dish.