Thursday, April 21, 2011

Anatolian red lentil and chickpea stew

For a while I've been thinking about adding one of Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks to my kitchen bookshelf. She is, after all, the queen of Indian cooking. After paging through a well-worn copy of her World Vegetarian in the Green Gulch kitchen, I decided it was the one; I liked that it included a range of not only Indian recipes but also Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean, and more.

On my first flip-through back at home, a recipe for Anatolian red lentil and chickpea stew caught my eye. This very stew had made an appearance one evening in the Green Gulch dining room, and after savoring a chunky, gently spiced, chickpea-studded bowl (or two) I had jotted it down as a dish to recreate at home. Its belly-warming effects were conducive to my GG schedule of lights out at 8:30 pm to be well rested for 5 am zazen. It's also my favorite kind of meal for cool, rainy spring days -- like the ones we've been having in New York lately.

Jaffrey's recipe is based on a dish served at the swanky Ciragan Hotel in Istanbul, where it's thinned out and served as a soup. Her version is a thicker, heartier stew, and I followed suit. I made a few tweaks to her recipe, leaving out the eggplant since it's not yet in season locally and substituting Camargue red rice for wheat berries since that's what was in the pantry. After going to three stores still for the life of me I could not find dried mint (which I believe is one of the key components that makes this stew classically Anatolian...but bear with me) so I substituted a combination of dried thyme, basil, and coriander seed (this situation calls for a trip to Kalustyan's so I'm prepared next time). For a more complex flavor base and to up the heat level I also included some chopped fresh ginger, garlic, and a couple of dried red chiles de arbol. 

Although it's possible that I took the Anatolian out of the recipe along with the eggplant and mint, the stew turned out pretty darn tasty nevertheless -- full of richly layered flavors, hearty, and satisfying. Everything I want in a one-bowl, plant-based meal. And even better reheated the next day. 

Anatolian {-inspired} red lentil and chickpea stew
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

The original recipe calls for separately cooking the wheat berries before adding them to the stew; I instead added uncooked, soaked red rice to the soup and let it cook along with the lentils, which saves a step (and a pot).

I cooked the chickpeas overnight in my new slow cooker, which I am completely obsessed with. It turns out the creamiest and most tender -- and evenly cooked -- beans I've ever made at home. I will never again cook dried beans on the stovetop! If you don't have time to cook the chickpeas from scratch, canned would work, too. 

And, as mentioned above, due to circumstances beyond my control I substituted dried thyme, basil, and coriander seed for the dried mint; if you have dried mint, though (lucky you!), go ahead and use 2 tablespoons of it in place of this mix. 
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 carrot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2- inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly smashed with a mortar and pestle (or 3/4 tsp ground coriander seed)
  • 2 dried red chile peppers
  • 1/4 cup red rice, soaked for 8 to 12 hours and drained
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (from 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked until tender; or 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed) (Save 1 cup of cooking liquid if making the beans from scratch)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and carrot and saute for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or two.

Stir in the tomato paste and let it sizzle for a minute, then add the dried basil, thyme, coriander seeds, chiles, and rice. Cook for a couple of minutes more.

Add 4 cups of water, the lentils, and 1 tsp sea salt. Stir well, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. (I also added a cup of chickpea cooking liquid to the pot at this point -- but if you don't have it, just add another cup of water.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes until the lentils have broken down and the rice is tender. Add the cooked chickpeas and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over each serving, and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

green gulch gomasio

As Jessica deciphered from my cryptic previous post, the verdant gulch I recently returned from is the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach, California. Green Gulch is one of three centers -- together with City Center and Tassajara -- comprising the San Francisco Zen Center, founded in 1969 by Shunryo Suzuki Roshi, a Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist priest. About an hours drive northwest of San Francisco, the center is reached via a steep and scenic descent from highway 1 along a winding (as in, every turn is a hairpin) road, a ride made especially exciting by a shuttle-bus driver playing cowboy behind the wheel.

A deeply peaceful energy runs through Green Gulch. The minute I arrived, I felt the sound of silence moving through me, instilling a grounded calmness that I can still sense after a week back at my urban routine. A community of about seventy Zen Buddhist priests, dharma teachers, and other practitioners live at the center year round, joined by an ever-evolving group of students and work-apprentices who stay anywhere from a week to a few months for practice periods and to work on the farm and in the kitchen.

My 5-day guest retreat included early-morning group meditation (zazen) in the meditation hall (zendo), a few hours of work each morning (to my delight I ended up in the kitchen), and free time in the afternoons and evenings. Additional periods of zazen are held before and after dinner, which guests are welcome to attend if the spirit moves them.

I stayed in the guest house, cozy and bright with a vaulted, skylit atrium and central fireplace. Beyond the farm, an easy 15-minute stroll along a dirt road leads to a quiet beach, perfect for listening to the surf and stretching legs in the sand. Hiking trails are nearby too, though I did not get around to exploring them this time around.

Each day I looked forward to the delicious and thoughtfully prepared vegetarian meals that emerged from the kitchen -- hearty bean soups and stews, whole grains, lots of leafy greens, and incredible from-scratch breads and baked goods. Many of the ingredients are plucked from the earth right at Green Gulch or sourced from local farms, and all are organic. Working in the Zen kitchen was one of the highlights of my stay. The cooks observe noble silence while working (conversations are limited to the work-related, idle chatter is avoided); periodically the kitchen supervisor rings a mindfulness bell, and everyone takes a few moments to breathe and stretch before resuming their work. 

The abundant fresh air and mindful silence that accompanied meals (silence was observed during breakfast and for the first 10 minutes of lunch and dinner) seemed to heighten the food's flavors and textures -- I recall a particularly transcendent bowl of toasted millet porridge one morning (I know I sound dramatic, but really breakfast porridge never tasted so good!).

I had big plans for today (Free Friday number 4, I think?). Dreams of homemade chocolate almond butter and lemon-coconut energy bars have been blossoming in my mind. But I leave for a work trip to New Orleans (could there be more of a 180 from Green Gulch? Well, Vegas, I suppose) at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and packing grew into a full-blown closet rummage as I searched for the few articles of clothing suitable for 80-degree weather that arent packed away in storage containers under my bed. Then I decided an apartment cleaning was in order, and before I knew it, the day was half over.

So instead of freshly ground almond butter and energy bars, today Im sharing a recipe for one of the simplest condiments ever created gomasio. A mixture of toasted sesame seeds and sea salt, it is commonly used in Japanese and macrobiotic cuisine and is a mainstay in the Green Gulch dining hall. I sprinkled gomasio on almost everything while I was there from salads to soups and stews to that aforementioned toasted millet porridge. Its incredibly versatile and a great way to add a touch of salty, nutty, toasty savoriness to just about anything. Eating a bowl of steamed short-grain brown rice with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of gomasio is an exercise in delicious simplicity. Very Zen.

gomasio (toasted sesame seeds and sea salt)

Traditionally, gomasio is ground in a suribachi, but I used my little mortar and pestle and it turned out just fine. Sesame seeds are a good source of calcium and magnesium and, according to traditional Chinese medicine, are warming in energy. You can make gomasio using oven-toasted sea vegetable, such as dulse or wakame, in place of the sea salt, for a version that is lower in sodium and higher in calcium and iodine. I'd like to try that for my next batch. 

1 cup raw, hulled sesame seeds
1 Tbsp good-quality sea salt (moist, pale grey Celtic is nice)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Evenly spread out the sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Remove seeds from the oven, transfer to a plate, and let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes (if you grind them while theyre too warm you might end up with sesame butter, aka tahini).

Grind the seeds together with the sea salt using a suribachi or mortar and pestle until you have about a half of the seeds are ground and half remain whole. My mortar is quite small so I did this in batches, adding a portion of sea salt each time.

Store the gomasio in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Sprinkle on anything you like.