Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Curried Squash and Lentil Stew

I had a beautiful, three pound butternut squash sitting on my counter for about a month. It was the last item we purchased at the local farm before it closed for the winter, and for weeks I never seemed to be able to work it into a meal. I think that my subconscious mind was just in denial that the farm was closed until the spring, and that somehow, by preventing me from using the squash and having it sit on the counter instead, it was almost as if the farm never closed at all. But alas, my conscious mind won out, the farm is indeed closed, and the squash had to be used.

New Year's day provided the perfect opportunity. I was already planning on roasting a pork shoulder (great recipe here), and I had some leftovers from a baked pasta/sausage and peppers combo I had made a few days prior, but was looking for a vegetarian option to round out the menu. Perhaps a soup utilizing squash and lentils? A quick search on the internet yielded this recipe, which seemed to be just what I was looking for. After reading through the comments, I made a few modifications, namely increasing the curry powder and garlic, decreasing the amount of liquid by half, and adding in some chili powder and shredded coconut. Oh, and I left out the ginger, because I really don't like ginger. The finished product was a thick lentil stew, sweetened by the squash, with the the coconut providing a really nice reinforcing accent to the curry flavor. It was definitely a hit, and I've already made it again, although sadly, I had to get the squash at the supermarket.

This is a very easy recipe. All the work is in the prep. Once everything is chopped, you heat the oil/butter in a large pot until the butter stops foaming, then add the onions, squash, carrots, celery, garlic, and salt then cook for about 15 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and chili powder and stir for a few minutes, then stir in the lentils and coconut.

At this point, add the stock and simmer, covered, until the lentils are cooked. The recipe suggests serving over basmati rice, but I haven't done this yet as the stew is pretty hearty on its own. I also haven't tried the cilantro oil, because I don't like cilantro. The second time I made this recipe, I found it to be at its best on the third day. If you like your stew more like soup, just add more stock (the original recipe calls for twice what I used).


Curried Squash and Lentil Soup (adapted from Epicurious)
Serves 8 as a main course - 1 1/2 hours start to finish
  • 6 TBS vegetable oil
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 TBS curry powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups lentils
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  1. Heat oil with butter in large pot over medium heat until foam subsides
  2. Add squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and 2 tsp salt to pot, cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes
  3. Stir in the curry powder, chili powder, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes
  4. Stir in the lentils and coconut, then add the water/stock and bring to a simmer
  5. Cover pot and cook until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes
  6. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whole Wheat English Muffins

Last week, after making a pot of mushroom barley stew, I wanted to bake something to have with it. My first thought was biscuits and then I switched my thinking to corn bread, and finally settled on some whole wheat muffins. I had made some savory whole wheat muffins to have with some dinner at some point in the past, but I couldn't remember what recipe I used. The internet turned up quite a few options, but it was this recipe for whole wheat English Muffins that caught my eye. Having wanted to give English Muffins a go for quite a while, I figured there was no time like the present (which I guess is now the past), and set to work.

About 3 hours later, I was pulling my first muffins off of the griddle and was quite happy with the results. The muffins looked good, tasted even better, and after a quick fork-splitting, had all the requisite nooks and crannies. If you've got a few hours on your hands, give this one a go.

I did make a few minor alterations to the recipe as written. First and foremost, I substituted instant yeast for the dry yeast called for. Because of the way it's produced, instant yeast can be mixed directly into flour without proofing first in water. I find this to be quite convenient, and I'm sure you will too. If you're going to do any significant amount of bread baking, I highly recommend picking up a pound of SAF Instant Yeast (which can be stored in your freezer, and will last for months). I just made sure to add an extra 1/4 cup of water to the wet ingredients in the recipe (since I didn't have to proof the yeast). Second, I wanted my muffins to be 100% whole wheat, so I subbed 1 cup of white whole wheat flour for the white flour. Third, I added the wet ingredients to the dry all at the same time, mixed until the flour was moistened, and then did the kneading with my Kitchen Aid.

Start by mixing the dry ingredients, and then the wet, in separate bowls.

As Alton Brown would say, add the wet team to the dry team. Mix everything until the flour is moistened, then knead either by hand or by mixer. I mixed on speed 2 in my Kitchen Aid for 4 minutes, allowed a 5 minute rest, then gave it 4 more minutes. If your kneading by hand, I'd probably go about 10 minutes (and try to resist the urge to add too much extra flour, the dough should be a bit sticky).

Round the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap until doubled in size. The tip in this recipe about using the microwave and a cup of water to create a warm, moist place for the dough to rise is an excellent one that I've used many times with great success. Give it a try.

Punch the dough down and roll it out about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 3 inch rounds.

After all the dough is cut, cover the rounds with a damp cloth and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. Begin preheating a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium/low heat.

The most interesting aspect of making English muffins is the fact that they are not baked, but cooked on a griddle. This gives a distinctive browned top and bottom with a tender, soft middle to the cooked muffin. The trick is to have the pan just hot enough to brown the top and the bottom in about 8 to 10 minutes (5 minutes on first side, 3-5 on second side), and cook the muffin through the middle. If the heat is too low, they won't cook properly, and if the heat is too high, the top and bottom will brown (and burn) before the middle is cooked through. As the recipe says, you may sacrifice the first few while you get used to the cooking process.

Sprinkle some corn meal on the griddle and place a few rounds on the pan. Cook for 5 minutes then flip and cook for 3 to 5 additional minutes. Remove to a rack and cool completely.

If you want the aforementioned nooks and crannies, split the muffins with a fork. Toast, top as you like and enjoy! These went great with the stew, and the few that I had leftover froze beautifully. Just split them before you freeze them, then just pop one or two in the toaster whenever you need a warm, toasty muffin.

Recipe: Whole Wheat English Muffins

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mushroom Barley Stew

The frigid heart of winter is a time for stew. Combining the heartiness of a meal, with the warm deliciousness of soup, there's nothing quite like a bowl of stew on a cold day. Just imagine hearty chunks of potato, earthy mushrooms, some carrots for sweetness, the chewy toothsomeness of barley, all in a rich broth with hints of sage...(this is starting to sound like a Chunky Soup commercial)...sounds good, right? This is a great recipe to make on a Sunday afternoon, then stow away in the fridge for easy weeknight meals, or even weekday lunches. As with pretty much all soups and stews, this one is definitely better the next day. Serve with some nice warm crusty bread, or fresh baked biscuits, and you'll want for nothing on those frigid winter nights.

This recipe really couldn't be easier. Prep all the ingredients then heat the oil in large (at least 5 quart) pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, potatoes, sage, salt and pepper.

Cook until the veggies start to brown, stir in the mushrooms and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the barley, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 more minutes. Add the stock and/or water, bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and voila! Stew!

Don't like barley? Try brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, couscous, bulgur, or whatever grain suits your fancy. Feel free to experiment with herbs as well, substituting rosemary or thyme for the sage, or use them in combination. Not a mushroom eater? Leave em' out. Try some butternut squash or sweet potato in there. So many possibilities!

Mushroom Barley Stew (~1 hour 15 minutes - 6 to 8 large servings)
  • 4 TBS olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (cut lengthwise into quarters, cut each quarter into 3 pieces)
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and chopped into chunks
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 cups sliced mushrooms (any type, I like a combo of baby bella and button)
  • 2/3 cup uncooked pearled barley
  • 6 cups vegetable stock (can use water, or a water/stock combo)
  1. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat (pot should be at least 5 quarts)
  2. When oil shimmers, add onion, potato, celery, carrot, garlic, sage, salt, and pepper
  3. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown, about 10 minutes
  4. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes
  5. Stir in the barley and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes
  6. Add the stock/water, raise the heat, and bring to a boil
  7. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes
  8. Taste then season with additional salt* and pepper to taste
*If you used water or a homemade stock that is low on salt, you might need to add as much as a teaspoon or more of salt (add 1/4 teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go). Store-bought stocks are often quite high in salt, so taste and go from there.