Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Tag: lentils

If on a Winter’s Night…

by lyzpfister

lentil stew

I haven’t taken my hat off for days. I’m beginning to wonder if I still have hair, and if I do, whether or not it matters. I’m supposed to be working. Instead, I’m chipping the nail polish from my fingers, staring outside at the falling leaves, debating whether or not to buy a monthly metro pass. (At the end of the story, I will end up buying one. I will not regret it.)

Some days it rains and in the coffee shops the crowds grow a low murmur. Outside, the smell of damp leaves and everywhere, I swear, I smell a roasting turkey. I’m reading a book of short stories by Italo Calvino and at the same time a Harper’s magazine from May I’ve been working on for months. In the news, it’s a blur of politics and hurricanes and I wonder what I’d be doing in New York if I were still there. I think of my McKibbin apartment, where I didn’t close up the three-inch hole in the window with duct tape until winter.

sliced Hungarian peppers

garlic for lentil stew

What I most look forward to are afternoons wrapped up in a blanket and my love, a movie laughing in the background and sleep in my limbs.

Don’t tell anyone, but I like these days. The damp, the leaves, the candles lined up on the windowsill. The snuggled in slippers, the garish green hat.

the beginnings of lentil stew

When I cook on nights like these, I cook for comfort. I want the seeping smell of garlic and spice. I want to feel the thin skin of a tomato crack beneath my knife and hear the familiar sound of a peeler’s swish against a carrot. And when I eat my stew, I want it to mean the day is done. The shutters can be let down and soon, soon, I can go to bed.

curried lentil stew

Easy Winter Lentil Stew

2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
2 small Hungarian peppers (or 1 red bell pepper)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp berbere
Salt & pepper
2 large cloves garlic
1/2-3/4 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup quick-cook lentils
1 cup beef stock
Basmati rice (opt.)

Finely chop onion, carrot, and peppers. Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté onion until translucent, then add carrot and peppers. Season with salt, black pepper, cumin, and berbere and cook until vegetables have just softened. Add lentils to the skillet and stir to coat with spices, then add tomatoes, coarsely chopped garlic, and beef stock. Give everything a good stir and turn heat to medium low. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer until lentils have cooked through, about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally, and if it starts looking dry, add more water. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve with basmati rice.

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Soup Time/Winter Time

by lyzpfister

lentil soup with lemon-parsley oil

Let’s not get technical. I know it’s fall. But unless you too are living in Berlin – waking up every morning moaning about having to leave the comfort of your covers, wearing your winter coat inside, and wishing the heater went up just a few more notches – and want to argue with me, it’s winter.

It’s winter and I’m cold and all I want is a giant, warm bowl of soup. (And a new pair of glasses, pumpkin muffins, and a pedicure – but these are totally unrelated things.)

The great thing about soup is that it’s a totally addressable need. It requires very little energy to make – and make masses of. In mere minutes of work, you have a pot contentedly bubbling filling your living space with the warm aroma of – what is the aroma of soup? It might be a feeling, like saying, “I feel like soup smells.”

lentil soup with lemon-parsley oil

chopped yellow onions

I made my first soup of the season the other night. A lentil stew sweetened with carrot and sweet potato and brightened with a touch of curry and berbere. I might have gone a little overboard with the lentils. By the time I’d added everything to the soup, it filled the pot. I will be eating lentil soup for years, I thought.

What I forgot is that it’s winter, and that in winter, everyone is craving soup. That night, a few friends met at my apartment before heading to a party, and when I checked the soup pot the next morning, everything was gone.

ready for soup

Berbere from Kalustyan's in NY

Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup with Lemon-Parsley Drizzle
(serves: a lot)

1 tbsp olive oil
10 bacon strips
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled & diced
2 carrots, peeled & sliced
salt
cracked black pepper
1 tsp berbere spice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch of chili powder
1 tsp curry powder
1 package quick-cook lentils (guesstimating, I’d say about 2 cups)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes

For the drizzle:
½ cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup loosely chopped parsley

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add bacon (I used cured pork belly, which sounds fancy, but in Germany is the kind of thing you get at the discount grocery store for a euro fifty) and fry until crisping. Add yellow onions and sauté until translucent. Add sweet potato and carrots and cook until just tender. While the carrots and sweet potato are softening, add salt, cracked black pepper, berbere spice, cumin, turmeric, chili powder and curry powder.

sauteeing onions and pork belly for lentil soup

When your vegetables have softened, add quick-cook lentils and make sure to coat them with oil and spice before adding vegetable bouillon cubes and water to cover everything in the pot by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cover pot with a lid.

lentil soup

Now go away. Do something else. Read a book. Cuddle with a puppy. Try on all of your sweaters. Check on your soup every now and then, and if it starts to get too thick, add another cup of water. Taste to adjust seasonings. For sure you’ll need more salt and pepper. This soup doesn’t take long to be “ready.” The lentils cook in about 15 minutes – but you want to let the flavors meld as long as you can, say 2 hours. Whenever you decide you’re ready to eat, use an immersion blender to puree your soup and add water to adjust thickness, if necessary.

a pot of bubbling lentil soup

I served my soup with this delicious lemon-parsley sauce which I had at a dinner party the other night. Whisk together olive oil and lemon and loosely chopped parsley. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

lentil soup with olive oil drizzle

Every Kitchen Gets a Post

by lyzpfister

In my new home, we have a tablecloth. It is a dusty pink tablecloth and on top of it are placemats upon which we eat. Our china is rimmed with roses. Our mugs match. At last, I think, I have arrived.

In the last three years I’ve had five different kitchens, and I’ve written about most of them. First there was the Davidson kitchen where this blog began, and my ever-recurring ancestral home’s blue-walled affair. There was the first kitchen in New York, which was tiny – enough counter space only for the mice. Then there was my second kitchen in New York, which stood unused for a long time while we were too busy battling bed bugs to cook. There was the kitchen in Berlin, shower beside the stove. And now there is my new kitchen. Where we use tablecloths.

We are three women in my new kitchen, and of course the tablecloth may have something to do with that. Which is not to say that men don’t care for tablecloths. Just that, well, I don’t think they do.

Normally I’d balk at the idea of living with only women. There’s too much estrogen. Too much makeup, too much body lotion, too much bickering and gossip about boys. But my new little Neukölln apartment is different. It has a good feeling, something I sensed the first time I went to see the place – calm, relaxed, communal.

The kitchen is our shared space. There’s always someone in it – reading the newspaper, doing the dishes, cooking something. It’s also the first time I’ve lived somewhere where there’s an absolutely effortless attitude about food and sharing it. Whoever’s cooked, cooks for whoever else is home. But it’s not as stressful as being required to cook for everyone. It goes more like this: someone cooks, someone walks into the kitchen, food is shared. Unobtrusively, casually.

Last night, I made Ethiopian lentils in order to use up the last bits of vegetables from the fridge. A friend was over for dinner, so I was already making a bit more than usual. But lentils are one of those things that expand, like hot air balloons and lies. My roommates wandered in and out of the kitchen – to chat, to prepare lunch for the next day, to make a cup of tea. And when the lentils were done, there was more than enough to share, and I fed them, just as they have fed me.

Ethiopian Lentils

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet and when hot, add 1 diced onion. When the onion is translucent, add ½ chopped eggplant and cook until eggplant is soft. Add 1 chopped yellow pepper, 6 chopped mushrooms, and 4 chopped prunes. Season with salt, pepper, berbere, turmeric, cumin, and Jamaican jerk seasoning. Cook until vegetables have softened. Add ½ – ¾ cups quick-cook red lentils and just cover with water. Stir in 1 tbsp tomato paste and cover skillet with a lid. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are cooked. Serve with freshly crumbled feta.

The Man for Me (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

“An ox tongue in brine […] or a bucket of cabbage salting in the corner of your kitchen, what could be more reassuring?” says Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.  My new culinary grail is a celebration of all those animal bits that are so often overlooked in the western kitchen like tripe, ears, feet, tongue, and brains.  Seeing as unusual cuts of meat have been on my mind lately and since they are so conveniently sold at my local grocery store (and my new best friend the butcher’s place), this book came along at a time in my life when there were too many trotters and not enough recipes for them.

I never read recipes.  This has gotten me into a lot of trouble on occasion.  For instance, when halfway through making dinner, I get to the part of the recipe that says, “chill overnight.”  Or when I’m canning zucchini and see the words “mix” and “rest for ten hours,” I assume, foolishly, that the recipe means mix all the ingredients and not just the zucchini and salt, at which point I must cancel dinner with my friends to make zucchini relish out of a bowl of sloppy zucchini mess.  Even when I read through my food magazines, I read the headnotes to recipes but leave the recipe to skim only if I end up cooking the dish.  Reading recipes seems so boring.

But not with Fergus.

With Fergus, each recipe is lovingly related, as if we were old friends cooking side by side in a small, stone kitchen somewhere in the English countryside.  For example, in his recipe for Saddle of Rabbit, he writes:  “Serve the rolls with a salad that captures the spirit of the garden, made up from, for example, scallions, baby carrots, radishes, peas, fava beans (if in season), rocket (arugula), and chopped parsley (and a subliminal caper if you feel so inclined—I do!).  dress with Vinaigrette and eat with the succulent rabbit.”

This excerpt also happens to capture the other thing I love about Fergus, namely the lack of prescription in his recipes.  For Fergus, there are no absolutes.  Cooking is about taste and feeling and improvisation.  In a recipe for Salt Cod, Potato, and Tomato, he asks you to cook potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic until they’re “ready.”  Or in this recipe for Stake, Capers, and Bread: “Add the lemon juice, allow it to sizzle and turn brown, and add the capers.  At the last minute add the parsley and straightaway pour over the fish.”  There’s something refreshing about a recipe that doesn’t rely on minutes, but on the senses.  And learning to rely on yourself rather than a “rule” in a book is what turns a competent cook into an intuitive one.

My first foray into The Whole Beast was a recipe for Boiled Belly and Lentils, whose headnote reads: “This dish celebrates the not quite meat, not quite fat, quality of pork belly.  There’s nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves.”  The recipe calls for brining a slab of pork belly for ten days, then cooking it slowly over low heat in a broth of vegetables and pepper and serving it with garlickly lentils.

Ten days is a long time to prepare for a dish.  It’s a long time to be unsure about whether or not you’ve brined something correctly – whether the piece of pork belly you got from your local butcher (the store is called “Meats” with Bushwick’s usual candor) is even good – and whether it’s going to matter that you couldn’t find juniper berries and caster sugar.  (The story with the caster sugar:  In the ingredients list, Fergus calls for “2 cups superfine (caster) sugar (many suggest brown sugar, but not me),” so I figured that the mere mention of the possibility of using brown sugar was really his backhanded way of saying, “If you must, you can use brown sugar,” which I proceeded to do.)

For ten days, as I prepared other dinners, I had my brining pork belly in my mind.  Every time I opened the fridge, I wondered what magic was happening in that lidded Tupperware.  And on the tenth day, I rinsed the residual salt from my brined belly and put it in a pot to cook.  A beatific moment to be sure.

Nothing was quite so nice as to slice up chunks of pork belly, the salty, rich meat complimented by fat so tender it absolutely melted in my mouth.  Of my own volition, I would never have eaten the fat, but Fergus, dear Fergus said, “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.”  And I thank him for that, because I would have missed a most amazing thing.  Pork belly fat doesn’t taste like other fat, which can be chewy and leave a behind terrible residue.  Brined pork belly fat, especially with a spoonful of staid lentils, is soft and flavorful and wonderful to eat.

Even after cutting the recipe in half, I still had belly and lentils for a few days afterward, but it’s just one of those things that keeps getting better with time.  I guess, when food sits in brine for ten days, it learns patience.  It learns to not reveal its secrets too soon, to wait until its “ready.”

What’s next for me and Fergus?  Bone marrow?  Blood cakes?  I don’t know what it will be, but I think I’ll know when the time is right.

Boiled Belly and Lentils (adapted from The Whole Beast)
Serves 2 (with lentils left over for days)
Fergus has this to say about pork belly:  “Pork belly is a wonderful thing.  It’s onomatopoeic, belly is like it sounds – reassuring, steadying, and splendid to cook due to its fatty nature.  It’s not a cut of meat to rush; with that, a certain calm is imbued in the belly.”  I’m not sure how verbatim I can copy this recipe, but I’ll try to leave as much Fergus in there as I can.  Quantities are adjusted to the amounts I used and I’ve mentioned some of my techniques.  But I think Fergus would be ok with a little improvisation.

The Brine
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups coarse sea salt
8 cloves
8 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 quarts of water (enough to cover the belly)

The Boiled Belly
2 lb piece of pork belly with skin and bones
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 8 cloves
1 leek, cleaned
1 stalk celery
1 head garlic, skin on
dried thyme and rosemary
black peppercorns

The Lentils
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped into thin slices
1 leek, cleaned and chopped into thin slices
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 pound lentils
bundle of thyme and parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of chopped curly parsley

Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil so the sugar and salt melt.  Decant into your brining pot (made of a non-corrodible material – I used a large Tupperware container with a lid, Fergus recommends a bucket) and cool.  When cold, add meat and leave it in the fridge for “a nice 10 days.”

Remove and rinse your meat.  Place the pork belly and all other ingredients in a pan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, skim (if any fat rises to the surface), reduce to a gentle simmer with the water barely moving, and cook for three and a half hours, “until the flesh is soft and giving, but not collapsing.”

While your belly is cooking, start on the lentils.  Cover the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and sweat the chopped vegetables.  When they have just started to soften, but not color, add the lentils and stir for a few minutes to coat.  Cover with water and “nestle in the thyme and parsley bundle.”  Reduce the heat to low and stir infrequently.  “You want the lentils soft but not squidgy, so that they have reserved their lentil integrity, but are not still individual hard nuts.”  The cook time should be about forty minutes – add more water if they start to dry out but are not done.

“Now season, which, particularly with lentils, is a very exciting moment.  It is amazing what simple salt and pepper do to the flavor of lentils – they make lentils of them.”  Stir in chopped parsley and a splash of olive oil just before serving, which will “give a shine to your lentils, as they can veer to the dull side.”

Remove the pork belly from the water, slice, and serve with lentils.  “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.  With the rich and fatty belly you want quite dour lentils.”