Blackened Onion and Lentil Pilaf.

On Wednesday night, I got home late from a busy day at work, and I was starving! Thinking to make something easy and quick, I decided to put together a really simple lentil dish to accompany the chicken drumsticks I was roasting. I love lentils and consider them an almost-perfect food. They taste good, they’re really versatile, they’re easy to cook, they’re good for you, they last forever, and they’re incredibly cheap! What’s not to love? Last night, I riffed on a Lebanese rice dish called mdardara, which I had learned about a long time ago but hadn’t ever made. It’s a really simple lentil and rice pilaf topped with blackened onion strings, but in my version, I replace the rice with quinoa and the regular brown lentils with the slightly fancier French lentils. What makes this dish so great is that you can really use any kind of lentil, any kind of onion, and any kind of grain that you have around the house. It’s so flexible – just use what you’ve got and you’ll be good to go with a tasty side or main dish that’s totally simple and healthy.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup French lentils
2 cups stock or water (I used homemade vegetable stock)
bay leaf
1/2 onion, sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/3 cup red quinoa (really this will work with any grain)

Just the Recipe link: Blackened Onion and Lentil Pilaf

DIRECTIONS

Add lentils, 1 1/2 cups stock or water, and bay leaf to a pan and bring to a boil.

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Reduce to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, drain any excess liquid, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Cook over medium low, stirring occasionally. When they start to take on a slightly blackened color, add a shallow layer of stock or water to the pan, to help them soften and brown rather than dry up and turn black. If you want them on the more charred side, use less stock; if you like them totally browned and almost caramelized, as I do, use a bit more stock.

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Turn the fire down to low and cook the onions until they’re a deep brown-black and the liquid is almost totally reduced.

Finally, the quinoa. Cook according to package directions. I recommend cooking the quinoa in any remaining stock you have on hand, as this really perks up the flavor of quinoa and makes it way more flavorful than when it’s cooked with water.

When everything is cooked, assemble! Mix the lentils and quinoa and make sure to season with salt and pepper. Spoon them into your bowl or serving dish and top with the onion strings. Add another sprinkle of salt to the onions and that’s it! A simple and easy yet very yummy after work meal that functions as a side or a main dish. And I’m saving the leftovers for lunch.

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Lebanese Meatballs.

As with so many of the amazing recipes I find all over the internet, I’ve had this one saved in my “want to make” folder for at least a year. And for my family’s Christmas Eve party this year, I finally had an occasion to make it! Wow, are these good. Thanks to Chico’s Kitchen for the recipe, which I’ve used as the perfect base and altered a bit to include some of my favorite flavors (read: garlic garlic garlic). They were also very portable in my mama’s crock pot, but if I had had my Dutch oven handy, that would have done the trick as well. These meatballs are the perfect easy appetizer for mini-munching, and they’re relatively guilt free if you use lean meat. I definitely popped a few in my mouth while I stood at the stove, and stirred them in the crock pot, and walked them around the party….I defy you not to do the same!

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INGREDIENTS

for the meatballs:
1 1/2 large onions, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp granulated garlic
4 lbs ground meat (I used half beef, half turkey, but if you can get your hands on anything fancy like veal sausage or ground lamb, they would be awesome here too)

for the sauce:
1 1/2 large onions, sliced
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 cans crushed tomato
1 1/2 cups stock or water (I used beef stock)

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients for meat in a large bowl.

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Form into balls and brown in a skillet with olive oil over medium high heat. Brown them in batches, careful not to crowd the pan; we don’t want the meatballs to braise or steam. They do not need to be cooked through at this point; we just want to get some color on ’em.
*NOTE: I HIGHLY recommend having a partner in crime to help with this. My mama rolled the meatballs while I browned them and it went so much faster!

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While the meatballs are browning, cook the onions for the sauce in a separate pan. Put them in a bowl and add the balsamic vinegar and the sugar and stir. Set aside.

When the meatballs are browned, put them in a crock pot or Dutch oven. In the pan where we cooked the meatballs, add the balsamic onions, the crushed tomato, and the stock or water. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Then pour the sauce over the meatballs and cook on low for 2-3 hours.

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Serve with toothpicks for easy munching. These also make amazing leftovers: serve a big scoop of the sauce and a couple meatballs over a bed of rice. Merry Christmas!

Spiced Chicken and Chickpea Stew.

There’s nothing like a hearty and healthy stew on a Saturday afternoon in Fall. This spiced chicken and chickpea one-pot meal was a fun little cooking adventure because I don’t often use flavor combinations like these. Especially the cinnamon. I’ve never been brave enough to try cinnamon in a savory meat dish before, but I’m glad I did! The heat of the paprika and cayenne provide an great backdrop for the smokey exotic cumin and cinnamon. This is a filling dish that keeps well in the fridge—the bright spice flavors get even deeper if they’ve had a chance to marry a bit. Kidney beans or great northern beans would work just as well as chickpeas, and if you wanted to make this dish vegetarian or vegan, just cut out the chicken and add an extra can or two of beans. It’s all about protein and spice!

INGREDIENTS

3 chicken breasts (substitute with another can or two of beans for a vegetarian/vegan version)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-5 carrots, sliced into coins
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp hot paprika
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ketchup
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp dried parsley
lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Season each chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium in a skillet or other large pan. Brown the chicken on each side, then set aside.

In the same pan, add another drizzle of oil if needed and stir in the onion and carrot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, to keep the onion from browning. When the onion and carrot are softened, add the bay leaves, paprika, garlic powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Turn the heat up a bit and cook the spices until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Then add the ketchup, and put the chicken breasts back into the skillet. Add the tomatoes, and then fill the empty tomato can with water and pour into the pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn down to a high simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the chickpeas and sprinkle over the parsley. Cover and simmer for about half an hour.

Remove the bay leaves, sprinkle with lemon juice and more parsley, and serve with couscous.

Baba Ganoush.

I’m no farmer and I don’t know anything about the seasonality of produce. Visiting most American grocery stores, the average shopper would have no idea when various fruits and veggies were in season, because stores sell pretty much everything, all year round. And while it can be nice to have fresh avocados in winter and apples in spring, there’s really nothing as good as in-season local produce, picked by farmers and eaten by me on the very same day! On Saturday morning at the farmers market, I saw more eggplants in more different varieties than I even knew existed, so my keen non-farmer Spidey Sense tells me it must be eggplant season in the midwest. I picked up a nice big one and made this classic Middle Eastern roasted eggplant spread. Go get your own before the season passes!

INGREDIENTS

1 large eggplant
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
2 tsp lemon juice
fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 tsp hot paprika, plus more for dusting
salt and pepper to taste

A successful morning at the farmers market.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Pierce eggplant 8 times. Place on hot grill or directly on gas stove over medium high flame. Turn so that each side chars evenly.

When the skin is charred, remove from heat.

Stuff garlic cloves into the slits in the eggplant.

Roast on baking sheet for about 20 minutes, until eggplant is completely softened. Set aside to cool.

While eggplant cools, combine all other ingredients in a bowl.

When the eggplant has cooled enough to touch, cut off the stem and peel off as much of the skin as you can.

Cut into three pieces and add to a food processor along with all other ingredients.

Spoon into a bowl and dust with more paprika. I forgot to do it for the photo, but an extra drizzle of olive oil isn’t a bad idea either.