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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100th recipe! and, Roasted Garlic Refried Black Beans.

Happy 100th recipe from KellyintheKitchen! And just in time before the new year. These humble yet flexible refried black beans perhaps aren’t high-brow enough to be deserving of posting-milestone glory, but look beyond their simplicity to see the awesome possibilities. They work great as enchilada or taco filling, a topping for rice, a spread on top of toast, omelet filling or a side for scrambled eggs…the list goes on. My recipe includes ham, but these also make great vegan beans, sans ham of course. They are incredibly versatile. I ate them with a scoop of Greek yogurt and scallions on top and it was great. These are smart to have around. Happy 100!

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INGREDIENTS

3 cloves garlic, with peels still on
olive oil
1/2 red pepper, diced
4 scallions
1 cup diced ham (optional)
2 cans of black beans (one can drained and rinsed, the other with the liquid)
dash of seasoning salt (I used Pilsen Latino Seasoning from the Spice House) – optional
salt and pepper

Just the Recipe link: Roasted Garlic Refried Black Beans

DIRECTIONS

First, dry roast the garlic in a pan over medium low heat. Once they’re tender and soft, set the cloves aside until they’re cool enough to peel.

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In another pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add the red pepper. Once it’s softened, add the peeled roasted garlic and scallions and, if you’re not doing vegan beans, the ham. Stir around to crisp it up a bit, cooking for about 3 minutes if you’re using ham, or about 1 minute if not.

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Add the black beans and go at the whole thing with a potato masher. Add a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and if you want, a pinch of seasoning salt.

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Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are heated through. Add a splash or two of water if you want a looser texture – I left mine as they were and they were great. Then serve them however you like! I gave ’em a good dollop of Greek yogurt and an extra sprinkle of scallions and was good to go. Enjoy!

Roasted Carrots.

Nothing fancy here, just an easy side dish. But there’s something kind of magical that happens when you roast carrots this way. They develop a silky texture with a warm, rich flavor that’s both sweet and savory. I love these—if you’re not usually a cooked carrot fan, make these and you will totally rethink your stance on the vegetable. They go great with baked chicken, lamb steaks, pork chops, and almost any other simple main dish you can think of. And the added perk that makes me even more excited about this recipe is the garlic cloves: after the carrots are done and the cloves are softened in the oven, toast up a piece of crusty bread, slather it with some good butter, and then spread the garlic all over that baby. Just don’t try to kiss anyone afterwards. Or alternatively, make them eat some garlic, too.

INGREDIENTS

6-10 whole carrots, washed and dried
olive oil
salt
pepper
3 cloves garlic, skin on, crushed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a pan or baking dish, toss carrots in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Drop in the garlic cloves.

Bake until tender and slightly caramelized. Yum.

Vegetable Stock.

Homemade vegetable stock: SUCH a helpful ingredient to have around. I make this stuff in huge batches and keep it in my freezer for whenever I need it, which is as least once a week. I always cook couscous and quinoa in stock to boost their flavor, and it’s also fantastic for sauces, soups, and cooking veggies. Also, it’s practically free. Here’s why: in a freezer bag, I save up all of my otherwise-throw-away-able bits of carrot peel, onion skin, garlic skin, celery leaves, herb stems, whatever I’ve got around, and once the bag is full, I’m ready to make a gorgeous pot of stock out of things I would otherwise have tossed. So why not recycle by making your own stock? It tastes great, has no preservatives and no sodium, and it’s free. The ultimate homemaker’s trick!

INGREDIENTS

enough frozen vegetable bits to fill a pot – I use onion skins, garlic skins, carrot peels, and celery leaves
seasoning to taste – I try to stick with the Scarborough Fair rule of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, but I was out of rosemary. Instead I used a bit of marjoram, just because I felt like it.
3 bay leaves
a palmful of peppercorns
Note: I go back and forth about salting my stocks. It’s a saltiness control thing. Stock absolutely needs salt, but then stock is also an ingredient in other dishes that get their own salt. Skipping the salt in your stock means you’ll have more control over the final dish’s saltiness. Does that make sense? Pun very much intended, salt is just a matter of taste. Add it, don’t add it, we’ll all survive.

DIRECTIONS

Put all the veggie leftovers and the flavorings in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook 2-3 hours.

When the stock is done, turn off the heat and let it cool a little bit. Then use a mesh strainer to strain everything out.

You’re left with a giant bowl of super flavorful, glistening amber vegetable stock—lucky you. I reserve a few cups of it to keep in the fridge for use in the next week, and then I pour the rest of the stock into ice cube trays to freeze. I pop the stock cubes out of the trays and keep them in a bag, so I can use exactly the right frozen portion whenever I need them in the next few months. Unendingly convenient, this is definitely one of my favorite recipes!

Green Chile White Chili.

Say this 5 times fast: red leather, yellow leather. Kind of hard, isn’t it? Now try this: green chile white chili. A lot easier. You have now mastered step 1 of any recipe: being able to say its name. Congratulations. Here’s some more good news: there are only 3 real steps in this recipe, and once its done, the longer this chili sits in the fridge, the deeper and richer the flavors are. So make a big pot and have some for dinner, and then save the rest in the fridge for a week’s worth of awesome chile chili lunches. Green chile white chili, green chile white chili

INGREDIENTS

1 onion, chopped
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp tomato paste
2 cans green chiles, diced
3 cans white beans (pinto, great northern, etc.)
4-6 cups water, broth, or stock
salt and pepper to taste
optional garnishes: sour cream, cheese, lime juice, green onion

DIRECTIONS

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent. Then add the garlic, oregano, cumin, and tomato paste. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.

Pour in the green chiles, beans, and water/broth/stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour, uncovered.

Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. That’s all! Probably one of my easiest recipes.

Top your big ol’ bowl with shredded cheese or sour cream, a squirt of lime juice, and a sprinkling of chopped green onion. Yummy.

Ropa Vieja-Inspired Enchiladas.

Ropa vieja, which translates quite appetizingly to “old clothes,” is a rich Cuban meat dish. If you’ve never tried it, kindly stop reading and go to your nearest Cuban restaurant and order some; here’s a link to Yelp, just search for Cuban food. I’m serious about this. If you were to ignore my command and try these enchiladas before eating real deal ropa vieja, it would be like watching Godfather II before you ever saw Godfather I; you enjoy it, but you don’t really get what’s going on. I think that makes my point well enough–see you in an hour or so. Buen provecho.

…….

If you’re still reading, then either I don’t have the authority to make you blindly obey my food directives, or you’ve eaten ropa vieja. Let’s move on. I created this tasty dish out of pure cowardice. Though I love ropa vieja itself, I’m intimidated by the idea of cooking it (partly because I want it to be as authentic as possible, and partly because every recipe I read has different ingredients and directions!). What’s a girl to do? I decided to bail on the authenticity route this time, cut out the meat, and just try to play with the other flavors a little bit. Maybe as I walk farther down Recipe Road I’ll decide it’s time to give the real ropa vieja a try. For now, here’s my enchiladas in ropa vieja sauce—the lovechild of Mexican enchiladas and Cuban ropa vieja, two of my favorites.

INGREDIENTS

for ropa vieja enchilada sauce:
1 onion, rough chop
1 bell pepper, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
2 bay leaves
olive oil
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped, plus adobo sauce to taste
3 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

for enchiladas:
tortillas
your favorite fillings – I used a mixture of leftover chicken, cheese, cilantro, and black beans
cheese, avocado, and parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Heat a pan with oil over medium heat. Stir in onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, bay leaves, tomato paste, oregano, garlic powder, cumin, chipotle chile and adobo sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

When the veggies are completely softened, remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves and, using a potato masher or immersion blender, crush up the veggie sauce, as smooth or as chunky as you like. I forgot to do a step here: dip both sides of the tortillas in the sauce, coating them so that they’re softened and easier to roll.

Then, spoon some of the sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.

Now take whatever enchilada filling you’re using and roll it inside the tortillas (the tortillas which you have diligently coated in sauce, UNLIKE the tortillas in my photo!). Place them seam-side down in the dish.

Spoon the rest of the sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with cheese. Place the dish in the oven; nothing has to cook here, we’re just heating it through.

Bake until the cheese is completely melted and the tortillas have just barely started to brown a bit at the edges. Serve it up with a few slices of avocado and a sprinkling of parsley. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I think my confidence might be boosted enough to give the real thing a go…anyone know a great recipe for authentic ropa vieja?