Curried Lentil Stew

We’ve had a return of chilly weather, which means I can make soup for dinner a few more times before this year’s heat sets in and we only want to eat cold, green things for the next seven months.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat!  Soup is just so easy and satisfying, that it’s a shame to waste the last cool nights eating salad already.

I happened upon this recipe online and, after making a few adjustments, whipped it up for dinner in 30 minutes.  It’s delightfully flavorful, unapologetically nutritious, exceptionally filling and just ethnic enough to feel like a refreshing change from the norm.

We paired ours with some queso garlic toast made from sourdough bread brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with granular garlic, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. Toast it under a hot broiler for a couple of minutes. Yum!

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Curried Lentil Stew

Adapted from: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/why-i-dont-like-instant-pot-curried-lentil-sweet-potato-stew/

Serves: 5-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ – 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 pound yams or sweet potatoes, finely diced

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup plain yogurt or queso fresco

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and add onions. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until golden.

Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.

Add curry powder, salt and pepper and stir constantly for about 30 seconds to allow spices to toast.

Add tomatoes, stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Add cubed yams and simmer another 10-15 minutes, just until lentils and yams are soft.

Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving and garnish with either yogurt or queso fresco.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

This is our “Halloween Soup.”  We make it every year on October 31st before our ghouls head out for the night. It’s a delicious combination of fall flavors, and there’s no reason to sequester it to just one night of the year. If you have a food processor, this soup whips up in a flash. Alternately, you can use an immersion blender, or transfer the soup, once cooked, to a blender and puree in batches (if you’re using a traditional blender, just add the beans and tomatoes whole at the instructed time). I like to leave some texture to it, rather than having it come out completely smooth.

It’s a great crock pot recipe as well, and I’ve included some tips at the conclusion of the directions for those of you who will be utilizing your slow cookers.  Toast some pepitas with salt and a little olive oil before serving and pass the cheese and sour cream at the table.

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Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

3 Tbsp butter
1 ¼ cups onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/s tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 15.5 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (one 16 oz can)
3 to 4 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 cup chopped ham, optional (I almost always leave this out)

In food processor, finely chop onion and garlic.

Cook onion and garlic, in butter in a 6 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat till softened and beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, puree beans and tomatoes in food processor.  Leave a little texture to the beans, rather then letting them become totally creamy.

When onion mixture is ready, add cumin, salt, pepper and smoked paprika ad stir for about 30 seconds to toast the spices. Add bean puree, broth and pumpkin.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally about 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat back of spoon. Just before serving, add ham, if desired (I never do).

Serve with salt, pepper, grated cheese, sour cream and toasted pepitas.

Changes For Slow-Cooker:
Brown onions and garlic, toast spices as instructed and add to slow-cooker. Decrease broth to 3 cups and cook on low 4 hours.

Falafel

The last stop on our Israeli food tour is the beloved lunch staple, the falefel.  If you’ve never tried falafel before, you’re in for a treat.  You can often find these deep-fried chick pea balls at ethnic restaurants and food carts in larger cities.  Next time you’re out on the town, grab a pita full of falafel, top it with whatever array of pickles and vegetables they’re offering and a dollop of tzatziki sauce for the perfect lunch.

Falafel is made from uncooked chickpeas that have been ground with spices and a little baking powder.  Use canned chickpeas if you must, but the texture may be not be right and you may need to add more flour to get them to bind together properly when frying.  I am partial to my counter top fryer if only for the fact that I do not have to spend half an hour wiping grease out of every crevice of my stovetop and the surrounding area when I’m done cooking.

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Falafel
Adapted from The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan

1 cup dried chickpeas (or use canned, drained)
½ large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
4-6 Tbsp flour
Vegetable oil for frying

Pita bread

Optional Toppings:
pickled vegetables
sliced or chopped tomatoes
tzatziki sauce

1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least two inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained.

2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, garlic, and cumin.  Process until blended, but not pureed.

3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 Tbsp of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size using your hands, or a portion scoop (40 is a good size for this) or falafel scoop.

5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 ° in a deep pot, wok, or fryer. Fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. When both oil and batter are ready, fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, any desired toppings and some tzatziki sauce.

Five-Minute Fajitas

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Those of you with little people home during the lunch hour know that it can be hard to balance the desire for cheese quesadillas (or other kid fare) with the want of a salad or something a little more grown up.

Fajitas are a quick adult lunch (or dinner!) concocted from humble quesadilla beginnings.  No matter where you are geographically, peppers should be abundant this time of the year.  So, go grab some and dress up your next lunch!  Maybe the kiddos will even try a bite of the veggies!

Don’t be frightened off by the smoked paprika.  It’s neither spicy nor strange.  It is probably my favorite spice after salt, pepper and garlic.  It lends a smoky flavor even in small amounts.  I love to add it to rubs, marinades, soups, and all my southwestern dishes.  It really is key to the deep flavor here.

Cutting down on carbs?  No problem!  I often eat this same fajita mix over two scrambled eggs, for a protein packed southwestern lunch or dinner.

Five Minute Fajitas
makes enough filling for 4 tortillas or  2 large scrambles

1 Tbsp avocado or olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, any color, cut into strips
1 can black beans (or other protein: a handful of shredded cooked chicken, a few strips of cooked steak.)
1/4 tsp granular garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
dash cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp good quality olive oil

4 whole-wheat or other variety tortillas (or a couple of scrambled eggs)
4 slices cheddar cheese  (or jack or pepper jack).
Optional extras for topping: salsa, sour cream, avocado, sliced black olives

Directions:
Heat a saute pan on medium for half a minute and then add a little avocado or olive oil.  Add your sliced onions and saute 3 minutes until starting to brown.  Add peppers and saute 1 more minute.  Add all spices and allow to toast 30 seconds while stirring.  Add lime juice, olive oil and beans or other protein.  Stir around until everything is coated nicely.

Gently melt a slice of cheese on each tortilla in the microwave.  If using eggs, grate the cheese and add it at the end with the other toppings.  Top each tortilla with a scoop of fajita filling and any additional toppings.  Enjoy!

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