Monday, January 28, 2013

Curried Green Lentil with Caramelized Onion

This simple and tasty dish has recently become my favorite winter comfort food. Like many other recipes on this blog, it was inspired by the recipe from Met Home.

As all lentil dishes, it is very rich in proteins and very fulfilling, and therefore perfect for cold days when we sometimes need a bit more than just a salad to make us feel warm and happy.

This curry dish is made from French green lentils, which may not be as easily available as other types of lentils, but worth looking for and trying. It has not only a very nice color but it also has more texture than other lentils.

It is a basically a curry stew with a red curry paste used alongside the traditional curry. Both curries make it spicy but not too hot. The surprising finish comes from the fried onion with honey and rice vinegar added at the end. When onion is mixed with lentil curry it makes it taste much sweeter. To contrast this sweetness, just before serving, cooked lentil is topped with Greek yogurt and coriander leaves. All the ingredients melt in the mouth releasing a perfectly proportioned spiciness.

Curried Green Lentil with Caramelized Onion
(Serves four)

1 cup French green lentil, washed,
2 medium carrots, sliced,
3 celery sticks, sliced,
1 large onion, cut in thick slices,
1 bay leaf,
1 tbsp curry powder,
1 tbsp ground cumin,
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste,

1 tbsp honey,
2 tbsp rice vinegar,
4 tbsp vegetable oil,
1 cup Greek yogurt,
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

1. In a medium frying pot heat 2 tbsp oil. Add sliced carrot and celery and sauté for about 3-4 minutes. Add lentils, mix and cook for another two minutes. Add bay leaf, curry and cumin. Mix and cook 3 minutes.

3. Add 4 cups of water to the pot with lentils, bring to boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the lentils become soft.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining two tbsp of oil and sauté onion for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Season with half a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Stir in honey and vinegar, mix and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is caramelized.

5. Fold the onion into lentils and cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Divide the lentil curry between plates, top with yogurt and coriander leaves and serve accompanied by middle eastern bread, if you like.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

French Onion Soup--to Warm up

I think we all got deceived by the warm days and colorful summer dresses displayed in store windows. Unfortunately, winter is back, with a vengeance. And although it is very sunny in DC, it is also freezing and windy.

So what would be a better idea to warm up than a bowl of soup? And, when I think about comfort, a bowl of French onion soup that I was often served in Alpine ski resorts comes to my mind.

It is very easy dish but, believe it or not, although I ate onion soup many times, I made it only twice myself many years ago.

So far, each time I made onion soup I used my old, French, absolutely plain and simple recipe based on onion and a beef consommé or broth. Today I used the other version I had in my notebook which also calls for a little bit of sugar, balsamic vinegar and thyme. When after about half an hour the soup was ready, there would be nothing I could enjoy more. Aromatic, rich, and hot it was the most comforting lunch on a freezing day like today.

French Onion Soup
(Serves 4-6)

4 large onions, peeled and finely sliced,
32 oz (2 lb) good quality beef broth,
3 tbsp butter,
1 tbsp olive oil,
1 garlic clove,
1 tbsp sugar,
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
1 tbsp flour,
baguette (about 8 slices),
1/3 cup grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese,
2 branches of thyme,
one bay leaf,
extra tbsp of butter,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan and add onion. Fry first at high heat for a few minutes, than turn the heat down and fry it for about 20 minutes, until it turns dark-gold/brown. The onion needs to be well brown (caramelized) as this gives the whole taste to the soup.

2. Add sugar and vinegar to the already brown onion and cook for two minutes.
3. Sprinkle with flour, mix and add beef broth, thyme and bay leaf.Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Spread each slice of baguette with butter and grill them in the oven until they are gold. Place the cheese on top of each slice and let it melt and bubble.
5. Remove bay leave and thyme from the soup. Divide the soup among serving bowl and top with grilled baguette slices. Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Cream

I often heard about a carrot cake in my childhood, but I never tasted it. My grandmother, who was a every good baker, considered it a survivor cake which was baked only during the WWII when no better ingredients were available. She despised it later, in better times, as she believed that good cakes should be made from eggs, butter, and cream not carrot.

When I came to the US, I tried a few of the American carrot cakes and I must admit that some, if not too sweet, were very good--not too heavy, enriched with nuts, did not not have the taste of carrot at all, which I feared so much.

The other day, when I noticed that carrots I had in my refrigerator were about to start growing again, I decided to make my first carrot cake. I compared several recipes from different sources and, as always, the most convincing seemed the one from the Met Home. I liked it even more so because it had an Italian twist to it and was layered with my favorite mascarpone cheese frosting.

The cake turned out to be delicious--not too sweet and very moist. The only change to the original recipe I made when I was baking it for the second time, was chopping the walnuts instead of using halves and grating the carrot on a smaller grater, which distributed those ingredients more evenly in the cake. I also used more mascarpone and less whipping cream, which made it look better and taste richer.

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Cream
(For a 9-inch baking form with a removable high wall)

2 cups finely grated carrot (about 6 medium carrots),
1 cup finely chopped walnuts,
2 large eggs,
1 cup sugar,
1 cup all purpose flour,
1 tsp salt,
1 and 1/2 tsp ground cardamon,
3/4 cup light vegetable oil as peanut or canola,
1 box (6 oz) mascarpone cheese,
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream,
2 tbsp honey or sugar,
icing sugar for finishing.

1. Grease the baking form with butter and sprinkle with flour. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Using a mixer beat eggs until light. Add sugar and beat until well incorporated.
3. In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda and cardamon. Add to the mixture of eggs alternating with oil, until all the ingredients are well mixed.
4. Stir in walnuts and carrot. Blend it and transfer the batter to the baking form.

5. Smooth the top and bake until set and gold on top about 40 minutes.
6. In a medium bowl beat mascarpone with cream and honey (or sugar) until fluffy.
7. Cool down the cake, cut in half and spread mascarpone mixture on the bottom layer.

8. Cover the cream layer with the second layer of the cake. Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar. Cut and serve.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Black Beans and Mango Salad

I am not sure where this recipe comes from, but I think I saw someone on tv, in one of the cooking programs, preparing something similar. I would guess it must have been either Giada De Laurentiis or Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) as I really watch only their programs.

I am not sure either if I remember correctly all the ingredients, but from my modest culinary experience I could imagine that such a combination of ingredients should be a great match. And it was.

This easy salad became a great hit in my house during the holidays season. Accompanied by slices of cold cuts it made a healthy and tasty lunch. Because of the ingredients it calls for it probably comes from the Mexican culinary tradition. Perhaps this is why this salad tastes particularly well with Mexican or Spanish chorizo.

Nutritious and rich in protein, thanks to the black beans, it is also fresh and crispy, thanks to the bell peppers, while the mango and lime juice make it at the same taste sweet and sour, and coriander adds an exotic twist. With so many different ingredients, it is also very colorful and visually attractive. This salad can be either a great lunch dish in itself or served to accompany grilled meats or fish.

Black Beans and Mango Salad
(Serves four)

two 15-oz can of black beans,
1 mango, ripe but not too soft,
1 small red bell pepper (I used yellow but red makes it even more appealing),
1/2 medium red onion, chopped into small pieces,
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves,
juice from one small lime,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Rinse the beans, drain them on a colander and place them in a large bowl.
2. Cut the bell pepper into small cubes add to the beans. Follow with the chopped onion.
3. Peel of the mango and cut off thick slices from four sides. Then cut them into cubes the same size as bell pepper cubes.

4. Add to the bowl chopped coriander. Mix oil, lime juice salt and pepper to make a dressing, and pour it over the salad. Mix gently. Let it marinate for 10 minutes and serve.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Easy Chocolate Dessert

If you are craving for chocolate, this is your dessert. Easy and extremely satisfying. The original recipe calls for dark chocolate. However, for me, a lover of the milk and white chocolate, the original version was almost too intensive. So, my second edition of this cake was made using milk chocolate and I liked it better. But everyone who tried the first version loved it and raved about it as well.

The reason why this dessert is so rich and delicious is that it simply tastes as whipped chocolate to the point that it is hard to qualify it as a cake or even a mousse, so, for the lack of a better term, let me just call it a dessert. You cannot eat much of it so a small portion of it goes a long way. I decided to post this recipe today as the first in this year to start it with a burst of sweet indulgence.

Chocolate Dessert

2 cups of heavy whipping cream plus an extra 1/2 cup for decoration,
1 lb (about 2 and 1/2 cup) of a good quality dark (or whichever) chocolate or chocolate chips,
2 tsp vanilla extract,
cocoa powder for dusting,

1. Line a small baking form (e.g., seven inch) with high walls, or a small bowl, with a clingfilm foil, so the foil overhangs from the wall.
2. Melt the chocolate over the pot with boiling water or in a microwave oven. If you use a microwave oven, do it for no longer than 30 seconds, several times, stirring in between each turn, until it is melted completely.

3. Whisk the heavy whipping cream with vanilla until stiff then add half of the chocolate. Gently fold it in. Add the rest of the chocolate.
4. Pour a chocolate mix into the baking form or a bowl lined with foil, so the edges of the foil stick out. Using a spreading knife finish the top of the dessert and let it chill in a refrigerator for at least two hours.

5. Beat the extra cream until stiff.
6. Remove the cake from the bowl by pulling the foil ends, Gentle remove the foil. Dust the dessert with cocoa powder.
7. Cut it in small triangles and serve with whipped cream.