Friday, August 18, 2006

Cabbage too Beautiful to Pass Up

Red cabbage phogo I know that last time I was here, I was griping about my kids not liking the red cabbage recipe I chose. Well, I was just looking through my photos and saw the ones I took for posting here, and a couple of them were just too pretty to throw away.....and seeing them made me remember how much I enjoyed that dish. Which means that I will be making it again. And who said that I needed to post only recipes that my whole family likes? That would limit my options too much. So, to kick myself out of this slump, I hope, I'm going to celebrate this glorious red cabbage even though I'm the only one that liked it.

Like a lot of people, I didn't like cabbage when I was growing up. I think a big part of that was the way it was cooked back then - boiled until it was flabby, and with little thought given to spices that would bring out its flavor. My mom also used it mostly as a wrapper for stuff that I didn't like, and that didn't help. For a long time I didn't think I could tolerate any kind of cabbage at all, until a friend pointed out that the red stuff often found in salads was red cabbage. It sure was pretty.....a tentative nibble on a bit showed it to be tasty, and not at all like chewing a rubber band, which was what I remembered from eating cooked cabbage. I started to buy salad mixes that had red cabbage when my son expressed a fondness for it. Both of my kids turned out to like it raw, but as I already said, they didn't like it cooked. Guess I shouldn't have forgotten my youthful experience with cabbage! Maybe they'll come to like this recipe for Norwegian red cabbage when they're older, or maybe they just need a cooked cabbage recipe that doesn't blend tart and sweet the way this one does. I'll figure it out eventually. But for now I'm thinking that I'll try to hunt down another beautiful red cabbage like the one pictured here, in order to make this recipe again. Who knows, they might like it this time around!

Norwegian Red Cabbage, source lost
Serves 4-6


1 medium head of cabbage, washed, cored, and shredded to your taste (I like mine medium coarse, bigger than cole slaw shreds)
1/4 C. butter
2 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. sugar
1/2 C. water
1 t. salt
1/2 C. red currant jelly Shredded red cabbage ready for cooking

Combine all ingredients except jelly in a suitable-sized pot, probably 2 or 3 quarts. Cook on low heat until cabbage is just short of being done to your taste. I prefer mine to have just a bit of bite left rather than being totally soft. It took about 40 minutes to cook the cabbage to that level. Add the jelly, stir to combine, and cook until jelly has melted and cabbage is cooked as you like it.

This is a good side dish for chicken or pork. I think leftovers would make a nice surprise topping on a sandwich made from leftover meat, because it's good cold too.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Dry (and Crumbly, and Scorched, and Inedible) Spell

I think maybe I caught it visiting Catesa....she says her cooking groove is gone. Or maybe I jinxed myself, bragging about my kids being good eaters. But I've run headlong into a dry spell.

Oh, I've been trying to cook, but nothing's been turning out well. I got a beautiful red cabbage last week, which my kids normally love (but they love even more now that they've learned how to make litmus paper), but they didn't like the recipe I chose.....the same happened with our first experiment with kohlrabi. They liked it raw, but not in the recipe I tried.

I've been doing a lot of grilling outside and have been trying but mostly failing at converting indoor roasting recipes to outside on the grill. I don't know how many times I've scorched potatoes while trying to bake them outside. Last night's mess was roasted green beans. Well, it wasn't entirely burnt, the beans were edible, but the flavor was definitely off with all the burnt onion and sugar stuff flaking off the foil.

I looked into my bookmarked recipes for inspiration, and thought I'd try Ilva's easy-sounding gluten-free chocolate cookies. But I think I converted the measurements wrong, and probably messed up substituting chocolate for the cocoa powder (can you believe I don't have any cocoa powder in the house! It's an affront to Theobroma!)....and I ended up with kind of crumbly, dry chocolate rounds. So I thought they'd make good ice cream sandwiches, but they were still too warm from the oven so the ice cream melted even though I immediately put them in the freezer after making them! The kids think they're okay even though the ice cream is on the outside of the sandwich, so that isn't a total loss.....but it's been really frustrating.

I don't think it'll take much to convince hubby to eat out tonight.....

Friday, July 28, 2006

Why Has Shopping, and Eating, Gotten So Hard?

I just finished reading an article that my mom told me about, Is buying local always best? The very first paragraph made me think, because it puts the whole issue of buying stuff into moral terms. I'm not ready for that kind of responsibility.....I just want to make good food for my loved ones, not be responsible for the success or failure of some farmer around the corner or across the world.

And that's what really gets to me, having that kind of thinking pushed on me so that every time I go shopping or start cooking, my head starts to spin with images of poor Indians harvesting turmeric or kari leaves and American farmers growing corn or raising cattle and barely holding on to their farm. Each of them does something valuable for me. Can't I just buy the food I need or like from them without a guilt trip no matter which one I choose?

Don't get me wrong, I admire people like Lucette, the vintage cook who try eating locally and discover new things like ramps and purslane. I wish I had more time to explore for things like that here. But I'm not willing to let eating local put limits on what I can eat. I'll probably never live in a place that grows vanilla or cacao beans, and there's no way I'll ever give up vanilla or chocolate just because they need to be harvested and processed someplace else. Especially not when my daughter's gluten intolerance means getting creative with other ingredients so that she can enjoy cakes and cookies. And I absolutely love getting to try new things from all over the world. I remember when it was a very special treat for my gramma to get some lingonberries from her home country. I was lucky if I got one taste from those small jars....And now I can get lingonberry preserves from Ikea and make delicious things with it pretty much whenever I want!

I don't like the big box stores very much, but with a large family and a fairly tight budget, Costco and WalMart are sometimes the only way we can get everything we need. I wish I could buy meat locally, but I wouldn't be able to buy enough for all of us if I did. The big-box places don't always have what I want, especially odd produce and ethnic ingredients, so I try to find a local store or go online for those items. And what about the local families that depend on those places for jobs? It just isn't a simple situation.

I'm not really sure what my point is, maybe I need another cup of coffee to wake my brain up before I'll find one....but the article has some good points about possible downsides of the keep-it-local movement that are worth thinking about. It's hard enough buying food for everybody in my family without getting all worried about being moral. The way I see it, anybody that's trying to make an honest living is worth doing business with, at least once. And if I'm ever able to get my own home business going, I hope that, and the quality of my items, are the main things my customers think about.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Playing Hooky with Dinner

My kids are really good eaters. They understand the basics of nutrition and aren't afraid to try things. But, they also have an uncle that is kind of lazy in the cooking department. He's been known to have just popcorn for dinner, and they love that idea. My kids also understand the importance of good timing.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty stressful for me. I'm trying to do too many things, and I have a deadline approaching on a writing job that I'll get paid for (a little, but it's better than nothing!). I want to try so many new recipes for dinner that when I go shopping, unless I keep to my list I end up way over budget and with a spinning head, trying to remember what I have at home and what yummy-sounding recipe called for something exotic that just happens to be tempting me at the moment.....Where was I? Oh yes, my kids and good timing. Well, a few days ago when I read Kitarra's recipe for gingered-mango habañero sauce I knew I had to try it. It brought back so many wonderful memories of Mexico, and teased me with a new combination of tastes. And her suggestions for using the sauce! Who wouldn't be tempted by a sauce that works as a marinade, a dipping sauce, and as a dessert topping? Not me, that's for sure!

So, there we were at the grocery yesterday, and I see that the mangoes are lusciously ripe. I can't resist! And I had the ingredients for Kit's sauce memorized already....limes, easy enough.....ginger's already at home.....but what about a habañero? The store doesn't have any fresh ones. A jar of pickled ones, for $4, or some dried, at just over $1? Dried it is. And the last item: a big bucket of decent vanilla ice cream.

I improvised a bit on her recipe, as you'll see if you check hers out and look at mine below, and give hubby a taste. He's not big on real spicy stuff, but this doesn't seem too spicy to me.....but he doesn't like it. Uh-oh.....I'm going to be the only one eating this big batch of sauce! But then my son asks for a taste, and after explaining to him that it's spicy, he still decides to try it (he loves mangoes). He likes it! I'm amazed!

Then he and his sister do exactly what I'm hoping for......they ask for a popcorn dinner. I can do better than that! But I'm not going to tell them that....I whip up another ice cream topping, then start on the popcorn.

I despise that microwaved, artificially-flavored and -colored crap. I like it the old-fashioned way. I haul out my big stockpot, the one with a clear lid, and the peanut oil. I pour in a bunch of oil and get it heating while my son gets two sticks of butter from the fridge. Once the oil's hot, in go the white popcorn kernels, and the kids are having a blast watching them darken, then explode as the water inside each kernel turns to steam and escapes. The butter's melted and mixed into the huge bowl of popped corn, and I dust it with my treasured French gray sea salt. We settle in front of my computer to watch some videos, and everybody's happy.

At a break, I slip back into the kitchen to prepare the surprise "second course", the ice cream. Only my daughter declines trying Kit's mango-habañero sauce on her ice cream - it was too hot for her. Hubby says it's not as hot on the ice cream, but he's skeptical of a hot sauce as a dessert topping. He says it sounds better as a marinade for chicken or fish. To my surprise, my son loves it and gobbles it up, as do I. Kit has truly created a wonder in this sauce, and I'm dying to see if I can come up with a way to make a good truffle flavor out of it.

So we had a very fun, very relaxing dinner last night. The kids think they got away with something, I was happy to let them think that and to get an easy night in the kitchen, and hubby....well, I have some chicken breasts thawing already. Maybe he'll like the sauce better tonight. But he sure wasn't complaining last night either. Okay, so we didn't have the most nutritious dinner ever, but we all had fun, and that's important too.

Gingered Mango-Habañero Sauce - slightly modified from Kitarra's excellent recipe - and do check out her beautiful photos of it!

4-6 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted (4 if large, up to 6 if small OR if you want a milder sauce)
1 ripe habañero pepper, fresh or dried
1/2 C lime juice
3-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/4-3/4 C raw sugar
1-2 C water

Wash the pepper if fresh, then remove the stem. If dried, soak the pepper in 1 cup of hot water until soft, then remove stem. If a milder sauce is desired, remove the seeds from the habañero. Chop the pepper in a blender or food processor until it's in fine bits. Add the mangoes and ginger to the processor and process until the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan; add the lime juice, 1/4 C of sugar, and 1 C of water; mix well. (If using a dried habañero, you can use the soaking water, or for a less hot sauce, use fresh water. I used my soaking water.) Bring to a boil on medium low heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened to your liking. This should take between 30-45 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the sugar if necessary. (As Kitarra points out, the sugar helps offset the pepper's heat...but the sauce shouldn't be overly sweet.)

My notes: The dried habañero seemed to work just fine, but was probably harder to process than a fresh one. I found several unchopped seeds while I was cooking the sauce, and just removed them. I know I'll be making this again, so I'll make sure to try it with a fresh pepper next time! I also didn't have alot of raw sugar, just 1/4 C. My sauce needed more sugar than that, so I used some dark brown sugar instead. It deepened the lovely orange color a bit, but gave the sauce a nice depth of flavor. Next time I'll just use it, since I don't regularly buy raw sugar. Last, this recipe depends on ripe, juicy mangoes, so if you can't get them, don't bother. In Mexico, I learned an easy way for getting as much goodness as possible from the fruit. Once you've cut off all the flesh you can from the pit, take the pit in your hand and squish it round and round, like you'd turn a slippery bar of soap in your hand. You'll be surprised at how much juice you get!

Lightly Brandied Fresh Cherries - My second ice cream topping, which was also a hit, even though I just tossed it together

About 2 dozen ripe fresh cherries, washed, stemmed, pitted, and halved
2-3 T. dark brown sugar
about 30 mL good brandy (I used VSOP)
1/4-1/2 t. ground cinnamon, or to taste

Stir sugar into cherries and allow to sit for a few minutes. Add brandy and cinnamon; mix well and allow to sit at room temperature so that the flavors meld. I discovered as I was putting the leftovers away that it had continued to improve after we'd had our ice cream, so I'd guess that about 2 hours of rest would be best. I used Penzeys Ceylon cinnamon for this, because it has a brighter flavor that complemented the cherries very well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Glory of Glories: Basil

Summer is the season of glory. Glorious sun, gloriously long, carefree days, glorious colors, and of course, glorious fresh food. The past several years I haven't been able to have any kind of garden, but this year I insisted and planted a small herb patch with the help of my children. Thickly growing basil

It was a fun challenge, settling on just four herbs to put in our sunken container. The first slot was easy and unanimous: we had to have basil. My children love that gloriously green herb almost as much as I do - they've even been known to sneak a nibble from it when passing by. As long as we have a good crop, I never complain....this wonderful herb has many health benefits, especially when consumed fresh. And there's nothing fresher, or better, than homegrown organic basil! So, again, I didn't complain when my son sowed the seeds pretty thickly - we all wanted a good crop. And boy did we get it!

child's hand removing basil leaves from the stemI was a little slow about thinning it, but the plants don't seem too unhappy in their crowded condition. The kids didn't want to see any plants die, but when I offered to make pesto out of the ones that were culled, their basil reverence lost out to its divine taste. Heck, they even helped thin it, then pluck the leaves off the stems. My daughter was especially cute in her princess dress, now too small but too loved to give up, her little fingers busily working. When she asked for my "basil and chicken pasta", how could I say no? It's a great twist on the old standard of using pesto as a pasta sauce. I don't remember where I first found my recipe, but I've tweaked it some over the years, trying to get it perfect. I'm not there yet, but it is very good. Tinkyada gluten-free pasta One of the best things about this recipe is that it's easy to make gluten free for my daughter. The sauce is thickened with a bit of cornstarch and melted cheeses, so no substitutions are necessary. And the pasta? Also easy, thanks to Tinkyada rice pasta. We've tried a lot of gluten-free pastas, and this one is one of the best. The brown rice pasta spirals are great for catching tasty sauces like this one, and the colors have both kids begging for samples before they're even cooked. So even though making the pesto is time consuming, and the recipe itself requires a good mise en place before coming together fairly quickly, it's well worth doing.

Glorious, even.

Basil Pesto

2 C. fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
1/4 C. toasted pine nuts (or walnuts, if preferred)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C. freshly-grated good quality Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 C. extra-virgin olive oil

Work with about a third of all ingredients in batches and be diligent about scraping down the sides of your processor for best results. Whirl basil leaves in a food processor or blender until thoroughly chopped. Add pine nuts and garlic and whirl again. Add cheese; while blending, slowly add enough oil to bring the mixture together into a smooth paste. Repeat until all ingredients have been processed; mix batches and stir well. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Set aside; or if made in advance, cover and refrigerate.

Pesto Pasta with Chicken
Serves 4-6

4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
12 oz. chicken broth
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized nuggets
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 t. corn starch
1 recipe pesto (5-6 oz.)
2 oz. toasted pine nuts
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
2 oz. fresh basil, chopped
16 oz. fusilli or similar pasta, cooked and drained
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Soak tomatoes in chicken broth to help soften them. Set aside. Prepare pasta while setting up the chicken and sauce; drain and set aside, covered, if it finishes before the sauce is done.

Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat. Cook chicken, shaking pan or stirring occasionally to lightly brown pieces evenly (you may need to do this in batches). Reduce heat to medium as last batch of chicken finishes cooking.

Remove 2-3 T. of chicken broth from tomato mixture, and stir cornstarch into it. If necessary, return all cooked chicken to the skillet; add tomato mixture, pesto, and pine nuts. Bring to a boil, then stir in cornstarch mixture and allow to thicken. If you want all the feta cheese to melt, add it, reduce heat to medium low, and stir until it's incorporated into sauce. Remove from heat. If you prefer small chunks of feta (which we do), turn off heat first, then stir in feta.

Pour chicken and sauce over pasta and stir well to mix. Sprinkle chopped basil over dish and stir again. Check seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, passing grated Parmesan cheese for those who wish to add it.

Pesto pasta with ChickenThe nuts add a nice depth to both the pesto and the pasta sauce, so this dish is best with them in both components. Walnuts are an acceptable substitute in both if you don't like pine nuts; and while it's good without any nuts, it really isn't the same. Hubby forgot to get them, as you can see from the photo, but the promise of a repeat later this summer made it easy to forgive him. He doesn't like the chewy texture of the sun-dried tomatoes, but I keep forgetting to test a substitution of fresh tomatoes. I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be good too. They're another of summer's glories, after all!

This post has been submitted to Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Kalyn herself.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Most Demanding Food Goddess of All: Chocolate

Don't get me wrong, I love chocolate. I adore chocolate. I offer a silent prayer of thanks to the Mesoamericans who first came across the lovely cacao pod, Theobroma cacao, every time I encounter a new or really good type of chocolate. How else could the lowly pod have gotten its name, which means "food of the gods?"

However.

My worshipful demeanor often turns ugly when I'm working with chocolate, instead of eating it. Like any goddess worth her robes, chocolate can be a fickle, unpredictable mistress, reducing even the best pastry chefs to tears. It doesn't take kitchen expertise to know this. How many of us have burnt chocolate while trying to melt it? Or had a bit of liquid get into a bowl and turn it into a seized up mess? Or have it separate into oily and grainy layers that seem impossible to bring together again? And let's not think back on all the chocolate desserts we've slaved, hoped, and yes, prayed over, wanting a beautiful, delicious result - but what we got was a waxy or grainy texture, or an underwhelming chocolate taste. How could our goddess desert us, after all our praises and offerings unto her?

And my lamentations above don't address her greatest challenge: tempering chocolate. You think you've prostrated yourself before this goddess? Grasshopper, you haven't begun to suffer if you haven't tried to temper her. This most marvelous molecule, luscious as it is, harbors chemical secrets that make working with it as much art as it is science. But over the past few months of doing a lot of tempering of this difficult goddess, and reading even more about how easy/hard it is to temper chocolate and other people's instructions and hints, I think I'm getting the hang of it. I'm not an expert at all, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that just about everybody has developed a process that works for her - but might not work for somebody else. I've got my own method, but while finding it I learned a lot that I hope will help others minimize their time cursing the goddess Theobroma, and instead sing her praises.

I don't intend this to be a complete tutorial, but before I start talking about tempering chocolate I have to say a few things about types of chocolate. Chocolate making is a complex process, beginning with growing the trees. Different varieties have different characteristics, and when grown in different conditions can have various flavor signatures. Cacao undergoes roasting, conching, sometimes blending, and often, having other ingredients added to it in the process of turning pods into what we know as chocolate. All these things influence the taste, and of course the price. I do think that there's an increasing amount of chocolate snobbery going on lately, as more people discover some of the subtle taste differences, but that doesn't mean that Valrhona or Lindt are just overpriced Hershey's. Or for a more fair comparison, eat a Hershey's kiss and then a Dove chocolate, and tell me you can't taste or feel any difference. Quality cacao pods and careful handling make a much better product, and it will cost more for them. How much should you spend for good chocolate? Well, that depends on you. If it's just going into chocolate chip cookies for your kids, then Nestle's Toll House chips are probably fine. But if you're making a lavish dessert for an important dinner party, or for an intimate meal with the love of your life, then splurging on the best chocolate you can find will reward you. Anytime you need the deep, rich taste of chocolate to come through, get real chocolate, not the "chocolate chips" or "chocolate morsels" stuff that's had some of the cocoa butter removed and replaced with other fats. That changes the chocolate flavor, and it changes how the chocolate behaves. streaky, incompletely tempered chocolate

Most importantly for now, those chocolate-like food substances can't be tempered. Tempering chocolate is the process of making the molecules align a certain way. When they're aligned in that configuration, the chocolate hardens very quickly, it takes on a shiny, smooth look, and it gets a characteristic snap that you can hear and feel when you break into tempered chocolate. The problem is, chocolate molecules can align in several different ways, and only one yields beautifully tempered chocolate. So it takes some work to get our goddess to behave for us. The picture above shows a cascade of semi-tempered chocolate in a bowl. The streaks come out as the chocolate hardened and the cocoa butter "bloomed" out of some of it. Streaky chocolate like this almost always means that the chocolate hasn't been stirred enough. You see, this caressing of our goddess improves her mood, and causes the beta crystals - the alignment that's commonly known as tempered chocolate - to encourage other molecules to fall into step with them.

But stirring isn't enough to make the molecules swing into step. It takes careful manipulation of temperature too. And this is where things start to get tricky. If you've looked at procedures for tempering chocolate, you have seen different ranges of temperatures and probably pulled your hair out in frustration. Which one is right?

They all might be.

The precise temperature at which chocolate will temper depends on lots of things. Generally, white and milk chocolates come into temper at lower temperatures, usually around 84-86°F, and the darker the chocolate, the higher the temperature - dark or bittersweet chocolate tempers around 88°F. But different brands and varieties of "milk" or "bittersweet" chocolate have different amounts of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter in them, so any temperature is best thought of as a very rough guide.

And we're not on the home stretch yet. The chocolate needs to be heated higher than this, then cooled to where the beta crystals begin forming. There are lots of ways to do this, and I've tried a few. For me, the marble slab technique works best. It's the fastest and most consistent method I've found. Here's the general procedure.

Heat the chocolate to be tempered up to 115°F and hold it there for 3-4 minutes. I do this by using the microwave in brief bursts, and stirring it in between each burst (to make sure I don't burn the chocolate).

Then I pour about 2/3 of the chocolate onto a clean, absolutely dry marble slab and spread it around, to get it to cool quickly. Let it sit until the temperature reads 92°F or lower. Then you begin moving the chocolate around to further cool it, and so that the beta crystals get well mixed into the chocolate when they start to form. I like to use my bench knife for this, I've seen other people use thin metal spatulas or even good plastic scrapers. When the chocolate starts to come into temper you'll start to see a line of thickened chocolate building up on your edge. When your chocolate gets into the appropriate temperature range listed above, pour it back into the bowl and mix well so that the beta crystals are seeded throughout all the chocolate. Check the temperature and once the chocolate's at the suggested temperature, test for temper by putting a test drop out somewhere - on your marble or parchment paper work surface. If it's hard within 5 minutes, your chocolate is tempered and ready to use. Never trust your thermometer, ALWAYS test your chocolate for temper before working with it!

clump of tempered chocolate floating in untempered chocolate Stir the chocolate frequently while you're working with it, taking care not to add a lot of air to it. If you don't finish your work before the chocolate starts to set up, you can warm it up a bit. As long as you don't warm it above 92°F, it will stay in temper. Remember to stir and test after you warm it - depending on how much chocolate you're working with and the power of your microwave oven, 5-15 seconds will probably be enough without heating it too much. Check the temperature after each warming and test for temper before continuing your work. In the picture at the left, I was lazy about stirring the chocolate....so I got a small island of tempered chocolate that was surrounded by liquid chocolate. After taking that picture, I left the bowl in a cool spot in my kitchen, and an hour later, remembered it. The untempered chocolate was still very liquid!

I know lots of people are nervous about using the microwave for heating chocolate. It takes care and attention, but it can work really well. Obviously you can't use metal bowls, but they're not really good for tempering chocolate anyway because metals conduct heat too easily. So does glass. I have a big, cheap plastic bowl that I use only for tempering chocolate, and it works splendidly. I don't like to use the double boiler method because if water gets into the chocolate, it can ruin the entire batch as far as tempering goes. (It's still fine to use in recipes, especially ones that have added liquids - like ganaches, mousse, souffles, etc.)

Tempering chocolate isn't an activity that tolerates lots of interruptions. The goddess loves your attention to be focused on her, after all. But if you're going to go through the effort of making homemade candy, doesn't it make sense to use the best ingredients possible, and to give your all to creating gorgeous, delicious morsels? If you're going to do all that, it just makes sense to coat all that with the best chocolate you can buy, and treat that goddess right. Temper her carefully, and enrobe your centers in her lovely brown beauty. Then keep your gems cool and separated so that shiny surface doesn't get marred before you serve them. And be prepared to receive lots of adulation yourself from the lucky people who get to enjoy them!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lentil Chili: Theme and Variations

Lentils are wonderful little gems! They come in pretty colors and have lots of flavor, and are a good source of protein. I'm still not sure that all this mad cow disease talk is for real or just another scare, but I am sure about not liking all the chemicals that are given to cattle and probably get passed to us through their milk and meat. So I've been looking for good vegetarian entrees.....not easy when hubby and kids love meat! Lentils have been a pretty good way of making sure we get protein, and disguising that it isn't coming from beef.

When I saw Catesa's recipe for lentil chili, I knew I'd be giving it a try. I noticed she varied from the original recipe but still got a good result. That isn't surprising, because lentils and chili are both versatile, but it got me wondering.....how many delicious varieties can this easy recipe spawn?

I'd love to see other people's takes on lentil chili, so I'd like to try an experiment. I invite anyone who drops by here to read the recipes other readers have come up with for their lentil chili, and come up with your own. Post your recipe on your blog, and to keep the lentil chili chain going, please link to this entry so your readers can see the "theme and variation" idea and contribute too. I'll add links to new recipes at the end of this post to make it easy for readers to enjoy them all. (Please leave a comment so I'll know to check your site for your recipe!)

The original recipe called for canned corn, green peppers, and just three spices (among other things). Catesa's variation used two kinds of lentils, added chickpeas, and dropped the green peppers and one of the spices. I don't like green peppers at all, and I don't care for corn in my chili, so both of those were out. I wanted to use two kinds of lentils but could only find my expensive, delicious French lentils. I also modified the preparation some. My recipe ended up too soupy to eat on a tortilla like Catesa did, but it was very good and I will definitely be making it again, along with some variations I already have in mind. As usual, I forgot to take pictures!

KQ's French Lentil Chili
Approximately 8 servings


1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 T peanut oil
1 t. ground cumin
1 C. French lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 C. beef broth
dash of Tabasco sauce
1 16 oz. can undrained diced tomatoes
1 16 oz. can undrained chickpeas
1/2 t. allspice
salt and pepper to taste
1 16 oz. can tomato sauce

Heat peanut oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat. (You can use a saucepan for this step if it has a heavy bottom and won't burn the onions.)

Put onion mixture into a saucepan, and add lentils, broth, Tabasco, tomatoes, chickpeas, and allspice. (Use some of the broth to deglaze the skillet, if necessary, to get all the goodness into your chili.) Season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to keep chili at a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30-45 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and continue to simmer until flavors are blended and lentils are done to your taste (just a few minutes if you like firmer lentils, or up to half an hour more if you like them really soft). Before serving, check seasonings and adjust as needed. Serve as is or over rice; if served over rice, a salad will complete your meal.

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