A Delicious Lentil Soup With A Dirty Little Secret

What you need to know about lentil soup is everyone has their “simple” version.  Knowing this, it reminds me how easy it is to get a nutritious hot bowl of soup to the table.  It also tells me that it must taste really good if there is a reason to keep publishing simple lentil soup recipes, and we do keep publishing them and it does taste good.

The hardest part of  making this soup is cutting the vegetables, which with the exception of the potatoes, can be done up to two days in advance as long as the vegetables are stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The recipe calls for four types of lentils but the truth of the matter is, I had just a small portion of different kinds of lentils I needed to use up.  It so happens that the different textures and subtle flavor differences in the legumes was a welcome addition but if you don’t have but one kind of lentil in the house the soup is still really good.

And here is the secret, soups depend on good broth but sometimes the broth isn’t strong enough.  Without a good broth soups come off as watery and bland and no amount of salt is going to change this.  This fact, and this fact alone, is enough of a reason to keep bouillon cubes in the pantry, or some sort of stock base, that can be used more as a seasoning then as an actual broth.  The idea is to taste the soup after it has cooked and if it comes off as a little flat you add a quarter teaspoon or more of stock base or break off a small piece of bouillon cube to kick up the flavor.  Add the base to the pot, let the it dissolve, stir, and taste again. Keep adding a small piece if needed until the soup is delicious.  Get the picture?  It works, makes the soup more exciting, even if it is a dirty little secret.

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved

4 Lentil Soup (makes 6 servings)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, small dice
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 large celery stalk, small dice
3 medium yellow potatoes, cubed
1 cup lentils, a mix of beluga, du pays, yellow, and red
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 cup crushed tomatoes
salt
pepper
vegan sodium free bouillon cube
5 cups homemade vegetable stock or no-sodium vegetable stock
2 handfuls baby spinach
1.Place a 3 1/2 quart (3.5l) enameled Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil is warm add onions, carrot, celery, and garlic.

2. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir, and sauté the vegetables until they are soft, about 3 minutes

3. Add oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Stir again and add potatoes and lentils. Stir. Add tomatoes, broth, and bouillon cube. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

4. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

5. Remove the lid, taste the soup, and add any seasoning necessary. Add 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach and stir it into the soup. Once the spinach is wilted, ladle up bowls of soup and serve.

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A Simple Pot Of Beans (And Tips For Pressure Cooking Them)

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved

Just about anything can be cooked in a pressure cooker. It does lots of things well. Stews, roasts, soups and one pots all come to the table hot and delicious. Even so, what really keeps the pressure cooker on the stove top is the basics. A pressure cooker cooks beans, grains, rice, and stocks effortlessly and it cooks them perfect every time. A pressure cooker is a natural in the kitchen. Not only that, as everybody knows, the pressure cooker saves time and when it comes to cooking beans it saves lots of time.

Bean Myths

We live in a world of bean myths. A world where bits of anecdotal information is passed from one generation of cooks to another. Dried beans carry suitcases full of informational baggage around with each and every pound. But what is truth and what is fiction and how should it all be sorted out?

Dried beans

There are a lot of choices when it comes to the kinds of beans you choose to cook. There are all the traditional beans -‑ black, pinto, garbanzo, navy, and kidney but there are also limitless kinds of heirloom beans with fancy names like Tiger Eye, Eye of the Goat, and Snowcap. There are even more.

When combined with a grain, more often then not rice, beans make a complete protein. This makes beans one of the least expensive healthy foods to put onto the stove. Combine them with a few spices and herbs and it becomes a flavorful dish the whole family will love.

To buy the best beans frequent a grocery that has a high turnover of dried beans. The newer the bean the better it cooks. Beans that have been around for a long time might not ever soften no matter how long you cook them. It pays to pay a little extra for good quality beans.

There are other legumes too. Split peas, lentils, and field peas cook up just as wonderfully in a pressure cooker as any of their cousins mentioned above. These legumes don’t need any kind of soak either, they can go right into the pot and cook in no time at all.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

This is a personal question. It is up to the cook whether or not to soak the beans overnight. In pressure cooker you do not need to soak the beans but there may be reasons why you want to.

One reason would be how are the beans going to be used. If they are to be pureed soaking isn’t necessary but if they are to be left whole a pressure cooker often splits beans leaving them cracked. If this is important then soak the beans.

Under pressure dried beans are cooked in minutes. Not something that can happen when they are cooked traditionally. The question becomes one of digestibility. If the beans are soaked a good deal of the gas causing chemical, phytic acid, is leached out into the soaking water which is discarded and fresh water is then added for cooking. If gastrointestinal issues are a factor presoaking is mandatory.

So while you can eliminate the soaking water when pressure cooking here is another reason it might not be a good idea. Almost any presoaked bean cooks in 10 to 14 minutes in a pressure cooker. That is what is amazing. Cooked delicious beans in such a short amount of time!

A Quick Soak

If you should forget to soak you beans you can still get a pot of beans to the table with a quick soak. Simply put the amount of beans you want to cook into the pressure cooker and for every 1 cup of beans add 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and lock on the pressure cooker lid. Bring to pressure and set a timer for 2 minutes. When the timer sound turn off the heat and let the beans sit for 20 minutes or until the pressure has released. Drain the soaking liquid and proceed.

Salt

There is an old wives tale about salt and beans. It says that salting beans extends their cooking time and makes the beans tough. It does not. Salting beans is paramount to great tasting beans. It is best to salt them during the soak time. About 2 teaspoons of salt per 4 cups of water is sufficient.

Foaming

Foaming is always a concern when using a pressure cooker. Foam carries particulate which can lodge and clog the pressure valves. It is best to add a tablespoon of oil or fat to the cooking liquid. This will help to prevent foaming. It is also best to use a natural or cold water release beans for the same reasons.

When To Add Acids

Tomato sauce and vinegars are often added to beans for flavor. The acids in these products can cause the beans to toughen and take longer to cook. It all depends on how much you add. A can of tomato sauce is going to affect the cooking time, a tablespoon probably not. Nevertheless, it is always best to add any of these products toward the end of the cooking time.

Baking Soda

There is no good reason to add baking soda to beans.

 

A Simple Pot Of Beans
2 cups pinto beans, rinsed and picked over for debris soaked in 8 cups of salted water for 4 hours to overnight
1 small yellow onion, peeled, small dice (about 3/4 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 TB.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 bay leaf
[1/2] tsp. fresh ground black pepper

  1. Drain the beans into a colander and strain. Rinse the beans.
  2. Place the beans into a 6 quart (5.51l) or larger pressure cooker. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1-inch (2.5cm) about 5 or 6 cups.
  3. Add onion, cloves, garlic, salt, bay leaf, and pepper to the pot. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat (traditional)/high(electric).
  4. Lock on the lid, bring the pressure to level 2(traditional)/high (electric). Set a timer for 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. After the time sounds either perform a natural or quick release. Serve or cool and refrigerate beans until needed.

Pasta Carbonara (A Midwestern Hybrid)

I melt for this pasta.  I always have.

As a kid I grew up on heavy, roux laden Fettuccini Alfredo.  It was the rigor of the day and it was served everywhere and with everything mixed into the noodles, from shrimp to broccoli.  Unfortunately, and even though it was a childhood favorite, cream based pastas in the Midwest were bad, no, they were awful.

Fettucini Alfredo in the Midwest became a Parmesan cream with noodles.  Sometimes more soup then pasta.  The Italian heritage of the dish suddenly was nowhere to be found.  Alfredo in Italy is simply a pasta of butter and Parmesan cheese much like carbonara but without using egg yolks as an emulsifier.  When the noodles are hot out of the cooking water butter and parmesan are tossed with the pasta and melt into a beautiful, silky coat for each noodle.  Fettuccini Alfredo in its Italian form has nothing to do with buckets of cream reduced or thickened with a flour and butter roux.

In the same breath, Carbonara had its day too but it also comes with its own set of problems.  Eggs used to enrich the bacon lardon and Parmesan base often become gloppy and sometimes make the pasta more dry then wet while at other times, because to much egg is used,  the dish ends up with the noodles stuck together in a pasta pancake better cut with a knife then twirled onto a fork.   When made right carbonara can be sublime but when done wrong it can be one of the worst pastas in the world.   Making carbonara involves proper technique and quality ingredients if the finished pasta is to be anywhere close to extraordinary.

This pasta is not a carbonara but neither is it an Alfredo.  It is what I like to think of as a Midwestern hybrid.  Something we do really well here in the middle states, for better or worse, we make dishes to our liking.  For me,  I like several things about this pasta.  To begin, I like the use of ham instead of bacon.  There is no rendering of any fat and yet the typical Midwestern farm ham, piquant with its rosy cure, matches perfectly with the peas, garlic, and pasta.  While the recipe calls for cream it uses far less then one might imagine and the use of starch heavy pasta water to thicken the sauce is a perfect alternative to a classic roux or eggs.  While they might look like an unnecessary garnish,  the parsley and chives are important in flavoring the final dish and should be added in the last minutes of cooking.

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved

Midwest Carbonara (Serves 4)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (55g)
1 tablespoon garlic
8 oz. ham, small dice (225g)
1/2 cup heavy cream (110g)
1/2 cup pasta water (110g)
3/4 cup frozen peas (170g)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas (110g)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (110g)
1 pound vermicelli pasta (450g)

  1. Place a 6 quart (5.51l) pot, filled with 4 quarts (4l) of water, onto the stove. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring the water to a boil.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil heat a 14” inch (35.5cm) over medium heat. Add unsalted butter and let it melt. Add ham, stir then add garlic.
  3. When the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown add cream. Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
  4. This is about timing. The vermicelli only takes minutes to cook but if you are using a different noodle that takes longer adjust you timing.
  5. Add the vermicelli to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.
  6. Place the cream back onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium high. Bring the cream to a boil, add peas, season with white pepper.
  7. If the cream reduces to fast add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Use pasta water because the starch will thicken the sauce.
  8. Drain the noodles when the finish cooking. Add noodles to sauté pan, carefully toss them with the cream. Add half the cheese and carefully toss the noodles with the cream. Taste, add salt if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh ground white pepper, half the chives and parsley. Carefully toss again taking note that it will be hard to get the peas and ham to mix into the pasta. This is okay.
  9. Pay attention in order to keep the pasta from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
  10. When everything is hot, use you tongs to place the pasta onto a large platter. Top the pasta with remaining peas and ham. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and top with remaining chives and parsley. Serve.

 

Bison Sirloin with Mushroom Ragu

I remember the first time I saw a bison up close and personal. It was out on the rolling prairies of South Dakota. No, it wasn’t wild. Reality is, I am not sure there are to many of those left. Maybe in Canada and Yellowstone but beyond that I think most herds are domesticated, sort of.

When you walk up on a buffalo it is like you stepped back in time, especially if they are starring at you head on. They are huge animals yielding in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds of meat. You heard that right four hundred pounds. I can’t imagine killing one of these with a bow and arrow.  I have a hard time trying to imagine how the Native Americans did it.

It is interesting to note at one time Indiana had bison that followed the Buffalo Trace on their east/west migration through the southern portion of the state. The trace was one of the first roads used by animals and people alike.

The mushroom ragu is really what this dish is all about.  I love buffalo, I can eat it plain without any toppings, but the simple addition of this simple ragu makes the whole dish.

The ragu is an umami bomb.  The deep earthiness of the mushrooms, combined with the red wine and soy, and cooked on the stove top until all the flavors are intensified by reduction makes it a great combination.  Not only is it good on red meat but it also is delicious on salmon and monk fish.

If you don’t want to mess with buffalo, of course this recipe would be great with beef.  I like to pan sear the sirloins but the grill works great too.  Use whichever works best for you.

Buffalo SirloinServes 4
one (1 1/2 to 2 pound) buffalo sirloin
5 cups assorted exotic mushrooms
2 heads garlic, roasted, see step 5
1 teaspoon marjoram
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
parsley for garnish

  1. Place a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Let it get good and hot. Then add the oil. Add the oil first to keep the butter from burning.
  2. Now add the mushrooms. Spread them out across the pan and let them sit without shaking or turning them so they get good and brown. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and some pepper.
  3. When the mushrooms are good and brown flip them and do the same to the other side. Add the shallots and the butter. Let the shallots soften.
    Add the wine, soy sauce and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the wine is almost all absorbed by the mushrooms.
  4. Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet or if you are using a grill you should already have it going, over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and cook the sirloin caramelizing both sides of the steak to the internal temp you want it to be.
  5. Let the steak rest, slice and serve with mushrooms on top. Garnish with parsley.

Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons

If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.

I can’t imagine a life without seasons.  Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.

I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way.   This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine.  It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites.  Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery.  Foods that I have done without since last fall.

For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.

Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)

This is great for weeknights.  The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.)  Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb. ground beef

1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)

3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 Fresno red pepper, chopped

3 Shiso peppers, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

rice noodles, cooked

  1. Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Add oil and let it become hot.
  2. Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown.  Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic.  Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
  3. Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top.  Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.