Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”
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French lentils with roasted beets and walnuts

French lentils and roasted beets

When I was a kid, people used to say, “that was beat.” That meant it was bad. I’m not sure if this was specific to where and when I grew up, or if it was more of universal phraseology, but it was quite prevalent amongst my peers. (When I was even younger, people used to say “feeling crunchy,” when somebody was put down or proven wrong. I’m fairly sure that was specific to my middle school! Ooooooh, feeeeeeling cruuuuuunchyyyyyy…”) So, if something was beat, it was bad. To use it in a sentence, “That party was so beat, because the music was beat, and the people were really beat, too.” I’ve decided to make it my life’s work, my raison d’etre, to bring the phrase back, but as a description of a good thing, and changing it slightly to “beet.” “That party was so beet, man, I never wanted to leave! My job is so great, it’s roasted beet. Awww, they’re my favorite band of all time…they’re golden beet.” Maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about this before bed, because I had a dream about beet brickle, which I think we can all agree I shouldn’t try to make. I also thought of this recipe, which turned out deeeeeelicious. Totally beet. It’s got french lentils cooked with a little red wine, orange juice and balsamic; it’s got lovely little roasted beets and shallots; it’s got toasted walnuts, for crunch; it’s got fresh basil, sage, and tarragon, for spring-herb-garden-deliciousness; and it’s got tiny cubes of mozzarella, which get nice and melty when they hit the warm lentils.

Crusty bread

We ate it with some fresh black pepper bread, and I’m extremely excited about it. As you know, if you’ve been following along at home, I’ve been trying for some time to make a crispy-crusted bread that doesn’t have a dense crumb. I wanted big airy holes inside. Well…I think I’ve done it! I left the dough very very wet and soft. It was messy to knead, I tell you. And I let it rise the last time, in the pan I baked it in, for well over an hour. Oh boy!! Look at the airy crumb on this baby! It’s soooooo beeeeeeeeeeeeet!

Crusty bread

Here’s LL Cool J (and Adam Horowitz!) with I Need a Beet

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Potage of quinoa w/ 4 kinds of lentils & 8 kinds of basil

Potage with quinoa and lentils

We visited Monticello last week. It’s so full of beauty, light, and grace that it made me weepy. Less than a mile away, in the visitor’s center, is a recreation of one of Jefferson’s slaves’ dwellings. It’s dark, gloomy, and cramped. That made me weepy, too. Jefferson designed the house with all of the “dependencies” – where the work was done – hidden beneath the building in catacomb-like tunnels. The word “dependencies” struck me as a funny one, in this situation. As you walk through the house and grounds you realize that Jefferson and his family had a complete and childlike dependence on their slaves. Their slaves dressed them, raised their children, grew their food, cooked their food, made their furniture, dug their graves. The man who dug Jefferson’s grave was named Wormley Hughes. He worked in the garden. The garden at Monticello is a thing of wonder. Beautiful, useful, inspiring – a perfect spot to sit and ponder questions of liberty and independence. Wormley Hughes was freed after Jefferson’s death, and shortly thereafter, his wife and 8 of his children were divided and sold.

It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.

Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace. He doesn’t sing, but it’s almost as if the guitar is speaking the words.
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Vegetable, french lentil, potato ragout

Vegetable french lentil ragout

In which Claire goes on and on about The Two of Us, part 2 of 2.

Did I mention that we recently watched the Claude Berri film, The Two of Us? Oh, I did? I’ve told you that I loved the film, and some of the reasons why. But there was more to it than that. The film spoke to me, about things I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. I saw myself in some of the characters in a way I don’t usually with most films. I wonder if everybody feels that way when they watch The Two of Us, because the film is so human and honest that it feels universal? Such specific things resonated, though. An old, old dog, loved more than anything in the world. A bright, energetic 8-year-old boy, who doesn’t quite understand why you’re upset by the way he acts. The father’s anxious-angry-loving face was so dear and familiar. And then there were the animals. Pepe is a vegetarian. Not a common or popular position in the French countryside at the time, it would seem. The rest of the populace was trying to find a way to scrounge some meat during the deprivations of WWII, but he proudly announced that he only ate vegetables. By choice. Not because that’s all the rations allowed. His wife raised, killed, and cooked rabbits. But to Pepe, that wasn’t an option, because he knew the rabbits. He loved the rabbits. Exactly in the way he loved Claude, though he was a jew, because he knew him. It reminded me of the film The Shooting Party, in which a parallel is made between children who save their pet duck from a duck hunt, as though she’s the only duck that matters, because she’s their duck, and the fact that the accidental shooting of an old man is only important because they know him. All this in the context of WWI, in which surely it was only possible to kill other humans in fear and ignorance, because you didn’t know them, and they were the enemy. In the way Claude, the little boy, would have been to Pepe, before he knew him.

Anyway…I wanted to make something to go with my couronne bread, and I decided to make something Pepe might eat. So I made a ragout, which as I understand it is a stew substantial enough to be a meal. This was hearty, because of the potatoes and french lentils, but they weren’t the stars of the show. We also had zucchini, broccoli rabe and tomatoes, and white wine and capers for brightness. So it had a certain lightness, despite being completely satisfying. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but right up their with the tastiest.

Here’s Nina Simone with Turning Point. A devastating, complex song, told with the simplicity of a child’s voice. A revelation of prejudice that makes it all seem so idiotic and unnecessary.
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Paté en croute – vegetarian style

Pate en croute

This dish is so fancy! How fancy is it? Well, you’ve got your paté, and you’ve got your croute. That’s fancy! Can’t you just hear Mrs. Patmore saying, “Daisy, stop your daydreaming, and get this up to the grand dining room before Lady Mary collapses in her corset!” Of course, in that scenario, this would probably be stuffed with pheasants. Not here, my friend!

Break it down, and this isn’t hoity toity at all. It’s two of my favorite flavors together – roasted mushrooms & french lentils – mixed with ground almonds, ground hazelnuts, a bit of cheese and some herbs. And all wrapped in a peppery, flaky crust. Now doesn’t that sound good? And healthy? This isn’t hard to make, and most of the components can be made ahead and saved until you’re good and ready for them. I believe there are pans devoted to the preparation of patés. I don’t have one of those! I do have a nice loaf pan from ikea. It’s a little longer and thinner than your average loaf pan. In truth, any such loaf pan would do. This serves quite a few people, and it does seem special, so it would make a nice dinner party meal. But we had a nice weeknight dinner of it- thick slices of this concoction, roasted rosemary potatoes and a big salad.

Here’s Fancy Pants, by Count Basie and his orchestra.
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Vegetarian Haggis

vegetarian haggis

I know, I know – I missed Burns’ Night. I seem to be missing everything lately! I put it all into a big pile somewhere in my mind, and then I forget about it till it’s too late. Well, it’s never too late for vegetarian haggis! This dish would be delicious whatever you called it. (Possibly more delicious if you didn’t conjure pictures of actual haggis!!) It is comprised of french lentils, roasted mushrooms, oatmeal, nuts, herbs & spices and a dash of whisky. I’ve baked it inside of pastry before (surprise! surprise!). But my all-time favorite way to eat it is baked inside of big beautiful chard leaves. I think it looks pretty, and the chard adds a lovely flavor as it holds everything together. I first had vegetarian haggis on my honeymoon in Edinburgh – out of a can! It was surprisingly tasty. This is my recreation of that canned delight, but it also happens to be a collection of many of my favorite foods. I put butter and cheese in mine, but you could easily leave those out, and then you’d have vegan haggis.

Here’s The Gourds with I Ate the Haggis (thanks, TFD!)
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Salad of warm greens, french lentils and wild rice

warm kale salad

We’ve had a reprieve in the weather lately. In the afternoons you actually feel the warmth of the sunshine, and there’s a hopeful light that makes you forget we’ve got all of February to get through. And then you buy lettuce or tomatoes, and the iciness comes back to you. Luckily we’ve still got warm salads! This is a very substantial one – with flavorful french lentils and wild rice tossed in, and a handful of almonds thrown on at the end to add crunch. I made a sort of dressing with plum tomatoes briefly sauteed in olive oil and balsamic. This salad is a meal, and this meal is vegan. Cheese would make it taste even better, in my opinion – goat, or fresh mozzarella, or some grated sharp cheese. But then it wouldn’t be vegan, obviously! Anyway, it was quick to make, so I’m going to keep it quick now. (Yup, I’ve got to go to work!)

And here’s Big Daddy Kane with Warm it Up, Kane to sing to yourself while you warm up your kale.
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The elegant leftover scheme

In which we outline a cooking plan for the new depression.

french lentil egg-fried mujadara

Times are hard. We know this because we hear it every time we turn on the radio. It’s been a rough year. It’s been a rough couple of years. Well, I’ve always enjoyed trying to make the most of the food I have – trying to think of something inventive to make with the contents of my cupboard, and trying to use every bit of food I cook, in one form or another. This hearkens back to the way people cooked during the first depression. The food was often vegetarian, and people found ingenious ways to stretch it to feed as many as possible, or to use simple leftovers to make a meal so good even meat-eaters didn’t miss their meat. Left-over mashed potatoes would become croquettes, leftover beans would go in a stew. Some of the most memorable dishes from around the world were initially devised as money-saving ingredient-stretching feasts. Over the years, I’ve developed a scheme for using leftovers creatively. It’s not just the dishes that are elegant in this scheme – although you’ll feel like you were dining at William Powell’s night club – it’s the way everything fits together. If, say, you make a big batch of french lentils on Saturday, and you make a dish with rice on Sunday…on Monday you can make a delicious mujadara-like dish. Add one beaten egg, and you have a tasty mujadara egg-fried rice. The flavorings are sage, rosemary and thyme, and are enhanced with shallots and onions. Very satisfying! On the night I made this, I also cooked some potatoes in a clay pot, and made brown-butter-roasted cauliflower, and a simple salad of arugula and goat cheese. Everything tasted wonderful together. And the roasted cauliflower and potatoes will show up another day in a soup, (stay tuned!) which will take a fraction of the time to cook, because they’re already roasted!

Here’s Times is Tight Like That, by Bo Carter, and a recipe for french lentil mujadara fried rice is after the jump.
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Say happy new year with lentils!

I’ve been reading up on foods that are considered lucky eating for New Year’s Eve. Seems that legumes and greens are consumed throughout the world in various guises. Fascinating! Green french lentils are deemed especially lucky in many countries. As it happens, french lentils and greens are among my favorite foods!! Fancy that! And round foods are also seen as fortuitous, for a variety of reasons. I happened to have a big box of large white mushrooms, so I decided to stuff them with a mixture of french lentils, greens, and cheese. And I made a sauce with the lentil-cooking broth and the leftover lentils. Yummy!

This morning we had pancakes in the shape of a circle, because circular foods are universally considered serendipitous as well.

And here’s Grace Cathedral Hill, a beautiful song by the Decemberists. It’s about New Year’s Day, and it’s a lovely story of a day when nothing in particular happens, but everything feels significant. I love those days! And one of my favorite parts (of course it’s food-related) is when they’re both a little hungry so they go to buy a hot dog. It’s not the best meal you ever had, but you remember it, and it becomes important, and it fills you up when you need it.
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French Lentils

raw lentils

French lentils! They’re so pretty when they’re raw, and so tasty when they’re cooked. They have a wonderful nutty, almost meaty flavor, and they retain their shape, and a pleasantly non-mushy texture. I have a basic method to cook them, and then they can be eaten as is, or tossed in a salad, or with pasta, or stuffed into a pie (in fact this is one of the staple ingredients that finds its way into many different pies). Save the cooking liquid for broth.

the ubiquitous shallot, garlic & herbs

recipe after the … jump!
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