Friday, October 14, 2022

 

Quick Sautéed Butternut with Red Lentils 

Working with my friend Cameron, a UGA nutritional medicine major student who makes short nutrition and food Instagram videos, I figured on bringing together two of my favorite healthy ingredients. Not only did they pair particularly well, but the resulting dish seemed fully seasonal as the weather cools down. 

As cooked lentils sit, they get thicker in texture. So this dish can either be a side vegetable dish with a meat or other protein, or if diluted can be a soup or stew. This time because of Cameron’s audience, I made the dish completely plant-based, using olive oil for the sautéing. But half olive oil half butter is luscious too. 

Split red lentils (sometimes known as Egyptian lentils) are readily available at supermarkets, Indian stores (Masoor Dal), health or whole food stores, or Ethiopian stores (Misir). 

The recipe serves six as a side dish in a dinner, or if diluted with more water can be a stew or soup.

 

2 cups split red lentils

4 cups of water, plus more as needed

3 cups 1/2-inch cubed butternut squash (peeled and seeded), about 1 pound

1 small onion, finely diced

1/2 cup olive oil or 1/4 each olive oil and butter

1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Small pinch ground cinnamon

Finely minced parsley for garnish

 

Rinse the lentils in a pot, draining off most of the water. Add the 4 cups water, and bring the pot to a slow boil, stirring frequently. Add water as needed to keep the mixture soupy. Red lentils break down and become pale yellow colored and tender in 15-20 minutes.
 
Meanwhile, peel and seed the butternut and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. (Measure it you as
you cut it, and keep the remainder of butternut for another use.) Peel and finely dice the onion.
 
Heat a frying pan. Add the oil (plus butter if used) and the onion. Fry until onion begins
to soften, Then add the cut butternut and part of the salt, all the pepper and cinnamon.
Stir and fry over low heat, until butternut becomes tender, 10-15 minutes.
 
When both lentils and butternut are tender, combine them in the lentil pot. Add water as
needed to the desired level of thickness – moderately thick for a side vegetable dish,
soupy for a soup or stew. Add salt as needed to the desired taste. Simmer a few minutes
and remove from the heat. Taste one final time and add a little salt if needed.
 
Sprinkle with a little finely minced parsley when serving.
 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

 

Mushroom and Caper-Smothered Chopped Steaks                      

 

This is a slightly modified rendition of the dish I prepared for my brother Tom’s last meal. I visited him for a few days in 2008 in our hometown as he was dying. And although he was no longer eating solid food, he wanted to have one final meal for our other brother, several old friends, and me, and enjoy our company as we ate. 

The dish I prepared for that midday meal drew on the modest food that we ate in our childhood, “chopped steaks.”. I bought all the ingredients at the old grocery store down in the village where we always shopped. I remember how I made this because I wrote it up at the time for a different blog I was then writing. 

The recipe serves six.


2 pounds freshly ground sirloin or chuck

1 pound mushrooms (“baby bella” preferred)

3 English muffins, split

Butter or olive oil

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons red wine

1-1/2 cups half-and-half cream or 1/2 cup cream cheese plus 3/4 cup water

4 tablespoons capers, drained

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Parsley for garnish, optional


Shape 6 burgers 1/2-inch thick, evenly flat and a little wider than the English muffins. Rinse mushrooms, trim off bottom 1/8 inch of stems. Slice mushrooms 1/4-inch thick.
 

Warm oven to 150 degrees.

Heat large frying pan to medium high. Add several tablespoons butter or olive oil. Place split muffins cut side down and fry until just golden. Turn them over to briefly heat the backs. Transfer toasted muffins to a platter in the warm oven.
 

Heat the pan to hot. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on one side of the burgers and place them in the pan, seasoned side down. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the tops. After one minute, slide a spatula under burgers and turn them over. Fry one minute, then turn them and reduce the heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until desired degree of doneness. 

When cooked, place burgers on the English muffin halves and keep warm in the oven.

Pour off all except 1 1/2 tablespoons of grease or, if there’s not enough, add a little butter or olive oil. Over medium heat, fry mushrooms, sprinkled with 3/8 teaspoon salt, stirring often with a spatula. As mushrooms begin to shed some liquid and shrink, add pepper, and red wine, and continue to stir and fry.

When wine has reduced by half, add the half-and-half or cream cheese and water and cook mixture down to half, stirring frequently. Stir in drained capers and the horseradish. Remove pan from heat. After a minute, taste and add a little salt if needed (capers are fairly salty).

Place burger-topped English muffins on dinner plates. Spoon mushroom-caper sauce over top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley, if desired. Accompany with a glass of red wine.

Thursday, October 6, 2022


 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I’ve loved butternut squash since I first encountered it as a kid growing up in southern New

England. My father, skilled at farming, tried the then new vegetable in our family garden when 
butternut seed had just become available about 1950. Butternut quickly replaced the traditional 
Hubbard as the favorite winter squash. 

As its name indicates, the squash is both buttery and nutty in flavor. These features are most
pronounced when the fruits are fully mature, with the skin thick and uniformly tan and the stem
hard and dry. The flesh is then rich orange and sweet. Its luscious intensity is further enhanced
by baking.

Here is an evocative favorite butternut dish for the fall season, roasted butternut soup. It is not too
difficult and shows the squash off to advantage. The recipe serves six, but extra soup stores well and seems even better after a day or two. While typically served hot, butternut soup can also be eaten cold like its non-relative, gazpacho.

1 large or 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds),  ripe and hard1 small onion, finely diced

A 6-inch piece of celery, finely diced

6 tablespoons butter

5 cups chicken broth (low salt) or vegetable broth

1 1/2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

A small pinch of ground cloves

(3 tablespoons cashew butter or ground cashews, optional)

Minced parsley or tiny sprouts (leafy parts) for garnish


Set oven for 350 degrees.

Cut butternut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash, cut side up, on a baking
sheet and roast it until tender when pierced with a toothpick. Let cool.

Meanwhile prepare the onion and celery and fry them gently in the butter using the pot in which
you will make the soup. Stir frequently and fry until the vegetables are tender but not browned.
Remove from the heat.

When the baked butternut is cooled somewhat, scoop all the flesh out from the skin. Place it,
along with the fried onion-celery mixture and its butter in a food processor or blender (this may
need to be in two batches), adding a little of the chicken or vegetable broth. Puree the mixture.
Transfer it back into the pot. Add the remainder of the broth, the salt and spices (and cashew
butter if used). Simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt, and add a little, if
needed, to taste.

Serve sprinkled with finely minced parsley or tiny leaves from baby sprouts.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

 

Red and Black Chili

 

I call this Red and Black Chili (or “Bulldog Chili”) based on UGA’s colors, which are ubiquitous and fun here in Athens, especially on game days. But aside from the colors this is a fairly traditional, if hopefully tasty, Tex-Mex chili. 

The recipe feeds six to eight heavy eaters – but leftovers are appreciated. Serve in shallow soup bowls with some rice at the bottom of the bowl, if desired. And grated cheddar or jack cheese can be sprinkled on top, along with a dollop of sour cream. 

2 strips uncooked bacon, finely minced

1 medium-large onion, coarsely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef (preferably 85% lean)

2 bay leaves

4 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

3/4 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon (or more) crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomato, including the juice

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup water

1 small red bell pepper, medium diced

 

Cooked rice (white or brown) for serving, optional


Grated cheddar or jack cheese and/or sour cream for serving, optional

 

In large pot, fry minced bacon with the onions, stirring frequently, until onions start to turn golden. Add garlic and meat. Cook until raw color leaves the meat, breaking the meat up as it cooks. 

Add bay leaves, dry spices and herbs, plus 2 teaspoons of salt. Fry gently 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the beans and water. Simmer 5 minutes. Add diced bell pepper. Simmer 10 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed. Add a little water to make a medium-thick consistency, if desired. Remove bay leaves at the end of cooking. 

Let sit 10 minutes, stir, and taste and adjust salt if needed. 

Chili is richer in flavor if made ahead and reheated. 

If desired, place some cooked white or brown rice in bottom of bowl before adding the chili. 
Sprinkle with grated cheddar or jack cheese, or dollop with sour cream, if desired


 

Sauerkraut for Autumn, Braised with Apple and served with Bratwurst 

Sauerkraut is the traditional way plentiful summer cabbage was preserved for eating in winter in the old days in Central and Northern Europe when few fresh vegetables were available. Unbeknownst to those eating sauerkraut back then, essential Vitamin C was preserved along with the cabbage, and probably prevented a lot of scurvy in those populations. 

Sauerkraut and Bratwurst,  Parsleyed Potatoes
Cooking that pickled cabbage with smoked ham or sausage, and brightening it with ingredients like apples was a way to enjoy summer produce when the weather had turned cold. The cooking methods for garnished sauerkraut are numerous in Germany, German-speaking areas of Switzerland, and the Alsace region of France. Often some smoked pork, such as a knuckle or chunk of ham, is simmered in with the kraut, and sausage is added at the end. 

Here is an Oktoberfest apple-braised sauerkraut with bratwursts cooked in at the end. The sauerkraut in October would have been recently made and relatively mild in flavor. Bratwurst sausages, typically made of pork and/or veal and white to very light tan in color, are originally from Bavaria, the home of Oktoberfest. Good imported Bavarian bratwurst are available from Trader Joes. I also like Johnsonville Beer Brats, made in Wisconsin, the American Bratwurst heartland, which are available at supermarkets. I prefer cooking a white wine into sauerkraut Rhineland style, though in Bavaria cooking the kraut cooked with beer would be more common. 

The sausage and kraut can be eaten as a snack – with bread and beer as in southern Germany. Or the dish can be served with boiled potatoes or noodles if making a meal of it. Accompany with good mustard, or my favorite sauce made from equal quantities of Dijon mustard and sour creamplus a touch of horseradish. A Pilsner or lager beer pairs traditionally with this dish, but chilled white wine such as a fairly dry Riesling or a Grüner Veltliner does well. 

The recipe serves 4-6 people.

 

1 small onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons sunflower or other non-olive vegetable oil

1 medium apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and diced

1 (14-ounce) jar or can shredded sauerkraut, juice squeezed out

1/2 cup white wine (or lager beer)

3/8 teaspoon black pepper

8 juniper berries (optional)

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 tablespoon brown sugar

14-16 ounces bratwurst or smoked sausage, cut in 2-inch lengths.

Salt, if needed 

In stainless steel or enamel pot, fry onion lightly in 3 tablespoons oil until softened. Add apple. Fry several minutes, stirring frequently. Add drained sauerkraut, and stir and fry 2 minutes. 

Add wine and seasonings. Simmer, covered but stirring frequently, until sauerkraut and apple pieces are becoming tender, adding a little water only if dry. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Add the bratwurst or smoked sausage and simmer, covered but stirring frequently, until sausage is fully heated. Taste for salt once more, and add a little if needed. 

Serve alone as a snack, or as dinner accompanied by boiled or steamed small potatoes or buttered noodles. The condiment is mustard, such as brown or horseradish mustard (not the bright yellow American hotdog mustard), or a sauce of Dijon mustard mixed with an equal amount of sour cream and a small amount of horseradish.

Monday, September 19, 2022

 

“Hot Blond” Chili

 

This is the non-traditional chili that I won overall first prize with years ago at a chili competition at a rowdy sports bar in Atlanta on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a white chili, with turkey, white beans, sour cream and habanero peppers. While it contains none of the usual red or green ingredients, it’s especially flavorful. It can be made quite hot, depending on the number of habanero peppers it uses. 

The recipe serves six to eight.

1 medium-large onion, finely chopped

2 thick or 3 thin slices (raw) hickory-smoked bacon, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground annatto seed (“Achiote Molido” at Mexican groceries)

1 or more small whole orange or yellow habanero chile peppers

1-1/2 pounds ground turkey

Water as needed

1-3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

2 (14-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, drained but not rinsed

1/4 cup sour cream


Garnish:

Grated “Queso Blanco” or “Cotija” (Mexican-style crumbling cheese)

Coarsely chopped cilantro, including part of stems


Fry onion, bacon, and olive oil together until onion softens and begins to turn golden. 

Reduce heat. Add garlic, herbs and spices plus whole habanero(s). Stir and fry one minute. 

Add meat. Raise the heat. Break up meat as it fries. When raw color is gone, stir in 1 cup water plus the salt. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, 10-15 minutes. Add a little water if needed, so there is always a bit of liquid with the meat. 

Add the drained beans. Heat together for five minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little water to keep it moist but not soupy. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in sour cream and simmer several minutes. Taste for salt at end of cooking and add some if needed. Remove habanero(s). 

The chili is tastiest when made ahead and reheated to serve. 

Sprinkle lightly with crumbled cheese and chopped cilantro for serving.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


 

Greek Salad 

 “Greek” salad with feta cheese is in fact a more general type of salad enjoyed throughout the eastern Mediterranean, from Bulgaria to Turkey to Lebanon as well as in Greece. It was introduced to Americans through Greek restaurants, and thus its common name. Romaine is the most appropriate available lettuce, but other types of loose-leaf lettuce, and even iceberg lettuce, can make a successful salad. In the US, the feta cheese is typically crumbled and sprinkled on top of the salad. In Europe bigger chunks are arranged around the salad for the diner to break up and eat along with the salad. The method I describe here produces the salad familiar to Americans. 

The recipe serves six. 

Vinaigrette (dressing)

1 medium-large clove of garlic

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3/8 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon oregano, crumbled between the fingers

Juice of one lemon

2-1/2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon water

4 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil 

Salad vegetables

2 hearts of romaine lettuce or 1 medium-large head of romaine

1 medium cucumber or 2 small Persian cucumbers

1 small-medium onion, red if possible

3 medium tomatoes or 1 1/2 cups “grape” or cherry tomatoes

4 sprigs flat (“Italian style”) parsley (optional)

1/4 pound feta cheese

20-24 black Greek (e.g., Kalamata) olives

10 small pickled green peppers (“pepperoncini”) or 1/4 cup sliced pickled banana peppers

6-8 anchovy fillets (optional) 

Prepare vinaigrette: Thoroughly crush garlic in a bowl with the salt and sugar, using the back of a spoon. Mix in remaining ingredients. 

Prepare vegetables: Rinse and drain lettuce and tear or cut into 2-inch pieces. Place it in a very large bowl. Peel cucumber only if skin is tough or waxed. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Cut out seed cavity, unless seeds are very small. Thinly slice cucumber on the diagonal, and add to the bowl. Peel then thinly slice onion lengthwise into thin “julienne” strips or crosswise into rings and add to the bowl. Core then cut tomatoes into chunks (or cut grape or cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise) and add to bowl. Cut leaves off the parsley, if used, and add to bowl. 

Drain feta and either slice it 1/4-inch thick (and cut in half if the pieces are long) or crumble it. Set aside. Drain and set aside the olives, peppers, and anchovies, if used. 

Shortly before serving, add vinaigrette to lettuce mixture in bowl. Toss to moisten thoroughly. Taste a piece of lettuce and, if necessary, add a little salt or vinegar and toss again. When fully seasoned, place the salad mixture on a large platter or wide shallow bowl. Distribute feta slices or sprinkle if crumbled, on salad. Arrange the olives, pickled peppers and, if used, the anchovies on top of the salad, and serve immediately.