Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant

For my birthday I received the cookbook Plenty, the vegetarian brainchild of Jerusalem author Yotam Ottolenghi. This cookbook could not be more up my alley. Organized into sections by vegetable type, each recipe expertly showcases its main ingredient, yielding dazzling and vibrant dishes abounding with Mediterranean spice and zest.
The entire cookbook looks spectacular, so picking which recipe to tackle first made for an extremely difficult decision. After much thought, I settled on Ottolenghi's Lentils with Broiled Eggplant. And if all of his recipes are great as this one, I am seriously going to pull a Julia & Julia and concoct a new recipe every single day until I've gone through the entire book. (Rachel & Yotam has a nice ring to it, don't you think?) I'm that hooked!

I settled on this particular recipe because I wanted something hearty and warming; a seasonally appropriate winning main dish as opposed to a side. As I examined the recipe, I was thrilled to see that Ottolenghi recommended executing the slow-cooked eggplant—one of my favorite things in the world—via gas stovetop and then oven-broil. As a NYC dweller who constantly pouts over my inability to own a grill (despite loving my gas stove), this was a dream come true: perfect smoky, char-grilled taste achieved sans grill! The secret, Ottolenghi writes, is cooking the eggplant directly on the flame; burning the skin immediately and then letting the flesh oven-cook slowly inside the charred exterior so the flavor seeps through.  It is SO good. My only critique of this recipe is to double the amount of eggplant, because you're definitely going to be wanting more.

Although it's clearly the eggplant that shines in this recipe, the lentils are its perfect foil. Simmering in a homemade stock of onion, carrot, celery and thyme gives them a rich base flavor, while 3 kinds of fresh herbs and crunchy chopped vegetables really make them pop. The lentils are finished with tangy red wine vinegar and smooth olive oil, a lovely acidic contrast to the smoky eggplant.

Last but not least, don't forget the final step: topping the entire concoction with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt. The thick creamy yogurt drizzled with EVOO really brings the whole dish together: a blissful trio of textures, flavors, and fine fettle.

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant (from Plenty)
Serves 4
NOTE: Make sure to pierce the eggplant before broiling to prevent exploding. 
2 medium eggplants (I suggest using 4 large)
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy or Castelluccio), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish (I only used 2)
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 tbsp crème fraîche (or natural yogurt, if you prefer)
1. To cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop, which is the most effective way, start by lining the area around the burners with foil to protect them. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. For an electric stove, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife in a few places. Put them on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.
2. Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used an oven broiler, change the oven to its normal setting. Heat the oven to 275°F. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and only then season with plenty of salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar.
3. While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stalk into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay leaf, thyme and onion, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for up to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away the froth from the surface from time to time. Drain in a sieve. Remove and discard the carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and onion and transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside somewhere warm.
4. Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 3/8-inch dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, the sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender but still firm.
5. Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt. Finish with a trickle of oil.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mancha Manteles (Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit)

Now that it's the New Year, all the grocery stores are featuring a main display of some type of cleanse: everywhere I go bottles of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper teeter in a corner, challenging us to get moving on those pesky resolutions we so adamantly declared last week. Here's the thing though. A cold spell is fast descending on the Northeast, and as flurries whirl for the first time this season, it truly feels like winter. And despite how unwaveringly you committed to losing those extra lbs in 2015, a thin lemon juice for dinner is the last thing you want in the face of these subfreezing temps. You're basically asking for a cold! So let's stick to the weight-loss goals, but ditch the cold press for healthy via whole. First thing that comes to mind? Warm-me-up soups and stews.

Do I have a great one for you. This recipe for Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit, or Mancha Manteles, translates to "table-cloth stainers"; aptly named for it's chili and tomato based rich red tones. If you're me, you can expand the list of items stained from table-cloth to the entire kitchen, because I lazily used an immersion blender in my shallow skillet instead of a blender, causing a 360 degree whiplash effect of tomato drops on the wall, counter, and stove. (Oy, my new kitchen!)

However, it's the blended part of this recipe that elevates the stew to it's superior class. Yes, the tomatoey, cinnamon and chili spiced sweet potato, chicken, pineapple, apple, and banana concoction would be tasty enough on its own—kind of like a sweeter chili variation. But its the pureeing of onion, red pepper, and toasted almonds that deepens the flavor and texture palate significantly, adding a nutty, Romesco taste and substantive consistency for a truly phenomenal winter main.

The stew takes some effort to make—not a ton, but it isn't something you can just throw in the pot and come back a few ours later and it's done—but lends itself perfectly to that big batch cooking style worth the time commitment. Feel free to eat it for the week, serve a crowd, or freeze for later. Each ingredients offers a cold-repellent health benefit, from the nutrient-rich fruits to the superfood sweet potatoes; it's not calories here that will fill you up quickly, but rather the plethora of fiber-rich ingredients. This is hearty and healthy at it's finest—with each bowlful heat curls into the air, radiating spice and relish—and I promise you this is the best way to dive into winter's weather woes while feeling powerfully health-charged for the New Year.

Spicy Chicken Stew with Fruit (Mancha Manteles)
Originally from Betty Crocker International; courtesy of My Mama
Serves 4 to 6

·      2 tablespoons vegetable oil
·      2 pounds chicken legs and thighs (can substitute breasts)
·      1 medium onion, chopped
·      1 green or red pepper, chopped (I recommend red)
·      ¼ cup whole almonds
·      1 can (8 oz) low sodium tomato sauce
·      1 can (8 ½ oz) sliced pineapple, drained (reserve ¼ cup syrup)
·      ½ cup water (more may be needed to increase liquid)
·      2 teaspoons chili powder
·      1 teaspoon salt
·      ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·      2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
·      2 apples, sliced
·      2 bananas, sliced
·      Parsley or cilantro
·      1 ½ cup whole-wheat couscous


  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven or 12-inch skillet until hot. Cook chicken over medium heat until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. (If using breasts, this will take about 7 minutes.) Set chicken aside.
  2. Cook and stir onion, pepper, and almonds until onion is tender. Place onion, pepper, almonds and tomato sauce in blender. Cover and blender until of uniform consistency. (You can use an immersion blender, but be warned of the splatter!)
  3. If using dark meat, drain fat from Dutch oven. Mix tomato mixture, reserved pineapple syrup, the water, chili powder, salt and cinnamon in Dutch oven/skillet. Add chicken and sweet potatoes.
  4. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary—the sweet potatoes and chicken should be mostly covered in liquid.
  5. Cut pineapple slices into halves; add pineapple and apples to chicken mixture. Cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. 
  6. Prepare couscous according to package directions.
  7. Add bananas to stew. Serve in soup bowls on top of couscous; garnish with parsley or cilantro.