Okay, it actually just became spring this week, but it’s been quite warm in Boulder, so that made me want to make something summery for dinner. Brighter flavors, and hey – how about even making it a cold dish?

The past weekend I walked through Whole Foods, and the yellow lentils caught my eye. (It’s that bright color thing again — oooh..pretty!) I’ve made plenty of dishes with brown lentils, red lentils, and even beluga lentils, but as far as I know, I’ve never made anything with yellow lentils.  So I bought a bunch, and left figuring out what I’d use them for for later.

So during my weekly meal brainstorming session, the summery dish and lentils came together, and I decided to made a cold fattoush-inspired salad with yellow lentils. (I can’t hear the phrase brainstorming without thinking of the Far Side Cartoon with dinosaurs sitting around a table and the caption ‘Well, time for our weekly brain-stem-storming session’. And much of the time I’m so stumped about what to make it kind of feels like that. But I digress (I really digress)).

My plan for the salad was to cook the lentils, add some cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, and pepper, and then dress the salad with a fattoush-type dressing. Neither my husband nor I are big fans of raw bell pepper in salads, so I sautéed that a bit to soften the peppers, and also sautéed most of the garlic at the same time. I knew that yellow lentils were trickier to cook than say, brown lentils, because they’re a bit thinner, and can turn mushy rather quickly if you overcook them. (Mmm…fattousch-inspired lentil mush. No thanks). So I was just careful to check them very frequently, and stopped as soon as they were tender, but still very much in one piece. This resulted in the perfect texture for the salad, really – they broke apart very easily when you ate them, but they were still firm enough to add some nice texture. You could make this with brown lentils as well, if you want the lentils to be a little more substantial.

The only ingredient in this dish that might be difficult to find is sumac, which is a reddish-purple powder made from the dried flowers of a specific type of sumac. You can find it in Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean grocery stores, or at the Savory Spice Shop in Boulder.

Lentils, Tomatoes, Pepper, Cucumber, Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Parsley

Lentils, Tomatoes, Pepper, Cucumber, Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Parsley

Fattoush-Inspired Lentil Salad
serves 3-4 as a main dish, more as a side

1 c yellow lentils
2 c water
2 cucumbers, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 c chopped tomatoes
10-20 kalmata olives, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T lemon juice
1 T red wine vinegar
2 T + 1 tsp olive oil, divided
1-2 tsp sumac
2 tsp mint, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 c chopped parsley (or 2 T dried)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the lentils according to package directions. For the lentils I bought in bulk, I put the lentils and water in a saucepan, brought them to a boil, and then simmered them, covered, for only about 10 minutes. (Just be sure to check them often!) Drain and set aside.

Sauté the pepper in 1 tsp olive oil until tender, then add 2/3 of the garlic and sauté for another 15 seconds or so. Set aside.

For the dressing, combine the remaining garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and sumac. (It won’t emulsify, so just mix it up the best you can – it will separate)

Put the lentils, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, garlic, and kalmata olives into a large bowl, and then pour the dressing on top. Mix well to distribute the dressing, then add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the amounts of the items in the dressing as desired (I added more red wine vinegar and lemon juice, but it turned out I had a surplus of liquid in the bottom at the end, so don’t go overboard). Add the parsley and mint and mix again. Refrigerate for an hour before serving to let the flavors combine.

Fattoush-Inspired Lentil Salad

Fattoush-Inspired Lentil Salad (on a completely unrelated cheetah-print background (although Wikipedia claims the cheetah range once extended to the region Fattoush hails from))


Recently I made another trip to Oliverde, just off of Pearl Street in Boulder to replenish my nearly exhausted supply of Espresso Balsamic Vinegar and to get another kind of olive oil. I strolled in, tasted a few olive oils, selected one, and then moved on to the vinegars. It was a gorgeous day, and I was in a springy mood, so I tasted a few fruity vinegars, and then decided, what the heck – I’ll try the Coconut White Balsamic one which I hastily bypassed last time. And, just like on my last trip when I tried the Espresso Balsamic Vinegar, the minute the coconut vinegar hit my tongue, I knew I was getting it. And once again, I had no idea whatsoever as to what I would use it in, but it really didn’t matter. I was buying it.

My husband agreed with how spectacular the Coconut White Balsamic tasted when I got home, and we discussed what I could do with it. I decided to do something with black beans and corn (which for me always means bell pepper and some type of onion), and I thought this would really work well with Quinoa. That was simple, but deciding how to use the vinegar was a little trickier. Then I thought about how great the dressing was on the Butternut Squash and Black Rice with Almonds and Pomegranate Seeds I made using a recipe from Sunset magazine, and figured that I could use the same ratios of acid, sweetener, and oil. Instead of lemon juice and maple syrup I used the coconut vinegar and agave. And I used half sesame oil and half olive oil.

Quinoa, Corn, Black Beans, Bell Pepper, and Green Onions

Quinoa, Corn, Black Beans, Bell Pepper, and Green Onions

We both enjoyed the result quite a bit. It was subtly coconutty, and very tasty. You could top it with shredded coconut if you wanted to kick up the coconut taste a bit. Some searches online turned up several hits for coconut vinegar, but if you wanted to, you could probably work up something with coconut extract and white balsamic vinegar, or maybe even coconut milk if you want to experiment a bit.

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

serves 4-6

1 cup quinoa (ideally red and/or black)
1 + 1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts chopped
1 can of black beans
1 cup of sweet corn
1 Tbsp coconut white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp sesame oil

For the dressing, combine the vinegar and honey, and then whisk in 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of sesame oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Rinse the quinoa well, then add to a saucepan with the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, or until the stock is absorbed. Set aside.

Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, then sauté the pepper for about 3 minutes. Add the corn, and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. Add the green onion and sauté for an additional 30 seconds. Turn the heat off, add the quinoa, and stir well. Drizzle the dressing on top, and mix to coat everything well.

Serve warm or cold.

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

I mentioned in a previous post that I love tempeh, but find it more difficult to cook with than tofu. It just doesn’t seem as obvious to me what flavors to pair it with, and since it’s not a sponge like tofu, you can’t just marinate the flavors into it. In the past, I’ve made quite few tempeh dishes that suffered from an overzealous application of dried herbs, and were pretty much palatable in the way I imagine army field rations would be palatable if you hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. I did have a fairly good result a few weeks ago (see Tempeh with Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots and Tomatoes), but this week I finally hit on something that was honestly delicious!

The inspiration for this one was the result of my addition of some Grey Poupon to a sauce I made for a different dish a few weeks ago. I added it on a whim after doing some searches on what herbs and spices go together and seeing mustard showing up in several lists. And I loved the way it tasted. I got to thinking that the sharpness of dijon might be just the thing for tempeh. So I decided it was time to go for another tempeh recipe again. I’ve really enjoyed caramelized onions lately, but thought for variety I would try out caramelized leeks and fennel. (As a side note, I have to say – caramelized leeks are AWESOME! I’m definitely going to plan a meal highlighting those in the future).

I steamed the tempeh for 20 minutes, sautéed some pepper and garlic, and then caramelized the leeks and fennel (well, I caramelized the leeks – the fennel would have taken longer, so it was semi-caramelized). After all the vegetables were done, I made a sauce (more of a glaze, really) with white wine, stock, and Grey Poupon, and then added a small bit of tarragon and marjoram. And I was thrilled with the result — very tasty. A triumph with tempeh!

Tempeh, Caramelized Leeks and Fennel with White Wine and Dijon

Tempeh, Leeks, Fennel, Bell Pepper and Garlic

Caramelized Leek and Fennel Tempeh with White Wine and Dijon

1 block tempeh, sliced thinly along the short edge, and then cut into thirds
3 leeks, chopped
1-2 bulbs fennel, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tsp olive oil
1/2 c vegetable stock
2 Tbsp white wine
1 Tbsp Dijon (I used Grey Poupon)
2-4 Tbsp water
1/8 to 1/4 tsp dried tarragon
1/8 to 1/4 tsp dried marjoram

Steam the (pre-cut) tempeh for about 20 minutes, then set aside. While the tempeh is steaming, sauté the bell pepper in 1 tsp of olive oil for several minutes until mostly tender, then add the garlic and sauté for an additional 30 seconds or so. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Saute the leeks and fennel in 1-2 tsp of olive oil over medium high heat, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, add 1 tsp of sugar, and several shakes of salt and grinds of pepper, and continue to cook for 7-12 more minutes, deglazing with water as necessary every couple of minutes. Taste the leeks and fennel, and once they are caramelized to your liking, add the white wine, 1/2 c vegetable stock, Dijon, marjoram, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium for several minutes, until the sauce reduces to more of a glaze. (Add more vegetable stock if there isn’t enough liquid – you’ll want to cook it for a several minutes to build the flavor, so make sure there’s enough liquid to do so).

Tempeh and Caramelized Leeks and Fennel with White Wine and Dijon

Caramelized Leek and Fennel Tempeh with White Wine and Dijon

Foodie Spring Fever

March 1, 2012

There are roughly five weeks until the Boulder Farmers’ Market opens for the 2012 season. It sounds so far away. After the fall season was over, I was initially looking forward to making warm soups and stews, experimenting with different grains and beans, and using the oven without feeling like I’m overheating. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m getting sick of winter produce. (Which, in Colorado, pretty much means whatever stores well enough to last a long time, greenhouse items, or produce shipped from warmer climates (aka – far away)).

Since vegetables are such an important part of my diet, the dearth of them during the winter months is quite apparent. It’s only been about fourteen weeks since the market closed, but I’m already craving something fresh, green, and local. And to be honest, it’s really wreaking havoc with my cooking inspiration. I get bored when I recognize every item in the produce department’s vegetable section. I have fun picking up things I’ve never heard of at the farmers’ market, and then researching just what it is I’ve brought home after the fact. 

My garlic supply from the 2011 market was gone weeks ago, and now that I’m buying the standard stuff, I really notice the difference between the boring, shippable kind and the wonderfully strong, pungent varieties the local farmers offer during market season. I’ve found some tomatoes at the grocery store that are actually not too bad compared to normal winter tomatoes (Campari is what you want to look for), but it’s just not the same. Sure they taste more like tomatoes, but they don’t taste like Tomatoes. So I’m not proud of laming out on this post – it reminds me of those annoying clip shows they do in later seasons of sitcoms where they do nothing but piece together scenes from old episodes and re-use them so they can say they produced a new episode, with much, much lower cost. But I went back and looked at the pictures of the produce I bought at the market last year, and they were sooo pretty. So I’m reposting them – perhaps they’ll cheer up other people who are impatiently waiting until the market opens again, the way I am! (To be honest, I didn’t start going last year until a bit later in the season, but still – I’ll take any kind of sprouts at this point). Soon, my fellow locavores, soon…

Boulder Farmers' Market

Boulder Farmers' Market

Boulder Farmers' Market

Boulder Farmers' Market

Boulder Farmers' Market

Boulder Farmers' Market

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