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))

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This past week I decided to branch out in my tofu preparation repertoire. I’ve been reading lately about baked tofu, and how baking it can intensify the flavor and make the texture somewhat toothier, so I thought that I’d give that a try. After pondering what kind of marinade to do, I finally settled on something Asian influenced (I just wasn’t in the mood for barbecue sauce in December, which is the type of marinade/sauce everyone on the internet seems to recommend for Baked Tofu 101). Both my husband and I were really pleased with how the tofu turned out. I didn’t even bake it as long as I probably should have (because I was too hungry to wait any longer), but even with that, it tasted really good. I decided the logical accompaniment was stir-fried vegetables, so I used broccoli, pepper, and onion. The organic broccoli that I bought had gigantic tree-stumpish stems, so I thought I’d make some thin slices out of those, and use them as well. It actually tasted a bit like kohlrabi when raw, which was nice — it was like having a fourth, bonus vegetable.

I don’t normally use a large amount of oil when I cook, but I ended up using a bit more than necessary with this recipe. And then spent several minutes exclaiming out loud that I couldn’t believe how much extra I’d supplied to the meal (I really didn’t expect all the marinade to get soaked up by the tofu. And I was unnecessarily worried about stickage with the stir-fry.). So the recipe below is adjusted to take the oil down from 6 tsp to 4 tsp total.

Tofu and Marinade Ingredients

Tofu and Marinade Ingredients

Vegetables for Stir-Fry

Vegetables for Stir-Fry

Stir-Fried Vegetables with Baked Tofu
serves 3-4

1 block extra-firm tofu
2-4 heads broccoli, cut into small florets, stems thinly sliced
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
1 tsp peanut oil, for stir-frying

marinade
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp minced garlic cloves
1 Tbsp minced ginger root

sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine (not vinegar) or dry sherry
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp agave (or honey or brown sugar)
1 tsp cornstarch

Cut tofu block into 3 or 4 large slabs about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick (cut lengthwise into the side with the 2nd largest surface area (Ooh, geometry – I couldn’t think of any other way to specify it)). Lay the slabs down between layers of towel or paper towels and lay a skillet or heavy plate on top. Leave for about 10 minutes, then move the tofu to a drier area of towel, replace the pan, and let sit for another 10 minutes. Next, cut each slab into 16 triangles (refer to the unnecessarily time-stamped photo below).

Tofu Triangles

Tofu Triangles from 1 of 3 slabs

Mix the ingredients for the marinade together. In a container large enough to hold all of the tofu pieces in a single layer, pour the marinade over the tofu, and then use a spoon help coat all pieces evenly. Refrigerate for about an hour, then flip all of the pieces and refrigerate for another hour.

Save the garlic and ginger and what ever marinade hasn’t been absorbed by the tofu and set aside. Put the tofu pieces on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and bake in a 325 degree oven for about 1 hr. Check the tofu every 15 minutes or so, and flip the pieces. (Honestly, I wasn’t very good about flipping them since there were 48 tiny pieces. And it really didn’t seem to matter that much. I just kind of flipped en masse to move the pieces around a bit, and they didn’t really get flipped evenly).

Mix all of the ingredients for the sauce except for the cornstarch. Add a tiny bit of the liquid to the corn starch, stirring to make a paste, then adding more gradually until the corn starch is dissolved. Then add the corn starch to the rest of the sauce ingredients. Add the garlic and ginger from the marinade as well. Set aside.

After the tofu has been cooking for about 40-50 minutes, heat the peanut oil in a wok, a pan with high sides, or if you don’t have either, a large skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced broccoli stems, onion, and pepper, and cook, stirring very frequently for about 4 minutes. Add the broccoli florets, and continue to cook for a few more minutes, until the peppers and onions are crisp-tender, and the broccoli florets are a bright green.

Stir-Fried Vegetables

Stir-Fried Vegetables

Add the sauce to the vegetables, and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until the sauce has thickened and coats the vegetables. Plate the vegetables, and add the baked tofu on top.

Stir-Fried Vegetables and Baked Tofu

Stir-Fried Vegetables and Baked Tofu

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