Friday, January 28, 2011

Smoky Lentil Soup With Spinach

There's nothing very exciting about lentil soup. Still, this is some goooood soup! Especially now, when there's a foot of snow on the ground here in Brooklyn. I decided to season the soup with smoked paprika and lemon zest, and I used some split red lentils for the sake of a) speed and b) prettiness. I got the idea to season lentil soup with smoked paprika from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, whose The Minimalist column in the NY Times will be sorely missed, at least by me. (And please, please note that this dish is actually part of a healthy meal, and not a house made of cookies and candy! Don't accuse me of just wanting you to eat junk.)

You'll need:

1 lb. split red lentils
1 lemon
1 medium onion
1 large carrot (or two small)
2 stalk of celery--I know, I know, I really had a thing going with just one of everything! I guess you could use one if you wanted?)
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup oil (I used canola. Use whatever oil you like!)
A handful of frozen spinach, thawed--I used about 3 ounces, which were left over from another dinner this week. Or, if you want to use fresh, that would be awesome, obviously.)

Heat the oil in a large pot with the bay leaf. Dice the carrots, onion, and celery and add them too. Saute these veggies together until the onion looks translucent and the carrot is starting to think about maybe getting tender some day. While this is going on, pour your lentils into shallow pan and sort through them. This way, if the package had any lentils or bugs or clumps of dirt or other kinds of legumes mixed in, you can avoid putting them in your soup. Once you are satisfied that your lentils are in fact lentils, dump them into a colander and give them a quick rinse. Then they go right into the pot with the veggies. Add enough water to cover everything, plus an inch. (Not a very precise measurement! I swear, it's really okay; you can add as you go.) Add the smoked paprika and stir it in.
Bring the lentils to a boil, and then you can turn down the heat and let everything simmer on medium to low heat for about 40 minutes. The exact timing varies every time you cook dried beans. Just give them a stir every now and then. Add water periodically, so that the lentils always have some water covering them.
While all that's going on, you need to drain your spinach. Once it has thawed, grab hold of it and squeeze all the water that you can out of it (hold it over a bowl or the sink.) Yes, you lose some vitamins this way, but you avoid turning your soup green. If you really really can't stand throwing out the baby with the bathwater (wait, I mean....) then it's really your call, cause it's your soup. That's all I'm gonna say about that.
Plop the spinach down on a cutting board and chop it up. You don't want long stringy pieces of spinach falling out of your spoon and making you look like a fool when you eat.
Now wash your lemon and, using a microplane or box grater, grate as much zest as you can from the skin of the lemon. (Keep in mind that with zest, you always want only the yellow part on the outermost layer of skin, not the white stuff underneath.) Put all your zest to the side--now comes the juicing part. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze as much juice as you can from each half into a bowl or cup. You can strain it to remove any seeds, or else you can fish them out with your fingers (or chopsticks if you're really, really good at chopsticks.)
Once your lentils are soft, season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want, you can puree the soup in a blender (or with an immersion blender if you have one!) After pureeing, add in the spinach you've chopped.
Immediately before serving, stir in the lemon juice and zest. It's pretty hearty, so it can be a meal on its own, especially with some whole-grain bread. Yum!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gingerbread houses and other stuff, too

Happy new year! Maybe in 2011 I will make some things that are actually healthy, but I spent December making sweets, sweets and more sweets.

But first things first, Whaz in da bag???

This is my sister's dog, Remy.

Ok, so gingerbread houses are nice. For the dough, I used Mark Bittman's recipe for gingersnaps, which are delicious, but I added some finely ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne to make it extra-spicy. For icing, I melted some corn syrup with confectioners' sugar until it made a thick paste, and used a spoon to drip the "glue" wherever i needed it. The results were very messy, but I like to think that adds charm.I had some dough left over, which I shaped into balls and rolled in sugar for some sparkly gingerbread cookies. I guess if I wanted to be really ambitious, I could have made gingerbread people like I did last year, but they still tasted good!

Another thing that had been bothering me was a complete lack of non-marshmallow rice crispy treats in my life, as I was having a bit of a jonesing for them. I found a recipe on that was really fantastically easy, and which turned out great. I doubled the vanilla, and I didn't regret it. Let them cool for a couple of hours before you cut into them to get neat little squares. If you felt like mixing in some chocolate chips or something in there, that would be ok, too, but I like them plain. And if corn syrup freaks you out, use brown rice syrup instead. Yummeh!