Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swiss Chard, Lentils, and Bulgur Wheat with Parsley and Garlic Yogurt Recipe

I headed to Florida last Saturday with my husband to celebrate my father's 73rd birthday and I needed to clean out my fridge. Because it was a twenty minute throw-together endeavor, I was reluctant to blog about this one, but, after a little reflection, I realized this might be exactly the type of food that might make hesitant cooks take to the kitchen. Though unsophisticated, this one pot meal is nutritious, simple to make, and inexpensive. It packs easily in a container to take for lunch, and reheats nicely for quick suppers. There are some middle-eastern flavors here, but you could spice this as you like, changing it to your whim. You might also add your choice of vegetables, and use kale, collards or mustard greens instead of the Swiss chard.

Swiss Chard, Lentils and Bulgur Wheat with Parsley, Garlic Yogurt

2 large shallots (or one medium onion), chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
7 cups water
1 bunch swiss chard, cut into pieces (I use the stems, too, and saute them in the beginning, with the onions)
approximately 1 cup parsley (for the one pot meal, and for the yogurt sauce), chopped
1 1/2 cup (about) yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and the swiss chard stems (if using), and saute until soft, but not brown. Add the carrot, let it cook until a little soft, and then add 2 of the garlic cloves. Stir a couple of times, and then add the ground cumin seed. When the cumin is incorporated, add the tomato paste, and stir it around until it turns a darker red. Add the bulgur and the lentils, and combine the ingredients so that all the grains and lentils are covered in the tomato mixture. Pour in the water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with some salt (I used 1 teaspoon) and pepper. Add the chopped Swiss chard and stir to combine. Reduce the heat so the mixture is on a low simmer, cover, and let it cook until all the water is absorbed, about 35-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add the other minced garlic clove (or less, if you are not a fan), and some of the parsley to the yogurt. Season, to taste, with salt. Set aside in a warm place (I leave it on the stove).

When the lentils and bulgur are done, stir in a handful of the fresh parsley and top with the garlic yogurt mixture.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel Recipe

My husband and I were remiss in signing up for our food coop shifts in advance, and so, in order to avoid being suspended from shopping, signed up for two-in-a-row 5:30 am produce stocking shifts. It wasn't awful; the store is closed, so shoppers weren't banging into our knees with their carts while we stocked blood oranges or daikon radishes, and we felt as if we had the full day ahead of us when our shift was finished at 8 am.

During the shift, and while organizing the red peppers, I saw a sign for cardoons hanging over an empty bin. I was anxious to retry this unusual vegetable after my cardoon fiasco in France two Decembers ago, so when the box arrived for us to stock, I was thrilled. Eating them for the first time, all smothered in gruyère, at one of Lyon's famous bouchons, I adored how (though different in look and texture), they evoked the artichoke, and when I saw them at the market, their sturdy stalks like celery on growth hormone, I was eager to make them myself. I failed. It happens.

This time, following the directions on the label, and hoping to rid them of their bitterness, I soaked the branches for a few hours in water, and then, inspired by flavors I'd use in a vinaigrette for an artichoke dipping sauce, I made a meyer lemon, garlic and thyme béchamel. I poured this over the cooked cardoons and topped them with lemony breadcrumbs and gruyère cheese, and baked them until bubbly and golden brown. My husband loved it. I thought it was fine. The flavors in the béchamel were overtaken by the strong cardoons, so next time I might add a bit more lemon and thyme. In the future, (and because the vegetable gave off a little more water than I expected), I'd leave the béchamel on the thicker side before baking the whole thing in the oven. Otherwise, not bad for a second attempt, but not Lyon bouchon worthy, either. I'll keep working on it.

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel

1 1/2 lbs cardoons (or one bunch), cut into 3 inch lengths
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (or more) fresh thyme leaves
1/2 (or 1) meyer lemon, juiced (if you use a regular lemon, you will need less of it, as meyer lemons are a bit sweeter)
3 slices stale bread (I used spelt bread)
1/4 cup gruyère cheese, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon (use the one you used for the juice)
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Soak the cut-up cardoons in some cold water for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the cardoons in a large pot of salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook them until they are fork tender, but not mushy. Set aside.

For the breadcrumbs:

Make crumbs out of the bread slices by mixing them in a food processor. Combine the crumbs with the lemon zest and the gruyère, and a little salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the béchamel:

Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted. Whisk in the flour, and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly, until the flour turns light golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time, taking care that the sauce doesn't form lumps. When all the milk is incorporated, add the garlic and thyme, and bring the milk to a low boil. Immediately lower the heat to a simmer (you don't want to scorch the milk), and keep whisking as the sauce thickens. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more milk. Remove from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice and salt, to taste.

Put the cardoons into a baking dish and pour the béchamel sauce over them. Top with the breadcrumb mixture, and drizzle a little olive oil all over the top.

Bake in the oven until the top is golden, and the béchamel is bubbly.

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