Tag Archives: Meatless Monday

Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Battle of the Butternut

31 Jan

Nothing quite matches the affection we home cooks feel for a food once we’ve conquered it. Conquering is very different than mastering, which I would imagine comes with its own satisfaction but isn’t something I’ll feign to know much about at this point in my culinary career (because I don’t think adding pumpkin spice to the Mr. Coffee counts, though it does make for a damn tasty travel mug on your morning commute).  Conquering a food involves taking whatever steps necessary, be they imaginative, embarrassing or downright ugly,  to transform a once-mystifying ingredient into something not only delicious, but decidedly different than your typical mealtime routine.

I feel this surge of fondness everytime I see butternut squash, its chalky yellow coat tucking in the rich orange flesh with its sweet, cara-mellow flavor. My first battle with the butternut occurred on a Tuesday night at Project Open Hand, an amazing SF-based organization that makes, serves and delivers meals to seniors and the chronically ill.  Founded in the early 80’s out of one woman’s kitchen to serve AIDS patients receiving no support (or even recognition of their disease) from the government or their families, and whose chosen families more often than not tragically found themselves in the same position, the group operates largely on the strength of its kitchen volunteer base. While I learned a ton about the community in which I live and my neighbors of all ages and walks of life during the year in which I spent every Tuesday night slicing, dicing and packing whatever slid my way across the Polk Street kitchen’s steel industrial counters, one of the most tangible lessons I is how to wrestle a squash into submission. Believe me, once you’ve determinedly hacked your way through 75 of these bulbous little buggers, you know it’s really love.

I still don’t understand how those with Jedi knife skills manage to slice them neatly lengthwise. The best I can do is  cut off the top and bottom nubs, slice across the base of its neck, and whack into whatever pieces I can from there. I find peelers do little on the tough skin except increase the chances of peeling your own, so I just slice off chunks of the skin piece by piece. This leaves you with beautiful building blocks of rich gold shaped more like what you typically find in a first-grade classroom than you do in a kitchen.

Scoop out the seeds and you now you have the pieces to make hundreds of varying dishes using this agreeable $1 starch as a centerpiece. Most of mine seem to start by cutting it into small chunks, tossing with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and roasting on baking sheets in a 400 degree oven until soft and just sweet, usually anywhere from 15 – 35 minutes depending  on size of your cubes.

It's kind of like seasonal baby food for adults on a budget.

You can make any number of simple soups without much planning, or with just a little, one my favorite recipes, Risotto with Butternut Squash, Jack Cheese & Pancetta from Cooking Light (check it out as much for the Dutch oven baked risotto trick, immeasurably simple than the notoriously laborious traditional stove-top method, as for the fact that the gooey cheese, crispy pancetta and creamy squash combo is beyond delicious).

But you know what? I have mastered something, damnit. The delicious weekday pasta, complete in the time it takes the water to boil and the easiest way to use whatever’s on its way out in your fridge,  that’s always ten times more satisfying (and no doubt healthier) than anything a Ragu can will produce. Here’s one recent Meatless Monday edition.

And please, because I love an indulgence – what foods have you conquered? Mastered? Dreamed about? Let us culinarily crowd-source our wisdom…

WHY LEAVE THE HOUSE BUTTERNUT SQUASH & MUSHROOM LINGUINI

Ingredients

  • Whole wheat linguini
  • Butternut squash, obv. For enough pasta for 2 plus lunch leftovers, I used about half of 1 squash, saving the rest of the roasted cubes to add to salads for lunch for the week.
  • A shallot (a little more delicate than onions)
  • A clove or two of garlic
  • Couple handfuls of mushrooms (because they were about to go bad in the fridge, but they always add heft  to a meatless meal, plus their robust earthiness is a nice complement to the smooth squash)
  • Thyme & nutmeg
  • Splash of white wine (since pretty much everyone I have over is a red drinker, I love not having to feel guilty about opening a bottle of white if you’re craving just a glass or two – save the rest in the fridge for months for cooking)
  • Yogurt (or milk, or buttermilk, again, whatever dairy you have to use up will work)
  • Fresh grated parm or good topping cheese
  1. Boil salted water. Add pasta when that’s happened.
  2. Quash that squash. Prep squash as above – cube, toss with olive soil, thyme, s/p and bake on a parchment or tin-foil lined tray at 400 until just soft, 15 – 25 minutes.
  3. Sautee away. Heat olive oil, add shallots, stir a bit for a couple minutes. Add garlic, let just brown. Add mushrooms, sprinkle on nutmeg, and let them sweat out their water. Toss in a splash of wine and reduce.
  4. Make liquid gold. Just before pasta is done, add a scoop of pasta water, plus a scoop or two of yogurt to the mushroom sautee pan on low heat, stirring until seamlessly combined. Add squash at last minute (I added earlier and it became a bit mushy)
  5. Mix it. Drain the pasta when it’s done, reserving a splash of the cooking water. Add pasta back to pot with the splash of cooking water, stirring over low heat until combined.
  6. Season. Top with salt ( if necessary),  plenty of fresh ground black pepper (always necessary) and grated cheese, if you have it.
  7. Check SurfTheChannel.com to see if there’s a new Gossip Girl. What else are Mondays good for?

Meals with Friends: Cause your job’s a joke, you’re broke…?

29 Jun

Monday evening. Far, far south of here, at 16th and Guerrero to be exact, I have to imagine that the Chinese man with whom I share a weekly struggle  to communicate through a fairly significant language barrier and the far more maddening craptastic hunk of plastic that calls itself my Blackberry, is bewildered.

No sweet and sour meatless chicken? No basil meatless chicken? Not even cold sesame NOODLE?!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen (all three of you), it’s true. I’ve put my foot down. If on the hands-down worst day of the week I’m going to go so far as to brave poring myself into a sports bra and spandex only to spot the only two people on the planet who make me want to rip out my own hair and feed it to them (another story for another day), then I can absolutely find the strength to dig deep within the depths of my willpower, my freezer and Jenn’s pantry to make a nutritious, delicious meal on which I spend not one additional dollar. Certainly not the customary $27, including two Diet Cokes, plus tip, my roommate and I fork over weekly to Big Lantern.

<Mini-Review Tangent: Big Lantern is by far my favorite Chinese take-out in the city. The sesame cold noodles, though deceptively simple enough to trick you into thinking you can take a trip to Richmond for supplies and make them yourself (oops), are delicious. Just enough tang, with sweet shreds of carrot and crunchy wisps of bitter lettuce nestled into the thick, floury noodles. Spinach dumplings are crunchy without being greasy. The basil meatless chicken is the best entree I’ve had, with spicy red pepper dotting a dense but never syrupy garlic sauce, big green broccoli chunks and crisp green pepper slices. Of course, it comes with enough to stuff your face with half while watching Friends reruns in your bathrobe, then finish the rest for breakfast. I mean, eww, who eats cold Chinese food for breakfast?! Lunch, I meant lunch. I’m lying. It’s absolutely breakfast. Deal with it.>

Anyhoo, the new and improved healthy, affordable options comes about with a little help from my real-live friends, of course. The contents of the fridge she has to clear out by Wednesday in tow, The Lovely Ms. Rosen, Future Esq., arrives, and after a glass of wine – details to follow Wednesday – we set to cooking the most simple, cheapest feast of nutritional value to happily feed six I’ve yet found.

Thanks to the one, the only, Telanor Kousman for your unwavering inspiration. Keep it raw, my friend. Keep it raw.

schexy schweat in schports bra

The Monday Medley

  • 2 avocados (or however many you have)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 lemon (or lime)
  • a few garlic cloves
  • about 1 cup (cooked; about 5 oz. uncooked) of brown rice per person – we used 1 whole package of Trader Joe’s organic brown frozen rice ($3.49), but you could use any kind
  • lotsa spinach (however much you got), chopped
  • some red onion (we used probably 1/6 of a giant weird one. so giant you have to wonder. but no matter. i already ate it.)
  • can of beans (we used giant white beans in tomato sauce from TJ’s. In the past, the Kousman used drained black beans. I’m sure whatever you paid 89 cents for currently collecting dust in your cabinet will do just fine.)
  • optional: cheese, whatever type you’ve got (we used cheddar and gouda. feta would be great.)
  • Salt and pepper, obv. Do I really have to specify this? I think from now on we’ll dispense this step. Thanks.
  1. Make gaucamole. Cut each avocado in half, slice it still in the shell across both ways, and use a spoon to scoop the good stuff into a bowl. Dice a quarter of the tomato and throw that in. Chop up a garlic clove very finely and toss that in too. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze it on top, salt and pepper that ish (avocado loves salt) then mash everything together with a fork and your spoon. Very fun. Eat some with your fingers (I won’t tell) and then stick it in the fridge.
  2. Cook ya rice. Ya know, follow the package. Although I’ll admit – I find brown rice very tough to make well. I’m going to invest in a rice cooker one of those days. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend dumping your frozen TJ’s brown rice into a saucepan (a term I find confusing – it’s the spaghetti pot, yes?) with a sliver or butter or two or some olive oil if you want, putting your burner on medium-low, covering, and stirring every so often. It will probably take about 15 minutes.
  3. Chop yer fixins. Dice up the remaining tomato. Chop up your spinach. Dice a bit of onion and a couple cloves of garlic.
  4. Milk a cow. Just kidding. But if you want to, grate some cheese.
  5. Shake it like a polaroid picture. Top off your wine glass. Dance it out a li’l. When the rice is ready, toss in your tomato, spinach, garlic and onion. Empty out that can of beans. Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the top. Salt and pepper to taste (a tricky topic: more on this to come).
  6. Serve yourself. Make those bastards line up in your kitchen and let them add their own gauc and cheese. Offer them red wine and Bud Light. They’ll love you forever.

NOTES: This could easily be served with a simple salad or tomato soup for an indisputably complete meal. Because we were also playing kitchen clean-out, we served with TJ’s frozen chicken dumplings for those partaking in animal. On the other hand, this meal can easily, and with complete satisfaction, be completely vegan – a rarity for yours truly.