INCREDIBLY SIMPLE: CRUNCHY ASPARAGUS

For a few years I’ve been blogging on recipes that are almost too simple to call as such (see them all here), but tasty enough to sit side by side in a blog with more elaborate concoctions. Normally I like to wait until I have several “incredibly simple” items to share in a single post, but spring is almost here, asparagus season is knocking at the door, and this recipe was too good to keep it a secret for much longer. I made it three times in two weeks. The delicate crunch on these babies? I am seriously in love.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE CRUNCHY ASPARAGUS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

a bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed
olive oil
lemon juice
salt & pepper
Herbes de Provence
1/3 cup almond meal

Heat oven to 425 F.

Mix enough olive oil and lemon juice (half and half) to give enough liquid to coat the asparagus well.  Add salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence to the mixture, eye-balling is totally fine.

Place the asparagus on a tray, pour the seasoned olive oil mixture over them, and move to coat well.

Place the almond meal in a separate tray, drop the asparagus coated in olive oil over it, move gently to make the almond meal stick to the surface.

Arrange them on a single layer on a baking dish covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Roast for 12 minutes, shaking them a bit halfway through.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Really hard to imagine a simpler recipe. Well, of course, you can omit the almond meal coating and still get excellent roasted asparagus that way. But this very minor additional step sends this side dish to a whole other level of deliciousness.

Change things around by using other spices, although you risk masking the flavor of the veggie itself. Still, if you are in the mood for it, add cayenne, smoked paprika, sumac (oh, that would be great), play with the whole concept and make it yours. Whatever you do, do not omit the lemon juice.

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IVORY LENTILS, MY NEWFOUND LOVE

In May last  year I read a very interesting blog post by Mimi, in which she shared a Mediterranean salad recipe using Ivory Lentils. Are they white lentils? Well, not really. They are the center of a black bean found in India and known as “urad dal.” I was intrigued, and knew that at some point I had to amazon-it. Because, obviously, the chances of finding ivory lentils in our neck of the woods are essentially zero. Finally I can share my first adventure with this product. I absolutely loved them, but must warn you they do not taste anything like lentils. Or beans. They are quite unique and remind me more of a grain such as barley. Which is pure gastronomic joy in my book.

IVORY LENTILS WITH CHICKPEAS AND BLACK OLIVES
(inspired by Chef Mimi)

1 cup ivory lentils, soaked for 4 hours

for the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

for the veggies:
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
olive oil to coat chickpeas
salt and smoked paprika to taste
2 celery ribs, diced
1/2 cup artichoke hearts marinated in oil
1/3 cup black kalamata olives, pitted
a few sundried tomatoes, sliced thin

After soaking the ivory lentils, cook them in a large volume of salted boiling water for about 20 minutes, until tender. Skim the surface every few minutes. Drain, and reserve to cool (if serving as a salad).

Roast or air-fry the chickpeas coated in olive oil and seasoned with salt and paprika.  Reserve.

Make a dressing whisking all the ingredients together. If the sundried tomatoes are too hard, let them soak in the dressing for a few minutes. If they are soft, simply mix them with the cooked lentils and all other ingredients.  Place in a serving bowl, and serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Some recipes do not call for soaking ivory lentils, but I decided to follow Mimi’s advice. I am glad I did, because they foamed a lot even after soaking for hours and changing the water for cooking. Maybe they cook fast enough without the soaking step, but if you have the time, do it.

This exact preparation would work very well warm, so consider skipping the cooling time and just mixing everything together as soon as the lentils are drained. Leftovers are equally tasty at room temperature or briefly warmed in the microwave.

I get so excited when I find a new ingredient to play with! I already have another recipe to try using these beautiful “lentils”, one that takes them in the direction of a flatbread… Intrigued? Stick around…

You can order and read more about ivory lentils with a click here.

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PEARLED FARRO WITH ASPARAGUS COINS

A few years ago I posted a pasta recipe using tiny little asparagus coins as a component of the sauce. The other day I decided to roast them and ended up with a side dish that won me over. Added bonus: it is super fast to prepare. Pearled farro cooks a lot faster than the regular grain, and I did not detect any loss in flavor or texture. If you find it in your grocery store, stock on a few bags.

PEARLED FARRO WITH ROASTED ASPARAGUS COINS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

3/4 cup pearled farro
asparagus stalks, cut in very small rounds
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence
squirt of lemon juice

Heat oven to 420F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the farro, cook for 15 to 20 minutes. If you like it with a bit more bite, check at 15 minutes and if it’s done to your liking, drain and reserve.

Meanwhile coat the asparagus coins with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence, amounts are flexible, just go with your intuition. For a regular size asparagus bundle I used 1/4 tsp Herbes de Provence.

Place the asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil to facilitate clean-up. Roast for about 15 minutes moving it around the baking sheet.  When they are done, squirt some lemon juice, adjust seasoning and mix with the warm farro.  Serve right away. Leftovers are great also. Even cold as a salad.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Many variations are possible here. If you don’t want to roast the asparagus coins, simply sautee them quickly in olive oil plus all the spices. Because the coins are so tiny, they cook very fast, so doing the top of the stove method, they can be ready in 5 minutes for sure. The roasted version has slightly more intense flavor. The second picture shows a similar approach (top of the stove), but using zucchini. Also very delicious.

I use farro a lot, but was a bit unsure about trying the pearled version, thinking it would not be nearly as good. I was wrong. It is a way to make farro a suitable option for a fast side dish after a busy day in the lab.

I hope you’ll give this simple recipe a try.

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CHICKPEAS AND ZUCCHINI WITH TAHINI SAUCE

This side dish was the marriage of two regular appearances in our kitchen: quickly sauteed zucchini and air-fried chickpeas. The union was celebrated with a nice amount of tahini sauce.  I tell you, this worked very very well. If you don’t have an air-fryer, roast the chickpeas in a 400-420F oven. It takes longer and the texture won’t be quite as crunchy, but it will work just fine.  I intended to sprinkle pomegranate seeds right before serving for a little extra bling, but of course that day the grocery store had ran out of them. Best laid plans.

LEMONY ZUCCHINI AND CHICKPEAS WITH TAHINI-SAUCE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for the tahini-sauce:
1/3 cup plain full-fat yogurt
1/8 cup tahini paste
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp honey
salt to taste
water if needed
for the veggies:

3 small zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 can chickpeas, well drained and dried
olive oil to coat chickpeas
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
fresh parsley
(pomegranate seeds if you have them)

Make the tahini sauce: whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve.

Make the air-fried chickpeas.  Coat them lightly with olive oil, add the spices and place them in the air-frier set at the highest temperature (usually 390F) for about 12 minutes. They should be crunchy and golden brown.  Reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet, add the zucchini covering the whole surface, season with salt and pepper. Let the slices cook undisturbed until the side in contact with the pan is well seared. Move the slices around and cook until done. Sprinkle lemon juice all over, cover the pan for a minute, remove the lid, add the chickpeas and parsley.  Serve immediately with the tahini sauce on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: When I was a child, teenager or even young adult, you could not bribe me to eat chickpeas, which in Portuguese have the non-appealing name of “grão-de-bico”. It translates – loosely – as “the grain of the beak”. They can also be called “ervilha-de-galinha”, which ends up as “chicken’s green peas”. Yeah, very sexy. How could anyone consider that a delicacy? Anyway, now I crave it. Go figure.

Leftovers were delicious a couple of days later. In fact, I found out that air-fried chickpeas, when microwaved just enough to make them warm, get a nice texture, a bit more creamy inside. My lunch coupled this tasty concoction with a fried egg on top.  I was smiling the whole afternoon.

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD OVER HUMMUS

We are back from a month-long trip to England, where I had the pleasure of eating twice at Ottolenghi and once at Dishoom.  Both restaurants focus on Middle Eastern food, and both serve dishes absolutely packed with flavor. No matter what you order, it will feel like an explosion of flavors: hot, bright, lemony, spicy, with contrasting textures to make it all even more appealing. I came back home with the goals of being a bit less timid with how I season our food, and also of expanding my horizons as far as veggie side dishes are concerned. It’s not a secret that I have a weak spot for hummus and all things chickpeas. Hummus is great as a dip, but it is quite amazing when coupled with roasted veggies such as cauliflower. This recipe will prove it to you…

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD OVER HUMMUS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Simple)

for the salad component:
florets from 1 large cauliflower
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
olive oil to coat cauliflower
salt and pepper
⅓ cup walnuts, toasted
½ cup chopped green olives
parsley leaves to taste, chopped
juice and zest of on large lemon

for the hummus:
14oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil  to taste (less than 1/2 cup)
lemon juice to taste
water if needed to adjust consistency

Heat oven to 400°F.  Coat the cauliflower florets with olive oil, add all spices and mix well. Place in a single layer in a roasting pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Toast the walnuts on a dry, non-stick frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Reserve.

Make the hummus by processing the chickpeas with the tahini, cumin and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper, and with the processor running add the olive oil until it gets a creamy consistency. Add lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning. If needed, add cold water to thin the hummus. Reserve.

Assemble the dish: in a large bowl, mix the roasted cauliflower florets with the walnuts, green olives, parsley and lemon juice.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil right before serving over hummus.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This was absolutely scrumptious! You could conceivably omit the hummus, but it adds a lot to the dish. It would stand as a full vegetarian meal if coupled with items such as farro, couscous, or bulgur wheat. We enjoyed it with boneless chicken thighs marinated in yogurt & smoked paprika, with a bit of plain rice. It was our first dinner after coming back home, jet-lagged, tired, but looking forward to sleeping in our own bed, with three very happy pups nearby. I missed them so much…


Dinner is served!

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LEMONY SHREDDED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH ALMONDS

Definitely not the most popular veggie around, but even if you are a self-professed BS hater (cannot believe what I just did here), I suspect you will enjoy this recipe. Sometimes all it takes is cutting a veggie in a different way and a new horizon opens up. It is just what happens when you finely shred these babies. You can use a knife, but the food processor will be faster and give slices more homogeneous in thickness. Once you are done prepping the sprouts, the whole thing comes together in less than 10 minutes. Perfect side dish for a busy work day.

LEMONY SAUTEED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH ALMONDS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

(This is a heart-healthy recipe, with 1.5 g saturated fat per serving)

12 oz Brussels sprouts
2 celery ribs, finely diced
1/3 cup almonds
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
4 slices of preserved lemons, diced (optional, see comments)
fresh lemon juice to taste

Shred the sprouts in a food processor to 1/8 inch thick. Reserve.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet, add the celery, season with salt and pepper, saute until fragrant. Add the almonds and cook them until they just start to get some color.

Increase the heat to high, add the shredded Brussels sprouts, and saute them moving them around a  bit.  When they start to get a bit softer, add the preserved lemons, close the pan with a lid, and let it all cook undisturbed for 2 minutes.

Open the skillet, check if the sprouts are cooked to your liking. If they seem tough, add a bit of  lemon juice, close the pan again and cook a bit longer. If they are al dente, squirt a little lemon juice, adjust seasoning and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Amounts are all pretty flexible, I shredded enough sprouts to have what seemed enough for our dinner and leftovers for my lunch next day. It was close, let’s say that my lunch turned out a bit light.  A fried egg was needed to the rescue.  Preserved lemons will add a very intense citric flavor but don’t worry if you don’t have any around, just add  good dose of lemon (or even lime) zest, and it should be equally tasty.

That same evening I was roasting butternut squash as another side dish for grilled pork tenderloin, and decided to serve both veggies together.  Loved the color contrast and they got along great as far as taste is concerned. I admit I almost did not need the meat. But then I did.

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BLACK RICE WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Rice is hardly regarded as a special side dish, unless it gets fancied up as a risotto, joined to all sorts of goodies and a nice amount of butter. But, black rice, also known as Forbidden Rice, is another story. Dark, mysterious, with a heartier texture and more assertive flavor, it has the potential to make any meal special. I recently paired it with roasted cauliflower, and we were both very pleased with how it turned out.

BLACK RICE AND ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 cup black rice
1 + 3/4 cup water
salt to taste
1 head cauliflower
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided (3 + 1)
juice of half lemon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Soak the rice in plenty of cold water for 45 minutes. Drain, and rinse well. Add to a sauce pan with the water seasoned with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer with a tight-fitting lid for about 35 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Leave in the pan undisturbed for five minutes before serving.

To roast the cauliflower, cut the florets in a way that they get a flat side. Mix them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place as a single layer in a baking sheet, covering tightly with aluminum foil. Roast at 450 F for 10 minutes, remove the foil, roast for 15 more minutes, flipping the pieces mid way through (or at least moving them around a little, so that new spots touch the bottom of the pan. Depending on how dark you like your cauliflower, let them roast longer.  Meanwhile, mix the remaining tablespoon of olive oil with the lemon juice and spices. When the cauliflower is ready, drizzle the spice mixture, toss gently.

Serve the cauliflower over the hot, steamy rice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Black rice is very nutritious, high in iron and fiber, its purple color coming from anthocyanins. It is actually the food item with the highest content of this anti-oxidant. Not too shabby, right? If you’ve never tried it, the taste is similar to brown rice, and the texture might resemble a bit wild rice. All that to tell you, Forbidden Rice is not just a pretty face. However, it can be a bit tricky to cook it perfectly. After having a few lousy experiences with it, I have two pieces of advice: soak it for 45 minutes to 1 hour before cooking, rinse well.  And use 1 + 3/4 cup of water per cup of rice, not more. Recipes that tell you to use 2:1 will most certainly leave you with a soupy concoction, in which the nice bite of this grain will be compromised.

The cauliflower. I got inspiration from a Fine Cooking article on steam-roasted vegetables. I simplified considerably their take on steam-roasted cauliflower with Indian spices, and shared this stream-lined version with you.

As full-blown omnivores, we paired this side dish with very juicy and very delicious chicken thighs, my default recipe which is on our table every couple of weeks.Yes, it is a lot of chicken, but we got two full dinners out of it, and one lunch for yours truly.

For such a simple preparation with humble ingredients, we were quite amazed by how much we enjoyed it. Once the weather warms up (and I turn into a cheerful human being again instead of The Resident Curmudgeon)  I intend to make black rice salad, because it seems to me it might be a real winner also.

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https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/steam-roasted-indian-spiced-cauliflower