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Deborah Madison’s Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables

After cooking Deborah Madison’s delicious lentil minestrone soup yet again last week, I decided to go back through her best-selling Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in search of other recipes. I cracked open the book one morning and 609 pages later, I had several ear-marked pages and my menu for the night: Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust and a side of Catalan-Style Greens.

Vegetarian Pot Pie

And yes — you would be right to think that after 609 pages I might have found a recipe that didn’t involve nine of the same ingredients I’d diced, minced and tossed into the lentil minestrone. Spicy stir-fried tofu with coconut rice, anyone? Wild rice with walnut and scallions saute? But you see, I am still trying to earn ten A’s and I knew lentils had typically done well by The Professor. Plus, it gave me a chance to use my ramekins, which would otherwise sit in the basement until blueberry season.

Deborah Madison's recipe for stewed lentils

The recipe is straightforward and you can cook the lentils and vegetables ahead of time and let the flavors blend, which only makes the dish tastier. I did make a few adjustments to the recipe: I used black Belugas, which, like the French green lentils the recipe called for, hold their shape better than regular brown lentils. I added a several sprigs of parsley and thyme to the lentils, tying the herbs up with the bay leaf in a bouquet garni. I mixed a tablespoon of vegetable bouillon into the lentil’s cooking water. And, because I am genetically incapable of using just one clove of garlic in any dish that calls for it, I added two.

When I returned to the kitchen at 6:00, I spooned the lentils into the ramekins, topped each with puff pastry, and put them in the oven. While they baked I sauteed the spinach.

“So we’re having an experiment for dinner?” The Professor asked, as he entered the kitchen.

“Yes — it’s lentils and vegetables topped with puff pastry,” I told him.

“You mean like a lentil pot pie?”

I didn’t really like the sound of it though I had to admit it was a more straightforward description and I offered a grudging, “Um … sort of.”

In any case, the dish came within a lentil of earning an A-. “If the beans had been a little bit juicier …” The Professor said, as he delivered the B++. “The lentil stew was tasty and the flavors worked well with the pastry, which helps with its interestingness,” he added. Of course, anyone who’s eaten a pot pie already knows the magic of marrying savory and buttery. Not to mention the cubes of sweetness delivered by the carrots.There’s a reason pot pies are called “comfort food.”

In any case, next time I make a “lentil pot pie” I’ll add more stock, which I think will push both taste and satisfaction grades into the A range. And I’lll try a different side — The Professor, to my surprise, didn’t like the Catalan-Style Greens, aka spinach sauteed with pine nuts and golden raisins. Which left him hungry after eating one ramekin clean but not hungry enough to dig into a second. Instead he ate the remaining lentils with wine-glazed carrots out of the pot.

Based on Deborah Madison’s Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups French green lentils, sorted and rinsed (I used black Beluga lentils)

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 celery rib, diced

2 garlic cloves, mashed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter or EVOO

2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

puff pastry

Directions

1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water, vegetable bouillon (if using), 1 teaspoon salt, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the vegetables are browned — about 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Add the wine, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is syrupy and the vegetables tender — about 10 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Stir in the mustard and add the cooked lentils, along with their broth.

7. If the mixture is too soupy, simmer until the stock is reduced.

8. Stir in the butter or olive oil and season with pepper.

9. Spoon the lentil mixture into four ramekins.

10. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick and cut out four pieces, each just a little bit bigger than the ramekin. Make a few small cuts (for the steam to escape) in each and put them on top of the ramekins.

11. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.

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Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

I recently stumbled upon Lukas Volger’s Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful & Healthy Vegan & Vegetarian Burgers Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns & More.

Despite the ridiculously long subtitle, the cookbook is small, focused, and filled with appetizing photos. I’m serious. Volger’s patties — from his Sweet Potato Burger with Lentils and Kale to his Chipotle Black Bean — look nothing like the frozen discs you find in the veggie burger section at the grocery. I couldn’t decide which one to make first!

Ultimately I settled on Spinach-Chickpea Burgers, in part because I thought I could make smaller, crab-cake-sized patties and “sell” them to The Professor as being “like falafel.”

And well … err …

My Spinach-Chickpea cakes could have used more garlic (which the original recipe didn’t even call for!), but flavor wasn’t really the problem. They were just a bit or maybe a lot dry. An aioli I made for The Professor and a spicy yogurt sauce I mixed up for myself helped, but didn’t change the basic problem. They were dry — in part because the smaller patties needed less cooking than the 4-inch burgers the recipe called for, but how much less I wasn’t sure.

“I think it’s worth trying again,” The Professor kindly said as he helped clear the table. “Though maybe make the patties a bit bigger next time.”

I will make the Spinach-Chickpea Burgers again, and I will make them bigger.

In fact, I’m thinking about instituting a weekly “burger night” over the summer, so that I can try all of the recipes from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way that I’ve tagged. Armenian Lentil Burgers. Thai Carrot Burgers. Beet and Brown Rice Burgers. And more. Maybe I’m just experiencing a heat-induced burger fetish. Maybe The Professor will put his foot down. But that’s my plan.

I’m also adding Lukas Volger’s web site to my blog roll. He’s someone I need to be reading regularly, as he writes about more than burgers. His about-to-be-published book is called Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. And it sounds right up my alley.

Take Back the Grill!

I don’t know when Memorial Day became a National Day of Grilling. But what was once a day of remembrance, has become a time to relax — with friends, a six-pack or two and a Weber.

If you doubt the significance of the Memorial Day barbeque, look no further than this hilarious New York Times story  about the Weber Grill hotline and its busiest week of the year. While the tale of Weber’s grill experts (who are overwhelmingly women) is my favorite cooking-related article of the weekend, grilling stories abound. And here’s what irks me: Most all of these articles ignore vegetarians — or insult them. A recent O slideshow titled “6 Inventive (and Tasty!) Takes on the Classic Burger” includes this telling line: “To come up with topping ideas for vegetarian burgers, I think of a big bowl of plain rice—what could I add to that bowl that would taste delicious?”

In other words, meatless burgers are about as tasty as a bowl of plain rice.

I guess I should give the O editors props for including a real vegetarian main course — a brown rice and lentil burger — rather than just a side dish like grilled corn.

But still. I want more. I want to take the grill back. I want backyards across the nation to fill with the scents of slowly roasting peppers, of carrots and onions — getting sweet and charred, of spicy black bean burgers, and generous slices of corn bread. I want the grill-queens at the Weber hotline to be answering questions about the right temperature for grilling cauliflower and how to stop their portobello mushrooms from drying out. Dammit, I want to hear Sarah Moose-Shooting Palin brag about Todd’s grilled asparagus!

Until then, I’m doing my little part to take back the grill.

The Professor’s sister and brother-in-law are visiting, and we fired up the Weber on the night they arrived to cook asparagus and pizza.

I admit, we did make one or two pizzas with chicken sausage for our Southern guests. I also made two with garlicky spinach and fresh ricotta. And one with sauteed wild mushrooms.

“When you make a mushroom pizza, you do not joke around,” said The Professor as he carried my portobello- and shitake-smothered pizza to the grill. He’s right. And hmmm, hmmm was it tasty.

Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells

Last week my dear friend Helen was in town and she came over for dinner.

“What do you want to eat,” I had asked her, in preparation.

“Something that you can write about for your blog, of course,” she responded.

Helen is a vegetarian. She is also British, which means she  grew up eating things like bangers and cottage pie and other euphemisms for … well, let’s not go there. In any case, I’d meant to ask Helen why and when she became a vegetarian but I forgot. I suppose it was because she grew up eating bangers.

In any case, the morning of her visit was cold and wet so I decided to make Martha Rose Shulman’s Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells for dinner.

I left the cookbook on the counter, opened to that page, while I started peeling the garlic. The Professor raised an eyebrow when he glanced at the recipe, but I pointed to Shulman’s words and repeated them: “It’s a meal in a bowl.”

“OK,” he replied, still skeptical.

The results were mixed.

For a meatless, creamless soup, the broth really was quite tasty and rich, thanks to the addition of four egg yolks. “It tastes good,” The Professor said. “Though I’d still call it subtle.

Subtle! It has damn near thirty cloves of garlic in it! I thought to myself, and turned my attention to Helen.

But The Professor continued his critique. The soup’s main flaw, to his mind, was the toasted bread, which the recipe calls for putting in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkling with grated Gruyere, and then topping with the hot soup. Inevitably, the bread turns mushy, and The Professor can’t abide mushy.

At the end of the meal, The Professor offered his conclusion: “I guess it’s filling … if you eat enough of it. But a meal in a bowl it is not!”

I think the soup is worth trying again — with the bread simply sliced for dunking into the soup, or cubed for sprinkling on top.

Spinach and Fresh Herb Frittata

Last night I cooked Martha Rose Shulman’s spinach and fresh herb frittata with walnuts and yogurt from her book, Recipes for Health. Shulman describes it quite wonderfully as “a little garden” and she’s right. It is just packed with flavorful greens.

I thought it was delicious. But The Professor … well, not so much.

“It’s definitely different,” he offered as a first comment, and I knew where we were headed. “But I don’t love it.”

He took another bite and added, “If it were on the menu at a restaurant I wouldn’t order it.”

I decided not to ask him for a grade.

But he did explain what he liked and didn’t like about the dish. The big problem was the flavor — it turns out that The Professor doesn’t like mint and I had added a generous handful, along with some tarragon and almost a full bunch of parsley. “Mint should be used sparingly,” he said.

Mint should be used sparingly! Did he think he was some kind of Kitchen Oracle? Offering cooking koans? I was starting to get angry.

‘What about mint tea and mint chocolate chip ice cream?” I thought to myself. Peppermint Patties and Candy Canes! Explain that, Mr. Kitchen Oracle!

But before I said anything, The Professor started talking about what he liked, and he did like the basic idea, which he described as something between a frittata and a quiche.

He liked that the spinach and herbs had been chopped fine and mixed well with the eggs so that every bite had lots of flavor. He liked the crunchiness of the walnuts. He said it was worth trying again.

And I will. In the meantime, here is Shulman’s recipe. I used five eggs and one cup of egg whites rather than eight whole eggs. If you try it, let me know what you think.