Warm lentil salad with grapes, cheese, and mint (4 servings)

Unusual flavor combinations are both arresting and intriguing. They make me stop and think, "Hmm, now how would those things taste together?" This recipe from Vegetarian Times is a perfect example, since it features grapes, mustard, lentils, nuts, cheese, and mint. I like all those things separately, but I wasn't sure how they'd get along together. One way I break down a strange list of ingredients is to try to pair or group elements from the recipe, thinking about how two or three ingredients harmonize. In this case, I figured the earthy depth of the lentils and mustard would pair well and then be offset by the sweetness of the mint and grapes, which would, in turn, by balanced by the richness of the nuts and cheese. Texture is another factor to consider, and this combination of ingredients runs the gamut from soft (cheese) to crunchy (pecans) to juicy (grapes). See? It isn't that scary!

I'm already looking for an excuse to make this one again and bring it to a picnic or potluck. It's versatile (I swapped the feta for bleu cheese and the pistachios for pecans) and easy to transport (it could be served warm or even cool). Bryan and I had this last night as our main dish, but it would also work well as a side dish alongside grilled tofu or pasta. If you're willing to take a little risk with something new and unusual, I think you'll love it!

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup dried brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or roasted pistachios)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese (or feta)

Steps:

  1. Bring lentils and 1 1/3 cup water to a boil in a small pan. Reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid vented for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the oil and vinegar into a small jar or container with a lid; add in the onion powder and mustard, too. Shake (shake, shake your moneymaker) and set aside.
  3. Once the lentils are cooked, transfer them to a serving bowl. To the same bowl, add the grapes, pecans, mint, and cheese, and then pour the dressing over. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then serve the salad warm or cool.

I hope the leftovers are just as tasty for lunch today!

Chocolate-marbled banana bread

Oh. Hello there.

Certain words, when incorporated into food descriptions, make any dish immediately sound  appetizing. Stuffed. Toasted. Encrusted. Another favorite is marbled. "Chocolate-marbled banana bread" sounds a gazillion times more drool-worthy than just "chocolate banana bread." Of course, adding chocolate enhances the bread, too!

This is a great weekend recipe, and by that I mean it's a great one to bake when you've got a little extra time on your hands and don't mind dirtying a few dishes (or every single bowl in the kitchen, if you bake the way I do.) It's chewy, sweet (although not overly so), and comforting, and the marbled look gives it that little extra something special. Oh, and it's vegan! (Thanks, PPK!)

You will need:

  • 1 cup mashed very-ripe bananas (1-2 bananas, depending on size)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (coconut sugar works well, if you're into that sort of thing)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a handful of vegan chocolate chips (optional)
  • 6 Tbsp boiling water, divided

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and prep a loaf pan with non-stick spray or a little oil. Set aside.
  2. Using a fork, mash the bananas in a large bowl until they're pretty smooth. (I'd echo Isa's advice and say it's worthwhile to measure out a cup afterwards to make sure you have the right amount.) Add the sugar, vanilla, oil, and milk to the same bowl; mix with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated.
  3. Next, add the flour, baking soda, and salt to the same bowl, and mix gently only until everything is just incorporated. (I think I over-mixed here, as my loaf didn't look as fluffy as Isa's version! It still tastes amazing though, so don't worry too much.)
  4. Measure out one cup of this batter and move it to a different bowl. Keep this to the side for now. (This will become the chocolate part.)
  5. Use a mug and a fork to stir 3 Tbsp of the boiling water into the cocoa powder until it's dissolved. Pour the cocoa mixture into the one cup of banana batter, tossing in a handful of chocolate chips if desired. (Um, yes.) Mix the chocolatiness (yes, it's a word) into the one cup of batter until it's smooth and beautifully brown.
  6. Add the remaining 3 Tbsp of boiling water to the original (plain) banana batter; mix until it's relatively smooth.
  7. Scoop alternating 1/2 cups of the plain banana batter and the chocolate-banana batter into the greased loaf ban. Don't worry about it looking pretty just yet! After all the batter is in the pan, swirl a butter knife in a random pattern through the pan, creating a marbled effect.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool before slicing and serving.

And that's it! It's not a difficult recipe, but it does involve quite a few steps. As I said, my loaf came out more dense than Isa's, judging by her picture, and I think that's down to slightly over-mixing and maybe using a bigger pan than she used. But nonetheless, it turned out delicious, and Bryan and I have each had at least two pieces per day so far! You could easily make this gluten-free by subbing the all-purpose flour for a GF baking mixture. And how amazing would this be with peanut butter chips mixed into the chocolate batter?

Garlic butter roasted mushrooms (2 servings)

Sometimes, as an Eastern Pennsylvanian who has moved to North Carolina, I forget that people down here don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch terms. Of course, I'm not surprised that Southerners are unfamiliar with the blatantly "Dutchy" turns of phrase (Obviously, nobody here parts ways with, "Y'all come back now, vuntz!") but I was surprised to learn how many of the things I grew up saying without a second thought are actually part of a very specific regional vernacular. Admittedly, most of these linguistic lightbulb moments came to me when I was teaching. In a moment of frustration, I once scolded a group of restless pupils, telling them, "Stop rutsching and just do your work," only to have them respond with blank stares. (Hey, at least it shut them up momentarily.) Just the other day, I discovered that no one here says, "It's spritzing" when the rain comes down in fine droplets. I've also learned that "Hush your fussin'!" is the South's version of the "Stop grexing!" that my Mom-Mom sometimes hissed at me and my sister if we whined too much.

Image from http://suzyssitcom.com

But I miss the colorful local language of Lancaster and Berks County. Each time I go home, I hear less and less of the true Dutchy accent, as in "Meet me dahn at the Ranch Haas," or "I'm from Berks Cahney." Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, not actually Dutch but a corruption and modernization of German. It's characterized by unique words and phrases but also for the order of words, as in, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." (That one always makes me giggle.) As with modern German, Pennsylvania Dutch has some situation-specific, difficult-to-translate words. Some of my favorites are "nix nootz" to describe a trouble-making but good-hearted child, or "schusslich" to describe hasty, sloppy, last-minute actions.

However, the PA Dutch word I most miss, simply because it describes the action it names so well, is "fress." To fress is eat, but it's a specific kind of eating; fressing is like grazing or snacking leisurely throughout the day. We fress on holidays, when we're already stuffed so full of gustatory goodness but we don't want to hurt the host's feelings, so we pick at the cheese plate. We fress when it's hot outside and a heavy meal would make us lethargic, so we just eat a few bites of whatever we can find in the fridge. We fress at picnics and holidays, where there's so much temptation that choosing one or two main dishes is too difficult, so we take bits of this and that and load up our plates until they start to bow. In my understanding, fressing isn't so much about the quantity or type of food; it's more about a variety of small samples, often spread out over time.

Bryan and I are most likely to fress at the end of the week, when energy levels are low and leftovers are diverse. Usually, by the end of the week, I have an assortment of ingredients sitting around, either due to purposeful exclusion ("I don't feel like putting tomatoes in this dish tonight") or accidental amnesia ("What the hell did I buy this leek for again?") and "Fressing Friday" is a wonderful (wunnerful goot?) opportunity to use up those things. Friday evening is a time for dressed-up finger foods, dips, side dishes, and cut-up fruits. It's a chance to relax and unwind without going to any extra trouble. And one of my favorite last-minute fressing dishes is Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms. I halved Deb's recipe since it was just two of us.

(I know, I know -- you were just starting to think, "Soooo... is there a recipe in all this, or are you just waxing nostalgic this week?")

You will need:

  • 1/2 pound medium sized button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
  • Parmesan cheese

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Coat the insides of a small baking dish (you could even use a round pie plate) with a little non-stick spray or oil and set it aside.
  2. Place the mushrooms in a resealable plastic bag; add the garlic, vegetable/canola oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bag, too. Toss gently to combine. 
  3. Place the mushrooms, gill-side up, in the baking dish. Spread the butter pieces out on top of the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan. 
  4. Roast the mushrooms for 15-20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the buttery sauce around them is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.

These mushrooms are chewy, dense, and earthy. The garlicky-buttery juice they roast in is flavorful but not overpowering. I served this two Fridays ago with a sliced Fuji apple, some leftover roasted green beans, chunks of warm pretzel bread (Thank goodness for the Elysium that is A Southern Season), whole-grain mustard, and salty hunks of cheese. At the end of a long week, it was a feast for all the senses and a welcome respite!

Southwestern confetti salad (6-8 servings)

Visual approximation.

Visual approximation.

I've whined about this time of year before. It's that tempting, sneaky period of time where the sun is shining, all the flowers are in bloom (Don't even get me started on Chapel Hill's slutty plants that gleefully spread their genetic material all over the damn place), and the afternoons are warm. The sunlight and heat make you want to rush to the farmers' market and scoop up all your summer favorites, like corn on the cob and juicy tomatoes. However, even thought you feel like it's summer, it isn't, which means there aren't many local fruits and veggies quite yet. Spring is such a tease that way.

So this is the ideal time of year for "summer preview" recipes  -- ones you can make with pantry ingredients for now and then make again with local produce in the summer. Today's offering is based on this Epicurious recipe, although I changed the Mediterranean flavors to more of a Southwest theme. 

You will need:

  • 3 cups corn kernels
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 14-16 oz frozen or canned legumes (I used frozen butter peas, but I'm sure black-eyed peas or black beans would be lovely)
  • 2 cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 avocado

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
  • a splash of lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 a chipotle pepper in adobo, minced 
  • 1/4 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp salt (smoked salt, if you have it)

Steps:

  1. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a jar or small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place the corn and tomatoes in a large serving bowl.
  3. If you're using canned beans, drain and rinse them, and then add them to the corn and tomatoes. If you're using frozen beans, cook them according to package directions, using the low end of the time recommended. (You don't want them to get mushy!) Drain and rinse in cold water and add to corn and tomatoes.
  4. Blanch the green beans for a minute or two -- just until they're bright green. Drain and rinse in cold water; add to corn, tomatoes, and beans. (If you're boiling frozen beans, add the green beans to the water for the last two minutes and then drain along with the beans.)
  5. Give the dressing a final shake or stir and drizzle it over the veggies. Toss gently. Taste for salt; add some cracked black pepper if desired.
  6. Once the mixture is seasoned to your liking, cut the avocado into chunks and add it to the mixture. Toss gently once more. Store salad in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

I can't wait to make this again with fresh ingredients in a few more months! Feel free to change up the veggies; bell pepper would be delicious (if your insides are braver than mine) and I'd imagine chopped carrots could add flavor and crunch.

Review: Emile Noël organic pumpkin seed oil

One of the nicest things about blogging is that occasionally, a company contacts you to ask if they can send you something free so you can write about it! So when Emile Noël -- a French, family-owned company that produces organic, virgin, fair-trade oils -- asked me to pick a flavor to review, I was thrilled but stumped. How would I choose from the 12 oils they produce? 

After much consideration, I decided on the most unusual of their offerings, organic pumpkin seed oil. Cold-pressed and chock full of omega-6 fatty acids, the oil has a low smoke point, so it's best used for finishing dishes and in salad dressings. 

The scent of the oil is toasty and deep -- somewhere between dark sesame oil and roasted peanuts. The color is a dark amber reminiscent of maple syrup but with the gorgeous sheen of liquid caramel. On its own, the flavor is intensely nutty and dark, and it was clear from my small spoonful that a little bit of the oil goes a long way.

Since the oil was new to me, I had to do some research online to learn how to use it. Apparently, in parts of Eastern Europe, the oil is often used as an ice cream topping; however, I wasn't thrilled by the idea of oily ice cream, so I decided to look for other ideas. Here is a brief summary of the ways I tried using the oil, with a short review of each method:

  • As a finishing oil on roasted broccoli: I roasted broccoli florets in olive oil and salt and then drizzled a bit of the pumpkin seed oil on top when I served it. I couldn't really pick out the oil's flavor as I was eating the broccoli, which means either I didn't use enough of it, or it just blends very harmoniously with the broccoli.

  • As salad dressing: I dressed a salad of spring mix, Gorgonzola, and chopped apples with a vinaigrette made from the pumpkin seed oil, some olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, dried thyme, and salt and pepper. Here, the pumpkin seed flavor was more pronounced and worked as a nice complement to the sweetness of the apple and the tang of the cheese. I'm glad, however, that I cut the pumpkin seed oil with olive oil, as I think the flavor would have been too intense on its own.

  • With roasted sweet potatoes in a cranberry-chipotle sauce: Unfortunately, the smoky, spicy chipotle flavor dominated here, and I couldn't taste the pumpkin seed oil at all. (However, that recipe was BANGIN' and I will definitely make it again this fall!)

  • In pumpkin chocolate chip bread: I replaced 2 Tbsp of the vegetable oil with the pumpkin seed oil, and wow. Just wow. This bread was intensely moist, nutty, and comforting. This was definitely my favorite recipe of the ideas I tried out. I doubt that anyone would try the bread and immediately recognize the addition of the pumpkin seed oil, but it did add that autumnal je ne sais quoi that an average pumpkin bread recipe is missing. I'll definitely bake this again later in the year.

In fact, I think I'll continue to find more ways to use the oil once the weather turns cold again. Most of the ideas I found online called for ingredients that are seasonal to fall, so I'm sure I will be bringing it out again during that time.

My only complaint about the oil is that the recipe section of the company's website does not give any recommendations for this particular oil. In my opinion, if a company wants American consumers to try out an unfamiliar ingredient, it should give specific suggestions for how to use it. In fact, some of the recipes I found came from Emile Nöel's competitors!

But I will continue to look online for new ideas for using this smooth, nutty, versatile oil!

(And congrats again to Erin M. for winning a free bottle of Emile Nöel organic mild olive oil!)

Skillet gnocchi with kale and white beans (5-6 servings)

Cheesy gooeyness to the rescue!

You know that week where everything goes wrong -- your intestines turn against you for days on end and you turn in your grad work late and you're supposed to go see your parents on the afternoon your downstairs floor floods AGAIN? So you settle into a funk but then you realize there are worse problems in the world and you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself? So you stop being all mopey but then you feel guilty that you were self-pitying in the first place because you grew up Catholic and you have guilt issues? That week? Yeah, it's been that week.

Lucky for us, there are hearty, melty, secretly nutritious dishes like Eating Well's offering that can make you believe everything is right again. And all you need to regain your faith in the world is some plump potato dumplings, a couple handfuls of kale, and some creamy white beans.

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or butter
  • 1 (roughly) 16-oz package of non-refrigerated gnocchi (plain or flavored)
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups chopped kale, chard, or spinach leaves (any thick stems removed)
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
  • 1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese to taste

Steps:

  1. Cook the gnocchi in boiling water according to the package directions. (It'll probably ask you to boil them for about 2 minutes after they start to float.)
  2. As soon as you add the gnocchi to the boiling water, start melting the oil or butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the gnocchi are done, use a slotted spoon to gently transfer them from the boiling water to the hot skillet. Cook them in the oil or butter, stirring often, until they begin to turn light brown and crispy on the outsides. 
  3. Next, sprinkle the onion and garlic powder over the gnocchi, pour the white wine into the bottom of the skillet, and place the greens on top of the gnocchi. Cover the skillet and let everything cook until the greens turn a vivid green and start to wilt (only a minute or two). 
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and beans and cook just long enough to warm them up. Sprinkle the cheeses over top and put the lid on for another minute to let the cheese melt. Serve immediately.

The original recipe tells you to brown the outside of the gnocchi without cooking them first, which is what I did the first two times I made this recipe. Unfortunately, they came out too doughy and didn't reheat well in the microwave the next day. Boiling them first takes a little more time, but it definitely makes the texture better, in my opinion. I think you'll find this dish satisfying and delicious! Plus, it's a great way to sneak in some extra veggies!

Free giveaway!

Emile Noël, maker of non-GMO, organic, and fair trade gourmet oils, has been kind enough to offer a complimentary bottle of organic mild olive oil to one lucky MainlyVeggie fan! 

To enter the drawing, leave a comment below or like the accompanying post on MainlyVeggie's Facebook page. The winner will be announced on Friday, April 11th.

Look for my review of Emile Noël's roasted pumpkin seed oil in the near future!