Holidays Delayed

Feeling festive, or just faking it? If you fall into the latter camp, you’re not alone. I’ve been keeping a seat warm for you by the fire here, just waiting for until the holidays blow over. As much as I adore the merriment, the traditions, the seasonal treats, it’s hard to remain so jolly when it’s Christmas approximately six months of the year.

Beyond the standard Christmas creep, publishing deadlines mean I need to think about pecan pies and pinwheel cookies in June, at least. I’ve already had at least two Thanksgiving dinners before fireworks go out for the 4th of July. When it’s finally December, at long last, the best I can do is plaster on an ugly sweater and retreat for burgers after everyone else gets their second plates of glazed ham roast and gravy.

I love the holidays. I relish those early photo shoots and brainstorming sessions, garnishing my apartment with tinsel remnants after putting away all the other props. I just need a little palate cleanser, okay?

Before we dive head-first into the all-singing, all-dancing days of holly jolly revelry, let’s just take a breather. Clear the table of all the wrappings and bows, set aside menus for feast soon to come. Schedules are packed with events, work still needs some cursory attention, but I promise, there will be time. Right now, let’s just sit down to a bowl of soup, shall we?

It’s the kind of soup that hits the spot anytime, which makes it just so perfect for this moment. Hearty but not heavy, savory and soothing, it can lift the spirit for scrooges and saints alike. Tender, toothsome black lentils pop like caviar amidst a brothy base of simmered vegetables, tinted red with tomato and smoky paprika.

Whole almonds make an unexpected cameo, slightly softened from the heat, still bearing a resounding crunch at the core. It’s an unconventional addition I first (and only) encountered during my stint baking for a cafe, where the soup of the day was largely open to creative interpretation. I don’t know who first whipped up this idea, or if maybe it was an accident in the first place, but I happen to love the surprising combination of textures and tastes.

Don’t let the holiday season bully you into forced gaiety. One thing I’ve learned from years of crushing FOMO and endless deadlines is that if you take a moment to hit the reset button, start in on something completely different, and allow your mind to wander where it desires, ultimately, you’ll come back to the intended path stronger. Happier. Merrier. And in this case, with a full, and fully contented stomach.

Continue reading “Holidays Delayed”

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Down and Dirty with Clean Eating

Holiday indulgences still weighing heavily on the minds (and hips) of many winter revelers, the added stress of New Year’s resolutions brings out the worst in some people. I’m not talking about those determined to follow the gospel of the latest diet fad or exercise craze- They’re only trying to do what’s right, what society expects of them for all their gustatory sins. No, I’m pointing straight to those spreading this propaganda, pushing the miracle cures and instant detoxes, complete with catchy slogans so obtuse that it’s hard to find any true meaning behind them. “New Year, New You” is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent, springing up again year after year, the elastic of its tenor just as punchy in 2016 as it was in 2006, and perhaps even 1996. It’s a good thing most consumers can’t remember the marketing pitches from these forgotten eras, or else we’d all be bored to tears for the redundancy of it all.

As a food obsessive and enthusiast, the saying that really gets to me above all others is the call to “Eat Clean.” Tell me, when was the last time you got a plate of food at a restaurant and thought, Oh, I’m so hungry, but this meal just came out much too dirty for me. What would that even look like? A plate full of soil, wriggling earthworms and all? Would it constitute a reasonable excuse for sending the dish back, an offense on par with receiving a carbonized, unforgivably burnt pancake? My own personal mantra has become a reactive “Keep Your Laundry Clean and Your Food Dirty.” Yes, I want to buy my kale with ladybugs still clinging to the leaves. Yes, I will actively seek out potatoes that are in dire need of a good scrub. I want my food to be that dirty, because to me, “dirty” should be synonymous with “fresh.”

Rant aside, there are still some redeeming side effects to the annual revitalization of healthy eating. While I may not be a fan of the label, I do love a hearty meal that doesn’t contain the same amount of oil required to power a snow blower through a foot of icy slush. Thus, titles notwithstanding, I’ve found some real edible gems in Terry Walters’ work. A prolific recipe writer, I’ve been enjoying her food for years now, and this brief feature itself is long overdue. Eat Clean, Live Well was released well over a year ago, but has proven to be a real catch in a sea of nutritionally-oriented cooking tomes.

Pictured above, the red lentil patties in particular have become an indispensable staple for quick meals, perfect for preparing in batches, freezing, and reviving on the fly. The crisp exterior allows them the fortitude to withstand the burger treatment, standing strong without crumbling on the bun yet yielding to a downright creamy interior texture. For a more elegant meal, they function beautifully atop roasted or sauteed vegetables, drizzled with delicate herb-infused sauces and garnished with tender micro greens. Or, as is most often the case, they’re downright dreamy paired simply with tahini or a pungent, garlicky aioli sauce for dipping.

Don’t fall for the hype; eat as dirty as you like. Just make sure you wash your hands before sitting down at the table.

Red Lentil Patties with Garlic and Fresh Herbs

Reprinted with permission from Eat Clean Live Well © 2014 by Terry Walters, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

1 cup red lentils
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro or any combination)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup gluten-free bread or rice crumbs

Rinse and drain lentils and place in pot with vegetable stock or water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer covered 15 minutes until lentils are mushy and all liquid is absorbed (you may want to leave lid cracked open slightly to prevent pot from boiling over). Remove from heat and set aside.

In large cast iron skillet, sauté garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes). Add roasted red pepper and sauté 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a bowl. Add lentils, fold in herbs and sea salt, and season to taste with pepper. Gradually fold in breadcrumbs until batter is thick (you may not need all depending on how dry your lentils are) and set aside for 2–3 minutes to allow batter to thicken.

Drizzle cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Scoop batter and roll into 1 1/2 -inch balls. Place in skillet and flatten into patties 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Cook until crispy (4–5 minutes per side), transfer to baking sheet and cover to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter until ingredients are used up and serve.

SERVES 6 (makes twelve 2 1/2-inch patties)

Printable Recipe

Delicata Delicacy

Have you ever seen a better vegetable for stuffing than the humble delicata squash? Each perfect yellow and green-striped edible tube becomes an ideal vessel for every sort of filling imaginable, no matter how you cut or cook it. I’m no stranger to the concept, but all sorts of inspiration has steered my seasonings in an entirely different direction since those first filled squash emerged from the oven.

Allow me to introduce to you a prime candidate for your new Thanksgiving main dish, replete with a very posh-sounding beluga lentil filling. Sparkling like legume caviar within their roasted golden delicata containers, these particular lentils eschew the typical autumnal spices found on every festive table in favor of more worldly flavors. Infused with an aromatic blend of cumin, mustard seeds, and jalapeno, this entry is guaranteed to spice up the traditional feast. Spiced rather than spicy, it’s designed to suit a wide range of palates, subtle enough not to offend those who appreciate less heat but want abundant umami to savor on their plates.

Complimenting that distinctive piquancy is a creamy cashew-based raita, replete with cooling mint leaves and crisp diced cucumber. Don’t even dream of skipping it; that rich final flourish ties together the meal, elevating the dish into something truly memorable. It’s the kind of surprisingly easy dinner that eaters will rave about for years to come, but by all means, don’t just save it for an annual event. Stuffed delicata are delightful all autumn and winter, if not beyond those seasonal boundaries, too.

Like all the best Thanksgiving dishes, stuffed delicata are rock stars for prepping in advance and waiting patiently until their solo arrives. Bake and stuff them as written, cover the casserole dish with foil, and simply reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10 – 20 minutes when the party begins.

Yield: Makes 4 Main Dish Servings; Cut the Halves in Half for 8 Side Dish Servings

Beluga Lentil-Stuffed Delicata Squash with Cashew Raita

Beluga Lentil-Stuffed Delicata Squash with Cashew Raita

Infused with an aromatic blend of cumin, mustard seeds, and jalapeno, this entree is guaranteed to spice up the traditional feast. Complimenting that distinctive piquancy is a creamy cashew-based raita, replete with cooling mint leaves and crisp diced cucumber.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours

Ingredients

Beluga Lentil-Stuffed Delicata Squash

  • 2 Medium Delicata Squashes (About 1 Pound Each)

Lentil Stuffing:

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Shallots, Finely Diced
  • 1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Diced
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Whole Cumin Seeds
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Whole Mustard Seeds
  • 1 Cup Dry Beluga Lentils
  • 2 Cups Vegetable Broth
  • 2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 3/4 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Cashew Raita:

  • 1 Cup Raw Cashews Pieces, Soaked for About 4 Hours
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint Leaves, Roughly Chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, Finely Diced

Instructions

  1. Although it’s the last addition to your stuffed squashes, it would be
    wise to prepare the cashew raita first so that it’s ready to go when
    you are. Thoroughly drain your soaked cashews and toss them in your
    blender along with the chopped mint, lemon juice, water, and salt.
    Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister with a spatula
    as needed, until completely silky-smooth. This process may take longer
    if you use a lower-powered model, but stick with it; that creamy texture
    is important for successful raita. Once perfectly velvety, stir in the
    cucumber pieces by hand. Store in an air-tight container and keep
    refrigerated prior to serving.
  2. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a medium pot over moderate
    heat before tossing in the diced shallots and jalapeno. Saute until
    translucent before introducing the cumin and mustard seeds next. Cook
    until the vegetables are lightly caramelized and the entire mixture is
    highly aromatic. Add the lentils and broth, cover, and bring to a boil.
    Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes
    when the lentils become tender. Add the coconut milk, vinegar, and salt
    and pepper to taste. Keep the pot partially covered and simmer for an
    additional 5 – 10 minutes, until the final liquid addition has been
    absorbed. Cover and keep warm.
  3. Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut
    both squash in half lengthwise and scoop out (but reserve) seeds. Place
    each half with the cut sides down on a lightly greased baking sheet and
    bake for about 30 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh.
    Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before
    handling.
  4. Reduce the heat to 250, toss the reserved seeds with just a splash of
    oil and a pinch of salt, and roast for just 10 – 20 minutes, stirring
    frequently to prevent them from burning. Once golden and crisp, let them
    cool completely.
  5. To complete the dish, flip the roasted delicata squashes up to turn
    them into edible boats and spoon the warm lentils inside. Serve the
    cashew raita alongside for guests to top their squashes as desired, and
    finish with a sprinkle of roasted seeds.

Notes

Stuffed delicata can be prepped up to 3 days in advance. Bake and stuff them as written, cover the casserole dish with foil, and simply reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10 – 20 minutes when ready to serve.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 476 Total Fat: 30g Saturated Fat: 11g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 17g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 1151mg Carbohydrates: 44g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 10g Sugar: 13g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 15g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.