Monthly Archives: October 2011

Turkish Lentil Soup – Version 1

There are some places on the planet that are havens for vegetarians, and Turkey – in spite of its sizzling kebabs, stews and shaved meats – is one of those places. Fresh vegetables, yoghurts, cheeses, pulses and grains form the basis of many great Turkish dishes, and perhaps one of the best known of these is Turkish lentil soup.

I ate lentil soup all over Turkey – the good and the bad – and had a particularly memorable one in Goreme, in the Cappadocia region. But perhaps the best version I have ever had was at the Restaurant Su, a Turkish restaurant in Montreal, during a recent trip. Pale, creamy and fragrant, it  was generously drizzled with paprika-infused butter and served with a juicy wedge of lemon, and I revelled in the delicious simplicity of a soup that transported me to a street-side bistro in Istanbul.

There are actually a number of different lentil soups in Turkey, and I had been making a version with tomato, bulgur and mint for a few years. But there was something light and delicate about the flavours of this simpler version – known as mercimek çorbasi – that I wanted to re-create. You can find a million recipes on the internet, and some strike me as rather bland, while others seem a bit to0 complex for what it should be. This recipe follows a pretty standard method, although I have added a few flavours that are common to most Turkish soups.

A couple of pointers on the ingredients. The soup is only as good as the ingredients you use. Sadly – for the strict vegetarians out there – I actually find the flavour more authentic when made with chicken stock over vegetable, but vegetable stock will suffice. (I use Pacific foods organic chicken stock in mine). Also, the mint must be dried in this one – do not use fresh mint leaves. Dried mint imparts a flavour that is very different from fresh mint. Finally, use a good quality paprika. I use Turkish paprika, but if you don’t have access to this, use a good quality Hungarian paprika. Whatever you do, do not use margarine or vegetable oil. Butter is essential for the drizzle at the end, and I find that butter used to fry the onions leaves a very delicious taste. But if you don’t want to use butter, substitute only olive oil. This soup goes so well with a crusty olive bread or a chunk of baguette to sop up the last drops in the bottom of your bowl. Enjoy it with feta cheese, fresh tomatoes and olives on the side for a full Turkish-style lunch.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

Olive oil or butter

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium potato, chopped (most recipes use more for that classic pale colour and creamy texture after blending, but I am trying to keep the carbs lower in mine)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 tbsp dried mint

1  lemon

For topping: 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried mint, sumac (optional)

Instructions:

Heat butter (preferably) or olive oil in a large pot and then add onion and garlic and fry gently for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, carrot and potato and continue to fry for another minute or two. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is coating the vegetables. Pour in the stock with the lentils and bring to a boil. When potato, lentils and carrots are soft, after about 20 minutes at a light boil, allow the soup to cool slightly and then puree it in batches using a blender. Return the soup to the pot and add mint and the juice of 1/4 – 1/2 lemon (start with less, and then taste and add until you are satisfied with the results). Just before serving, melt the butter for the topping and add the paprika and mint, swirling it around for a few seconds until blended. If it’s too thick to drizzle, add more butter or olive oil. Pour the soup into bowls and then drizzle with about a teaspoon of the butter-paprika mixture. Optionally, you can add some dried sumac or aleppo pepper on top, as well. Serve with a chunk of lemon and be transported to the Mediterranean!

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Spanish-Inspired Omelettes with Green Olives and Manchego Cheese

I love manchego cheese. Ever since we ordered a plate of hot manchego cheese drenched in olive oil on a patio in Seville, I have been in love with it. Manchego is made of sheep’s milk, but is relatively hard and sharp, so it’s good for people who are lactose intolerant. The down side of this is that sheep’s cheese has a higher fat content, so if you are watching your fat intake, you have to have some pretty amazing self-control – because once you taste it, there’s usually no going back. I used to have to go to St. Lawrence Market to buy a very expensive wedge of manchego, but it is finally starting to make its way into Canadian supermarkets at various stages of aging (and subsequent pricing). Obviously the more aged it is, the better (in my humble opinion) but I once paid $18 for a wedge of ten-year manchego from the market, and that’s just not a reasonable everyday expense.

Today I am going to share a simple omelette recipe that uses a small amount of manchego. For this omelette, I used a 3-year manchego (which, from what I understand, is a pretty “young” cheese), some good quality sweet paprika, and some brine-packed green olives.  Highland Farms sells various imported manchego cheeses at reasonable prices, and that’s the only real “exotic” ingredient required. Just make sure you don’t use olives from a can. Buy them fresh from the olive/antipasto counter, or buy Unico brand, which packs their olives in brine. The recipe serves two, but the omelettes could easily be cut into smaller wedges to serve 6 as a breakfast side.

Instructions: (for two omelettes) 

Olive oil

1/4 cup spanish (red) onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 red pepper, finely chopped

1 cup mushrooms, finely minced

pinch of oregano

pinch of rosemary

3 eggs

1/3 – 1/2 cup low-fat milk

6 brine-packed or fresh jumbo green olives, pitted and finely chopped

pepper to taste

30 grams grated manchego cheese

2 Tbsp parsley, minced

1/2 tsp paprika

 Heat a pan with a small amount of olive oil and fry the  onions, pepper and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the  mushrooms, oregano and rosemary and continue to cook  until mushroom is browned and tender. Remove all contents  to a plate and set aside. Meanwhile, crack eggs into a bowl and stir in the milk. Add the chopped olives and pepper – do not add salt because there is more than enough salt on the olives. Heat a medium sized non-stick pan and pour half of the egg mixture into the pan, swirling it rapidly to ensure it spreads evenly. Allow it to cook at low-medium heat about  3 minutes until most of the liquid in the mixture is cooked. Add half of the mushroom and pepper mixture to one half of the omelette, then top with half of the parsley, paprika and cheese. Fold the empty half of the omelette over the half with the vegetable mixture and allow to cook for 30 seconds; gently flip the omelette for another 30 seconds, then serve sprinkled with pepper, paprika and parsley (optional).

 

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Pumpkin Bran muffins with a Moroccan twist

We woke up to fall yesterday. Suddenly. After a month of warm, late summer days and gorgeous September skies, October arrived as though to say “alright, enough of this. It’s time to let go.” And let go we did – we had little choice. I was downtown last night, my feet aching as my toes were forced to scrunch up inside shoes for the first time, and I honestly wished I had wooly mitts and a scarf! With fall comes not only closed toed shoes, but a sad farewell to peaches and figs, to my local farmer’s market and my beautiful window boxes full of vines and flowers.

There are, of course, a few happy things about fall: crimson and orange leaves, deer encounters in the woods, pulling out my scarf collection, and of course, pumpkin – one of the greatest root vegetables on earth.

With the coming of fall, I have decided to hibernate indoors today to bake and cook.  Now, I always make muffins on Sunday morning: much like my Saturday pancakes, it has become a tradition in this house of two. But this week called for something different from the banana or blueberry-oat muffins I’ve been whipping up lately. It’s time – at last – for pumpkin.

These are very healthy and very low-fat muffins. There is no added oil or butter. What that means is that they wont last as long as muffins that are full of oil. If you can’t eat them all in two days, I suggest freezing them – otherwise they will dry out. I find that most muffin recipes call for at least 125 ml of oil or butter (that’s half a cup) and although it makes for a very moist muffin, it also makes for a very fattening muffin. I simply don’t use oil or butter at all. But you can feel free to adjust the recipe if you want some oil in there – simply replace part of the apple sauce with an equal amount of oil. In this concoction, I decided to get a bit adventurous and use Ras-el-Hanout. This is a Moroccan spice blend that I love – it’s made of anywhere from 8 -12 spices – and a friend of mine brought me back a huge supply from Marrakech that I need to eat my way through. I was very happy with the hint of savoury cumin and coriander mixed in with cumin, cloves, cardamom and allspice. But if you don’t have (or want) ras-el-hanout, pumpkin pie spice blends will work just as well. If you don’t have a pumpkin pie spice mix, simply use 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, and 1/8 tsp allspice. I also used Splenda brown sugar – mainly because my husband does not like sugary-sweet things. If you want to use Splenda, use a scant 1/4 cup instead of 1/3 cup. If you are using regular brown sugar, you can increase to 1/2 cups for a sweeter muffin.

Ingredients (for 12 muffins)

(Preheat oven to 375 degrees)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or whole spelt – as I used)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wheat bran

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp Ras-el-Hanout (or pumpkin pie spice)

1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh – make sure it is not already spiced if you are using a canned puree)

1/3 cup milk

1 egg white + 1 egg (or use two eggs)

1/2 cup apple sauce

6-8 pitted dates, chopped finely (optional)

2 tbsp hulled pumpkin seeds/pepitas (optional)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, mix the flours, bran, sugar, spice, baking soda and baking powder. Blend well using a fork or a whisk. In a separate bowl, stir the pumpkin, milk, apple sauce, egg whites and egg until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well with a fork. Stir in the chopped dates and pumpkin seeds (if using) and then scoop 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup. Bake for approximately 20 – 25 minutes and allow to cool for five minutes. Remember to freeze the muffins if you are not eating them within two days.

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