Flippin’ Out Over Pancakes

No Eggs, No Milk, No Love? 

YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME. Oh, vegan baked goods. Where do I even begin?

Yes, it can be done - fluffy, yummy vegan pancakes! Don't be discouraged by bad recipes. Not all vegan pancakes suck!

Before I start, let me show you where I finished up this morning. Here is what I ate for breakfast. It was fantastic.

But … I’m going to level with you. There are some truly horrible vegan creations out there. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve made some of them.

When I’m about to try an untested vegan version of something that would ordinarily be made with milk and eggs, it feels like a game of Russian Roulette. Or craps.  Or some other hard game with terrible odds.

But unlike the gambler’s fallacy, the more you take a chance on vegan baking – or pancake making – the better things get.  I promise!

Why Start From Scratch?

I don't believe in wasting food, but this wasn't food. It was garbage.

One day, I just really wanted pancakes. I’d never tried making vegan pancakes before. So I decided to play it safe. I’m not a chef. I don’t create recipes. I follow them.

First, I used a buckwheat pancake mix and subbed soy milk for dairy. I used egg substitute. And threw everything in the compost. That mix was so bad, I’m confident that the omnivore version would have been disgusting, too.

Undeterred (but hungry!), I turned to a beautiful vegan cookbook with the most sensational looking recipe. I gave it a whirl.

Does anyone actually test recipes before publication? This one failed. Failed big, I'm afraid.

I mixed the batter. It seemed to have an awful lot of liquid …

I poured it in the pan.  It spread out very thinly.  Maybe it would be more like a crepe?  I was hopeful.

I stood there. It wasn’t cooking. I turned up the heat. Still not cooking.

I added more flour and tried again. It came out really gluey. I added some blueberries.

This recipe looked so promising but didn't deliver. Like that Bon Jovi song ... No one can save me / The damage is done!


I was ravenous at this point. I ate it, but I did not enjoy it. It wasn’t a pancake so much as a floury, rubbery sweet mixture firmed up in a pan.  Oh, and by the way, it took FOREVER to cook.  

Putting “The Joy” Back in Cooking

You know, back before I made my kitchen mostly vegan, I was a killer pancake maker. This sub-par pancake situation, I took it *personally.* I am an excellent pancake maker. So why was I making such god-awful pancakes?!

I went back to my roots. The Joy of Cooking “Basic Pancakes” recipe never fails. Of course it’s not vegan, but I figured that it was as good a starting point as any. And guess what? It took very little tinkering with that masterful recipe to make it vegan and make it delicious.

There’s no sugar or soy in this recipe, and I use a mix of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Increasing the baking powder raises the sodium content – so if you are watching your salt, you might consider using less baking powder (3/4 tsp would be the amount used in the original non-vegan recipe) and using soy milk instead of almond milk. Soy makes things rise.

The Dragon Fruit Vegan Pancakes 

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Yields about 4 medium sized pancakes, serves 2
 
Dry Ingredients
3/4 c flour (1/2 c whole wheat flour plus 1/4 c all purpose flour)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
 
Wet Ingredients
2/3 c almond milk
2 Tb agave nectar
1.5 Tb oil (I like to use walnut oil. I’ve also used peanut oil. If you use coconut oil, warm the almond milk and the oil to enable mixing. You can use less oil and still get a nice result.)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
 
Optional Extras for the Pancake Batter – Add Some, All, or Your Own
Lemon zest, to taste
Juice of 1/6 lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (1/8 – 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c dried blueberries (I like Trader Joe’s Dried Wild Blueberries – no sulfur)
 
Topping
Dark agave nectar
Dash cinnamon
 

Directions

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, mix well. Combine wet ingredients in bowl, mix well. Add any extras to the dry or wet ingredients and mix. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Heat pan over medium – medium-high heat. Spray a light to medium coating of oil over the bottom of pan. When a drop of water sizzles on the pan, it is ready.  Pour batter and heat pancake(s) through until bubbles form and the edges turn firm. Flip and cook other side. You can test with a knife inserted in the center for doneness – there should be no raw batter that oozes out of the cut.

Remove from heat, top with some agave nectar, a dash of cinnamon, extra lemon zest, fruit, or whatever else is delicious and available.

Now this is a pancake!

The dry ingredients. For a big, citrusy flavor, use long strands of zest.

The wet ingredients.

Pancakes on the rise!

I'm totally in love with this blueberry-agave-cinnamon-nutmeg-lemon zest pancake.

Sandwich Nirvana: Easy Heirloom Bean Spread (Cooking with Dried Legumes III)

Humming a different tune, happily

I’ve mentioned before that ideally, I’d avoid eating hummus at home. It’s delicious, easy, and cheap, but you can have too much of a good thing, you know?

Bread, crackers, and crudites beware: a new spread's in town.

So if I avoid hummus, am I just done with bean spreads at home? No way.

Here’s what I ate today.  If I say so myself, it was great. Way better than my initial attempt at making a bean spread.

Refreshing summer yumminess.

In the shadow of Tahini …

Of course I used Rancho Gordo beans. This time, I tried out the Yellow Indian Woman Bean.

Rancho Gordo's Yellow Indian Woman Bean

But what to do about other ingredients? A mix of plain beans and oil doesn’t exactly come out well. Part of the genius of hummus is Tahini. It adds flavor and texture so beautifully. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but are there alternatives?  

Of course there are! Because I’m kind of a health nut, and health nuts do weirdo stuff like put flaxseed in everything, I decided to go with flax. Ground flaxseeds have a beautiful nutty taste. They also function to bind ingredients together. (It’s downright gluey when you blend them with water.) 

Taste, texture, and nutrients. Take that, tahini! You're not the only spreadmaker on earth, after all🙂

I also put in some almond meal because who doesn’t love almonds?

To finish it off, I used walnut oil, some spices, and … GOLDEN RAISINS.   

The spread just needed a little something extra. I was inspired by my mom’s chicken salad. She always adds raisins and walnuts, and it’s so yummy. I was a little nervous about adding raisins to beans, but I quite love how it turned out!

I enjoy plenty of veggies on my sandwiches and cilantro is one of my addictions, so I piled on the extras.  Here’s the recipe:

Summer Sandwich Nirvana

Serves 2

Ingredients

Dragon Fruit Heirloom Bean Spread (see recipe below) 
Four slices whole grain bread
Thinly sliced cucumbers
Sliced tomatoes
Thinly sliced onion (I used the white part of a scallion)
Handful of chopped cilantro
Handful of mixed salad greens
Sea salt, to taste
 

Directions

Place mixed salad greens on two slices of bread.  Divide the spread evenly on two slices of bread, over the salad greens.  Add sliced tomatoes and onions.

On the other two slices of bread, layer sliced cucumbers and add cilantro.  Add sea salt to taste and assemble sandwiches.

The Dragon Fruit Heirloom Bean Spread

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 c cooked heirloom beans such as Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman Beans, drained very well
2 Tb ground flaxseed
1 Tb almond meal (you can just add finely ground almonds if you’d rather not buy a bag of almond meal)
1 Tb fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tb walnut or other oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Dash of sea salt 
Dash of ground black pepper
1 heaping Tb golden raisins
Cilantro or parsley and lemon zest for garnish, optional
 

Directions

Drain beans VERY WELL. If there is too much liquid, you’ll end up with a baby food texture like mush.

Grind beans in a food processor until they are a paste.

Add ground flaxseed and pulse in food processor until evenly distributed (for shorthand, I’ll just say “pulse”).  Add remaining ingredients and pulse as follows:

Add almond meal and pulse.

Add lemon juice and oil and pulse.

Add salt, pepper, and coriander and pulse.

Add raisins and pulse.

Notes

You can probably just add everything and pulse it all together, but I feel like I want to make sure my purée is consistent. I’ve added the ingredients in a stepwise fashion to avoid getting clumps of any one ingredient in the spread.

Food Processor Magic

Drain the beans well to avoid mushy texture!

Pulsing just the beans in the food processor ends up looking like this. I had to pulse a lot and scrape down the sides often.

Texture after the addition of flaxseed meal, almond meal, and lemon juice. When making this spread for the first time, I added each ingredient one by one, but you don't need to be so painstaking.

And here's the almost-finished product, after adding the oil.

Now this texture was what I was looking for!

And this texture is fading away until it's just a baaad memory. What a sad sandwich!

What a happy sandwich!

Beware the "Pot Liquor"! Good for flavor in more watery dishes, but this opaque beany essence is just plain bad for sandwich spreads.

Ballin’ — Yamuna Devi’s Divine Melon Dessert, Easily Veganized

Recipe Perfection

FOOD OF THE GODS. This was what I thought the first time I tasted Yamuna Devi’s recipe for Carbooj Mithai, “Melon Bowl Supreme with Honey-Lime Dressing,” from her venerable tome The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. It’s divine. Shockingly good. I am glad that my life on this earth has included experiences with this beautiful summer dessert.

One of the greatest summer desserts, period. Thank you, Yamuna Devi!!

It’s not vegan because it contains honey. Close enough, some might say.  

But I just wondered … would it be a sacrilege to tinker with perfection? Just to see? 

Honey, Just Try the Agave

To me, the honey seemed critical in creating the heady, complex sweetness that haunts this dessert. Replacing it worried me.

But needlessly so! Sure, honey makes a difference, but the agave nectar is just as fantastic. And since agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than honey, it might be the more desirable sweetener to use in this recipe if you prefer to keep your GI lower.

Yeah, I’m Ballin’ … But …

So, the recipe instructs you to use a melon baller and also to use the melon rinds as a serving vessel. I actually did not feel so ballin’ when I was balling. It seemed wasteful, too – there’s an awful lot of melon that goes unused because it looks too odd to serve next to the little half orbs of melon that come from the baller.  

Very pretty, but ... see below for the, er, "outtakes."

I really only used the baller because I knew I’d be posting pictures to the blog. In the past, all I’ve done is cube the melon. I guess serving it in the hollowed out rind is fancy, but I’ve never done it. That presentation is a little over the top for me at home, although it would be quite impressive when entertaining.

At any rate, no matter what it looks like – and regardless of your religious beliefs -I think you will agree that this dish is simply, divinely, sublimely …  heavenly. 

Vegan Version of Yamuna Devi’s Carbooj Mithai, “Melon Bowl Supreme with Honey-Lime Dressing”

 Ingredients

1 watermelon, 3-4 lbs
1 small canteloupe or Ogden melon
1 small honeydew or charentais melon
1/4 c agave nectar (I used dark agave nectar)
1/4 c fresh lime juice
2 Tb fresh orange juice
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp finely ground ginger or 1/2 Tb scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger root (I forgot to buy ginger and didn’t really miss it, so I’m calling this ingredient optional)
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
2 Tb olive oil or almond oil (I’ve used organic extra virgin olive oil and it’s great)
2 c blueberries (You can use less if you, like me, get sticker shock when buying berries)
a few sprigs of mint for garnishing (I chopped it finely and sprinkled it on the melon)
 

Directions

Use a melon baller to make balls -OR- chop melons into even, medium sized cubes.  Mix in blueberries.

In a separate bowl, combine other ingredients, mix well.  Pour over melon and berry mixture, serve.

Notes

Yamuna Devi’s instructions are more precise – she says to cover and refrigerate the melon, set aside the blueberries and mint, then to use a blender to process the other ingredients.

Before serving, she says to drain the melon, mix with the blueberries, then add the sauce and garnish with the mint.

It’s true, the melon will drain and produce more liquid.  If you plan on making this dish in advance and serving it later, you should probably heed this advice, although it will still taste good if you don’t drain the melon.

Ballin’ – It Just Looks Easy …

Here are some pretty ones.

But they all don't turn out so pretty! Maddening!

Oh, those poor melons. This image was too funny not to share.

Then what do you do with this stuff? Frozen daiquiris?

It's like red Swiss cheese or something, oddly unnerving!

Hot Summer, Cool Eats (Cooking with Dried Legumes II; Tik Marij)

It’s Too Darn Hot

So there’s a heat wave going on. And I don’t have AC.  

The last thing I want to do is slave over a hot stove. So … hummus sandwiches are nice … the first several times … and then oh, they can get so borrrring!

Ho-hummus😦

And you know, I kind of hate to eat hummus at home. Why? Because usually it’s the only non-vegan option when I go out for lunch. Don’t get me wrong. I love me those chickpeas! And you never want to bite the hummus that feeds. Well, I guess you do.  You know what I mean.

Maybe I could try making a bean spread that is not hummus?  After all, I just got in this huge shipment of muy fabuloso Rancho Gordo beans!

Yay!!!!!!!

When bad things happen to good beans ... They were perfect and delicious until I mangled them, argh!

When I tried to make a bean spread, though, I learned why hummus is king.  

This stuff didn’t look good. It tasted like bland baby food. I haven’t given up, but man, I’m going to stop ragging on hummus. That stuff is genius.

Two Trendy

So after the great spread failure, it was back to the drawing board for me.  

I think it’s safe to say that Rancho Gordo beans are officially trendy. And the other “It Girl” of 2011 would have to be … the coconut. Coconut water is everywhere. And coconut oil has been getting a second look these days as people update their views about healthy and unhealthy fats. These two ingredients have been on my mind lately because, well, people are talking about them. With their mouths full. 

Now I’m not one to follow trends slavishly. But nor am I one to ignore a good idea when it comes to me:  fabulous summer rice and beans dish, served at room temperature, with the tropical flavors of coconut and lime. Yes, please!

This time, the recipe gods smiled down on me. So with that, I give you …

The Dragon Fruit Summer Edition:  Coconut Rice and Beans

Serves 1

It was love at first bite. And the next one. And the next. You get the idea.

 Ingredients

Please note: it is important to cook the rice and beans in advance, allowing at least enough time for them to come to room temperature, unless you want the dish to be hot. This dish will still taste great even if your rice and beans are a few days old.
 
1 c cooked brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s brown jasmine rice)
1 c cooked beans (Any kind will do, see note below)
1-2 tsp extra virgin coconut oil
1-2 small green onions, chopped
1/3 c mango, either ripe or green, chopped; or a crunchy vegetable of your choice such as diced cucumber
Bunch of cilantro to taste, minced
Juice and zest of 1/4 – 1/2 lime (I think more is better!)
Lots of ground black pepper (I like to use 1/4 t of it or maybe even more)
Sea salt to taste
 

Directions

Cook rice and beans in advance, allowing at least enough time for these ingredients to come to room temperature before assembling.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine rice and beans. If these ingredients are cold from the refrigerator, microwave for a little bit until just warm.

Gently heat coconut oil (if solid) until it just melts. Drizzle over rice and beans and mix thoroughly. Heating the coconut oil too much tends to compromise the flavor, so I would advise against putting it in the microwave (although I have done it myself).

Add other ingredients, mix thoroughly.  Done!  SO simple, no?

Honestly, it's almost not fair how easy this dish is to throw together.

Note on beans:  The best beans to use are fresh, but canned will do very well. The best variety of beans to use is something with a milder flavor – like pinto beans. (Using all black beans overwhelmed the other flavors.) The bean I used here in this picture is the Rancho Gordo Tiger’s Eye (see photo below). It’s a nice medium flavor. Ideally, I would have used 3/4 c of the Tiger’s Eye and 1/4 c of black beans, probably from a can. I played around with the bean combinations and really liked the way adding some black beans enhanced the depth of the dish.

I liked it so much that I didn’t take any pictures and ate all my black beans.

To cook beans, check out the RG method:  http://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_cook_beans_primer.htm

I just soak for a few hours or overnight and simmer them in water. Plain water.

Rancho Gordo Tiger's Eye, before cooking.

Note on lime, black pepper, and salt:  Really the star of this dish is the zing that brings it all together, the lime, black pepper, and salt combination. I didn’t invent it.  The Cambodians did. It’s known as Tik Marij.  If you can get your hands on Cambodian Kampot pepper, do it! But any black pepper will do. It’s a brilliant, tart, mouth-watering sauce that adds life to any dish.


!!Yo Quiero Rancho Gordo!! (Cooking with Dried Legumes I)

The Musical Fruit

Some say adding kombu (the stuff that is not the beans or the onion) helps, er, tone down the music.

Beans. If you are like me, you did not grow up eating them regularly and most often paid attention to beans when mocking them. We all know that song from grade school:  

Beans, beans, the musical fruit – the more you eat, the more you toot – the more you toot, the better you feel, so let’s eat beans at every meal!

The ending is sarcastic. You wouldn’t be caught dead eating beans after hearing that song.  

So, maybe beans make you musical. If so, I’m sorry. But if you’re willing to look past the bad reputation they had in grade school – and who really deserved a bad rep at that age? – you can learn to love the legume.

“Cool Beans”

Unlike people, not all beans are created equal. The most fabulous,fun, and flavorful beans out there that I’ve found are from Rancho Gordo. Check out their site. It’s informative and super-cute. If you can’t find RG beans where you live, you can order from the website. Awesomeness! What makes RG beans so special is the fact that they aren’t just any old beans. They are old heirloom varieties of beans, stuff you probably have never tried before. What’s more, they’re very farmer-friendly and have changed lives in Mexico. Incredible.

If you know the difference between an heirloom tomato and a cheap, canned conventional tomato, well, it gives you an idea of the difference between cheap canned beans (which I do like!) and the heirloom variety.

Honestly, it’s just cool to try out new foods that are nutritious and delicious.  I saw RG Christmas Lima beans the other day and picked them up. I love giant lima beans.  Their texture is so meaty (sorry if that phraseology offends anyone) and hearty. And these bad boys looked so interesting!

So … were the Christmas Limas naughty or nice?  I thought they were dee-licious! The texture is wonderful, the taste is kind of like chestnuts (as the package promised), and they are really filling. Here’s some more bean pics:

So attractive! How could I resist trying them out?


Raw & cooked. Close to actual size!

The RG website has info on how to prepare their beans. It’s really easy.  

I soak dried beans overnight, rinse them a few times before cooking, then simmer them until they’re the texture I like.


Unless I have lots of time or have planned ahead, I usually cook beans one day while doing something else, then actually eat them the next day.  They keep in the fridge nicely and are ready to add to salads, pilafs, pastas, sandwiches, etc. 

So how do you eat these things?

Yes, I know you eat them with your mouth.  But with new foods, it’s sometimes daunting to figure out what to do with them. I am still working with kitchen limitations, so it was another pasta night for me. I know that this recipe is strikingly similar to my last post (pasta, veg, legume). While not the most creative thing ever, I’m getting nutrition, variety, and tastiness with minimal work. This combination was pretty yummy, if I say so myself.

One thing I want to show is that once you find a method that is easy for you, you can riff on it endlessly and not feel like you’re eating the same thing nightafternightafternightafternight …

So … here’s a quick and easy way to enjoy some of the most extraordinary beans around, the Rancho Gordo Christmas Limas. Stay tuned for more – stews, side dishes, all sorts of ideas come to mind … and will come into being, once my movers finally deliver my kitchen stuff!

Pasta Spirals with Christmas Lima Beans and Fried Zucchini

Serves 2

Another quick meal. If you have cooked beans on hand, all you need to do is boil pasta and fry up some zucchini. Mmmmm.

 Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta (Trade Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle is GREAT)
2 small – medium zucchinis, cut into matchsticks
2 tsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1-2 cups cooked Christmas Lima beans (Rancho Gordo recommended)
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While water for pasta is boiling, reheat the beans in a separate pot with their cooking liquid, if needed.

Chop zucchini into matchsticks.  Place zucchini in medium or large skillet, turn heat on high.  When skillet reaches high heat, drizzle olive oil over zucchini and reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I like to add a ton of black pepper.)  Stir to distribute oil and salt and pepper, but don’t keep stirring throughout.  Cook on high heat – without stirring – until zucchini is very dark brown on one side.  When one side of the zucchini is dark brown or at the desired doneness, turn off heat.  Stir zucchini to let other sides of the vegetables cook and to keep warm while pasta finishes cooking.

Drain pasta.  Stir in zucchini.  Drain beans and stir in.  Season with additional salt if desired.

Adding some toasted walnut oil would probably be really delicious, but I didn’t have any on hand to test out that idea …


Getting Fast and Dirty with … Pasta and Lentils

Breaking the silence

I stopped blogging back in October. It’s been a long time without The Dragon Fruit in my life! I moved away from San Francisco, did some traveling, and am settling into my new home in Brooklyn. With all that moving around, I often lacked access to a kitchen. No cooking, no blogging. But I’ve got a kitchen now and I’m ready to blog and cook, with a spatula in one hand and my camera in the other.

Ceci n'est pas une cuillere.

No spatula? No problem!

OK, so that was kind of a lie. I don’t have a spatula right now. I don’t have a lot of things. My movers haven’t yet arrived with my stuff. My belongings – including my kitchen stuff – are still somewhere between California and New York. In the meantime, I’m cooking with a stripped-down set of cookware. No spatulas. Just a few things to get by while still in transition.

Until then, this item on the right is my spatula.

I don’t think I can flip an egg with it, but since I’m cooking vegan food, so what?🙂

No energy? That’s another story …

Anyone who has seen the show Top Chef understands that you don’t need fancy equipment to produce an excellent meal. A great cook can make something really delicious anywhere, even in a dorm. Hubert Keller made killer mac n’ cheese with just a hot plate, a toaster oven, and … a shower.

Anyone who has eaten take-out for dinner at 10 p.m. knows that the most formidable obstacles to cooking your own food are time and energy. Even with a fully stocked kitchen, there were many times in San Francisco when my best efforts in the kitchen amounted to peeling the foil off a burrito and putting it on a plate. Then yes, I ate it while watching Top Chef. I can tell you this – Hubert Keller didn’t have a kitchen sink, but he persevered because he was full of vim and vigor. And some major derring-do.

So what happens when you have no vim, no vigor, and nary a spatula within reach? Before you high-tail it to the taqueria, consider whether it might just be easier to cook up some pasta with lentils.

"Keep smilin' ... keep shinin' ... knowing you can always count on me. For sure. That's what friends are for!" -- Dionne Warwick and Friends

The lentil is your friend

I love burritos. Don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t hurt to mix things up a bit, especially if you’ve already had burritos three times this week and since your loyal friend, the humble canned lentil, is so easily transformed into a deeply satisfying meal.

Pasta is of course an obviously quick and easy meal. Adding lentils into the mix not only increases the nutritional value of the meal by providing protein, fiber, and legume-y (yup, that’s a word) nutrients, but also adds extra heft and more texture – effortlessly. You just pop open the can.

Lentils can complement many meals because their flavor is not overpowering and, as they say, plays well with others.

Here’s some ideas to get you started. You don’t need any fancy equipment. You don’t even necessarily need a can opener. You just need the time it takes to boil pasta, and a little derring-do of your own to push through those days when you’re short on time and energy but long on hunger.

Yes, dried lentils that you soak and cook yourself will produce a better result, but canned lentils will really do in a pinch.

I made this first dish using a spoon as a spatula in my nearly empty apartment when I was very tired and very starving. I felt so much better after eating this nourishing, home-cooked meal, which came together quite quickly. (No showers were used to prepare the meal.  I’m no master chef, so I’ll leave the advanced techniques to the professionals!)

The walnuts and lentils were the key textural, flavor, and nutritional elements that really made this dish noteworthy.

Also, I have Cambodian Kampot pepper on hand – which I like to use very liberally.

Pasta Spirals with Lentils & Seared Yellow Peppers

Serves 2

Minimal effort. Maximum satisfaction!

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta (Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle is GREAT)
1 yellow pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper, preferably one of excellent quality such as Cambodian Kampot pepper
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 can lentils, drained
1 cup greens (can be any kind – spinach, even a salad mix, which I used) 
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions or al dente.

While water for pasta is boiling, roughly chop a yellow bell pepper and chop garlic. Place peppers in medium or large skillet, turn heat on high.  When skillet reaches high heat, drizzle olive oil over peppers and reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I like to add a ton of black pepper.) Cook on high heat until peppers soften and darken to your desired texture.

Add chopped garlic and stir. Add sliced almonds and chopped walnuts.   (You could toast these in a dry skillet before cooking the peppers.) Reduce heat and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add lentils (do not add the liquid from the can) and stir. Keep on medium or low heat until pasta finishes cooking.

Drain pasta. Toss with pepper and lentil mixture.

Wilt greens in the pot you used to cool the pasta – place greens in pot on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until they just wilt. Stir into the dish.

Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired. Season to taste.

Easiest Meal Ever

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta
1/4 – 1/2 jar of tomato sauce
1 can of lentils, drained
Salt & pepper
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat tomato sauce in a pan with lentils (do not add the liquid from the can).

Toss together and season with salt and pepper.

Optional:  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bonus Points:  Before you heat the tomato sauce, crush and chop a clove or two of garlic. Add oil to the saucepan, cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, then add the tomato sauce and lentils. If you’ve got some pre-washed veggies on hand, have a salad on the side. Easy, easy, easy – but still very satisfying.

No Knead Bread: Yes, Yes, Yes!

Jim Lahey, I so love this bread of yours.  Thanks a trillion!

Fresh bread!

The internet is awash in countless posts exalting the Jim Lahey No Knead Bread Recipe, with good reason. It is insane. It is so good you will go crazy when you make it, even if you are an amateur like me and can’t quite shape the loaf just right –>

Fresh out of the oven, you will find this crisp-crackly goodness and all the warm, pillowy, breadly softness you could want.

I’m adding my voice to the cheering masses because this recipe just happens to be vegan. It doesn’t really get credit for being “vegan,” and that’s fine, but people who are interested in such things really oughtta know!

Just try kneading this dough. (No, no, it was only a joke!!)

Why should I bake my own bread?

The killer thing about this recipe is that it is so darn easy and so ineffably good. I am lucky to have ready access to amazing fresh bread from sensational local bakeries, but this bread still brings me so much joy. There is a  primal-yet-oh-so-civilized thrill in eating the very best bread, made with just four ingredients, when you do it yourself.

You do, however, have to be organized. The required initial rising time is 12 hours minimum, preferably 18. If you don’t count ahead, you could easily find yourself staying up until 2 a.m. just to form your loaf.

It would be worth it, but it’s not necessary.

Flour, yeast, salt, water, and time. This dough is ready to become a loaf after 18 hours of rising.

What about whole grains?

You can definitely make this bread with whole grain flour. Lots of people, including Mark Bittman, have done so and been very happy.

I made two variations, and here’s my recap.

* * *

Whole Wheat Flour Variation (recommended)

When you flour your towel too generously, here is what happens. Fortunately, the bread still rocks!

Follow this recipe:

Jim Lahey No Knead Bread Recipe

EXCEPT:  use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. I baked my loaf in a covered enameled cast iron Dutch oven. I was worried that the bread would stick to the Dutch oven, but it pops right out.

Keep this bread uncovered until it cools, and definitely don’t seal it up in plastic, as the moisture from the bread will steam the crispness out of your crust. It will still be delicious, but the fresh, crisp crust is a revelation that you don’t want to spoil.

The flavors that developed were extraordinary. There was a sweetness and a depth that developed over the 18 hours that I let this loaf rise, and I could barely believe something so good emerged from my oven on the first try.

Ready for the oven.

I was in bread heaven at this particular moment, one of my favorite places to be!

* * *

Spelt Variation (recommended only if you really like spelt)

Ready for dipping in olive oil.

Follow this recipe:

Jim Lahey No Knead Bread Recipe

EXCEPT:  use two cups of spelt flour and one cup of all-purpose flour. The spelt flour I used seemed pretty light, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll dare to use more than half whole grain flour. (Others have made entirely whole grain loaves with this recipe and been pleased, but I like a little white flour usually.)

The same comments in the whole wheat variation apply here, too, except for the flavor of the bread. There was a complexity in the flavor of the whole wheat loaf that just didn’t develop in this spelt loaf.

Less complex flavor than the whole wheat variation, but still quite delicious.

I’m not sure if it’s due to the difference in flours, but it seems likely to me. We’ve all seen wheat beers. Most of us have even tossed back a few.

Ever enjoy a spelt beer?

‘Nuff said.