Key Lime & Coconut

My adventures in the world of food & wine

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I <3 Lentils

It's no secret that I love lentils. I dedicated one of my Weekend Herb Blogging entries to the lovely lentil, which is quickly becoming my favorite go-to ingredient on rainy days when I don't want to go to the grocery store. After contemplating making a dal and realizing I didn't have the right ingredients, I settled on this delightful recipe from an old Food & Wine: Curried Lentils with Tomatoes and Yogurt Cucumbers. The name doesn't really do justice to how great this dish is. The "yogurt cucumbers" are in a sauce similar to a raita, and they are so cool and soothing on the palate after the heat of the jalapeno in the lentils. All in all, the flavor profile of the spices in the dish is very nice.

This recipe is very healthy, especially if you use turkey bacon instead of real bacon, as I did. (Make the meal vegetarian by omitting the bacon altogether.) In fact, it's pretty much fine for phase one of the South Beach diet, which I'm trying to follow at the moment. The recipe makes a ton of lentils, so it's plenty to feed a family or to feed a single person (like me!) for several meals.

Curried Lentils with Tomatoes and Yogurt Cucumbers
  • 2 oz. lean bacon (or turkey bacon), cut crosswise into 1/3-inch strips
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 lb. lentils (your favorite variety), rinsed and picked over
  • 2 c. water
  • 2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring often, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels and set aside. If you used real bacon, reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the saucepan and discard the rest. If you used turkey bacon or no bacon at all, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the saucepan.

Add the onion to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the ginger, curry powder, jalapeno and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in the lentils, water and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sprinkle the cucumber slices with a large pinch of salt and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. In a small skillet, toast the cumin and coriander over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute; transfer to a medium bowl and whisk in the buttermilk, sour cream and lemon zest. Stir in the cucumber slices and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the lentils to a large bowl. With a rubber spatula, gently stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the cucumber salad over the lentils. Sprinkle the bacon and tomatoes over the cucumbers and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Junk-Food Masquerade

It's official. I'm bored out of my mind. This is my third day in a row free from exams, and I hardly know what to do with myself. I very well could have decided to make an elaborate meal for dinner tonight that would have taken hours and hours to complete, but I was just cooking for myself, and that seemed like a waste of energy. Instead, I decided on quick and healthy fare masquerading as junk food.

Lettuce Wrap "Tacos" are, believe it or not, South Beach Diet approved. Extra-lean ground beef, reduced-fat sour cream, low-sugar tomato sauce, and lettuce "tortillas" give you all the flavor without the fat and carbs. Great for feeding a crowd, or just yourself (hooray for leftovers!).

Lettuce Wrap "Tacos"
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c. low-sugar tomato sauce
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce
  • Low-fat cheddar cheese, grated
  • Reduced fat sour cream
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meat. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, spices (cayenne/cumin/ oregano), salt, and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes or until onions and peppers are starting to soften. Add the tomato sauce. Turn off the heat. Serve the filling in heaping servings on single leaves of lettuce. Top with sour cream and cheese. (I sprinkled a bit of black lava Hawaiian sea salt on top as well for garnish.)

Suggested Wine Pairing:
I like my tacos with a nice big red wine, like a cabernet or a malbec. If you make these tacos really spicy, even though they're made with beef, you might enjoy the sweeter mouth-soothing taste of a California riesling. Of course, don't forget the classic Mexican food pairings: margaritas and cerveza!

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Friday, January 12, 2007


First, some good news. I'm done with my fall exams! YAY! It's such a relief to not have to spend every waking minute thinking about torts or property or civil procedure. And now I get a week and a half off before classes start again. Lots of time for cooking!!

I got my
new issue of Bon Appetit in the mail the day before my last exam and had to set it aside until after I was done with my tests. Today I picked it back up and immediately knew what I wanted to make. As of today, I'm trying to do phase one of South Beach, at least for the next week until I go on vacation with some friends to Vegas. The recipe I picked out for my dinner tonight, Andouille Sausage and Shrimp with Creole Mustard Sauce, isn't technically phase-one friendly because andouille sausage has a fair amount of fat. I made it anyway, though, and just had a smaller portion. Next time, I'm going to substitute hot Italian turkey sausage, which I think would work just fine with the flavors of this dish.

This recipe is great because it's a one-skillet meal. I love food that you can prepare in one
dish so that you aren't trying to figure out the timing of finishing different components of a meal at the same time. Oh yeah, and this recipe is terrifically delicious. And it is SPICY! The recipe called for 1 Tbsp of cajun seasoning, and I cut that back to a teaspoon - and I was still crying as I ate. But it was worth it because even Steve, one of my most demanding critics, gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

This post is my entry for this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging because of the yummy fresh thyme that lends its unique flavor to this cajun-inspired meal. Thyme is native to the Mediterranean, but it is extensively used in creole cooking. Thyme is one of the few herbs whose flavor is actually enhanced when dried. The flavor of dried thyme and fresh thyme is actually fairly different overall, since fresh thyme has a softer and less smoky taste. Thyme is thought to have some medicinal qualities as well - it may help out with some chest and respiratory problems.

Some fun facts about thyme (courtesy of
wikipedia): the ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, and the ancient Greeks burned it as incense in their temples because they believed it was a source of courage. In the Middle Ages, people slept with thyme under their pillows to ward off nightmares. It has even been placed on coffins to assure passage into the next life!

This week, WHB is being hosted by Sue over at
Coffee and Cornbread, so make sure to check out the round-up of recipes when she posts it at the end of the weekend!

Andouille Sausage and Shrimp with Creole Mustard Sauce
(serves 2-3 hungry people)
  • 1 lb. uncooked peeled deveined large shrimp
  • 1 Tbsp (or, if you're a wimp like me, 1 tsp) Creole or Cajun seasoning
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut crosswise on diagonal into 3/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into half-inch strips
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 c. low-salt chicken broth
  • 5 Tbsp Creole (or Dijon, if you can't find Creole) mustard
  • 2 tsp red or white wine vinegar
Toss shrimp with Creole seasoning in medium bowl to coat. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add sausage pieces, cut side down. Cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to bowl. Add shrimp to skillet; cook until browned and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl with sausage. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, onion, bell pepper, and thyme to skillet. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add broth, mustard, and vinegar. Stir until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Return sausage and shrimp to skillet. Simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pre-Exam Comfort Food

My property law exam kicked my butt in a serious and extremely depressing way. The night before the exam, I pre-emptively comforted myself with leftover chipotle chicken stew and a delicious Grilled Cheese x3. My one and only study break that day had been a dash down to the corner market to buy myself some interesting cheeses for this very purpose. I ended up with:
Grilled Cheese x3

You don't really need me to tell you how to make grilled cheese, do you? Just pick some cheeses you like. Don't be afraid to experiment. Delight in the greasy goodness.

Apologies regarding the delay in the posting of this post. I originally intended to post it on Sunday night, before the exam. Now it's Tuesday. Blogger hates me. First it gave me font problems. With this post, it was the picture. What's next?!

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Warmest January Ever!

This has got to be the warmest January I have ever experienced in Boston. Granted, this is only my fifth winter in the city, so my sample size is somewhat limited. But really - it was almost 70 degrees today. In Boston! In January! In protest, I decided to make cold-weather-appropriate soup. Actually, it was mainly because I was home studying all day and felt like using my slow cooker, but I can think of it as a weather protest if I want, ok?

So you know how you're in line at the supermarket and they have those little mini-magazines with recipes and stuff in them on the shelf above the check-out conveyor belt? I actually bought one while I was at home for break. It's all slow cooker recipes, which is why I bought it. The soup I made tonight is the first recipe I've tried, and it's not bad for coming from one of those crappy little grocery store cookbooks. It's a
Chipotle Chicken Stew and, yes, it probably would have tasted even better if we'd been having real January weather today.

The most important ingredient in this stew – and indeed, the stew's namesake – is the chipotle pepper. Chipotles are smoked jalapeno peppers that date back to Mexican civilization before the time of the Aztecs. Nowadays, a full fifth of the Mexican jalapeno crop is dried and smoked to turn into chipotles. The natural heat of the jalapenos is preserved in the process, so the chipotles end up at between a 5,000 to 10,000 on the Scoville scale used to measure hot peppers (this is usually considered a "medium" heat level). Chipotles are often used to add a smoky, hot flavor to Mexican and Southwestern dishes.

You can buy ground dried chipotles, whole chipotles, or, most commonly,
chipotles canned in adobo.
Adobo sauce is made of spices, vinegar, tomato sauce, and sometimes other chilies. I've never made anything with adobo sauce, but I hear it's great on its own. That could be something new and fun to try in the future!

This is my entry for this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, in which food bloggers write about their favorite herbs, plants, vegetables, and flowers. This week, WHB is hosted by the event's creator herself, the famous Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Chipotle Chicken Stew

  • 1 pound boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Combine all ingredients, along with a generous squeeze of lemon if desired, in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high about 4 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Remember, if you want to make this on the stove top, cook the chicken first, and add more liquid because it will boil off during cooking. It should probably cook for about 30 to 45 minutes.

*note: apologies for the formatting errors in this post. Stupid blogspot doesn't want to let me publish all my text in the same font. Boo!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Simple & Healthy Brain Food

Well, I'm back in Cambridge, and my first round of law school exams starts tomorrow. I'm much less panicked than I thought I'd be, but this week is still pretty hectic, with all the studying and whatnot. Cooking elaborate meals is something that is definitely not happening right now - I just don't have the time. Last night I was craving something fresh and simple after a working lunch of macaroni & cheese earlier in the day (hey, my pantry's pretty empty after 2+ weeks out of town for the holidays).

After running down to the store and picking up some fresh haddock, I decided on an easy recipe from the revised Joy of Cooking, which I got for Christmas. The recipe was for
Baked Fish Fillets in White Wine, which I served with asparagus (steamed and sprinkled with some Herbes de Provence) and a crusty French dinner roll. Cooking the fish in the wine really kept it moist and gave it a delicious flavor. It was good healthy food to help me get through the next few days of exam time.

Baked Fish Fillets in White Wine
(from the revised Joy of Cooking)
  • 1 1/2 pounds sole, flounder, cod, haddock, or other white-fleshed fish fillets
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon wedges
Preheat the oven to 350. Place fish in a greased baking dish. If the fillets are large, they may be cut in half. Pour the wine and sherry over them. Bake until firm and opaque throughout, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve drizzled with the liquid from the dish, which you may boil to reduce slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with lemon wedges.

Suggested wine pairing:
I drank the same wine that I cooked the fish in, an inexpensive Portuguese vinho verde. A pinot grigio/pinot gris or sauvignon blanc would also be great choices that would compliment the asparagus as well as the fish.

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