Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew

The Graf brothers all loved nature, the outdoors, and animals.  My father would watch shows about the animal kingdom and would tell us stories of the pets he owned growing up in Warka, Poland.  A porcupine, really?  He was already well into his seventies when he suddenly decided to stop eating chicken and beef, purely for ethical reasons.  With longing and affection, my father would talk about the orchard and vegetable garden behind his mother’s home.  At the farmer’s market he would choose his fruits and vegetables with such care and tenderness, rotating each apple or pear to make sure it was blemish free, fresh, firm, and fragrant with ripeness, intent on selecting the best he could find.

The brothers were all avid gardeners, and I was fairly certain that their green thumbs were not passed down to my city hands.  I love the idea of gardening, to be able to go into your backyard and plan your meal based on what’s ready to be picked.  After a long hiatus, I was determined to try my hand at vegetable gardening once again and so I ruthlessly pulled out a whole bed of roses.  It took months to prepare the soil and put in the first raised bed.  During a trip back East my cousin Janine laid out the plans for my garden and I use it as my roadmap.  Not only does it guide me but it provides me with inspiration,  knowing that another branch of the Graf family are successful gardeners.  My first planting included broccoli which was a complete failure, basil which was immediately consumed by insects and several plants of red leaf lettuce which grew well, but became limp immediately after being harvested, not a desirable texture for a fresh salad.  I thought I would try kale and swiss chard and finally I was able to experience the sense of pride that comes with success.  There is more chard and kale in my garden than I know what to do with.

My father would probably chuckle at my meager garden but despite its small size, the pleasure that I derive from it is immeasurable.  My father and I never gardened together, I was too young and independent to listen to his advice when he offered it, but now each time I am in the garden I think of Harry, Charlie and Jack, and the legacy they left behind.

 

 


This dish is a vegetarian stew but so hearty that you really don’t miss the meat. Serve with rice or whole wheat pasta.

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew (adapted from a recipe from Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 tsp curry powder
1 /2 tsp chili powder
42 oz. pareve chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed well
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cumin.

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add spices and sauté for several minutes, till fragrant.  Add broth and bring to a boil, then put in lentils and garbanzo beans.  Lower heat to a simmer, add salt and chard, and cover.  Cook till lentils are tender but still whole.  About 20 minutes.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene

Freekeh

My son Micah returned from Israel this morning after spending the past six months in Tel Aviv.  Of course I had to welcome him with a home-cooked meal.  I made turkey meatloaf (a variation of Ina Garten’s recipe), a green salad with avocado and honey vinaigrette, schnitzle (to ease the transition from Israel to L.A.) and freekeh, a grain that I had purchased at the Williamsburg farmers’  market during my trip to NYC in February.

Freekeh is green wheat, mainly eaten in the Middle East.  The wheat is harvested, sun-dried and then set on fire on top of a bed of straw. Higher in protein and fiber than many other grains, freekeh is in vogue.  I had no idea.

I decided to prepare it in the same way that mujadara is prepared, with lentils and fried onions.  The freekeh has an earthy, smoky quality and is similar in texture to bulgur, another hearty grain that I love.

Freekeh

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup freekeh

2 large brown onions

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Rinse and place lentils in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by an inch, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  Drain the lentils and set aside.

Dice onions and saute in olive oil over low heat until they are deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.  Most of the flavor comes from the caramelized onions so be patient.

Bring 1 cup freekeh to a boil with 2 cups water.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Remember this grain remains chewy.

Gently mix freekeh with lentils.  Add caramelized onions and season to taste. Serves 4-6

Note: Last night I baked the freekeh/lentil dish in a 300 degree oven, covered, for about 45 minutes. Not only did it give the flavors a chance to blend but the texture was perfect! I would definitely add this step to the recipe.

Enjoy,

Irene

Red Lentil Soup

We are weeks away from Passover and I am starting to feel the pressure. What is it about this holiday that brings out an obsession with cleanliness in a way that is totally and completely out of character?  I approach the task with a vengeance, a virtual attack on that lurking piece of hametz that might otherwise be missed.  Each year this personal struggle re-surfaces.  When does my preparation for Passover morph into my being possessed by Passover?  There are those who have said that when people are less knowledgeable regarding the rules governing Pesach, they have a tendency to go overboard.  Is that really what it boils down to?  Ignorance?
I remember my mother sharing memories of her family’s preparations for Passover in pre-war Poland.  Her home was whitewashed each year, linens were boiled and pillows were opened and re-stuffed with additional feathers from ducks and geese that were freshly slaughtered. (The fat was rendered and put away for Passover to eat with matzoh) My own childhood memories of Passover preparations thankfully did not include the killing of ducks and geese but I do remember my mother spending hours on her hands and knees polishing parquet floors with Johnson Paste Wax.  She insisted on cleaning our apartment windows and I can remember watching her perched outside the 4th story window with nothing to keep her safe other than the double hung window pulled down tightly across her lap.  Only her legs were dangling inside the apartment and, as a child, I held onto them for life.
So here I am in the weeks before Pesach contemplating what the next few weeks will bring and wondering how successful I will be in my pursuit of moderation.  This past week I took my first step as I gingerly approached the pantry.  I looked inside and pondered the contents.  I still have hope that some interesting recipe will inspire me to prepare the freekeh I recently purchased but the matzoh meal from last year had to go.  Some things will be used over the next few weeks, leaving less to pack up and sell.  Standing in front of the pantry I realized that, for me, all this preparation is a way to impart the importance of Passover and it’s traditions to our children in a non-verbal way, as it has been done by women for generations.  What better way to convey the seriousness in which I approach the holiday and all that it stands for.  The hard work, attention to detail and the pursuit of that last piece of hametz is my personal way of telling the story of Passover. Ultimately we hope to create memories that our children will recall and pass on to their own children.  We hope that the lesson is well learned and joyous and as for moderation, it is probably overrated.
Here is a recipe for a soup that I made using the red lentils I found in the pantry.

Puree of Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbs  olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in soup pot till hot and then sauté chopped carrots, onions and garlic until soft or for approximately five minutes.  Add lentils and stir well. Add salt and pepper and paprika.  Pour 2 cups water over lentils and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook till lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes.  When done, let cool slightly and add butter and milk.  Then purée contents and serve.
Serves 4-6.
Enjoy!

Irene