July 11, 2014

Spaghetti with beluga lentils

those are lentils


pretty Beluga lentils

spaghetti with beluga marinara sauce

This is my version of a healthy marinara sauce with lentils. Lentils cook in no time in the pressure cooker. Surely by now, I've at least convinced you how awesome a pressure cooker is? I won't give up on you!

This recipe comes together quickly if you can think of it in 3 steps. Step 1, prepare the lentils in the pressure cooker. Step 2, prepare the marinara sauce, and Step 3, cook the spaghetti noodles. Most of the time, I start the pasta boiling water first, and then get to my tomato sauce, but you know your own ability to multitask.

This recipe is dedicated to my hubs. See hubs, now you know how I make it!

Spicy tomato sauce or marinara with beluga lentils
Yield: 4 servings, about 1 and 1/4 cup sauce per serving

1/2 cup dried beluga lentils or regular green lentils
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups water
2 cloves garlic
a generous pour of olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, or 2 medium carrots, peeled and quarter diced
1/4 to 1/3 cup of white wine, enough to barely cover bottom of pan (I think red would be fine too; honestly, I've used whatever is in the fridge or pantry) - use vegetable broth or water if avoiding wine.
2 T dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
2 T dried parsley 
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 and 1/4 tsp salt
1, 28 oz can San Marzano style tomatoes either whole or in chunks * see my note below
1/2 cup water
freshly grated parmesan
basil or parsley to garnish

To boil spaghetti
4 quarts water plus salt to boil
1/2 package or 1/2 lb whole wheat thin spaghetti

Special tools: None besides a good knife, and cutting board. Use the small pressure cooker fry pan for the lentils. For the marinara sauce and the spaghetti, have 2 pots ready. The first should be a large pot to cook pasta, the second should be a wide stir fry pan with a sturdy lid. If you don't have a pressure cooker, cook the lentils in a large pot.

*My cooking note: If using whole peeled canned tomatoes, blend half or 3/4 of the tomatoes in a blender and leave the rest sort of roughly chopped. It is OK with me if you want no chunks, just blend all of it. Do this before you get started. 


See my note above indicated with * above.

Step 1: Add the lentils to the small pressure fry pan pressure cooker. Add the water, stir, and set the cooker over high heat on the stove (these are the first two ingredients on the ingredients list). Close the lid to the pressure cooker. Bring to the first red ring (low pressure) and cook 10 minutes on low pressure. Once time is up, remove the cooker from the heat, and set aside to cool down using the natural release method. 

Step 2: Prepare the pasta cooking water. Add the water and salt to a large pot. Depending on your stove, you can begin heating up the water for the pasta. 

Step 3: In a separate wide enough skillet with a lid, heat up a few generous glugs of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot add in the onions and stir, and then add in the garlic and carrots. Cook until the onions begin to just brown slightly. Pour in the wine, and cook until half of the wine is evaporated. 

Step 4: Add in the herbs and spices and stir together. Next, add in the tomato sauce, water, and salt. Turn the heat down to medium low heat,  and cover with a lid so that the sauce doesn't splatter on the cooking range. The water for the pasta should be close to boiling. If not, wait. The sauce will just continue to cook and thicken up a bit. 

Step 5: When the pasta water is ready and boiling, add the spaghetti, or other desired pasta, and cook until ready.  Next, drain the lentils from the pressure cooker, and then add them to the tomato sauce. Stir and taste the tomato sauce for herbs and salt. 

Step 6: When the pasta is done cooking, reserve 1 cup of the hot pasta cooking water and then drain off the pasta in a colander. Toss a little olive oil and a few splashes of the hot remaining pasta cooking water to keep the noodles separate. This is my favorite trick to serving pasta hot.

When ready to serve, add about 1 cup of cooked noodles to a plate and top with 1 and 1/4 cups of sauce. Pass fresh parmesan and chopped parsley at the table. 

June 23, 2014

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Tofu lettuce wraps

Bibb lettuce leaves create a crunchy and fresh "wrapper" for tofu lettuce wraps. Lettuce leaves are filled with a caramelized crunchy ginger-tofu, and filled with mung bean noodles, grated carrots, and strips of crunchy cucumber and spring onions. Serve these with peanut sauce, or your favorite dipping sauce.

This is a lot of work for dinner, or an appetizer, but the beauty of this dish is in each and every single component. They are fun to put together, and you'll feel healthier for doing so. I promise. If you have leftovers, you can assemble vermicelli noodle bowls. Win-Win!

From my New Roots box, I used the bibb lettuce, carrots (earlier batch), cucumbers, and spring onions. I am loving the box, and I use it all the time. This week, I began measuring out the servings to compare cost per serving. The bibb lettuce head would easily serve 8. According to MyPlate serving sizes, 1 cup of raw veggies = 1 serving; and 1/2 cup cooked = 1 serving. I prepped the lettuce ahead of time, and it stored for longer than a week in the fridge.

extra-firm tofu cut into strips.

Crunchy ginger tofu

Lettuce wrap fixins

The Most Awesome Tofu Lettuce Wraps
Yield: 4 servings, 2-3 wraps per person

For the tofu
1 lb extra-firm tofu (1 lb is enough for 2-3 people; use 2 lb for 3-4 hungry people)
salt for tofu
1-2 tbsp peanut oil or enough to leave a slick shimmer in a wide skillet

For the wrappers
1 head Bibb lettuce, washed and the leaves spun dry count 2-3 per person
2-3 spring onions, cut into segments 3-4" in length; cut onions in half or quarter them lengthwise
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cucumber cut lengthwise in half, and then cut into small crunchy strips, peel skin if waxy.
2 oz dried mung bean noodles, optional. Hydrate the dried mung bean threads by briefly boiling in hot water and then draining and tossing with just a tad of sesame oil (optional).
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the tofu glaze
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 and 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp grated ginger
1-2 tsp sambal oelek
1 tsp black or white sesame seeds
1 tbsp molasses

Serve with peanut sauce, store-bought is fine.

Special tools: not really anything too fancy: a salad spinner, a box grater, regular pots and pans, jelly roll pan, paper towels, knives, cutting boards. Attractive serving dishes would really showcase the gorgeous ingredients. We do eat with our eyes after all.

Prep ahead: prepare Bibb lettuce, and prepare peanut sauce; can also prepare mung bean noodles. I prep the Bibb lettuce by carefully removing each leaf and washing it thoroughly. Once washed, I spin them in a salad spinner to expel all of the water, and then place them in a zip lock gallon size bag. They will stay fresh for up to a week.

Step 1: Drain the tofu and expel the water out of it. The lazy way is to wrap the tofu in a paper towel just drying it very lightly. Get out a jelly roll pan and line it with paper towels. Cut up the tofu so it is in 3/4" thick strips. Lay out the tofu strips on the paper towels and salt them. Let them rest 7-10 minutes. The salting draws the water up to the surface. Use a paper towel to "wick" away the water.  Then rotate the strips a quarter turn, and salt and repeat. This really does result in a chewy texture and makes pan-frying very easy, and with less oil. If you are letting the tofu rest, you can prep other parts of this recipe including the veggies used in the wrap, or prepping the Bibb lettuce, which I have made Step 2.

Step 2: Wash the Bibb lettuce and set aside in the fridge. Make sure that the leaves are dry. This can be done up to 4 days ahead of time. Wash each leaf carefully and then spin them dry in a salad spinner. Once dry, store the leaves in a ziplock bag in the fridge. They will last this way up to 1 week in the fridge.

Step 3: Arrange the prepared vegetables in an attractive dish or plate, and place in the fridge covered with a plate or plastic wrap to keep cold. I recommend prepping the veggies right before serving, they just look so much better. Trust me.

Step 4: Prepare the mung bean threads or noodles if using. To rehydrate them, cook them like you would pasta, but turn the water off when it reaches a boil AND THEN add the mung bean threads. Let them hydrate for a few minutes. They will have that consistency of jellyfish tentacles or that weird jelly goop that comes out of kids toy vending machines. I know, I know. They can be rinsed under cold water and then tossed with a bit of cold water and oil to make them loose. You can also substitute vermicelli noodles.

Step 5: Add 1 tbsp of peanut oil to a non-stick or cast iron pan, and heat up over medium heat. Once hot, pan fry the tofu until golden on each side (about 6 minutes for the first side) then few minutes each side because the pan will be hot! If preparing more than 1 lb of tofu (more than 1 package) cook the tofu in batches using about 1 tbsp of oil for each batch of tofu, and not overcrowding the pan. Remove the cooked tofu to a plate.

Step 6: Meanwhile prepare the tofu glaze. In a medium bowl stir all the ingredients for the tofu glaze together.

Step 7: Once the tofu has cooked, add it back to the pan, and ladle the glaze over the tofu, eventually pouring the remainder into the pan. It will heat up and caramelize quickly. Move it off the heat and remove the strips to a serving dish.

Step 8: Set out everything so it can be assembled at the table. I place the grated carrots, cuke strips, and scallions, and lettuce on a large plate. I set the cilantro, mung bean noodles, and peanut sauce in their own bowls. I give everyone chopsticks and spoons.

How to assemble:
1. Lay out the lettuce wrapper

Mung bean noodles
2. Add in mung bean noodles

3. Add some tofu and then add some...

Tofu lettuce wraps

Adding secret ingredient
4. Veggies and peanut sauce

Tofu lettuce wraps
5. Eat, repeat!

June 18, 2014

Mailbox Peak

I feel a little bit bad about my Seattle Freeze post, but when I met up with a friend that has lived here for 5 years, our conversation turned to the so called infamous freeze in about 5 minutes. Then, we started talking about hiking.

Geographically, I like the Puget Sound region because it has water views from nearly every elevated point, and to the west and east of us are magnificent - and accessible - mountain ranges: the Cascades and the Olympics. It's really gorgeous. I love that the outdoors is a short distance away.  On a recent hike to the North Bend area, the hubs and I used the Washington Trails Association hiking database and found a hike for Mailbox Peak.

The Mailbox Peak trailhead is located in the Snoqualmie/North Bend area about 45 minutes on I-90 E from Seattle. Since we did the hike in late April we enjoyed a rare sunny and pristine day. The hike was grueling.

A warning
Evidence of grueling hike. This is a formal warning at the trailhead.

It's about 2.5 miles up, with about a 1500 ft elevation gain in a mile. So you literally climb 4000 ft on a trail that only goes up and up and up. At the first summit, the hike begins to over look the Puget Sound area, and the higher elevation gives a pristine view of the top of Mt. Rainier. Looking towards Puget Sound, you can just barely see Bellevue and Seattle, and the entire valley.

Cool emo hipster shot of the valley.

I thought I was in decent shape until that hike. There was too much melting snow once we reached the rocky crown, so we ate lunch, enjoyed the views, read a bit, sunbathed, and then hiked down, missing the opportunity to add our names to the ledger at the top of the mountain. At the top is an old mailbox, and when you reach it, you put your names in the notebook which sits in the mailbox.


a couple rocks


toward the top

June 10, 2014


Seattle Skyline

Earlier this year, I moved to Seattle, WA. This is the fifth city I've moved to, in five years, in over three countries. I'm not good with these kinds of life announcements. I prefer sticking to food, but I wanted to give a quick update now that I've moved and settled a bit.

I moved to Seattle from a recent, and brief one and a half year move to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Before AL, I lived in: Chapel Hill, NC, Leuven, Belgium, and Barcelona, Spain. Coming from these places, I appreciate the culture here: it is laid back, techie, fit and sporty, outdoorsy, health and green-conscious, and foodie. I try to avoid obvious comparisons: weather and politics. Instead, I like observing people. How do they describe where they live? How do they view where I moved from without knowing anything about me? It's interesting. For example, in the south there is an ease in which a person starts a conversation, and there is no end to random conversation. In Tuscaloosa, I felt that anyone that was friendly felt like a friend. You could have nothing in common, but there is a sort of acceptance that I never really appreciated. This is a true observation: in the part of the south that I lived in, people still smile at you when they pass you on the street, or let's say campus. You start thinking that your clothes must be on backwards, but instead eye contact is usually followed up with a friendly smile. This was a unique adjustment coming from northern Europe, where you are generally left alone. If you are not used to it, it takes some adjusting. When I moved here, I discovered that the general behavior of people is very chilled and reserved. No one is rude, but there is disinterest: ok you're here. We get that Seattle is cool. Can you please go over there? 

I've had a lot of experiences feeling like an expat, and to a greater extent an outsider, but what I find interesting after a few months of trying to re-establish life is that I feel like an expat in this city. Sure, there are no language barriers, getting a driver's license is straightforward, there is no registering at city hall - but things still feel...distant.  I've moved enough times to understand that the re-establishment of your life (routine, friends, hobbies, job) takes time. I don't hold it against anyone, or anything.

At the hubs' office, he has felt what I've felt. Since he transitioned from being home-based to office-based, he extended invitations to his coworkers for lunch, happy hours, coffees, all the while the invitees being agreeable and then never showing up. The gesture is nice, and that does sound like a good idea, but not today and not tomorrow either.

We moved into a new apartment building. Since the building was new, most of the residents are to.  I noticed myself responding in the exact same way as my neighbors: avoiding eye contact, shuffling quickly past each other in the hall, exiting the building, or floor, or elevator without holding the door. Now, I lived long enough in the south - I never forget to do that. I've noticed that if two people are going towards the elevator, such as often occurs when residents enter the building, the person getting on will hit their floor and then hit the "door close" button. Say two residents are coming towards the elevator, and the second is just a few seconds behind because they stopped to pick up mail in the mail room. The person waiting on the elevator will get on, do this same routine, and not pause a second to ask if they should hold the door. It is so comically infuriating to me.

The other day, I was at the grocery store and in line checking out with my things. The woman ahead of me had some wooden plank that I thought was a cedar plank. You know, those wooden planks used for grilling that infuse foods with smokiness. I asked my question, and the woman completely ignored me. I thought, she didn't hear, I'll ask again. The second time, the woman looked very surprised (which satisfied my first impression that she did not hear me), I repeated my question. She looked a little surprised, but politely said, "no." Then she turned around. Clearly my question was not an invitation to start a conversation. This gesture reaffirms why I think people are always on their phones. Why start conversation when you can just look it up this second? Silly me.

Shortly after moving, I attended a Meetup group.  It was really fun - and everyone (self-selecting) was outgoing, kind, and fun. Eventually the conversation turned to the number of RSVPs - a large majority of the yes RSVPs had yet to show up. The organizer briefly apologized for this, but quickly explained that it was unfortunately a common experience, so the organizer always felt fine inviting friends along. The organizer explained that many Meetup groups keep a policy on no shows. A no-show is a person that updates their RSVP as yes, but fails to show up. A majority of Meetup groups have hundreds of members, so outings can be capped to accommodate larger groups. In addition to the no-show policy, many Meetups employ a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy: too many no-shows and you might get kicked out of a group. During that evening our conversation turned to the observances and the social norms of the area. I had explained that people felt very reserved, maybe even a little bit shy, but I'm sure with a big city that is a common experience.

The Meetup attendees were quick to explain that what I was observing - this sort of cool, reserved, disinterested disposition had a well known name: the Seattle Freeze. In general, most people are nice and polite when asked direct questions, but they don't go out of there way to be helpful or overly friendly. Most people that are from here have an established friend and family group, and you (the new person in town) are just another outsider that has changed the city in different ways. And no, they don't want to have another conversation with you, newbie, about the weather.

May 28, 2014

Yellow split pea ginger scallion dumplings

DSC_0669 DSC_0880 DSC_0862 DSC_0843 DSC_0677 DSC_0675 DSC_0875 These dumplings are pretty amazing. They are filled with a creamy gingery channa dhal, or yellow split pea, filling. They make a lot of work for a weeknight meal, but they are really fun to assemble and cook. The dumpling wrappers hold up really well, so if you are scared of tearing them or overhandling them, fear not. Since we are using lentils, we are definitely breaking out the pressure cooker (PC)! Now get excited and break out the PC!

Yellow split pea ginger scallion dumplings
The inspiration for these came from Heidi Swanson's 101Cookbooks' Golden Potstickers recipe
Yield: Approx. 50 dumplings, 1 and 1/2 tsp filling per dumpling; 5 servings, 10 dumplings each

1 cup dried yellow split peas or channa dhal
enough water to cook them in a PC
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2" piece of fresh ginger, minced fine
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 medium scallions or green onions
1 package gyoza or potsticker wrappers

Special tools: pressure cooker or large pot to cook lentils, a potato masher, cutting boards, a wide skillet with a lid, 2 jelly roll pans lightly dusted with flour.

Step 1. In the pressure cooker fry pan, combine the yellow split peas and enough water to cover the yellow split peas by about 3/4" of water. Stir to combine. Close the cooker and bring to low-pressure (first red ring). Once low pressure is reached, cook 11-13 minutes. Use the natural release method to release pressure.

If you don't have a pressure cooker, just cook the yellow split peas according to package directions, and let cool off enough before handling. This step can be done 1-2 days before prepping the dumplings to make the preparation faster.

Step 2. Open the PC fry pan and inspect the peas. They should be cooked but still retain most of their shape, and there should only be a small amount of water in the bottom of the pan after you lift away the first few layers of peas. If there is water up and over the peas, the water should be drained off. Return the peas to the PC fry pan, and mash the yellow split peas with a potato masher. This step can also be done in a food processor, but it is easy enough to do in the fry pan.

Step 3. Add the cumin, salt, and ground ginger to the pan and stir to combine.

Step 4. Add the cilantro, green onions, and minced fresh ginger to the pan and stir to combine. Once well combined, taste the mixture for salt. Since these will be served with a salty dipping sauce, don't worry if they taste undersalted.

Step 5. Clear some space on the counter and wipe away any crumbs. Once the counter is dry, dust lightly with flour and lay out 6 gyoza wrappers on the floured surface. Place a small work bowl filled with water nearby.

Step 6. Spoon 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of filling just slightly off the center of the middle of the gyoza wrapper. You can do this step to all of the wrappers at once.

Step 7. Now, working one a time, moisten half the circle and fold it over to make a half moon. The gyoza will want to stick. Once it comes together form small pleats where the ends meet, and push the dumpling down just slightly to give it a thick base for which it will be pan fried. Once the dumpling is assembled, place it on the floured pan until ready to cook.

Step 8. In a wide and deep skillet (if you can use one with a lid), heat up some neutral oil like peanut or canola over medium-low heat. Once the pan is hot, add the dumplings in a single layer letting their chunky bottoms line the pan. Don't overcrowd the pan. Let them sit for a about 5-6 minutes inspecting the sides right where they meet the base. The dumplings should not stick. With a small spatula or chopstick, lightly lift them up. The base should be golden and enticing. If they are not let them cook 1 minute or longer.

Step 9. Once they are golden, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water to the pan, and immediately close the pan letting them steam for 3-4 minutes. Serve them with some dipping sauce (see below). I guarantee they will be devoured.

These may be frozen and reheated. If freezing, place the prepped, but uncooked, dumplings in a single layer in the freezer. For example, place the dumplings in a single layer on a jelly roll pan and freeze until frozen through. Remove the frozen dumplings from the pan into a zip top ziplock bag. Date and label them.

If preparing frozen dumplings, these may be cooked just like in Step 8 and 9.

Soy-sesame dipping sauce
Yield: enough for 4 persons

This can be assembled minutes before serving. The sambal oelek is optional, and is not very spicy.

3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
splash toasted sesame oil
scallions and sesame seeds
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients together. Serve along with the dumplings or potstickers. Yum! Yum!