My favorite Mediterranean restaurant in Dallas, Afrah’s, serves the most beautiful and bright lemony lentil soup. I have been attempting to replicate it since I’ve first had it years ago. Binks ordered it for his whole meal and I scoffed at him for ignoring the other delicious options on the menu filled with juicy grilled meat, soft pita, sauces, and hummus galore. I have told you before how the old me would never make a meal of soup, let alone order it. Yet, watching my husband enjoying every bite of his soup made me want to try it instantly. As if I ever let him eat his meal without stealing a bite. That’s normal right? The soup was divine. Perfectly lemony without being too spiced up, I was determined to find a recipe to closely match the restaurant version.
After trying out a few soups, this recipe has become a family favorite to replace, or dare say replicate, the restaurant soup. While comforting soups like this are usually eaten during winter for me, the lemon really makes this bright enough to have year round.
Lemony Lentil Soup
adapted from Yummy Supper originally from Soup Love by Rebecca Stevens and Nabil Samadani
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4 celery ribs, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- zest of one lemon
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 cups red split lentils, rinsed
- 8 cups water
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (the juice from the zested lemon should give you enough)
- Heat large heavy soup pot over medium-low heat. Add olive oil and heat.
- Add green onions, yellow onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, lemon zest, cumin, coriander, cloves, salt, and pepper. Saute the mixture until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
- Raise the heat to medium-high. Add lentils, water and vegetable stock to the pot. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that develops on the top of the water.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until the lentils are soft and tender.
- Add lemon juice. Cook for another 10 minutes over low heat.
- Season with additional salt, if necessary.
Combining a dedication to eating well while having game-watching get-togethers can be challenging. Game-day snacks don’t necessarily have to be a diet-wrecker. For instance, this snack has been an instant favorite in my house. Not only have I been eating it by itself, I throw it in salads for added nutrition with a wonderful crunch.
I have experimented with this recipe for a while and for crunchier chickpeas, it’s important to roast the chickpeas without coating in oil. Call me crazy, but the oil seals in the moisture. As such, first roast and then coat. The spices really can vary based on what you want – savory or sweet. I can’t wait to try a cinnamon sugar twist on this snack favorite.
adapted from Steamy Kitchen
- 1 (15 oz) can of chickpeas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp chili powder (not the same as cayenne pepper)
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse with cold water. Dry in between paper towels. Using a paper towel, to press on and soak up the water and loosen the skin from the chickpeas. Discard the skins.
- Roast the chickpeas for 30 minutes, until crispy. Stir every 10 minutes.
- While baking, whisk together the olive oil, paprika, salt, cumin, black pepper, garlic powder, and chili powder until fully incorporated. Remove from the oven and pour into the bowl and stir to coat.
If ever there was a recipe that was greater than the sum of its ingredients, it is this one. This sauce is heaven. Heaven. This sauce is worth the garlic breath. My family and I frequent a Mediterranean restaurant that offers this freely. And, I take advantage. I use it on everything – fish, chicken, eggplant, falafel. At home, I use it on my sandwiches, eggs and samlon. It’s creamy and rich in all the right and healthful ways. I had no idea what was in it. Without knowing more at the time, I swore there was mayo in it. Then, I found out that this sauce is a mayonnaise . Just like mayonnaise, toom sauce is an infusion of garlic and vegetable oil. Just that. Many recipes add potatoes which is not necessary at all if this recipe is done right. This sauce is pungent and has a bite like wasabi. It has a bite that can be reduced with more oil.
It is imperative that directions are closely followed. You have to work with a thin stream of oil. Do not rush it. Ingredients should be at room temperature. Use vegetable oil. Do not substitute olive oil. Work with fresh garlic. You will know if it’s fresh by squeezing the whole bulb and it shouldn’t move that much – the garlic bulbs should be firm and tight. Make sure the lemon juice is free from pulp and seeds. The better the ingredients and attention to detail at the outset, the better the final result will be. Also, there should be NO water at all in your food processor, or spoons or anything. It could break the sauce. Finally, be patient.
Toom Sauce (Lebanese Garlic Sauce)
adapted from Chef Kamal
- 1 cup peeled garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- In a food processor (completely dry – no water, remember), add the garlic and salt and run it until the garlic is finely minced – about 30 seconds.
- Stop your processor and using a spatula (without any water) scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Run the processor again in 30 second increments, scraping after each time, until the garlic turns pasty. This should be done after 4 times.
- Scrape the bowl finally and then turn on the processor – this time, you won’t be turning it off until the whole process is complete.
- Add 1/2 cup of the oil in a thin stream (cannot stress the thin part of this) until fully incorporated.
- Alternate to add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice in a thin stream until its fully incorporated into the garlic mixture.
- Then, add the oil in 1/2 cup increment following with the tablespoon of lemon juice until everything is used.
- You may notice at this point that the liquid hasn’t come together. If so, it could be that you didn’t use a thin stream and it broke the mixture. If this is the case, run the processor for 5 minutes. If it still doesn’t pull together, turn off the processor, scrape down the mixture and run it again for 5 minutes. It should pull together to some extent. But, if it doesn’t, it’s still usable as a great marinade. This is why I stressed the use of a thin stream.
I don’t really know what to call this soup exactly. There is no way to shorten this soup’s name. Oh and it’s not the nicest looking soup. I mean my photography skills aside, its not a looker. Let’s put aside the name and the look, and get down to the substance. And that is where it’s at. Looking substantively at this soup, we find a beautifully-spiced bowl filled with heart-warming elements perfect for these colder days and some sick family members, including a sick and grumpy toddler.
Combining kale, garbanzo beans, and potatoes with light broth flavored with onions, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary adds the richness to this dish. My husband, a huge fan of soups, gave this glowing reviews. My sick toddler LOVES this soup, even down to the kale. Mind you, we have to peel and halve the beans and tear apart the kale into small portions for him. And, I, the biggest critic of brothy soups, also am a huge fan. While I tend to go towards heartier, thicker soups, this nutritional powerhouse in a bowl has now become a family favorite.
Kale Soup with Garbanzo Beans and Potatoes
adapted from Gourmet
yields 8-10 servings
- 1 lb dried garbanzo beans (or 2 cans of drained garbanzo beans)
- 2 onions, diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 2 quarts of water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
- 5 small gold potatoes, cut into small cubes
- 1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
- In a pot, cover beans with water by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse. NOTE: If you are using canned beans, you can skip this step.
- In a large pot, cook onions in oil with medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook, stirring, about a minute.
- Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 1 hour. NOTE: The cook time will be shorter (about 30-40 minutes) if you are using canned beans.
- Stir potatoes into soup and simmer 10 minutes.
- Stir in kale and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, until kale is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- Season soup with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
Often, I think about how much my life has changed. From living alone, to being married and living with a Binks, and now with a baby, who needs a full meal in between nursing sessions.
When we were first married, our dinners consisted of chips and dip or appetizers. Full meals were saved for special occasions or weekends when we had time and no work. Or really when I felt like it. Oh the luxury of “feeling like it”. Nowadays, I’m making more of an effort to put a complete meal on the table that’s also good for the baby.
On those rare Saturdays, when the baby actually goes to (and stays) sleep at the right time, Binks and I attempt to recreate those days. We pick a movie, a glass of wine, a cheese with accompaniments. My favorite type is of course, chips or veggies and dip.
It’s no secret that I love Mediterranean food. I love the flavor profile and the use of whole foods that tastes absolutely fresh and light. I also love dip. So, whenever the opportunity presents itself that I can have both at the same time, I jump on it. Baba ghanoush is a very welcome dip in our house. When we have a full on meal, we serve it with hummus, falafel, quinoa salad, tzaziki sauce, pita, rice, and on special occasions, baklava. But, more likely than not, I make a meal out of fresh toasted pita and baba ghanoush.
A glass of red wine on the side and it’s a great meal.
adapted from David Lebovitz
serves 2-3 people
- 1 medium-sized eggplant
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Poke eggplant all over with a fork, and place on foil lined baking sheet. Roast until very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a heat-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
- After 15-20 minutes, and after the eggplants have cooled, peel the eggplant and place the flesh into a food processor.
- Add remaining ingredients and puree in processor until smooth.
- Taste for salt and lemon. Add more, if desired.
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, sumac, and/or parsley leaves.
I can’t walk and drink at the same time. Even with a straw it’s awkwardly done. I can’t really even walk straight for that matter. I zig and zag a lot, and have blamed many a missteps on my poor dog. While I accept that I am clumsy and prone to any accident you can think of, I really just can’t handle the basics. Whether I subconsciously will myself to fail or if I just can’t understand it, certain basic things are just really hard for me.
If you will entertain me, rice is one of those things. I don’t know why but I had a propensity to mess it up. Too dry. Too mushy. Undercooked. Whatever you want to say, it was always off. And, then I baked it, which I thought was the answer. It was perfectly cooked and tasted wonderful the day of. However, leftovers were back to being slightly dry.
Then, I went to my mother. Why was she the last resort? If you met my mother, you would understand that I would never hear the last of it. I haven’t. But, it was well worth it. Unlike most people and sites I have checked, my mom does not let the water absorb into the rice (the way I make quinoa). She boils the rice and strains. Never mushy. Perfectly cooked. And, the test that it works – leftovers are perfect, as well.
Perfect Brown Rice
from my mother
- 1 cup brown rice
- 5 cups of water
- Clean the rice by rinsing it thoroughly under cold water.
- Bring water in a large pot to boil on high.
- Once boiling, add rice, bring back to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the rice is tender.
- Once ready, remove the pot from heat. Drain the rice and put the drained rice back into the pot (off heat). Cover with a lid until ready to serve.
*You can increase the water if you want more rice, of course. Just make sure the rice is completely and utterly covered and has enough room to boil. Think similarly to pasta and water.
This is hard to say but I’m turning into my mother.
Whenever we take her out to eat, albeit rarely, she always says, “We should learn how to make this” or “We can make this at home.” My father would entertain her requests and they would cook meals together to replicate restaurant foods. (I can’t wait to share my mother’s Southwestern egg rolls with you all one day.) Without a doubt, my mother takes more joy out of copying a recipe and making it at home than have someone cook, serve and clean up for her. During her last trip to Whole Foods, she asked the kind staff to let her try what seemed like all of the deli foods only to have the little Indian lady thank them and walk away. Afterwards, she tells me “We can make that at home.”
I used to be the opposite of that. As I’ve gotten older and more courageous in the kitchen, I find myself refusing to purchase items because I tell myself that with the right ingredients, I can put it together at home. I still will not buy any prepared food items from grocery stores just because I think I can do it myself. Don’t even get me started on the bakery items.
We have a favorite Chinese restaurant that we frequent often. However, as going there as often as we do is not really an option for the long-term, it was time that I buckled down and found a way to recreate the dish I love at home. I’m a fan of tofu. Binks is not, but is coming around – slowly but surely. I love the texture and its versatility. Especially for saucy dishes, the ability for tofu to soak up and marinade itself in whatever it simmers in is just one of the many reasons why I choose to use this as a protein source. After some tweaking, I created a dish that competes well with the one I order almost exclusively at the restaurant. You really can change the vegetables based on what you have on hand. I love eating it alone, but the sauce would be perfect draped over hot steamed rice.
Hot and Spicy Tofu
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 pound extra firm tofu, cubed
- 1 cup carrots, julienned
- 1 white onion, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
- 1 orange bell pepper, sliced
- 2 small red jalapenos, chopped – adjust to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ginger, grated
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp chili in oil or red pepper flakes, adjust to taste
- Heat half of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add tofu to the oil and brown on all sides. Set aside.
- In the same pot, heat the remainder of the olive oil and heat. Add the carrots until softened a bit, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add the sliced onions and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the onions are wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic and ginger and stir until the peppers are softened, approximately 5-7 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the water, vinegar, soy sauce, corn starch, brown sugar and chili sauce. Pour over the vegetables and stir to incorporate. Add the tofu and stir carefully to mix into the sauce, but don’t over mix that you crumble the tofu. Cook over medium heat until the sauce has thickened a bit, which should take another 10 minutes.
While I believe we incorporate a good amount of veggies in our household diet, spring time really is a great time to add more to your repertoire. My in-laws have a substantial garden growing by this time and they are quite eager to share. I consider it my family CSA. Recently, they brought over some green beans and red potatoes for me.
I wanted to make a dish to highlight the best of the two ingredients while maintaining the flavor of the food. I kept it simple. A combination of favors with the ease of this dish cannot be beat. I have used this side dish to compliment many main courses, including blackened salmon, which we served on Mother’s Day this year.
While the original recipe did not call for onions, the addition of the same gives the dish a dimension of flavor that I appreciate. If you are not an onion fan, feel free to omit.
What fruits or vegetables do you look forward to during the spring?
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans
Adapted from The Vanilla Bean Blog who adapted it from Ina Garten and The Joy of Cooking
- 1 pound potatoes, diced large (I prefer the smaller potatoes, i.e. fingerling, small red, small gold.)
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 1 pound string green beans, ends removed
- 1/8 cup good olive oil
- 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and onions.
- Toss the potatoes and onions with olive oil to coat.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper.
- Transfer the coated potatoes and onions to a baking sheet.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Toss once while cooking, at the half-way mark.
- After the potatoes are tender, toss in the string beans to the pan.
- Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.
- Remove from the oven and add more salt and/or pepper if you want.
My mom and MIL swear by their pressure cooker. I think a lot Indian women do. I, on the other hand, am scared of it. What I’m about to say is not logical at all. My fear is that the top of the pressure cooker will fly off once it starts whistling and the steam will burn my face off. Again, completely devoid of logic.
Give me a slow cooker any day. Slow and steady wins the race for me.
Combining the rich black lentils (urad dal) and rajma (red kidney beans) with several spices in a slow simmer for 8+ hours pretty much guarantees comfort in a bowl.
I had every intention of eating this as a side with my rice or roti. However, what started as a taste turned into me just pouring a bowl for dinner. And for many dinners after that. I served with a side of onions and tomatoes splashed with lemon juice. Delicious, nutritious and easy-peasy. And, if you didn’t want to use the slow cooker, or don’t have one, you can just as easily cook this over the stove using the same heat settings.
Urad Dal Curry
- 1 cup urad dal (dry black lentils), washed
- 1/2 cup rajma (dry red kidney beans), washed
- 4 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
- 1 medium-sized onion, diced
- 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (Adjust to taste. If you don’t prefer that spicy, start with 1 tsp.)
- 1/4 cup ghee (or butter)
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro to garnish (some people prefer to mix it in but if you don’t, omit altogether)
- Soak the urad dal and rajma in a bowl of water overnight (at least 8 hours).
- The next morning, place everything except the salt and cilantro in the slow cooker. Fill with enough water where you have at least two inches above the beans.
- Cook on high for 4 hours. After 4 hours, add salt, starting with 1 tsp and increasing to your liking.*
- Turn the heat to low and cook for another 4 hours.
- Serve with chopped cilantro.
*At this point, I add a little less salt than I think the dish calls for. As the dish continues to simmer, the salt gets concentrated so I hold back until after the full 8 hours to add more.