January 24, 2014

Lentils and Yogurt

My mom and I were talking about the best way to organize cookbooks yesterday.

She brought it up, but it was coincidental, because I've been feeling like my collection could use some sort of system lately.

I usually have an idea of what I'm looking for when I go browse through them--something sweet to take to a crafting party, a weeknight dinner recipe, a muffin recipe for Lola's snacks. But since they aren't organized at all, I spend a lot of time scanning them all. And then I get on major tangents, and remind myself for the hundredth time that I really have been wanting to make homemade pop tarts and that rose cream pastry from Laduree.

My mom was asking how I'd organize them and I threw out a few categories that would be helpful for me: Baking (Tartine, Baked, Dorie's Baking book), No Frills Weeknight Super Quick in Case Your Toddler Decides to Hang on You While You Cook (Keepers, Weelicious), Weekend (Ad Hoc, 660 Curries), Seasonal (Canal House, David Tanis), Comfort / Classics (Ina, Food 52, Smitten Kitchen). And then I said I'd want a lentil and yogurt category.

Because lentils and yogurt are my obsession right now.

Last night, I found myself asking Zach if I was making too many "lentil-y, yogurt-y things."

His reply: "I like what you've been making, but I wouldn't find any more recipes like that. I think we have enough."

Ha. But I had just found a recipe for Crispy Lamb with Lentils that was calling me.

I don't know exactly how this little craze started but I do know it was around the time I realized Lola liked lentils. Coincidentally, it was also around the time that I realized she probably wasn't going to ever start drinking milk again and was feeling the pressure to load her up with calcium in other ways (hence the yogurt).

Before Lola, lentils really weren't in our repertoire. We rarely ate at home, and when we did, it just wasn't lentils. Or yogurt sauces.

This is a very positive way in which this kid has changed our eating. Next time I am feeling sorry for myself that we don't get to go out to eat as much as we used to, I'll remind myself that Lola introduced me to the world of lentils and yogurt sauces.

For the past several months, this Mujuddara with Spiced Yogurt has become a dinner staple. We've also made our way through a huge batch of dal with cilantro yogurt.

We've eaten lentils sans yogurt too--in many batches of Ina's Warm French Lentils (that Lola and I eat as lunch or that I serve as dinner with sausages).

And we've eaten yogurt on a lot. A lot of Indian food, particularly. We've eaten raita next to our biryani. We've eaten a mint yogurt sauce on Afghan dumplings. And we've eaten it on pasta, mixed with caramelized onions. And...

This Mujuddara is the kind of thing I'm so happy to feed the three of us for dinner. It's super satisfying and super healthy (it'd be even healthier with some brown rice subbed in). It's simple but somehow so delicious: jasmine rice, tiny green French lentils, crispy onions, and a spiced but bright yogurt sauce (with lemon, cumin, cinnamon, mint, and coriander). And the leftovers are even better. If you're making it for a toddler, I recommend dicing the onions instead of slicing.

Just in case your toddler doesn't like strings of onions like mine. :)

January 14, 2014

The Magic That is the Smoothie

I am thankful every afternoon for the blessed smoothie.

Every afternoon, after Lola wakes up from her nap, we make a smoothie. I always make a big, big glass thinking we'll share, but only sometimes do I get any of it. I have stopped pouring mine until she is finished in order to avoid the rage that occurs when there is no more smoothie following her sweet little"mo" (with the sign "more" also, to make sure I know she really means it!).

What is magical about smoothies for a parent of a toddler is that you can put just about whatever you think your kid is needing in their diet into it.

Lola eats a good variety of fruit, so the fruit servings she gets in a smoothie are just bonus points. But, I've been relying on them to get more dairy in her (b/c she has never gone back to milk post-bottles). I also rely on them to get more veggies in her, which she eats very little of. And if I think she could use a little boost of whole grains that day, I'll throw in some of those too.

I never measure, but here is roughly the formula I use:

Half of a BANANA (always, for sweetness)


Handful of frozen or fresh FRUIT, such as:



Some VEGGIES, such as:

1 kale leaf
Handful of spinach
Half of an avocado
Carrot juice
Cooked beets (a little goes a long way!)
Sweet potato (I haven't tried this yet, but keep meaning to)


About a half cup of YOGURT (I usually use Greek for the added protein boost)


About 1 cup of MILK (or calcium-fortified oj)


WHOLE GRAINS, such as:

1-2 tbsp wheat germ
Small handful oats


A delicious, super nutritious, well-balanced snack for both of us.

January 7, 2014

Feeling Closer to Friends Through Food

One of my very best friends moved late this Fall. She was the latest in a string of a few good friends who moved out of state this year. It has sucked. I keep my close friends so close that it's a big blow when they leave me. It kind of crushes me.

This friend happens to be Indian and has made us delicious Indian feasts on multiple occasions. She even bestowed upon me her freezer stash of homemade samosas before she moved (the only highlight of this terrible event).

Before she moved, I was watching her son one night and ended up feeding him leftover Indian food that they had in their fridge for dinner. It smelled so good, and I instantly had this aha moment that I needed to start cooking Indian food myself (well, the three of us).

So for the last couple of months, I've been making biryanis once in a while. I love Indian food, was feeling the need to try something new in the kitchen, and I've had Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries for a couple of years. But I think what really has been driving me to make Indian food is that it makes me feel closer to her while she's far away.

Is this starting to sound rather weepy? I should clarify a bit here. I didn't lose my friend. She'll always be a close friend no matter where she is. I've even gotten to see her a few times already since she has moved. She's moving back here in a couple of years! And if anyone printed our texts, they would probably stretch all the way from MN to AZ, where she lives now. So, she's still very much in my life. Just not for "Hey, I need to get out tonight. Want to get a drink?" or "Want to take the babies for a walk?" And I miss that.

But moving on...

I had made one recipe out of 660 Curries initially when I bought it and then put it away for a while. I think I was intimidated by the steps (making garlic paste, ginger paste, onion paste, spice mixtures, etc) and ingredient lists. But once you dig in, it's not rocket science. Just make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you start.

I've found my little niche for now with the biryanis, layered meat and rice dishes baked in the oven. My favorite one doesn't even require that the meat be seared or cooked before it goes in the oven. Which is good because I hate searing meat.

I've created a few shortcuts for myself with this recipe. Instead of making the ginger and garlic pastes like Iyer lays out, I simply grate the ginger and garlic with my microplane and have had great results. And once you make the Punjabi garam masala (if you make it from scratch, which I reco, you'll have enough to make the recipe a handful of times over.

I also like to use the bulk spice bins at Whole Foods for the spices to save money.

So anyway. If you have an Indian friend who moved who you miss terribly, make this, and serve it with naan and raita. You'll feel better.

Yogurt-Marinated Lamb with Rice, Saffron, and Mint, Adapted slightly from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries
Serves 6 (barely :))

For the lamb:

1 lb boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 c plain yogurt
1/2 c fresh mint, chopped
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Punjabi garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric

For the rice:

1 c basmati rice
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 green cardamom pods
2 dried bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp saffron threads
Scant 1 tsp salt

Vegetable oil

Marinate the lamb by combining all of the lamb ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

An hour before assembling the dish, put the rice in a medium sized bowl and cover by a few inches with cold water. Scrub the grains of rice with your fingers to wash off the rice. Drain using a fine mesh sieve. Repeat 4-5 times with fresh water, until the water drains clear after rinsing process. Then, cover rice with cold water and let sit for 1 hour to soften.

After an hour, heat the butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Toss in the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir and let cook until they start to smell nutty, about 20 seconds. Add onion and cook until they get light brown around the edges, about 3-5 minutes. Add the saffron and stir for a few seconds. Then add the drained rice and stir. Add 1 c cold water, along with the salt, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat a bit, and cook until there is no more water on the surface and craters start appearing on the top surface of the rice (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly oil a medium-sized covered casserole dish with vegetable oil.

Pour the lamb into the casserole dish, including any leftover marinade, creating an even layer. Then add the rice and spread it evenly over the lamb.

Cover and bake for 1 hour.