Monday, January 16, 2012

What I cooked this week

As usual, I am trying to combine my cookery with frugal planning. This week I made lentil soup and a Mexican/Southwestern salad.

Lentil soup is one of my favorite home cookery soups. I have a great recipe from, found under the reviews for the basic soup recipe (check out the Cook from San Francisco's notes). I also use the recipe found in The Moosewood Cookbook. The great thing about lentil soup is that it is filling and cheap; as a cold-weather soup, it is perfect. I can also dress it up as much as I like: make it vegetarian or add pork, bacon, or sausage.

I used my Le Creuset 2 qt. Dutch oven for all of it; this gave me three 2 c. servings; increase as necessary for your table. It will also last up to a week in the fridge.

This week, I cooked it as follows:
  • saute one chopped white onion + 1 tsp. minced garlic in 2 tsp. olive oil until translucent
  • add 1 tsp. dried thyme, a bay leaf or two, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional) and stir for 10 seconds
  • add any or both of the following and saute for three minutes:
    • 1 lb chopped sausage (chicken or pork)
    • 1 c. chopped vegetables (carrots or celery)
  • add 1/2 c. washed lentils and 5 c. liquid (chicken stock, vegetable stock, water), 1/4 c. red wine (optional), 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, and grind in black pepper to taste
  • bring to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer and let it cook an hour
  • add one can diced/no-salt tomatoes and heat through
  • serve!
I used hot Italian chicken sausage, and the outcome was a zesty alternative to the sometimes bland flavor of "just" lentils. I cooked three slices of bacon to crisp texture and crumbled it over the top. Delicious. You can also top it with sliced or shaved cheese, a dollop of yogurt, or fresh-cut herbs. With a salad and hearty bread, this can be a full meal; it can also accompany a sandwich or simple chicken or pork dish. Besides being cheap and filling, it doesn't need a lot of tending while cooking, so can be completed while you're doing something else in the kitchen or nearby.

I also made what most people call a Southwestern salad hereabouts: meaning a lot of Romaine covered with black beans, corn kernels, chopped plum tomatoes, chopped red onion, and sliced avocados, with a vinaigrette dressing that incorporates lime juice, oregano and chili powder. I combined everything but the Romaine and the avocados separately, storing it in a bowl. Then tossing that on top of the lettuce and adding the avocados on top, with the dressing on the side, made for a great lunch.  The salad is simple (1 can black beans, 1 cup corn, 1 lb. chopped tomatoes, 1/2 red onion) but fresh; the second day, the flavors are even better. It all lasts about three days in the fridge.

The dressing is the ticket: finding the right combination of flavors. You can add tortilla strips, sour cream or yogurt, and shredded cheese--or aoid all those calories by keeping it simple.

This is a nice alternative to the regular green salad, but can also be a meal--combine with the lentil soup, for example, or a sandwich, or a simple tortilla wrap.

Oh, and my money-saving adventures included using one of my gift cards for the movies: I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Iron Lady both on the same card, going to morning matinees, so that I have money left for two movies.

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