Tag Archives: Smoked

Smoky tea-braised lentils

In a world of coffee drinkers, Sam and I are tea fanatics. Our cupboards are bursting with tins and boxes, strainers and saucers. We drink black tea in the morning, green tea after dinner, and herbal tea late at night. We even have one of those fancy tea kettles that heats water to different temperatures for different types of tea.

I love cooking with tea–and with one tea in particular–almost as much as drinking it. Lapsang souchong tea is dried over wood fires, giving it a distinctive smoky flavor. Add some leaves or a bag to a pot of soup broth, and you’ve got something deeper and huskier than any non-meat broth I know. My new favorite trick? Cooking black lentils–sometimes called beluga lentils, because they resemble caviar when cooked–in a cauldron of smoky tea, tomatoes, and spices.

The recipe I adapted this from called for simmering everything together at once–lentils, tomatoes, the works. I’ve tried that, and don’t recommend it; the acid in the tomatoes keeps the lentils from softening. Instead, I use the method from my grandmother’s bean and tomato soup. In that recipe, you start simmering the legumes on their own, cook up a saucy tomato mix in a separate pan, then bring everything together towards the end of the cooking time. I added a handful of greens, too, which wilted down and made the whole dish more substantive.

At first taste, you might assume there’s meat in these lentils. It’s a nifty little trick, brought about by the marriage of smoky tea and glutamate-rich tomatoes. You could easily serve this as a standalone vegan meal–I have, and my omnivorous dinner guests loved it. If you eat eggs, these lentils are incredible with a poached or soft-boiled egg on top. And as with so many soups and stews, the flavor gets even better after some time in the fridge or freezer.

smoky tea lentils

Continue reading

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stuffed bell peppers with smoked mozzarella

Real talk: I live in food-delivery central. Thanks to all the tech folks around here, we’ve got a thriving on-demand economy, including multiple services that will bring a restaurant order straight to your door. I don’t even have to step outside my apartment to get my favorite Thai fried rice, delivered warm and spicy and exactly how I like it. And unfortunately, that makes it really easy to fall off the cooking wagon.

Lately, with work ramping up its stress levels and the summer drought-heat sapping my energy, I’ve been spending way too much money on greasy takeout. It’s not like there’s no food in the house; the freezer is stocked with my favorite meal building-blocks, like sweet potato filling and tomato sauce and egg rolls. But it’s the instant gratification that gets me, the siren song of something filling and unhealthy that requires no effort on my part. No chopping, no stirring, no dishes–just a delivery fee and some wasted plastic containers. It’s a terrible habit to fall into, and a terribly easy one too.

This week, I’ve committed to breaking the habit. I’ve been allowing myself to cook stuff on a whim, to run to the grocery store every day if I want to. I’ve also been leaving myself with leftover ingredients, so that I’m forced to find ways to put them to use.

This is my latest leftover use-up, and a really delicious one. It started with some smoked mozzarella, which I bought because it was the cheapest mozzarella option at Trader Joe’s. I snacked on some of it, crumbled some of it onto pizza, and then was left with a nubbin of cheese and no plan for it. I had an unused bell pepper, along with some leftover steamed rice (from, uh, Thai takeout). Mixed up with a few pantry staples and some scallions, the rice and cheese became a rich, smoky, slightly spicy stuffing for the bell peppers. It was indulgent without being greasy, which was exactly what I was craving. Suddenly I had a Sunday night dinner that was fresh, nourishing, and totally impossible to call up through an app.

stuffed pepper smoked mozzarella

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Smoked salmon patties

When I was a kid, one of my mom’s go-to dinners was salmon patties. They were one of those genius feed-a-family-in-minutes recipes, made entirely with pantry and fridge staples: canned salmon for substance, crushed-up cornflakes for bulk, and egg for binder. I loved those patties–loved them!–except for one thing: the canned salmon always had bones in it. My parents tried to convince me they were edible, but I would have none of it. I remember the ritual, every time, of carefully dissecting my salmon patties and removing the tiny white vertebrae. It was a meticulous operation, but necessary before I could chow down on my delicious dinner.

Now that I’m an adult, I get to put my own spin on my mom’s recipes. That means taking things I’m not crazy about–like bony canned salmon–and finding alternatives I do like. Where my mother always had canned salmon in the pantry, I find I usually have smoked salmon in my fridge. So here’s a posher, slightly fresher take on those beloved salmon patties: my smoked salmon version. These would be lovely for a brunch party, or a light summer lunch. And best of all, no bones!

These patties are firm and slightly crisp on the outside, then dense and almost crab-cakey within. The texture of these is almost Proustian for me–it really does take me back to those childhood dinners. For me the key is to break the salmon meat down until it’s about the consistency of lump crab meat. You could leave the smoked salmon in quite large flakes, I suppose, for a more sophisticated result, but I’ll have it no other way than this. (By the way, this also means you don’t need to use fancy or expensive smoked salmon here, since the texture would be lost. Anything you can get your hands on will work, as long as it’s the firm, hot-smoked kind of salmon.)

The cakes are flavored with many of the usual accompaniments: mustard, onion, lemon, and dill. I’ve already played with this flavor combination once before, and it remains a favorite in my household. I could have added some drained capers too–and feel free to, if you want–but I didn’t want their damp crunch to ruin the familiar texture of my salmon patties. In fact, this is one of those recipes that stands as a canvas for anything you want to do with it. I never make these the same way twice, and that’s part of the fun.

smoked salmon patties

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Manhattan lox chowder

My boyfriend doesn’t like bivalves. Clams, mussels, oysters–he thinks they’re strange and unpleasant to eat. When we order paella at a restaurant, he carefully picks out every nugget of meat and places them all on my plate. He’s suspicious of cioppino, and bouillabaisse, and pretty much everything else that’s served with a cluster of shells poking out. And he has never in his life eaten clam chowder.

I, on the other hand, have been known to eat a pot of steamed clams for dinner and then drink the leftover liquid with a straw. (Don’t judge–you know you’ve always wanted to.) So this aversion of his is perplexing to me. But I love him, so I’m willing to play along. Which means getting creative sometimes. Like the day I started craving a good seafood chowder, and decided to make it with something he’d be happy to eat.

I love a good New England clam chowder as much as the next guy–creamy and gloopy and salty and rich, studded with potatoes and chewy nuggets of clam. But I was home, cooking for me and mine, and a whole lot of cream and starch didn’t sound fun. So I went with a Manhattan-style chowder, tomato-based and chunky with vegetables. And, inspired by a recipe in the Grey Lady herself, I decided to go full-on New York and flavor the chowder with lox instead of clams.

Once that happened, a whole cascade of tweaks presented themselves: red onion, dill, a scattering of capers and a little spike of horseradish. As it turns out, smoked salmon isn’t a perfect substitute for clams in a chowder, but it’s flavorful and fun in its own right. Exposed to a brief simmer, the fish turns firm and flaky, and the caper-horseradish spike at the end helps boost the flavor of the soup beyond the usual tomato-herb thing.

Because this is San Francisco, and bread bowls are our birthright, I hollowed out a couple little sourdough loaves and spooned the soup into the hollows. We gobbled every last morsel of chowder with our spoons, then tore the crispy-soggy bowls apart with our hands. There’s really nothing better than that.

lox chowder

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sweet-and-smoky spiced nuts

My friend Victoria lives in Texas. Audrey and I always get feverishly excited when she comes to visit us. Not just because she’s a delightful, uproariously hilarious person–which she is–but because whenever she comes, she brings each of us a pretty paper box full of candied pecans.

These are a serious indulgence, my friends–candy-sweet and nutty-rich, wrapped in a crisp, lacy skin of beaten egg white. Pop one in your mouth, and the candy coating shatters and crackles between your teeth, giving way to buttery pecan crunch. They’re almost ladylike, in a way, wrapped up in sugary white lace. Every time she visits, Audrey and I make a pact to share one box and put the other one away for safekeeping. And every time, we end up plowing through both boxes in a matter of days.

Victoria’s pecans popped into my mind the other day, as I was considering what to make as a birthday present for my boyfriend’s pecan-loving mother. It’s speeding towards Christmas, and something spicy and sweet seemed appropriate. I rifled through the spice cabinet, and unearthed a tin of smoked cinnamon that Sam’s mom had given me as a gift. I decided to make a batch of candied spiced pecans, using her gift as the basis for my gift. And what a great idea that was.

If the Texas-style pecans are ladylike and sweet, these are gutsy, dark, even a little sexy. Not candied, exactly–there’s much less sugar, for one thing, so the coating is equal parts sweet, salty, and smoky. If the candied pecans make me think of white lace, these spiced pecans make me think of bourbon. I made up a pretty paper box for Sam’s mom, and some little bundles for my coworkers. I had planned to toss the leftovers into a salad–maybe with some bits of pear and blue cheese–but then they disappeared too, within a matter of hours. I guess some things don’t change.

sweet-and-smoky spiced pecans

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Smoked salmon salad

I love improvising in the kitchen. But lately I’ve been doing less and less of it. Part of it is distraction: there’s a universe’s worth of recipes out there, and most of the time I’m just chasing them around, like a child with a jar in a firefly swarm. Part of it is laziness, the temptation to just follow someone else’s breadcrumbs rather than start a new trail myself. Part of it is a hunger to learn new techniques and tricks, which I can only practice by trying what someone else already knows inside and out.

But there’s also a big pinch of self-doubt, and an awful lot of inertia. I find myself listening more and more to the perfectionism-goblin, who’s diabolically skillful at talking me out of things. My creative well feels low and muddy these days, for both food and writing; he’s always right there to stir the muck at the bottom for me, to let me see for myself that there’s nothing left. Using someone else’s recipes is safe, comforting, an easy way to keep the goblin satisfied. So I’ve found myself doing more meticulous planning, and less aimless riffing.

Which is a shame, because it’s usually the aimless riffing that yields the most exciting results. Like the addictively flavorful salmon salad I made not long ago. I’d bought a brick of smoked salmon for a lunch party, but there was a riot of other food on the table and it went quietly uneaten. Two weeks went by, and I felt guilty for leaving it in the fridge, alone and unloved. I could have just flaked it onto some dark bread with mustard and called it a day–in fact, I was sorely tempted–but something in the back of my mind said, Come on. Try something different. You haven’t played in a while.

So I gathered up all the traditional trappings of a good salmon dish: mustard, dill, capers, lemon, shallot, and cream. I mashed them all together in a bowl with a mound of flaked salmon, then opened a box of crackers and called some friends over for snacks. While I waited for them, I took a taste–then a bigger taste–then said to hell with it and started heaping salad onto crackers for myself. It was perfection in a bowl, tangy and salty and rich and just a little zippy, like a brunch platter you could eat with a spoon. It’s the kind of totally improvised dish I will be making again, and again, and again–perfectionism be damned.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized