Easy Weeknight Lentil Stew.

 Easy Weeknight Lentil stew

Soup and weeknight cooking are two things that get an unfair rap. This is entirely unnecessary when something as wonderful as The Kinfolk Table’s Four Corners Lentil Stew exists. This is a recipe that boasts three particularly positive qualities:

  • 12 minutes of hands-on time.
  • 40 minutes from cupboard to dish. 
  • Scrumptious.
  • Healthy.
  • Did I mention that it takes 40 minutes?

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tbls. olive oil
  • 3-4 cups of water
  • A few cubes of chicken bouillion or chicken broth
  • About 1/2 a cup, or a splash, of whatever white wine is open
  • A lemon
  • 15 oz of crushed tomatoes (or, in my case this week, some whole tomatoes that need to be used up and a little bit of paste)
  • 1 tbl. cumin
  • 1 tbl. garlic
  • 1 tbl. ginger
  • Cilantro (or not, again, as in my case this week*)
  • Flatbread

Mince the onion. Toss it into a pot with the olive oil on medium heat and allow the onions to cook until transparent. Slice the lemon into medium-thin disks. At this point, if you’re using these cubes, unwrap four and heat in two cups of water (about 3 minutes in the microwave) until the cubes are mostly dissolved. If you’re using chicken broth, skip this step and drink some wine while you wait for the onions to cook.

After the onions have cooked for a few minutes and are transparent, toss in the cumin, garlic, and ginger. Wait about 3 minutes or until the spices start to become really fragrant. Then add the crushed tomatoes (or about two cups worthof whatever tomatoes you have lying around.) If you use whole tomatoes instead of canned, be sure and add a few tablespoons of tomato paste or sauce as well. Add the broth, about 1/2 cup of wine, and additional water, totaling 4 cups of liquid. The ratio of broth-wine-water does not need to be exact. Toss in about 4 of the lemon disks.

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Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a medium simmer. Chop about 1/2 cup of cilantro. After about 30 minutes, or once the liquid is mostly absorbed, turn off the heat. It can sit for about 45 minutes before being served or you can serve it immediately. Serve with a generous toppig of cilantro and some warm flatbread.

This soup freezes well, can be doubled easily, and makes a great lunch the next day. The portions above make about 3 generous meal-size servings and could probably serve 5 adults if not served as the main course.

*In these photos, there’s a dollop of pesto on the soup rather than cilantro because it was all I had on hand. It was fine, but cilantro would have been better. 

Possibly “The Best Soup I Have Ever Made” or Sweet Potato Soup with Cardamom

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When my family came to visit back in August for Kyle’s wedding, I took everyone on a field trip to Union Market. My mom – being someone who knows about fancy spices like saffron and cardamom – bought me some at one of Union Market’s cute spice stands.

I was scared to use them for months (precious spices? What is that? Can I break it? Will I wreck them?) ad kept them in my gadget drawer for 2 months, content to sniff them occasionally, or about three times a day. But let’s be real. The packages of goodness were meant to be used in a recipe.

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And finally, I found the perfect recipe for the cardamom. During my weekly trek to the grocery mecca that is Costco, I bought a huge bag of sweet potatoes. I love potato soup but I was convinced that sweet potato soup would be even better than my usual jaunts down Soup Lane. If sweet potatoes are healthier and tastier than regular potatoes, then it stands to reason that the soup will be equally better. Right?

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I was pretty ecstatic with the result. The soup has a cinnamony, spicy flavor that is so unique and perfect for cozy late fall/early winter dinners. It also only took about an hour of simmering, which makes this a perfect meal for cozy lazy weekend nights.

Mark even declared that this soup was the best I had ever made. Bonus: now you have an excuse to go and buy cardamom. I still don’t know what to do with the saffron but I’ll keep you posted! Any suggestions?

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Sweet Potato Soup with Cardamom

4 large sweet potatoes

2 cups milk

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 tbl. olive oil

4 stalks chopped celery

1 chopped onion

3 garlic cloves or 2 tbl. granulated garlic

1/2 tsp. cardamom

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

Saute the chopped onions, garlic cloves, and celery in the olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add  chicken broth, wine wine, and milk. bring the mixture to a low simmer. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks (leave the skin on). Just when the mixture begins to simmer, add the potatoes, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer for an hour before serving.

Fall Days, Colds, and Navy Beans

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Today started out as one of those scratchy-throated dark wet mornings when you just want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head.

It was wet and rainy and cold in the city and the only thing visible through the morning rain was the glow of the red brake-lights of all of the other grumpy drivers.

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It was one of those mornings when all of my students did well – everyone worked hard and played their sonatinas and minuets and Happy Clowns and scales beautifully and focused during their lessons. I was so proud of them all. . . but I still just wanted to curl up somewhere and go to sleep until this head cold decides to go visit another house.

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It was one of those days where I knew exactly what I needed to do when I got home, because this same thing happened last weekend when Mark came home from work grumpy and sick and scratchy-throated. Sometimes, folks, you just need to make a pot of beans.

The rainclouds blew away and now the sun has come out to make a beautiful light-filled afternoon. The world is happy because we get to hold on to warmth for a few more minutes.

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And now the day is truly complete because – in addition to students remembering their B flats and F sharps – now I have my yoga pants and am drinking warm coffee; now a pot of beans is simmering happily on the stove and Mark and I can smell it from the dining room/bike room where we are studying and writing.

Maybe your day is just a little awry, a little chilly, a little headachy or grumpy? Make this pot of beans. I promise it will be better.

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Fall-ish Navy Beans

1 lb of navy beans

4 cups of water

2 cups of chicken broth

1 cup of wine

1/2 bacon, bacon bits,or ham

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cups of kale, chopped

2 tbls. butter

1 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. basil

Chopped walnuts

Grated Parmesan cheese

Saute the onions until transparent; add the kale and continue to saute until the kale wilts. Meanwhile, rinse the beans. Add beans, water, broth, wine, and bacon or ham to sauteed onions and kale. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add chopped celery, pepper, oregano, and basil. Simmer for another 45 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle grated parmesan cheese and chopped walnuts on top.

My Grandfather’s Pinto Beans

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My grandfather was a man who believed in food. A product of the Great Depression, he firmly believed in living simply, in saving things, in reusing. But he never scrimped on food.

My grandparents’ family home was just a short drive or a long walk away from the local market and I remember my grandfather going to the grocery store every day, just for fun, just to see if there was something new that day. He was man who didn’t believe in food budgets or calorie counting. He thought there should be good food, always, and lots of it.

A native of Texas transplanted to California early in his law career, he brought the tastes of Texas to the beach with him. There are a few foods firmly associated in my senses with my memories of Grandpa –  among them, silver-dollar potatoes, bacon and pinto beans.

 

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I remember waking up in the morning to the smell of the salty San Diego air, the shrieks of siblings and cousins and the smell of bacon, fried in a cast-iron pan long before hipsters thought cast-iron was cool.

On sunny California afternoons, Grandpa would deep-fry his dollar-potatoes. He would slice them thinly so they fried to a crunchy perfection and then salt them generously. My siblings, cousins, and I would demolish them as we sat outside on the concrete covered in chalk and bikes.

 

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To this day, I can’t pick up a pack of pinto beans without thinking of my grandfather, his kindness, his generous spirit, and his warm kitchen. For years, I thought pinto beans involved some kind of complicated culinary magic that I might someday be fortunate enough to graduate to.

Apparently my grandfather knew another lesson that I would later learn – cooking doesn’t need to be complicated to be wonderful. His savory, wonderful beans that I have so much reverence for were perhaps the simplest recipe around – one of the original just-add-water recipes.

Beans are so easy, so straightforward, so hard to mess up. You can make them sweet or spicy; you can add vegetables and meat; you can just make a very simple pot with some pepper and salt. Leave them alone on the stove for a few hours and a delightful meal awaits you.

Fall is in the air and the heat in D.C. is (finally) beginning to relent, so try a pot of these this weekend.

 

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Pinto Beans

1 lb. pinto beans

8 cups water (Beans should be thoroughly covered by an inch or two of water.

2 cups chopped ham

1 bell pepper

1 onion

2 tbl. garlic

2 tbl pepper

1 tbl chili powder

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/2 white wine

Fresh basil leaves

Fresh cilantro

Wash the beans thoroughly. Cover them with water. Add the ham pieces. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat and allow the beans to simmer for an hour and a half or two hours. Chop the bell pepper and onion into quarter-size pieces. Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, pepper, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, wine, basil, and cilantro. Allow the beans to simmer gently for another two to three hours. Add water if beans become too thick or begin to stick to the pan. Serve with a sprig of cilantro. 

Serve the beans straight from a pot like this one and save on the fussy dishes- this recipe is perfect for camping, outdoor family-style meals, or cozy chilly fall evenings.

Camping Adventures and Open-Fire Chili

We escaped the brutal heat this weekend and went camping in the Shenadoah Mountains. It was perfect. Cool weather, wonderful food, fun company. Mark and I were excited to use every sigle camping related wedding-present.

I am a firm believer in the philosophy that fun camping is comfy camping. None of this dried food nonsense. Our group hauled enough food up to the mountains to feed an army. Our car was stuffed with bags of cooking equipment, bottles of wine, our ginormous French press, and a bucket of spices.

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Also, no trek into the woods is complete without an air mattress. Backpackers, stop reading now. This post is about Complicated Camping.

On Friday night, Mark and I got to the site ahead of the rest of the group. It had rained shortly before and a fire was basically impossible so we had a cozy dinner featuring hummus and guacomole while Mark gathered large dead trees from the woods and we watched the threatening rain clouds.

The meals were split up into shifts and the McCords were in charge of Saturday-night dinner. Determined to avoid the typical campfire dinners, I planned to make chili and pasta salad. I’m not sure what equipment I thought would suddenly appear on the mountain but it wasn’t until 4:00 Saturday afternoon that I realized I was toe-to-toe with a cold, empty fire-pad. No grill, no stove-top, just one lonely grate, 16 cans of bean and tomato sauce, and some boxes of uncooked pasta.

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Did I mention that, although I managed to bring large quantities of kitchen goods, I also happened to forget a lighter and a can opener?

Fortunately, Mark can build a fire. Even without lighter. Also, campers are generally happy, good-willed people and a cheery mother at a neighboring site who was more prepared than I shared her can-opener.

So dinner was saved and we managed boil the pasta and cook the chili. We even threw in a skillet of tasty potatoes for the hungry, patient audiences.

Readers, dinner may have been a looming crisis and it may have taken two hours but it was so yummy. The tasty hot chili was just the ticket. Someone brought pies and s’mores and someone else brought riveting stories and our evening in the woods was complete.

Here’s a quick list of five tips for Complicated Camping that we garnered from this adventure. Next time, we’ll be experts.

1. Plan each meal down to the details. Don’t just generally envision it; actually make sure you have each ingredient, each spoon, and every dish necessary. Elaborate meals can be made over a campire if one just plans.

2. Bring as much gear as you can fit into your vehicle, but pack the basic essentials in an obvious location together. A camping trip won’t get far without a lighter, matches, and a flashlight.

3. Prep as much as possible before the trip. Cutting potatoes and vegatables, marinating meat, and mixing dry ingredients beforehand will save you from camping angst and cut down on cooking time and cleanup while on the trip. Additionally, preparation opens up the culinary possibilities for the expedition. It’s amazing what you can cook on a mountain over an open fire if it’s prepared ahead of time.

4. Bring more trash bags, Ziplocks, and paper towels than you think you need. You can store more than trash in a garbage bag. They can hold extra food, store dirty dishes, and heat-proof ice.

5. Enjoy the unexpected. All sorts of crises, surprises, and unplanned hurdles will occur. That’s why camping is fun. Make due with the supplies that you remembered, laugh, and make memories.

Open-Fire Chili

3 cans of Light Red Kidney beans

3 cans of Northern White beans

3 lbs. of ground beef

1 28 oz can of tomato sauce

2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes

2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste

2 tbl. garlic

2 tbl. pepper

1 tbl. chili powder

1 tbl. basil

2 cups of red wine

Cook the beef thoroughly in a skillet or shallow pan with half of the garlic and the pepper. Once the beef is cooked, combine it in a large pot with the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and remaining garlic, pepper, chili powder, and basil. Allow it to come to a boil, stirring constanty. Simmer for an hour.