My Kind of Caviar

These beautiful little jewels are beluga lentils. Protein packed, easy to cook, and uncannily similar in appearance to caviar, beluga lentils or black lentils, can transform your next soiree into an elegant affair. Who needs to plunk down $100 for a can of salty fish eggs when you can have a heaping jar of nutty, flavorful lentils for around $2?

I’m the queen of thrifty eating. I’ve been known to get out the calculator and tally up the per serving cost of my daily meals. Lentils are a huge bang for your buck. They’re cheap and nutritious, high in protein, iron and vitamin B1, and they taste great.

Beluga Lentil “Caviar”

1 cup lentils
4 cups salted water
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Lentils require a 1:4 cooking ratio. This makes quite a lot of lentils. To half the recipe, simply use 1/2cup lentils and 2.5 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, add salt to taste. Add lentils and cook covered for 20-25mins. After lentils have absorbed the water, add vinegar and olive oil.

This simplest of recipes also works great on top of salads, as a side dish for fish, or mixed with rice.

I made this dainty appetizer with the lentil caviar, a dollop of creme fraiche and a sliver of sundried tomato as a garnish.

Who’s ready for their next cocktail party?


Roasted Eggplant Stew

The chill of a Chicago November is really something to be reckoned with; the cold here has claws. We’re going on three years in the Midwest and I haven’t acclimated at all. I’m beginning to think I’ll never get used to this. At least the frost motivates me to get in the kitchen, fire up the oven and heat the apartment with the steam of bubbling pots, the warmth of baking bread. This eggplant stew is a bit labor intensive, but it will warm you to the core.

Roasted Eggplant Stew
2 large eggplants
2 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
2 small celery stalks, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 tsp sea salt
6-8 cups water or stock
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Start with two, large, firm eggplants peeled and cubed. Sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil and roast for 35-40mins at 400F. Sure, I could just stew the eggplant in a pot, but roasting beforehand imparts a deep, smoky flavor.

Next, mash the roasted eggplant to a fine pulp. This step isn’t necessary if you’re planning on using a hand blender. Since I don’t have one and I prefer to limit the electric appliances, I hand mash with a potato masher.

Now, in a 6quart pot, over medium heat, melt the butter until hot. Add the minced onions, celery and garlic. Cook until softened. Then add your spices, stock, and eggplant puree and sour cream/yogurt. Simmer for 15-20mins to allow the flavors to come together.

The cumin, garlic and cayenne give a wonderful warming quality. I prefer a spicy tingle to my stew and use the cayenne liberally.

Here’s to the long winter ahead. We can get through this!

Chicago’s Green City Market

This past Saturday I made my first venture to Chicago’s Green City Market, held twice a week in Lincoln Park during the summer. My work schedule usually keeps me from visiting the city’s largest farmer’s market, but you’re in luck because this week, I’m on vacation.

This farmer’s market is massive and I had to do a once around first before I did any buying. Rather than describe my experience, I’ll let my photos do the talking.

These mushrooms from River Valley Ranch were strikingly beautiful. The oyster mushrooms had wide, white petals that were velvety soft. I snagged a 1lb bag for $10 and went home to make some succulent mushroom toasts, which I will include in a future post.

A sampling of my haul from the market. Including: a giant bag of opal basil for $3, pint of blueberries, Wisconsin peaches, purple shallots, purple kale, swiss chard, purple carrots, heirloom peppers, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms and burgundy okra.
What’s that you say? Never seen burgundy okra?
Have a closer look:

These okra are so pretty I want to wear them on a necklace. Instead, I think I’ll make some refrigerator pickles with them.

And the peppers. How am I going to eat these peppers? They are so gorgeous I want to lacquer and display them.

I really wish I could make it out to the market every week. Unfortunately I live a good forty five minutes away. If you are ever visiting Chicago in the summer, you really should visit the Green City Market, and support Midwest farmers.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the delicious foodstuffs I plan to cook up with all this fresh, beautiful produce.