Garbanzo Bean Salad

Hello there. It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m sorry it has taken a while to get back around to here. There is no excuse really. I have been doing lots of cooking, experimenting, and baking in my kitchen. With all of that I have had no time to sit with my computer and tell you all about it. The other week I was so gung ho to write you about a cake I made….and within minutes I was asleep on the couch with the computer on my lap. I had gone to a Zumba class earlier that evening, I guess you can say it took all my energy. But I will write you about the cake next time. No cake today. Today I want to tell you about a garbanzo bean salad.



I know you are probably questioning how I went from cake to salad??? Maybe that Zumba class is to blame? Something healthy verses sugar and sweetness!?! Healthy or not this salad is delicious and that is what counts in my book. A garbanzo bean salad is great to whip up on these warm spring days. Tossed together without much fuss, devoured in minutes, and satisfying to your taste buds. The beauty of a salad like this one is that it can be made ahead of time. It develops more flavor as it sits together, and it is one of those things that can be doubled easily and be brought to a BBQ or picnic and holds up to warmer temperatures.

I have been making a salad similar to this since I was in my teens. I use to have a subscription to a teen magazine when I was young. I cannot remember if it was YM or Seventeen; either way, and not surprisingly, my favorite part of the magazine were the recipes they sometimes featured in the back of it. There was a recipe for a garbanzo bean salad that I showed to my mom and we made it. My family loved it and it became a family staple in the warmer months. Over time, like most recipes, I have tweaked it a bit. What can I say? Time, like taste buds, change. Below is the way I enjoy it the best. The different textures, favors, and light dressing will compliment just about any meal. I hope you give it a try. In the meantime I will get back into a grove of writing…I promise, that cake recipe will be up next time.



Garbanzo Bean Salad (feeds 4-6)

1 (15oz) can of Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 red bell pepper, chopped small (seeds and core removed)

1/2 cup red onion, chopped small

1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed small

1 1/2 cup chopped romaine lettuce

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, place your garbanzos, bell pepper, red onion, and mozzarella in your serving dish. Sprinkle your olive oil and red wine vinegar over it all and toss it well. Sprinkle it all with a bit of sea salt and black pepper and toss again. Cover with some plastic wrap and chill at least and hour. You are looking for the flavors to mingle and marinate a bit together.

Next, remove your salad from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before eating. Sprinkle the lettuce over it all. Toss again and set aside until ready to eat.

Finally, before eating, season it again with sea salt and fresh black pepper if needed.

Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread

A couple of years ago I received the book Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi as a holiday present. I have had my eye on it for a while and I will admit that I was supper pleased to finally have one in my possession. I went through it cover to cover numerous times - I could not put it down. It is full of super great veggie recipes, one better than the next. With full honesty I cannot think of any one of the recipes that I like better. IMG_9905

Then, Ottolenghi came out with another book: Plenty More. I received this one for my birthday this past year, and just like the last one I could not put it down. over and over again I have flipped through the pages. Let me admit that sometimes I do not know what is more enticing in these books, the recipes themselves or the photos of the food. Just like the last book it is just gorgeous!



Okay, enough of me gushing! The other day while walking past one of the stands down at Pike’s Place Market the vendor told me that the fava beans were exceptional and just came in. So I purchased a few handfuls and headed home. I remembered a recipe in Plenty More that I really admired and I figured this was the perfect time to dive into it.

Sreading the fava beans and water cress over the ricotta.

The recipe was a Fava Bean Spread with a Roasted Garlic Ricotta; I know, it sounds fabulous doesn’t it?!?  So I started in on the recipe. Brian assisted by hulling and shucking the fava beans for me while I took a walk with the dogs to a bakery to pick up a freshly baked baguette to enjoy it with. Although the recipe called for lots of fresh lemon zest and juice I substituted in some preserved lemon zest being I have so much of it on hand. Also, I added in a bit of fresh water cress when I was sautéing the favas. I thought the peppery nature of the water cress would compliment the favas along with the bright lemony flavor. After I had it all plated, bread was sliced and assorted raw veggies to go along the side were prepped we gave it all a try.

Fava Bean Water Cress Saute with Roasted Garlic Ricotta, fresh bread and raw veggies.

I didn’t say a word through each bite! I chewed, I munched, I let the flavors linger on my tongue, and I completely enjoyed ever tiny moment of it all. I savored it all, Brian chatted away telling me about work and then looked at me asking why I was so silent. Once he saw the expression on my face he asked "You are loving every bite of this aren’t you?" I couldn't find a word to muster up, I was just too busy taking it all in. I believe I put my hand up to my mouth, smiled, and nodded. There were no words needed, I was tasting something so deliciously good I had to relish every bit of it! After a bit of time, and about 4 slices of baguette for myself; it was almost all gone. As we were packing up the leftover we both agreed, this definitely needs to be made again - and it must be shared! So thank you Yotam Ottolenghi, you are super talented beyond words and have inspired a fantastic creation.

All that deliciousness on top of crusty bread!

Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread (feeds 4)

1 pound of fava beans (about 1 cup shelled)

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup water cress

1/4 preserved lemon peel, chopped very finely

1 lemon (half zested and juiced, the other half sliced)

handful fresh mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), chopped

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Extra olive oil for drizzling

Freshly sliced crusty bread for serving

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, have a large bowl of ice water set aside for blanching. Place the fava beans in the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place the beans in the ice bath you have waiting to shock them. Once they are cool enough to handle, pop the favas out of their outer skin - discarding the skin and reserving the inner bean.

Next, toss your garlic cloves with the skin on in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Place them on a baking dish and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. The cloves should be tender when pierced. Once the cloves are cool slip them out of their skin giving them a rough mashing with a fork and set them aside.

Then, place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once your pan is heated through add the remainder olive oil and heat through. Add the preserved lemon peel, the peeled favas, and let it all simmer together about 2-3 minutes. Add the water cress and sauté all together until ithe water cress wilts.

Meanwhile, in a bowl mash together you roasted garlic and ricotta. Season it with a bit of sea salt and fresh black pepper. spread the mixture in the bottom of your serving dish / plate.

Finally, top the ricotta mixture with your fava and water cress sauté. Sprinkle it with the reserved lemon juice, fresh lemon zest, and fresh mint. Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Serve with fresh bread and lemon slices.

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice, plus getting comfortable with new surroundings.

When I first moved to Phoenix, Az. I was not sure I was going to like it. I mean I moved there from New Jersey where I spent the majority of my life living about 20 minutes from Manhattan. Living there you could go in just about any direction and encounter Polish food shops that make you smell like a kielbasa by the time you walk out, Spanish food that would make you swoon, Italian delis in abundance, Middle Eastern food shops that had cumin aromas, Chinese take out counters a plenty, sandwich shops where freshly sliced cured meats were pilled high on hard rolls, bakeries that baked crispy crusty bread, and get cookies from shops that melted on your tongue and went perfectly with coffee or tea. While living in the Trenton and Princeton area of New Jersey in my last few years there you could stand on almost any intersection and hear language from anywhere in the world. With all the universities, colleges, and a huge Seminary there I felt in some ways I was more submerged in ethnicity than I was in the Northern half of the state. It was living there that Brian and I fell in love with eating sushi and spending endless hours in coffee shops sipping cappuccinos and pondering thoughts on life. It still is my most favorite area of New Jersey…and as for that coffee shop I spent endless hours in - I walked in there about two years ago and the barista looked at me and asked: ”Danielle, would you like your usual?” I kid you not. Almost 12 years later not only were some of the same staff around, but they remembered me and my drink! You do not find occurrences like that too often.

Lats time we visited our favorite coffee shop in Princeton, NJ

When I moved to Phoenix there was such an adjustment. I didn’t find those ethnic shops on every corner. I couldn’t find a hard roll, kielbasa was vacuum sealed in plastic at the supper market, attempts at Chinese take out for a while were a bust, and of the Italian delis we explored had a somewhat sterile feeling. There might not have been Spanish restaurants to stroll into, but there was Mexican. Plenty of Mexican food. Tacos, tortas, chilis, pasole, menudo, enchiladas, and to our discovery- salsas came in so many varieties besides hot, medium or mild. We really enjoyed exploring all that we could about Mexican food.

But one evening after dinner I was telling Brian I felt there was something missing living in Phoenix. I was not homesick for New Jersey, but I missed the variety that New Jersey offered us. Everything here was a drive away. There was no walking to a corner store to grab what you need. I also didn’t feel there was a place to go and hang out at like we did at the coffee shop in Princeton. There was Starbucks (yuck!) but that was about it. They were not open late, they were a drive away, and they did not make you feel like you want to spend and hour there philosophizing. That is when Brian told me he passed a new coffee shop that opened up on his way to work. Put your shoes on and lets go. Low and behold a shop that was roasting it’s own beans right there. The owners were working the counter and the espresso they poured was damn good. They were open early, and stayed late. Finally some bit of normalcy for us.

The scenery and surrounding of Phoenix were a bit different for me to get use to.

About a month later I was reading an article about an Ethiopian restaurant in Tempe. I begged Brian to go, and finally he gave in to give it a try. When we walked in you were hit with an aroma of spices, it almost made me drunk. The nice lady who waited on us explained to us how to order and how to eat in an Ethiopian manor. It was truly a divine experience. We at with our hands and marveled at the many stewed dishes in front of us along with the Injera (crepe like bread made with teff). The best dish there was a lentil stew cooked in berbere spices. We left there with full bellies and senses pleased.  Between the coffee shop Brian discovered and this Ethiopian restaurant, living in Phoenix became a bit more tolerable.

Fast forward to today in Seattle. There are plenty of ethnic food shops to wonder into. The aromas of them are amazing and it is not uncommon we find ourselves the only non ethnic people in any one of these places. There are coffee shops on every corner, and I do not have to get in my car to get everywhere in this city. I also discovered a spice shop (again in waking distance) that sold berbere mix. (If you want to know more about this spice mix or purchase it for yourself you can find it here.) I picked some up and have been playing around trying to recreate the lentil dish of that restaurant in Tempe. Low and behold I have come close, and possibly as close as I think I could. Brian and I have been enjoying these lentils with some rice and a bright green salad on the side to cut the rich spiciness of the lentil stew. Although I have not yet attempted to make Injera, this stew is more than satisfying to curb our indulgent cravings. No matter where you move to or travel to it may take some adjustments to get use to. But what I did learn I carry with me…like lentils stewed in berbere. One of the many things I cherish and learned while living in Arizona.

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice over Rice.

Stewed Lentils in Berbere Spice (serves 4) 

(*Note: We personally like this mixture a bit spicy. The rice - in my opinion - mellows out the spiciness. If you prefer things a bit more mild feel free to use 1 tbsp of berber spice mix to start. you can always add more in the end.)

3/4 cup lentil (brown, green, or black variety are good)

1 small onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic chopped

3 tbsp of tomato paste

1 &1/2 tbsp of berber spice, ground

6 cups vegetable stock or water

sea salt to taste

First, place all the above ingredients (besides the sea salt) in a heavy bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Next, keep the pot at a gentle simmer. Be sure to stir it often. You are looking for the lentils to absorb almost all of the liquid of your pot. The ruminates will form a bit of a sauce.

Finally, once the lentils are cooked though and your mixture has thickened you can remove it from the heat. Season it with sea salt to your preference. If you feel you would like your mixture a bit more soupy feel free to stir in a bit more of water or stick to loosen it us a bit. If you would like a smoother consistency feel free to remove a couple of ladles of your lentils and puree in a food processor and return the mixture back to the pot and stir it all together. Serve while warm.

New Orleans Trip leads to Vegan Red Beans and Rice

On January 1st Brian and I packed our bags and headed to New Orleans for a much anticipated vacation. We had never been and yearning to go for quite some time. Just like life is, things kept popping up and the trip kept getting pushed back. When we realized that we both had some time to finally get away come January we jumped at the chance. I searched for a deal online, booked the trip, and waited on pins and needles for us to get there. IMG_8742

I couldn’t wait to walk around a city I have never been before. (One of my favorite parts of enjoying a new place.) Jazz music and beignets were to be indulged in, along with some great creole food. Believe me, New Orleans did not disappoint. The jazz music we stumbled upon both out on the streets and in clubs was so enjoyable. I tried beignets at three different places; and might I add that the ones at Morning Call were the best. Brian indulged in a New Orleans treat called “Crawfish Bread”…yes, he loved every nibble of it! We toured through the Treme, the Bywater, and Frenchman Street. We road the streetcars, strolled through City Park, indulged in a very nice meal at Bayona, and we even got to eat at the famous Dooky Chase (it was an honor to be there, but that is another blog post entirely).


I know many probably go to New Orleans to party, drink, and live it up till all hours of the night. But I am not everybody and I felt somewhat guilty about telling Brian that I wanted to go to bed by the time 10 o’clock rolled around. I rationalized it with it was my vacation and we did do a lot everyday we were there. We were up and at early each day, most likely while most were still fast asleep. I love being out and about in a new place just as the sun hits the sidewalks and you see the comings, and goings of everyday life there. By the time evenings roll around I am  just as happy relaxing in my PJ’s and watching reruns of Criminal Intent.


I will admit that I loved just about everything in that city, and I am personally looking forward to going back and exploring new parts of it. There was one disappointment though. Being a vegetarian, there was a lack to good old creole or soul food I could indulge in. Lots of the dishes have ham, pork, or crawfish in them. At each place we passed by I would look over the menu, and see my option was a salad. I am not complaining mind you. I was prepared for this, and every salad I ate was really tasty. But I really wanted a dish of red beans and rice! They looked so good, and there were a couple of dishes of them I spotted that made my mouth water. What could I do about it? I did the only thing I knew I could. I purchased a bag of New Orleans Red Beans to bring home and once we were settled - Vegan Creole Red Beans and Rice was for dinner. The result: super tasty, savory, and oh so yummy! It may not be a traditional way of cooing them, but it was damn good! Maybe on my next visit there will be more food options for the vegetarian, in the mean time I will keep indulging in my vegan version.

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

Vegan Creole Red Beans  (Serves 4)

1 cup dried red beans

1 green bell pepper, cored and diced

1 yellow onion, chopped small

3 cloves of garlic, chopped small

2 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 quart veggie stock

sea salt to taste

cooked white or brown rice (variety of preference)

First, the night before you would like to make this dish place your beans in a large bowl and cover with about 5 cups  of water. Cover and set aside in a cool dark place overnight. (I personally just keep it on my counter out of direct sunlight.)

Next, drain the beans and place in a 4 - 6 quart pot with a a quart of water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes.

Then, add your green bell pepper and onion. Along with this add your herbs, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. Stir it well and add your veggie stock. Let it all simmer together until your beans are tender and your liquid is reduced by half.

Finally, remove a few ladles of your mixture and puree. Add this mixture back to the pot and stir together seasoning it with your sea salt to taste. Ladle you mixture over rice and serve.


Family Meal Tostadas

There was a catering company I worked for a couple of years back called Nosh Away, and there was a real a sense of “family” between us. I mean when you work the way we did: producing huge meals and events, it was not uncommon I guess. You see for each event you have to pack everything up, load it all in a truck or two; and then travel to events. Once you are there everything gets unloaded and set up. Once that is done you have to prep all the food for plating and serving. When it is all over you have to wrap things up, pack it all up for return to the kitchen. We would finally unload, clean it up, and then start again for the next event.  It was often done in close quarters with make shift tables of sorts, so working like a team makes things work efficiently and somewhat smoothly.  Sounds crazy I know, but we always were able to laugh at it as we went along. 021 Very often when we were at our main kitchen during the week we had family meal. One of the staff would cook a meal for us all to enjoy. We would sit in the break room, enjoy our meal and chat about life. It really was like we were a “little family”. We all had our favorite meals. Sometimes if the main kitchen forgot to ask myself and the other pastry chef for something they needed (usually a time consuming pastry…like a wedding cake) they would make us one of our favorites. For Rumi, my dear friend and fellow pastry chef; it was Latkes a.k.a potato pancakes. They were yummy, but if it was my choice; I always wanted tostadas. And yes, after eating these foods we would agree to just about any of their requests. 030 If you are not aware of what a tostada is you have been missing out. Especially, the way my old coworkers made these. The tostadas were made with corn tortillas and pinto beans that have simmered a while creating a depth of flavor. We would add toppings and of course freshly made salsa. I was in heaven eating them. I personally think they are so good because you get so much satisfaction in just a few bites. You see the tortilla is fried until it is crispy so you get this nice “crunch” factor. Topping the tortilla with the simmered beans; then adding some salsa, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream – you get it all. The richness from the beans, the spicy kick from the salsa, the cheese and sour cream adds a calming factor to it all, and  the lettuce adds a bit more crunch and refreshing cleanse to it all. Weird I know, but this is weird good! So good! 027   I have made this “family meal” at home for my husband and he has become a fan! I have made it for my parents and uncles on one of their visits. Although different to how and what they normally would eat, they did enjoy it. I can remember my Uncle Dave raving over the salsa. Personally, I think that is why a dish like this is so delicious and comforting. You customize it on your plate and make it your own. I; much like my husband Brian like to try and get a little bit of it all in each bite. It is total taste gratification. I made this meal again last week and Brian was telling me how he thought this meal is blog worthy. So here it is, but not just because I wanted to tell you about the meal itself. More important is how I miss those old coworkers. We have all gone our separate ways and try to keep in touch. We sometimes get together for a meal, although as time goes by it gets harder and harder to all get together. I miss them all. I have never worked with a greater group of individuals. I miss the old Nosh Away crew…love you all like family!  I think we should all get together for an old fashion family meal. 032 Pinto Bean Tostadas (feed 2 or more) *This recipe is easily doubled and tripled. 1- 15 oz can of pinto beans 1 clove of garlic, chopped small 1 shallot, chopped small 1 tomato, roughly chopped 2 tbsp of olive oil 1 tbsp of honey 1 cup of veggie or chicken stock ¼ tsp of chili powder Sea Salt to taste Corn Tortillas (about 2-3 per person) ¼ head of lettuce, chopped small Sour Cream ¼ - ½ cup cheese, (Queso fresco or cheddar) Hot sauce 1 lime, sliced Salsa Verde (recipe to follow) Vegetable oil (for frying) First, place a four quart pot over medium heat. Once warmed through add your onion and garlic and stir and simmer until fragrant. Add in the can of beans (liquid and all) and stir well. Add in the chili powder, stock, tomato, and honey. Let is all simmer and stir every so often. Next, make your salsa (recipe below) and chill. Place a 10 inch frying pan over medium heat and fill with about ½ inch of vegetable oil. Once oil is heated through add your corn tortillas, one at a time. Let them “fry” until bubbly and golden and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle each one with a bit of sea salt when draining. Then, you bean mixture should be reduced a bit. Remove from the heat and I like to mash a bit of the mixture. Either with the back of a wooden spoon, or using a hand held emersion blender. Only mashing or pureeing a bit. Stir it well and season it to taste. Finally, to serve place you beans in a bowl and have your tortillas on a plate. On the side have your cheese, sour cream, salsa, and lettuce.  If you like you can also add hot sauce and limes. Assemble as you wish and enjoy! 024 Salsa Verde (makes 1 ½ cup) 1 onion, quartered 1 jalapeno, or 2 serrano peppers, stem cut off and roughly chopped 1 clove of garlic 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves and tops of stems only 1 -2 limes, zested and juiced Sea Salt to taste First, in the base of a food processor place all but your limes and sea salt. Pulse your processor a bit to break down you ingredients. Then, add your lime zest and a bit of juice at a time while your processor is running. You are looking to add the juice until your mixture is broken down and as smooth as you would like it. Finally, place the mixture in a bowl and season with a bit of sea salt. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (Lasts up to a week in your refrigerator.)

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

The Seattle streets have been busy, the sun has been shining, the days are long, and the warm weather is here. This past weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the Pride Parade. We are fortunate that it goes right by our apartment. We watched from our window a bit, and then headed down to the street to watch it all go by. It was so colorful and exciting. The parade was huge this year being it was a big anniversary and we got some sun as we stood there contently entertained as it passed us by. Brian put on sunblock, but still ended up with a light burn. I guess that is the price you pay for living in predominantly cloud covered city. When the sun does come out to shine, it leaves its mark. Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

All this sunshine and warmer weather makes it harder deciding what to cook. I mean it is quite common not to get air conditioning throughout the city, even harder in our building knowing it was built in 1914. Not that I am complaining, this is nothing in comparison to the 115 degree heat (or higher) we experienced in Phoenix. Although, it does make me consider what to make for dinner by how long it will have to “cook” and how warm it will make our apartment. I walked down to Pikes Place Market and weaved and darted between the tourists to get to a fish counter I like. I picked up some salmon for curing (it should be ready in a few days) and some scallops for Brian. I figured we could grill the scallops outside and whip up an easy Black Bean and Corn Salad. The salad takes no time to whip up and is supper cool and refreshing to eat. This salad is great to make even a day ahead of time as I think it improves as it sits and the flavors develop a bit as they marinate together.

Now let me be completely honest; I am not showing a picture of the scallops with the salad for a simple reason. I went down to our court yard where the grill is and I lit it waiting for it to get about 400 – 500 degrees. I scraped it down and cleaned it well before placing my scallops on. Have you ever had to share a cooking space like a grill with others? It isn’t always “pretty” as others tend to forget to clean up after themselves. After I prepared the grill I placed the scallops on. As the scallops sizzled and began to “drip” it ignited a huge flame over the whole grill. It seems there were too many drippings at the bottom of the grill that the previous users did not clean out or burn off. I was standing there staring into the huge raging flame that engulfed the few scallops I had cooking for Brian. Rest assures the scallops were fine as I was darting my hand and tongs in and out of the massive flame with hopes I didn’t burn myself. In a bit of time and panic we got the flame under control. I had this vision that the scallops would be shriveled bits only after the fire department was called. As it turns out they were just “blackened” a bit from all the carbon. Brian insisted they still tasted great- they just didn’t look all that pretty. But the salad was bright in flavor, bright in color, pretty to look at, and delicious to eat. We made them as lettuce wraps, but this is just as great to eat on its own. It is the perfect summer food. No real cooking involved (or danger of a grill) and cool it eat!

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad (serves 6)

1 can (15 oz) of Black Beans, drained and rinsed well

1 can (15 oz) of corn, drained and rinsed well

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped small

½ small onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1 cup of feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup of olive oil

3-4 tbsp of red wine vinegar

¼ tsp of cayenne pepper (to taste really, using your judgment)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Lettuce leaves, like romaine or butter; cleaned and patted dry

Sour cream, optional

First; in a large mixing bowl place your black beans, corn, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Toss it together well. Over the top of it sprinkle your olive oil, red wine vinegar, a bit of your cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper. And toss again.

Next; sprinkle in your feta and toss again. (I like to leave the feta till almost last. You want it to marinate together, but with all the tossing the more it can break down too finely.) Cover it and place in the refrigerator about an hour or overnight.

Finally; when ready to serve, toss again and taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. You might want to add more cayenne pepper…you have to wait and see as the flavor might “bloom” as it sits. Also adjust the sea salt and black pepper. Serve next to the lettuce leaves and sour cream so guests can assemble as they like.

Indian Dal (Lentil Soup)

Over a week ago a friend of mine posted a picture on Instagram. It was of a beautiful bowl of Dal. Just looking at her bowl of lentils was enticing; I knew what I was making that weekend. So on Sunday afternoon I gathered my lentils, ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and spices. I simmered it all together on the stove until the lentils were tender, and our home smelt exotic. It was quite breezy out and this warm bowl of Dal with a refreshing Raita to accompany it was perfect. Not to mention its deep orange huge is extremely pretty to look at as it sits waiting for you to dig into it. Dal with Raita, Rice, and Lime on the side.

I really love a good lentil dish; I find it really hard to pass up. Same goes for Indian food- I adore it. This dish takes these two things plus a depth of flavor and spice that I crave after. It is also what makes me go after Indian food time and time again; I just feel I can never get enough of it! I have tried many variations of Dal over the years, but I always go back to the first recipe I tried on my own. It is from The Joy of Cooking that I have adapted a bit over time to get this recipe to where there is heat from the chili, depth to the spices, richness in its texture, and a freshness of herbs in its finished taste combined into a pure pleasurable occurrence. I promise you once you taste it for yourself you will keep helping yourself to more…as I did with the leftovers all this week.

I do understand that a spicy dish, for example one with chili and ginger may intimidate some into trying this recipe. But be assured that you can adapt it to your own liking. Don’t skimp out on the ingredients but make it your own. For example, use less ginger and only add chili to sprinkle in at the end to your own liking. In experience; you can always add spices and herbs to build up to a flavor profile that pleases you. It is hard to remove it as heat and the intensity of flavor that does build as it simmered together over time. Do not let the ingredients intimidate you, but bring it to where you will enjoy it. I have thanked my friend for her picture and inspiration for our dinner. I just hope that I can do the same here as you look at this beautiful Dal. Trust me on this one, smelling the aroma and enjoying this dish will make you feel like you are someplace extraordinary.

Indian Dal with Rice and Raita

Indian Dal (serves 6)

1 cup of red lentils

3 cups of water (plus more if needed)

1 cup of onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ tbsp of fresh ginger, minced

½ tsp of turmeric (adds a bit more color and flavor to this dish)

1 tsp of curry powder mix (South Indian Curry if you have available)

1 tsp of sea salt

1 large serrano or jalapeno, chopped small

2 tomatoes, chopped small (canned is fine)

Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Cooked long grain rice, to serve with (**I usually use basmati rice for this, but I was out when I made this, so I subbed jasmine rice instead.)

First; in a 4 quart pot place your lentils, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, curry, and sea salt. Place the pot over medium heat, partially covered with a lid, and bring it to a simmer until the lentils have doubled in size and it appears to have thickened a bit – about 40 minutes.

Next; to the pot add your tomato, and chili. Let it simmer together about 10 – 15 more minutes. Your tomato will begin to break down and the contents of the pot will thicken up a bit more. At this time you will want to taste it and adjust your seasoning a bit. Also, it is at this point that you can add a bit more water to it all if you feel it is too thick.

Then, remove from heat and puree in batches. You can puree the whole pot if you would like a smooth soup, but if your can also only puree half of it if you would like a bit more texture to the overall dish. When finished pureeing return to the pot until ready to serve.

Finally, when ready to serve you can rewarm the Dal over low heat until warm and heated through. Serve with the rice, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, and the Raita (recipe to follow).

Raita (makes about 1 ½ cups)

¾ cup of cucumber, chopped small (English or Persian cucumbers work fine)

2 green onions, finely chopped (light green and white parts)

2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro

2 tsp of chopped fresh mint

½ - ¾ cup of plain Greek yogurt

Sea Salt to taste

First, in a small bowl combine all of the above and stir until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Finally, when ready to serve give the mixture another stirring and taste to adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more sea salt or a pinch of sugar if you feel it is needed and serve.

My Aunt Marie and how I love hummus

I have been doing a lot of thinking about hummus lately. Hummus being on my mind has led me to thinking about my Aunt Marie (my father's only sister). Let me explain (and if you have not realized this already I have a really crazy memory when it comes to family and food), you see I can remember when I first had hummus and it was with my sister and my Aunt. But first I think you have to know a little bit about my Aunt Marie… My Aunt Marie, my cousins, myself, and my little sister in front with the ET doll. This must be 1982 / 1983. As you can see we loved to play with my aunt growing up. (Picture compliments of my cousin who sent it to me a couple of months back.)

Growing up, my parents owned a multi-family home (a triplex) in Garfield, New Jersey. The first floor apartment my parents always rented, the second floor was where we resided, and on the third floor there was a small apartment that my Aunt Marie lived in. When I was little I can remember going upstairs to visit her. My sister and I would play games with her, dance in her kitchen (break dancing on occasion), and tell stories. She had a piano and taught me to play chopsticks - needless to say my Aunt Marie was very cool in my and my sister's opinion. She would take us out shopping with her, we would go to the movies, occasionally she would watch us for my parents, and when my cousins would visit, all of us would have a blast with her. It was great growing up and having her right there. In my late teens, and in the early 90’s, my aunt took my sister and I into New York City for the day. We went to a café for lunch and I can remember she asked if my sister and I would like to have an appetizer, and she pointed out that they had hummus and taro chips. My sister and I did not know what that was. She explained that hummus was a dip or spread made from garbanzo beans. When it got to the table my sister and I dove in and needless to say we really liked it. At the time my Aunt was dating Monir who she married a couple of years later. Our Uncle Monir is Egyptian, and upon knowing we liked the hummus he started to bring it and other Middle Eastern treats for us from a deli he went to. All of the items we would taste were scrumptious, but I had loyalty to the hummus. I later learned how to make hummus on my own and from there on I couldn’t stop.

My most favorite way of eating hummus, with roasted beet and topped with feta.

I tried many different varieties and recipes. I have added countless spices, herbs, other vegetables, paired it with different things too. I once had it with too much garlic – I don’t think my husband was too pleased with me, when he asked for me not to eat it again! But I was on a nonstop hummus mission. Over the past couple months I acquired some new cookbooks, two of them being about Middle Eastern cuisine of one kind or another. Again my hummus inspiration had been rekindled. With lots of garlic aside, I have rediscovered that I love the combination of something deeply roasted along with the hummus recipe below. Like roasted veggies and hummus with some pita (roasted beets with sumac is my favorite). Feta cheese to top it all off and my taste buds are in heaven. The combo is up for you to decide what could be your favorite, but don’t be shy - try them all: carrots, zucchini, eggplant, onion, beets, and so on. It is so much fun and your stomach will be pleased. Thank you Aunt Marie, you have given my taste buds everlasting happiness.

Hummus with olive oil drizzled over the top and some sprinkled sumac.

Hummus (makes about 1 ½ - 2 cups) Note: if you do not have the preserved lemon you can use fresh lemon zest, about 1 tsp in replace of it. This will cause you to add more salt to taste at the end though than if you were to use the preserved lemon. Once again a recipe for preserved lemons can be found here…I always keep jar of some made in our refrigerator.

1 15oz can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed well

1 large (or 2 small) cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed

zest of ½ a preserved lemon; rinsed with pith and flesh removed - chopped small

1 tbsp of tahini paste

3-4 tbsp of olive oil, plus more for plating

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, fit your food processor with your blade attachment. In the base of your processor add your garbanzos, garlic, and lemon zest. Pulse it all together a couple of times to grind it all up.

Next, add in your tahini paste and a couple tbsp of your olive oil. Begin pulsing your garbanzos again until a smooth mixture begins to form. Feel free to help it along by scraping down the sides a couple times to help it work together.

At this point, your mixture should begin to look smooth. If you feel your mixture is too dry and not looking or feeling smooth adding a tiny bit of water at a time while your food processor is running, until it is smooth and cohesive.

Finally, taste your mixture and see how much sea salt and black pepper you will need to add to it. Add your seasoning and a tbsp or two more of olive oil and pulse it again. Place it all in bowl and cover it well with plastic wrap. Let it sit, refrigerated for at least one hour to let the flavors develop before serving.

Variations: above is how I like my hummus when eating it as a sandwich with the roasted veggie to accompany it. You can use the same recipe as above to serve with a crudité platter. In that case I add a bit of lemon juice to the mixture. The acid in it gives the hummus a nice tang and compliments the raw veggies nicely.

Freshly Roasted Beets, cooking them this way leave you with a tender and sweet vegetable.

Roasting Beets: When making a dish like this I like to best go the long way to get the beets roasted. I take the beets trimmed and washed well and lightly coat them in olive oil. I then sprinkle them with sea salt and place them in a 400 degree oven for about 45 min. to an hour (depending on size). They are done when a knife pierces through them easily. Let cool at least 20 minute before handling, and peel the skin off of them and chop up. lightly sprinkle them with some sumac and olive oil before adding it to your hummus.

Holidays and Chickpea Minestrone

So as time should have it we are well into December. 2013 is almost gone; the winter and holiday season is upon us at a full, steady fast pace. I love Seattle during the holidays. There is something about living in a city during a time like this that is hard to explain. You begin to see the transformation and anticipation for the holidays. The added bonus is you feel the energy of all the people coming, going, and just enjoying life. Seattle, getting ready for the holiday season.

In the midst of all of this holiday anticipation I was searching for a meal to make. I was craving something…what I wasn’t sure. I was thinking of what to eat, and I started to think of my family and what they are doing with the holiday preparation starting. (To be honest the hardest thing about living in Seattle is the fact that a majority of my family and friends are 3,000 miles away in New Jersey.) For some reason I started to think of what my mom might make, and what my sister would like to eat. There was a simple solution: Pasta Fagioli. It is an all-time favorite dish of my sisters. She loves the rich bean broth and the bits of veggies and pasta that accompany it. My mom often made a version of this, although my mom would make it with garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chick peas) and refer to it as a Chick Pea Minestrone.

I have a personal infatuation with garbanzo beans. I love the taste and texture of them and will indulge in them in any way, shape, or form. I knew it was time to make a pot of Pasta Fagioli, but just like my mom would; a minestrone. I had a bag of dried garbanzo beans in the cabinet so I took a cup of the garbanzos and soaked them in four cups of water before I left for work in the morning. (I know most people would soak them overnight. But with the baker’s hours I keep - I am awaketo get ready for work at 3A.M.) When I came home in the afternoon the beans had absorbed a majority of the water. I placed a large pot of water on the stove, rinsed off the beans and placed them in the pot over medium heat. I let them simmer away for about an hour and a half before adding veggies to the pot. About another hour later the minestrone was ready. Ahhh! It tasted like my mom made it. I only wish she and my sister were there to enjoy it and the holiday season here as well…maybe they can next year. I will have the soup ready for them.

Chickpea Minestrone

Chickpea Minestrone (serves 6)

1 cup of dried garbanzo beans / chickpeas *

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped

1 onion, trimmed and chopped small

3 cloves of garlic, chopped small

3 canned tomatoes, pureed

2 bay leaves

¼ tsp of dried oregano

1 cup of dried pasta, small in shape

Sea salt and black pepper

First, place your dried beans in at least 4 cups of water and let soak for at least eight hours. After soaking, drain and rinse the beans. Place in a large pot with six quarts of water and place over medium heat and let it all simmer for about an hour and a half.

Next; once the water is reduced by half, you should carefully add your veggies along with the spices. Let it all simmer until your veggies are tender. Once the veggies are tender you can add your pureed tomatoes. When doing so keep an eye on the liquid level in the pot. If you feel it has reduced too far you can add a cup or two of water to the pot.

Then, at this time place another pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once water is boiling place the dried pasta in it, stirring frequently; and cooking it until the pasta is al dente.

Finally, taste you minestrone and season it with your sea salt and pepper as needed. When your pasta is cooked through, strain it from the water and place it into the soup. Stir it all together well and let it sit together at least a minute or two before serving. Serve while warm.

My Grandmother, and all my gratitude.

I have noticed several friends on Facebook taking part in a “Gratitude Project”. Where every day in the month of November you express at least one thing you are thankful for. I must admit I was invited to participate, but there is something about it that scared me a bit…Could I come up with that many different things without repeating myself? I am sure that I could, but I let the opportunity slip me by. But over the last two week I really gave it some thought. Is there only one thing I could name in being the single thing that I am so grateful for over everything else? Then the other day a friend of mine posted some pictures of her family when they first came to the United States. That is when it hit me: the one thing I am most grateful for my life is captured in this picture below. It is the day my maiden Grandmother left Italy to come to America. My Grandmother, and her brother Enrico; Italy,1947

My grandmother Tina was only sixteen when this picture was taken. On her arm is her older brother Enrico (Uncle “Riggy” as we called him), escorting her to the plane. This was in 1947 after World War II ended. During the war she met my grandfather Frank. He was a soldier for the American Army stationed in Italy. After the war was over and he was back in the states he wrote her and her family. My grandfather asked if she would like to come the United States, and if she pleased they could be married. But you need to remember that my grandmother was only sixteen; my grandfather was twenty-six. My grandmother’s family felt there was not much opportunity for her in Italy given the circumstances they were facing because the village where they lived was bombed and partially destroyed from the war. Her family paid a local doctor to falsify her birth certificate making her 18 and legal to come to the U.S.

My grandmother came here with nothing. She had barely any money, belongings, and did not know the language. It sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Coming to a foreign country to be married, barely knowing anything or anyone at such a young age. (Even more surreal is how the families arranged for my Uncle Riggy to marry my grandfather’s sister a couple of years later, but that is a whole other story.) Although, if all of this wasn’t the case I would not have my mom and my uncles. And without that, you would not have me or my sister. My grandmother’s courage to take this chance with her life is the single one thing I have the most gratitude for.

My Uncle Frank, my Mother Rita, and Uncle Sal

With my gratitude, and a Thanksgiving menu to plan, I need to get to work. I was thinking this year that I should reflect on my Italian heritage a bit more then I usually do for this meal. This year I was thinking of making a White Bean and Artichoke Spread to be served with bread and an assortment of raw veggies as a starter. My grandmother really liked artichokes, I think to her it was something that she ate and reminded her of Italy and her home. I only wish she was here to try this dish. But I know she is here in spirit as she always is. Thank you Grandma, my love for you never fades…it grows stronger in my cooking. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

White Bean and Artichoke Spread, with assorted crudite

White Bean and Artichoke Spread (makes 2 cups)

1 - 14oz can of artichokes, drained

1 – 15oz can of white beans (cannellini), drained

1 clove of garlic, peeled and trimmed

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tbsp of olive oil, plus extra for garnish

Parsley, chopped for garnish

Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste

Assorted crudité and sliced bread to serve

First; in the bowl of a food processor fitted with its blade attachment place you artichoke hearts, white beans, and garlic clove. Pulse your motor until you break down your ingredients into a fine chop.

Next; add in your lemon zest and juice, along with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Begin to let the motor run and slowly drizzle in your olive oil. Keep it pureeing until it is all a smooth paste and emulsified. Taste it to adjust your seasoning.

Finally, scoop up your puree into a bowl you would like to serve it in. Sprinkle the top with your chopped parsley and a bit of olive oil. Serve it with your assorted crudité and bread.

Note: Spread can be made ahead of time wrapped and stored in an air tight container. Keep no more than one week.