Friday, August 21, 2009

Simple Lentil Soup

I'd like to stir the pot a little and get some feed back from readers about a hot topic: soaking vs not soaking lentils.

The cooking community seems to disagree over the issue of whether to soak lentils. Many feel it is unnecessary to soak lentils beforehand due to several varieties swift cooking times. I, however, think soaking is a necessary step for grains, beans, and legumes - henceforth written as seeds - for multiple reasons. While this is not an exhaustive list of reasons for sprouting seeds, those listed below are some of the more important.

~ The main reason sprouting seeds is necessary is for the digestion of nutrients. It seems pointless to consume seeds if your body is unable to absorb anything nutritious. Seeds can be difficult to digest due to the presence of anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, in the hull; they prevent the absorption of minerals in our digestive systems, resulting in deficiencies for those who rely on alternative protein sources. This can contribute to health problems such as anemia and osteoporosis. Sprouting greatly reduces the presence of anti-nutrients, making digestion of seeds much easier, and increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals absorbed. In fact, non-soaked lentils are deficient in methionine and cystine, but once sprouted they contain sufficient levels of all necessary amino acids.

~ Slowly bringing the seeds back from a dormant state helps retain a large portion of the vitamins and minerals. Sprouting not only produces necessary nutrients, it maintains needed levels that are otherwise lost through rapid and/or high heat cooking methods.

~ The germination process of soaking seeds promotes the release of enzymes. This breaks down complex sugars, which greatly reduces any unpleasant side effects of digestion. Even if you are not as intrigued by the nutrient absorption process as I am, surely less gas would be appealing to anyone.

~ Lastly, purchasing dried seeds is more economical, and allows you to have greater control over the needed firmness of the seed in the cooking process.
Quick soaking methods are accessible, however, I do not use these practices. The rapid boiling simply cuts down on cooking time instead of encouraging sprouting and retaining necessary nutrients. I would encourage you to take the time in planning a meal with seeds to allow for the long soak method.
I also want to stress the need for organic seeds. Too often, companies will bleach the seeds during processing (not including the probable toxic environment they were grown in) which will prohibit or cancel out the nutrients within. Organic dried seeds are not grossly expensive, so it is worth finding available varieties to use.

Lentils are a great food staple as they have limitless possibilities. I already hold food and cooking in high regard, so it should come as no surprise I am fascinated with the process of sprouting seeds, which is another reason I love using them. The ability to take what appears to be lifeless and watch it spring forth and come alive is magical. All it takes is time and water. It's amazing.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the lentils have very small white shoots that appeared during their soak in water. This is important to ensure the sprouting process was successful. You don't have to stop the sprouting process so early either. The water can be changed every 12 hours until the sprouts have reached the desired length for any dish they'll be used in, or even eaten raw.

In preparing the soup, allowing the lentils to soak longer will do no harm, and will in fact permit the seeds more time for sprout growth. Lentils do not have a strong flavor naturally, just a mellow earthy taste, so the addition of spices is key. Leeks collect sand as they grow, so be sure to cut off the dark green leaves and the bulb, then slice lengthwise in half and soak in cool water. Afterward, give the pieces a good rinse before chopping up for the soup. It is important to add the salt at the end of the cooking process as to not toughen the lentils. Vegetable broth can also be used instead of water to provide richer flavor. The soup should cook for a total of 30-40 min, so adjust the cooking time if all ingredients are prepped beforehand.

Simple Lentil Soup
28 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups brown lentils
4 cups water + 1 cup water
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
3 large stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 leeks, roughly chopped
1 portobello mushroom cap, roughly chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and rinsed
1/4 cup 2% milk
1 tsp salt

Prep: Pour the dried lentils onto a smooth surface and remove any stones and wrinkled/broken lentils. To soak, use a large glass bowl which will allow for the expansion of the lentils.

24 hours before cooking the soup, soak the lentils in cool water, covering the lentils with at least 2 inches of water. After 12 hours, drain the water and replace with warm water.

Just before cooking, drain and rinse the lentils.

Cook: In a large pot, pour in the tomatoes and bring to a low boil on medium heat, then stir in the lentils. Add 4 cups of water, garlic, and all spices (except salt) stirring well and continue to cook at a low boil. In a small pan, add the olive oil and sauté the celery until soft and translucent, then add to the soup. Next add the leeks and portobello mushroom cap, allowing the soup to cook for 10 min. Then add 1 cup water and the spinach leaves, stirring slowly until the leaves have wilted. Finally add the salt and milk, mixing everything together, and remove from heat.

~Yields approximately 6 servings.

~Original recipe by Brie.

Feel free to add your opinions, tips, or leave any questions in the comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Julie & Julia

Oh, how I wish to move to France even more now. Too bad I can't pick the century.

Hopefully by now you've seen the movie Julie & Julia. It focuses on two women who have influenced the world of cooking. One classic, one modern. The world renowned and legend Julia Child, who brought French cooking into everyone's kitchen, and Julie Powell who inspired food bloggers everywhere and succeeded in her dream of becoming a published author.

The movie was a beautiful portrayal of Julia Child's life and demonstrated the difficulty in her collaboration and, eventual, publication of her masterpiece of a cookbook. Her passion for food and cooking was brought to life by a legend herself, Meryl Streep. The writer and director, Nora Ephron, proved she did her homework by the details perfected for this film in making Julia come alive on screen. It was a pleasure watching and learning more about the process it took for Julia to become the cook she was and how she shared her knowledge and herself with others.

The movie also captured the thoughts and feelings of a wide variety of food bloggers by the very talented Amy Adams. Her rendition of Julie Powell shows what bloggers are often thinking: Is anyone reading what I'm writing? Does anyone else care about or share my thoughts? Why am I doing this? Too bad Julie doesn't sing while she cooks. I would have loved to heard Amy's voice.

It was refreshing to see loving men behind their women in this film. Too often a caring male partner is forgotten. Stanley Tucci beautifully duplicated the passion Julia and Paul shared in their marriage, as well as his belief in her as a woman and his partner. Chris Messina also showed how compromise and patience is important for a relationship - and that complimenting your wife's cooking can pay off.

Whether your passion is cooking or not, this universal film shows everyone loves a good stick of butter and a little passion on the path to following your dreams.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I thought I'd try a classic, no-fuss recipe this week. I've become a chocolate fan only within the last few years, so my first love of cookies is oatmeal. However, few people seem to be able to resist the chocolate chip cookie, so I love combining the two. It seems to please everyone! Something few things can achieve.

I found a NY Times article claiming they tested the ultimate cookie recipe, so I had to pursue this challenge. The list of ingredients gave me a bit of a problem, but worked out fine in the end. It seems if there was a Whole Foods in town, things would have gone a lot smoother. I had to settle for pastry flour as a substitute for cake flour, as well as chocolate chips in lieu of chocolate disks or fèves.

I was able to use my mortar and pestle for the first time! The sea salt was beautiful, but a bit too large in my opinion for a cookie topping. I ground the sea salt down to table salt size (I imagined crunching on salt and didn't think that would be appetizing while trying to enjoy the cookie). The bitterness of the salt brings out the chocolate and sugars, so omitting it would be taking away a delicious element.

The cookie was not as sweet as my palate likes, but it was not a disappointment. This cookie is richer and overflows with homemade taste. It can not be mistaken for a store bought cookie. The recipe is simple and quick for such a satisfying treat. I may not agree it's the ultimate recipe, but it will remain on my cookie recipe list for future treats.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups, minus 2 tbsp, organic cake flour (8 1/2 ounces)
1 2/3 cups organic bread flour (8 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup brown sugar (10 ounces)
1 cup + 2 tbsp organic sugar (8 ounces)
2 large eggs
2 tsp organic vanilla
11 ounces dark chocolate chips/disks/fèves (at least 60% cacao)
1 cup organic whole grain rolled oats
sea salt

Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and Kosher salt together; set aside. Cream the butter and sugars together for 5min. Then add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla. Reduce speed to the lowest setting and slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Turn the mixer off and pour in the chocolate and oats. Turn the mixer back on to the lowest speed and mix until just incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350*F and prepare a cookie sheet with wax paper.

Scoop 5-6 large balls of cookie dough and form into spheres (3 1/2 ounces or large golf ball size). Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 20min.

Carefully pull the wax paper off the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool.

Continue baking or put remaining dough back into the refrigerator to cook another time (dough can remain refrigerated for 72 hours total). Yields between one and two dozen cookies, depending on size.

~Adapted from NY Times.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quincy, est. 1824

Although I haven't whipped up anything in the kitchen lately, I've still gotten my hands on some tasty treats. Guy & I have been doing a bit of sightseeing around some tiny towns in the Panhandle. I first have to share my favorite photo from our daytrip.

Since I wasn't driving, I was able to turn around and peer down each little alley and made him stop the car when I saw this mural. I jumped out and ran to the corner of the street and snapped away; it was too beautiful to pass by. Although my photo is small, it took up the whole side of a vacant building downtown.

A quick search revealed the town built a bottling plant at the turn of the 20th century, which resulted in quite a few local families amassing fortunes from stock. I wonder what other secrets this tiny town holds...

The day was so calm and the little town of Quincy was so quiet, even on the town square, this bench was just calling to me. The courthouse was stately and I daydreamed of simpler times. It reminded me of the Monticello courthouse.

The old fashion city brought to mind a soup shop in Tallahassee that has an old world charm - Soup Swift. I have been there a few times, and each time their food gets better and better. I've had the corn chowder, two types of carrot soups, tomato soup, potato soup, and a chicken soup. I've also tried a salmon salad and a turkey sandwich with a pistachio crust. I'm probably missing one or two. They change their menu daily, which I love. They hand pick all ingredients and slowly simmer their soups to bring out the peak flavors. The quality of their food is visible in every dish I've tried. This is a shop where they truly put a little love in each meal.

I usually get my food to-go, but the shop is so inviting. They even offer you a free drink while you wait for your food. And they have a choice of a buttery white roll or a hearty wheat slice with your soup. They have the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth croissants and chewy cookies. They even fold the napkin into a little holder for the spoon. I love the fact no small detail has been overlooked into taking care of their customers.

I had been hesitant to try the Lemon Chicken soup because it has English peas as the only vegetable, which I've never been a big fan of. The peas are neutral to me as long as it's a small part of a meal, but I am still unable to eat a big scoop of them. I was feeling adventurous so I decided to give it a try - plus it had a little cream and cilantro which I love in anything.

Ok, now what I'm about to tell you may be hard to read, but you must know. The Lemon Chicken soup is beyond soup. It has entered a realm no soup has ever gone before. This soup is the elixir of life - the fountain of youth of soups.

Look at it. So innocent. So modest. You'd never know what power this soup beholds on looks alone. The smell is what catches your curiosity first. The richness of the broth and citrus notes make you want to take a small sip and see what's inside. The medieval flavors that mingle in the broth must hold the cure for any ailment. I have no idea what they have put in this soup, but I swear next time I get ill, this is all I'm eating for a cure. After eating this soup, I have such an energy I've never felt before from food alone. I am still amazed and so grateful I tried it - and I wasn't even bothered by the peas; they were a lovely accompaniment (which is something I've never said before regarding peas).

This soup shop is a diamond in the rough of local eateries and I beg of you to try it.

Soup Swift on Urbanspoon