Lentil, Tomato and Thyme Soup

Lentil, Tomato and Thyme Soup By Marta Díaz Megías As a comforting, versatile food quick enough for week night cooking, lentils will keep you well fed all winter. But they're especially good to eat this time of year. As a superfood, they are rich in protein — without the fat or cholesterol of animal sources — and provide lots of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and zinc. In fact, lentils have the second highest protein content of all legumes, after soybean Man has been eating tiny, dried lentils practically since the beginning. Evidence of domesticated lentils dating to around 8000 B.C. has been found on the banks of the Euphrates River in what is now northern Syria. By 6000 B.C., lentils had reached Greece, where the legumes were regarded as poor man's food. The opposite was true in Egypt, where remains of lentils were found in the royal tombs at Thebes dating to 2400 B.C. A second-century fresco illustrates the preparation of lentil soup. Along with the Egyptians, the ancient Romans and Hebrews commonly ate lentils, which are mentioned several times in the Bible — most notably in the Genesis story of brothers Jacob and Esau. Esau, the firstborn, sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil stew. Lentils remain a staple in Middle Eastern and Indian diets and are popular in cuisines throughout the world. As a superfood, they are rich in protein — without the fat or cholesterol of animal sources — and provide B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and zinc. In fact, lentils have the second highest protein content of all legumes, after soybeans. Because they are so high in protein, lentils are often a meat substitute in vegetarian diets. Pair them with a whole grain, such as brown rice, and you have a complete vegetarian protein source, meaning all the essential amino acids are present. The soluble fiber in lentils helps lower cholesterol and may benefit those at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Lentils are also an excellent source of folate, a vitamin that helps the body build new cells. It is an especially important nutrient for women who are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant. In India, where roughly half of the world's lentils are consumed, cultivation dates to 2500 B.C. Today, more than 50 different varieties are grown. Nearly every traditional Indian meal includes at least one lentil dish, and they are an…

Fennel Gratin

Fennel Gratin By Elisabetta Ciardullo I have met many people who do not like fennel very much. I cannot partake this opinion, as for me fennel, raw or cooked, has a distinctive, mild, and flowery flavor, sweet and delicate, that has accompanied me all my life. It can be associated easily with other ingredients and results in a unique dish, with deep and unique flavors. It is a winter vegetable, traditionally found in the Mediterranean basin but now grown everywhere. It was known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as an edible plant as well as an ingredient in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. Fennel grows under the soil, and can sustain cold temperatures. It is helpful for the human body in many ways, as it is rich in Vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium; it is also rich in polyphenols, has zero cholesterol, a ton of fibers and few calories. So many reasons to love this winter vegetable, not to mention the fact that you can rinse and chop it, and in just a couple of minutes you add a different flavor to any basic salad! It’s not my goal to make publicity, but I buy fennel (all year round, the miracles of globalization) at Trader Joe’s. I was thought that the best fennels are the ones with a round bulb, as opposed to those that look a bit flat and long. My mother used to give me a raw fennel, washed and cut in quarters, as a snack to bring to school. It makes me smile when I think how much the concept of snack is different in the US, but to tell you the truth it has evolved - and not in a positive way - also in Italy. My mother did not think nor know anything about the low calories/good vitamins ratio, it was just some intuitive thing, fennel was readily available in all the markets, very cheap (it is still sold by the kilo in Italy and not by the piece) and easy to pack. It can stay fresh for a long time, even outside the refrigerator if kept at a low temperatures (like in the garage or on the balcony). I always loved the crunchiness of the fennel. Just a bit hard to eat during class, as it was also very noisy! This dish is a perfect make ahead side dish and reheats…

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup By Elisabetta Ciardullo Today is the perfect day in Los Angeles to switch to fall recipes: it is raining, which means one of the few days were you really feel the need for a nice, warm soup. Even if you can find butternut squash 12 months a year, it is a typical winter produce: ripe by the end of the summer, it can be kept for weeks or months in the dark at (cold) room temperature (think cellar). The bright orange color of its pulp indicates a high level of carotenoids, which will be converted by our bodies in Vitamin A. And it is also rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients. Easily available and cheap, it is an amazing resource for many different dishes. I like to prepare this soup on Thanksgiving Day, as it is the perfect marriage between the traditional menu for the American festivity and the Italian tradition from Mantova, in Northern Italy, where the cuisine is divine. There, the first use for squash is a filling for Tortelli, but with a twist. The first time I tried it, it just left me without words: some Amaretto cookies are added to the filling, enhancing the natural sweetness of the squash and adding a little bitter aftertaste that comes from the kernels of the apricots used in very small quantities as an ingredient for the cookies (large quantities are poisonous). I adapted the idea to make a thick soup that is intense in flavor, surprising, and satisfying. [foogallery id="7229"] Ingredients: 2 medium butternut squashes 3-4 small shallots, peeled and cut in chunks A bunch of sage leaves EV Olive Oil as needed Salt and pepper 10 amaretto cookies Some pomegranate arils for decoration Preparation: 1. Turn on the oven on convection roast at 360 F. 2. Put the washed Squash, whole, on an aluminum tray or deep hotel pan. 3. Cook until a fork can be inserted without effort, about 60 minutes, depending on the size. The squash should look a little amber in color and soft to the touch. 4. Peel, remove the seeds, cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper, sage leaves, shallots, Olive oil. Stir. 5. Transfer the mix in a large non-stick skillet, in batches, if necessary; sauté on high until you see that the squash starts to caramelize. It will have the consistency of mashed potatoes by now. This…

Chanterelle Mushrooms Bruschetta

Chanterelle Mushrooms Bruschetta By Elisabetta Ciardullo Whenever possible, I love to eat food that is in season. It is true that sometimes for reasons related to my work or just because the temptation is too strong, I end up cooking and eating bell peppers in December and butternut squash in July. But I like to think that the food in season tastes better. Which is the case when you buy your provisions at the farmers’ market, while probably in the grocery store the bell pepper has the same provenience every month of the year – and the same taste. In any case there is always a factor of surprise of the senses when you can taste again a flavor after six or nine months of absolute abstinence: it is inebriating. It’s like going back memory lane. Well, this is the case for the Chanterelle mushrooms. And it is not a self-imposed rule: chanterelle only grow wild and can only be harvested in the fall – even though of course there are experiments to farm them, and sooner or later we will be able to buy them all year around. In Italy mushroom foraging is a hobby that affects all generations, so usually from July - August until early November you leave early in the morning for a good and healthy walk in the forest, carefully measuring your steps and scanning the soil around you, hoping to find a delicate mushroom pushing from under a wet leaf. The best days are the ones after a heavy rain, when the sun comes out and temperature rises. Mushrooms grow extremely fast and spoil after one day or two. Many kinds of mushrooms can grow in a forest, but Chanterelle is always my preferred one, called Finferli in Italian, for its amazing, beautiful gold yellow color. Fascinating how food has so many colors, but this is a different subject. In any case, the good thing (or bad, depending on your point of view!) is that now you do not have to go foraging, you can buy the mushrooms at some farmers markets (there is often a dedicated stand), or – believe it or not – at Costco. And those are extremely affordable compared to the skyrocketing prices for wild Chanterelle in other fruits and vegetables stores. Chanterelle can be cooked in different ways, but I think the simplest is the better to get most…

Pollo en Escabeche (Chicken in Pickled Sauce)

Pollo en Escabeche (Chicken in Pickled Sauce) By Marta Díaz Megías Spanish Escabeche, a dish in which meat and vegetables are cooked in an acidic vinegar sauce. It’s unclear who made the first escabeche, but there are clues. The oldest known recipe for the dish (as yet unnamed) is found in the cookbook Apicius, written in Latin by an unknown author around the 4th century AD. It instructs that one can extend the shelf life of fried anchovies by “pouring hot vinegar over them.” Another, more widespread theory argues that escabeche originated in ancient Persia, not Rome, and traveled to the Iberian Peninsula during the Islamic period beginning in the 8th century. After all, escabeche’s root word is the Persian sikbāj, a medieval meat-and-vinegar stew. Almudena Villegas Becerril, Spanish food historian and author of the Culinary Aspects of Ancient Rome, argues that the Persian hypothesis is “a historical falsehood,” since the Romans, and perhaps even the Phoenicians, were preserving food in vinegar in Iberia long before the Moors arrived. “There are verified references to people making what we now call escabeche in the Roman Empire as early as the 1st century AD,” she said. “If only Spaniards knew how many dishes, we make today that date back 3,000 or 4,000 years! Escabeche is one of many Spanish delicacies that has persisted through the centuries for its preserving powers as well as its deliciousness. Indeed, a delightful perk of escabeches is that they improve with age for a week or more, making them a practical, versatile fridge staple. Ingredients: 4 chicken breasts 4 onions thinly sliced Virgin Olive Oil ¼ cup white wine 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper corns ¼ cup balsamic vinegar 3 bay leaves 1 fresh thyme sprig 4 finely chopped garlic cloves salt to taste Preparation: 1. In a deep pan sauté onion until it becomes soft and transparent, add the chicken, and cook it a bit on each side, just enough to seal it. 2. Add the rest of ingredients except wine and balsamic vinegar and cook it for around 8 minutes, add white wine and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar and cook for one more minute. 3. This chicken can be eaten both cold and hot. Great to eat with a salad, rice, or sliced in a sandwich. Keep refrigerated, because of the vinegar it will preserve for over a week.…