Massaged Winter Salad

Fermenting has been an amazing journey this year. I’ve learned more in one year about food investigating and playing with fermented foods than in any other year – or so it seems.

This is a salad – and its not made with fermented foods, though they could be an ingredient. Its premise is, however entirely rooted in fermenting processes.

Winter salads are going to be a thing we’ll need to return to after a generation of getting accustomed to getting any kind of food at any time  of year at reasonable prices – such has been both the promise, and the pitfall of the planet destroying big agriculture business.

massaged salad1

The foundation of this salad are winter vegetables  – carrots, cabbage, and onion. Simply put, you weigh them, and then massage in 2% of their weight in salt – just like what one does when one prepares a vegetable ferment.

If this turns on that culinary light bulb inside you, then stop reading and go make your own.

But for the rest, here’s what happens. when the salt is actually massaged into the carrots, onions and cabbage, it breaks down the cell walls, drawing out the juice within the vegetables, marinates the vegetables and imparts an ideal gentle saltiness. The result is completely different than if you simply sprinkled the salt over it.

That done, what you do with it next depends on you and what kind of flavour profile you want it to have. Definitely pepper will suit this. Beyond that, garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil provides a Mediterranean flavor. Cilantro and cumin with a bit more heat suggests more Mexican. Working with honey/maple syrup, tamari, sesame and ginger yields a more oriental palate.   You can add other vegetables that are not massaged and happen to be available – peppers, spinach,. celery, tomato, avocado…. and so on.

Likewise the dressing can be very flexible – from a simple vinaigrette to a complex spiced orange or roasted sesame & garlic. For a basic dressing that suits our Canadian winter I’m as often to turn to a viniagrette with olive oil and apple cider vinegar, supplemented with salt, pepper, mustard, and cranberry juice or even cranberry relish.

Here is one specific recipe to try:

1 large shaved carrot (i.e. once you have peeled the skin keep peeling off big peels until nothing is left of the carrot)

3-4 very thin slices of cabbage – approximately 100g

half a small red onion

sprinkle approximately 1/4 tsp of salt, and massage it into the vegetables  for about 30 seconds to a minute. Taste – the cabbages or carrots should taste nicely salted. If they don’t, add a little more salt and repeat. Its important not to over-salt.

Or you can precisely weigh the vegetables and add 2% of their weight in salt.

Add other vegetables. thinly sliced peppers, spinach for example.

Also toasted walnuts or almonds, apple slices spinach leaves can be added – to taste – just don’t include them with the massaging.

For a dressing, a cranberry vinaigrette – though you can use whatever you like.

  • 90g olive oil
  • 30g apple cider vinegar
  • 20g cranberry chutney and or concentrated cranberry juice
  • 1 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly and enjoy

massaged salad2

 

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Pesto time

Its Pesto Time!

As September rolls around with the last hot days of summer, its all about selecting the perfect day to harvest basil before it becomes bitter and the flowering has its day. If you are like me, that can only mean one thing: Pesto.

Pesto – that totally intense and wonderful concoction of basil, parmesan, garlic and pine nuts. So quintissentially Mediterranean. A hot, languid summer day in a jar to guide us through the long dark winter.

I don’t think I have anything new to add to the basic pesto recipe. Mine is long derived from a now old Italian vegetarian cookbook: The Romagnoli’s Italian Vegetarian Cookbook – all ingredients are measured in imperial volume measures (I’m sure at the insistence of the English publisher). But what I do have to offer here is a really useful calculator to sort out  all of the rest of the ingredients based on the weight of the basil leaves.

The leaves after all are the big unknown. You harvest – or buy  – whatever amount of basil. And based on that, you figure out whatever garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, romano, and oil is needed. That last part is what this little google sheet does. I put it together at the start of the summer, and have been using and testing it each time I would go and thin out my basil crop. It is set up so that the different ingredients are added in in the order they should be  – at least the way I like them to be.  

I should note that it’s all done by weight. This means you need a scale. It also means that your end product will be the same each time. Should you wish to use this sheet to work in your own formula, I would suggest downloading it as an excel file, and then going into the formula cells and playing with the constants, and/or adding your own favorite ingredients.

Finally, chances are, you will be putting this on some homemade pasta. There’s a formula for that too! This one is so ridiculously easy….. one egg per person eating. Weigh the eggs. Divide the weight of the eggs by .6 to yield the weight of flour to use. For example – lets say 4 eggs weigh in at 210g. 210 / .6 = 350g of flour. If you go with something like spinach, treat it as part of the liquid weight. You should get a pasta that is so perfectly hydrated, it will go through your roller without needing to add any extra flour or water, and leave you with a clean counter too.  
Happy Pesto and Pasta!

Cheeseless Lasagne

Cheeseless Lasagna

I should say a few words as to how this came about. Simply this – the dinner request was a lasagna and I knew that one guest, much as she loves cheese, inevitably suffers from eating it. SO I did what just about anyone does these days confronted with a new culinary challenge – go to the web and see what’s there. Who knows – maybe someone will even search this recipe out one day – though I doubt it given the lack of effort I put into publicizing this blog.

So the best recipe I came up with was at http://www.chow.com/recipes/29439-vegan-lasagna. Vegan? well almost. The trouble is that the lasagne noodle itself is likely made with egg and flour, a clear disqualification. Thus it is a ‘cheeseless’ and not a ‘vegan’ lasagne.

My version of the chowhound keeps the ricotta – tofu combo. The addition of lemon and lemon rind is a genius stroke. Although I have kept an eggplant layer, my preparation is quite different, and also I am something of a stickler on the issue of  sauteeing mushrooms, chard and onions.

This is a recipe where you strive to make each layer in the dish taste delicious and unique on its own. That is the only way this dish will survive the inevitable comparison to its wonderfully gooey, fatty, cheesy cousin.

So here goes – enjoy! The recipe makes one pan of lasagna but the photos here are for a double quantity because I know there will be a hue and cry if I do not.

Begin by lightly sauteeing about 800g of onions on a very low heat. Start on medium heat, add about a tbs of salt, and also olive oil. Once they are translucent, turn the heat down to the lowest and leave with the top on for another half hour or so, and once juices have begun to accumulate, take the lid off. Keep cooking on a very low heat – you should be seeing constant but slow, lazy bubbling. This allows some of the liquid to evaporate, concentrating the incredibly sweet and complex onion to use in other parts of the recipe. Do the chard part last (like about 2 hours after you have started to cook the onion) as this is the one that really benefits from the slow caramelization the onions are undergoing.  Once they are happily bubbling away turn your attention to the eggplant dish. Cheeseless Laagna (13)Cheeseless Laagna (10)

Eggplant layer

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Salt as needed
  • half cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5-6 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 diced red pepper

Cheeseless Laagna (12)Heat oven to 450. Cut the eggplant(s) lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place in a single layer on 2 baking sheets, overlapping slightly as needed, and sprinkle evenly with a little salt (a few sprinkles per slice). After little water bubbles appear (its the salt interacting with the eggplant and not really water) flip the eggplant and sprinkle with salt on the other side. (again not too much: you do not want it too salty); let sit until water beads form on the surface, at least 30 minutes. Brush olive oil over the slices generously, flip back and brush olive oil on the other side too. The olive oil should be fairly generous so it is actually baked in the olive oil. Cheeseless Laagna (11)Bake for about 10 – 12 minutes, checking frequently after the 6-7 minute mark. You want them to be nicely cooked but not falling apart or burned. You could also bake at a lower heat for a longer time.Cheeseless Laagna (7)

While the eggplant cooks, place 2 tablespoons olive oil, parsley, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Transfer the seared eggplant to the oil-vinegar mixture and toss. Taste and season with additional salt as needed to make even the lowly eggplant delicious.

Sauce layer

I have it easy in this department. I use the tomato sauce I can at the end of August. Whatever you use, you need 1litre of basic tomato sauce.

  • 1 L tomato sauce
  • 3 Several tbs of the onion mix that has been gently sauteeing
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons capers

Sautee onions (with onions used in other layers)

Pour sauce, sauteed onions, capers in a bowl.

Ricotta analog

In a large food processor (it really needs to be a 12-14 cup size – or else do it in batches)

  • 2 packages tofu, drained (roughly cut them up, otherwise they will take a lot longer to grind.)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 125g olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest from about 1/2 medium lemons. Lemon confit would work well here also.
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed (from about 1/2 lemon). Since it all goes into the same food processor, I grate off the zest, cut the remaining lemon into slices only to remove the seeds, and put it all in the food processor.
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Place the tofu, parsley, lemon zest/confit, lemon juice, and measured salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and process until smooth. Taste and season with more lemon juice, salt, pepper and/or olive oil as needed. Like with the eggplant, you are working to get this to taste truly excellent on its own. The texture should resemble ricotta cheese. Set aside

Noodle layer

1 package of lasagna noodles, uncooked. They will nicely absorb all of the extra liquid from the onions, mushrooms and tomato sauce.

Fresh flavor layer

The Chowhound recipe suggests a  cup of loosely packed basil leaves cut into 1/4-inch-thick ribbons. But fresh basil is not always available. If you are prepared to veer from the cheeseless, pesto works. I would also suggest thin sliced fresh red sweet peppers – uncooked. Another suggestion would be a single layer of whole pine nuts. This is one layer in the middle of the lasagna, a layer you know you are biting into from the little zap of taste pleasure it gives.

Mushroom layer

Cut 400g mushrooms (crimini – portobello, white mushrooms) in thin slices, and lightly sautee in olive oil. Turn them frequently over a slightly less than medium heat. Add a couple of pinches of fresh pepper and cook only until they are just cooked: the flesh has begun to sweat, they have acquired a cooked sweetness but are still crunchy. Remove from heat into a bowl and add some of the caramelizing onion sautee – to taste.Cheeseless Laagna (9)Cheeseless Laagna (8)

Chard layer

Begin with about half of the caremelizing onion sautee – put it in a wide pan. Cut 1 large bunch of washed chard as follows:

  1. separate the veins, and dice as fine as you can. Add to the onion, but DO NOT stir it in.
  2. Cut the remaining chard into thin ribbons, and add on top of the chard veins.  Cheeseless Laagna (6)Add a little thyme, basil, oregano. DO NOT mix in. Let them lie on top. Braise covered on the lowest setting until the chard is cooked  – about 40 minutes or so.
  3. Turn into a bowl, gently mix the 3 layers, and taste for salt, pepper. The sweetness of the onions should have premeated everything.

 Assembly (from bottom up) 

In the picture, the order is from right to left – counter clockwise.

Cheeseless Laagna (5)

  • Tomato sauce
  • tofu
  • noodles
  • tomato sauce
  • extra flavour  layer
  • eggplant
  • chard
  • mushroom
  • tofu
  • noodles
  • tomato sauceCheeseless Laagna (3)
  • extra flavour  layer
  • eggplant
  • chard
  • mushroom
  • tofu
  • noodles
  • tomato sauce

Cheeseless Laagna (2)

Add whatever other herbs and spices you wish – Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary are good bets. Cover with a cookie tray upside down (or foil  – but the cookie tray is ideal as it is a rigid surface) and bake for 50 minutes at 375. Its important that the top of the lasagna does not come in contact with the underside of the cookie tray, otherwise the top layer of lasagne will stick to it. While it won’t ruin the taste the presentation…. suffers! Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

 

Pesto!

Yesterday was definitely Pesto day.

Basil is an amazing, but also finnicky plant. Its wonderful fragrance and taste is due to its volatile oils that depend on heat and strong sunlight. If you leave it too long, or the conditions aren’t right, it will become bitter and not terribly usable.

Last year I tried growing it on my rooftop deck, with little success. This year I tried starting it from seed. While the seeds sprouted, the resulting plants did not exactly take off. I have so much to learn about gardening! What I found myself doing was buying these ‘living plant’ basils  – the ones that are sold with their soil starting medium – and planting these as soon as I got them home. Most of these worked out well, at least in terms of their growing.

However, it has not been a hot summer. Sun has been so-so. The soil I was using at the start of the season was before I started to figure out how to do my compost, and so that too was not optimal. I had tasted the leaves from time to time and sadly they were on the bitter side.

Yesterday was our big September heat wave day in Toronto – sun, humidity and 35 degree temperatures. Yesterday- – yesterday afternoon in particular –  was the day – if I was going to capture any of the good of these volatile oils.

My experience yesterday was bittersweet. On one hand, it was a special and unusual experience for me to be able to harvest from the living plant and then right away process the final product. I haven’t done that before. That part of it was incredibly rewarding.

On the other hand, I was aware that the basil had that bitter side to it, and I was understandably concerned about making it a success. This meant more salt. I’m still not sure how it will all turn out. This batch is in the fridge for a couple of days while I let the flavours mingle and settle, then I will see. I’m prepared for it to be a failure, but I have confidence in the recipe  – its been tried and true for over 20 years.

The original recipe came from an old cookbook that has been around our house for years: Romagnoli’s Meatless Italian Cookbook. This recipe has weight substitutions for volume (as I am want to do in order to obtain some precision). Also the order in which ingredients are added is really important, as is how long you food process each ingredient as it is added. The longer you process, the more of a puree it becomes.

Here is my ‘kit’ for the process.  Toronto-20130910-00753 Toronto-20130910-00752

This version of the recipe is for 100g of dry leaves, about 1+ packed cup. The idea here is that you base your quantities on the amount of basil available to you and do the math. In my case, I wanted to do a series of smaller batches as I had basil in a variety of pots, different varieties, different plantings and I wanted to see the difference.

Toronto-20130910-00754 IMG-20130910-00757

Instructions

In this order blend:
1 large garlic clove
6g salt – 2 three finger pinches- (or start with 6g and adjust up at the very end)
65g pine nuts
12g grated parmesan
12g grated Romano
100g fresh basil

IMG-20130910-00755 IMG-20130910-00756
80g olive oil
This recipe makes approximately 300ml of pesto

Top up with olive oil to prevent oxidizing (yes even in the freezer!)

Here is the final outcome…. with my scrawly labels to indicate the pots they came from – not that this will be important in the long run….

IMG-20130910-00759

Equipment needed
food processor
weigh scale
several large bowls
spatula
wooden spoon
knife and cutting board
salad spinner
250ml mason jars

IMG-20130910-00758

Finally, a word on costs: The basil was free – sort of. buying these ‘living plants’ and potting them in good rich soil right away is a wonderful and economic way to keep a supply of fresh herbs.

The big cost here is the pine nuts. At $45/kilo, they contribute half of the $5.60 or so cost of a 250 ml jar. I’m also insistent on using real, freshly grated cheese – not the fake crumbs that are sold as parmesan cheese-like product.

On this particular batch, I did  – and do – have concerns that I may have squandered these expensive ingredients on a final product that may in the end be questionable. I don’t know if I will be making more basil from what is at the markets. I’ll have to see how this works out in a few days.

One thing for sure  – I’ll be tasting it before I buy!

Spanakopita

For a couple of years now I have used the Spanakopita recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s World Kitchen book. It’s a great go-to recipe – the cream adds wonderful richness and a satisfying body to it.
World Kitchen is definitely a cookbook to have on your shelf. Covering ten key culinary traditions, it presents classical recipes that have come to define these cuisines, all infused with Ramsay’s exquisite taste and meticulous detail.

This past spring, I had decided to make one of my favorites – spanakopita. I had everything, it seemed – the phyllo, even the pine nuts. However, I did not have cream, nor did I have all of the required feta. But I did have a couple of tubs of Primeridge cream cheese, and so my decision was either to go with what I had, or slough off to the nearest grocery to purchase the necessary dairy. I decided to go with what I had, which was 1 tub of regular cream cheese, 1 tub of herb cream cheese, and one package of their very yummy feta cheese (which is new this year, and so far, a rare and prized production run.) I also had a container of my own yogourt as well.

Primeridge is a really special – and specialized – artisinal cheese manufacturer. Started in 2010, their operation covers a production cycle that starts with the grass fed hormone free cattle in their fields and ends with the finished cream cheese. It is now sold at numerous markets and stores in Southern Ontario. Cheesemaker Steacy den Haan’s excitement for Primeridge and her boundless energy are infectious. They always have something new bubbling away – but at the same time are very careful to stick to their core products, ensuring they are not growing too fast for their capacity.

While the Ramsay recipe is the starting point for my Spanakopita, I have changed it up over the couple of years since I have been making it:
 I half caramelize the onions first with a good pinch of salt, then once they are a little beyond translucent, I add in all of my washed and cut spinach or chard and chopped garlic on top of it, put the lid on, turn to lowest – without stirring – and leave for half an hour. This technique is somewhere between a sautee and a steam. In his, the spinach is steamed.
 I tend to use chard rather than spinach. Its more easily available and inevitably in much more generous proportions.
 I cut the phyllo pastry in half so that one sheet can lie flat in a 10×14 or so casserole.
 I use olive oil, not butter,  to brush on the phyllo layers
 The rest of the recipe is as is.
 In this particular version, with its cream cheese workaround, the feta cheese is not quite enough for the recipe, so it is augmented with the cream cheese.
 As I did not have the required cream, I used the remainder of the cream cheese, mixed with plain yogourt until it had a consistency of clotted cream. This became my cream substitute in the recipe.

The result was wonderful! I didn’t tell anyone that I had changed up the recipe – and they did not note anything different, beyond it tasting its usual delicious spanakopita self.

Here is the recipe in detail . The original Ramsay recipe ingredients from World Kitchen are in italics. My changes are in regular font.
The cooking instructions differ from his in a number of aspects: I’m presenting mine here.

Instructions

Ingredients

1 package of phyllo pastry at room temp
2 large onions
2 garlic cloves
2 bunches or 500 g spinach or chard
Salt – to taste
Basil, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, & pepper to taste
200g Primeridge feta – grated
2 eggs
300g Primeridge cream cheese: either plain or herb blend
50g (approximately) fresh yogourt
3 tbs pine nuts
300ml olive oil

Directions

Time: Plan on starting this at least 4 hours before serving. The actual hands on preparation and clean up is about 1 hour.

Begin even earlier thawing the phyllo, unopened. It must be at room temperature when you use it.

Cooking

  • Sautee onions in olive oil with a good pinch of salt. Begin on medium heat and reduce to lowest heat once they are translucent. Add in garlic. Simmer very gently for about 40 – 60 minutes

spanakopita (6)

  • Wash and finely cut chard & add to sauté once the onions are on their way to caramelizing. Make sure the washed chard is thoroughly spun out: you want to minimize the amount of liquid. DO NOT MIX it in! Leave it as a layer on top of the onions; cook covered on lowest heat for a further 20-30 minutes.
  • Add in basil, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, & pepper and cook for a few more minutes.
  • Take the chard off the heat and stir the onion, chard and herb mix together (this is when the onions/garlic and chard combine). Taste for herb balance – particularly the pepper and nutmeg. Taste for saltiness only after the cream cheese and feta have been added.
  • In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine eggs, 250g feta and cream cheesespanakopita (5)
  • In another bowl, thoroughly combine 200g plain cream cheese and 50ml yogourt (measurements are approximate). This is the whipped cream work around. The mixture should have the consistency of a clotted cream.
  • Combine the chard/spinach mix with the two dairy mixes.
  • Add in 3 tbs pine nuts, and do a final tasting for salt, pepper, herbs.

Assembling

  • Heat oven to 400F
  • Mise-en-place: A completely clean and dry surface, a large, shallow, casserole dish (10x14x3” approximately), a cup of olive oil, a brush, the vegetable mix with a serving spoon, the phyllo pastry (& maybe a glass of wine for the chef).spanakopita (2)
  • Open the phyllo package and cut the phyllo evenly in half along its width so that a cut sheet of phyllo fits easily into the casserole dish
  • Brush on a olive oil on the bottom of the pan. Lay down 7-10 layers of phyllo and brush each layer lightly with olive oil. Spoon on a couple of spoons of the filling. Add more layers of phyllo, brushed with oil, repeating the process until all the filling and all the phyllo have been used up. The top layer must be phyllo.

spanakopita (1)spanakopita (7)

Baking

Bake @ 400 for @ 40-60 minutes or until brown.
Let it cool down at least 20-40 minutes before cutting. It should be served warm.

Cesar Salad

I’ve been reluctant to post this.

In fact I’m kind of reluctant to make Cesars, period. However it was strongly suggested I do so, as some would hold that this, for me, is a so called ‘signature dish’.

I feel I have moved on from there – years ago. But such is life, and with a sigh, I haul it out and present it here, with a few photos.

My own learning about Cesars came many years ago hearing it described on the radio. The underlying idea (of the dressing that is – the heart of the salad, really) is the method of adding ingredients one at a time, from smallest to largest, driest to wettest, culminating with the acid (lemon juice) and oil (olive).

My Cesar is pretty close to the original Cardini recipe – the Wikipedia article covers this well, though I do start off with mustard and add in basil, thyme and oregano. I do not use bacon bits or anchovies, and I do like nice big grates of parmesan.

This recipe, in combination with the Pizza recipe, can give you dinner in an hour assuming you have croutons already on hand.

Cesar salad

Ingredients

Dressing

dressing mise en place

dressing mise en place

1 tbs Dijon mustard
3 tbs grated Parmesan
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1/8-1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 big clove of fresh garlic, crushed in a garlic press
several shakes of hot sauce (Tabasco or your own)
1 egg
juice from half lemon
1 cup olive oil

Crutons

Bread – about 2-3 medium to thick slices
2 tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove
1-2 pinches of salt

The salad

Romaine lettuce up to 1 head depending on the size
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh Parmesan grated in big slivers
Croutons

Method

Dressing

The earlier you can make this, the better. But it is the first thing you should do.

  1. Mix/whisk the ingredients one at a time, in the same order suggested in the ingredients list.
  2. Add the olive oil last, whisking it in slowly. It will emulsify easily, and if you are too vigorous, too slow, you will end up with Cesar mayonnaise – not a bad thing at all – a delicious dip in fact.

    Whisk in olive oil slowly. But not too slowly.

    Whisk in olive oil slowly. But not too slowly.

Leave the dressing to the side so the flavours can combine.

Croutons

I almost always have some croutons already made. Whenever I make bread, I’ll do something with the last few slices left over: thin slice, slather with garlic or mustard and put in dehydrator to make drybread crackers, or dry and grind into breadcrumbs, or make croutons.

  1. Heat olive oil in pan, add a crushed garlic clove and salt
  2. Add bread chopped into small squares, turn the heat to lowest. cook at lowest heat, no lid on, stirring occasionally until they have reached the desired crunchiness  – usually about an hour.

The salad

  1. Wash and cut romaine lettuce
  2. Thin slice a quarter of a medium red onion
  3. Combine and mix
  4. Coarsely grate fresh Parmesan cheese over top
  5. Add the croutons and dressing immediately before serving. If you add the croutons too early they will absorb the water from the lettuce and onions and become nasty and mushy.
Done but for mixing croutons and dressing

Done but for mixing croutons and dressing

Shepherd’s Pie & Winter Salad

The STOP Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s pie. What a quintessential winter dish! It combines everything needed to nourish the body and soul on a cold winter day: carbs in the ‘stick to your ribs’ mashed  potatoes and squash, sweetness through the variety of winter vegetables, but especially the squash; protein through the lentils, not to mention the milk and milk by products; and of course, hearty winter vegetables cooked just right to deliver their needed vitamins and minerals.

The inspiration for this blog comes from a volunteer shift I recently did in the kitchen of The Stop. The Stop is a pretty amazing place. It proactively addresses poverty through food. It feeds people directly through its wonderful daily lunches that can serve up to 200. It’s a food bank. It runs many educational programs across a range of food and lifestyle related issues – from gardening and growing your own food through to cooking final dishes. It teaches people to be self sufficient and to eat well.  It raises money through cool – and upscale – events as well as through supplier donations. I’ve been called to pick up donations of a variety of things – bread – meat, even blankets. Check it out at www.thestop.org

Once in a while, The STOP calls me to do some volunteer work when they are down on staff. Jan 21st. was the coldest day of the winter so far, and they were looking for someone to fill in for some missing people  – so there I was.

Many were expected, as there was an extreme cold alert out for the homeless. Ashley was the main cook, and her menu choice for the day – a ‘Meatless Monday’ – was Lentil Shepherd’s pie.

I always learn something doing this volunteer work. Today it was a new way to conceptualize the humble mashed potato. My previous un-imaginings on mashed potato have been to work in butter and milk and hope it passes muster at home from those who want it the same way they get it in a restaurant. I have not yet succeeded at this task. Occasionally I’ve done garlic and rosemary in melted butter too, and that works. But that has been about it. The slurry in this recipe takes the simple mashed spud to a whole new level through the spicing and creaminess of the dairy items.

The other learning was  how to work squash into your dinners. In this recipe, the squash is both central to the recipe, providing essential sweetness and complexity, but it also stands back and quietly supports the other rich flavours.

This is a multi stage recipe – shepherds pies are: each layer of the dish is prepared separately and layered before it bakes. On my volunteer stint, we did 5 big trays for 200. This recipe is a more modest one that fits in a 2.5  litre baking dish (9×9 or thereabouts) and will happily serve 6. We also did only the two layers. At home, I like to profile the mushrooms and walnuts in their own layer, right in the middle.

I suggested to Ashley that this would be a great recipe for the next STOP cookbook – but what I did not know at the time was that it is ALREADY in the book – page 102. This is however different in some of the details: it has more winter vegetables, the original has more fall – like veggies – like corn and zuccini. I also felt that a good hit of walnut pieces was in order here. All of which speaks to the great flexibility in a recipe such as this!

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

1 cup dry lentils. Up to 1 1/2 cups of dry lentils can be used according to how much presence you wish them to have in the final product.
1/2 a medium sized squash (@ 1 kilo/2lbs)
3 medium onions, sliced and diced (about 1/2 kilo/1lb)
4-5 medium potatoes (@ 1.5 kilo/2lbs) – not cut: boil in their ‘jackets’
8-10 Mushrooms sliced (about 300 g/ 3/4 lb)
Other winter vegetables you wish to add – carrot, cabbage, parsnip, turnip…. Cut into slices or small pieces: (not more than 250g or a cup of diced vegetables)
3-4 garlic cloves
Salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil to flavour
85g butter – melted
Up to 175 ml (3/4 -2/3 cup)- a combination of milk, yogourt, sour cream, cream – whatever is available.

Method

  1. Heat oven to 450
  2. Cut squash in half length-ways and roast on a greased cookie tray until fully cooked – 40-60 minutes (keep an eye on it – it will vary with the squash and your oven).Squash all cooked
  3. Rinse lentils and cook in a pot of lightly salted water until done – about 30 minutes depending on the lentils you use.
  4. Boil the potatoes. Don’t cut them – just wash and take any sprouts out. Cooking them in their ‘jackets’ prevents extra water getting into the flesh.
  5. Saute onions adding a 3 finger pinch of salt, then garlic, other herbs and spices, including pepper. Once these have settled, add the vegetables one at a time allowing them to integrate into the rest of the dish. I like to have a variety of colors – even though they tend to even out in the final product.

    Check the colors & let the heat do its work!

    Check the colors & let the heat do its work!

  6. Slice mushrooms, and lightly sautee on lowest heat, with lid on – use butter & add a little salt and pepper. Don’t let them cook too much. They should be al dente. When you assemble the pie, they can either be one of the layers, or can be mixed into the lentil mix.
  7. Add lentils to the vegetable mix and simmer about 20 minutes. Adjust salt, pepper and spicing.
  8. Scoop the insides out of the squash, mash,  and add about 2/3 of the squash to the lentil mix, stirring and mixing until it is well combined.
  9. Prepare a slurry with the melted butter, milk/yogourt/etc. you have on hand. Add salt and herbs to taste.  The resulting slurry should be creamy and taste tangy, slightly salty, and slightly peppery. For this amount of potatoes and squash, the slurry should be about 175 ml – about 3/4 cup.
  10. Mash the potatoes along with the remaining 1/3rd of the squash. Add the milk and herb slurry a bit at a time until it achieves the desired consistency and taste. It should have a good tinge of sweetness from the squash and the right amount of saltiness and pepper.

    assembling the mashed potato layer

    assembling the mashed potato layer

  11. Layer the lentil dish first, then top it with the mashed potato/squash These quantities will fit in a 9″x 9″ baking dish, and happily serve 4-6. I like to use the mushrooms and a big handful of chopped walnuts as a middle layer.

    about to assemble the pie

    about to assemble the pie

  12. Bake at 350 until heated through – about 30 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes.

    Voila!

    Voila!

This recipe should take 80 minutes to assemble, and 30 to cook.

Winter Salad with Roasted Red Pepper dressing

This salad accompanied the lentil shepherd pie dish. The roasted red pepper vinaigrette takes this otherwise basic salad and shows it how to sing. Doing it at The Stop, A. roasted them simply by putting them on a flame until they blackened on the outside, then peeled it away, leaving the intensely sweet  flesh. If you are doing this recipe with the lentil pie, it can be roasted along with the squash.

This is very much a winter vegetable salad. Although there is some lettuce, most of it is carrot and cabbage. These two ingredients make it a very economical salad for a winter day while also providing sweetness and quality carbohydrates we all need to stay warm. Unlike the shepherd’s pie, this is NOT in The STOP cookbook! This will serve 4-6.

Ingredients 

1/4 head of cabbage, sliced thinly or grated.
I large carrot either grated or shaved in leafs with a peeler.
1 small red onion – thinly sliced
Other greens – whatever is available – chard, spinach, lettuce as well as any other salad vegetables you wish to include.
1 red pepper
Vinaigrette basics: olive oil (180g), balsamic vinegar (60g), 1 tbs Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, basil, thyme, oregano, garlic clove to taste.
Optional: toasted sunflower seeds or walnuts, dried cranberries.

Method

  1. Roast the red pepper however you like: in a very hot oven, on the bbq, over a flame. If you are doing this alongside the Shepherd’s Pie, roast it with the squash. 
  2. Slice, grate and combine the fresh vegetables.
  3. In food processor, puree in this order: garlic, red pepper, mustard, herbs, vinegar.
  4. Pour in the oil in a thin stream while the processor is on to enable emulsification.
  5. Combine with the vegetables and serve.

And finally….

Serve this with a nice chunk of baguette or sourdough bread.

Pairings – haven’t tried it these yet, but cider comes to mind, as does smoked Chardonnay, or a dark ale.