Based on the multitude of blogs in Internet land, it’s easy to feel inadequate in the kitchen. So many bloggers project an image of detailed menu planning, access to picture-perfect locally grown seasonal ingredients, and impeccable housekeeping. I realize it could be illusion, but it highlights my own reality of day-to-day (sometimes last minute) meal planning, a clean but “lived in” kitchen, and the ever-present feeling of trying to catch up.
True confessions: being part of a cooking group like Cook the Book Fridays, I like that the various recipe selections eliminate a decision to be made, though I’m always losing track of the schedule. My lack of pre-planning means that I often don’t think about how to incorporate these recipes into our meals in a logical way.
This week’s recipe for French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts is a side dish that could go with almost anything. I adore lentils, especially the tiny French lentils. If you take care not to overcook them, they are perfect in a salad. I’ve made lentil salads similar to David Lebovitz’s recipe from My Paris Kitchen, but there are a few takeaways that I particularly liked with this recipe. For example, I usually add raw crunchy vegetables (i.e. carrots, celery, and red onion). In this recipe, they are added the pot of lentils for the last few minutes of cooking. The veggies retain their crunch but the brief cooking softens them ever so slightly for a texture that feels just right. Minced shallots in the dressing add an extra oniony note. The toasted walnuts were also a delicious touch.
While the goat cheese was complementary to the flavors, I think I might have liked the salad more without it. It would keep a little better too. Goat cheese is also the only ingredients that isn’t reliably on-hand in my fridge, allowing this to be made on a whim. Overall, this is a nice version of lentil salad that I might make again.
Speaking of lack of planning, I also made the Hummus that my friends made a couple of weeks ago. I made it on time, but didn’t have a chance to write a post about it. Wow! I’ve been making hummus for decades, but there is something about this recipe that takes it to a new level. It could be the ridiculous step of peeling the chickpeas, which sounds extraordinarily fussy. I’ve been reading that peeling them results in a silkier texture, but it’s time-consuming. I used canned beans (related to lack of planning) so I talked myself into the peeling step. It turned out to be easier than I thought. And the hummus turned out extra creamy. I did have to add at least half a cup of liquid to move it beyond pasty, but I was thrilled with the end result. David’s recipe had many suggestions for adorning the hummus. I sprinkled my bowl with sumac and toasted pumpkin seeds and the all-important glug of olive oil. This is hands-down the best hummus I’ve made at home. At some point, I’ll try it with home-cooked chickpeas. In the meantime, I stocked up on cans of chickpeas to make more.
This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie is skate with capers, cornichons, and brown butter sauce.
First off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t make this recipe with skate. They didn’t have it at the fish counter at Whole Foods, and I didn’t have time to go hunting. I anticipated that skate might not be available, so did a little research on alternatives before I went to the store. Suggestions were all over the map, from meaty fish like shark or halibut to delicate fillets like tilapia and flounder. In the end, I selected flounder fillets because they offered a similar cooking time to the instructions for cooking the skate.
I loved this preparation. Just as when we made the almond flounder meuniere, after I made this dish, I was scratching my head and wondering why I don’t remember this quick pan-fry technique more often for weeknight dinners. Simply pan-frying the fish in butter provides a savory palette for any sort of sauce you’d like.
This recipe’s piquant sauce was a definite winner. The nutty flavor of the butter added depth, the capers and cornichons added salt, and the vinegar a pronounced tang. I’d say the tang was strong on the first bite, though not unpleasant. It grew on you before you swallow.
Dorie suggests serving this on a bed of something creamy like mashed potatoes. I made one of my favorite side dishes, Spiced Chickpea Puree, which is like a warm hummus without the tahini. I share the recipe below.
I’ll definitely be making this again. Even though it’s easy enough for a weeknight, it’s also special enough to serve to company. If I spy skate at the fish counter, I’d try that as the base, but who knows when it will make an appearance.
Spiced Chickpea Puree
2-15 oz cans chickpeas, drained
Up to 1/3 cup water
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup garlic oil (or ¼ cup olive oil and 1 clove garlic, minced)
¼ tsp cayenne
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
3 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Place them in the food processor. Puree just until smooth, adding water as needed. Add cumin, lemon juice, garlic oil (or oil and garlic), and cayenne. Pulse to combine. Adjust seasoning.
Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the chickpea puree, and gently heat, stirring frequently, until warm. Stir in chopped parsley before serving.
Adapted from recipe for Spiced Hummus from “American Brasserie” by Rick Tramonto and Gale Gund with Julia Moskin