Category Archives: Lunch

Making sprouts, if not friends

It is difficult to make new friends in your 30s. I know that to those of you in and past this phase of life have probably already figured this out, but bear with me a moment while I catch up. I’m just not as social as I used to be. In fact I find that I’ve developed a social awkwardness that I don’t remember having in my 20s. Maybe it’s because most of my social interactions then were at a bar, drink in hand?

In any case, I find I still have the human need for friends, but am less adept at interacting with strangers than I once was. So, one solution to this has been to seek out structured activities where I am thrust into the presence of other people, but do not have to make a lot of conversation with them right off the bat. Knitting class, writing workshop, author readings, gardening class, and one class about sprouting. Yes, a class about DIY sprouting given at the local co-op. How’s that for being a crunchy Oregon hippie?!

lentils

I didn’t make any friends at the class, but I did learn a lot of fascinating things about sprouting and I have been hooked on it ever since. It turns out there is a lot more to sprouts than the alfalfa variety that I remember from my youth, and that I hated. You can sprout nuts, beans, lentils, seeds, grains, the possibilities are endless! Or nearly so.

And there are some convincing health benefits, at least I find them convincing, that have to do with all the nutrients locked up in the seed of a plant (which is, of course, what all the aforementioned things are). When you sprout a bean or a nut, you release all the protein and vitamins that it was storing to help it grow into a strong, healthy plant. Sprouts are also delicious, and have very different flavors depending on what you are sprouting – something that surprised me because my sprout experience had been limited to the alfalfa variety.

spices

My favorite sprouts so far, and the ones that have been the most consistently successful, are lentil sprouts. So, they are the sprouts featured in today’s recipe. I have also had a few challenges, though, and one sprouting disaster – lest you think my sprouting glasses are a little too rose-colored. The disaster was self-inflicted, really, and involved an attempt to sprout garbanzo beans that I knew were way too old to do anything with other than use as pie weights. Pro tip: if beans are too old to cook, they are too old to sprout.

citrus

For the most part though, sprouting has been smooth-sailing, delicious, and nutritious. This recipe is by far my favorite that has incorporated lentil sprouts, but they are supremely versatile. They add a wonderful texture and flavor to salads, sandwiches, or as a topping for just about any quinoa or other grain salad.

finished salad

Carrot, Avocado, Sprout Salad over Quinoa

Barely adapted from DailyCandy (RIP)
Makes four good-sized portions, good for lunch or dinner

Directions for lentil sprouts are below this recipe, but heads up: it takes about 3 1/2 to 4 days to sprout lentils. So, if you want to make this recipe, you best get sprouting!

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 tangerines (I used Cuties), halved
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 4 cups lentil sprouts (directions below)
  • a couple dollops of sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame, but you could use any seeds you want), toasted

Combine quinoa, 2 cups water, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to just what is needed to maintain the simmer and cook until all water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy, 15-20 minutes.

While quinoa is cooking, turn the oven on to 350° and put a large pot of water on to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the carrots and cook until a knife pierces them easily, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the garlic, cumin, thyme, chili, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a food processor and pulse until pasty. With the food processor running, add the vinegar and ¼ cup of the olive oil and run until well-mixed. Set aside.

When the quinoa is done, set it aside. When the carrots are done, drain and then arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan. Spoon the cumin/olive oil mixture over the carrots.

Cut 3 of the tangerines and 1 lemon in half and place them on top of the carrots, cut-side down. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until carrots are golden brown.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from the roasted tangerine and lemon halves into a small bowl. Squeeze in the juice each from the remaining uncooked tangerine and lemon. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle about half over the roasted carrots, reserving the rest.

To assemble the dish, start with a scoop of the quinoa and top with saucy carrots, then avocado, then sprouts. Drizzle with reserved sauce, add a dollop of sour cream to the top, and then sprinkle with toasted seeds. Serve immediately.

Lentil Sprouts

Directions from Susan Hyne, who taught the sprouting class
Makes ~4 cups

  • 1/4 cup lentils (I used Puy lentils, but you could use Beluga, brown, red, yellow, etc.)
  • 1 quart glass jar with a screw top lid
  • cheesecloth

Rinse lentils in a sieve and then dump into the glass jar.

Fill the jar with water. Cover the opening of the jar with a 2-ply piece of cheesecloth and then screw lid on to hold cheesecloth in place.

lentils in jar

Cover the jar with a kitchen towel to keep out light and soak lentils for 12 hours.

After the lentils have soaked, drain the water and rest jar in a small bowl so that it’s tilted and any remaining water can drain out. Re-cover with the kitchen towel.

draining lentils

Rinse the lentils and the bowl well 2-3 times per day for 3-4 days, each time returning the jar to the bowl so that the lentils can drain and covering with the towel.

day one

 

day two

day three

The sprouts are ready when they are about 1-inch long.

finished sprouts

Eat right away or store in the fridge. If you are storing in the fridge, do not rinse right before putting them in the fridge (i.e. you want them to go into the fridge as dry as possible to keep them from getting slimy). If you put them in the fridge dry, they will keep for up to 4 days.

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Filed under Food, Lunch, Main Course, Odds & Ends

The beauty of an unplanned meal

I am a planner. I like to organize things and catalog them and plot them out on a timeline if they will let me. I am a librarian, after all. At work I have a master To Do list on my computer that is then broken up into sub-lists, including To Do This Week, To Do This Term, To Do This Summer, you get the idea. I also have a Projects list on a whiteboard in my office, just in case my other lists distract me from what’s really important.

This extends to my personal life as well, and definitely to my kitchen. I have a list of my goals for the year next to my bed, so that I can read them every night and stay motivated. I never (well, hardly ever) go to the grocery store before planning out the week’s meals and making a list. When I first started cooking, I always, always followed a recipe. It didn’t even occur to me, in fact, that there was any other way. And I liked how following a recipe gave me a consistent, predictable result.

Thankfully, I have learned by now that so much of cooking is unplanned. It’s about tasting and adjusting and customizing. Especially since we’ve moved to the Pacific Northwest where there is so much fresh, local produce, I have embraced seasonal cooking, which means you have to be ready to do what you can with what you’ve got at any given time of year. I encountered a perfect example of this one weekend recently when David and I went to our first farmers’ market of the spring.

spring vegetables

It is still indoors, in a warehouse-like building on the fairgrounds. The outdoor market won’t return until later this month, but spring was definitely making its presence known. The booths had more life, the whole place was humming, there were spring onions. Spring onions! They even have the word ‘spring’ in their name. So, of course, we bought some. We also gathered a hodge-podge of other vegetables, whatever spoke to us, as well as a dozen pullet eggs, which are the petite eggs of a hen under 1-year-old.

ingredients

I didn’t know what I was going to do with our random purchases and I started to feel a little Type-A panic about it. But when we got home and unpacked everything it became clear: a spring quiche was in order. It was the best kind of unplanned meal – fresh ingredients combining with a well-stocked pantry to create something delightful.

finished quiche

Hearty Farmers’ Market Quiche

Crust adapted from Joy the Baker, filling modeled on Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes one 9-inch quiche

In the spirit of spontaneity, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this recipe can be endlessly adapted and tinkered with. In fact, that’s what a quiche is for, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to what vegetables and cheese you use. You can use almost anything you can imagine. Just keep the proportions of vegetables and cheese to eggs and milk about what they are in this recipe and you will be sitting pretty.

Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks and chilled or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk, chilled (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch (about 4 cups) Russian kale, ribs removed and then chopped
  • 4 spring onions (white and green parts divided), chopped
  • 5 large eggs (or equivalent in pullet eggs)
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1%, use whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

First, prepare and prebake the crust:

In a medium bowl whisk together flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the butter pieces and cream cheese and work into dry mixture, using a pastry cutter or your fingers, until most butter and cream cheese bits are pea-sized.

Whisk together the milk and oil, and then add all at once to the flour and butter mixture. Combine wet and dry ingredients with a fork until the liquid is just incorporated. Do not overwork – the dough will not totally come together, it will stay sort of shaggy.

Dump the dough into a clean 9-inch pie pan and use your fingers to press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Try to get it as even as possible, but don’t worry about it too much – no one will ever see it!

Put the crust in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

Once your crust is frozen, line it with foil and fill it with beans or some other pie weight. Bake for 8 minutes. Then remove pie weights and foil and bake for another 4-6 minutes until it starts to brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling:

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add kale and the white parts of the spring onions. Cook until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in spring onion green parts, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk, then stir in the feta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

When the crust is done prebaking and the filling is prepared, raise the oven temperature to 375°. Spread vegetable mixture over the bottom of the crust, and then pour in egg mixture.

Bake the quiche for 45 minutes or until quiche is set and the top is golden brown. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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Filed under Breakfast, Food, Lunch, Main Course

Ruminating on lunch

I recently reread The Wind in the Willows, which you may have seen if you follow me on Twitter because I’ve talked about it a lot. In addition to being just about the most charming, perfectly lovely book I’ve ever read (even better now that I’m an adult), it has several passages of really appealing descriptions of food.

One in particular, near the beginning when we are just starting to get a feel for the friendly, quirky animals that live in this pastoral world, started me ruminating on the topic of lunch:

“…after a short interval [he] reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket… ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wiggling with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water–‘
‘Oh stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘it’s only what I always take on these little excursions'”

The Wind in the Willows

Image from books4yourkids.com

Yes, I know I don’t even eat many of the things in Rat’s basket, but for some reason this scene just tickles me. And more to the point, it made me realize that I’ve managed, over the last couple years of grad school-induced austerity, to get into a pretty good habit of making my lunch and bringing it with me (to school, or now, work) as opposed to buying it every day like I did for so long. I am quite proud of this habit – and how often can you say that about a habit? – so it seemed like something worth sharing.

The recipe in my lunch repertoire that I’m most excited to talk about is for a lunch salad. Womp womp. Yes, I know, I know, but hear me out. The problem with lunch salads in my experience is that they are either too virtuous – vegetable-only affairs that leave you hungry, or too heavy – sure it has fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing in it, but it’s a salad! And neither of those are what I want for lunch. This salad is different though: it’s healthy yet filling, but not too heavy, and it has lots of different textures and flavors – veggies, protein, salty olives, crunchy pumpkin seeds, creamy avocado. In short, it’s the perfect lunch salad.

mix-ins

Oh sure, I’ll bring other things for lunch as well. I tend to bring leftovers from dinners during the week, mixed and matched together to create something new. Recently I tried this twist on a tuna salad sandwich and really liked it. While working on this post, I found that one of my favorite food websites put together a list of lunch recipes that take 5 minutes to pack, which I will definitely try out. But where my luncheon basket is concerned, I keep coming back to this salad. It hits all the right spots, and leaves me feeling both satisfied and healthy.

salad

An Ideal Lunch Salad

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4 lunch-sized salads

The key to getting this salad (or any salad, really) to work with me is prepping it ahead of time. So, on weeks that I want to have this salad for lunch, I spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday evening to get it ready. Assuming you may want to do the same, my instructions below are for this scenario. If you are making this salad for lunch on a weekend, or perhaps a leisurely picnic, then you could obviously prep and mix it all up at once – just make sure to wait on the dressing until right before serving, as with most salads.

Mix-ins:

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15 kalamata or niçoise olives, chopped

Toppings:

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 small ripe avocado, sliced

Dressing:

1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons (depending on how loose you like your dressing) water or any type of unsweetened milk
a pinch of salt (or more, to taste)

Greens:

2-3 handfuls of whatever greens you prefer (I’ve tried it with spinach, romaine, arugula, mixes – you can’t go wrong)

Prep

Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes – until it is fork tender, but not mushy.

In a large container, combine all the mix-ins and store in the fridge until ready to assemble your salad.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and store in a separate container on the counter.

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding as much of the milk/water as desired. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Store the dressing in a glass container in the fridge.

Assembly

In a med-large container (I use one that holds 1 quart), first lay down a bed of greens. On top of the greens, scoop about 2/3 cup of the mix-ins. Top with 1/4-1/2 of an avocado. (I store the other half of the avocado – pit still in it! – in a container in the fridge and it keeps just fine for a day or two).

Bring the toasted nuts and the dressing with you to work. When you are ready to eat lunch, top the salad with about a tablespoon of toasted seeds and as much dressing as you like. Put the top back on your container and then shake it up – I find this is the best way to distribute the dressing throughout the salad. Enjoy!

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Filed under Lunch