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Fall Lentil Stew

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Even though the official first day of fall was in late September, and daylight saving time ended on November 5, Mother Nature is still having a hard time letting go! The weather here has been unseasonably warm—not complaining—and although it doesn’t feel like the right time yet to prepare heartier fare, Mother Nature weighs in again because the ingredients available in the markets speak to fall and winter dishes. Because fall is one of my favorite seasons for cooking and dining, I am OK with that seasonal ingredient switch.

It has been a little too long since I last posted something new because we have been a little preoccupied with the newest addition to our family—Allie, a four-month-old Portuguese Water Dog pup. Not an easy task to prep, cook, photograph, and then quietly sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal and a good bottle of wine when a young pup wants to help with every step along the way!

Allie

Things are settling down somewhat now, so I am taking advantage of the lull to explore some cooking with fall and winter dishes in mind.

The dish featured in this post is one I have been preparing for years, long before blogs were a way of connecting with like-minded people on subjects of interest. The dish takes little time to assemble, is easy to prepare, uses ingredients that for the most part are pantry items, will satisfy most vegetarians, and is a great source of protein, minerals, and fiber.

First, a few quick thoughts about lentils: It has been written that lentils are the world’s oldest cultivated legumes, dating as far back as 7000 BC. Cultivated in Asia and from the region we now know as Syria, they then migrated throughout the countries around the Mediterranean rim to become an integral part of the culture and cuisine.

Lentils can be sourced in a variety of colors: black, green, brown, red/orange, or yellow. They are one of the easiest beans to digest, cook quickly because they don’t require presoaking like other dried bean varieties often do, and they add a nutty, earthy flavor to the dishes in which they are used.

Over the years, I have used many different types of lentils when making this dish—for example, the black Beluga, the French green, the French Puy (lentilles du Puy), common brown known as the brewer lentil, and the Castelluccio lentils from Umbria Italy.

In this recipe I used the Castelluccio lentils, but had equally good results in the past using the Beluga or the Puy, since all three varieties hold their shape and texture better than some of the other varieties which tend to become softer, almost puree-like once completely cooked.

Lentils are often cooked with pork in Italy. One example is the dish often served on New Year’s Eve featuring the large pork sausage, cotechino. The folklore surrounding this dish is that for some reason, serving lentils on the Eve will bring money to the home in the coming year. That said, I have often cooked sausage right in the stew, either sweet Italian fennel sausage, Spanish chorizo, or the spicy lamb sausage from North Africa, merguez, where the spices in the sausage impart their individual unique flavoring to the broth. With this recipe, I prepared the sausage separately, and served it as an accompaniment as would be the tradition when serving the cotechino. For this recipe I used Spanish chorizo.

 

Fall Lentil Stew

Ingredients (serves two or more)

1¾ cups lentils

2 bunches spinach, thoroughly washed, large stems removed

Spinach

8 cups liquid, either stock, water, or combination of both (water used in this recipe)

2 medium onions, chopped

2 large carrots, cut into wide rings

1 bulb garlic, set aside 7 whole cloves, use remainder for soffritto

Soffritto: 8 to 10 parsley sprigs both leaves and stems, 1 large celery stalk, stalks from one large fennel blub; mince using a food processor

Salt, pepper, red chili flakes

2 to 4 sausage links, pan seared or roasted and then sliced to serve

Mise en place

Method (approximately 30 minutes cooking time)

Heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until hot but not smoking. Drop a few pieces of chopped onion into the pot and once they sizzle add all the chopped onion into the oil, sprinkle salt and pepper over, and stir to combine and coat. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften and lightly color.

Soup base sauté

Add the soffritto, stirring to combine with the onion, season with a little more salt and pepper, then continue stirring until you begin to smell the garlic in the sauté. If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pot, lower the heat slightly and deglaze with a small amount of the water or stock you are using.

Add the carrots and the whole garlic cloves, again stir and combine into the sauté. Add the spinach, stirring to thoroughly mix into the other sauté ingredients, again lightly sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes (if using), then pour the 8 cups of stock or water over. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a gentle boil, then add the lentils, mixing into the other ingredients.

Once the liquid begins to gently boil again, lower the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The stew is ready when the carrots are just fork tender and the lentils are soft but not mushy, more al dente like properly cooked pasta.

Stew ingredients cooked together

The dish can be served on its own, or accompanied by the sausage as I did with the chorizo, along with some grilled or toasted bread.

This lentil stew is an easy to prepare, hearty, and healthy dish to segue from the warm weather cooking of summer to the more robust cooking of the fall season leading into winter.

Served

If you make the dish I’d like to know what lentils you decide to use!

Eat well. Be well.

DM

Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, rather than endure.

 

 

 

 

 

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La Cucina Povera—Santa Maria Tri-Tip of Beef

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Beef is not often a go-to source of protein in my cooking or our diet. Although every once in a great while it is satisfying to indulge our appetites with a nicely seasoned and grilled piece of beef sirloin known as a beef tri-tip roast.

The beef tri-tip cut has been around California’s Central Valley cattle ranches since the mid-1800s, becoming more mainstream in the late 1950s to 1960s. However, it was not a popular cut on the eastern side of the country where I grew up because that triangular shaped tip of the sirloin was generally set aside for stew meat or ground for use as hamburger meat. It was not until many years later, while visiting my brother-in-law in California where I sampled my first taste of grilled beef tri-tip, that I gained an appreciation for it’s rich texture and flavor.

As the story has been told, barbecue devotees recognize four major regional styles; the Carolinas, Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas. Well, there is actually a fifth style, somewhat of a well-kept secret in wood-fired grilling, Santa Maria barbecue.

The Santa Maria style traces its roots to beef cooked on the trail by the Mexican and Spanish cowboys (vaqueros) hired to work the herds. The beef was slow cooked over California red oak fires, which are now synonymous with the Santa Maria style. The meat was usually seasoned with a dry spice rub and marinated with some combination of vinegar and oil. To round out the Santa Maria barbecue meal, the sliced beef was often accompanied by grilled bread, a salsa, a tossed green salad, and a pot of slow-cooked beans, not unlike a southern pork roast where, at a minimum, the pulled pork might be accompanied by coleslaw, corn bread, pickled vegetables, and slow cooked beans.

When prepared properly beef tri-tip is an ideal cut for barbecue. It is a triangular shaped piece cut from the bottom sirloin in front of the cows hip. It is generally cut to weigh 1½ to 2 lbs, about 8 inches long, 3 to 4 inches across and generally 3 inches thick at the center, enough to serve four.

Beef tri-tip roast

Although a well-marbled cut, the butcher should leave a thin fat cap on one side, so that when placed on the hot grill first helps moisture come up through the meat, before turning it over and searing the leaner side sealing in the juices. The fat can be removed when slicing, but why bother!

Exploring the use of both a gas-fired grill and a wood-fired grill (preferred method), and employing slow cooking over both direct and indirect heat, the total cooking time is between 25 to 35 minutes to yield a medium-rare piece of beef with a nicely charred crust. Also, basting and turning the piece over every 5 minutes after the initial searing allows for even cooking and great color.

Building the coal bed

With regard to basting and overall flavoring, here is the approach that I developed after reading as much as I could find about the cowboys and those grill masters who followed them on how to prepare a grilled beef tri-tip.

Realizing that there wasn’t much chance of getting California red oak here in the East, I used eastern oak and cherry for my grill fire.

For the seasoning, I first sliced thick rounds of red onion and charred those slices using a grill pan on the stovetop. Next I coated the tri-tip on both sides with a puree of roasted garlic (my garlic jam), then sprinkled it with a combination of rosemary-bay-fennel powder, smoked pimentón, Aleppo pepper flakes, and salt and pepper, pressing it down with my hands so that the meat was evenly covered. Finally, I broke up the charred onions into rings and placed them over the tri-tip on both sides, wrapped the whole thing in clear film and allowed it to macerate over night in the refrigerator.

Seasoning

The next day while the fire was burning down to a good hot bed of coals, I removed the onions from the beef, added them into the work bowl of a food processor along with a generous tablespoon of Dijon mustard, ½ cup of red wine vinegar, and with the processor running, drizzled enough olive oil down the feed tube until a nice emulsion was formed which became the basting liquid for the grilling.

Using a tablespoon, I spread the basting liquid over the beef during the grilling on both sides until it was done. I tented the beef on the cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing it and while I waited, the remainder of the basting liquid was added to a saucepan with ¼ cup of water and a generous tablespoon of butter, and gently cooked down to finally be used as a pan sauce atop the sliced tri-tip.

 

Santa Maria Tri-Tip

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 lb tri-tip beef roast

1 to 2 large red onions

Roasted garlic puree (garlic jam)

Rosemary-bay-fennel powder (use spice grinder)

Aleppo or other red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

Dijon mustard

Olive oil and red wine vinegar

 

Method

  • Peel the onions, slice into thick rounds, char in hot grill pan on stovetop.
  • Season and distribute the onions over the tri-tip as described above and macerate in the refrigerator over night.
  • Prepare the basting liquid in the food processor as described above and let the tri-tip warm to room temperature for 30 minutes before placing on the grill.
  • First reposition the coal bed in the grill so that an area is created for direct heat and indirect heat. Grill the tri-tip and baste as described above, turning at 5-minute intervals, searing in the direct heat section and moving between the direct and indirect heat sections so that the charred crust is evenly formed and the cooking is slow and easy.
  • After 25 to 35 minutes, remove the tri-tip from the grill and tent for another 15 minutes before slicing.
  • Use the remaining basting liquid to prepare the pan sauce as described above, adding any juices that have accumulated on the board while the tri-tip is tented and resting.
  • Slice the roast across the grain into ¼-inch slices, plate with a drizzle of the pan sauce spooned over. Serve with your favorite accompaniments and a full-bodied red wine.

Grilled and sliced

Plated

I realize that some of you reading this post will never go down this path. However, those of you who enjoy a good piece of beef every now and then should give this recipe a try. As I pointed out in the opening of this post, I eat little to no beef throughout the year, but make an exception for this recipe because for no other reason than it is just simply delicious! Oh, don’t forget to ask me about Faux Joes. . . .

Be well. Eat well.

DM

Great food done well is not overly complicated but instead prepared and presented in a straightforward way. To know how to eat is to know enough!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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