I made a Thanksgiving joke yesterday; today it’s Halloween. I just can’t get down this seasonal cooking thing, can I?
Today’s recipes are brought to you by a shut-in foodie, a girlfriend trying to make her meat-filled way in a vegetarian household. You see, I was staying at a friend’s house in Southern California. She’s a working girl, a lover of food, but an impending move across country and her unfortunate vegetarian status rendered her cupboards quite bare. I was writing my paper for the conference when, unbeknownst to me, I found myself rummaging through the kitchen looking for something to eat. I was locked in the apartment because of some rogue drywall repairmen outside the door. (Actually, they were quite kind about untaping my door when I had to leave, but let’s make this more dramatic, shall we?) I knew I’d starve if I didn’t do something quick.
So, brainy (remember I *am* writing a paper here so the mind juices are flowing), I thought I’d cook up a few dishes.
I found some lovely “beluga” black lentils, so called because they look like little pearls of beluga caviar, some of Orange County’s finest — Valencia oranges — and parsley and green onions. There was a bag of sweet potatoes, onions, some sour Chardonnay, and black wild rice. And olive oil and four kinds of fancy salt and white balsamic vinegar. And a Trader Joe’s vegetarian liquid bouillon of dubious merit. Clearly, these starvation rations needed a deft hand, some magic cook juju to make them edible.
My friend, though years out of her goth phase, maintains a certain flair we like to call Orange County Gothtastic. Though starving, I also felt tremendous pressure to make food of presentable quality, something the Queen of Blackness would accept as a Dark Offering. Clearly, orange and black colours were on the menu, and fall flavors would be a must, even though it was nearing 90 degrees that day. Alas, the agony of being a pale creature of the night behind the sunny, bikini-clad, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Orange Curtain. But I was more hungry than a vampyre at an actuary convention, so with the aid of Miss C’s familiar, Lord Dominic von Katzer-Masoch, I managed thusly:
Orange and Beluga Black Lentil Salad
4 juicy Valencia oranges
1 cup raw Beluga black lentils
3 cups vegetable stock (use bouillon of choice)
bunch of scallions
1/3 cup. parsley, chopped, with a few whole stalks set aside for the stock
1 t. smoked Alder salt, or to taste
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. ground pepper
1 T. fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
First, make the stock. In a medium pot, mix up your bouillon, use fresh mushroom and onion stock, or whathaveyou. To the stock, add the juice of half a lemon and large pieces of the lemon zest (or slice the lemon half and add the whole thing to the pot). Juice one orange and add juice to pot. Add smoked salt, cumin, and pepper, and a few whole parsley stalks.
Now, for the secret: smoked scallions. Turn one burner on high. When it is hot, very carefully, using tongs, place four whole scallions on the burner. Let them blacken in places for about 20 seconds, then turn over, and blacken a few more spots. (I learned this trick from Craig Claiborne, so you know it’s good.) Add scallions smoked thusly to the pot.
Rinse and check lentils for detritus, then add to stock. Simmer until cooked. I think this took about 30 minutes, but I don’t remember, so taste frequently. Note that the stock flavor will transfer to the lentils, so if the stock is not salty or flavored enough, you’ll need to adjust the flavorings. Lentils should remain whole but be tender and glossy. They really are beautiful creatures.
When lentils have cooked, remove from stock with a strainer (and save stock if you will be using it for a pilaf). Remove parsley, scallions, and lemon peels. Spread out lentils in a shallow pan to cool.
As the lentils are cooking, marinate the oranges. Remove peel from three remaining oranges. Since presentation is key, you might need to waste a bit of orange. You could segment them, but I like to have slices, so I turn the round orange into a cube by slicing off all six sides with the peel still on, then slicing the orange into 1/4 inch slices before trimming the remaining peel off each slice.
Chop the rest of the parsley and some of the scallions, finely. Place orange slices in a bowl, and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, the juice from the rest of the lemon, some of the parsley and some of the scallions. Let marinate in the refrigerator.
When the lentils are cool, place the orange slices on top of the lentils. Add a bit more parsley and scallions judiciously atop the oranges, and sprinkle the pine nuts evenly on top. Chill until serving.
Serve with a pearl barley pilaf cooked in the lentil broth, since your friend does not have basmati rice.
Roasted Sweet Potato and Wild Rice Soup
Serves 2-3 as a main dish.
4 sweet potatoes
1 small white onion
1 T. olive oil plus 2 T. olive oil for soup
2 cups orange juice
1 t. paprika (hot or smoked)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup cooked wild rice (see package for instructions and leave time for this, as it takes about an hour)
chopped parsley (about 1/4 cup)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Scrub sweet potatoes and cut off bad spots. Chop onion finely and place in small roasting pan with 1 T. olive oil. Roast whole sweet potatoes whole until soft, about 45 minutes, and onions until soft and caramelized (watch them so they don’t burn), about 20 minutes or so.
Remove sweet potatoes and let cool before peeling and chopping. Add chopped sweet potato to large saucepan with onions, orange juice, paprika, wine, and rest of olive oil. Puree with a stick blender or a potato masher, adding a bit more wine or juice if the soup is too thick for your tastes. Cook to blend flavors for about 15 minutes. Add wild rice, some parsley, salt (smoked salt if you have it) and freshly ground pepper to taste. This is not meant to be a very sweet soup, and the flavors should be balanced by the salt and the dry white wine. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot with bread.