Saturday, January 28, 2017

Juggling and vegan meatballs

There is a cat snuggled up to me under the covers. It is her favorite place to snooze in the morning, warm, cozy, and big mama is close, protecting her. She stretches, and has not a worry in the world. A wintertime ritual.

January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.

Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.

I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.

vegan_meatballs

Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara

Preparation of lentils:

  • 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils  (they are small and green/black)
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves

Wash and rinse the lentils and chickpeas, and place in a pot with the water, the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boll, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours  on low (simmer only for 30 min if you soaked the lentils and chickpeas for 12h), or for 25 min in an Instant Pot. There is likely little water left, but if there is then drain it. It should make about 2 1/2 cups of cooked lentils.


Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:

  • 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2  medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 2 TB BBQ sauce
  • 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4  cup bread crumbs
  • 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a  large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside. 
  2. Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
  3. Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
  4. Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
  6. Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
  7. Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  8. Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
  9. Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
  10. Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
  11. Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

Serve with spaghetti and marinara sauce.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Instant Chicken Broth

It is January. The holidays have come and gone, and now all I need to do now is to wait for summer to arrive again. The days will get longer, the snow will disappear eventually and before I know I will ride my bike again and wear sandals. 

I am not sure if it’s a real trend, but in the last winters, maybe the last 5, there has been a noticeable trend towards warmer winters here in the coastal areas of Maine. It is as if the cold front band is pushed farther north from the jet stream, and we are now in some rain/sleet zone instead of a snow zone.  My friends up North still have plenty of snow this winter, but here it comes and goes: Snow, and rain, and snow again.

It has been rather frustrating because instead of crisp powder and blue skies to whisk through the forests on skis, I now see dripping gutters and soggy streets. But a new feeling starts to set in, a realization that January and February might just be normal life with normal temperatures and normal shoes, and the existential bracing for arctic survival mode is no longer necessary.

I must admit I have not been much in cooking mood lately. However, on Black Friday I snagged an Instant Pot for around $60 on Amazon (the regular price is around $100), and it has been a really good buy. It is a multifunction pot, but I bought it for the electric pressure cooker function. Now, I can make cooked beans or chickpeas from dry, unsoaked beans in about 30min. Or  deeply flavorful broth in 30min. Or cook spaghetti squash really fast
I read somewhere that chicken wings are the best starter for chicken broth, because of them being mostly bones and fat, which is essential for good stock flavor. 
The instant pot has a broil function, although it takes a while to heat up, it works rather well (and no need to clean up another pot). I sauteed the wings first, with some onions and olive oil.

Once they were browned, I added carrots, celery and a bay leaf.

I filled the instant pot to the max line with cold water, and set it to soup/stew, closed the lid and it is doing the rest of the magic on its own.

I typically let the pot sit after it is done, and it keeps hot for a while and therefore, slowly simmering. There is a little vent that shows if there is still pressure in the pot or if it has dissipated and the lid can be opened.
Voila, chicken stock!