So, before going home, I actually made a weekend stopover in Portland, Oregon, both to visit a friend and to check out the restaurant/farm/local food scene I have been hearing so much about for the last couple of years. The city — filled with microbreweries and food co-ops — did not disappoint, and the farmers’ market was particularly stunning. Not even one of the biggest markets in Portland, and not even up to full steam yet as we just finally get into warmer months, the market still offered an abundance of riches not to be found even at the Union Square market in New York. Exhibit A: the giant pile of beautiful carrots you see above (and that we bought a bunch of to take with us as a snack on our glorious hike).
As good as the restaurants are, with produce like this, I had to cook at least one meal. We just picked what looked best (jewel-like beets, incredibly tender lettuce) as the starting point of our meal, and then used the co-op and Trader Joe’s (no shame!) to fill out the rest of the meal. And so our meal: Red Lentils with Cayenne, Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts; Wilted Beet Greens; Roasted Beets; and Simple Green Salad (not pictured, no recipe). We crumbled goat cheese over the whole thing; I would suggest adding goat cheese to any of these recipes if you make them individually.
Lentils with Toasted Walnuts, Cranberries, and Cayenne
Ingredients: Red lentils, walnuts (chopped and toasted), dried cranberries, cumin, cayenne, olive oil, onion (chopped), salt, pepper. (I haven’t put measurements here because I didn’t use them, nor are they really necessary — if you are dying for them, I’d say: 2 c. dried lentils, 1-2 large handfuls walnuts, 1 small handful cranberries, dash cumin, couple teaspoons cayenne, drizzle olive oil, 1-2 onions. Now calm down. Everything will be fine. Trust your palate and your eye.)
Note: You can use any kind of lentils in this recipe (I assume). The best lentils I ever had were made by one of Food Junta’s dear friends in SF. They were extraordinarily creamy, some of them broken down and some of them still whole, making the whole dish seem almost decadent, while still being just lentils. When I asked him what gave them that texture, he told me he used a certain kind of lentil — lentilles de Puy — a small, dark green lentil typically sold pre-packaged in gourmet food stores. Next time, I will certainly track those down (they were that delicious), but red or brown lentils work just fine, and should be available at any grocery store, or — per Kevin’s favorite method of shopping, and the Portland food co-op way — in the bulk food aisle. Cooking time will vary depending on the type of lentil you use, so watch the pot carefully and add water appropriately to make sure the lentils don’t scorch.
1. Rinse lentils in a sieve, picking over for any small pebbles (this is apparently a common problem with lentils).
2. Put rinsed lentils in a large pot, covered with water (about 2 cups of water per cup of lentils). Bring to a boil, and then bring down to a simmer. DO NOT SALT YET! Usually you would salt boiling water at this point, but you shouldn’t salt the lentils until they are soft, or you will toughen the skins.
3. Cook until water is basically absorbed and lentils are soft, about 45 minutes if you’re using red lentils. If the lentils are soft before the water is absorbed, simply strain them. If they’re still tough and the water i all absorbed, add more water and keep cooking (try to add the water before all the original water is gone, or you’ll have a scorchy mess on your hands).
4. Remove cooked lentils from heat, scrape into a bowl so you can re-use the pot.
5. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion, sautee until transluscent. Add lentils back into pot. Add toasted, chopped walnuts and cranberries. Season with salth and freshly ground pepper. Add a dash of cumin, and a couple teaspoons of cayenne, stirring and tasting after each teaspoon. Keep over flame, stirring constantly, until heated through.
Ingredients: Beets (as much as you want), olive oil, salt, pepper. (See Kevin on beets here.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut beets off the stem (reserving leaves for wilted beet greens, below), rinse, slice in half lengthwise (or quarters if it’s an especially large beet).
3. Put beets in single layer in a baking dish or baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and (freshly ground) pepper.
4. Cover beets relatively tightly with aluminum foil. Place dish in oven. Cook for about 45 minutes or until beets are tender (but not burned, obviously), checking occasionally. If beets seem to be cooking too fast, make aluminum tighter and/or turn down heat. If you want the beets to be more caramelized after they are cooked, roast for a few more minutes without the aluminum foil.
Wilted Beet Greens
Ingredients: Leftover beet greens, olive oil, salt
1. Separate stems from leaves by cutting the rib out of the leaf with a triangular cut. (To see how I did this with kale, click here.)
2. Put leaves, with a small amount of water, in a large pot. Place over medium heat, with lid on.
3. Let cook 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted. Add more water if greens seem to be burning (they should steam). Greens can sit for a long time, off of the heat, in a covered pot. Sprinkle salt over before serving.