Thursday, October 27, 2011

Green Lentils with Ground Beef

Beans are not only protein that's good for you; they can also be real comfort food, and this is one of mine.
My mom used to make this dish for us, and at that time I did not know what comfort food was, but now that I cook this for myself and my family, it comforts me by reminding me of my mom and my childhood, and by filling me up...

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6-7 oz (180-200 gr) ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced + 1 small onion, sliced into rings
  • 2 cups dried green lentils, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
  • 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups hot water, plus more if necessary


  • Heat vegetable oil in the pot. Add diced onion and ground beef. Breaking up the ground beef and mixing it with onion, saute over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and ground beef is no longer pink.
  • Add the tomato paste and 1 cup hot water; mix lightly to dissolve the paste in water.
  • Add the lentils, salt, pepper, the onion rings (these give extra flavor) and the rest of the hot water, and stir to mix.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat (to medium-low or to low, depending on the size of the burner). Simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are soft to the bite. Check the stew frequently and add more hot water along the way, if necessary, to prevent it from drying.

Additional points:

  • This lentil stew should have a consistency that's kind of thicker than most vegetable stews, it looks more like a hearty sauce, but it should never ever be dry.
  • Beans may usually take hours to cook until tender. That's why I always cook this kind of stews in a pressure cooker. It obviously reduces the necessary water amount and cooking time considerably, but these vary from model to model. I use a primitive model which still works for me after 15 years. Mine cooks this dish with 3 1/2 to 4 cups water, in about 35 minutes. A newer, more modern version would probably take much less time.

Caprese Salad

You do not need a lot of words: Just look at the beautiful colors of this salad!.. It easily can be the decorative center piece of the dinner table.

Although it is called "salad", Italians serve this as an appetizer; and the simple ingredients represent the colors of the Italian flag.

Ingredients: (Serves 5-7)

  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella (about 8 oz.), cut into 1/4" slices
  • 2 tomatoes on the vine, cored and cut into 1/4" slices
  • A few fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces or cut into ribbons
  • Toasted bread, for serving (preferably sourdough bread)

For dressing:

  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt over the salad


  • Layer the mozzarella and tomato slices on the serving platter in an overlapping manner (Be careful not to break the mozzarella slices).
  • Pour the dressing over the salad (the amount you use is up to your liking), or just sprinkle a little bit salt and drizzle some olive oil.
  • Garnish w/ fresh basil leaves. Serve it w/ toasted bread.

Additional points:

  • The reason I choose vine-ripened tomatoes to use for this salad is because the size of these tomatoes is very close to the size of the typical fresh mozzarella balls, so they create a uniform look on the plate; but you may choose any other type of tomato you like, too.
  • Some people may like only olive oil in this salad, others may prefer the tangy flavor of the dressing. The amount you want to use is really up to you.
  • Here's also some information on how to cut fresh basil leaves (or other leaves) into ribbons (which is called chiffonade).
  • It's important to cut the tomato and especially the mozzarella really into slices as thin as 1/4"; chunky pieces may be too big a portion for most people. You can use a specific cheese slicer or an expensive mozzarella/tomato slicer or just a very sharp serrated knife.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This pesto recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis, with a few of my additional points and details. I just love the mouthwatering smell of this basil pesto filling the whole kitchen.
Pesto is not only a simple, yet delicious appetizer on toasted bread, but it can be used as a sauce or dressing on so many other things: Toss warm pasta in it, pour it onto grilled fish, dress your chicken salad with it, use it to make a pesto lasagna...

Just as overwhelming is the variety of ingredients that you can choose to create different types of pesto: You can use spinach or cilantro instead of basil (or a combination of all), or vegetables like green peas or artichokes instead of leafy greens; you can use other types of nuts, like walnuts or pistachios instead of pine nuts; you can make a "red" pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers... The possibilities really are endless... After all, pesto is this fantastic combination of olive oil, parmesan and garlic; as long as you have the right ratio (which is key for any dip or spread) you can't go wrong with the taste.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 cup)

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (about 1 oz.),
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, finely grated


  • Put the pine nuts in a non-stick pan and toast them on medium-high heat for only a few minutes until they start to turn color and to smell (move them around in the pan a few times, so they brown evenly; and do not walk away at all since they may burn very quickly). Set aside to cool.
  • Put the garlic, basil leaves, salt and pine nuts into a food processor and process/pulse until they are finely and evenly chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and process until there is a thick, yet smooth consistency, add more oil if necessary.
  • Transfer to a bowl and stir in the parmesan.

Additional points:

  • The amount of olive oil you will add also depends on how you are going to use the pesto. If you want to serve it as a spread, use less oil; if as a sauce or dressing, you may want to add more.
  • Try not to skip the step of toasting the nuts, the additional flavor of toasting does make a difference in the taste and texture of the pesto.
  • Fresh basil sold in grocery stores contains both leaves and stems, and sometimes there are a few flower buds, too. You need to discard the buds and the stems (and the leaves that do not look in good shape); that leaves you with almost half the package; for example if you buy a 4-oz fresh basil package/bundle, you will have 2 oz. fresh basil leaves to use for pesto.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hummus (Humus)

Here's another classic Middle Eastern dip I unfortunately learned to appreciate a bit late..:) BUT I will try to make it up by making this deliciousness often and eating a lot of it..:))

In my mind, a good hummus recipe is the perfect balance of all the necessary ingredients, ending up in a perfect consistency.
And for a proper consistency you need to start by peeling all the chickpeas, one by one... I know this sounds crazy, but you will not be able to achieve the right smoothness in your hummus, if you skip this step. This will take another 10-15 minutes of your time, but it will really make a difference; besides canned chickpeas are quite easy to pop out of their skin (do this in front of the TV, you won't know how that 15 minutes fly..:))

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

  • One 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Up to 1/2 cup water


  • Put all the ingredients, except water, into a food processor. Process until smooth.
  • Add water gradually and pulse until a smooth and spreadable consistency is achieved.
  • Serve with pita chips / toasted bread / vegetables.

Additional points:

  • Hummus can be prepared a day ahead of serving; it can be stored in the fridge for several days; just don't forget to cover it w/ plastic wrap. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
  • Some tahini brands are thicker than others, therefore sometimes you may need the whole 1/2 cup of water, other times you may not. That's why you should add the water gradually at the end and stop when you have the desired consistency.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chocolate Pudding

Which remains as one of my pleasant childhood memories is that my mom used to often make chocolate pudding for us... She used to use store-bought chocolate pudding mix, but it still tasted delicious and always made me very happy...

Chocolate pudding is a classic, a staple to have in your kitchen portfolio and the fact is making home-made chocolate pudding from scratch is really not much harder than cooking it from a mix.

My experience of trying several different chocolate pudding recipes, longing for something similar to that childhood taste I was happy and familiar with, brought me to the conclusion that the best balance of taste and consistency in a chocolate pudding is achieved with good old whole milk and good old cocoa powder (Better Homes and Gardens recipe), and not with heavy cream or half-and-half and semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate which many chocolate pudding recipes use today; heavy cream and chocolate contain too much fat which make the end result look like a hardened ganache frosting or a very thick and heavy chocolate mousse and also leaves a bitter chocolate after-taste in your mouth (well, if that's what you're looking for, than go for it).

Two more things: 1) Always sieve the chocolate pudding through a mesh strainer, before putting it into the container(s); take your time and do not skip this step. 2) Don't judge the taste and consistency of a pudding before it has waited in the fridge for several hours; it should be really fridge-cold.

I love you, mom...

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 2/3 cups milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


  • In a bowl beat the egg yolks. Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch. Stir in milk.
  • Cook and stir frequently over medium heat till bubbly (a gentle boil across the surface). Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  • Gradually stir 1 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolks, then add the egg mixture to the milk mixture in the pan.
  • Bring the pan to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in the butter and vanilla (until the butter is melted and incorporated).
  • Pour pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a serving bowl or individual bowls. Place a sheet of plastic on the surface of the pudding (to prevent a skin to form on the top of the pudding). Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blueberry Buckle

I am not a big fan of eating fresh blueberries (I accept, that's my loss); actually, at the time, my reason for trying this recipe was to make use of 2 pints of blueberries that were sitting around in the fridge and not being desired by anybody at home... But when they were used in this recipe, they became kind of special for me.

Soft, bread-like cake melts in your mouth along with the sweet, crispy topping and the jam-like blueberries which bring a wonderful sourness...Nice option from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook to satisfy your hunger and accompany your morning or afternoon coffee/tea.

Ingredients: (Serves 8-10)

For the cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/4" cubes


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9x9x2-inch or 8x8x2-inch or an 8- or 9-inch springform pan with no-stick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
  • Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, beat softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the 3/4 cup sugar and beat till combined and light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well.
  • Add the flour mixture alternately with milk (start and end with flour mixture), beating till smooth after each addition.
  • Spoon batter into the prepared pan and try to spread evenly and smooth out the surface with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with blueberries.
  • Combine the 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the butter cubes with your hands or with a pastry blender till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake for 50-60 minutes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone... One of my Italian favorites... A starter I almost never miss when I see it on the menu of a restaurant... I did not grow up eating minestrone, but to me, this soup is as heartwarming and fulfilling as any traditional soup I grew up eating... And it puts together all the ingredients that are good for you.

But lately it seems to me like the minestrone soups I try at restaurants do not taste like they used to 10-15 years ago... Well, maybe it's just me... Nevertheless, I decided to create my own at home...

Ingredients: (Serves 8)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup potatoes, diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and cubed (makes about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups tomatoes, peeled and diced (or diced canned tomatoes, not drained)
  • 1 1/2 cups cut cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cups cut green beans, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen
  • 4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup mini dry pasta (like ditalini, elbow macaroni etc.)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups canned white kidney beans, drained and rinsed


  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and potatoes and saute until onion is soft and the veggies are translucent. Add garlic and saute until it's fragrant.
  • Add the tomato paste, basil, black pepper, salt and the stock (add the stock gradually and mix to dissolve the paste in the stock).
  • Add the tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, green peas and cauliflower. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low (or medium - depending on the burner) and simmer until all the vegetables are almost fork-tender.
  • Add the pasta and the parsley, increase the heat to medium-high and boil the soup until pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes (this cooking time depends on which type of pasta is being used).
  • Reduce the heat and add the beans. Just heat through for a few minutes and remove from the heat.

Additional points:

  • You can add other vegetables that you like to this soup, like cabbage, broccoli, spinach etc. (Try to use 6 cups of veggies as a total - excluding onion and garlic) The key here is to cook all the vegetables to the same doneness, so that they are soft, but not falling apart or cooked to death, that they still have a bite to them, but do not taste crunchy and raw. And that's why you may need to add different vegetables at different points during the cooking process, adjust the heat and check on their doneness frequently.
  • Each ingredient in this soup should have a presence, but no disturbing abundance..:) That's why you can play with the above given amounts of vegetables, pasta and beans to your liking. Some people may like a more watery soup w/ fewer ingredients, while others prefer a stew-like soup.
  • Salt amount is up to your taste and health issues. The stocks I use usually have enough salt in them, so I personally do not need to add more salt.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turkish Bean Salad (Piyaz)

Piyaz is a real classic in Turkish cuisine and sort of a necessary side dish/salad to go with meatballs, especially the grilled ones (Try Gemini's Meatballs).
Try to use the freshest vegetables to get that nice crunch inbetween the soft beans.
This salad becomes more delicious for me when I let it sit a little before serving, so the beans can absorb that vinegary dressing.
By the way, if life ever takes you to Istanbul, try to go to Ali Baba's Meatball Restaurant in Arnavutkoy, Istanbul. Yes, Turkey has traditional restaurants specialized in meatballs only; they serve only meatballs and side dishes that go with them. Even their desserts are specific, you kind of know which dessert(s) you will find when you go to a meatball restaurant.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 1 cup canned cannellini beans (or white kidney beans or navy beans or Great Northern beans - See: More info and comparison), rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups tomatoes (about 2 small), cubed
  • 1/2 cup cubanelle peppers (about 1/2 pepper) or any other kind mild green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup onion (1 small), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup parsley (about 1/2 bunch), chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 8 black olives, for garnish (optional)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced lengthwise into quarters, for garnish (optional)


  • Put all the ingredients, except for the eggs and olives, into a bowl and mix gently.
  • You can serve the salad right away or let it sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours for flavors to blend (do not let it sit longer or the salad will lose its freshness).
  • Garnish w/ olives and eggs and serve at room temperature.