Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Cookbooks Are Here! The Cookbooks Are Here!

The new cookbook from the White House and Michelle Obama's kitchen garden, written by renowned cookbook author Clara Silverstein is out! My six-year-old Jaclyn and I are featured in full color on page 34 of “A White House Garden Cookbook,” with a recipe there and on page 104. Yeah! Get your copy straight from the publisher, Red Rock Press, while they're still available.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How Lentils Could Save Planet Earth, Part I

Lentils. Daal (or dal or dahl). Sambar (or sambhar). Lentil soup. Lentil curry. Lentils and veggies. Over rice. Nice.

Lentils are seeds, of course, like all good pulses, and are shaped like little lenses. In fact, their genus is lens. Lens culinaris. Culinary lenses. Probably the earliest plant actually to be planted for cultivation purposes—the dawn of human agriculture—lentils make a huge contribution to the human diet with their 26% protein content (bested only by soybeans for sheer plant-protein-fortitude).

Lentils come in an eye-catching array of colors: green, orange, yellow, black, brown, red, white. And sizes—from teeny lenses to pea-sized lenses.

What I notice when I work with lentils is how fast they cook, compared to other beans (20 to 30 minutes for smaller lentils, more for larger ones). So, if you are serving rice and lentils, start them both at the same time, and you will be eating sooner than if you went out and bought Chinese take-out. Vegetarians love lentils—and with good reason—if you serve lentils along with a grain dish, between the two, you'll be getting complete protein, with all essential amino acids. Wow.

Some folks, like my husband (who has a tendency to explosive digestive issues), express concern about the inherent, um, fart-causing aspect of lentils and other beans. Well, it turns out there is a trick: soak lentils in water prior to cooking, and then discard the water. You will be pouring a good percentage of the fart-factor down the drain—and your whole household will be happier for it (unless that sort of thing amuses you—but probably best to reserve explosive digestive displays for say, camping trips, where the air is fresh).

Oh, yeah. Did I mention vitamins, minerals, and fiber? Lentils pack heaping doses of these too. It's even thought that regularly eating lentils can lower your risk of heart disease, and help balance your blood sugar. And don't forget—lentils are inexpensive. If you are a starving student, buy rice, lentils, and veggies and you will stretch your dollars to the maximum, while still eating well (and saving on doctor bills that your well-fed compatriots will later have from being part of the fast-food nation).

Drought-tolerant and grown simply everywhere, lentils are adept at feeding the world. Lentils could save the Earth and the people inhabiting same. Need any more reasons to start adding lentils to your family's diet? Nah—just some cooking ideas, please!

Here's a great list from Indian Foods Co. of spices and seasonings to use with lentils:

Cumin Seeds

Red Chillies

Mustard seeds

Ghee or oil for base of seasonings

Ginger Paste a must in most dals

Garlic Paste is sometimes used in dals

Coconut shreds (optional)

Tamarind or lime juice or fresh tomatoes or amchur powder to flavor the dal sour

Jaggery, maple syrup, brown sugar or palm sugar to flavor the dal sweet (optional)

Sambhar Powder to make the popular southIndian dal called sambhar

Garbanzo spice package to make the popular North Indian beans called Channa

A good rule of thumb is to use four cups of water for every cup of lentils and to cook for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (again, cook longer for larger lentils). Do not add salt until AFTER the lentils are already cooked. This is also true of all dried beans. Salt impedes the absorption of water during cooking. Save salt and salty seasonings until the end. (Sambar seasoning usually does not contain salt, so you can add that whenever you like).

You can buy a nice sambar powder at any Asian or Indian grocery store, with a recipe on the back. Sambar is a tangy, piquant, and irresistible lentil stew—but you will need tamarind paste to make it correctly (while cooking, just scoop off the white bubble layer that appears on top). You can always treat lentils like curry, and start with sauteing onions in butter or olive oil, adding garlic and grated ginger root, cooking the lentils in enough water (lentils are thirsty!), and then adding the usual suspects of turmeric, cumin, and coriander to flavor it "curry."

But honestly, you could also keep it simple: saute chopped onions in olive oil or butter, cook lentils in enough water, and then add a couple of cups of chopped veggies: eggplant, carrots, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, etc. Add salt to taste, and serve. If you want to play around, throw in some Cajun spice or Tabasco. It goes without saying to use your imagination and play around. Lentils are forgiving. Even if they are cooked to death, they merely resemble pea soup, and are still good to eat. And good to save your health and the planet.

Please send in your favorite lentil discoveries to me (Tumerica).

An incredibly scrumptious curried lentil dish

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas from the First Family to Your Family

The secret is out. It's A White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas from the First Family to Your Family, by Clara Silverstein. It's coming out tomorrow. I haven't seen it yet, but somewhere in the cookbook is a photo of my six-year-old daughter Jaclyn and me (cutting strawberries in the kitchen!) as well as two of my recipes. If you'd like a copy, I can get you one at a small discount. Just send me an email to tumerica [at]

Monday, April 12, 2010

When a Great Restaurant Serves Sub-par or Even Dangerous Food

Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez, California

We have a six-year-old. And I'm a rabid foodie. And my husband keeps a gourmet organic vegetable and herb garden in our back yard. So to say that we don't get to dine in fine restaurants often is an understatement. Once you pay the babysitter, that leaves, oh, a few cents left over in the budget for fine cuisine. But occasionally, we make an exception. Perhaps another foodie couple has a tip on a great restaurant and we feel inspired to forget our budget and go check it out with them

That was the case this past Saturday. An unfairly beautiful afternoon for a drive up to wine country and Santa Ynez (known famously as the backdrop of the movie, Sideways). The most beloved high-end restaurant in town is Trattoria Grappolo, staffed by Italian chefs and servers, and with ingredients gleaned locally and seasonally.

Our food and service (Michele Mancuso—what a wit!) were spectacular—until I bit into my primi, rigatoni with three mushrooms. The flavor was delicious but the texture was reminiscent of snippets of bicycle inner tubes, I’m sorry to say. Al dente is one thing, but this was work to chew. After a few bites I gave up.

My husband ordered the pork tenderloin—which was juicy and delicious. He saved one piece for me (this secondi is generously portioned). I enjoyed my first bite, but on the second bite, red oozed out onto the plate. I wouldn’t let him eat the rest of it—although he wanted to—the sauce was heavenly. When Michele’s assistant came to clear our table, he saw my plate full of rigatoni and asked if I wanted a takeout container. I informed him that the pasta was not cooked well and that I couldn’t eat it (a full plate of food is not a good sign). He said nothing and cleared the plates. He also cleared my husband’s plate that had one screamingly red piece of pork on it. Again, no comment. (Michele would have asked about these things, I’m certain, but he was away—the restaurant was slammed that night.)

Now, for a more complete picture, we’d had two superb appetizers (the stuffed calamari--amazing!) and our dining companions enjoyed their veal and shrimp linguini dishes completely. The desserts were divine and everyone at our table was otherwise happy, I felt bad about the possibility of spoiling the collective joy by complaining. But on reflection, I do wish I’d made a point to explain to Michele or his assistant—in a positive way—that I wanted a replacement for the inedible rigatoni and for the oozy pork. (In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered the shrimp linguini and the lamb instead.)

Because our other dishes were outstanding and because Michele’s service was impeccable (and he kept us laughing!), I felt we probably simply ordered the wrong things and that the restaurant is probably justifiably well-loved. But the full plate and the red pork do tell tales and I was surprised no one was interested in those tales. I've written the chef to find out his thoughts, but haven't heard back from him yet. What a bummer to have two out of four dishes we ordered be sub-par or even dangerous. Hopefully this experience was just a fluke? At $75 a head, we may not ever get the chance to return and find out.