Snow Day

(This post was written on Sunday, December 20.)

I wish I could say that I liked snow. Really I do. I can see the appeal — it's fluffy, it's white, and, I'm all for looking at a winter wonderland. But, when you come right down to it, or, more specifically, go out into it, it's wet. It's cold. And, I don't have the wardrobe. The zipper on my snow boots broke last week, my fingers stick out of my $4 gloves, and, while I have a decent coat, I look terrible in hats — like an egg or Kojak. And, lo and behold, I created a child who is anything but chomping at the bit to go outside and join perhaps slightly fun-er families on the skating rink or sledding hill.

Needless to say, I'm not entirely thrilled with the nor'easter currently falling outside my window.

Pretty? Perhaps. But I'm glad I'm inside. I woke early yesterday and shopped, effectively buying food for 20 to feed the two of us this weekend — an excessive amount of braising and baking seemed to be called for. I may not own snow pants or solid gloves, but my stove is ready, and my refrigerator is full. Here's an account of what I like to do on a snowy day. If, like me, you're trying to lose several pounds before your sister's impending 30th birthday party in LA, you may want to set out on a different food journey. Or at least, between meals, get out to the rink or onto the hill. I would be doing that myself, of course, if I only had the clothes.

8:30 a.m. Apple Cider Doughnuts

Make these immediately if you've never had a hot, fresh doughnut.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, November 2007
(you'll need a 2" round doughnut cutter and a deep fat thermometer)

1 c apple cider
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
1 1/4 t baking soda
scant teaspoon salt
2 t cinnamon, divided
1/2 c well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 c sugar, divided
3 quarts canola oil

Boil cider in a small heavy saucepan until reduced to about 1/3 c, 12 - 15 minutes, then cool completely.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 t cinnamon.

Whisk together reduced cider, buttermilk, butter, eggs, and 1c sugar in a small bowl. Mix into flour mixture with your hands until dough forms.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface and pat with lightly floured hands into a 13-inch round (about 1/3" thick). Cut out rounds with floured cutter and transfer to a baking sheet lined with floured parchment paper. Repeat with scraps, but roll out only once. I like to save the doughnut holes and cook them as well.

Heat oil to 370 degrees in a 5-quart heavy pot over medium heat. Slide as many doughnuts that fit into the oil. When they float to the surface, turn over with tongs and fry, turning one more time, until golden brown, 1.5 - 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining dough, returning oil to 370 between batches. Cool slightly and dredge in the remaining cinnamon and sugar, mixed in a small bowl. Eat while still warm. Yum.

1:00 p.m. Leftover Chicken Pot Pie (I'll share the recipe another time — I can only expect to hold your attention for so long, and I want to get to the main event.)

7:00 p.m. Short Ribs

These definitely take an afternoon when you have
nothing better to do, but they're worth it.

Slow Braised Short Ribs

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, October 2003 (who, themselves, adapted it from Barbara Lynch, our fabulous local chef)

Serves 8

8 long meaty short ribs
kosher salt
black pepper
2T olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1/2 c tomato paste
2 c dry red wine
1/2 c red-wine vinegar
1 quart beef stock or reconstituted beef-veal demiglace concentrate (Gourmet says specifically not to use beef broth, but I used Whole Foods beef broth in the cardboard container, and the results were very good)
2 c water
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/4 lb Niman Farms Applewood Smoked Bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4" slices

Put rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Pat ribs dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a wide 6 - 8 quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, just until smoking, then brown ribs in batches, without crowding, turning w tongs, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to moderate, then cook onion, carrots, and celery in fat remaining in pot, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on edges, about 7 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, wine, and vinegar, and boil over high heat, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add stock, water, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add ribs, along w any juices accumulated on plate.

Cover pot tightly, then transfer to oven and braise ribs until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer ribs to a platter and discard bones, then let meat stand, loosely covered w a sheet of parchment paper or foil. Pour cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. Put cooking liquid into the refrigerator until fat rises to the surface (abt 15 minutes), then skim fat.

While cooking liquid chills, cook bacon (lardons) in cleaned pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 7 minutes, then transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off bacon fat from pot, then add short rib cooking liquid and lardons to pot. Slowly boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced to about 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Season w salt and pepper.

Trim fat and connective tissue from meat, then gently transfer meat to sauce and cook over moderate heat, uncovered until just heated through.

I served ribs over mashed potatoes, parsnips, and baby turnips.


Meaty, Hearty: Fuel for a Winter Odyssey

As Janetta noted, I love words. Probably not surprisingly, I also love thinking about how words, put together, create a whole greater than the parts—that’s why I teach English. My students are a wonderful bunch of high schoolers, 9th through 12th grades, spunky, bright, and affectionate. We spend our time together discovering and reveling in the challenges and pleasures of texts as disparate as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior.

My 9th graders and I have spent the last month reading Homer’s Odyssey, a work the novelist Henry Fielding called the “eatingest epic”—which it certainly is: it’s difficult to read more than a few pages before encountering a scene of feasting or good hosts plying guests with food.

In Homer’s world, to each eater his own fare. The suitors so presumptuously squatting in the home of Penelope and Telemachos in Odysseus’ absence pack it in, putting away countless “beeves” and skins of wine. Gods and goddesses, the immortals, eat nectar (from nec, death, + tar, overcome) and ambrosia (from a, not, + brotos, mortal). The Cyclops munches on Odysseus’ unfortunate men. One of the things Odysseus and his men learn the hard way is the importance of propitiating the gods through appropriate and properly timed sacrifice—often of a “hecatomb,” one hundred (!) cattle. As you might imagine, the reader happens upon much skinning, flaying, roasting, and the like. Notice a trend? Meat, meat, meat… all of which sometimes becomes a bit much for the vegetarian in me to, well, stomach.

Not that I don’t appreciate the art of Homer’s descriptions. Undoubtedly one of the epic’s loveliest passages is the description of a “ritual feast” in the house of Nestor. To honor the gods, especially Athena, the sacrifice of a heifer, a young cow that hasn’t yet calved, unfolds with lovingly measured attention to detail:

The smith now gloved each horn in a pure foil
beaten out of the gold that Nestor gave him—
a glory and delight for the goddess’ eyes—
while Ekhéphron and Stratíos held the horns.
Arêtos brought clear lustral water
in a bowl quivering with fresh-cut flowers,
a basket of barley in his other hand.
Thrasymêdês who could stand his ground in war,
stood ready, with a sharp two-bladed axe,
for the stroke of sacrifice, and Perseus
held a bowl for the blood.
Book III, ll. 471-81
(from The Odyssey, Homer, tr. Robert Fitzgerald. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998; 1961)

The scene continues, with increasingly explicit details of slaughter and the ensuing dismemberment, ending with “morsels of lean meat” broiling on spits over a fire.

So, what don’t they seem to eat in the Odyssey? Vegetables. Starches. And that feels, actually, absolutely right. In a world filled with adventures in which one is pitted against man-eating beasts and the wrath of the ancient gods on the open seas, meat seems like just the thing.

Cut to yesterday, when Boston awoke to some 6 or 7 inches of snow, courtesy of our first significant winter storm of the season. Like all of my neighbors, Joe and I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon shoveling snow, expending a lot of rigor and energy moving mountains of the copious white stuff from car, sidewalk, and driveway to my rather small front yard, which quickly filled with mounds of snow. Later on, navigating the roads proved to be quite the odyssey, requiring the avoidance of the Scylla and Charybdis of ice and slush, and the traversing of roads filled with imprudent, even impudent, monsters—I mean, drivers.

Hours of much labor, indeed. Such a day leads many people down the path of a series of hankerings: hot chocolate or some other hot beverage, followed in due course by something hearty like, say, braised short ribs, or Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Cold weather, exercise, fraught travels, all seem to clamor for something that sticks to one’s ribs.

Given such gargantuan demands on the body and soul, what might a vegetarian crave? Here was my answer, a soup that provides substantial and flavorful nourishment. (Yup—red lentils again, this time joined with bulgur.) It’s adapted from a recipe of Özcan Ozan, of Boston’s Sultan’s Kitchen, one of my favorite places for a quick and delicious Turkish lunch. This soup was served to more than 1500 guests at the annual James Beard Awards Dinner in May 1995. It is delicious and filling, leaving no room for the craving of meat. I like to believe that a bowl or two would leave even the Cyclops satisfied.

Ezogelin Corbasi
Red Lentil, Bulgur, and Mint Soup
adapted from Özcan Ozan's The Sultan's Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook
Serves 4-6

2 T virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter (clarified if you have it; if not, just be sure not to overheat and burn)
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced (3/4 c)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T tomato paste
1-3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped (1/2 c); canned okay, preferably San Marzano or Muir Glen brand
2 T paprika (I use Pride of Szeged sweet Hungarian; you are looking for flavor, not heat)
½ t Turkish red pepper or cayenne pepper
1 ½ c red lentils, rinsed and picked over
¼ c long-grain white rice
6 c vegetable broth or water
¼ c fine- or medium-grain bulgur
1 T dried mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges

4 T unsalted butter
3 t dried mint
1 t paprika (again, I use the sweet Hungarian)

In a heavy medium-size saucepan, heat the olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently for about 2 minutes, or until they are softened but not at all brown. Stir in the tomato paste, chopped tomato, paprika, and Turkish pepper. Add the lentils, rice, and broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked and the lentils have blended with the broth. Add the bulgur and mint, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. During the cooking time, be sure that the soup is not thickening too much and sticking to the bottom of the pot. If it does become overly thick, add a little water.

To make the topping, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, add the mint and paprika, and stir the mixture until it sizzles. Ladle the soup into invidividual bowls and drizzle the butter mixture over each serving. Squeeze in lemon juice and/or serve with lemon wedges.

Note: The soup will thicken considerably overnight. No worries; just thin to the desired consistency with broth or water.


Shopping with a Budget and Marcella Hazan

A few weeks ago I met with Abby, my financial advisor — a term I use loosely as I've only seen her one other time, in 2006 or 07 I think. That meeting was too depressing to warrant another. But, since my divorce, I've been known as a person with no money, someone friends take pity on when out for food and drinks, and I'm tired of it. Plus my boss told me I had to see her or else.

I try hard to be a grown up, usually failing miserably, particularly with my finances. But I went through the motions of preparing for Abby's visit. I carefully delineated my expenses in an Excel spreadsheet, thinking that I should at least look like I knew where to start. Abby consults for our non-profit pro bono, so I wanted to be courteous and not appear to waste her time. But really, I didn't know why I was bothering. I knew what she was going to say: I need to get a new job. The number at the bottom of the spreadsheet — what I have left to spend for a month after paying all my bills — is pretty dismal. I knew that Abby would only confirm that my pathetic salary for one could never buy oil and gas and electricity and the iPhone and internet service, and Starbucks, while simultaneously paying off my enormous debt. So, while I waited for her arrival I started to update my résumé, and I mentally prepared to break the news to my boss, who would be bereft to lose me, but it had to be done.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, Abby and I got down to business. She studied my spreadsheet for several minutes and then looked up to study me. "Do you really have that amount of money left after you pay all of your bills?" I nodded my head and wiped a tear from my eye. "Janetta," she said, "your salary isn't your problem; your problem is you." I was aghast.

We went through my "budget" line-by-line. Did I really need to pay for horseback riding for my daughter? Yes. Could she possibly drop out of her community theater group? No. I am frequently an imperfect mother, but I refuse to sacrifice the defining moments of my daughter's one and only childhood. There would be enough blame already, enough fodder for the therapist's mill; I need to create some fabulous moments as well. Moments I can point to while paying for medication and begging for the right to see my grandchildren.

"Well," Abby muttered. "Where do you buy your food?" "Um... Whole Foods and the farmers' market?" "There's your problem," she retorted. "You need to start shopping at Stop and Shop, but Market Basket really has the best deals."

Stop and Shop? Market Basket? I've never even seen a Market Basket. There certainly isn't one in Brookline. I started to whine, but my arguments fell flat. She left me with a few guidelines, a URL for an online budget service, and a new savings account with a higher interest rate. She disparaged Suze Orman on her way out, which I ignored, but I was determined to succeed. I went to Stop and Shop that very same day.

I hate Stop and Shop. The people who work there make me sad. I get no inspiration from the shelves. They don't pipe in cool '80s music like Trader Joe's where I sing and dance down the aisles to Journey and Gloria Gaynor (see future therapy for my daughter above). And, I'm most comfortable wearing glasses and a wig in the parking lot. But when I walked in that night, a good friend of mine was standing right there in front of the lettuce. One of those friends who has shown me pity and bought me oysters and cocktails on a number of occasions. If she could buy food at Stop and Shop, couldn't I? I scanned the produce and the meat section. It wasn't pretty. But it was cheap.

I frequently have a hankering for pork and a craving for Marcella Hazan. This night was no exception. I know that Julia is receiving (and rightly so) the lion's share of the press recently, but, while I admire the French, my favorite food usually comes from Italy. Marcella is bossy, and I usually screw something up, but I've never made a meal from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that I haven't loved, despite her warnings and my failings. Once I bought dried chanterelles instead of porcini because they were all I could find that particular day, only to come home and read: "Dried morels, chanterelles, or shiitake... do not remotely recall the flavor of porcini, and are not a satisfactory substitute." I panicked, but in the end I really couldn't tell the difference.

On this particular night Stop and Shop actually had dried porcini, but I just grabbed the packet on top — they looked black and earthy and delicious. I returned to Marcella to remember how to reconstitute the mushrooms and she told me, "unless you have no alternative stay away from brown-black, dark mushrooms." I had blown it again.

Stop and Shop or Whole Foods? Let's face it. Like the mushrooms, most of the difference is in my head. Yes, I would like to know where the pig came from, but unless I'm at the farmers' market, talking to the people who raised and killed it, my knowledge at either store is pretty much the same. One just uses butcher paper instead of styrofoam and has friendly men to hand over the goods — one of the factors leading to the higher food cost probably. But supplying jobs at the same time. It's a quandary.

I have to admit, whatever my intentions, it's been several weeks since Abby's visit, and I haven't been to Stop and Shop since. And I only occasionally check my online budget because it gives me palpitations, particularly around the holidays. But, wherever you buy your pork and whatever your budget, you'll love this recipe. Just leave Marcella's voice at home and deal with the consequences later. Whatever you end up with — chanterelles instead of porcini; 1" chops instead of 3/4", if you have enough wine on hand, it will turn out just fine.

Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes, Cream, and Porcini Mushrooms
adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

1/4 c vegetable oil
2 lbs pork chops, cut 3/4" thick
1/2 c dry white wine
1/2 c canned plum tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano or Muir Glen. Whole Foods frequently has one or the other on sale - 2 cans for $5.)
1/2 c heavy cream
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 oz dried porcini. Or, really, whatever dried mushrooms you can find.
filtered water from the porcini soak (see below)
1/2 lbs fresh, white button mushrooms

1. Reconstitute the dried mushrooms: soak porcini in 2 cups barely warm water for at least 30 minutes.

2. Lift out the porcini by hand, squeezing out as much water as possible, letting it drain back into the bowl in which they had been soaking. Rinse the mushrooms in several changes of fresh water. Pat dry with paper towels, making sure all dirt is washed away. Coarsely chop.

3. Filter the mushroom water through a strainer lined with paper towels; reserve for later.

4. Put 2 tbs of the canola oil into a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the chops. Turn the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot, add the chops. Brown the meat deeply on one side (let it sizzle until it doesn't stick when you turn it with the fork), then do the other side.

5. Add the white wine, letting it simmer briskly for 15 or 20 seconds, while scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, cream, salt, pepper, and the cut-up porcini. Turn the heat down to cook at a gentle simmer, and cover the pan, with the lid ajar.

6. Cook for 45 minutes or more, depending on the exact thickness until the meat feels tender when prodded with a fork, turning from time to time.

7. While the chops are cooking, put the filtered water from the porcini soak into a small saucepan, and boil it down to about 1/3 c.

8. Wash the fresh button mushrooms and cut them into thin slices.

9. Put the remaining 2 tbs of oil into another sauté pan and turn the heat to high. When the oil is hot, put in the mushrooms. Stir them frequently and add salt and pepper. When the liquid they shed has boiled away, add the reduced filtered porcini water and continue to stir until there's no more liquid in the pan. Take off heat.

10. When the chops are tender, add the cooked mushrooms to the pan. Turn the chops and mushrooms, cover the pan again, and continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes over moderate heat. Transfer to a warm platter and serve immediately. I ate it with butternut squash, but polenta, rice, or mashed potatoes would all work well to soak up the sauce.



Well, the moment has come: I’m up, due to follow Janetta’s first post for Umami. Before I launch into my little piece, I must add what is no doubt abundantly clear: Janetta is a force, a wit, a talent: a mightily smart, sympathetic friend—a person I treasure. And she can cook: she can whip together a fabulous dinner party in the wink of an eye, and is, like me, joyfully obsessive in thinking about food.

Of course I agree with Janetta: food—the thinking about it, preparing it, and eating it—brings comfort. When those activities are shared, all the better; it’s sweet indeed. (See future posts about moments of sharing food on a medium to grandish scale, among them dinner parties with my friend Bob; my neighborhood’s Soup Night, inaugurated and hosted by my friend and neighbor Annie; and potluck suppers, which Janetta and I try to have with our friends Rebecca and Theo at least a couple of Sunday nights a month.)

So, I’ll be writing plenty about cooking and eating with my family and friends—probably the most satisfying way to enjoy the fruits of my labors and pleasures in the kitchen. But tonight, eating is about something different: One of my reasons for wanting—no, sometimes needing—food comfort is that peculiar arrangement familiar to many divorced moms: The Dad Weekend. When Sam is off for the weekend with his dad, even though I gain, I guess, some precious moments to myself, and, even, sometimes and, gloriously, a night out, I miss him horribly. Coming home to a quiet house, alone, after work on Friday evening can feel a mite solitary, even, especially in these late days of autumn, bleak. What to do? Cook something soothing, delicious, and, well, comforting. Being, occasionally, a pragmatist, I often try to arrange for my comfort to include ingredients that my fairly newly picky 10-year-old refuses to eat; things like mushrooms, artichokes, stinky cheese, and the like. I’m not above the occasional—in season, thank you—night of bingeing: say, a dinner of 3 artichokes, or 2 pounds of perfect asparagus. But I won’t bore you with those.

Tonight, it’s about what amounts to the ultimate comfort food for me: soup. (You’ll no doubt hear a lot about soup from me in this blog. Bear with me if you’re not of the brothy sort; I promise other tasty ideas down the road.) This soup boasts a few pluses for the solitary cook and eater—it’s simple, and offers an intriguing double personality: serve it upon first preparation, and the “patties” are initially crispy, solid, yummy, floating in the broth; on the second day, eaten as leftovers, the soup will be an entirely different experience, as the patties will have melted into the soup, creating a thicker, corny concoction quite toothsome on a coolish day. (You can also, of course, reserve the cooked patties on the side, adding and warming only as many as you will eat at that sitting.) And yes, I realize that it’s a tad funny for a vegetarian to be offering recipes from a book called The Chicken Soup Book; but it’s a lovely little book, full of deliciousness and charming illustrations… and easy enough to adapt for vegetarians by using veggie broth and leaving out the meat.

Nicaraguan Soup with Masa Harina Patties
(adapted from The Chicken Soup Book, by Janet Hazen)

Masa Harina Patties:
2 c masa harina (yellow, lime-treated corn flour)
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ t kosher or sea salt
½ to ¾ c cold water
4 T olive oil

1 medium onion, cut into small dice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into small dice
1 red, 1 green, and 1 orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into small dice
3 T olive oil
8 c hearty vegetarian broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
If you have a perfectly ripe avocado around, it’s nice to add a few slices to your bowl, as well

To make the masa harina patties: In a medium bowl, combine the masa harina, cheese, butter, and salt using your hands. Add enough of the water to hold the dough together. (In my experience, as with many doughs, the amount of water required varies quite a lot from time to time; just keep adding a little at a time until you’ve got the right texture.) Form dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Divide the ball into 4 equal balls and roll each into a long cylinder approximately 1 inch thick. Cut each cylinder into 6 equal pieces and shape each into a small patty about ¼ inch thick.

In a large, nonstick sauté pan, heat 2 T of the olive oil over moderate heat. When the oil is warm, add half of the patties. Cook until both sides are light golden brown, about 1-3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and place on a large plate lined with paper towels. Cook the rest of the patties in the remaining olive oil. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed large saucepan, cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeño and bell peppers in the olive oil over moderate heat until crisp-soft but still brightly colored, for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the masa patties and reduce the heat to moderate. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the patties are warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish each portion with cilantro just before serving. Adding a few slices of avocado? Heaven.

Makes about 12 cups—enough to have a friend or three over if you just can’t stomach a solitary dinner, with some left over to put into your child’s lunchbox on Monday, when he’ll be back home.


Not wanting to leave the impression that my existence is a solitary vale of tears, I would like to share that I do occasionally, as they say, get out. (It’s what my parents seem always to be urging me to do.) Anyway, get out I did, last weekend. And it got me thinking….

Plenty. The word has been bouncing around in my head since I spent a beautiful Thanksgiving with friends last week. The day was long, some seven hours or so spent eating fabulous food, drinking lovely wine, and then lingering at the table to chat, pet the cat, admire the antics of charming, gamboling children, and play word games (fun, but challenging, at least for me, because of the no-blood-in-the-brain-because-it’s-all-busy-in-the-stomach, digesting thing). All utterly, abundantly, delightful. The affection and palpable love practically did me in—and I had just met a handful of these people for the first time that day. But sharing food, good food, with people has that effect on me. Food is love.

Fast forward to the next day, when, inexplicably, I felt ravenous, despite having eaten so much the day before. Joe took me to have a wander and a gander at the newish Whole Foods in Dedham (more another day on my complicated feelings about WF), where I was confronted, head-on and on a very large scale, with plenitude: dozens of varieties of potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and so much more, arranged in harmonious, attractive tableaus of colorful excess and choice. The sheer scale of things proved tantalizing, but overwhelming—huge: not unlike the “Yeti” on the produce boxes that had me chuckling as I shot some photos of the store’s bounty.

My response? To want it all, then bridle at my wanting. We ended up with what is often my answer to an eating quandary, especially in the fall and winter: a one-pot meal, featuring colorful bits… but not too much of any one thing. We decided on a stewy concoction; Joe opted for Indian spices, and we were set: I would make a variation of one of my favorite recipes, based on an Indian dal, a lentil stew, incorporating our veggie choices of the day.

One of these days I will spend some time exalting and parsing the subtleties of the lentil; Sam and I love Indian food, and I never met a dal I didn’t like. We have this dish a couple of times a month at least, usually in Madhur Jaffrey’s simple, quite perfect version. During our trip through the produce section of WF, though, Joe and I selected a few choice items to add to the recipe: crisp green beans, a couple of perfect carrots, a handful of baby Bello mushrooms, a green pepper, and a sweet little Japanese eggplant; I blanched the green beans and sautéed the rest of the veggies on the side, with some canola oil and salt, then folded them in at the end, along with some cooked kidney beans—for more color and protein. Serve with basmati rice, and garnish with cilantro and an extra spritz of lime juice, as desired, and you’ll have a filling, balanced meal. Below, the basic recipe, ripe for improvisation—depending on your mood and what looks tasty at the store.

Red Lentils with Zucchini
Vegetarian Dalcha
(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian)

1 c red lentils (masoor dal), picked over, washed in several changes of water, and drained
¼ t ground turmeric
¼ c canola oil
4 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
½ t whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 t peeled fresh ginger, grated to a pulp
3 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
1 medium zucchini, halved crosswise, then cut into 1-in rounds
Freshly ground pepper
¼ to ½ t cayenne
A few squeezes of fresh lime juice
Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

Put the red lentils and 3-4 c water (depending on whether you like a light, soupy dal or a more stewy one—and know that it will thicken if left to sit for a while or overnight) in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Watch carefully so that the contents of the pot do not boil over, and remove the froth that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir once. Turn down the heat to low, cover but leave the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Add 1 to 1 ¼ t salt and stir to mix.

Put the oil in a nonstick frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, put in the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds and then add the onion. Stir and fry until the onion pieces turn medium brown. Add the ginger and garlic. Continue to stir and fry for another minute. Then put in the zucchini, black pepper to taste, cayenne, and another ¼ t salt. Stir for a minute. Add ½ c of water, cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook for about 4 minutes. Uncover, stir gently again, and then empty the contents of the frying pan into the pot with the lentils. Stir gently to mix and cook on low heat for a minute or three. (If you’ve cooked some additional vegetables on the side, now is the time to add them.) Squeeze lime juice over the top before serving and garnish with cilantro if you like.

Serves at least 4… even 6-8 with additions like those I made last week. In other words, plenty.