Freekeh to the rescue

Mujadara is a delicious mid-Eastern specialty typically made with rice and lentils and topped with caramelized onions. My mouth was watering thinking about this plus spoonfuls of Raita (here), a yogurt topping seasoned with cumin, green onion, cilantro, and such.

It wasn’t until I began pulling out the lentils and rice that I realized I was completely out of rice! How does that happen?  I debated a run to the store but spotted a bag of cracked freekeh.

cracked freekeh

Well, I reasoned, freekeh is certainly nutritious, it has a lovely nutty flavor and a chewy bite… It might actually be good with lentils.  Why not give it try?

I had the Instant Pot ready to go, so I proceeded pretty much as usual in making mujadara, by first caramelizing the onions and then set them aside. Yum.  I quickly sautéed the aromatics: cumin, allspice, and smoked paprika, added garlic and a dollop of the onions. The freekeh and lentils were tossed in next with water and such, and the pot was set to Hi Pressure for 11 minutes.

Once complete, I decided to let the pot rest with a 7-minute quick release.  I carefully opened the lid, relieved to see that both the lentils and freekeh were cooked. It was a little soupy but it set up as it sat in the pot. I had forgotten to add lemon rind, so I stirred in a spoonful of preserved lemon, which perked it up nicely.

Freekeh and Lentil Mujadara

The very exotic mujadara was ready and waiting when dinner was served 30 minutes later—along with caramelized onions, raita, and more lemon.

I could have stopped there; it needed nothing more. I buckled and added a little tomato for fresh color… and pita bread.

Freekeh & Lentil Mujadara

1 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, thin sliced lengthwise
½ tsp cumin, ¼ tsp allspice, ½ tsp hot smoked paprika or to taste
1 clove garlic, mash and sliver
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup brown lentils
2½ cups water
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp grated lemon rind or preserved lemon


  1. To prepare the caramelized onion, set Instant Pot to Sauté Medium, melt the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When bubbling, add the sliced onion, a dash of salt and pepper, and stir often with flat a spatula until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Reduce heat to Sauté Low, drizzle in a little olive oil to coat bottom. Add the spices, stirring until aromatic. Stir the garlic into the spice mixture for a minute and then a spoonful of the caramelized onions.
  3. Add the lentils and freekeh, then the water. Increase heat to Sauté High; stir in salt, pepper, bay leaf, and lemon. Seal pot, reset to Hi Pressure for 10-11 minutes. When complete, let stand 7 minutes and carefully release pressure. Open the lid, stir in preserved lemon  if using. It thickens as it sets.
  4. Serve with caramelized onion, fresh lemon, and homemade raita. Serves 4

Cauliflower Credo

This is one serious blunder.  I can’t believe I forgot to post this incredibly good veggie burger that includes cauliflower.  I know, you must be saying, “No-more-cauliflower!”  If you are looking for an outstanding veggie patty, don’t count this one out.

There are probably more veggie-burger-patty posts on this blog than anything else. It is also true that in each case the latest is always the best.  This one really is!

Hear me out. If you have labored over as many veggie burgers as I have, it’s likely that you have established your own preferences.

Personally, I like the falafel flavor range: cumin and other warm spices, plus a little heat all work in this format.  Not so much that it overwhelms other flavors.
Not too wet or too dry; it must hold its shape. Not too heavy or too light.  We want to be fully satisfied, but not have a bomb to process.
Healthful ingredients are key. A variety of vegetables plus a combination of grains, legumes, pulses and/or beans all help to balance, boost food value, and increase taste, nutrition, and overall interest.

Yes, the perfect veggie patty must have a lot going for itself, and who would think cauliflower could be such a big player?  My recent cauliflower marathon confirms all of these suspicions.

»  Its assertive yet mild flavor profile works well with the falafel requirement.
»  It has the ability to hold its shape with the right binders.
» It is light, nutritious, and a big team player.

May I present the most outstanding veggie burger… of the day?

Cauliflower-Lentil Veggie Patties

2 cups riced cauliflower, or a partial head of cauliflower
¾ cup dried red lentils, rinsed
½ cup bulgur wheat
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup cremini mushrooms chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coriander
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
½ cup falafel mix (found in specialty stores or bulk food section)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko, approximate
¼ cup coconut oil for cooking, divided (approximate)

Any of all of the following:  grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, Sriracha, sprouts, or sautéed kale.


  1. To prepare the cauliflower, cut into florets. Cut or pulse in food processor until the size of large rice grains. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the lentils, place in small pot with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until soft but still holding shape, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Soak the bulgur wheat in 1 cup boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cover and let stand 15 minutes until swelled. Drain.
  4. In medium sauté pan over medium-high, heat the olive oil and add the onion and the thyme, cook to soften, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stirring to soften the mushrooms. Add the coriander, a few grinds sea salt and freshly ground pepper and sauté to remove additional liquid, 1-2 minutes longer. Place in bowl of food process.
  6. To sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and then the cauliflower. Season with red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of salt. Cook until cauliflower begins to soften and color 3-4 minutes. Don’t overcook.  Remove to processor bowl.
  7. Pulse all the vegetables, bulgur, and lentils until coarse texture, but not pureed. Place in large mixing bowl. Stir in falafel mix, the lemon juice, and the egg. It should for a loose mass. Cover and let rest 20-30 minutes in fridge.
  8. Stir up to 1 cup panko into the mixing bowl to form a cohesive but not too wet mixture that holds together well. The panko is designed to bind and lighten the mixture, don’t over mix. It will also help with browning.
  9. Divide into 8 portions, shape into patties 3-1/2” x ½” thick, and place on parchment lined pan. Cover and chill 20 minutes longer or up to 1 day.
  10. Over medium, heat skillet with 2-3 teaspoons coconut oil. Cook in 2-3 batches. Cover while cooking the first side, about 5 minutes, until browned and well heated. Turn, add a bit more oil and brown second side, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on rack.
  11. Serve with bun or pita or choice. Top with grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, and shredded lettuce or sautéed kale. Yield: 8 patties.

Lentil Loaf: Not your Usual Shades of Grey

As recent as last week, had I been asked the likelihood of lentil loaf appearing in this blog, I would have responded, “Highly improbable.” In my mind, it conjured up a bland mass of boring shades of grey not worth pursuing.  Now, thanks to Giada De Laurentiis I can happily chalk that one up as an another, “Well, I was wrong.”

In defense of shades of grey, it’s safe to say that we’ve been given plenty of reason to reconsider what grey means, and that it doesn’t have to be dull and dreary. For me, all it took was a long look at Giada’s mother, Veronica’s recipe for lentil loaf.  Amidst the vegetables and vibrant Italian flavors there were lentils, but I saw color, taste, and plenty of potential. Could it be that these mild mannered lentils were a ruse, rather a rallying point for one raucous party?

So thank you, Giada, you certainly opened the door.  For the record, here’s Veronica’s version with spinach, cheeses, and rice−likely quite delicious.

Although our approaches are similar and it is all about layering and building flavors, I veered off on a slightly different tack. I started by simmering the lentils with a bit of bacon, celery, and a light seasoning of allspice; when the lentils were almost done I added carrot. For bulk and balance, I opted to include bulgur wheat rather than rice, for its nutritional qualities and ease of preparation. (It only needs a good 15-minute soak in boiling water.)  For the vegetable component, I sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil, added chopped portabella mushrooms seasoned with rosemary and thyme, and gave it a good squirt of lemon juice. Then, it’s all mixed together.

Much like preparing a meatloaf, the lentil mixture is combined with binder: quick oats, Parmesan and a couple of eggs. There’s a final seasoning of salt, pepper, a good shot of Worcestershire sauce and plenty of fresh parsley.  It needs a short rest to redistribute the moisture content and allow flavors to permeate and blend.

That gave me just enough time to preheat the oven and make a quick sauce.  Veronica tops her loaf with a fresh salsa of sorts. For contrast I wanted a saucier consistency; we already had plenty of texture.  Since the loaf only takes about 30 minutes, I could whip up an easy Marinara Sauce.lentil loaf

As with a fine roast, once it’s removed from the oven the loaf should rest a few minutes, then it will cut easily into firm green and orange speckled slices. The Marinara Sauce adds a shot of color, more moisture and vibrant flavor.  lentil loaf sliceBest news: the following day it is even better−there’s nothing dull and boring about this lentil loaf.

Savory Lentil Loaf with Marinara Sauce 

Inspired by Giada De Laurentiis Lentil Veggie Meatloaf
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 small stalk celery with leaves, chopped
3 cups water
Salt and pepper
Pinch allspice
1 small carrot, peeled and diced

2/3 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/3 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup Portabella mushrooms chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary or savory, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1/2 tsp salt
red pepper flakes
Juice of ½ lemon

½ cup quick cooking oats
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup parsley, minced
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

3-4 bay leaves
½ cup mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

Accompaniments:  serve with Marinara Sauce (see below)

1.  For the lentils: In small pot, place the lentils and bacon with 3 cups water.  Bring to a boil and skim any brown matter that surfaces to the top.  Add the celery, salt, pepper, allspice and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the carrots and continue until lentils and carrots are tender, a total of 20-30 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
2.  Prepare the bulgur wheat: Soak the bulgur wheat in boiling water covered with plastic wrap, for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
3.  Sauté the vegetables:  In medium skillet, heat the olive oil, add the onions and sauté to soften Add the mushrooms and toss to release moisture, add the garlic and herbs and continue cooking until moisture is released; season lightly with salt and red pepper flakes. Squeeze in lemon juice, sauté briefly to absorb and remove from heat.
4.  In a large bowl, combine the lentils, bulgur wheat, and the sautéed vegetables.  Add the oats, Parmesan cheese, parsley, Worcestershire, the beaten eggs, and salt and pepper.  Toss to blend well.  Let stand while oven is preheating..  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a deep gratin dish or other large casserole with olive oil.
5.  Pack the lentil mixture into the prepared baking dish and round it on top.  Press bay leaves on top and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the top begins to brown.  Let stand 15 minutes before cutting into thick slices and serve with Marinara Sauce. Serves 6

Marinara Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small onion, chopped
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil (or 10-12 fresh leaves on finish)
1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
¼ tsp or more salt and freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste

  1. Heat a medium pot over medium-low; heat the oil, add garlic and onion and sauté until transparent. Add herbs and sauté briefly.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and remaining ingredients.  Simmer partially uncovered until thickened, 20-30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.

Cornbead: thinking out of the box

Cooking in a small kitchen requires ingenuity and resourcefulness: a small space has limited storage and requires tough choices:  like how much heirloom china do you really need?… and severely cutting back on pots, pans, and accessories. It means taking a close look at every day food choices and meal planning―to the point of rating what falls into the category of ‘food staples’.

Such was the case recently when I threw together a lovely le puy lentil soup, replete with carrot and Spanish chorizo. Yes, it was quick to make, but it was also ready and waiting because I had failed to considered what to serve along with the soup. An oops.

I spotted a kid’s size bag of Betty Crocker cornmeal muffin mix… what about that?   And then, there was the remnants of a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge; not a bad addition to counteract the questionable sweetness of the boxed mix… and while at it, I grabbed some plain yogurt for a little more tang and further lighten it. I quickly chopped up a handful of vegetables for color and crunch, added a few sliced olives, and finished it all with a dusting of grated cheddar cheese on top.  Into the oven it went for a quick bake.cornbread

Truth is, it’s hard to screw up these packaged mixes; they are very forgiving. But how do you elevate them beyond mundane? cornbread,lentils 1

The sauerkraut became an undetectable mystery ingredient that blended with the other vegetables, plus it served to ameliorate the mix’s inherent sweetness and create a little more interest and punch.

You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Cornbread in a Jiffy

1 small box or package cornmeal muffin mix, Betty Crocker or Jiffy
2 tbsp cornmeal, if available
¼ c yogurt plus enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green onion, trimmed, chopped
1 med jalapeno pepper, seeded, trimmed, chopped
2 tbsp sauerkraut, heaping
12 green olives, sliced
1/3 c cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray or butter a 7″x5″ (approximate) baking pan or dish.
  2. In a 1 cup measure, place the yogurt and enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup and blend well; add the egg and olive oil, and combine well.
  3. Place the cornmeal muffin mix and additional cornmeal in a medium mixing bowl.  Gently stir in the yogurt mixture, sauerkraut, green onion, jalapeno pepper, and about 1/2 of the sliced olives, mixing only to moisten but not over blend.
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan or dish. Top with remaining olive slices and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the top is set and cheese is melted.  Let cool briefly and cut into 6-8 servings.
  5. You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Lentil Soup for Lovers

Lentils are a great legume to have tucked in the pantry for a rainy day or an easy evening.  These little nuggets are highly versatile:  they cook up in a hurry and their earthy flavor blends with a multitude of seasonings and treatments.

Not only are lentils low in fat, high in protein and rich in fiber, they are nutrient rich:  these powerhouses are packed with calcium, potassium, vitamin K, zinc and niacin.Lentil soup

Simmer a cup or two of lentils, add a few handfuls of fresh vegetables, perhaps a smidgen of bacon and/or a little piece of frozen kielbasa for additional flavor and richness.  With little effort you’ve got an impressive, heart-thumping homemade soup in less than an hour.

More importantly, lentil soup is even better the day after…

Lentil Soup

1-1/2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and drained
Water to cover by 2”, plus additional as needed
1 tsp olive oil
½ onion, small chop
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup carrots, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
1 stalk celery, small chop
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, sage)
1 thick slice bacon, chopped
6 oz. Kielbasa or other smoked sausage, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups beef stock or 1 cube beef bouillon plus water
3 ounces fresh spinach, cleaned and trimmed


  1. Place the rinsed lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 2”.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, season lightly with salt and simmer the lentils until almost tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the lentils to a holding bowl.
  2. In the saucepan heat the olive oil; add the onion and cook to soften.  Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add the carrot, jalapeno, celery, dried herbs and cook another 2 minutes. Remove to the lentil bowl. Wipe out the pan, heat the bacon and cook until it begins to brown, drain most of the fat off and remove the bacon to the lentil bowl.
  3. In the saucepan add the kielbasa and brown lightly.  Return the lentil mixture to the pan.  Add enough water or beef stock to keep the lentils covered by about 1-2 inches. If using water add a bouillon cube; bring to a boil and simmer an additional 20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning adding pepper and salt if needed, and cook until lentils are tender and the flavors have blended.
  4. When ready to serve, stir in a large handful of spinach per serving, gently combine and cover until lightly wilted.  Serves 3-4.

American as… Bodacious Corn

Last year at this time, corn was just corn. In the south, they grow it sweet and it all passed my lips in a hurry, unnamed. Back then, I liked to strip the husk back and remove the silk. I’d place the moist rewrapped corn in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it was steaming I’d remove the husk and quickly sear the kernels on the grill, then drizzle with a little lime juice, maybe some chili flakes.

Michael Pollen’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, underscores the historic significance  of corn in this country as a native staple shared by the Indians with early settlers.

What I failed to appreciate was corn as the American success story, and its incredible impact on the industrial age. Once it was discovered that a slight alteration of corn’s genetic composition could make it more abundant and more useful, it wasn’t long before the revolution kicked into high gear.

Corn’s affordability and versatility made it a fundamental industrial commodity. Corn was everywhere: in sugars, oils, cereals and other convenience foods; in plastics, packaging and fuel. For a country hungry for beef, it was prime feed for cattle. Corn was no longer just a vegetable; it was capable of influencing national economic policy.

On my cross country trip this year, catchy red signs kept appearing along the road side for ‘Bodacious Corn!’ They were usually situated at the most inconvenient times, when I had no desire to stop and inquire. I would press on in my westerly direction, and wonder. Bodacious? Corn? What does that mean? An incomplete ad for Burma Shave? A corny joke, perhaps?

Now in Oregon, I’m learning more about Bodacious corn. Considered by some ‘hands down the most superior corn available’, it’s easy to grow, big, fat, juicy and absolutely delicious. It keeps and freezes quite well. Referred to as a triple sweet variety, it is considered cutting edge in corn breeding technology.

Good gracious, it’s Bodacious! Only in America.

Garden Cornbread

Practically a meal, this low fat veggie laden beauty is moist and portions easily thanks to the secret ingredient: couscous.

1 tablespoon butter, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup or more fresh corn kernels, 1 large ear
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, slices
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup couscous grains
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line and spray 8″ square pan.

Spray a medium skillet and melt 2 tsp butter over medium low heat. Add the scallion and peppers; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and corn; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add pepperoncini.

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and cornstarch into a bowl; add the salt, sugar, cornmeal and couscous and combine evenly. Stir in buttermilk and eggs with a few strokes, then stir in vegetables, do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until set and almost done, about 15 minutes; brush top lightly with remaining butter, melted. Remove from oven when puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serves 4-6. ~~

Chili-fied Lentils with Corn

Inspired by Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

For a meat version, substitute about ½ pound cooked ground beef for pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
28 ounces can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 cups lentils, green or brown
4 chipotles in adobo, or see note below
2 cups water, up to 4 cups or more
2 tablespoons cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups corn kernels, @ 1-2 ears
1 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
accompaniments: green onion and yogurt crema, pickled red onions, cilantro

In large pot sauté onion in olive oil; when soft add garlic, cumin and coriander, and sauté til aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, the lentils, chipotles and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer adding water as needed as it thickens; cook 40 minutes. Stir in additional 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp. cornmeal and simmer additional 10 minutes or longer, until lentils are soft and it has thickened. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper.

Add the corn kernels and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, more cilantro, and a few more seeds. Serves 6. ~~

Note: if chipotles in adobo are unavailable: substitute 3-5 dried peppers, plus 1 tbsp each smoked paprika, chili powder and cider vinegar; and a pinch cinnamon.