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

Ingredients
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

Instructions

  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

One-Pot Pasta: No Sauce Required

Here’s a one-pot pasta dish that creates its own remarkable sauce in less than 20 minutes―while the pasta and its cohorts burble away.   Serious pasta lovers may scoff at the unconventional approach, but it actually works.

This clever Martha Stewart recipe is quite similar to Pesto Soup, a popular vegetable soup I have made for years.  It starts with fresh vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and either fresh or canned tomatoes.  All of this is simmered in a large amount of salted boiling water until nearly tender; pasta is then added and cooked until al dente. The bland mess is poured into a large bowl where it is miraculously transformed by plenty of pesto sauce and freshly grated cheese. No stock required; still delicious.

In this case, no sauce is required to make this easy satisfying pasta dish.  Cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, a generous amount of garlic, fresh basil, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and linguine are all brought to a boil with 4 ½ cups of water.  In about 9 minutes most of the water has evaporated, and it is done.  To serve, it is spooned into bowls and finished with more fresh basil, a bit more olive oil, and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Since I am bad at following directions, mine took a slight turn. I had vermicelli on hand, which cooks much quicker (4 minutes).  I decided to make this a real one-pot-meal and ramp up the vegetable factor by including zucchini and a pepper. I sautéed them ahead, along with the onion and garlic, and set it aside, reasoning a quick sauté would seal in their flavors and further enhance their sweetness.

The primary ingredients were placed in the pot, when it reached a boil  the sautéed vegetables were included, and then the pasta worked its own magic by emitting just enough starch to thicken the liquid. The quick sauté may add an extra step or two, but the lively flavors brought out in the process make it well worth the effort.  On the finish, I stirred in a handful of grated cheese just before pulling the pan off the stove.one pot pasta pot

Granted, the 4 minute vermicelli threw off my timing factor with the necessary water reduction―which could have been rectified by using a little less water, perhaps 4 cups. In spite of cooking longer than necessary to reduce the sauce, the pasta was neither flabby nor gummy.  I’d  recommend tossing a small handful of cheese into the pot’s sauce while it’s still on the stove. The additional nutty creaminess brings everything together in one happy mouthful!

one pot pastaMy revised version follows, which includes the quick vegetable sauté step and extra cheese addition.

If you are thinking about a salad, consider lining the bowls with young spinach or other hearty field greens, top them with the hot pasta, and let everyone toss away.

At the table, be sure and have extra virgin olive and a good quality grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Add a rustic, crusty bread and you have all the makings for a fun and relaxed meal.

One-Pot Pasta

Inspired by Linguine with Tomato and Basil in One Pot, From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients

1 tbsp      olive oil
1              onion, thinly sliced
4              cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1              pepper of choice: red, Hungarian, Anaheim, etc.
1              zucchini, cut up
12 oz       linguine
12 oz       cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1/2 tsp     red pepper flakes
2 sprigs    basil, fresh
1 tbsp      olive oil
2 tsps      salt
1/4 tsp     pepper
4 ½ cups  water
1/2 cup     grated Parmigiano Reggiano
For garnish:  fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Method

  1. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add the onion, garlic, zucchini, and pepper; briefly sauté. When softened, remove from pan.
  2. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pot, break the pasta in half and add it briefly tossing to coat and color slightly.  Add all remaining ingredients through the water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring pasta frequently, until al dente and the water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes. Add ½ cup cheese, stirring to combine well. Taste for seasoning, add more salt or pepper as needed.
  3. To serve, garnish with more basil, olive oil and cheese. Serves 4