hearty

hearty kale and lentil soup

Back in my college days I was a vegetarian. I mean, who wasn’t a vegetarian for at least a little while in college though, right?

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

I grew up in a strictly meat and potatoes (and dessert every night) kind of family, so straying from that formula was definitely a learning experience. I was on my own for the first time and I wanted to express myself as the “independent” young adult that I was… or something like that.

I don’t know.
I was 18.
Who are you to judge me?

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

I think that out of my whole family my grandmother had the hardest time wrapping her head around my new dietary choices. I mean, most of the family was sort of just like, “why?”, and rolled their eyes, but the first time I went home for Thanksgiving my poor grandmother was completely beside herself.

This was well before the bacon-ization of America and most of the sides at the table were totally vegetarian friendly, so I bellied up to the table and piled my plate high with squash and beans and potatoes and biscuits and corn and all sorts of amazing things. Grandma just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept that I was satisfied or full without having turkey and stuffing and gravy. She kept asking if I was okay and offering to go get me something else to eat.
Personally though, I was thrilled with all the different sides and it was one of the best meals I’d had in a long time. Grandma wasn’t buying it though.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Back at college I was doing my best to try new things, and was eating all sorts of things that I was unfamiliar with up until that point.

Crispy fried bean curd (basically general tso’s tofu) was one of my new favorite things at the Chinese restaurant on Main St., and a vegetarian chili made with TVP or “texturized vegetable protein” at the neighborhood health food store was a lunchtime staple in my diet. I also ate a lot of BK Whoppers without the meat. No veggie burger, just a Whopper with no meat. Don’t knock it till you try it.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

One thing that I never quite got into though, was lentils.

Something about lentils just conjured images of dusty old hippies gnawing on sprouted mung beans in some commune somewhere. While I was actually really into Phish and the Grateful Dead, the lentils (and the mung beans) didn’t appeal to me.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

It wasn’t until much later, after meat found it’s way back into my life, that I tried lentils. My years as a vegetarian taught me a lot about how to make a tasty & filling meatless meal, and that I should always be open to trying new things.

There was a time shortly after I moved to Brooklyn when I was out of work for a little bit and a good friend found herself out of work at the same time. We decided to save money by cooking big cheap meals together that we could share and eat for a few days. We came across a recipe for a pureed french lentil soup, and given that lentils are like a buck a bag, we decided to go for it.

It was love at first bite and for years that was my go to lentil soup recipe.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Lately though, I’ve been wanting to try something different. Something new. I figured that I might add some diced tomatoes to the soup for a bit of brightness and acid, and throw in some lacinato kale for texture and color and to make the soup feel even healthier and more substantial.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

This is just the kind of thing I crave this time of year. A hearty, healthy, filling soup to warm my old bones on a cold winter night. Tender veggies, earthy al dente lentils, chewy dark green kale, bright acidic tomatoes, a bit of heat from the chili flakes, and fresh green parsley. Just perfect.

While this soup would probably fall under the “healthy” category, I promise that it doesn’t taste like health food. No dusty hippie communes here, just bright, delicious, hearty soup. And even though this soup is technically vegan, you won’t miss the meat at all. This soup is so thick and hearty it’s practically a stew!

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Hearty Kale and Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1 large onion)
1 cup sliced carrots (about 3 carrots)
1 cup sliced celery (about 3 to 4 stalks)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
one 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup dried green or brown lentils
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large heavy stockpot or dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, and celery, & season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté one minute more. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes to concentrate their flavor. Add lentils and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kale and parsley and simmer 5 minutes more. Check that lentils are tender. Add vinegar, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and some nice crusty bread. A bit of parmesan cheese could be a nice touch too.

Advertisements

best chunky beef chili

Guess what everyone. It’s winter. Surprise!

best chunky beef chili | winter in brooklyn | Brooklyn Homemaker

We just made our way through a bitter cold front here in New York City, and though it was a bit warmer for a few days, today we’re supposed to be hit with another, along with several more inches of snow. I’m no stranger to harsh winters.  I’ve lived in New York for my entire life and went to school in upstate’s Adirondacks, where I lived in the coldest town in the entire state. Winters in Saranac Lake often saw night-time temperatures dipping 20, 30, even 40 degrees below zero. The lakes would freeze so solid that people used them as extra parking during winter games, packing dozens of cars and trucks onto the ice when the parking lots filled up.
There were nights that were so frosty that the three block walk home after work would cause the condensation in my breath to freeze into my facial hair and turn my upper lip into a mustache-sicle. Winters in Brooklyn are nothing in comparison to the extremes upstate, but that doesn’t stop me from being affected by the seemingly unending frigid days and nights.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

If there’s one thing that I’m consistently inspired to do by cold weather, it’s to cook. And to eat. I love making soups, stews, braises and any number of hearty slow-cooked meals during the winter, and one of my favorite cold weather meals is chili. Traditionally chili is thought of as a warm weather meal, something eaten in Texas and the Southwest, but maybe that’s what draws me to it in winter. Cranking the heat and sitting down in flannel pajamas to a big steamy bowl of thick spicy chili helps me forget that outside the wind is whipping snowflakes through the streets of Brooklyn.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chili is a dish that people take very seriously. Web searches will turn up thousands of pages on the subject. The legendary outlaw Jesse James is said to have declined to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas because the town was home to his favorite chili parlor. The American mystery writer Rex Stout once said that, “Chili is one of the great peasant foods. It is one of the few contributions America has made to world cuisine. Eaten with corn bread, sweet onion, sour cream, it contains all five of the elements deemed essential by the sages of the Orient: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter.” That is a big reputation to live up to for such a simple, unfussy food.

Chili has a long history in the United States and there are a great many opinions about how this dish should be prepared. I’ve even seen people go so far as to say that adding beans to chili is sacrilegious. The thing is though, that I don’t really care what the chili experts say. I’m not from Texas. I don’t live in the old wild west. I like chili how I like it, and if some “purists” think I’m doing it wrong, so be it. It doesn’t change the fact that this recipe is friggin delicious.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

In my defense, not that I  believe I really need defending, not everyone takes chili so seriously. Texas native Carroll Shelby had ideas about chili that were closer to my own and said, “The beauty of chili to me is that it’s really a state of mind.”  “It’s what you want when you make it. You can put anything in there you want, make it hot or mild, any blend of spices you feel like at the time. You make it up to suit your mood.”

I was a vegetarian when I lived in the Adirondacks, and chili with lots and lots of beans was one of my favorite ways to warm myself up on cold days. When I lived in Ithaca, New York, I worked at a restaurant that won a chili cook-off with a recipe that used chunks of stew meat instead of ground beef. My love of spice has grown since I’ve moved to a part of Brooklyn that is heavily dominated by Mexican and Puerto Rican culture. All of my past experiences have helped guide me to the recipe we have here today. Chunky beef chili made with stew meat instead of ground beef, with a variety of beans, and a healthy dose of heat and spice.

When I was growing up, chili was only ever made with ground beef, so when I first saw it made another way and started trying it myself, the idea of using stew meat was completely novel to me. Later I realize that it’s not really so uncommon, and that it’s probably how the dish originated. The idea used to be so foreign to me that I wanted to try to change the name to reflect its unconventional ingredients. The problem was that there’s no delicate way to combine the names chili and stew. No one wants to belly up to a steaming bowl of “Stewli”, no matter how delicious.

No thank you.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

So. Chunky chili it is!

This recipe is thickened with corn flour, but if you don’t have corn flour feel free to use all-purpose flour. I used stew meat that was already cut into chunks at the grocery store, but ended up needing to do some cutting of my own to bring the chunks down to the right size. Most stew meat bought in grocery stores comes in pieces about two or three inches in size. This recipe works much better with smaller pieces and I cut them all down to about one inch cubes. I made this recipe with beef this time around, but I’ve made it with venison before and it’s delicious. If you love venison, by all means, knock yourself out.

I think this chili translates to a slow cooker recipe really well too.  I would suggest that you brown all your veggies and meat ahead as stated in the recipe, and follow the steps through to where you scrape up the browned bits from the pot with half a cup of beef stock. Then you would transfer the browned meat and onions to the crock pot, add the remaining ingredients, and cook on high for four hours, or low for eight. The only thing that might be tricky is to get the chili to the correct consistency, so you may need to add more corn flour to help thicken it.

Since I’m usually just feeding myself and Russell, this recipe made plenty of leftovers for us, and I have to say, I think this chili improves with age. The second day the flavors seemed to have really married perfectly and the meat was even more tender and delicious. I suppose this is what he meant when John Steele Gordon said that “Chili is much improved by having had a day to contemplate its fate.”

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Best Chunky Chili

adapted from Emeril Lagasse for Food Network

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 to 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
Salt
Cayenne
2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
2 tablespoons corn flour (or all-purpose)
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock
28 oz  can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
15 oz can red kidney beans
15 oz can black beans

Directions
In a large heavy bottom stockpot of dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables start to wilt. Add jalapenos and garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with salt and cayenne. In a large bowl, stir together corn flour, chili powder, & cumin, and toss and coat meat in the mixture. Brown the meat for 5 to 6 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the beef stock and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits of beef and corn flour stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in remaining stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the liquid uncovered for the first hour, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and simmer for another hour or until the beef is fork tender.
Taste and re-season with salt and cayenne if necessary. If the chili is too thin, simmer uncovered until it’s thick enough. If too thick, thin it out, a tablespoon at a time, with beef stock. Garnish the chili with the grated cheese, sour cream and avocado. Serve with cornbread.