Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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I have tasted a whole (helluva) lot of beers lately. I think I tried ten different spring seasonal beers over the last two weeks before settling on the one I would use for my pairing for the spring vegetarian beer dinner. Last week I hosted a fundraising event for Team in Training at Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond, and as the sun set, I stayed warm with a bourbon barrel brown ale. Then of course we had the beer dinner last weekend, featuring six different beers paired with six vegetarian dishes (more on that later). And then there were the extra side beers sampled before, during and after the dinner: New Belgium Dig pale ale, Legend Maibock, and Kyle’s homebrewed chile chocolate milk stout from last year.

For this beer dinner, I took a different approach for my pairing, choosing my beer before dreaming up my dish. In the past I have selected the dish first, then I have chosen a beer to match. In the winter, I tried three different versions of my BBQ jackfruit before settling on the winning recipe, then picked a beer pairing at the last minute. This time around, I focused all my taste testing on the beer. Eventually, one favorite emerged: a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and The Brewer’s Art, a farmhouse ale called Debutante. Both breweries are from my hometown, Baltimore, MD. The talented brewer from Brewer’s Art, Rob Perry, bicycles with my Dad for Team in Training in Baltimore. I have met Rob a few times at the finish line of the Seagull Century, where he always brings a stash of craft beers to share post-race.

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Debutante made a lot of sense to me since it is seasonally appropriate, deliciously complex without being overpowering, and it is at least partially conceived by the masterminds at Brewer’s Art, who are big supporters of Team in Training. With my first TNT event just one week away, this was an easy decision. For some reason, the subtle spice and slightly sweet qualities of this saison led me to Indian flavors for my dish. I packed almost as many ingredients into my recipe as I did beers into my refrigerator over the last couple of weeks. My vegetarian chickpea cakes featured red lentils (which my palate and I think are the perfect complement to saison), chickpeas, cauliflower, carrots, cumin, coriander, and cilantro. These were thrown together at the last minute, meaning that I served them to twelve other people in my home, five minutes after the very first time I ever made them. A swig of maibock calmed my nerves as twelve forks cut in to twelve cakes for twelve first bites.

Some people might go for yeast plus yeast on this pairing, but I opted to let the beer be my bun, and I left this chickpea cake naked instead of serving it between bread. Before you accuse me of garbanzo negligence and public chickpea indecency, allow me to explain that I didn’t leave them completely nude. I offered a cucumber mint yogurt sauce for my non-vegan guests. The vegans just had to make do with a large spinach leaf and try not to feel like their tasty cakes were too exposed. I wanted to use arugula (and I think you should too if you try this at home), but none of the farmers at the market that morning had arugula yet, so I went with the spinach instead.

Shall we get to the recipe then?

Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 pinches of ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg or 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax meal + 3 Tbsp water)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil

Preparation:

  1. Add red lentils and cauliflower to a medium sized pot. Cover with 2 inches of water. Heat over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to low-medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. While cauliflower and lentils are cooking, mash chickpeas with a fork or blend in a food processer. In a large bowl, combine chickpeas with carrots, green onions, garlic, and cilantro.
  3. Preheat broiler.
  4. Drain cauliflower and lentils in a fine mesh strainer. Mash cauliflower into the lentils. When the excess cooking liquid has been removed, add to chickpea mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. To chickpea lentil mixture, add spices, bread crumbs, and egg (or flax egg for vegan version). Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Split mixture into six equal portions and form six patties.
  7. Brush a baking sheet with oil. Place red lentil chickpea cakes equal distance apart on baking sheet and brush tops with oil. Cook under broiler for 10 minutes per side.
  8. Serve with optional yogurt sauce: 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1 tsp lemon juice + 1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber + 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint.

Now only one question remains – who’s going to bring the craft beers to the finish line of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon this weekend?

Ready for 2011

I have had quite a year, and to tell you the truth, when midnight rolled around, I was happy to kiss 2010 goodbye. While attending a lovely party last night, my dearest friends and I toasted to life, to luck, to friends, to family, to the end of 2010, and to the start of 2011. While I’m being honest here, I’ll admit that there was a whole lot of toasting going on.

Because it is in my research-y nature to read up on various subjects that interest me, I spent a bit of time over the last week learning about New Year traditions and superstitions from around the world. Previously I had a limited knowledge of what practices were believed to bring luck in the coming year. Basically it was limited to the practice of putting on a party dress and glitter mascara, drinking a gallon of champagne, and hoping to get lucky, along with something about eating twelve grapes at midnight. Clearly I needed a little culture.

We’ll start in the Southern United States since that is where I currently reside. People from here traditionally eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve and Day because they are thought to bring you luck in the next year. When I was asked to bring an appetizer to the New Year’s Eve party, I knew I had to incorporate a little superstition into my dish. I had not heard before that black eyed peas held the keys to luck and wealth, so I was skeptical as to the prevalence of this superstition in modern times. However it was apparent that there are still plenty of believers when I picked up the last can of black eyed peas off the grocery store shelf. They were already out of dried peas, and I was able to snatch up the last can just in time.

I discovered a lot of lucky foods that are eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity. Many of them are round foods that symbolize coins. This brings us back to the grapes I mentioned earlier; Spaniards eat twelve round grapes at midnight. This custom is found in various South American countries as well. I personally took my midnight grapes in bubbly liquid form this year. Does that count?

Other round foods that are believed to be lucky are lentils, round cakes (Greece and Mexico), and dough fritters called ollie bollen in the Netherlands. Greens are also eaten due to their resemblance to folded cash. Stewed kale is eaten in Denmark and collard greens are eaten in the southern U.S. The Japanese eat noodles for luck, and the belief is that you must not break or chew them until the entire length of the noodle is in your mouth. Pomegranates are eaten for luck in Mediterranean countries. I have already shared a ton of ways to enjoy pomegranate seeds here in case you want to try them out yourself.

I personally created two dishes this year, not necessarily because I believe in the superstition, but because I like to be festive and I believe in good foods. I think you will find both of these recipes to be good in more ways than one. And if you aren’t into eating your way to good luck in 2011, you could steal a page from the Mexicans’ book and express your superstition via your undergarments. In Mexico and many other countries, red underwear is worn on New Year’s Eve to bring the wearer luck in love, and yellow is worn to guarantee wealth and prosperity.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the legumes and the greens. They have yet to fail me.

Lucky Black-eyed Pea Dip (serves a small army)

Ingredients:

1-15 oz can black-eyed peas

1-15 oz can black beans

1-15 oz can white beans (Great Northern or Cannelini)

1-15 oz can white corn

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp hot sauce

Preparation:

1. Rinse and drain black-eyed peas, beans, and corn and combine in a large mixing bowl.

2. To the bean mixture, add onion, garlic, and parsley and stir to combine.

3. In a separate small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, basil, and hot sauce. Add dressing to bean mixture and stir to combine.

4. Refrigerate 4 to 24 hours and serve with tortilla chips.

And for New Year’s Day. . .

Potato, Kale, and Lentil Stew (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups mirepoix (any combination of diced onion, carrots, and/or celery will do – use what you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (or whatever you have on hand, seriously, this is like peasant stew)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup small green lentils

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 cups kale, torn into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add mirepoix and garlic and saute until onion is almost translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add red wine to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils. Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne and stir to combine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are not quite al dente.

4. Add salt, pepper, and kale to pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

5. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in large bowls to your gaggle of hungry and slightly hungover friends, who are yearning for health and prosperity in the new year.

Cheers anyone?