Leeks and Chard and Lentils and Rice

I’ve been leaning a lot on lentils lately. I’m really trying to cut down on my intake of soy, especially non-fermented soy like tofu and soymilk (as opposed to miso and tempeh) and this has left me without a staple source of protein. Unlike beans, which I fear for their pre-soaking needs, their long cooking times, their gassy powers, lentils are quick and still packed with protein, a potential answer to “What’s for dinner?” when I didn’t have the foresight to ask the question a day ahead (which is basically every night).

So I was intrigued to come across a recipe for Risotto with Swiss Chard and French Lentils (how international!). Rice plus legumes equals happy, happy complete proteins, chock full of all the amino acids I need for a healthy vegetarian existence. In addition to trying to avoid soy and still get enough protein (while being vegetarian and trying to eat local and getting all my produce just from my box) I am also embarking on a low-key but concerted effort to get my freezer stocked with some meal options. There are nights when even my old stand-by of tofu, greens, and quinoa wouldn’t be a fast enough answer to the dinner question, so it would be great to have some options tucked away and waiting for such desperate times. Risotto is one of those dishes I’ve seen mentioned as freezing and reheating well, so I thought I would combine all my new pursuits and give this one a try.

Risotto with Lentils, Swiss Chard, and Leeks

I made the recipe exactly as written, except for my actual risotto-cooking technique, which is a quick ‘n’ dirty way from an old Sunset Magazine cookbook that we always use in my family and the risotto comes out just fine, thank you very much. I just don’t have the patience to do the whole gently-simmering-broth added one cup at a time thing. I would just never make risotto.

I made the risotto for my mom and myself the other day for lunch when she was visiting (I had already cooked both the lentils and the chard the day before, as they need to be cooked separately first). It has a bit of an odd texture, as even French lentils have a graininess to them that feels a little strange when your mouth is expecting only the creaminess of the risotto. But it has a hearty, chewy quality that my mom and I both enjoyed, and it made terrific leftovers for breakfast over the next few days. I also did manage to freeze one serving of it, so I will have to report later on how it does with reheating.

When I opened my freezer to take the above photograph, I got a small glimpse of why my freezer can be so packed but whenever I look in there for something to eat it registers as “empty.” In addition to the risotto in this shot, you can see the almond meal I use for gluten-free baking and a container of plain lentils and a bag of pesto cubes. But everything else – the butternut squash dumplings, the ribollita, the massive hunks of potato-rosemary bread – are in there as a result of their wheatiness. Whenever I give in to culinary temptation and make something that contains wheat, I eat a little bit, my body reminds me that wheat and I do not mix, and then I stuff the rest in my freezer. It was good to take a hard look at what’s in my freezer – I think there may be some frozen-food trading in my future!

Little bits of yum: Chard and tangelos

Last week a series of unfortunate circumstances came together and culminated in my having to shop at Whole Foods. With the exception of late-night vegan dessert runs, I haven’t tried to buy food there in a few years. Duck and I, having almost maxed out on kale (I know, I didn’t think it was possible either!) were craving this yummy chard and walnut dish his mom made for us a few weeks ago, so my assignment was to run into Whole Foods and pick up some chard and some walnuts. But when I got to the produce section, everything arrayed before me in the rustic wooden bins under the special full-spectrum lights, all the fruits and veggies shining and winking like a treasure box of jewels, I saw that the chard was $1.99 a bunch, and that a bunch consisted of a measly five small stalks.

Chard and Walnuts, Sweet Potato Fries, Chard-Onion Balsamic Relish, Forbidden Rice with Tangelo Ginger Sauce

Now five stalks of chard is an extremely conservative single serving for such leafy-green lovers as Duck and myself. So I was looking at $4 of chard, minimum, just for one dinner. I perused the greens section and found that the mustard greens had been bundled a bit more generously, so I decided we’d have mustard greens with lime and garlic, and the chard-walnut experience would just have to wait for a friendlier shopping opportunity.

When a huge, lovely bunch of swiss chard arrived in this week’s box, I jumped for joy and ran out to the corner health-food store to get walnuts. Washing and drying the leaves, I couldn’t help counting them and musing that this was about $6 worth of produce by Whole Foods standards. Dinner ended up being a little series of yummy bites – some of Duck’s mom’s chard and walnut dish, a simple relish made with the chard stalks and a red onion, sauteed with some of the balsamic dressing from the chard, non-box sweet potato fries (orange and white – the white were new to me and so good!), and a Tangelo-Ginger-Green Garlic sauce from a box newsletter, dressing up some Forbidden black rice.

Duck’s Mom’s Chard and Walnut Yum
This recipe is direct from the duck’s mom’s mouth!

I recommend making the dressing in a larger quantity and having it on hand for salads too, so you will have to gauge how much you dress the chard.

Chop and then steam the chard. Put the walnuts in the oven at 350 and try not to burn them, that is it the trick. One minute they are cooking….

2/3 cup good oil
1/3 balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic pressed
1 tsp salt
TBS of liquid mustard if you want (I didn’t use it)

Toss the chard walnuts and a couple spoonfuls of dressing and then see if you need more.

Chard and Spinach

There was a recipe in my box newsletter for a bhaji (a simple vegetable curry) using chard and spinach, both of which came in that week’s box. It was a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, and while the fact that she seems to be universally adored by vegetarians was definitely a recommendation (I’ve never cooked any of her recipes myself), I scanned the recipe and thought it looked a little bland. I really liked the concept, though, so I decided to make a similar favorite from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes instead. It’s a versatile dish that can be made with any combination of dark leafies – I’ve also used kale and beet greens in the past – and this time my Punjabi Creamed Greens had wonderful flavor – and lovely red-flecked color – from a huge bunch of red chard and a giant bag of Polar Bear spinach.

Creamed Greens (chard and spinach)

The recipe is more involved than my usual fare, seeing as how it involves a food processor and various other implements that will of course then need to be cleaned. But it must be worth it, because these yummy, creamy, slightly gingery greens have entered standard rotation and I find myself craving them even more often than I make them, which is pretty often.

Recipe and more commentary about the dish can be found over at my post at grouprecipes.com. There was one difference between the posted recipe and this week’s preparation: I sliced up the chard stems and cooked them with the onions until tender. That’s part of what gave the dish its red and green hues.

Chard and Beet Greens

Chard, Beet Green, Caramelized Onion, Ricotta, Goat Cheese, & Pine Nut Pizza

For as long as I’ve been filling my own pizzas, I’ve been topping them with chard. I’m not sure how I came up with chard as a no-brainer pizza topping – I’ve certainly never seen it on the list at any pizza joint – and every time I buy chard to put on a pizza I find myself preparing to put the pizza together going, What was I thinking? Chard on pizza? But every time I take the chard-pizza plunge, I’m reminded again why I do it. I don’t like tomato sauce, and the chard has all the moisture and sweetness you could ask for, as well as its own uniquely great texture in contrast to the crust.

I decided to try a new kind of crust by my beloved pizza-shell makers, Vicolo Pizza. This was a spelt crust, using a form of wheat that is often easier to digest than regular wheat. I’m sad to report that the spelt crust may be easier to digest, but I found it much, much harder to consume! It’s back to the cornmeal (and wheat flour) crusts, eaten sparingly as a special treat, of course.

The pizza was fortunately completely redeemed by the lusciousness of its toppings.  Into that spelt crust I piled fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese, caramelized onions, sauteed chard and beet greens, fresh goat cheese, and toasted pine nuts. Phenomenal!

Rainbow Chard and Spinach

Tonight for Libby’s final meal I made a Chard, Spinach, and Onion Torta from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers. For the first time I really experienced that feeling I’d hoped to find by getting the CSA box – that sense of spontaneous discovery and trying new things based on whatever arrives. I mentally reviewed which veggies I still had left (a mighty surplus, I’m sad to report, since my next box comes tomorrow!) and then flipped open a favorite cookbook. The first recipe I flipped to was this torta, which I’d never made before, and, by substituting a bag of spinach for one of the two bunches of chard the recipe called for, I was able to use my large bunch of rainbow chard, that bag of spinach, an onion, and some garlic.

It was a perfect recipe to make tonight because it calls for a bread crumb crust. I never have bread in the house, but tonight I had half a loaf of getting-stale Grace Baking rosemary-potato bread I’d bought for Libby as a must-try Bay Area favorite, and the flavor it added to this dish was phenomenal. It basically makes the whole thing shine. (Not to knock the “light cream” I invented out of a mixture of broth and kefir, of course! I took several creative liberties with the recipe, as is my habit.) This was basically a full-meal dish, but we accompanied it with a salad of lettuce, radishes, carrots, and green beans from previous weeks’ boxes.

(It’s not a stellar picture but we were more interested in eating and getting Libby to the airport than in lighting and styling.)

Chard, Spinach, and Onion Torta