Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag

Tuscan Kale Saag

Today, I thought to myself earlier, I would very much like to run away. Just, you know, walk out the front door and keep going, ending up in Rajasthan or the English countryside or an ice cliff in Greenland. I don't care where, really, just as long as it's not here, I thought. I am done with here. I've had enough of here. Get me out of here.

***

I miss my girlfriends. I miss connecting with my ladies in real life. I miss maskless faces. I miss their company and their smiles and looking at their shiny jewelry and talking about their gorgeous hair. I miss admiring them and asking for advice and giving advice and the thrilling incredulity that sometimes comes with feeling deeply understood. Waiting for them at a restaurant, deciding on a second glass of wine, feeling them all squished into a booth beside me. Their smells, their presence, their them-ness. Our conversations, the big talks and the little ones. Their outfits and their bags and their wrinkles and their laughter and their advice and our shorthand. I miss the women in my life so much that I have an actual physical ache.

Zoom was fine for a month or two or three, but now I can't even face Zooming with my friends. It feels too painful. I want to reach out and touch them and I can't. When the pandemic started last year, my friend and neighbor Stephanie came by one day just to say hi, from a distance. I ran down the stairs to see her, ripped open the front door and, confronted with her in the flesh before me, just burst into tears. My tears surprised me perhaps even more than they surprised her. The fact that she was in front of me and I couldn't go near her and touch her, pull her in for a hug, just gutted me. Once we all adjusted to the new normal, I was able to cope with that distance. I made my peace with it, I thought. But this week, that part of me is just hanging out again, all weepy and exposed, like a raw blister.

I want to run away to a faraway land and I want my girlfriends to come with me and while we're gone our husbands will take care of our children and they'll be just fine and we'll be back in a few months when we feel better, promise. 

***

The children were home from mid-December to mid-February. When they returned to school and Kita, I breathed a sigh of relief. Normalcy for them and for us, time to work again, time to be something other than a mother 25 hours a day. But the situation in Germany, in case you haven't heard, is becoming grotesque. Vaccinations lag, there is no testing strategy, and cases are skyrocketing. My mother and mother-in-law are vaccinated now, thank goodness, because they help us a lot. But Max and I are resigned to the fact that we are months and months away from our vaccinations, while the mutations are wreaking havoc. Bruno is our weakest link, poor little guy. I keep sending him to Kita, because I have assignments and deadlines, and every day I cross my fingers and hold my breath and hope against hope that he doesn't come home and infect us.

Keep him home, I think. Protect yourself. You have work, sure, but benevolent neglect never hurt anyone. And then I remember the endless weeks of them at home, at each other's throats all the time, his regressions, his brother's obsessive tendencies and how I felt like I was drowning all the time. He's better off at Kita.

***

All the while, meals are still getting made, morning, noon and night. One funny thing: I am having a quiet love affair with walnuts. I'll tell you more about that another time. In the who-gives-a-shit department, I feed my children broth made from bouillon cubes multiple nights a week and everyone is happy. In the marriage department, sometimes I get so angry about cooking one more meal that I make lunch only for myself and my husband has to go fend for himself, which he does without complaint. I have come this far in our journey together that I can report on this without judgment for myself.

Sometimes I get angry.

Sometimes I need to disappear.

Sometimes I simply refuse to make one more meal.

Yesterday, I made the discovery of the most delicious saag recipe made with Tuscan kale and tomatoes. I got it from my bible, East by Meera Sodha. In the cookbook, the saag is cooked with browned cubes of paneer, but I just wanted a big comforting pile of vegetables, so I left the paneer out and served the saag with hot cooked rice. It was so punchy and flavorful and nourishing that it felt like...a burst of sunshine in my body. An enveloping hug from someone wiser than myself. An escape. It used up precisely one bunch of perfect Tuscan kale. I made it just for us for lunch and there were no turned up noses or whines for something else.

One small good thing for which I could be grateful.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag
Adapted from East
Serves 2
Note: This recipe is easily doubled.
Print this recipe!

One bunch Tuscan kale (about 250 grams), ribs discarded, leaves roughly chopped
Rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chile, optional, finely chopped
Half a can of chopped tomatoes or about 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown rice syrup
Half a can of coconut milk

1. On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan or pot with a lid and add the onions. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over a medium flame,  until soft and sweet.

2. Add the ginger, garlic and chile, if using. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and brown rice syrup and stir well.

3. Add the kale to the pan and stir to wilt. Add the coconut milk, stir, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If the saag seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. 

4. When the kale is tender, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the mixture. Serve as a side dish or with rice as a main course.


Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus

Red Lentil Hummus

I had my mind blown by a handful of red lentils this weekend and since this is what counts as exciting, here in this strange in-between-world of waiting-for-vaccinations and hoping-not-to-get-infected-and-suffer-before-then, I would very much like to tell you about them in case you, too, would like to have your mind blown by a handful of red lentils.

I mentioned Aran Goyoaga's cookbook in my last post. It is an absolutely magnificent cookbook, full of the kind of food you'd like to make every day, that you could feed your family and your guests, full of big and small ideas, project-y recipes and easy, back-pocket ones (Apple Cider Yeast Doughnuts! Rice Pudding with Plums! Tomato and Romesco Tart! Roasted Pears with Seed Crumble!) It's entirely gluten-free, but that feels almost beside the point, because Aran's recipes are so good that they appeal to everyone, not just the gluten-intolerant. It'll be on my bookshelf forever and not just because of the sourdough starter, though that's certainly one of the book's stars. 

This red lentil hummus is another one. Aran got the idea to use red lentils in place of chickpeas from Heidi's cookbook Near & Far and it is a brilliant idea, because red lentils famously cook in the fraction of the time as chickpeas PLUS you get to entirely circumvent the issue of whether or not you should peel your chickpeas when making hummus. Win! 

I was a leetle skeptical to start. I was imagining an orangey hummus, slightly lumpy perhaps, I don't know, the powers of my imagination can sometimes be quite limited! But no, friends, red lentil hummus is magnificent: light and creamy and exceedingly smooth and airy. It takes almost no time at all to make and when we brought the hummus down to our neighbors last night for cocktail time (we are in a kind of pod together, plus she is vaccinated), our hostess said it was the best hummus she'd ever eaten and I wholeheartedly agree. 

It's so good that you will ask yourself why anyone would ever make a chickpea hummus again! Seriously! Lamination-worthy. I topped our plate with za'atar and a generous glug of olive oil, while Aran serves it with roasted vegetables and toasted pine nuts. We ate ours with crackers and then I magnanimously left our neighbors with the leftovers so I could make more upstairs.

Important: Follow the recipe exactly! The seasonings are perfect as is and the blending times are essential to the final whipped texture of the hummus. I don't have a standing food processor, but I used this and it worked perfectly.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus
From Cannelle et Vanille
Makes 4 servings
Print this recipe!

1 cup (185 grams) red lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (360 grams) cold water, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup (120 grams) tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup (75 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/4 cup (55 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Za'atar, for topping

1. Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water.

2. Transfer the lentils to a food processor with the garlic and process for about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides well, add the tahini, salt, pepper and cumin. Process for another 3 minutes. Scrape the sides again. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice and olive oil. Scrape the sides one last time, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If the hummus is too thick, you can add up to 2 tablespoons water. Pulse a couple more times, then transfer to a clean bowl.

3. The hummus will still be warm. To keep a skin from forming as it cools, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hummus, pressing down to eliminate air bubbles. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap, smooth out the top artfully, sprinkle with za'atar and drizzle liberally with olive oil.


Yossy Arefi's Simple Sesame Cake

Gluten-Free Simple Sesame Cake

I've been baking my way through Yossy Arefi's Snacking Cakes, a cookbook which came out last year. It's an excellent book, the kind that should just take up residence on your kitchen counter because it'll get used so much. The cakes are modest, one-bowl, one-pan affairs, but they're drop-dead delicious. Buckwheat Banana Cake. Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake. Buttermilk Spice Cake. Seeded Zucchini Cake. Minty Chocolate Malt Cake. You'll want to make every single one.

To qualify as a snacking cake, I believe it must be easy to make, with ingredients you mostly already have in your pantry, and requiring only one bowl. Maybe two. You want the making of the cake to soothe you as much as the eating of the cake. Nothing to mess up. No fussy preparation. Just the best kind of mindless baking where you're guaranteed something delicious in an hour or two.

I love this book's extremely narrow focus paired with its impressive breadth of offerings. There's a cake for every mood, every season, every occasion. (I was going to say short of a wedding, but the truth is I would happily eat one of these as a wedding cake, especially if it was a chic City Hall wedding or a crazy Vegas one. Case in point: Grapefruit White Chocolate Cake? Strawberry-Glazed Passion Fruit Cake? Sticky Whiskey Date Cake? I mean.)

Seeing as very few of us have "occasions" to bake for at the moment, I would like to underline the fact that I believe that it is very, very important to have cakes like this in your house at all times right now. They are for breakfast, they are for tea, they stand in for breakfast or as a special dessert—when dessert is usually fruit—they are good eaten standing up and they are good eaten sitting down. The Germans have a word for the food you eat when you're stressed and that word is Nervenfutter (nerve chow) (it's pronounced NAIR-fenn-foot-er). Snacking cakes are the quintessence of Nervenfutter.

Simple Sesame Cake

Now to this particular cake, the Simple Sesame Cake. It's made with tahini and two kinds of sesame seeds (which I had in my pantry anyway; if you only have regular sesame, not black, just do the cake with those). I substituted 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the all-purpose flour (in fact, have done so in every recipe from this book that I've tried) and the results were velvety and perfect. Max can't stop marveling over the crumb. There's the faintest hint of bitterness from the tahini, and it's so lovely against the almost creamy crumb punctuated with all those tiny little sesame seeds.

If you're a cake pan butterer, then you can strew some of the sesame seeds onto the sides of the pan to truly encrust the entire cake in sesame, but I am an avowed non-butterer of pans, so I just scattered them thickly on top. I love the effect of the black and white sesame together and the gorgeous little crunch from the raw sugar on top. Up until now, the children have competed with us for pieces of each snacking cake I've made. For whatever reason, this one is a little too grown-up for them (it's like a grown-up peanut butter flavor), so we get to eat all of it ourselves.

All hail the snacking cake!

Gluten-Free Sesame Snacking Cake

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Yossy Arefi's Simple Sesame Cake
Adapted from Snacking Cakes
Makes
one 9-inch loaf cake
To make this cake gluten-free, replace the all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend.
Print this recipe!

6 tablespoons (50 grams) sesame seeds (white, black or mixed), divided
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) well-stirred tahini
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) neutral vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon raw sugar, optional

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over to create a sling.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and the egg until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the milk, tahini, oil, vanilla and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the flour(s), 3 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, the baking powder and baking soda. Whisk until well combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles, and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds on top of the cake and, if using, the raw sugar.

4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden, and a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Use the parchment overhang to lift the cake out of the pan and let cool completely before slicing and serving.


Meera Sodha's Caramelized Onion Ramen

Caramelized Onion Ramen

It is 4:24 pm and by some small miracle, I currently find myself alone in our apartment. Max and Bruno left a little while ago to trudge through the snow to the pharmacy and drugstore. Hugo is in the courtyard playing in the snow. He can't stay away from it, he's bewitched by it. It's dystopian to think about how novel a truly cold winter is for our little Berliner, when the very cold winters of our childhoods in Berlin were practically a defining feature of the experience of growing up here. But wait, I'm getting away from things. I am home alone.

HOME ALONE.

First I blasted music, just to feel something. Then I drank a cup of scalding hot tea and burned my mouth. Now I'm sitting here by the radiator, trying to write. A child outside is screaming bloody murder at her father for making her play in the snow and although I usually barely register the noise of children who don't belong to me, this one is making me want to howl out the window. We're all losing our minds a little, yes?

Where was I. Home alone. You all. This soup.

Oooh, this soup. It comes from East by Meera Sodha. One of the best cookbooks I own. Every recipe I've tried has been delicious and complex, but also easy and fun and interesting. If you follow me elsewhere, you may be sick of hearing me wax on about it. I'm sort of sick of me going on about it! But it really is an amazing collection. It has taught me so much and broadened my pantry immeasurably. My cooking is better for owning the book, my diet more varied. The recipes are all vegetarian or vegan, Asian-inspired and simple to make.

Meera's recipes are a study in the masterful layering of flavors, and this soup is a perfect example. You start by caramelizing onions (I got impatient and moved on after 20 minutes and my soup was still staggeringly delicious), to which then add stock and cooking wine and soy sauce and miso. Taste the broth and kapow, it'll blow you away. Best of all, your work is now mostly done! All you have to do is cook your noodles, drop them into the deep brown soup along with some greens (I used Napa cabbage) and a jammy egg (she recommends a soy egg, which requires a little advance planning), and sit down to eat.

You'll feel like you're eating restaurant food, which is the highest praise I can give food right now, because I am so sick of my own cooking and my dinner staples and if I could, I would just order in dinner from a different restaurant every day, but I can't, so instead I depend on cookbooks to give me a glimmer of the outside world.

Which cookbooks are you leaning on to give you that sense that the world is still out there, awaiting us? I love a good cookbook chat, so have at it.

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Caramelized Onion Ramen
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

Vegetable oil
3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
½ tsp salt
1 bird's eye chile, finely sliced
6 cups/1½ liters vegetable stock
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1½ tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown rice miso
Salt and black pepper
7 ounces/200 grams ramen noodles (I used gluten-free buckwheat noodles)
7 ounces/200g leafy greens like gai lan or choi sum, or Napa cabbage, cut into 6cm pieces
Chile crisp, to serve
4 7-minute eggs or soy eggs

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm 5 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and salt to the pan, stir to coat in the oil, then cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes. The onions will gradually start to caramelize and color. Eventually they'll start breaking down into a soft, sweet, caramel-colored paste.

2. Add the chile, if using, and stock to the pan, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and add the rice wine, soy and miso, stirring well to combine. Taste, adjust the seasoning, then turn off the heat.

3. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain, refresh under cold water and stir in a little oil to keep them from sticking together.

4. Cook the greens just before serving. Bring the broth up to a boil, drop in the greens and cook for a minute or two, until just tender.

5. Divide the noodles between four bowls and ladle the broth over the top, making sure to share out the greens evenly. Halve the eggs, if using, and place two halves on each serving. Drizzle over the chile oil, if using, and serve.


Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Cake

Odette Williams' Vanilla Cake

Bruno's fourth birthday was this past weekend. For months, he's been planning on whom to invite, painstakingly listing the names of his little buddies from KiTa on his adorable little fingers. Of course, ultimately, no one could come, but our sunny boy bore that with his signature good humor, which we have been leaning on so much recently that I feel almost badly about it. So we focused on the cake instead. After all, Hugo has never been particularly interested in birthday parties, much preferring to spend time thinking about which cake to request. Bruno, by contrast, couldn't have cared less about the cake, and only after much prodding by his brother and me, grudgingly gave in and said his cake it should be a yellow cake with, very important, pink and purple frosting.

Hugo was much chagrined, having hoped that his preference for a chocolate cake would be shared by his brother. But I was excited, because a couple years ago, I made the discovery of the best vanilla cake ever and I'm always thrilled to have an excuse to make it and I've been meaning to tell you all about it for, well, years. It comes from Odette Williams's book Simple Cake and is, in my mind, the very best plain yellow cake I've ever had. It's got buttermilk for a bit of tang, and quite a bit of vanilla (which is why, in the book, Odette calls it Very Vanilla Cake), and the batter, which comes together quickly with a mixer, has a gorgeous silky texture. But mostly, it's just a delight to make, as easy as easy can be.

I've made it as frosted cupcakes, as a simple round cake dusted with confectioners' sugar, baked in a tube pan and served plain, and split and filled and frosted, and it has been a slam dunk every single time. It's my forever yellow cake. I mean, I love the recipe so much that I have it taped with washi tape to the side of my fridge, an honor bestowed on only two other recipes! (One is Elise's buckwheat pancake recipe, the only pancake recipe I ever make, shall I tell you about it sometime? And the other is Diana Henry's mustard-panko baked chicken.)

Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Cake

This time, I baked the cake batter in an 8-inch round pan that I had lined with parchment paper. I knew I was going to cloak the whole thing with swaths of whippy frosting ultimately, so I didn't really care what the sides looked like, and the parchment-as-sling really is just so easy. But obviously, if you want neater sides, you should cut the parchment to fit the bottom as well as make a collar and also possibly use a spring form rather than a regular cake pan.

Once the cake was fully cooled, I split it in half and spread about 3/4 of a jar of storebought lemon curd on one half. You could, of course, also make your own lemon curd! But I was grateful to have the shortcut. I placed the other half back on top of the cake. Then I made frosting out of whipped cream and ricotta, only because my husband didn't buy enough whipping cream and I had ricotta that had to be used up anyway. (It was 200 ml of heavy cream and a little less than 200g of ricotta whipped together with enough confectioners' sugar to make it sweet, but not too sweet.) I really don't like buttercream very much and making a meringue frosting was just not going to happen this time (though I think it'd be perfect here, honestly!), so the whipped cream frosting was where I ended up.

Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Birthday Cake

I divided the cream frosting in half and tinted each batch pink and purple, then did a bit of swirly cake spackling. I will never win any beauty awards for my cake decorations, and ultimately, generously speaking, the cake looked more a cloudy sunset than anything else, but it tasted wonderful—the combination of tender cake, sweet-sour filling and whipped cream frosting worked absolutely perfectly—and everyone loved it and Bruno, our darling boy who is the cuddliest, loveliest, funniest little bunny, was happy. What more could I ask for?

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I truly love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Plain Vanilla Cake
Makes one 8-inch/20-cm round cake
Print the recipe!

1⁄2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or the scraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean)
3⁄4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 1⁄2 cups (195g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons mild-flavored vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease an 8-inch/20-cm round pan with butter and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Set aside. If using the vanilla seeds, use your fingers to work the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar in a small bowl. Remove any bits of pod that may have come off with the seeds. Set aside.

2. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and mix with a fork.

3. Using an electric mixer with beaters or a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 30 seconds on medium speed and then gradually add the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue beating on medium speed for another 4 minutes or until light in color and fluffy. If using the vanilla extract, add to the bowl and beat until combined.

4. With the mixer still on medium speed, gradually add the eggs. On low speed, add the flour mixture and then the oil and milk; mix until just combined. Don’t overbeat. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 40-50 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake bounces back when lightly pressed, remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the cake to gently release. Invert the cake, peel off the pieces of parchment paper and cool on a wire rack.


Nigel Slater's Spiced Red Lentil Soup

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You may already be in the process of cooking your lentil soup for New Year's Day, but in case you haven't decided on one yet, may I be so bold as to suggest this one? It comes from Nigel Slater's wonderful book, The Christmas Chronicles, the only Christmas-themed book I've ever owned. Reading it in the quiet, stolen moments of December is swiftly becoming a tradition and it is as interesting (did you know that old-fashioned lametta is still made of silver plate in Tyrol?) as it is inspiring (daydreaming about a life in which you can spend each winter in Japan is not a terrible way to get through a pandemic). It makes more sense to read it in November, so you can prepare for all the wonderful things you'll do once Christmas rolls around, but this year I read it in the sleepy week between Christmas and New Year and it was also very nice to think about next year's Christmas, when things will hopefully look quite different.

Nigel says that the soup is styled, flavor-wise, after Indian rasam, which I've only ever seen as the thin, fiery broth that comes served with dosa or uttapam in South Indian restaurants. But this soup is thicker and more nourishing and stands alone very well on its own, no lacy thin fermented rice pancake alongside required. We made the quantity indicated in the book, but could have easily doubled it because it's the kind of soup that will have everyone wanting seconds (even our picky Bruno asked for more) and leftovers of it will be more than welcome. So use the recipe below if you want only a starter portion for four people and double it if it's your only dish. (The original has you make a spice paste, grinding whole spices and hauling out the food processor for ginger and garlic. I went the lazy route and streamlined things with no great detriment to the results. And I tripled the amount of tamarind concentrate, because I love its plummy, sour flavor.)

It feels so good to write here again. There were long stretches of time this past year where I basically came around to accepting the idea of this blog going dark once and for all. But it always felt weird and wrong. I miss writing here so much, having this space to play in. After feeling so trapped and stuck, both figuratively and literally, over the past 10 months, knowing that I can come here and feel free is very, very nice. I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore and haven't in years. But I very much believe in starting the year as you mean it to continue.

So see you again soon, I hope. And Happy New Year!

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Spiced Red Lentil Soup                                                          
Serves 4
Print the recipe!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 14-ounce/400 gram can peeled tomatoes
175 grams red lentils
2-3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
Fresh cilantro, stemmed and washed

1. Put the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until they start to become fragrant.

2. Press the garlic through a garlic press and add to the pot, then grate in the fresh ginger. Cook, stirring, for another minute, then add the salt, pepper, cayenne, the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate. Stir to combine, cook for just a minute, then add the lentils and stir. Fill the tomato can with water twice, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the flame, cover the pot and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

3. Puree half the soup with a hand-held blender. Taste and add the remaining tamarind, if desired, and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with cilantro leaves.


Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad

Diana Henry's Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

About once a week for the past I don't know how many years, I've sectioned a fennel bulb into eighths, washed a handful of cherry tomatoes, put them in a baking dish with a good glug of olive oil (more is better here) and some salt and then stuck it in a 200C/400F oven until the vegetables are tender as can be and the tomatoes have browned and slumped, about 30 minutes, though I confess I've never really timed it. I also let the dish cool in the hot oven, which helps the caramelization at the end and then I basically eat the entire thing, unless my husband is around in which case I share. I love this dish so much that I nearly lick the baking dish. It's easy, it can be made all year long, since even the yuckiest cherry tomatoes come alive with this treatment, and it tastes ambrosial. If I happen to be lucky enough to have some nice sourdough bread around, I pair the vegetables with that for an easy little meal and life feels good.

I love a ritualistic vegetable dish like this that keeps showing up in my life over and over, that never gets old, that I don't even have to think about when I cook it. Like roasted broccoli, stewed peas, sauteed zucchini - the all-stars of my cooking life. These are the things that flesh out our dinner table night after night and that I imagine my children will remember, either fondly or not, when they look back at the food of their childhood. However, as much as I love these dishes and the comfort they bring me in both flavor and preparation, they are not necessarily stuff for company. They are humble, regular dishes, not show-stopping or even really conversation-worthy. When you're having people over or if you need to bring a dish to a potluck, I think you kind of need to up your game a little. Not a ton, but enough to make a bit of an impression.

Diana Henry Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

Of course, my culinary hero Diana Henry has a recipe for precisely this kind of elevated salad that used roasted fennel and tomatoes as the base, but pumps it up with all kinds of crazy flavorings, like harissa and preserved lemon and balsamic vinegar. It comes from her book How to Eat a Peach and is quite a stunner. The addition of chickpeas makes it a slightly more substantial kind of salad and fresh herbs make it beautiful - the kind of thing you can plonk on a buffet table and feel secretly smug about. And also consume rather obsessively. Which is the whole point. One more thing I love about it: the flavorings are so bold and fresh but actually this salad is essentially seasonless, so you can serve it in spring, when people are crazy for asparagus and rhubarb, and you can serve it in winter, when big roasts and stews prevail, and in both cases it just kind of works. Pretty neat.

As luck would have it, I discovered a similar kind of special version of roasted broccoli dish that you need to know about (as in, my father literally said WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT THIS IS THE BEST BROCCOLI I HAVE EVER EATEN when he had it), but I'll have to save it for next time. My camera, beloved and trusty documentation device on this blog since 2007, died a few weeks ago. Like, right in the middle of taking these photos, which is why I don't have a photo of the final dish (here's one from Diana, though). I thought it just needed a little repair work, but the camera shop guy told me it wasn't worth it - the repair would cost far more to do than the camera is worth. I was unexpectedly gutted, I have to admit. I loved that camera. I salvaged the lens and put it on my husband's camera, which is only a few years newer than mine was, but requires a whole new education. So bear with me while I figure that out. 

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Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad
Adapted from How to Eat a Peach
Serves 6

For the tomatoes
10 large plum tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes, left whole)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp harissa
2 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fennel
2 large fennel bulbs
Juice of ½ lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar or left whole
Generous pinch of chile flakes
2½ tbsp olive oil
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For the dressing
2 small preserved lemons
2 tsp juice from the lemon jar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp runny honey
5 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375 F). Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and lay in a single layer in a roasting pan or ovenproof dish. Leave whole if using cherry tomatoes. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and harissa and pour this over the tomatoes, tossing to coat well, then turn the tomatoes cut sides up. Sprinkle with the sugar and season.

2. Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut off the stalks and remove any coarse outer leaves. Pull off any tender fronds (reserve these) and cut each piece of fennel into 2.5cm thick wedges, keeping them intact at the base Add the lemon juice, garlic, fennel seeds, chile and olive oil, then season and turn everything over with your hands. Spread out the fennel in a second roasting tin and cover tightly with foil.

3. Put both trays in the oven. Roast the fennel for 25-30 minutes, until tender (the undersides should be pale gold), then remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, or until soft, golden and slightly charred. Roast the tomatoes for 35-40 minutes, or until caramelized in patches and slightly shrunken. Stir the chickpeas into the fennel and taste for seasoning. Leave both to cool to room temperature.

4. Now make the dressing. Discard the flesh from the preserved lemons and dice the rind. Whisk the preserved lemon juice with the wine vinegar, honey and olive oil, season and add the lemon rind and parsley. Taste for seasoning and sweet-sour balance.

5. Arrange the fennel, chickpeas and tomatoes on a platter, adding the juices from the roasting tins; there might be quite a bit from the tomatoes. Scatter any fennel fronds you reserved over the top. Spoon on the dressing. (Leftover dressing can be used on other salads or to zhuzz up mayo for chicken or tuna salad.)