Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

This is an unapologetic ode to my Instant Pot, which I love and adore. I bought it used several years ago and yes, it did take some time to get over my initial fears of figuring it out, but once I started understanding how to best put it to use, I fell hard and fast. Yes, people, you can be a hardcore home cook and also love the Instant Pot! Loving to cook does not exclude loving the Instant Pot!

What I think is essential is figuring out how you personally will get the most use out of it. What might be important to me will not necessarily be as important to you. For example, I love the Instant Pot for making chicken broth. It's easier than cooking it on the stove and it results in a more flavorful broth, plus it's quicker. I also love it for cooking rice, as I've mentioned before. And braised meat and palak paneer, among other Indian recipes. (This book by Sarah Copeland is an absolutely wonderful must-have if you have an Instant Pot.) But the most important thing for me is Instant Pot risotto. I'll literally never make risotto on the stove top again.

Not only does risotto in the Instant Pot take a fraction of the time to make, but you barely even have to stir it. PLUS,  you're guaranteed the most perfect texture every time. It's magic and absolutely worth the price of the pot. (We eat risotto at least once a week and it is one of those rare meals that everyone loves and I don't even bother serving anything else with it, so it's easy as pie for me.) The first time I made IP risotto, we'd spent the afternoon at the playground and came home just at dinnertime. The children were hangry, as, frankly, was I, and I had prepared nothing for dinner. There was a moment of panic and then I pivoted to making this risotto and when I had a hot, perfect dinner on the table less than 15 minutes later, I felt like I could have bench-pressed a car.

I used a recipe from The Kitchn to get my head around quantities and time, but my risotto is more vegetable-forward and less cheese-centric. I usually make risotto with a box of frozen peas, but sometimes I'll use a medium zucchini, finely diced (as I did here). You can, of course, go nuts and use both! Or you could skip both and just add saffron to make risotto Milanese! (Add the saffron with the broth.) You can use fancy homemade broth, or store-bought boxed broth, or even just water with some bouillon cubes, which is what I usually do. (I use Italian Star cubes that I buy in bulk in Italy or at the Italian wholesaler here in Berlin.) If you have white wine, use it. If you don't (I rarely do), just substitute more water/broth. It's a very riffable base recipe and I love it so much I've committed it to memory.

Instant Pot Risotto

This is what the risotto looks like immediately after removing the lid. You have to then quickly give it a good stir, add the grated cheese and stir again. And then you have to serve it right away - risotto must be eaten hot hot hot, just like pasta, or the texture changes and it goes all wrong.

IP Risotto

Okay, now I'm very curious: What are your reasons for loving your Instant Pot?

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.

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water with two bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups (400 grams) risotto rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine, optional (if not using, add an additional 1/2 cup broth)
1 box frozen peas or 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1/2 cup (45 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Warm the broth or water. Set aside.

2. Set the Instant Pot to SAUTÉ and pour the oil (or the butter, if using) into the pot. Add the finely chopped onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with fat. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

3. If using the wine, add and stir well. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. If not, proceed directly to Step 4.

4. Turn off the SAUTÉ function. Add the warmed broth and stir in the frozen peas or diced zucchini. Cover the Instant Pot and set it to MANUAL, HIGH, and dial the time to 5 minutes. The Instant Pot will take about 3 minutes to come to pressure.

5. When the 5 minutes are over, immediately release the pressure using a QUICK release. Remove the lid. Add the grated cheese, stir well, season to taste, and serve immediately.


Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta

Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Feta and Za'atar

 A quick, quick dispatch from over here because it's 5:06 pm and my mother, who kindly agreed to watch Bruno so I could work for a few hours, is leaving soon. Yes, Bruno's home again from Kita, which is supposed to be closed to all but essential workers. (It's not, though; there are plenty of people sending their kids who most definitely are not essential workers, but don't be surprised, the pamphlet explaining the exceptions runs more than 30 pages long, TELL ME ABOUT THAT FAMED GERMAN EFFICIENCY AGAIN WHY DON'T YOU.) After two weeks of spring break, Hugo's back at school for his 2 1/4 hours of daily learning and I'm back to chauffeuring him and taking care of Bruno full-time and it's only Monday and I'm already ready for hara-kiri, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE SO I DON'T CHEW MY FACE OFF.

Fritters! PEA fritters! From the excellent pages of Ottolenghi Simple, which is the ONLY Ottolenghi book you truly need, in my extremely humble opinion. (Fine, you can have Jerusalem and if you bake, Sweet too, but Simple is truly what it promises - excellent, fast and - for Ottolenghi - simple recipes that will knock your socks off almost every time.) I've had my eyes on these pea fritters ever since getting the book years ago, but for whatever reason (fear of frying?) didn't make them until Saturday night. DO NOT REPEAT MY MISTAKE AND WAIT TO MAKE THESE. Make them right away! Today! Tomorrow! For no reason! They're so easy and SO delicious and...fun? I hate calling food fun, but these actually are fun? I mean, frozen peas! Blitzed into rubble! Mixed with za'atar and feta and mint and some baking powder/flour to help them puff and aerate! Fun!

They are an actual delight and when eaten hot from the plate, with lemon squeezed over, and a glass of cold white wine to wash them down, like an actual civilized person who still holds the potential to entertain something like a sexy aperitivo hour, may even hold the power to transport you from your miserable existence into an alternate reality for a brief, tongue-singeing moment. I AM NOT OVERSELLING THESE, I SWEAR.

One final note: If you have eaters at your table who do not like feta (ASK ME HOW I KNOW), you can leave out the feta and these babies will still be absolutely wonderfully delicious. Your mystical transportation may become somewhat more...limited in its scope, but it's still worth going for it.

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.

Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta
Makes 25 - 30 fritters
Adapted from Ottolenghi Simple
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500 grams (1 lb 2 oz) frozen peas, defrosted
120 grams (4 1/2 oz) ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons za’atar
100 grams (2/3 cup) all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
20 grams (small handful) mint leaves, finely shredded
200 grams (7 oz) feta, broken into 2cm pieces
800ml (3 cups) sunflower oil, for frying

1. Put the peas in a food processor and pulse until roughly crushed, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the ricotta, eggs, lemon zest (reserve the lemon, cut into wedges for serving), three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix well. Add the za’atar, flour and baking powder, mix until just combined, then gently fold in the mint and feta, so it doesn’t break up.

2. Pour the oil into a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, use two dessert spoons to scoop up balls of the fritter mixture: they won’t be uniform in shape, but should each be about 4cm wide. You should be able to fry about six or seven at a time: carefully lower them into the oil and fry for three to four minutes, turning them once, until cooked through and golden-brown. (If the fritters are cooking too quickly, reduce the temperature, so they cook right through to the middle.) Once done, lift the cooked fritters from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and serve immediately or keep warm in an oven.

3. Repeat with the remaining fritters, and serve warm with lemon wedges alongside.


Towpath's Oatmeal with Walnuts, Butter and Demerara Sugar

Towpath's Oatmeal with Walnuts and Butter

A few years ago, I made an orange-scented Tuscan olive oil cake that I loved so much, simple yet perfect. The recipe came from Towpath, the seasonal East London cafe owned by Lori De Mori and Laura Jackson, and was included in The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. I'd heard about Towpath from Rachel and Brian and various other discerning people over the years, but without having ever been there myself, I just thought it was a cafe with nice food in London. Not much mystery there.

Well, in the meantime, Lori and Laura published their own cookbook, Towpath: Recipes and Stories, and I was sent a copy by their publisher Chelsea Green in the fall. Upon reading the book, it's safe to say that I was wrong to think of Towpath as just a café with nice food in London. The book makes clear that Towpath is more than that; it is a family, an institution, a state of mind. Idiosyncratic, personal, completely unique. My travel fantasies have taken on baroque proportions over the past 12 months (whose haven't, I ask you?), but I'm particularly fond of the one in which we travel around the United Kingdom, alternating between exploring small towns and cities and hiking in vast tracts of wild countryside, and a stop at Towpath features centrally in this fantasy.

The Towpath cookbook is organized by month, because Towpath closes from November until March (usually) and because the kitchen's cooking hews so closely to the seasons. The book's recipes toggle between restaurant-y dishes with various components (though always appealingly rustic and largely approachable) and simple meals doable for any level of home cook. It skews Italian (Lori De Mori has a home in Tuscany), but with lots of other Mediterranean influences and the kinds of "new English" flavors that have become a hallmark of recipes from England over the past 20 years. In between the recipes are little essays about the restaurant itself and its quirky community of revolving employees and ever-loyal patrons. For anyone who's ever dreamed of opening a cafe or restaurant that is an extension of their home, Towpath is that dream come to life.

I've made lots of things from the pages of the book, including a Tuscan beef stew (peposo) and a Neapolitan sausage ragù, and I've so many earmarked things to get to (including pickled radicchio with toasted breadcrumbs and mozzarella, which sounds like the summer dinner of my dreams), but funnily enough, the recipe that has had the most effect on me is one of the simplest things in the book. It's barely a recipe, more an idea, the oatmeal (porridge, here) with walnuts and butter and raw sugar.

It's the first recipe in the book, for March, when Towpath opens again after a long winter break. It's been on their menu since the beginning. I know it seems prosaic, but for me, the recipe unlocked the potential of eating oatmeal, transforming it from something dutiful and humdrum into something I crave. (Oatmeal!)

Towpath uses pinhead oats, while I stick with rolled oats. They cook them with milk, I cook them with water. But the oats, either way, are salted, then topped with toasted walnuts, a lump of butter (my American grandmother buttered her oatmeal, so I love this touch) and a sprinkle of raw (demerara) sugar. The interplay of textures, from the creamy oats to the toasty, velvety walnuts to the sparkly crunch of the raw sugar that keeps its integrity as you eat, is a delight. The balance of sweetness and saltiness with the homey oats, rich butter and earthy walnuts is, too. I love this breakfast and the ritual of making it (scooping out a spoonful of soft butter, cracking the walnuts with satisfaction, the final scattering of the coarse-grained and glittering sugar).

Now, when I think of oatmeal for breakfast, it is Towpath's way and only Towpath's way; you can keep your berries and milk, your cinnamon and apples, your chia seeds and maple syrup. It's walnuts, butter and raw sugar forever for me.

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.

Oatmeal with Butter, Walnuts and Demerara Sugar
Adapted from Towpath: Recipes and Stories
Serves 1
Print this recipe!

1/3 - 1/2 cup rolled oats (depending on how hungry you are)
Pinch of salt
5 - 8 walnuts (depending on how hungry you are)
1 to 2 teaspoons salted or unsalted butter
2 teaspoons raw (demerara) sugar

1. Place the oats in a small sauce pan with twice as much water. Add the salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the oatmeal is the consistency you like. Scrape into a serving bowl.

2. Crack the walnuts and crumble them with your fingers over the oatmeal. Top with the butter and sugar.

3. Eat. The recipe is easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled.


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.


Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi

Soboro Donburi

After 16 years of food blogging (!), I have yet to figure out how to make ground meat look appealing at dinnertime, when it's dark out and there's no natural light and everyone is hangry and the overhead lamp is casting a shadow. It practically pains me to post this photo above, which looks so...2005, doesn't it? Ack. But you need to know about it. I practically screamed in delight at dinner last night. Besides, you're not here for my photos, are you? You're here for the important stuff! The bossy opinions! The recipes! The mad ramblings of a middle-aged mother who mostly feels like she's at her wit's end! So I'm throwing vanity to the wind. (Besides, a much more photogenic picture of this slam dunk is right here.)

The recipe, by Elizabeth Andoh, is considered one of F&W's 40 best recipes in 2018. Does this mean 40 best ever or 40 best in 2018? I don't know. What I do know: It is currently at the top of my best in 2021.

Cooking it took 9 minutes last night. NINE MINUTES. Nove. Nueve. Neun. (Plus rice in the Instant Pot*, which took 13 minutes.) And it involves literally zero skill. You simply dump ground beef in a pot with sake (or Shaoxing wine, which is all I had), soy sauce, dashi (or water, which is all I had) and sugar (I reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon down from 1.5 tablespoons). Then you cook it all together, mashing the beef around so it cooks evenly. You add a big mound of grated ginger and frozen peas. The original recipe says 1/2 cup peas to a pound of beef, but I like peas a lot and I wanted to bulk up the meal a little more, so I put in two cups and it was perfect and I'd do it again. You keep cooking until the peas are tender and the liquid evaporates and then it's done and you can sit down and have the most delicious, easy meal and don't forget the pickled ginger on top, because it really makes the whole thing sing.

It's sweet-salty and chewy and fragrant and the grated ginger sort of melts into the background, but gives the whole thing some backbone and it was just such a lovely little meal. I already know we'll be making it all the time. I may even put this baby up on the side of the fridge, it's that good. Plus, NINE MINUTES, PEOPLE. I'm still not over it.

Updated to add that Elizabeth herself chimed in on Twitter, alerting me to the fact that she updated the recipe on her website last year! More here.

*My beloved Cuckoo rice cooker gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. I have yet to rebuy one because the Korean grocery store where I bought it has closed and Cuckoo rice cookers are a lot more expensive than they used to be when I bought mine and the IP did such a beautiful job with the rice last night that now I find myself contemplating buying a second IP rather than a rice cooker. Is this a good idea? What should I do? Help!

Mel D. Cole
Photo by Mel D. Cole.

I'd like to close out this post by acknowledging the pain of the AAPI community, as well as Asians living in other countries who mourn yesterday's shocking murders in Atlanta and the past year's uptick in assaults and injuries, fearing for their own safety. This past year has unleashed a wave of racialized hatred towards Asians throughout Europe and the United States and it is outrageous and completely unacceptable. The deaths of the women in Atlanta are a tragedy. I am also devastated by the thought of Asian men and women everywhere fearing a random attack just because of what they look like. Lisa Lin has listed a few community organizers and advocacy groups in need of support. And Joanna also has a list of organizations to support. While the United States continues to have an unconscionable gun situation, which certainly makes everyone less safe, all Western societies need to do a better job of seeing and treating Asians as full and whole human beings who are every bit as deserving of their humanity as anyone else.

Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

1 pound/450 grams lean ground beef
1/3 cup/80ml sake or Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup/60ml soy sauce
1/4 cup/ 60ml dashi or water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups/240 grams frozen peas
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
Hot cooked white rice
Pickled ginger

1. Stir together ground beef, sake, soy sauce, dashi, and sugar in a small Dutch oven or medium-size, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high, stirring often to break up large lumps of beef, 5 minutes. Stir in peas and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is mostly evaporated and beef is no longer pink but is still moist, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Divide rice evenly among 4 large bowls. Spoon 1/2 cup beef mixture over each. Garnish with pickled ginger.


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.


Ali Slagle's Cheesy Black Bean Bake

Ali Slage's Cheesy Black Bean Bake

Some days you have the time to leisurely cook a sack of dried beans the way they did in the olden days, linen apron blowing in the gentle breeze, the faraway shout of children tumbling down the heather-topped hill echoing faintly back to your gorgeously rustic, yet well-appointed kitchen; other days, you are so frantic and stressed that even the MERE IDEA of turning on the flame to get dinner started is enough to give you a nervous breakdown. On those days, you need this cheesy black bean bake in your repertoire, because it barely counts as cooking and yet delivers a pretty bang-up meal in basically seconds, PLUS you get to eat it with rice if it's not the worst absolute day of your week OR tortilla chips if it is the worst absolute day of your week. And it is so satisfying and delicious that it'll make you feel just fine about dialing it in.

You probably have all the ingredients for it in your pantry/fridge as we speak, but truly the most essential ingredient is one that isn't listed here and that is the cold beer that you must must must have on hand to drink with dinner. It makes the bean bake all the more delicious, PLUS if you're having the kind of day that warrants this meal for dinner, then the cold beer is even more important. (Alternatively, a margarita; I don't know your life.)

Hugo, as I may have mentioned in the past—and forgive me if I continue to harp on it in the future, but I reserve the right to complain about certain aspects of my children's characters and disliking melted cheese DEFINITELY counts as a (slight) character flaw in my book—dislikes melted cheese. The melted cheese on top of these beans is absolutely crucial, I find, but if you simply scoop the beans out from under the cheese, you can procure cheeseless beans for these kinds of picky eaters, as well as having extra cheese for the rest of you who are sane enough to realize that melted and burnished cheddar should be its own food group.

If you're organized enough to have a ripe avocado on hand, you could do worse than slicing it up and serving it with the beans and chips or beans and rice. Pickled onions would also be a lovely touch! Neither of them ever happen in my house, because I reserve this bake for the days when I AM LOSING MY MIND and those days do not include the possibility of pickled onions or cubed avocado. But maybe you are more capable than me.

As I write this, International Women's Day is drawing slowly to a close. A couple years ago, Berlin's government declared this day a holiday and I am still not over how furious this makes me. As my bestie Marguerite Joly succinctly puts it:

"My wish list for International Women's Day is so long and does not feature a state-mandated holiday. How about equal pay, legal access to abortion, tax-free hygiene products and a side of acknowledgment of women's mental load for starters?!! I do not want [gratitude] or flowers or a gd holiday; I want immediate inclusion and equality, justice and equity for all women of all colors, socio-economic backgrounds and all sexual orientations and abilities."

Amen, sister. With that I leave you to go chill my beer for tonight's viewing of an American actress and Diana's heir taking down the British monarchy.

Ali Slagle's Cheesy Black Bean Bake
Serves 3 to 4
Print this recipe!

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes (can be left out if you're cooking for heat-sensitive palates)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (14-ounce/400 gram) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup/120ml boiling water
Salt and black pepper
1 ½ cups/170 grams grated Cheddar cheese

1. Heat the oven to 475°F/245°C. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Fry the garlic until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, red-pepper flakes and cumin (be careful of splattering), and fry for 30 seconds, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.

2. Add the beans, water and generous pinches of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top then bake until the cheese has melted, 5 to 10 minutes. If the top is not as browned as you’d like, run the skillet under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve immediately.