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Red Wine Adds Flavor to Lentil Soup


Lentils are the basis of this Greek soup.

“Like all starch-based soups, this one will thicken as it cools,” writes Michael Psilakis in “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking” (Little, Brown and Co., $35). “If you make it the day before, hold on to any reserved cooking liquid so you can thin the soup when you reheat, if it’s too thick. You can always use the liquid in another soup or a braise, as it’s really a lentil stock, full of flavor from all the vegetables and aromatics.”

Lentil Soup (Fakes)

2 smoked ham hocks
Water, as needed
2 tablespoons blended oil (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive)
2 Spanish or sweet onions, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 Idaho potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 3 dried bay leaves
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound brown lentils
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated kefalotiri cheese (or Parmesan, if you must) (see note)
2 scallions, green part only, sliced on the diagonal
Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large pot, cover the ham hocks with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside, discarding the water.

In a large pot, warm the blended oil over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables, including the garlic, as well as the bay leaves and thyme, and cook 3 to 5 minutes to soften without browning. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minute, then deglaze the pot with the red wine and sherry vinegar. Simmer until the wine is completely evaporated; then add the ham hocks and enough water to cover everything by a good inch. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and vegetables, reserving all the liquid in a large measuring jug. Return the solids to the empty cooking pot.

In a food processor, combine about a third of the lentil mixture with 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Purée until completely smooth. Return this puréed mixture to the pot with the remaining lentils and mix. Add enough of the cooking liquid to get the desired consistency – again, I am partial to a hearty style, but you may prefer it with a little more liquid. Taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and top with a big pinch of kefalotiri, some sliced scallion greens and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Optional variations:

  • If you want the meat from the ham hock in the soup, you’ll have to simmer it far longer than it takes the lentils to cook: Sauté a mirepoix of 1 carrot, 3 ribs celery, 1 large onion, 2 fresh bay leaves, and 6 smashed cloves of garlic until tender. Add the ham hocks, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Pull out the ham hocks. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables and bay leaves. Reserve the liquid and use for cooking the lentils, instead of the water. Pick off the meat from the ham hocks, discarding bones and tough cartilage. Add the meat with the puréed lentils.
  • Cook 1/2 cup of orzo according to the package instructions and stir in just before serving.
  • Serve with slices of day-old baguette, toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
  • Use any lentils of your choice; French green lentils and black beluga lentils will take a bit longer to cook.
  • Reduce the soup until it is very thick; then use it as a bed under a nice piece of fried fish. If you prefer it smooth rather than chunky, purée all the lentils. It will be almost like refried beans. Top this with a little strained Greek yogurt for coolness and tang; then throw on some torn fresh green herbs.
  • For extra pork flavor without cooking the ham hock ahead of time, as above, sauté a few ounces of finely diced smoked slab bacon with the mirepoix.

Note: Kefalotiri is a Greek cheese traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is hard and dry, and is occasionally referred to as the Greek Parmesan. It can be found at some ethnic markets and supermarkets with extensive cheese sections.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from “How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking” by Michael Psilakis

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Ask a Foodie: Is Garlic an Old- or New-World Food?


Garlic, appreciated since ancient times for its flavor and health properties.

Q. Recently, I picked up a head of garlic at Central Market, a special variety that was selling for nearly $30 a pound. (But one head cost less than $4.) I know there are many varieties of garlic, but was garlic one of the foods discovered in the New World, like corn and chocolate?

A.  No, garlic is a very Old-World food. Now popular throughout the world, garlic is believed to have come from southeastern Siberia, then to have spread to the Mediterranean countries, where it took hold. “There is a firm belief that it was grown in India, China and Egypt before recorded history,” writes Ian Hemphill in “The Spice and Herb Bible.” Louis Pasteur wrote about its anti-bacterial properties in the mid-1800s.

This hardy perennial belongs to the same genus as onions (Allium), which also includes chives, leeks and shallots. Specialty growers are discovering some of the many cultivated sub-varieties of garlic of which there are reported to be around 600. The garlic you purchased is no doubt being grown by a garlic enthusiast who is exploring some of these different varieties. A great website for those of us who love garlic and want to learn more about it is Gourmet Garlic Gardens.

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Grilled Portobello Pizzas Are Easy and Versatile


A portobello pizza on the grill

If you’re trying to avoid pizza crust because of too many carbohydrates or too much gluten, there is a solution. Fralo’s Art of Pizza in Leon Springs offers a portobello mushroom pizza that’s not on the menu, but it is available if you know to ask for it.

I tried to make my own version the other night for a quick dinner and found it both easy and delicious, with that almost marrow-like quality of the portobello shining through.

This dish can be an appetizer or a main course with a tossed salad alongside it.

And like any great pizza, you can tailor it to fit your tastes, with everything from green olives to anchovies to ham and pineapple.

Grilled Portobello Pizzas

1 clove garlic, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Tomato sauce
Dried oregano or basil, to taste
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Your choice of toppings
Mozzarella cheese

Light your grill and get it hot. Spray with oil.

Sauté the garlic — and onion or green pepper, if you’re using — in the olive oil.

Portobello pizzas before hitting the grill

Brush the portobello caps on both sides with the oil. Place the caps with the top down on a plate. Sprinkle the garlic on the cap. Cover with a little tomato sauce, about 2 tablespoons, but not enough to make the cap soggy. Add oregano or basil, salt and pepper to taste. Top with onions, pepper, black olives, anchovies, pepperoni or whatever topping you choose. Top with mozzarella cheese (you can use shredded or a deli slice to cover the top).

Turn the grill down to medium-low heat. Place the mushrooms on the grill and close the lid. Let cook for at least 7 minutes so the cheese can melt. When the cheese has melted, remove from the grill and serve.

Makes 2 pizzas.

Adapted from Fralo’s Art of Pizza

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Chefs’ Corner: Chama Gaucha Has a Tangy, Unique Chimichurri Sauce


Grilled salmon topped with Chama Gaucha's Chimichurri Sauce.

Q. Could you possibly get me the recipe for the chimichurri sauce at Chama Gaucha?

— Cindy

A. Long Phu, the general manager at Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, 18318 Sonterra Place, was happy to share the basic recipe for this chunky sauce, which he was quick to point out is not like the traditional chimichurri sauce from Argentina.

The Argentine version is made with fresh parsley, garlic and olive oil, while Chama Gaucha’s is made with sautéed bell peppers and onions with a touch of dried herbs while getting a lively kick from vinegar and tomato sauce.

The difference took a few friends by surprise, but most warmed to its tangy charms.

Beef at Chama Gaucha topped with its chimichurri sauce.

Phu didn’t offer any proportions of the ingredients, because part of the fun is playing with it until you get the flavors adjusted to a level that’s right for you. We offer a version to get you started.

This version is great with steaks, such as the many skewered versions that are served at Chama Gaucha, a Brazilian steakhouse. You could also use it with chicken, firm seafood or even grilled portobello mushrooms.

By the way, Chama Gaucha is quietly becoming a chain. The first is the Sonterra Place location, while a second opened in Chicago in 2008. A third opens in Houston on Aug. 24, Phu says.

To reach the restaurant, call (210) 564-9400 or click here for more information.

And if you have a recipe you’d like, email Bonnie Walker or John Griffin.

Chama Gaucha Chimichurri Sauce

Chama Gaucha’s Chimichurri Sauce

1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to taste, divided use
1/2 cup white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried mint, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried cilantro, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley, or to taste
4 ounces tomato sauce, or to taste

Lightly sauté the peppers, onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil. You want the vegetables crisp, so don’t overcook them. Remove from heat and add vinegar and more olive oil, to taste. The amount of each is to taste, but it also stems from with how much sauce you want around the vegetables. “It’s almost like a vinaigrette the way it’s prepared,” Phu says, adding that the ratio of oil and vinegar is close to even.

Stir in basil, mint, cilantro, oregano and parsley, and adding more of each to taste. Stir in tomato paste. Adjust seasonings to taste.

The end result should be chunky. It should also be very thick. “This is not a light sauce,” he says.

For those who want it spicier, think of adding jalapeño or spicy paprika to the mix, Phu says.

Adapted from Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse

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Pepita-roasted Tomatillo Dip


Pepitas, or roasted pumpkin seeds.

San Antonio loves a good tomatillo dip, and this version benefits from the addition of garlic, tangy lemon juice, the nuttiness of roasted pumpkin seeds, and the freshness of cilantro leaves mixed with the tart tomatillos.

It’s a  perfect treat, whether you’re looking for something to snack on while cheering on the U.S. Women’s National Team as they play in the World Cup finals or just munch on any mid-afternoon.

“For a special presentation, try serving this smooth, rich-tasting dip in a hollowed-out squash,” say the editors of the new “The Sunset Cookbook” (Oxmoor House, $34.95).

Pepita-roasted Tomatillo Dip

3 fresh tomatillos (about 6 ounces), husks removed
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Tortilla chips

Put tomatillos in a small baking pan and broil 4 to 6 inches from heat, turning once, until skins are lightly charred, 5 to 8 minutes.

In a small, heavy skillet over medium heat, toaste pumpkin seeds until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes.

In a blender, whirl tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, garlic, lemon juice, oil, cilantro and salt until combined but still slightly chunky. Scrape into a small bowl; add more salt to taste. Serve with chips.

Make up to 1 day ahead, chilled.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

From “The Sunset Cookbook”

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Ask a Foodie: Low-carb Salmon Ideas?


Enjoy two low-carbohydrate ways to prepare salmon fillets.

Q. The doctor just put me on a strict low-carb diet, and he told me to eat more fish. Any ideas? I like salmon.

— William G.

A. It’s easy to cut carbohydrates down in many savory dishes without losing flavor (desserts are another matter).  One place to look for low-carb ideas is cookbooks that cater to diabetics. That’s where the two salmon recipes below originated. They are from the new “The Diabetes Seafood Cookbook” by Barbara Seelig-Brown (American Diabetes Association, $18.95). But beware: Not all of the recipes are low-carb, so read the nutritional analysis before cooking.

The two recipes were chosen from an entire chapter on salmon because they are made in two different ways. One is grilled, the other is poached. That way, you can vary your method and still keep your carb count low.

Grilled Salmon and Asparagus

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 lemons
1 pound thick salmon fillet, skinless, cut into 4 portions
2 teaspoons salt-free lemon pepper seasoning
2 pounds thin asparagus, ends broken off and placed in a bowl of water

Place olive oil in a small sauté pan. Add garlic and heat until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 mintues. Add basil and turn heat off. Whisk in lemon juice. Set aside.

Sprinkle salmon with lemon pepper seasoning. Set aside.

Preheat grill pan for a few minutes. Drain asparagus and place on grill pan. Cover and roast asparagus for 3 minutes, shaking occasionally. Remove cover. Brush salmon with lemon garlic bath. Place ont he grill pan. cook first side until a nice crust forms. Turn and cook second side. if you want your salmon well done, the lid can be placed on the grill pan.

Place asparagus on a serving plate. Top with salmon. Drizzle with lemon garlic bath. Additional lemon garlic bath can be stored for future use.

Makes 4 servings.

Approximate nutritional value per serving: 300 calories, 17 g fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, 3 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugars, 29 g protein.

From “The Diabetes Seafood Cookbook” by Barbara Seelig-Brown

Lemony Poached Salmon with a Fennel, Onion and Olive Salad

1 pound salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into 4 portions
Juice of 1 lemon
Water to cover salmon

Salad:
1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel tops
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted olives
1/2 cup sliced cucumber
4 cups red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 lemon, sliced for garnish

Dressing:
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon capers

Prepare pan for poaching. Place salmon in pan. Add lemon juice and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until it flakes with a fork.

Place fennel tops, onion, olives, cucumber and lettuce in a large bowl.

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Add capers. pour half of the dressing over the salad greens. Toss. Save the rest of the dressing to use with another salad.

Place salad on plate and top with salmon. Garnish with lemon slices.

Makes 4 servings.

Approximate nutritional value per serving: 230 calories, 12 g fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, 2 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar, 25 protein.

From “The Diabetes Seafood Cookbook” by Barbara Seelig-Brown

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Wild Mushroom and Anchovy Fricassee (Fricasse de Setas con Anchoas)


Use oyster mushrooms or a combination in this tapas recipe.

This tapas recipe gets a kick from garlic mixed with anchovies into a paste.

Wild Mushroom and Anchovy Fricassee (Fricasse de Setas con Anchoas)

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 ¼ pounds porcini or other wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into large pieces
12 canned anchovy fillets, drained
2 cloves garlic
1 cup stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a flameproof earthenware casserole or a large skillet or frying pan, add the mushrooms and pan-fry over low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the anchovies and garlic in a large mortar and crush them to a paste.

Stir the stock and the contents of the mortar into the mushrooms and season with pepper. Cover the pan and let simmer over low heat for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley into the pan, re-cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot, either in a serving dish or on small plates.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Book of Tapas” by Simone and Inés Ortega

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Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts


Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts

“Most North Americans think habanero = fire,” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “I think habanero = aroma of tropical fruit and flowers … plus some pretty searing heat. By roasting habaneros (along with garlic) and blending them into seasoning, we’ve already mitigated their heat without doing too much damage to that beautifully aromatic flavor. Adding a touch of honey soothes the heat to a very manageable glow.

“Still scared about using habaneros? Try using two or three serrano (or two small jalapeño) chiles instead. And if your macadamia nuts come salted, cut the salt in the seasoning by half.”

These can be made a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container before servings.

Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts (Macadamias al Chile Habanero y Ajo)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 to 2 fresh habanero chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (about 1 pound) roasted macadamia nuts

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. In a dry skillet, roast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles over medium heat, turning them regularly until soft and blotchy-blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the habanero, 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic. When the garlic is handleable, peel off the paper skin. In a mortar or small food processor, combine the garlic and habanero. Pound or process to as smooth a mixture as possible. Add the oil, honey and salt and pound or process to incorporate thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the macadamias and flavoring, stirring to coat the nuts thoroughly. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake —stirring occasionally — until the nuts are toasty smelling and the flavorings have formed a shiny, dryish coating, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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Scrod with Lemon-Garlic Bread Crumbs


Use lemon juice in this baked fish dish and serve it with lemon wedges.

If you prefer baked fish to fried, try this easy-to-assemble dish that features scrod. You could also use cod or haddock, if you prefer. What is scrod, you might ask?  This is young cod (0r haddock) weighing less than two-and-a-half pounds.

Scrod with Lemon-Garlic Bread Crumbs

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (about 2 slices bread)
4 pieces scrod, cod or haddock fillets (about 6 ounces each)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In 10-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic; cook until golden. Add bread crumbs, and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. Remove skillet from heat.

With tweezers; remove any bones from scrod. In 9-by-13-inch baking dish, arrange fillets in single layer; sprinkle with lemon juice and salt. Press bread crumb mixture onto fillets. Bake until fish is just opaque throughout, 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle scrod with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings.

Approximate nutritional value: 231 calories, 32 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat,, 89 mg cholesterol, 517 mg sodium.

From “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook”

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Use Collards to Make Brazilian Greens


Collard greens

“In the 21st century, we have learned that not all greens are cooked with bacon drippings and a ham hock,” Jessica B. Harris writes with no small part of her tongue firmly planted in cheek in her new book, “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” (Bloomsbury, $26). “This is the way that they accompany feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. The greens may be kale or collards or a mix, but I prefer to use the collards.”

You can serve the greens alongside anything from beef and pork to chicken and fish. Present them with orange or tangelo slices for a beautiful array of colors and flavors.

I made a variation of this dish shortly after visiting Brazil, using kale. It is the only time I can remember my father asking for seconds of anything I ever cooked.

Collards and kale are both are in season, and you’ll find them at your local farmers market right now.

Brazilian Greens

2 pounds fresh young collard greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Hot sauce, to taste

Wash the collard greens thoroughly and bunch leaves together. Take the bunch, roll it tightly, and cut it crosswise into thin strips. (This is a method that the French call en chiffonade.) Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, then cook the garlic, stirring over medium heat, then cook the garlic, stirring it until it’s only slightly browned. Add the collard strips and cook them, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, so that the greens are soft but retain their bright color. Add a tablespoon or  two of water, cover, lower the heat and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Serve hot with the hot sauce of your choice.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Tasting Brazil”/”High on the Hog” by Jessica B. Harris

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