Spiced Green Lentils With Pomegranate, Sweet Potato, and Pistachios (4-6 servings) and Asheville Wrap-Up

Bryan and I recently spent a long weekend in Asheville as an early celebration our anniversary. (Ten years next month! Where did the time go?!) If you're vegetarian and live within reasonable distance of this funky mountain town, you MUST go. Asheville is a haven for vegans and vegetarians. Nearly every restaurant worth mentioning (and there are dozens in Asheville) serve creative, flavorful meatless options, and the city boasts several vegetarian eateries, including the Laughing Seed and the all-vegan Plant.

The Laughing Seed's barbecue platter: vegan chipotle beans, cornbread muffin, tangy Southern slaw, and BBQ jackfruit

We always eat well in Asheville. Each time we go, we revisit some old favorites (like Laughing Seed) and add in a few new places. We tried a couple new-to-us restaurants this time around, including Bhramari Brewhouse, Chai Pani, and Zambra.

Pillowy veggie samosas, crispy kale pakoras, and salty-limey okra fries from Chai Pani

We spent a cozy evening at Zambra over tapas for our anniversary celebration, taking in the fresh air from our table in the breezeway. Zambra serves beautifully-plated, unique tapas options and offers an extensive wine list.

My two generous glasses of velvety-smooth Tempranillo suggested top notes of "I forget which tapas we ordered" with lingering hints of "but I know they were all amazing."

Of course, there's much more to do in and around Asheville besides just eat. We drove to nearby Bryson City to hop a train on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, where our beautifully-restored 1942 steam engine chugga-chugged us past stunning views of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala and Tennessee Rivers.

The unique color of the lake comes from the residue of copper mines!

We listened to spooky tales of Asheville's sordid history and even used ghost-hunting equipment to detect spectral activity (no luck) on the Downtown Spirits Tour. We browsed the eclectic downtown shops for hours, taking in the local art in display windows and listening to street musicians as we passed by. We spent a cacophonous afternoon at the Asheville Pinball Museum, where we played vintage classics (Sadly, my favorite, Gottlieb's Haunted House, was sold since our last visit) and brand-new iterations (Ghostbusters!) alike.

If you're a pinball fan, the admission price is about the best $15 you'll ever spend.

But the place that always, always feels like home in Asheville is Malaprop's. Bryan and I have been to more than our fair share of bookstores. -- believe me -- but Malaprop's is our favorite by far. It sounds silly to call a bookstore "book-focused," but if you've visited enough of them, you know that some bookstores emphasize collectibles from various trending fandoms while others spotlight cozy seating but offer few reading choices. Malaprop's, however, wants to attract readers who read. It's Heaven, and it makes my bibliophilic heart so, so happy.

I took home five new books, including Carla Snyder's One Pan, Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers: More than 70 Weeknight Meals for Two, which I've already cooked from twice. The concept is simple: Use one cooking vessel to serve up a flavorful dinner for two people. I'm already finding that each serving is pretty big, however. Both times I've cooked from this book, I doubled the recipe so we'd have leftovers for lunch the next day, only to find I had leftovers for two lunches for both of us. But hey, when the food is this good, I can't argue. The dish I'm featuring in this post (you know, when I'm done rambling about trains and pinball and books and ghosts) is complex; the lentils are earthy and peppery, the spices add aromatic interest, and the garnishes of pistachios, chèvre, and mint bring in a layer of bright, tangy, sweetness. It's perfect, really!

Hello, beautiful.

Spiced Green Lentils With Pomegranate, Sweet Potato, and Pistachios (4-6 servings)

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • A generous pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 small onions, chopped (or an equivalent of dried minced onion if you've got an angry IBS belly like I have)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups green lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves

Steps:

  1. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil shimmers, add in the coriander, cumin, cloves, onion, garlic, and sweet potato, plus 1/2 tsp salt and some ground black pepper. Sauté until the onion starts to soften and the garlic is fragrant -- about 3 minutes. 
  2. Add the lentils and broth and allow the mixture to come to a soft boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils and vegetables are tender and the liquid has been absorbed -- about 30 minutes. (Follow the author's advice and start checking after 15 minutes to see if the mixture needs more broth. I ended up needing to add a quarter cup after 25 minutes because the lentils were still a bit crunchy.) Remove from heat.
  3. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice (Watch those seeds!) over the mixture. Then add in the chopped pistachios. Add more salt if needed, although if your broth is salty or the pistachios are heavily salted, you might not need to do so.
  4. Scoop each serving into a bowl, and then top each bowl with a tablespoon or so of the pomegranate seeds and goat cheese, plus a sprinkling of parsley and mint. This can be served hot or at room temperature.

As I said, I doubled the original recipe, although I kept the garnishes at almost the original measurements. I think they work well as an accent but don't need to dominate the dish. The only other change I made was to swap out the original olive oil for sunflower, as olive oil tends to burn on my stove at higher temps. Look at the gorgeous, gorgeous colors of this dish!

Apple pie granola (~8 half-cup servings)

This coming Monday night, I'm incredibly excited to be attending my very first food swap! If you're in the Triangle, come on down to Ponysaurus at 7:00 for this event, hosted by Bull City Food Swap. I've been wanting to participate in a community food swap for years now, so naturally, I was thrilled to learn about this local event.

If I care about you in any way, shape, or form, you've probably been given my granola at some point in the last couple years. Granola is one of my favorite things to make, mainly because the recipe is so flexible. I make so many different varieties, from peanut butter and Almond Joy to cranberry-almond and strawberry-walnut. On Monday, I'll be giving away bags of mocha almond granola and apple pie granola. I'm particularly proud of the apple pie variety, so I decided to share the recipe here!

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (Tip: It mixes in easier if it's at room temperature.)
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp apple pie spice (My homemade version contains cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cardamom.)
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apples

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or spritz it with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Pour the oats and pecans into a large mixing bowl. Pour the maple syrup and vanilla extract  over the oats and nuts; mix with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon. Once the oats and pecans are evenly coated, sprinkle the apple pie spice and salt into the bowl and mix once again.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out on the baking sheet, making sure it's in a nice even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. You'll know it's done when your kitchen smells toasty-cozy and the oats are golden.
  4. Once the granola has cooled, toss it with the raisins and apples. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with milk, on top of yogurt (pictured above), on top of ice cream, or just as a crunchy snack.

Using maple syrup instead of corn syrup or maple-flavored table syrup makes this recipe more expensive, yes, but I can't emphasize how much of a difference the real stuff makes. I love that this recipe doesn't use any oil and doesn't add sugar besides the syrup and fruit. I hope this granola will make me some new local food friends on Monday night!

The Allison (one sandwich)

I have a couple sets of discussion questions that I use once a week with my high-schoolers as a warm-up exercise. My kids affectionately call Wednesday "cube day," and they get a lot out of sharing their ideas and listening to their classmates' opinions. Sometimes though, they get frustrated with me. I'm the one who always has follow-up questions about the question before I can even answer the question.

For example, this past week, a student pulled the card that asked, "What would you eat for your last meal?" My question was, "But why is it my last meal?" Of course, the card provides no further information, so my student shrugged and said, "I don't know. It just is." Obviously, the reason I'm eating one final meal would heavily sway my choice of victuals. Am I dying? Then it'll probably be a last-hurrah indulgent sort of meal. Am I on death row? And then following that, am I actually guilty? If I'm guilty, I'm probably too mournful to eat much. If I'm innocent, then I'm swallowing whole popcorn kernels to see what happens in the electric chair. Is this my last meal because a meteorite is about to hit Earth? Then I'll probably go with whatever the hell I can find in the pantry or whatever is leftover in the fridge. As much as I like to cook, I'm pretty sure my pre-Apocalyptic frame of mind will not include gourmet cooking. Let's get real here.

So by the time I run through my follow-up questions, my students are usually glassy-eyed as they fight off yawns. For that particular question, I never even arrived at an answer because there were too many variables to allow me to land on a solid decision. I left it at, "I guess it depends," and we moved on to the next card.

This afternoon, however, I realized what my real answer would be: The Allison. The Allison was off-handedly mentioned in a previous post before it was named. Originally inspired by a sandwich from Lititz, Pennsylvania's adorably cozy Tomato Pie Cafe, I've since named my version after my good friend Allison, who once sang its praises (possibly literally -- I don't remember).

So yes, the Allison would be my last meal. It feels more sinful than it is, it's comforting, and it's just unusual enough to be special. As I've said before, I love unexpected flavor combinations, and this sandwich's amalgam of brie, raspberry jam, sprouts, and egg certainly fits the bill. My philosophy of flavor pairings is like my feelings about introducing two friends from different areas of your life at a party: As long as you've got a mutual connection in between, everything will be fine. Here, raspberry jam doesn't seem like it would match well with eggs, but raspberry jam adores brie, and brie jives with eggs, so everybody is happy. And sprouts are the peppery, bold confetti that gets the party going!

Okay, so I probably haven't seen confetti at a party since I was about ten. And maybe I haven't been to many parties at all lately. Fine! I'll be in the corner eating my sandwich.

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • Two slices of multigrain bread (I recommend sunflower bread)
  • Raspberry jam (preferably with seeds)
  • Sliced brie cheese
  • Two eggs
  • Microgreens (I love using a mixture of sprouts)

Steps:

  1. Toast the bread.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the eggs however you prefer. (I love mine scrambled and fluffy.)
  3. When the bread is toasted, spread the jam on one side and lay the brie on the other. Place the eggs on top of the brie, pile the sprouts on top of the eggs, and then put the jammy toast on top. 

This sandwich tastes best if you assemble it when everything is hot and eat it straight away. (Just keep a look out for that meteorite.)

 

Kale, apple, and pomegranate salad with spicy maple pecans (4+ servings)

I have a pal who thinks she hates kale, once describing it as tasting like shattered dreams. Every time she pronounces "kale," she spits the word out of her mouth with disgust, wrinkling her nose and glaring at me with disapproval.

(If looks could kale.)

And no, before you criticize, I'm not a kale chauvinist; I mean I love it, but I'm not one to get in your face about it. It's healthy, satisfying, and versatile, and it makes me happy. It's my kale-iwick, you might say. 

(I also enjoy terrible puns.)

But I'd like to think that this salad could turn even my dubious pal into a fan. It's topped with tangy cranberries, sweet apples, salty feta, and toasty-spicy pecans, so what's not to like? The kale is only a conduit for those embellishments anyway.

So this one goes out to my skeptical friend. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Then kale me... maybe? 

Click here for printable version.

Adapted from VegetarianTimes.com

You will need:

Spicy maple pecans

  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground chipotle or cayenne pepper to taste

Vinaigrette (Note: I like my salads lightly dressed, so you might find you need more vinaigrette than I prefer. You can always double the quantities below and then save any remaining dressing for another purpose later.)

  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a dash of onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Salad

  • 1 12-oz. bunch curly kale, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 large firm apple, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (If you live in the Triangle and can get some of Prodigal Farms' goat feta, I highly recommend it!)

Steps

  1. First, make the pecans so they have a bit of time to cool. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss pecans in a small bowl with syrup, oil, salt, and chipotle or cayenne (or hot sauce, even). Spread the pecans on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pecans smell good and toasty. Set aside to cool.
  2. Use a small jar to shake up the vinaigrette ingredients. Take it easy on the salt since the feta will make the salad salty on its own. Set the vinaigrette aside.
  3. Place kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top and use your hands to massage (yes, kale likes to be pampered) the dressing into the greens briefly. Then add the apple, pomegranate seeds, feta, and pecans and toss gently to combine.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for a couple days!

Autumn farro salad with maple vinaigrette (2+ servings)

Have you tried farro? Made from hulled grains of three ancient forms of wheat, cooked farro remains chewy and soaks up flavors easily. It provides a solid dose of protein and fiber and can stand in for quinoa or rice in many dishes. Whole-grain farro requires pre-soaking and a longer cook time, but semi-pearled farro cooks up in about the same time as rice. It can be cooked in the same way as pasta -- in boiling water until al dente and then drained. Follow package directions for the best results.

This particular version was based on a recipe from The Gluten-Free Goddess, although using farro instead of quinoa took away its gluten-free status! I wanted a firm, nutty grain that could stand up to the chilly-weather flavors of the other ingredients. Here's my spin on her recipe:

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 cup dry farro, cooked in broth and cooled
  • About a cup of baby spinach or other baby greens, roughly chopped
  • 1 large pear or apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • A handful of dried cranberries (If you can find the orange-flavored variety, they're especially delicious here!)
  • 1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or something similarly mild)
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Place the farro, greens, fruit, and pecans in a large serving bowl.
  2. Add the oil, vinegar, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste to a jar with a lid. Cover and shake to combine.
  3. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature as a main dish or a side salad.

This goes well with pita chips, especially Trader Joe's cranberry and pumpkin seed version!

Spanakorizo with white beans (4 servings)

If you're trying to cook plant-based meals more often, Robin Robertson's One-Dish Vegan is an excellent resource. Filled with easy, creative, and filling recipes, it provides a variety of animal-free ideas that won't bust your budget or use up an entire evening in the kitchen. The recipe below comes from the book, and I already can't wait to make it again. The starchy rice and creamy beans work together to make a surprisingly silky, substantial dish, and the flavors of lemon, dill, and oregano brighten things up. Enjoy this Greek-inspired recipe tonight!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups dry long-grain brown rice
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (use a gluten-free broth to make this Celiac-friendly)
  • 4 cups chopped fresh spinach (thick stems removed)
  • 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill

Steps: 

  1. Add the oil, rice, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and broth to a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high until the mixture boils; reduce to low, cover, and simmer 25 minutes.
  2. After 25 minutes, stir in the spinach and beans; continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  3. Fold in the mint, lemon zest, and dill; allow to stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Savory slow-cooked beans (8+ servings)

Happy Easter, readers! I've risen from obscurity to bring you another delicious vegetarian recipe.

If you have a slow cooker, you know it's a magical thing. You just load in the ingredients, set the time and temperature, and go about your day, returning to find a delicious, flavorful meal hours later. Although I tend to immediately think of soups and chilis when I want to use my slow cooker, I've found that beans are another easy go-to option for my Crockpot. This recipe can be customized in infinite ways, and the tender, savory beans can then be used in many different recipes or served as is. These beans freeze beautifully and reheat nicely, too.

You will need:

Basic requirements

  • 1 lb dry black beans, pinto beans, or other similarly-sized beans, picked through for debris
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 jar (15-16 oz) salsa, any variety
  • 1 tsp salt

Optional flavor boosters:

  • 1 bay leaf
  • a palmful of dried herbs and/or spices: oregano, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chipotle powder, paprika, etc.
  • liquid smoke
  • hot sauce
  • chopped onion, carrot, celery, and/or potato
  • minced garlic
  • halved olives
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil

Secret final ingredient (after beans are cooked):

  • a splash of lime juice

Steps:

  1. Place the four basic ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  2. Add in as many ingredients as you like from the "optional flavor boosters" above, customizing add-ins to your own taste. (I love smoky beans, so I almost always add smoked paprika and liquid smoke. I love the richness a glug of olive oil adds, and if I use an onion, I usually keep it in big pieces to avoid overpowering the beans' flavor.)
  3. Give everything a stir and set the slow cooker for 9 hours on low.
  4. At the end of the cooking time, add in the lime juice. If you want to add a handful of chopped fresh herbs (cilantro is especially nice), do that now, too.
  5. Serve the beans in any way you like! (See some options below.) If you're serving them as-is, you might want to add some more salt. If you're using the beans as part of another recipe, you probably don't need more salt.

These beans can be used in a huge variety of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make burrito bowls (as in the last picture above) by serving the beans on top of brown rice with roasted corn, chopped avocado, and any toppings you like (sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro, etc.).
  • Serve them alongside scrambled eggs, more salsa, and tortillas for a savory breakfast or brunch dish.
  • Blend them into soup for a light and quick meal.
  • Fold them into enchiladas.
  • Add them to your favorite chili recipe.
  • Use them in a potluck salad.
  • Make a spicy casserole.
  • Turn them into tacos.

If you don't like spicy heat, you could make these with a mild salsa or even substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the salsa. At less than $1.00 a serving, you can't beat the ease and convenience of this recipe.

Cranpearry sauced punch

Just in time for the holidays -- here's a delicious cocktail! Our guests enjoyed these on Thanksgiving, but they're perfect for any festive gathering this time of year. (And thanks again to Chris for the name! I owe you one of these!)

For each serving, you will need:

Steps:

  1. Add the vodka, brandy, and cranberry juice cocktail to a shaker and mix.
  2. Pour over ice, top with ginger ale if desired, and add an orange wedge and cloves.