When I was younger, my mom would cook for me a few times, particularly if I was busy studying. She didn’t like to cook, but there were a couple of dishes she made that I absolutely loved. One of them consisted, basically, of beets and onions. She’d use those pre-cooked beets they sell on the supermarkets and sautée them in olive oil along with roughly chopped onions. At the very last minute of cooking, soy sauce and a good splash of red wine vinegar were stirred in. The final dish looked terribly unappetising but tasted incredibly good. The sweet and caramelised onions were a nice contrast to the chunks of beetroot, and the light sourness the red wine vinegar coated the vegetables with really sold the deal for me.
I haven’t eaten the onion and beetroot stir-fry for a couple of years now. Not that I couldn’t make it myself, but simply because I know that, if I made it, it wouldn’t taste like hers. It’s funny how we attach feelings to food and food to memories, and how those connections can indeed have an impact on our palates. As much as we might want to rationalise the experience of eating, there’s no way we can judge and evaluate food without our personal beliefs and stories sneaking in unconsciously.
The other day, I was reminded of the beetroot-onion dish while watching Nigel Slater cooking. He was making a really good-looking lentil stew with caramelised onions on top. The moment I saw it, I knew I had to make my version of it. And, as it turns out, my version is a mix of mom’s signature dish and Nigel’s recipe. Personally, I think it tastes divine. The key is to choose the right lentils – use a variety that doesn’t collapse while cooking, such as Puy, for some texture. Equally important is not to skip the cinnamon, as it gives the stew that comforting and warming character all winter meals should have.
Beet and Lentil Stew with Sweet Onions
(serves 4, as a main)
For the stew:
635 gr / 6 medium sized beets, peeled and quartered
315 g green or puy lentils / 1 ½ cups
1 large onion / 180 g cut into thin half moons
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
625 ml / 2 ½ cups reduced sodium vegetable stock
625 ml / 2 ½ cups water
1 bunch / 12 g parsley, finely chopped
For the sweet onion topping:
470 g / 7 small onions, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt to taste
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
In a large pot over over low-medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the paprika, cinnamon and nutmeg and fry for one additional minute.
Add the beets, the stock and the water to the pan and bring everything to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low-medium and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
After half an hour, add the lentils and the parsley. Simmer for additional 30 minutes. When the lentils are cooked, stir in the salt and serve with the onion topping (recipe follows) and cooked brown rice.
For the sweet onion topping: add, to a non-stick frying pan over low-medium heat, the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt. Put a lid over the pan and let the onions cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re caramelised. At the very last minute of cooking, add the nutmeg and the red wine vinegar. Give everything a good stir and serve over the stew.
Recipe inspired by Nigel Slater
For some reason I can’t yet figure out, my cats love tempeh. They could be sleeping on the farthest room from the kitchen but, as soon as I open the tempeh package, they come running and meowing like crazy. I always give them little bits of it, and they always give me back “the face”, meaning they want seconds. Maybe it’s tempeh’s yeast-y and nutty flavour that drives them mad. Anyway, I have hardly ever seen them being so enthusiastic about a particular food as they are about it (don’t get me started on the organic and expensive as hell wet food I once bought them, which they sniffed and walked away from). Unlike the kitties, and through my years as a vegetarian/vegan, I never cared much for tempeh. Today, however, I’ve been cooking with it much more often. Through practice, I guess I’ve come up with some pretty good dishes that feature this fermented soy-based and, most of the time, underrated ingredient. The recipe for this patties is, out of the things I’ve made recently using tempeh, the one I like the most. They’re complex in flavour as well as in texture, with different spices thrown in for a bit of a spicy kick. A couple specifics: you really have to refrigerate them for at least two hours before cooking. It pays off, really: their consistency will improve and it’ll be easier to shape them. The chutney, on its side, won’t take you more than 5 minutes to make and it’s sweet and tangy character goes really well with the patties’ earthy flavours. Chickpea and Tempeh Patties with Lemon Chutney
(makes 6 to 8 patties)
for the patties:
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup warm water for at least 15 minutes
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons tomato puree/paste
1 ½ teaspoons harissa
½ teaspoon sea salt
145 g /1 cup frozen corn
250 gr tempeh, crumbled
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
for the lemon chutney:
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
210g /2 medium sized lemons
125 ml / ½ cup brown rice syrup
For the patties: In a pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the mushrooms, crushed cumin seeds, paprika, turmeric and thyme, followed by ½ cup of the mushrooms soaking water. Give everything a good stir and add the tomato puree, harissa, salt, frozen corn and tempeh. Cook for, over a low-medium flame, for 8-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas to a large bowl and mash them with a potato masher. They will work as the “glue” that holds the patties together, so they should be well mashed. Add the tempeh mixture to the chickpeas and stir everything together until you have a firm mixture. Taste to check the seasoning and add a bit more salt if needed. Refrigerate the burgers mixture for at least 2 hours. When you’re ready to cook them, add a generous drizzle of olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the burgers and let them cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until they’re golden brown. Serve with the lemon chutney on top.
For the lemon chutney: In a small pan over medium heat, toast the mustard seeds for 1-2 minutes or until brown but not burnt. Set aside. Using a y-shaped peeler or a small sharp knife, remove the lemons’ skin. Cut the skinless lemons into quarters and remove as much as the white part as you can (you only want the pulp). Remove any seeds as well. Cut the lemons’ pulps into smaller pieces and their skins into very thin strips. Add the lemons’ skin and pulp and the rice syrup to the pan with the toasted mustard seeds. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered and over medium heat, or until the liquid is reduced a bit (it will reduce even more after it’s cooled, so don’t overcook it). Serve with the burgers.