Spiced Lentils & Rice with Caramelized Onions

It’s cooled down a lot this past week. We’ve taken our sweaters and scarves out of the closet, and next week we’ll probably add our jackets and gloves to the mix. This dinner was warm and satisfying and gave me the energy to teach one last night class on the past perfect tense. The caramelized onions are our favorite part of this meal, and really tie together all the flavors quite nicely. The first time we made this dish we didn’t have a parsley plant yet, but this time we were aesthetically pleased by specks of green on top of our lentils.

1 1/2 TBS. olive oil

1 onion (half of it chopped, the other half sliced into rings)
1 clove minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup lentils
3 cups chicken (or veggie) broth
1/2 cup rice
chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

  • Heat a 1/2 TBS. of oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, salt & pepper, and cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the lentils, then add 1 cup of the broth.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 min. or until the lentils start to soften. Add the rest of the broth (so the lentils are completely covered). Stir in the rice. Cover and reduce heat to low.
  • In the meantime, cook the remaining onion slices in 1 TBS. of oil over medium high heat, stirring often, until they turn dark brown and become caramelized (about 15 min.) Drain on paper towels while the lentil and rice finish cooking.
  • When the rice and lentils are both tender (if not, add more liquid, cover, and continue cooking for a few minutes), garnish with the caramelized onions and fresh parsley.

Moroccan Chickpea Chili for a Japanese Halloween

Can we get any more multi-cultural? I don’t think so. So, Halloween in Japan: No trick-or-treaters can be found, and if you’re lucky enough to find a pumpkin that’s big enough to carve, it will cost you the equivalent of 40 US dollars or more. But at least the stores have plenty of festive decorations up. And one of my students (a 6-year-old boy who recently came back to Japan after living in America for a year) showed up to English class dressed in a pirate costume and gave me a bag of candy. That was the highlight of my day. That and this delicious chili from Cooking Light. My mom always makes chili on Halloween, so I thought I’d do something similar on this side of the Pacific. We halved the recipe, but left the measurements for the spices the same (an accident, but the chili tasted delicious!) The recipe below is with our alterations. (Our grocery store doesn’t have tomato paste or cilantro, so we had to omit them).

2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. chili pepper
3/4 cup water
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 TBS. no-salt-added tomato paste
1/2 TBS. fresh lemon juice
1 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to pan. Saute 5 min.
  • Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients (through chili pepper). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Add water, tomato paste, chickpeas, and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
  • Stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Serves 2.

We caught Arius in the act of stealing a soup spoon.

And here’s my dog Faith back at home looking festive! Happy Halloween!

Azuki: it’s what’s for dessert

Japan isn’t that big on dessert. You can’t expect much after a meal except some fresh fruit (not that there’s anything disappointing about fresh fruit. It’s always perfect here!) But for dessert connoisseurs, this is not the place to find chocolate torte or apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Instead, you may find yourself eating a small piece of steamed sweet potato cake with your green tea. Or a little scoop of green tea ice cream (which I’m actually not a fan of, unfortunately. I’ve given it many chances, but I just can’t stand the stuff). Or maybe you’ll be served several cubes of clear jello (called kanten jelly) with a square of sweet red bean paste inside. Yep, beans for dessert!

Although it might sound a little bizarre to a Western palate (and especially in California where we associate beans with really good Mexican food), sweet red azuki beans are growing on us (no, not literally), and have become one of our favorite desserts in Japan. You can buy cans of them at every grocery store here. Azuki beans have lots of starch, protein, fiber and vitamin B1. These are some tempting ideas that we’ve seen here:

In the summer, they buy these cool shaved-ice machines (usually they’re shaped like cartoon characters like Snoopy, or an animal like an elephant, so the shaved ice falls out of his trunk or something along those lines). Then they pour sweetened condensed milk over a bowl of shaved ice and top with sweet Azuki beans. Japanese kids love it, and so do I.

They also make a paste out of the beans and spread it on little pancakes.

And there’s a special traditional New Years dessert called zenzai, slow-cooked Azuki beans sweetened with sugar and served with little dumplings made from glutinous rice (called mochi).

We simply simmered the beans with water, a little sugar and salt and enjoyed them by themselves. If you can find canned Azuki beans at an Asian food store, it’s worth trying them out. And you can prove to your diners that beans are a perfectly acceptable dessert.

1 can of red Azuki beans
200 cc water (a little less than 1 cup)
1/4 tsp. salt
sugar to taste (the beans from the can are already pretty sweet)

  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes until thick, and cool before serving.

Beat the Heat Japanese Style: Beer & Edamame

Eda-mame are fresh, young soy beans that are often boiled in the pod and eaten in summertime with a generous sprinkling of salt and a chilled Japanese Beer. Their name means “branch beans” because sometimes you can buy them still attached to their stalks. You can probably find them at most grocery stores (check the freezer section), but if you ever come across fresh ones, here is a simple (and traditional) way to prepare them. Soy beans have always been an important source of protein in the Japanese diet. I like them because they curb my frequent salt craving without having to eat potato chips or popcorn!

Boiled Edamame

  • If still attached, take the bean pods off the stalks. Sprinkle the pods with a lot of salt and rub the salt into them with your fingers. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  • Add the pods to a pan of boiling water. Boil over high heat for 7-10 minutes. Drain and run under cold water.
  • Serve in a bowl with a few more dashes of salt on top, if desired.
  • Serve with an ice cold Japanese beer, like Sapporo or Asahi. Oh, and just squeeze the pods with your teeth to pop out the tender beans inside. Some may fly across the room, but it’s more fun that way.

The Nutritional Value of about 1 1/8 cup of these beans in the pod (from edamame.com):

  • 120 calories
  • 9 grams fiber
  • 2.5 grams fat
  • 11 grams protein
  • 13 grams carbohydrates
  • 15 mg sodium
  • 10% Daily Value for vitamin C
  • 10% Daily Value for iron
  • 8% Daily Value for vitamin A
  • 4% Daily Value for calcium