By Laura Robin, Ottawa Citizen
It sounds like hyperbole, but a just-published book truly is likely to change the way you cook.
Food52 Genius Recipes is a collection of recipes that challenge the traditional way of doing things, with smart, delicious results. Many of the recipes have in recent years become Internet sensations, getting people talking because of their unusual twists on technique.
The book includes, for example, Marcella Hazan’s three-ingredient tomato sauce, Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread and Nigella Lawson’s dense chocolate loaf cake, which is made with more than a cup of boiling water.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for Black Pepper Tofu, included in the book by Kristen Miglore, is not my favourite Ottolenghi recipe for flavour – I found it almost too peppery to enjoy – but I will probably never sauté tofu again without the “genius” touch of first dredging the cubes in a bit of cornstarch, which resulted in them getting golden and crispy on the outside, while pillowy and tender on the inside.
This recipe for braised lentils, originally from the New York Times’ Melissa Clark, is a winner in terms of technique and taste. By toasting the lentils first in a mix of seasonings, then cooking them in a modest amount of flavourful sauce, “they have no choice but to plump up with the aggressive flavours all around them,” Miglore notes.
A generous topping of toasted mustard seeds and coconut further elevate the humble lentils until they are worthy of main-course status, with little more effort than simply boiling them.
SPICED BRAISED LENTILS AND TOMATOES WITH TOASTED COCONUT
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Preparation time: about 45 minutes
3 tbsp (45 mL) unsalted butter
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) good-quality Madras curry powder
1 tbsp (15 mL) tomato paste
2 cups (500 mL) green or brown lentils
2 ripe, juicy tomatoes, chopped, or 2 cups (500 mL) canned plum tomatoes, drained, or one 15-oz (425 g) can of diced tomatoes
1 ¾ tsp (9 mL) kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1 cup (250 mL) dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 ½ tbsp (22.5 mL) black or brown mustard seeds
Salty butter, for serving
Plain whole-milk yogurt, for serving (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
1. Melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, garlic and curry powder. Cook until the mixture is golden and soft, about 4 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomato paste and lentils and cook until slightly caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and 1¾ tsp (9 mL) salt. Add enough water to cover the mixture by half an inch (2.5 cm). Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. If the lentils begin to look dry while cooking, add more water as needed.
4. Meanwhile, in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the coconut flakes, mustard seeds and a large pinch of salt until the coconut is golden, about 3 minutes.
5. To serve, spoon the lentils into individual bowls. Drop about 2 tsp (10 mL) salted butter into each dish. Top with yogurt, cilantro, and the coconut-mustard-seed mixture. Serve immediately.