January 24, 2010

Moroccan Lentils

Moroccan food is one of my favorites. The dishes are fresh and festive. But what I like most are the simple dishes, those with just a few ingredients showcasing a vegetable or bean. The following recipe is a simple lentil dish that is full of warm spices. It is a common village meal, and is best eaten with bread.

The spice blend used here is ras el hanout. If you can't find this in your grocery, you can make it yourself. I tell you how in this article.

The directions below make use of a pressure cooker. If you don't have one, you can make this in a regular pot; just double the cooking time to about 30 minutes.

Berber Lentils


2 T olive oil + 1 T butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t ras el hanout
1 t sugar
1¼ c green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 c water (2½ c if not using a pressure cooker)
handful of cilantro or parsley


1. Heat the oil and butter in the pressure cooker or saucepan. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes, until they begin to color. Stir in the ras el hanout and sugar.

2. Add the lentils and stir well to coat. Add the water. If using a pressure cooker, bring to high pressure and maintain for 15 minutes. If using a regular pot, bring to a boil, then gently simmer for about 35 minutes.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle cilantro or parsley over them.

January 23, 2010

Faux Meat

One of the goals of Evolution Kitchen is to adapt meat dishes to vegetarian. A reader once asked why would a vegetarian want to eat food that tastes like meat. Certainly there are those who truly detest the taste and/or texture of meat, but I believe many vegetarians are that way based on religious, health, economic, or moral reasons; it has nothing to do with disliking the taste of meat.

Vegetarians have a large arsenal of faux meats to get them by. There is tofu, beans, tempeh, TVP, seiten, and a variety of packaged foods that resemble meat in flavor and texture but are completely animal free. Most of these, however, have wheat gluten in them, so my wife can't eat them, but there is one product from Lightlife called Smart Strips she can eat.

These come in 6-oz packages of chicken and beef, and they fill in quite well for meat in recipes. They have good flavor and they readily brown in a skillet. We recently picked up a package of beef and I wanted to try it out. So I found the following recipe in a Carribean cookbook, which I modified to use the strips, plus some other modifications.

Pepper Steak in Sherry Cream Sauce


1 Pkg Smart Strips, beef flavor
½ t Jamaican jerk seasoning
¼ t cayenne pepper
1 t paprika
½ t chili powder
1 small onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T olive oil, separated
¼ c sherry
2 T sour cream
3 T water
salt and pepper to taste


1. mix the spices (jerk seasoning, cayenne, paprika, and chili powder) together in a bowl. Add the beef strips and stir to blend. Set aside for about 15 minutes.

2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 T olive oil. Saute the beef strips until browned. Remove from heat back to the bowl.

3. Add the remaining 1 T oil to the skillet and lower heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 3-5 minutes until onion is soft and slightly golden.

4. Add the sherry and simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Mix the sour cream and water together, then add to the pan. Stir well to combine. Add the beef strips back to the skillet and cook another 2-3 minutes to heat through.

6. Serve over rice.

January 9, 2010

Kefta With Egg and Tomato

This dish is North Africa's version of fast food. It is predominantly sold in train and bus stations. It is cooked on the spot and eaten right out of the pan with a chunk of bread. Despite the eggs in the dish, it's not meant for breakfast. We eat this as a light dinner.

The key spice ingredient in here is the ras el hanout, a delicious spice blend from North Africa and the Middle East. If you can't find any, you can easily make it yourself. I have modified an old article on spice blends to include this fabulous blend: spice blends.

Typically this calls for meatballs made from ground lamb, but I have adapted the recipe to use soy wadi, those great little meat-like chunks first discussed here. Instead of making meatballs from scratch, I use wadi cooked in a strong broth. In fact, I used the Shish Kabob recipe as the basis for the kefta.

Kefta with Egg and Tomato


Prepared wadi from this recipe
4 eggs
1 t ground cinnamon
2 T olive oil
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes, undrained
2 t sugar
1 t ras el hanout
salt and black pepper to taste


1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Fry the wadi shish kabobs until browned all over.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and ras el hanout. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes to reduce the liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

3. make room in the mixture to add the eggs. Crack open the eggs in the spaces. Cover the pan, reduce heat, and cook for several minutes until eggs have reached the desired doneness.

4. Sprinkle parsley liberally and serve. Goes well with chunks of crusty bread.