Monday, October 22, 2012

Curried Chickpea, Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew

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Curried Chickpea, Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew

Soupe de Pois Chickes, Lentilles et Blettes

Serves: 8
Curried Chickpea, Lentil & Swiss Chard Stew
My Farmer’s Market Bag this week a beautiful bunch of Rainbow Swiss Chard. I needed to either admire it in a vase or eat it. Yes, it was that gorgeous. As soon as the weather turns a bit cool, I get into soup mode big-time. I love to make enough so we have leftovers for lunch or in the freezer for days when I do not have time to cook. This recipe is completely vegetarian – it is thick, healthy and tasty. You could add cut up sausages if you had an avowed meat-eater in the family. But, really, this is so tasty and filling, it really needs nothing but some bread and wine! 

In France, there are all matter of grains, rice and dried beans. Each package is usually labeled with year of harvest and a “use by” date, ensuring the freshest product for use. It appears to be a less prevalent practice in the US. When shopping for any dried grains, rice or beans, always go to a store that has good turnover and hope you get the freshest of the fresh. The rule is simple: the older the grains, rice, or beans, the longer they will take to cook and the duller the flavor.

This dish, more of a thick stew than a soup, bursts with fresh, spicy flavors and combines some of my favorite ingredients: chickpeas, chard and lentils. Swiss Chard is usually associated with cuisines from the Mediterranean. While the leaves are always green, chard stalks vary in color. It has been bred to have highly nutritious leaves at the expense of the root. It is a nutritional powerhouse, a superb source of calcium and potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as two carotenoids.  Chard is, in fact, considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables around and ranks first, tied with spinach, in total nutrient-richness.  If unavailable in your market, spinach would be a substitute – though the bite and taste would be a bit different.
Gorgeous rainbow Swiss Chard
Lentils, like other legumes, are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. They have a mild, often earthy flavor.  The best, most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils. These hold their shape well as you will witness in this stew.
 Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans (in Spanish cooking) or ceci beans (in Italian cooking), are another legume – rich in protein and fiber.  Actually a hefty portion is an insoluble fiber felt to be quite beneficial to colon health.  It is the main ingredient in hummus.
  • 1½ C dried French lentils, preferably lentilles du Puy, rinsed and drained.
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 4 sprigs of Parsley
  • 4 sprigs of Thyme
  • Celery leaves
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Qts Vegetable or Chicken stock
  • 2 tsp curry powder – prefer Madras
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, leaves only, coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
  • 2 C canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 C Greek-style plain yogurt for garnish
  • 2 tsp toasted cumin seeds for garnish
Place 1½ C dried French green lentils in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Set aside.

Encase the 4 sprigs of parsley, thyme and celery leaves in a wire mesh tea infuser or wrapped in tightly in cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni. In a large stockpot, combine 2 Tb olive oil, your bouquet garni, 1 thinly sliced halved onion, and 1 tsp sea salt. Sweat, cooking over a low heat, until soft but not browned, for about 3 minutes. Add 2 qts stock and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Add the lentils from the sieve, 2 tsp curry powder, and ½ tsp cayenne powder and stir. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Add 12 C chard leaves and 2 C chickpeas and cook until the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes more. Remove the bouquet garni and toss. Taste for seasoning.
Cut Swiss Chard
 While the stew is cooking, toast 2 tsp whole cumin by placing them in a dry frying pan over moderate heat. Shake the pan regularly until the cumin seeds are fragrant and evenly toasted, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully as they easily burn. Set aside to cool.
Toasted Cumin
When ready to serve, divide the stew among warmed bowls. Garnish with a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of toasted cumin.  You and your family will not only love this stew – rich spicy flavor with crunch of chard and cool yogurt topping – but they will also love the healthy benefits you are providing - perhaps.

Wine pairing is fun with this meal. The cayenne pepper definitely gives it some spice – which I love – if you are in the mood for a white wine – try a Gew├╝rztraminer or Riesling. A wonderful California Zinfandel or Syrah would also pair beautifully.  And, of course, beer – a cold Pilsner – would be great.

Bon Healthy Appetit!


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