Thursday, October 25, 2012

The French Connection

I believe Julia Child put it best when she said, "Butter."

When I think of French cooking not only do I conjure up images of that Gentle Giant of the Kitchen who pioneered the cuisine in America, I think of incredibly rich food laden with butter, cream, and booze. It is comforting, seductively aromatic, and, above all, incredibly delicious.

While there is nothing wrong with indulging in a buttery pastry every once in a while, and I may be so bold as to say that there is nothing better on a cold winter's day than Boeuf Bourguignon, perhaps the most decadent of beef stews filled with bacon, cognac, wine, butter, and beef, (Yes, Nicole, I went there) it is clearly NOT the most healthy of culinary choices.

But, before we condemn the French to the coronary ward, we must further explore the many other delicious, and healthy, offerings found in their cuisine.  A huge variety of vegetables, herbs, and legumes make up a great deal of the French palate.  Eggplant, zucchini, garlic, truffles, haricots verts, carrots, leeks, and a huge array of mushrooms are just a smattering of healthy additions to their diet.

So I say let's draw inspiration from the French and adapt their techniques and flavors into something a bit more fitting for a vegan lifestyle.

As Julia would exclaim, "Bon Appétit!"

Culinary Term:  mise-en-place

Mise-en-place means "things in place" or basically your set up before you cook.  By preparing and cutting all of your vegetables before you begin cooking, your time in the kitchen in much more efficient and fun!

French Lentils with Braised Leeks Vinaigrette

2 cups green lentils
2 yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 Tbl tomato paste
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
thyme bundle
3 bay leaves
2 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cognac (optional)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 Tbl red wine vinegar

In a heat resistant bowl, cover lentils in boiling water and set aside for roughly 15 minutes. Use this time to set up your mise-en-place with your vegetables.  When slicing your vegetables, try to make them as similar in size as possible to ensure even cooking time. (i.e. slice carrots in half, then quarters, then eighths until they are in "matchsticks".  Stack up matchsticks and cut into small cubes.)

In a large pan, saute onions in olive oil until they soften, about five minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add carrots, celery, red pepper, fennel, thyme and bay leaves.  Season with salt and crushed red pepper, and cook until veggie are tender but not brown, about seven to ten minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook for three minutes.  Deglaze pan with wine and cognac (if using). Cook until liquid has reduced by half.  Add lentils and stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook covered for 15 minutes until lentils are tender.  Stir in vinegar and parsley.  Adjust seasoning.

For the Leeks

6 leeks
1 Tbl olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
2 Tbl lemon juice
1 Tbl fresh tarragon
2 Tbl fresh parsley

Prepare the leeks by removing the dark leaves and trimming off the roots to remove the hairy bits but keeping the bulb intact. Using a sharp knife, slice leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove sand.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Working in batches, brown the leeks on both sides, about two to three minutes.  Don't try to do all of the leeks at once as they will steam as opposed to caramelized.  Return all of the leeks to the pan, cover with stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for about 10 minutes or until a paring knife slides easily into the leeks.  Remove from pan.  Over a medium flame, whisk in mustard, lemon juice, and herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide lentils on to plates. Top with leeks and spoon over vinaigrette.

No comments:

Post a Comment