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Red Wine Adds Flavor to Lentil Soup


Lentils are the basis of this Greek soup.

“Like all starch-based soups, this one will thicken as it cools,” writes Michael Psilakis in “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking” (Little, Brown and Co., $35). “If you make it the day before, hold on to any reserved cooking liquid so you can thin the soup when you reheat, if it’s too thick. You can always use the liquid in another soup or a braise, as it’s really a lentil stock, full of flavor from all the vegetables and aromatics.”

Lentil Soup (Fakes)

2 smoked ham hocks
Water, as needed
2 tablespoons blended oil (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive)
2 Spanish or sweet onions, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 Idaho potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 3 dried bay leaves
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound brown lentils
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated kefalotiri cheese (or Parmesan, if you must) (see note)
2 scallions, green part only, sliced on the diagonal
Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large pot, cover the ham hocks with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside, discarding the water.

In a large pot, warm the blended oil over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables, including the garlic, as well as the bay leaves and thyme, and cook 3 to 5 minutes to soften without browning. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minute, then deglaze the pot with the red wine and sherry vinegar. Simmer until the wine is completely evaporated; then add the ham hocks and enough water to cover everything by a good inch. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and vegetables, reserving all the liquid in a large measuring jug. Return the solids to the empty cooking pot.

In a food processor, combine about a third of the lentil mixture with 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Purée until completely smooth. Return this puréed mixture to the pot with the remaining lentils and mix. Add enough of the cooking liquid to get the desired consistency – again, I am partial to a hearty style, but you may prefer it with a little more liquid. Taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and top with a big pinch of kefalotiri, some sliced scallion greens and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Optional variations:

  • If you want the meat from the ham hock in the soup, you’ll have to simmer it far longer than it takes the lentils to cook: Sauté a mirepoix of 1 carrot, 3 ribs celery, 1 large onion, 2 fresh bay leaves, and 6 smashed cloves of garlic until tender. Add the ham hocks, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Pull out the ham hocks. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables and bay leaves. Reserve the liquid and use for cooking the lentils, instead of the water. Pick off the meat from the ham hocks, discarding bones and tough cartilage. Add the meat with the puréed lentils.
  • Cook 1/2 cup of orzo according to the package instructions and stir in just before serving.
  • Serve with slices of day-old baguette, toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
  • Use any lentils of your choice; French green lentils and black beluga lentils will take a bit longer to cook.
  • Reduce the soup until it is very thick; then use it as a bed under a nice piece of fried fish. If you prefer it smooth rather than chunky, purée all the lentils. It will be almost like refried beans. Top this with a little strained Greek yogurt for coolness and tang; then throw on some torn fresh green herbs.
  • For extra pork flavor without cooking the ham hock ahead of time, as above, sauté a few ounces of finely diced smoked slab bacon with the mirepoix.

Note: Kefalotiri is a Greek cheese traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is hard and dry, and is occasionally referred to as the Greek Parmesan. It can be found at some ethnic markets and supermarkets with extensive cheese sections.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from “How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking” by Michael Psilakis

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My Big, Fat Greek Cookbook


Several years back, the movie “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” proved a crowd-pleaser with its humorous Cinderella tale of a young Greek woman for finds romance.

Now comes “How to Roast a Lamb” (Little, Brown and Company, $35) from chef Michael Psilakis of New York’s Anthos and other restaurants, a big, fat Greek cookbook that should romance you into trying an ethnic cuisine that many of us eat but not as many of us cook.

Why is that? I can hear a few people say that they don’t have a spit in their front yard for roasting the lamb, as they did in the movie. That’s true; but jokes aside, the real reason stems more from our unwillingness to spend money on an ingredient like lamb or seafood and possibly not serve it to its best potential.

We’re scared of the waste. We’re scared our families may not like it. We’re scared of the time involved.

That’s where Psilakis wants to help. He fills his book with stories of his childhood, his business life, how he became a cook, and the passion that drives his cooking. He does it in such straightforward style that you get swept up in it. He doesn’t sugar-coat matters, though he romanticizes them a bit, which is true to his Greek character. He remembers, for example, being a rebellious teen fighting with his mother and even wanting to ruin the surprise birthday party she had worked so hard to give him.

But he gets carried away by fast Cretan dance for the men that his godfather has decided to turn into a group strip-tease, to the delight of the women around them. “We danced at a feverish pitch,” he writes. “As I looked around the room, for a moment I stepped outside myself. I could see the sheer joy, delight and reckless abandon on the faces of everyone around me. These were the people I shared my life with and the people who loved me. These are the moments in life that are frozen in my mind forever — and they are priceless.”

Psilakis goes on to write that “when I look back on my life to the snapshots that populate my memory, many of my fondest memories are of events that happened at the parties we hosted at our house when I was growing up. Entertaining, however, and especially throwing big parties, can seem like a daunting proposition. But a good party doesn’t have to be a huge party. Gather together any number of people you want — 30, 20 or 15 of your close friends and family. With a couple of days’ advance planning, a little organization and the help of your friends, you can create memories of your own to last a lifetime.”

Makes me want to start planning now. And I just might add Psilakis’ Warm Feta With Tomato, Olive and Pepper Salad to the menu. Or his Potatoes, Olives and Capers With Anchovy Vinagrette. Or the Taramosalata, a spread made with carp roe. The list of dishes to try is fairly endless.

[amazon-product]0316041211[/amazon-product]Psilakis explains in extensive detail how to make each dish, so that the directions are simple and easy to follow. He also offers plenty of variations, so you can remake the dish in various ways.

Yet there is a drawback, at least to me. I loathe recipes that send you back and forth to other sections of the cookbook in order to find yet another recipe that you have to make in order to complete the one you want. In other words, the list of ingredients for Shrimp With Orzo and Tomato calls for “1/4 cup Garlic Purée (page 264)” while the Grilled Porgies sends you to page 270 for a mustard sauce called Ladolemono. This might be acceptable if the practice were limited to, say, vinaigrettes. But it seems to be in every third recipe in the book.

That said, in the end, Psilakis has demystified many Greek dishes for non-Greek cooks (with the help of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton’s rustic photography), broadening our culinary repertoires to include some great new fare.

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