Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Urban Chicken's Moroccan Spiced Lentils

A couple of weeks ago my sweet friend chef Flor Franco (Indulge Catering, Urban Chicken) gave my mom--and me--the greatest gift possible: her time. Earlier, when I mentioned to Flor how much my mom loved the lentils and cilantro sauce she brought to a lunch we all attended and that Mom would love the recipes--well, Flor didn't just say, "Sure, no problem." She upped the ante with, "Let's make a date for me go over to her house and cook with her so she can learn how to make them."

So we set a date and Flor showed up, like a caterer does, with all the ingredients she needed, plus roasted chicken, sauces, rice...basically a feast.

Flor Franco, left, and Evie Golden
We focused on the Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup, an amalgam of lentils and split peas infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that's about it. The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. Ours was more like soup, and accompanied a platter of chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit for lunch.

Flor also gave us some handy kitchen tips--perfect for busy families who want to cook but may be pressed for time. Roast garlic and cut-up onions, then package them and keep in the fridge for about a week to use whenever you might need them in a recipe. And, for this recipe, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container.

Cooking the lentils took less than an hour and when we sat down to eat, Flor explained how she came up with the idea for Urban Chicken, which is located in Sherman Heights. It was basically a challenge her kids issued to her. Long an advocate of healthy, fresh food for kids--basically eating the way she was raised to eat in her native Veracruz--Flor was searching for a way to unhook them from the chicken nuggets and fries they tend to gravitate to at fast food restaurants. If she was serious about it, her children said, do something. Create your own fast food restaurant. So, they sat down and came up with recipes that were basically family favorites, resulting in this splendid menu, most of which is gluten-free.

Flor is just about to launch an under $3.50 "Snack Attack" menu as well as more vegetarian choices. It's a hit in the neighborhood and now Flor is contemplating new locations around San Diego. My mom is begging her to open one in the UTC area.

But in the meantime, get over there for some great takeout. And enjoy this recipe Flor shared with us.

Flor Franco's Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
(printable recipe)
Yield: about 5 servings

15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Moroccan spice mix
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro

Preheat the broiler.

Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.

Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.

When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

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