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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five weeknight dishes: resetting your routine

Smoky lentil stew with leeks and potatoes, in New York, Oct. 23, 2020. To adapt this wintry vegetarian dinner to whatever you have on hand, you can use roasted squash or sweet potato instead of white, and any combination of scallions, onions and shallots instead of leeks.

This week has been a time to hibernate, braise and simmer, with wild weather across the country in addition to the usual interholiday lull. But next week brings the start of 2023 and, for most, a return to routine. It’s a time for easy food — and recipes that help clear your kitchen and your head. If you stockpiled root vegetables, alliums, herbs, greens and the like for holiday cooking, the recipes below will help you face the future. Cheers!

1. Smoky lentil stew with leeks and potatoes

Rustic with deep flavor, this stew improves after a day in the fridge. Make the whole recipe, and eat it over several days — or freeze it for later. If you can’t get small Spanish Pardina lentils or French lentilles du Puy, use any size green or brown lentil. (Carnivores may want to add chorizo or jamón.) The stew is rather brothy at first, but thickens upon sitting. Thin with a little water when reheating, as necessary. For optimum results, be sure to use fruity, zesty-tasting extra-virgin olive oil — it really makes a difference.

By David Tanis

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 1 hour


1 1/2 cups small lentils, such as Pardina or Puy (12 ounces), or use any size green or brown lentil

1 medium onion, halved, plus 2 bay leaves and 2 whole cloves

Kosher salt and black pepper

4 or 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced 3/4-inch thick

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 large thyme or rosemary sprig

2 tablespoons pimentón dulce or smoked sweet paprika

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste

Small pinch of saffron (about 12 strands), soaked in 1/4 cup cold water

1 cup chopped canned tomato with juice

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Chopped parsley (optional)


1. Rinse lentils. Put them in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot and add 8 cups water. Pin a bay leaf to each onion half using a whole clove and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, add a large pinch of salt, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook with lid ajar for about 30 minutes, until soft. Turn off heat.

2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to boil, and cook the potato slices until just done, about 10 minutes, then drain and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.

3. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is wavy, add leeks and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Let leeks cook briskly, stirring frequently until soft but still bright green, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn heat to medium, stir in chopped garlic, thyme, pimentón and cayenne.

4. Add saffron and soaking water, the chopped tomato and vinegar. Turn heat to high and let everything simmer for a few minutes. Pour contents of skillet into Dutch oven with lentils. Add the reserved potatoes.

5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered with lid ajar for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cook for 10 more minutes. The lentils will be quite soft and the potatoes will start to break. Discard onion and thyme sprig.

6. Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and chopped parsley, if you wish.

2. Chicken and herb salad with nuoc cham

Nuoc cham, a Vietnamese sauce bright with lime juice and chile, is tossed into this simple, satisfying salad to give it a salty-sweet finish. Thinly sliced bell pepper and shaved cabbage provide crunch, while meat pulled from a store-bought rotisserie chicken — or any leftover chicken — soaks up the dressing. Serve this by itself, or alongside steamed rice or room-temperature cooked rice vermicelli.

By Yewande Kolomafe

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 5 minutes


2 tablespoons sugar

1 garlic clove, minced

1 bird’s-eye chile or other small hot chile, minced with seeds

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 loosely packed cups chicken meat (12 ounces, pulled from store-bought rotisserie chicken or roast chicken)

2 cups thinly sliced red or green cabbage

1 small English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium bell pepper (any color), thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups peppery leafy greens, such as watercress with tender stems, arugula or mizuna

1 loosely pack

ed cup Thai or sweet basil leaves

1 loosely packed cup mint leaves

1/2 cup crispy fried shallots or onions, store-bought or homemade


1. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the garlic, chile, lime juice and fish sauce. Stir to combine.

2. Add the chicken, cabbage, cucumbers and bell pepper to the dressing. Toss to coat. Add the leafy greens and the basil and mint leaves. Toss to combine.

3. Divide the salad among bowls, garnish with the crispy shallots and serve immediately.

3. Roasted carrots with shallots, mozzarella and spicy bread crumbs

In this colorful, crunchy-topped vegetable dish, roasted carrots and shallots are topped with puddles of gooey mozzarella, while herbs, olives and a big squirt of lemon at the end add just the right level of tang. Serve this as a light, meatless meal on its own, or as a vibrant side dish to a simple roast chicken or fish.

By Melissa Clark

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour


1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and halved, or quartered lengthwise into long, thin sticks

5 small or 3 large shallots, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (about 1 1/4 cups)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1 fat garlic clove, minced or finely grated

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving

6 ounces mozzarella, hand-pulled or chopped into small pieces (1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup green olives, pitted and rough chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste

1/3 cup fresh basil, dill or mint, torn


1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place carrots and shallots on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil until well coated. Roast for 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. (The shallots will start to shrivel and brown at the edges, but they won’t be cooked through yet.)

2. In a small bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, Parmesan, garlic, red-pepper flakes, remaining 3 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt, tossing until well combined.

3. Sprinkle mozzarella and olives all over carrots and shallots, then top with the seasoned breadcrumbs. Continue to roast until the vegetables are golden brown and tender, 12 to 15 minutes longer. Just before serving, drizzle lemon juice all over the top and garnish with herbs.

4. Chile-Oil Fried Eggs With Greens and Yogurt

This recipe, adapted from a dish served at MeMe’s Diner in Brooklyn, is a brunch power move. Eggs sit atop wilted greens on a bed of yogurt, all surrounded by seeded chile oil. The fresh yogurt cuts through the chile oil’s heat, and the seed mix adds layers of flavor and crunch. If you’re feeling lazy — it is brunch after all — skip the greens, or use everything spice mix and peanuts, for the seed mix. But don’t skimp on the chile oil: It’s the best part. Scale it up to have extra on hand for future use, or use store-bought if you like. (You’ll need about 1 cup for four servings.) Serve with toast, to sop up the extra oil.

Recipe from MeMe’s Diner

Adapted by Krysten Chambrot

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling


For the chile oil:

3 tablespoons red-pepper flakes

1 small cinnamon stick

1 whole star anise

3/4 teaspoon green cardamom pods (about 15 pods), optional

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 cup neutral oil, such as canola or safflower

1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed

1 (1/4-inch) piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced (optional)

For the seed mix:

2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds (or a mix)

2 tablespoons pepitas or sunflower seeds (or a mix)

2 tablespoons whole roasted, salted peanuts

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic flakes, chopped dried garlic chips or onion flakes

for the sautéed kale:

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola, plus more as needed

1 large bunch curly kale (about 1/2 pound), stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar or white vinegar

1/2 tablespoon toasted red-pepper flakes (from the bottom of the chile oil)

For the eggs:

Neutral oil, such as canola

4 to 8 eggs

For assembly:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature

Flaky sea salt


1. Make the chile oil (or skip to Step 4 if using store-bought chile oil): Add red-pepper flakes to a heatproof container that can balance a fine-mesh sieve and comfortably hold at least 1 cup oil. (A 12- or 16-ounce Mason jar works well.) Set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, toast cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom (if using), fennel seeds and peppercorns, gently shaking the pan, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add oil, garlic and ginger (if using), reduce the heat to low and allow the oil to come to a gentle simmer. Cook until the garlic is deeply golden brown and the ginger is tender, about 20 minutes. (The longer and more gently it cooks, the more flavorful the oil will be.)

3. Carefully pour hot oil through sieve directly onto the red-pepper flakes, which will sizzle and fry in the hot oil. Discard strained spices. (You should have a little more than 1 cup oil.) Allow mixture to cool at least 1 hour or, for the best flavor, make it the night before.

4. As chile oil simmers, prepare the seed mix: Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed sheet pan, lay out sesame seeds and pepitas in a single layer, transfer to the oven and toast until golden and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Let cool slightly, then mix in peanuts and garlic flakes. Set aside.

5. Prepare the sautéed kale: In a large skillet over medium heat, warm oil until it shimmers. Add kale to the skillet, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring to combine and adding more kale to the skillet as it wilts and space permits. (Kale will release liquid, but if you think it needs more oil, add it to the pan.) When the last batch has been added, season generously with salt. Add vinegar and about 1/2 tablespoon red-pepper flakes scooped from the chile oil, and stir to incorporate. You want some wilted bits and some crunchier drier bits. Set over low heat as you fry your eggs.

6. Prepare the eggs: In another large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil. Working in batches, cook 1 to 2 eggs per person, adding oil as needed, until the yolk is a desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes for sunny-side up.

7. Plate the dish: Dollop about 1/4 cup yogurt onto the center of each plate, spread it in a circle, leaving space around the edge of the plate for the seeded oil and a divot in the middle for the greens. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons chile oil around the edge of the yogurt, and sprinkle seed mix over the oil. Divide warm greens on top of yogurt, and top with eggs. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve immediately.

5. Chepa Vepudu (Fish Fry)

As Indian cookbook author Archana Pidathala worked to translate and rewrite her grandmother’s collection of recipes from Andhra, in southeastern India, one of the first dishes she mastered was chepa vepudu, a simple fish fry. In Kurnool, where Pidathala grew up, her family would eat the spicy, crisp fish dish when there was a fresh catch of murrel available, also called bull’s-eye snakehead, a delicious freshwater fish. But almost any fish, cut perpendicular to the spine, into small steaks, will do nicely. Marinated quickly in a simple spice paste, and shallow-fried, the fish becomes golden and crisp all over, and takes on the flavors of caramelized ginger and garlic, browned coriander seeds and red chile. Be sure to use a nonstick pan, or a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, to keep the fish from sticking or the marinade from falling off.

Recipe from Archana Pidathala

Adapted by Tejal Rao

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


4 large garlic cloves, peeled

1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly sliced

1 teaspoon red-chile powder

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

3/4 cup all-purpose flour, rice flour or semolina

2 pounds fish steaks, such as bass, haddock, mackerel or swordfish, cut into about 6 1-inch-thick slices

6 tablespoons neutral oil

1 lime, cut into wedgesThis week has been a time to hibernate, braise and simmer, with wild weather across the country in addition to the usual interholiday lull. But next week brings the start of 2023 and, for most, a return to routine. It’s a time for easy food — and recipes that help clear your kitchen and your head. If you stockpiled root vegetables, alliums, herbs, greens and the like for holiday cooking, the recipes below will help you face the future.


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