28 June 2010

Worth the Pain

During my last trip to East Bay, my sister and I stopped by Flacos' teeny-tiny storefront in Berkeley for a late lunch.  It was another of my sister's fruitful, Yelp-induced ideas.  The restaurant location happened to be the building previously occupied by an Ital restaurant we once visited--the occasion marking the first time my sister took me to a completely vegan eating establishment.  We enjoyed the food then, and now with a vegan Mexican restaurant in its place, we hoped that we would have a similarly positive dining experience.

And that we did.  My sister ordered some faux shredded chicken tacos topped with habanero sauce and served with brown rice and refried beans, while I ordered the posole, a spicy soup traditionally made with hominy and some type of meat (but sans animal presence at this restaurant).  After trying each other's dishes and proceeding to nosh hungrily on our own, my sister and I both agreed that the food was pretty scrumptious.  Each dish was fairly spicy, but still incredibly flavorful.  The posole was a delicious new experience for me and good enough for my omnivorous sister to proclaim it as tastier than any non-veg versions she had ever eaten.  How awesome is that?  The only thing that slightly marred the experience--mind you, it certainly didn't ruin the fact that the food was really good--was knowing full well that all of that spice and oil would wreak havoc on my stomach (which it later did); I used to suffer pain associated with gastritis that is still occasionally problematic when I eat particularly spicy or greasy food.  I still usually opt to suffer just to satisfy my taste buds, as demonstrated by my penchant for dousing practically anything savory with hot sauce.  "No pain, no gain," right?
Over the weekend, my family held another barbecue-oriented gathering to honor a visit my an out-of-town relative.  When grocery shopping for supplies, I noticed giant cans of cooked white hominy and was immediately reminded of that killer (in the best way possible) posole.  Rather than taking the pasta salad route as previously considered, I bought one of those monstrous cans of hominy with the new goal of recreating a vegan version of posole that I hoped would be as tasty as (if not at least close to) the one from Flacos.  I tried to make it a little less spicy, just because my family can only handle so much heat and I like to think that I put whatever I've learned from past experiences (e.g., the agony of too much awesomely spicy soup) to good use.  Admittedly, my posole is likely not very authentic and probably can't compare to the one from Flacos, but it still has good flavor and kick.

Vegan Posole (printable recipe)
Yields 6 large servings

1 onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced (or leave seeds in for more heat)
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 c (40 oz) canned hominy, drained
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder (depending on how much heat you desire/can handle)
2 tsp oil
1/2 c tomato sauce
4 c vegetable broth (preferably low-sodium)
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 lime (approximately 2 T)
Salt, to taste
Condiments: shredded cabbage, sliced onion, sliced radish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low flame.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent.  Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook for a few more minutes.  Stir in the spices, tomato sauce, and vegetable broth, and bring it to a boil over medium heat.  Add the hominy, cover, reduce the heat to low, and allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes.  Stir in the lime juice and cilantro.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Serve hot with a sprinkling of shredded cabbage, sliced onion, and sliced radish.

Keep in mind that you can always adjust the spice to fit your level of heat tolerance by starting off with just a portion of the jalapeno and chipotle called for, then increasing the amount if necessary.  And remember that this makes a rather large batch; feel free to scale it down to feed a smaller crowd.  Enjoy!

26 June 2010

Tofu, Spinach, and Improvised Asian-Fusion "Noodles"

Foodwise, I've been on a bit of an Asian kick lately.  Normally, after repeated and prolonged exposure to any one cuisine, I'll reach a burnout point that signals me to find another culinary fixation.  But perhaps it is because the cuisine of that vast continent is so broad and varied that this recent Asian food bender hasn't left me sick of its flavors and staple dishes.  It probably helps that I have always had a particular interest in East Asian culture and, especially in recent years, have become more inclined to reconnect with my Filipino heritage.

Sometime last week, when my sister was still down here for a visit, she suggested we cook a few Korean dishes.  Having been directed by a coworker to an awesome site chock-full of Korean recipes, my big sis was all over what entree she wanted to make; she had even selected vegan-friendly sides that she thought I would enjoy.  After glancing over the recipes, I gladly agreed to assist my sister with dinner by preparing two simple, delectable vegan side dishes.
Making the Panfried Tofu with Spicy Sauce (Dubu buchim yangnyumjang) was my first task.  I followed the recipe almost exactly as written, using a little less oil than called for and substituting pure maple syrup for the sugar.  I also used super-firm tofu from a massive leftover block.  In a matter of minutes, I had delicious, spicy tofu cooked, plated, and ready for eating.

The Spinach Side Dish (Sigeumchi namul) came together even more quickly than the tofu dish, and was just as tasty.  I again utilized leftovers--unseasoned, blanched spinach this time--to complete the dish.  The garlic-sesame dressing jazzed up the greens quite nicely, which paired well with the sesame-topped tofu.

On a separate occasion, I drew inspiration from a take-out menu and the contents of my fridge and freezer when attempting to recreate a particular Asian-fusion dish.  The item of focus was Rad Na, a Thai-Chinese noodle dish I had recently enjoyed at a local Thai restaurant.  It featured wide, flat rice noodles (chow fun, which I love) and broccoli cooked in soybean gravy.  While the dish's traditional manifestation includes fish sauce and some type of meat, I was able to order a flavorful and completely satisfying animal-free version, with beef-style gluten strips and sans fish sauce.  Noodle-lover that I am, I fell in love with my vegan Rad Na and made a mental note to try to recreate it at home.

So a few days later, I made up my mind to do just that, using whatever I happened to have on-hand.  Unsurprisingly, I was lacking several ingredients, namely rice noodles, broccoli, Thai soy sauce, and Thai bean sauce.  I did, however, find Korean rice cake ovalettes (garaeddeok) in the bottomless pit of my freezer, and in the fridge, more blanched spinach, cooked soybeans, and fermented black bean-garlic sauce.  Figuring that garaeddeok was an adequate noodle substitute and being perfectly fine with spinach as the green veggie stand-in, I hoped that soybeans and black bean sauce could somehow make a good gravy, because I wasn't about to abandon my Rad Na experiment at that point in the brainstorming process.
And after all of the improvisation, I was pleased with the results.  Despite the fact that it wasn't quite like the noodle dish I enjoyed just days prior, I found it pleasantly reminiscent of it, with a similar sweet-savory flavor and chewy texture.  It reminded me of how much I like those little ovalettes--I am very fond of carbohydrates, after all--and that all is not lost if one is willing to be a little creative with what is already available.  Here is an approximation of the ingredients and process I used for my Thai-Chinese-Korean-fusion dish:

Rice Cake Rad Na (printable recipe)
Yields 2 to 3 servings

1 1/2 c rice cake slices/ovalettes (garaeddeok), boiled until al dente, then drained
1 c cooked soybeans, drained
2 T vegetarian "oyster" sauce
1 T soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
1 T fermented black bean-garlic sauce
1 T brown sugar
1 c vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
2 tsp canola/vegetable oil
Greens of choice (I used approximately 3/4 c blanched spinach, drained of excess liquid.)
2 green onions, chopped
Ground black pepper, to taste
Sriracha, to taste

In a medium sauce pot over medium-high flame, heat the soybeans, "oyster" sauce, soy sauce, black bean-garlic sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable broth until it begins to boil.  In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the water, then stir it into the contents of the pot until well-incorporated.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large, nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium flame.  Add the drained rice cake slices and cook for a few minutes, stirring and turning, until slightly crisp all around.  Stir in the soybean sauce to coat the rice cake slices. Add the spinach and green onions, black pepper, and sriracha. Serve hot.
I'm certainly not through with exploring Asian cuisine; there is so much I am eager to try.  The journey looks to be a delicious one.

25 June 2010

Something Like Suman

I love looking through my mom's many cookbooks.  Her collection is so much more varied and extensive than my own--understandable for a woman who has been cooking since childhood--and certainly reflects the time and place of her upbringing.  The Hawaiian spirit that lives in my mom is apparent in the large number of spiral-bound cookbooks from Oahu she keeps; some are decades-old compilations of recipes my mom purchased while still living in Hawaii years ago, while others are relatively new books sent by my aunt, who still lives there.  Most are the results of compiling recipes from the local community, usually to benefit a church, women's league, or other group, into something that indeed mirrors that communal attitude toward food.  These unique books are wonderful sources of nostalgia for my parents that also happen to produce some tasty, home-style eats.

I recently borrowed one of the books my aunt sent to my mom, titled Unbearably Good! Mochi Lovers' Cookbook (1999), a collection of recipes compiled by Teresa A. DeVirgilio-Lam.  The theme, of course, is mochi, a glutinous rice cake; each recipe utilizes either glutinous, "sticky" rice (mochigome) or glutinous rice flour (mochiko).  There are both sweet and savory items available, which all form a pan-Asian representation of culinary influences.  I borrowed the book with the intention of making suman, Filipino rice cakes that are traditionally created by steaming a rice and coconut mixture in banana leaves.  This particular recipe, however, was not like those traditional ones I had seen for suman, as it looked more like a shortcut for making a batch meant to feed a typically large gathering.  There are no banana leaves and no steaming involved.  Instead, after cooking and mixing the few ingredients together, the concoction is spread into a greased pan, then left to cool and set before cutting it into individual portions.  As pleasantly simple as this process undoubtedly sounds, when I read the recipe, I could not help but wonder how I could tweak it to make something at least a little more like the banana leaf-bundled cakes I enjoy.

I considered going ahead with taking the extra steps to wrap the rice in greased banana leaves and steam them, but opted against it, lured by the appeal of the single-pan method.  But to change it up, I halved the recipe--the original sounded like it would make much more than my family could reasonably consume--pre-soaked the rice before cooking it; incorporated some toasted, unsweetened, finely grated coconut (fresh that had been frozen); topped the mixture with brown sugar; put it into a banana leaf-lined pan; and briefly broiled the whole thing.  The coconut bits add more texture and coconut flavor, the top of the cake caramelizes, and the banana leaves impart some of its distinctive flavor (as it does in the traditional steamed suman).  The alterations were not difficult at all, and I think it's worth for someone who wants to make a quick version of this rice treat that doesn't seem too generic.
Shortcut Suman (adapted from an Unbearably Good! Mochi Lovers' Cookbook recipe) (printable recipe)
Yields 15-20 servings

2 1/2 c mochigome (Japanese sweet rice), rinsed and soaked in water for 4 hours or more
2 1/2 c water
1/2 c finely grated, unsweetened coconut
1 c brown sugar, divided
1 c coconut milk (light is fine)
Pinch of salt (optional)
Banana leaf, to cover 11x7x1.25" brownie pan
Mildly-flavored oil, for the pan

Drain the mochigome, put it in a pot with the water, and cook it over high heat until it begins to boil.  Reduce to low heat, cover, and cook until the water has mostly evaporated and the rice is cooked through (approximately 20 minutes).

Lightly oil the brownie pan.  Wilt the banana leaf by passing it carefully over a low flame.  Arrange the leaf so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pan, trimming any excess.  In a small, dry pan over low heat, carefully toast the grated coconut until it is golden brown, then set aside.

In a large pot, bring the coconut milk to a simmer, then add 3/4 cup of the brown sugar (reserve the rest for topping the cake), and pinch of salt, if using.  Simmer for five minutes, then add the cooked rice and toasted coconut, stirring to combine.  Cook over low heat for an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Set your oven's broiler to high.  Pour the rice mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down firmly into an even layer.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar over the cake as evenly as possible.  Place the pan directly under the broiler, two to three inches below it, and broil for five to 10 minutes, until the sugar only slightly caramelizes; watch the suman carefully, so that neither the leaf nor cake burns.  Allow the suman to cool and set before cutting it into squares.  You can cover and keep the suman at room temperature--refrigerating it will make the rice hard, although you can always microwave individual portions--to enjoy this sticky, sweet treat for a few days...should you not devour it by then.
*UPDATE 03/26/12: It only recently occurred to me that this method of baking the sweetened, coconut-flavored rice mixture is essentially the same as making biko. Perhaps covering the rice with another banana leaf and omitting the broiling step would be make for something more suman-like (I haven't tried this yet, but if anyone does, let me know how it works).

23 June 2010

Enlightened Eating

A particular visit to the local public library last summer serendipitously introduced me to shojin ryori, the vegetarian culinary tradition practiced in Japanese Buddhist temples.  On that day, having failed to locate my desired book, I glanced aimlessly at the shelf opposite me, thinking vaguely of alternative reading material.  My gaze stopped at the yellowing plastic cover of a book titled, Good Food From a Japanese Temple (1982) by Soei Yoneda.  Immediately engaged by the straightforward title and curious about what Japanese temple food entailed, I slid the  book from its snug little nook and found the subtitle--a 600-year tradition of elegant vegetable cookery--even more appealing.  Indeed, after reading the introduction, I became so interested in shojin ryori that I brought the cookbook home, prepared several recipes, and promptly fell in love not only with the book itself, but the cuisine in general.  The interplay of Zen Buddhist philosophy, cultural tradition, and seasonal ingredients felt so compatible with both my world view and dietary preferences; as a philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic approach to preparing and consuming food--inherently vegan, as it utilizes no animal products--it held so much appeal for me.  I especially appreciated the lovingly informative way the author (a Buddhist nun who details authentic recipes from Sanko-in Temple) describes the culinary tradition and recipes shared.  Unfortunately, after renewing my loan twice, it was time to part with this impressive tome.  I want to eventually add a copy to my ever-growing cookbook collection, simply because it has so far proven to be the most comprehensive print reference for shojin ryori I've encountered.

In the meantime, I tracked down a copy of Mari Fujii's The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan (2005).  As the title suggests, this in another book about plant-based, Japanese temple cuisine.  The tenets of shojin ryori are still the focus here, in a fascinating and tasty fusion of traditional and contemporary cuisine.  Although Fujii's book is not as extensive as Yoneda's, The Enlightened Kitchen benefits from an updated spin on traditional vegetarian Japanese food and beautifully vibrant photographs to accompany each recipe.  The author mentions that although the food in her book illustrate the plant-based nature of shojin ryori, not all of the recipes are vegan; but all are at least vegetarian, with only a handful featuring ingredients such as honey or yogurt, which are easily substituted to suit vegan diets.  Having recently gifted my copy to a friend sharing an interest in Japanese culture and food, I no longer have this lovely resource readily available.  However, I was able to attempt several of the recipes while I still had it in my possession, and enjoyed each result.  I still actually refer to Fujii's method for preparing stocks (konbu and shiitake versions) whenever I need dashi.  Here are a two (among many) recommendations:

Miso-Pickled Tofu
I love the simplicity of this dish.  A few flavorful ingredients--namely, sake and miso--make for some tasty tofu.  I was a little wary of how pungent I thought this might turn out, but it was a perfect balance of sweet and savory.  The tofu will soften into mush if left alone for more than a day or two, but that should only be a problem if for some strange reason you haven't devoured it all by then.

Buckwheat Crepes
With all of the crepe issues I've encountered in the past, I was skeptical about trying this recipe, fearing another mess.  So I was pleasantly surprised when not a single crepe stuck to the pan.  What makes these more than just your plain old crepes is the presence of buckwheat and the fabulous texture incorporated into the batter by way of nuts, sesame seeds, and raisins.  The potent, sweet-savory peanut sauce complemented the nutty crepes.  I ended up making a single substitution for the sauce--using leftover pomegranate juice for the red wine, due to abundance of the former and lack of the latter--that didn't seem to affect the addicting nature of this snack.

The concepts of balance and harmony are apparent in the dishes of shojin ryori, indicative of its foundation in  Buddhism.  The uncomplicated nature of this cuisine does not detract from its beauty and reminds me that satisfying food need not always feature dozens of ingredients.

Now to work on regaining copies of those books...

16 June 2010

Bay Tripper

Whenever I take a trip up north to the Bay Area, I always feel so much more at home there than I do down here in southern California, despite having spent the vast majority of my life in this sleepy coastal town.  Maybe it's because I love my sister and her boyfriend's newest abode in a charming East Bay neighborhood minutes from everything; the house itself is so homey, with the easy-going presence of its equally-lovable inhabitants completing that reliable feeling of warmth and comfort.  It certainly doesn't hurt that there is so much more overt diversity--in all aspects of the term--there than here.  That, of course, extends to the food--something that my dear big sis also recognizes and makes a point to showcase.  The widespread recognition in the Bay gives both me and my sister tasty excuses to explore food together without either of us having to compromise our specific dietary preferences.  So we get to try new things, bond, learn a thing or two about what we're eating, and of course, appease our appetites--a win-win situation, for sure.

My sister always insists upon accommodating my vegan diet, whether that involves eating out or at the house.  So normally, upon my arrival, she will have already researched restaurants in the area that sound both appealing to her, her boyfriend, and me, and plan to eat at said location.  This time around, a slightly-more-than-casual night out included a visit to Gather in Berkeley.  My sister heard about the place while reading this article online, found further praise through various customer reviews, and determined that the three of us would have a merry time filling our stomachs there.  Gather's restaurant menu contains half vegetarian and vegan options, half meat options, which ended up suiting all of our food preferences well.  We found the place to have a good atmosphere befitting the name.  I ended up ordering the Eggplant Pizza, a brick oven-baked creation with eggplant, tomato, olives, fresh mint, and cashew puree.  It was delicious--yes, even in the Daiya and Teese age, it is still possible to enjoy cheese-less pizza--but too large for me to finish in one sitting.  That was fine by me, because the next day's leftovers were still quite tasty.
In general, I ate really well (and by "well," that's more in the sense of sensory appeal rather than relative to my usual health-consciousness).  While I usually enjoy my trips to the Bay, this one in particular was enlightening and memorable; I spent much-needed face time with some beloved friends, who happened to enjoy their respective goodie boxes.  So yes, the food was good, but it can't compare to the overall experience.  I'm sad to be back "home," but at the same time, various newfound perspectives from the trip might be useful for making positive changes for myself in the future.  And that can only be a good thing.

10 June 2010

Goodie Boxes!

Whenever I visit my sister or friends, I like to bring along some treats for them.  It gives me something with which to show my appreciation to my sister and her boyfriend for having me as a guest in their home, as well as an opportunity just to remind them and my friends how dear they all are to me.  I happen to be staying with my sister in the Bay area again until the weekend, with the trip supplying another opportunity to hit up my copy of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  There are a few celebratory occasions coming up for some friends soon--unfortunately, I'll be back in southern California when those dates roll around--so rather than sticking to one item to bake, I went for variety so that I could give each of these awesome people a box stuffed with assorted goodies.  Who wouldn't love a box of homemade treats?  Check out the spread!

Sourdough pretzels
As I've mentioned previously, pretzels are among my favorite snacks.  I wanted to use up a bit of sourdough starter, which is always a good excuse to bake up a batch of these crisp-and-chewy treats.  And salty pretzels sounded like a tasty contrast, and certainly, a nice change from a box filled entirely with sweets.
Cowboy Cookies
I followed the recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  While I have had success with the other recipes I've tried from this treasured work of sweet tooth heaven, the Cowboy Cookies were a bit of disappointment.  They looked nothing like the cookies photographed in the book.  The flavor was there, but the texture was just not right; the finished product had spread into a thin, almost lacy, somewhat greasy puddle.  When noticing the stickiness of the uncooked dough, I actually wondered whether the cookies would hold their shape, so I probably should have followed my instincts and added either more oats or flour to the dough.
Peanut Butter Blondies
This was another product of Vegan Cookies.  The recipe is so easy and only involves a handful of ingredients--always a plus.  I used crunchy, unsalted peanut butter, whole wheat flour, and eyeballed the amount of peanuts for the nutty topping.  The bars didn't need to cook for the full amount of time specified in the book, because I used a slightly larger square pan (9x9").  As is often the case with peanut butter cookies, the bars were definitely quite buttery--along with the Cowboy Cookies, they left a few oily stains on the goodie boxes--but were chock-full of peanutty deliciousness.  Chocolate chips would probably be an amazing additon.
Sell Your Soul Pumpkin Cookies
These morsels of spiced tastiness were my favorite cookies from this most recent round of Vegan Cookies-assisted baking.  Not only did they look so very quaint, but they smelled and tasted wonderful, reminding me of a blissfully cool autumn day.  I used whole wheat pastry flour and cooked down frozen Guatemalan blue banana squash to stand in for pumpkin puree.  Despite reducing the squash puree as directed, the cookies were still a little cakey, although less so than most other pumpkin cookie recipes I've tried.
I am grateful that, so far, each item has garnered positive reviews from my sister.  Hopefully my friends will enjoy these goodies, too.

04 June 2010

Shake Your POM POM

The kind and lovely folks at POM Wonderful recently sent me a case of their 100% pomegranate juice to try* (thanks, guys!), along with some interesting information about it--some of which can be found here and through browsing the site.  For years, I've passively absorbed information abou the various health benefits of pomegranates--antioxidant content being the stand-out contribution--and have wanted to incorporate more pomegranate juice into my diet for not only the health claims, but also from my curiosity about a product to which I've has such limited exposure.  The first time I actually tried pure pomegranate juice, taking a swig from the bottle offered by my then-roommate, I was surprised, and frankly, a little put-off by the overwhelming tartness of it.  Although subsequent forays into the world of pomegranates have been considerably more favorable, that first experience did influence my avoidance of the pure juice for awhile.  If anything pomegranate managed to make it into my kitchen, it was always in some sort of blend with another fruit or tea, effectively masking the flavor of this purported wonder-fruit.
But when asked by POM Wonderful to sample some of their 100% pomegranate juice, I decided to ignore that first pomegranate juice experience, suck it up, and give this stuff another try.  I'm glad I did, because "wonderful" isn't too far off in describing the taste; the tartness is there, but it is balanced by just enough natural, fruity sweetness.  Straight-up, this juice goes down pleasantly.  I don't tend to drink much fruit juice due to the high sugar content (this also translates to the caloric density of this particular juice), but for those of you who are not bothered by that, you might consider adding this variety to your beverage library, as it would make a tasty addition.  I'm sure it would be good in a smoothie, too, but I have yet to try it.

So while I enjoy the taste of the juice in its purest form, being somewhat of a kitchen enthusiast, I made exploring pomegranate juice's culinary applications my primary goal.  An array of sweet, baked goods initially came to mind, but I'm holding off on taking that route for now.  Recalling the use of pomegranate molasses in various Persian dishes, I decided to start with that, as it seemed logical to begin the pomegranate experimentation by arming myself with concentrated pomegranate juice as a foundation to what might be endless edible delights.  A simple Google search will produce a standard formula.

With a fresh batch of homemade pomegranate molasses in tow, I was left with the question of how to put it to good use.  The legume-based Indian dishes I've been eating lately made me think of lentils--the cheap, standard, brown variety in particular.  Wondering whether pomegrante molasses could act in a similar capacity to tamarind sauce by providing some underlying tangy-sweetness to a dish, I began to concoct a lentil dish vaguely inspired by the Tamarind Lentils in Veganomicon I have yet to try; I mostly borrowed the idea of using various spices and a small amount of tamarind (in my case, pomegranate molasses) to flavor the lentils.
Sweet and Savory Lentils (printable recipe)
Yields 4 to 6 servings

3/4 c brown lentils, rinsed, picked through, and drained
1/2 large onion (approx. 1 c), diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot chili (I used jalapeno), seeded and minced
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 3/4 c water, divided
1 vegetarian bouillion cube
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander seed, crushed slightly
1 tsp cumin seed, crushed slightly
1 bay leaf
2 T pomegranate molasses
2 T fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste

Heat a medium (2- or 3-qt) stock pot over medium-low flame. When the pot is hot, add 1/4 c water, onion, chili, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the bouillion cube, smoked paprika, turmeric, coriander seed, cumin seed, and bay leaf, and cook another minute to blend the spices and dissolve the bouillion cube. Increase the flame to medium-high, stir in the tomatoes and lentils, then add the remaining water. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then reduce the flame to medium-low so that the lentils simmer gently. Simmer the lentils for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated; the consistency should be like that of a thick soup. Stir in the pomegranate molasses and parsley. Add salt to taste, if desired. Serve warm.

Not only are these lentils sweet and savory, they're also a little spicy and tangy.  The pomegranate molasses is certainly the source of sweetness, so you can adjust the amount accordingly to fit your tastes if that little touch doesn't sound too appealing.  I like the presence of different taste sensations in my food, as it adds some welcome complexity to dishes.  As always, the spices (the types used and amounts) in this recipe can be altered to your preference, so do give the recipe a try.  I hope you enjoy the results!

As I mentioned earlier, I am likely to try a few sweet applications for what remains of my POM supply, and in fact, have already acted upon one idea.  Stay tuned for more pomegranate talk in the near future...

*I was neither paid nor pressured to write a positive review of the POM product; I was merely approached to sample and provide feedback, and what is written here was by choice and reflects my own opinion.