The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Carrot, Spinach, and Rice Stew

I spent the past weekend trying my hand at a few recipes for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I've only entered a few recipe contests and have yet to win anything. I don't mind, though, as the contests provide me with motivation/inspiration to be more creative with my home cooking.

For the Pillsbury Bake-Off you have to use at least two of their products. That means that I've been eating way more than my fair share of breads, sweets, and other high calorie foods. "This week will be healthy eating week!" I declared at 4 AM Sunday night, after submitting one of my last recipes to the Bake-Off. Of course I follow that edict with a dinner out at my neighborhood Italian-ish joint for rigatoni with eggplant and a (probably not) healthy dose of smoked mozzarella.

But Tuesday night came. I was once again ready to set foot in my kitchen, and wanted something healthy to make. Enter this simple recipe. It is low-fat and low-calorie, having little more than veggies, rice, and vegetable stock as its ingredients. An online calorie counter estimates this recipe has 115 calories per serving - not bad, right? It is also pretty low cost, as spinach, carrots, and rice are all fairly cheap at the store, and you're making your own stock now, right?

Modifications from the original: Cardamom! I feel like I unearthed a secret by putting that in there. The original makes only loose suggestions for seasoning, suggesting cumin or dill, and a lemon finish. I opted for cumin as it is one of my favorites (and I'm still satiated with dill from the zucchini pancakes). The lemon juice squeeze at the end gave the stew a bit of tart brightness and the cardamom served as the perfect bridge between the cumin and the lemon. But try it for yourself and see! I also used brown rice and a bit less spinach because that's what I had on hand, and simmered everything in stock instead of water. The recipe also calls for a tablespoon of butter to be added at the end. The butter does help a bit, but it doesn't alter the flavor or mouth feel of the stew terribly much, so feel free to use olive oil in its place or omit the butter/oil entirely.

Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 4

6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup rice (white or brown)
10 ounces spinach, roughly chopped (if using baby spinach, don't chop it)
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 lemon

Bring the stock and carrots to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the rice and a pinch of salt. Return the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat so the mixture simmers. After about 15 minutes, add the spinach, garlic, and spices. Simmer another 15 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Add the butter and taste for salt. Serve with a lemon wedge or top each bowl with a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Verdict? Comforting, earthy yet tangy, simple goodness.


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