Photographs by Anna Stockwell
I love nothing more than cooking for a crowd, and have always thought that a meal alone was slightly depressing. Recently though I’ve found that the act of spending an hour alone cooking and eating a meal just for me, has really started to appeal to me. After a hectic day at work, the kinetic activity of cooking, and the quiet of being alone, is just what I need sometimes. With no one but myself to please, I can play whatever music I want, cook as slow as I want, and eat whatever I want. With this unusually warm April weather in the city, spring produce is all I want, even though the farmers markets aren’t actually full of it yet. I created this menu to fulfill some of those warm weather cravings: roasted baby artichokes dipped in a tangy and garlic-laced yogurt sauce, sweet diver scallops pan-seared in butter, and a herb-packed lentil and carrot salad, sprinkled with a bit of feta and served in lettuce wraps. Sweetly green and fresh and sloppy with sauce, I think this is a meal best eaten with your hands. Since no one was watching, I happily used my fingers to dunk artichokes (and scallops too) in generous amounts of sauce, and pinched the lettuce wraps closed to eat them like some kind of petite burritos. My local wine shop recommended I try a high acidity white to counter balance the sweetness of the artichokes, so I sipped at a glass of a cheap Grüner Veltliner between my messy bites, and thoroughly enjoyed it. You could also try an everyday Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre, but since artichokes have a tendency to make anything taste sweeter, avoid any sweet white wines. For dessert, I made a Turkish milk and almond pudding: cold and creamy comfort food.
This meal takes about 45 minutes to prepare. If you want to decrease prep time you can cook the lentils up to two days in advance. If you want to make the pudding too (and I really think you should), you’ll need to make it at least 4 hours, and up to 48 hours, before serving. The recipe for the pudding can be found here.
This is what you’ll need:
Rice Flour (if not making dessert, all purpose flour can be substituted if you like), Green Lentils, A Carrot, 3 Lemons, Fresh Mint, Fresh Parsley, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (optional), Cumin, Salt & Pepper, Greek Yogurt, Olive Oil, 2 Cloves Garlic, Agave (or Honey), 4 Baby Artichokes (or more if you like), 3 Large Diver Scallops (Make sure they are marked “Dry” and get more if you like), Butter, A Romain Lettuce Heart, and a bit of Feta Cheese (optional)
and if you’re making dessert too, you’ll need: Almond Flour, Whole Milk, Amaretto (or almond extract), and Sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
2. In a medium saucepan, cook ½ cup green lentils in 1½ cups water until the lentils are tender and most the water has evaporated, about 25 minutes.
3. While the lentils cook, prepare the artichokes: (For some helpful step-by-step photos see here). Remove the outer layers of dark leaves, and then using a vegetable peeler, gently peel the stem and the underside, so that the artichoke is uniformly pale green. Cut off the very end of the stem, and the top third of the artichoke, and then cut it in half. If it’s a particularly large baby artichoke, cut it in quarters. Immediately after cutting each artichoke, rub all the freshly cut surfaces with half of a lemon. Put the sliced artichokes in a small baking dish, and dress with any remaining lemon juice from the lemon half, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the baking dish with a piece of parchment paper, and roast until the artichokes are dark green and tender, about 20 minutes.
4. While the artichokes roast, make the sauce and the lentil salad. For the sauce: In a small serving bowl, mix together 4 Tbs. Greek yogurt, ½ Tbs olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 1 tsp agave (or honey or sugar), and 1 small garlic clove, finely minced or put through a garlic press. Let the sauce sit so the flavors will have a chance to meld.
5. When the lentils are done cooking, rinse them in cold water, drain, and add to the food processor. Peel one large carrot, slice it into big chunks, then add that to the food processor too. Add one big clove of garlic, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of salt, 1 Tbs of roasted pumpkin seeds (optional, but they do add depth), and the juice of 2 lemons. Pick the leaves off 6 sprigs of mint (about ½ cup loosely packed leaves) and off of 4 sprigs of parsley (again, about ½ cup) and add those to the food processor too. Give the salad a few good pulses until everything is diced and combined, but don’t over-process it into a pulp. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
6. This salad is enough for two servings, so pack half of it away for tomorrow’s lunch. To serve the remaining half: rinse a few leaves of the romaine, and break into about 4 inch long pieces. Fill each piece, or “lettuce wrap,” with a generous scoop of the lentil salad, and sprinkle with a bit of crumbled feta if you like.
7. Once the artichokes are done cooking, the salad is ready in its little lettuce wraps, and the sauce is waiting, it’s time to cook the scallops: Heat about 1 Tbs of butter in a cast iron skillet until sizzling hot. While the skillet heats, remove the little tough muscle from the side of each scallop by simply pulling it off with your fingers (this may have already been done for you by the fishmonger). Sprinkle a plate with about 1 tsp of rice flour, a pinch of salt, and a very small pinch of cumin. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel, then dip the top and bottom of each scallop in the rice flour mixture before placing in the hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3 minutes, until crisp and brown. Do not overcook! The scallops are ready when they feel barely firm to the touch.
8. Serve yourself immediately. You may need to peel off the outer layer of the roasted baby artichokes leaves before eating. Enjoy!