A Stew Befitting the Season

IMG_0045Yes, it's been an age and I've missed you guys! This is the first week since July that I've felt like things are vaguely back to normal. The heat of this summer here in Amman was oppressive, and after years of relative cool in London and San Francisco, I quite literally shut down. There were so many projects around the house I wanted to get accomplished, but I kept delaying them until it cooled off. My catering work continued apace...the morning I was to start cooking a giant buffet for 150 esteemed Ammanis there was a layer of sand all over my kitchen!  The heat got well over 100 degrees, but I had to close my kitchen windows because of the fierce sandstorm raging outside (and it continued for 5 days)! Then only half the guests showed up because of the storm and we were left with piles of uneaten food. October came and still no relief from the heat and I continued to curse our decision not to install air conditioning back in May.IMG_0094So while I've been frantically busy catering parties and starting to write my column for Family Flavours Magazine, I haven't been enjoying cooking much! Even my joyful sourdough bread baking habit has fallen by the wayside because it's just been too hot to crank up the oven to the 500 degrees required. However it all changed this week, with a dramatic crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning ushering in cooler weather. It's rained on and off all week and I've gotten back to cooking the food I love, crossing long-neglected chores off my to-do list, and nesting.Most excitingly, I am preparing for my first The Pantry Supper Club on Sunday, November 15th. The six course dinner will be held at Haddad Plaza and feature Jordan River Wines. I was fortunate enough to go visit their cellars in Zarqa a few weeks ago and tried their new line of JR wines as I experimented the menu back home. They're delicious, local, and I can't wait for my guests to try them with my food.  As we continue to slowly plan for our own foodie business, these kinds of dinners seemed a terrific way to connect with clients here, offer something that isn't being done, and cook the food that I love. I sold all 24 tickets in less than an hour and hope to do more evenings like this (and maybe weekend brunch) very soon.The day the temperature dropped I started a mental list of the food I was going to cook for my dear husband and me (I'm afraid he's been feeling a little neglected with all of the work I've been doing) - yes, it's always all about the food for me. Lentils and beans and barley and root vegetables and pasta and all manner of stewed meat came to mind. The following stew recipe is a combination of a bunch that I've used in the past, choc full of veggies, grains, and sausage. The combination of the lentils and barley is unusual, but I love the textures they lend and it makes it just that more hearty and filling (you may need to top up with more stock when you reheat this as they suck up all the liquid). I used the delicious Lebanese-style beef sausage that I've found at Centro grocery store as pork is a major no-no here - Italian sausage would be a more traditional choice. For those of you already well into Autumn food mode, so I hope you'll enjoy this addition to your repertoire, while we Jordanians eagerly delve into all things cozy!Lentil, Swiss Chard and Sausage StewIMG_0129serves 82 tablespoons olive oil1 pound sausage, casings removed1 large onion, finely chopped2 carrots, peeled and diced2 celery stalks, diced4 cloves garlic, slicedpinch red pepper flakessalt and pepper to taste3/4 cup puy lentils3/4 cup pearl barley2 14.5 ounce cans chopped tomatoes2 teaspoons dry thyme2 bay leaves6 cups vegetable or chicken stock5 cups sliced swiss chard, with stems removedgrated Parmesan cheese, to finishIn a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil and break up the sausage into small bits to brown it entirely. Add the onion, celery, and carrot to the pot and allow to cook for 6-8 minutes, until softening. Throw in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and stir for a minute longer. Now add the lentils and barley, stirring so the grains are incorporated. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and top up with the stock and allow to cook, covered for about 15 minutes (check to make sure the barley and lentils are cooked). Wilt the swiss chard leaves into the stew, check the seasoning, and serve with lashings of Parmesan cheese.