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Monday, April 30, 2012

green pea spread

green pea spread

biking to girdwood

The first bike rides of the season always feel like a gift, especially after a long snowy winter!

On Sunday we drove to Indian and parked across from the Brown Bear Saloon, intending to bike the Bird to Gird trail. We found the trail was still piled with snow in the shady patches, though, so we ended up biking on the shoulder of the highway. On the tandem, Dan captained and Meredith stoked, (Check out the child’s stoker kit on the bike!) and I rode my own bike. There wasn’t too much traffic, but we did battle against a stiff headwind. Kudos to Dan for being able to draft off me even with Meredith’s irregular pedaling. (Her game is sporadic sprinting.) We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Girdwood playground, then rocketed back to the car, propelled homeward by a well-deserved tailwind.

I remembered my camera, but when I pulled it out to take a photo of Dan and Meredith pedaling along Turnagain Arm, I realized that my battery was dead.  ARGH! So I made them get back on the bike when we got home and ride up and down our road so I could get a few shots—if not the scenery, at least the bike riders! 

tandem ride

green pea spread

I came up with this recipe last fall when I had a lot of fresh Alaskan peas, but you can make this dip with frozen peas, as well. I wanted to make some kind of a dip or spread for vegetables, like my carrot dip. Combining fresh peas with dried, cooked split peas gave me a nice thick consistency, and I decided to use Japanese flavorings. It’s great with cucumbers, especially when topped with a little pickled ginger and toasted sesame seeds! You can freeze this spread, so I’d make a double batch and freeze it in small containers (labeled!) for an easy appetizer whenever you need one. No point in making only 2 cups of split peas!

1 ½ cups dried split peas
4 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
the green parts of 4 scallions, sliced into thick pieces
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pickled ginger (Find this in the refrigerated section in many grocery stores, near the sushi supplies, or in the produce section.)
pinch of cayenne

1. Simmer the split peas in a small pot of water until they are very soft. This could take up to an hour. Drain the peas well.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt, and the fresh peas. When the water comes back to a boil, cook the peas for a minute or so, just until hot through. Don’t overcook them. Drain them and spread them out on a dishtowel to cool and dry.
3. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until fairly smooth. You’ll need to taste for salt, sugar (the pickled ginger) and spice, and add more seasonings as necessary until you get a nice balance of flavors.
4. if the dip seems watery (and it will, after you’ve refrigerated it for a while, or frozen and thawed it), put it in a sieve for a few minutes and let the extra water drain out.
5. Serve on cucumber slices, topped with slices of pink pickled ginger and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. (Toast them in a skillet for a minute or two until roasty and light brown.)


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Sunday, April 29, 2012

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

peanut soup

spring blossoms

Even though my yard is still deep in snow, the south- and west-facing garden beds along my house are sprouting with all kinds of early perennials! My favorite early plants are the little yellow primroses, Primula elatior. I bought a few of these lovely little plants many years ago from my friend Lorri at In the Garden Nursery, and since then, they have grown and reseeded in a delightful (but not invasive) manner. I love them with the little blue hyacinthoides bulbs. They are such a happy and bright harbinger of spring—even with snow all around, and the nights still getting down to freezing! They are tough little plants, which I really appreciate!

Lorri’s website says that she will probably be opening on May 19th…  In the Garden is located at 7307 O’Brien Street, West of Lake Otis, off 72nd Street. Maybe I’ll see you there!

primroses

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

Warming and hearty, full of beautiful colors and spicy, savory flavors; I think you’re going to love this recipe! It’s based on a recipe in Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian.
I like to make a double batch of this recipe and then freeze half of it for later. If you want, you can freeze the soup before adding the sweet potatoes, since the sweet potatoes tend to turn a little mushy after being thawed, but it’s not that bad. In fact, the photo is of soup that has been frozen and thawed. If you like, though, when you thaw out the soup, just steam sweet potato chunks, then add them to the completed soup.
I like to cook my own chickpeas for this recipe—the beans are much yummier, and since you cook the beans with garlic and onions, the cooking liquid makes a wonderful stock for the soup. But you can use canned, pre-cooked beans if you like. In that case, just use water for the liquid instead of the bean-cooking liquid. (Rinse the canned peas first, and don’t use the liquid from the can.) You can also use black-eyed peas, instead of chickpeas—they don’t take nearly as long to cook.

3 cups chickpeas, rinsed and soaked for 4 hours or overnight
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
3 yellow onions: 1 onion peeled and quartered, and the other 2 onions peeled and diced
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 bunches kale or collards (to your taste)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ribs celery, diced
1 serrano or jalepeno chile, halved, seeds removed with a spoon, then diced (If you don’t have fresh chiles, you can use a little can of diced green chiles.)
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
8-10 gratings of fresh nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1 or 2 cans (10 ounces each) (I like it extra tomato-y)
2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 package of frozen okra slices (you can use green beans instead, if you’d rather—but I love the little round okras!)
½ cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
sugar, to taste
Freshly-ground pepper

1. Drain the chickpeas, rinse them, and place them in a large soup pot with water to cover by a couple of inches. Put the quartered onion (not the chopped ones), all the whole cloves of garlic, and the bay leaves in with the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until quite tender, usually 1 to 1 ½ hours. When the peas are tender, add 1 teaspoon salt or more, to your taste.
2. While the beans are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it well.
3. Cut the long stems away from the kale or collard leaves. Stack the leaves on top of each other and slice the leaves into 1-inch wide ribbons.
4. Plunge the kale or collards into the pot of boiling salted water, and cook until tender. This could take as long as 8 or 10 minutes, but could be much shorter. Start tasting after 5 minutes. Drain the kale or collards and set aside.
5. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, diced celery and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté until starting to brown and the vegetables are tender. Add the chile, curry powder, cayenne, and nutmeg and sauté, stirring, for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside until the beans are done.
6. When the chickpeas are tender, remove the quartered onion (they will be slimy and tasteless by now) and bay leaves and discard them. Stir the beans around, and when you see a whole garlic clove, mash it against the side of the pot with a spoon and stir back into the beans. 
7. Dump the diced onion and celery mixture into the beans, and then add the canned tomatoes and the sweet potato. If it doesn’t seem brothy enough, add more water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Simmer, partly covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Add the okra, and cook 5 or 10 minutes more.
8. Heat a kettle of water to a boil. Place the peanut butter in a large heatproof bowl and pour about a cup of boiling water over the peanut butter, whisking constantly to blend. When blended, whisk in the tomato paste.
9. When the sweet potatoes are tender, add the peanut butter mixture to the stew. Stir it well until smooth. Stir in the kale, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Taste it and decide if the sweet potatoes have added enough sweetness to the stew. If not, add a little sprinkle of sugar (about a teaspoon), taste again. It might just bring up the flavors.
10. This stew is wonderful when made a day or two ahead of time and reheated (carefully, over low heat and stirred often, so the peanut butter doesn’t scorch).
11. You can serve this stew with rice or other grains, or just by itself.


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Friday, November 12, 2010

black bean soup with sweet potatoes

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trick-or-treat soup

Since Meredith started understanding what Halloween was all about, we’ve done a little trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately for her, the houses in our neighborhood are relatively few and far between. Luckily, Meredith has never trick-or-treated in a more densely populated area, so she just takes it for granted that she has to walk quite a distance for her meager quota of candy. Not that we have ever visited very many houses—she usually poops out and gets cold after five or six stops.

But this year was different. First off, our neighborhood has really come together this year because now that we have kindergartners, we parents have been spending a lot of time together at the bus stop. So several of our families decided to go trick-or-treating together! A pack of our little hoodlums would be roaming the streets together, with a rearguard of parents (dads drinking beers, moms chatting. Second, Meredith has been walking to and from the bus stop every day (it’s only uphill one way, but still, it’s almost a mile), and her walking muscles are stronger than ever. So with other kids to draw her along, plus greater endurance, we went to many more houses than before.

You might think that we collected quite a pile of Halloween candy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Despite visiting twenty houses or so (which seemed like a lot in the cold and icy road conditions), we caught a lot of folks off-guard. I don’t blame them—they kept saying “We’ve NEVER had any trick-or-treaters! I’m so sorry, I don’t have anything!” Sometimes they would give us something creative; Meredith collected a large and heavy bottle of juice and a homemade oatmeal cookie. But some just didn’t have anything to hand out. At every house that came up empty, I would explain to the homeowner “Well, you DO get to choose—a trick or a treat. We’ll come back later with the toilet paper.” They would look at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious… “Just kidding!” I would say. “But consider yourself warned for next year!” They promised to be ready for us next year! 

If this isn’t a Halloweeny soup, I don’t know what is. I spotted it in an email from FineCooking.com, and I made my version ahead of time to eat after trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But don’t wait for next October to make it! It’s really good—perfect for any chilly night.

 

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black bean soup with sweet potatoes

I made this soup based on recipe by Lori Longbotham, in an email from Fine Cooking. But instead of just cooking the sweet potatoes in the soup, as she recommends, I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and added them as a garnish at the end. Also I used home-cooked black beans instead of canned ones, so I didn’t have to use stock, as her recipe called for. But you could substitute canned beans and stock if you like, instead of cooking your own beans and using the bean cooking liquid. 

As Ms. Longbotham pointed out in her recipe, “The sweet potatoes in this soup contrast nicely with the tang of the yogurt and the tartness of the lime. Aniseed lends an unusual hint of licorice flavor.”

If you have time, cook the beans and make the soup ahead of time, like the day before, and then roast the sweet potatoes just before dinner. Or you can roast the sweet potatoes ahead, too, and just reheat everything when you’re ready to eat. This soup freezes wonderfully, too.

Oh, and one more thing—about the sweet potatoes. First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right vegetable. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams. Use the really orange ones.

The Beans

4 cups black beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
kosher salt or sea salt

Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and then put them in a large pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add the quartered onion and garlic and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.

The Soup

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon aniseed
Freshly-ground black pepper
kosher salt or sea salt

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, aniseed, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt I f needed, stir well, and set aside until an hour and a half before dinnertime.

While you’re roasting the sweet potatoes, and/or when the soup is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, using a slotted spoon, set aside 2 or 3 cups of the beans and onions. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender. Return the solids to the soup, and when you’re ready to eat, reheat over gentle heat, stirring often (Don’t burn the beans!) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lime juice.

The Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes (called yams at the grocery store—get Garnet Yams, or something similar), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

My method for roasting these is from Cook’s Illustrated. The reason for all the shenanigans with the foil at the beginning is that starting the sweet potatoes in a cold oven keeps the temperature lower at first, to allow more of the starches in the sweet potatoes to convert to sugars. Then the 425-degree final temperature browns and caramelizes them. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease one or two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place yams in COLD OVEN. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and cook sweet potatoes 20 to 30 minutes, until they are starting to get tender.
3. Carefully remove foil, and return sweet potatoes to oven and cook until bottom edges of yams are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. If they are very tender and brown, they are already done! (Whether they are done or not will depend on how fast your oven heats up.) If not tender yet, go to Step 4.
4. Use a spatula to flip slices over. Continue to roast until bottom edges of sweet potatoes are golden brown, and they are quite soft in the center, 10 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove from oven; let them cool for a bit, and then cut some of them into small pieces to sprinkle on top of your soup.

The Other Garnishes
½ cup plain yogurt, salted to your taste (optional—I actually liked it better without the yogurt)
fresh lime juice, or wedges or slices of lime

Serve each bowl of soup topped with sweet potato cubes and, if desired, a dollop of yogurt, and a squeeze more lime juice if it needs it.


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indian mung beans with cauliflower

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kindergarten takes its toll

As much as Meredith is loving her first few weeks of school, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent with an exhausted kindergartner this week. Even though she has an early bedtime and gets a lot of sleep, she is still completely worn out and on the edge when she climbs off the bus in the afternoon. And as tired as her little brain is, her body hasn’t burned off all its steam, so she’s winging all over the place, bouncing and leaping and sizzling with energy. Her emotions are on a knife’s edge; any little thing can set her off. One of this afternoon’s tragedies: writing an “R” instead of a “P” on her friend Leo’s Happy Birthday card. We pasted over it with several layers of colored paper—he’ll be none the wiser, I assured her.

Meredith’s mental exhaustion reminds me of the three months I spent in Japan with a host family when I was seventeen. Without a solid Japanese language background, I was over my head most days, whether at school with my host sister or home with my lovely but non-English-speaking host parents. Every afternoon around three o’clock, I would stagger up the stairs to my futon on the floor, lie face-down on my stomach, and fall instantly asleep for a couple of hours. I’d wake up and watch or help my host mother prepare dinner, and then be ready for bed again a few hours later.

Learning a new language and a new culture is a grueling task, and that’s just what Meredith’s been doing, along with her classmates in the estimable Ms. Rakos’ kindergarten class. I’m working hard to be ready for her when she gets home from school—both practically (dinner mostly ready to go, so I have time to play outside) and emotionally (practicing a kind and patient mindset).

We’ve now moved bedtime up even earlier. Tonight she ate dinner at five-thirty, and after the aforementioned birthday card project and a nice long book, she was in bed and asleep by seven. Hopefully tomorrow (Friday) she’ll feel more rested and it will be a little smoother. I figure in a few months she’ll have adjusted to the routine, and will have learned the culture of school, so it won’t be quite so wearing. But in the meantime, I’m liking this new bedtime.

Because of the rain this summer, Valley broccoli has not been as plentiful as it usually is this time of year. This is sad news indeed, since Alaskan broccoli is so sweet and delicious. However, the cauliflower seems to be doing fine—which means that we’ve been getting lots in the CSA boxes. Faced with a gigantic head of cauliflower, and having just barely polished off last week’s head, I knew I needed to get on this baby, and fast.

Indian mung beans with cauliflower

Since cauliflower doesn’t have much flavor of its own, I like it with big, strong flavors. I tend toward either salty, briny flavors like capers, mustard, and olives, or else I go the Indian route, adding lots of spices, ginger, and chiles to give the mild-mannered vegetable some personality.  I never seem to tire of the flavorful, spicy, creamy dals that Indian cooks make in such endless variety—they are easy to cook (no deep-frying or fritter-making for me, thanks), a perfect vehicle for all kinds of different vegetables, and you can make big batches and freeze some for later!  A bowl of creamy dal with cauliflower is soothing without being boring—it’s comfort food!

Here’s a recipe based on a recipe from Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes. She doesn’t call for cauliflower, but tomatoes. I suppose you could add tomatoes as well, or some green peas at the end to brighten up the color—but I had so much cauliflower in there that I thought my vegetable quota had been reached. It’s really more like cauliflower with dal, now.

2 cups green mung beans, rinsed and soaked overnight in water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 large onions, minced
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less, if you want it milder)
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mixture)

1. Drain the mung beans, place them in a large pot, and cover them with two inches of water. Bring them to a boil over high heat, and then simmer, covered, until the beans are soft and creamy. This might take 30 to 45 minutes—just keep checking them and adding water as needed to keep them soupy as the beans absorb water.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet and add the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for a couple of seconds until fragrant, and then toss in the onions and ginger and salt. Cook them, stirring often, until they are golden. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and paprika, and fry over high heat a couple more minutes, stirring often. Transfer the onion-spice mixture to the mung beans and stir well.
3. Add the cauliflower to the pot and stir them around to combine. Decide whether you want a thick stew or a soupier consistency, and add more water if you like. Taste the beans for salt and add a little at a time until soup tastes nice and flavorful. Keeping the heat fairly low, simmer the soup, stirring often so the beans don’t burn on the bottom of the pot, until the cauliflower is tender. Sprinkle the garam masala on top when you are ready to serve it.
4. This soup tastes great right away, but it’s even yummier when it’s had a day to let the flavors develop. Make a big batch and freeze some of it for later—you won’t regret it!

 

 


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

red lentil soup with yellow squash (or zucchini)

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Becky the babysitter

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the farmers market most Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. Becky is the wonderful babysitter who spends most Saturday mornings playing with Meredith. (Her last name will remain a secret, just in case you other South Anchorage parents might be looking for a fabulous babysitter—I try to reserve all Becky’s spare time that she’s not camping, playing volleyball, doing her homework, or training for cross-country skiing). I never know what Meredith will come home with after a morning with Becky: a plate of brownies covered in sprinkles and cut into fanciful shapes, a ziploc bag of orange homemade play-dough, a row of vessels filled with evil-smelling “concoctions” brewed from kitchen spices and food coloring, or a sheaf of drawings, paintings, and cutouts. Meredith ADORES Becky. And of course, so do we.

But in truth, it’s not just Becky who babysits Meredith—sometimes, it’s her whole family! When I drop Meredith off in the morning, Becky’s almost always there, but sometimes Dan will pick her up at noon from Becky’s dad, Mike, who has helped her make a cool sailboat sculpture out of wood scraps, festooned with skulls and crossbones. Other times, Becky’s older sister, Emily, has lent a hand when home from college, famously taking Meredith biking around the South High School track. And Becky’s mom, Alice, has helped in more ways than I can count—first of all, by being a fantastic parent. (In fact, she is a parent coach, and Dan and I took several sessions with her in the fall of 2009, improving our family life immeasurably during a rough patch.) Alice has raised her daughters with the knowledge of how to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of a child. Sometimes Alice takes over when Becky has an appointment or activity for part of the morning. And once, a couple of weeks ago, when Becky, Emily and Mike were gone on a boating expedition to Whittier, Alice took Meredith on her own and went to the zoo! (She volunteered for this, on a weekend that was otherwise her own!)

We are so grateful to have such a family in our lives! Thank you, all four, from the bottom of our hearts!

I love to make this soup now, when the yellow summer squash comes out at the market, because the yellow squash maintains its integrity a bit more than the green. But it’s delicious with zucchini, and even other veggies (see note, below). 

red lentil soup with yellow summer squash (or zucchini)

This is a really fun, really yummy dish with nice Indian flavors, and it’s relatively simple. This recipe is pretty much straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. Even if I only have enough squash to make a single batch, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze some of it before adding the squash. Then I can add whatever vegetable I like to the soup later, when I thaw it out. Don’t limit yourself to making this dish with squash. I’ve served it with broccoli (a big pile of garlic-roasted broccoli in the center of a dish of this soup is especially lovely, not to mention delicious), and it’s wonderful! You could use any kind of vegetable you like in place of the zucchini; just pre-cook it and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl.

You can serve it with rice, but I love it just on its own. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could make a simple Indian raita (yogurt, garlic & salt) to serve with it. But really, it’s good enough to just eat by itself.

2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium yellow summer squash or zucchinis, cut into bite-sized chunks (3/4” squares)
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)
a few squeezes of fresh lime juice (optional)

1. Put the lentils and 4 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have dissolved into a puree. If it’s not soupy enough for your taste, add more water. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir and fry for another minute. Then add the zucchini, black pepper to taste, and cayenne. Stir for a minute and add 1 cup of water, cover, turn the heat down and cook for 2 minutes, or until the zucchini is beginning to be tender. Add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the zucchini is cooked to your liking.
4. Season with salt to taste. Squeeze lime juice over the top just before serving, if you happen to have a lime on hand, and you remember to do it. I usually forget, but it is a nice touch.


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Thursday, October 01, 2009

black bean tostadas with seared zucchini & roasted garlic

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Local Food at the Bear Tooth Grill!

In the middle of the summer, Dan and I had a real, honest-to-goodness night out—sponsored by our dear friend Alice, who had given us a gift certificate for dinner at the Bear Tooth Grill, and a night of babysitting!! What a treat for us!

I hadn’t been to the Bear Tooth Grill in several years, but remembered big, juicy, yummy burritos and even bigger margaritas. I was glad to be hungry after the movie and was anticipating a nice meal. But right away I noticed something different about the menu and the specials board… local vegetables were being highlighted! This was new and very promising! As soon as we got a table (even on a Monday night the restaurant was hopping!) I ordered a margarita and the Build-Your-Own-Taco with Zucchini, Cheese and Toasted Corn.  Here’s the description from the menu:

Pan-seared zucchini, toasted corn, salsa fresca, poblano chiles, and jack and cheddar cheeses sautéed to order.  Garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and served with tomatillo-cilantro rice and refried black beans.

 
I have to tell you, it was fantastic. I slurped up every last bit of that zucchini with my refried beans and (house-made) taco shells. Something had definitely changed at the Grill since the last time I’d been there, and I was thrilled that they were using Alaskan zucchini and other Alaskan produce!

So then I started thinking about how to copy this dish at home, since I happened to have four large zucchinis on my counter from my CSA boxes. And I love to make tostadas.  My first version didn’t have onions, just garlic at the beginning and then a little grated sharp cheddar at the end. By the time I made my second version I thought of using roasted garlic (I always have some in the ‘fridge left over from the batches I make for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic sourdough bread) instead of the cheese. You could use either one.

So I’d been making these tostadas every other week (every time my zucchinis started to build up) when I got a call from Clayton Jones, the executive chef from the Bear Tooth Grill! Tomorrow they start a special event, their Alaska Local Food and Film Festival. I had heard about the event, and had planned to attend a movie or two, but I hadn’t expected a call from Chef Clayon! Sure enough, he’s the reason for the local vegetables and the new exciting stuff on the Grill’s menu! He was calling to find out more about our Rise & Shine Bakery’s sourdough breads made with local Alaskan ingredients…  he’s looking for locally-made products, and maybe he’ll use our Alaskan potato bread or our spent grain sourdough bread in lunch specials. That would be pretty cool!

But whether that happens or not, the exciting thing is that Clayton and his team are really working hard to create exciting dishes that feature Alaskan produce! Isn’t that great? I’m excited to attend the film festival, too; I’m going to see Food, Inc. tomorrow, and Fresh on Monday…  and I just found out from Clayton that we can even order food from the Grill side to eat during the movies! Ooh, I can’t wait for those zucchini tacos again. Even though I’ve just eaten my home-made version for the last two nights. Hmm. Maybe I should branch out and see what else is looking Alaskan and vegetable-y on the menu!!  Like maybe the calabacita chimichanga special…  that’s bound to be full of zucchini! Or I could always go for the blackened halibut tacos. Ahh.  Decisions, decisions…

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black bean tostadas with seared zucchini & roasted garlic

Although you can add diced avocado, cheese, and other things, I like to keep these pretty simple because I like to taste the zucchini. You probably already guess that I make big batches of the refried beans and freeze them for when I want a quick meal!

corn tortillas
refried beans (recipe follows)
seared zucchini & roasted garlic (recipe follows)
plain yogurt or sour cream
salsa (if desired)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set the corn tortillas on baking sheets in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes, until crisp, fragrant, and just starting to get golden brown. Toast 2 or 3 tortillas per person.
2. Let each person top their tortilla with beans, then zucchini, then yogurt/sour cream and salsa. Eat with plenty of napkins at the ready!

seared zucchini & roasted garlic

2 large zucchini (or 3 medium ones)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 bulb roasted garlic (see recipe, below) or ¼ cup grated very sharp cheddar cheese
chipotle chile powder, or other chile powder (optional, but very nice)
¼ cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted in a skillet over medium high heat until puffed and golden-brown

1. Cut the ends off the zucchini, slice in half lengthwise, and then cut the zucchini into ¼-inch-thick half-moons.
2. Heat the olive oil in the largest (preferably non-stick) skillet you have, add the onion and about a ¼ teaspoon of salt, then sauté the onions over high heat until they are golden-brown.
3. Add the zucchini, another ½ teaspoon of salt, and sauté over high heat. Let them fry without stirring for a while to let some of the pieces get brown, then stir and repeat until the whole mess is just tender, brown and yummy.
4. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and mash them up into a paste; alternately, grate some cheddar cheese.
5. Turn the heat off under the zucchinis, and stir in the roasted garlic or cheese. Add a sprinkling of chile powder (I use about ¼ teaspoon). Combine thoroughly and add more salt and chile to your taste.
6. Top with toasted pepitas, then pile onto your tostada!

refried beans
This recipe will give you plenty of beans for a couple of days’ leftovers (always a good thing, in my book). They freeze really well, too, so make as many as you like and freeze them (well-labeled) in plastic containers for future tostada meals.

3 cups dried beans: black turtle beans, pinto, or anasazi beans
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions (1 for quartering, 2 for dicing)
10 garlic cloves, peeled (4 to be left whole, 6 to be minced)
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted in a skillet and freshly ground
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, or regular chili powder
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Soak the beans in water for 4 hours or overnight.
2. Quarter 1 of the onions, leaving the root end on so the quarters stay intact. Cover the beans in water by a couple of inches, and add the quartered onion, 4 whole garlic cloves and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are completely tender. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn off the heat. This could take from 30 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on how old the beans are. Just make sure the beans are nice and soft. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool for a bit. If you have time, let them sit, covered, until they are completely cool. Remove the quartered onion, bay leaves, and whole garlic cloves and discard.
3. Chop the remaining 2 onions into small dice, and mince the remaining 6 garlic cloves. Saute the onions with 1 teaspoon salt in a wide skillet over medium-high heat until they start to brown—5 or 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and 1 more teaspoon salt, and sauté for 5 minutes more.
4. Add the beans and 1 cup of their cooking liquid. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so, partially mashing some of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon, a potato masher, or an immersion blender.
5. Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste. The beans can take a lot of salt, so just keep tasting until they are perfectly seasoned. You may need to add more salt when you reheat them—just taste and see.


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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tuscan white bean soup with greens

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the last camping trip of the summer

We’ve just returned from an incredible trip to Denali…  and I hardly know where to start. We have a camping journal that we use to record our adventures, and in nine days I wrote 18 pages. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the abbreviated version! When we left Anchorage ten days ago, it was cloudy and cool, and just kept getting cooler as we drove north to Denali State Park. Despite the overcast skies, we were astonished and delighted by the fantastic reds, yellows, and lime-greens of the foliage as we drove north. We had clearly struck peak color! We spent three mostly rainy days at the State Park, enjoying hiking and running on the Little Coal Creek and Byers Lake trails, road biking along the highway, and canoeing on Byers Lake and watching the spawning red salmon.

Then we headed north to Denali National Park, and headed in to the Teklanika River campground for three days. We were thrilled when the weather seemed to be brightening… and then it just kept getting better! All three days in the park were completely cloudless, and on the first day, our ride into Eilson Visitor Center on the Park bus showed us The Mountain from tip to toe in all its astounding glory. We were also lucky enough to see a wolf, two bears, some faraway sheep, and a couple of caribou. Subsequent days were even more magical, with fantastic bike rides in the park pulling Meredith in her bike trailer (Thank goodness we have a tandem bike, so we can pull the trailer together!), beautiful hikes and runs, and slow, lazy days in the sunshine, admiring the bright leaves against the backdrop of the blue, blue sky.

The last three days we spent with our friends Shannon & Peter at their cabin just outside the Park. Our unbelievable luck continued, and the weather held, clear and sunny, freezing at night as the full moon beamed down on us. More hiking, biking, and running; more lazy, slow days; plus the pleasure of great conversations and meals with our friends. The reason I’ve included this particular soup recipe is that it’s one of the meals I brought along with us on our trip. To feed us on our ten-day journey, I froze a lot of soups and stews, packed a very large cooler full of them (plus bread, of course), and then slowly thawed them out over the course of the trip. By the time we hit Shannon & Peter’s cabin, this soup was perfectly ready to eat! We shared many meals, but this was one for which they requested the recipe.  Thanks, Shannon & Peter, for a fantastic three days, and for inspiring us to come north for our last camping trip of the summer!!

 

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Tuscan white bean soup with greens

I think you’d have to be crazy to make a single batch of this recipe, since it freezes so well, and because it’s SO DELICIOUS and it tastes even better the next day… In fact, if you make it the day before, and saute up a pile of fresh chard with garlic to put in it right before you eat it, I’m betting you’ll swoon with joy. I think this might be the best soup I’ve ever made. But anyway, about the double batch… it does take a pretty large pot, so do what you think is best. And then go out and buy a REALLY BIG POT (with a heavy, stout bottom) for next time!

This recipe is loosely based on one from a recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The interesting twist that they’ve found to get really tender, perfect white beans is to soak the beans in salt water! I was really excited to try this, because often times my white beans don’t come out perfectly. Some will be disintegrating and others in the pot will be hard and crunchy still, or have hard, tough skins. This brining the beans really works! I’m completely sold!

The other key to perfectly beautiful beans is to keep them from boiling hard, which tends to explode the beans. So you cook the beans over very low heat. The Cook’s Illustrated people do it in a 250 degree oven, but I think it works just fine in a big, covered pot in the stovetop, turned way down so the soup is just barely bubbling.

kosher salt or sea salt
1 pound dried large white beans (about 2 cups), like Great Northern or cannellini
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 large onions, chopped medium
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
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1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 large or 2 small sprigs rosemary
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1-2 medium bunches kale or collard greens, or chard
ground black pepper

1. Rinse the beans in a colander. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak, at room temperature, for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
2. Place mushrooms in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Cover the bowl with a plate so it stays hot, and let sit for at least 10 minutes, while you chop the vegetables.
3. Pour the mushrooms through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (saving the liquid!), then lift mushrooms out of the strainer and mince them. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.
4. Heat oil in large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 8 cups of water, bay leaves, soaked beans, and reserved mushrooms and their cooking liquid. Increase heat to high and bring stew to simmer. Turn the heat down, cover the pot, and keep the pot at a bare simmer (you’ll have to take the lid off and check occasionally) until beans are tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour, or longer, depending on the age and type of bean.
5. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice.
6. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems and chop them very, very finely. The easiest way to do this is to pulverize them in a coffee grinder. It really works! Stir the rosemary in, too.
7. Taste the stew for salt, and add as much as needed to perfectly flavor it. Add pepper, too, to taste. After the soup sits, you may need to add more salt.
8. If you’re making the soup ahead (my recommendation—it always tastes even more divine then), just let it cool and refrigerate until the next day.
9. When you’re ready to eat the soup, prepare the greens. Trim the stems from the leaves and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Sauté them in a pan in a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt (add minced garlic, if you like) over medium-high heat. If you’re using mature kale or collards, after you’ve wilted the leaves, you’ll need to add ½ cup of water or so and cover the pan, letting the leaves steam and simmer until they are completely tender. The chard will cook much more quickly, and probably won’t need water added. Add salt to taste as you cook them.
10.  Reheat the soup if it’s not already hot, and decide if you like the consistency of the soup. Do you want to add more liquid? Just add a bit more water. I like it soupy, while others may like it more like a stew. Do what seems best to you!
11. When the greens are tender, stir them into the stew, taste once again for salt and pepper, and serve. This soup is fantastic served with hearty sourdough whole-grain bread or toast, dipped in some really nice extra-virgin olive oil.


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Friday, May 15, 2009

vegetarian posole

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Chef Dan

One of the things that I’ve been letting go of lately is my self-imposed obligation to make a really fabulous dinner every night. I mean, I always want to make something yummy and healthy, but lately I’ve been doing less browsing in my cookbooks, and resorting more often to old favorites—usually SIMPLE old favorites. As this has happened, Dan has suddenly become more interested in cooking again. Since Meredith was born, and our time got tighter, he’s been more likely to focus on things other than cooking in his less frequent moments of free time. Now, maybe because I’m not menu-planning for every day of the week, there is more space for him to cook? Or maybe it’s because Meredith is almost five years old, and there is more time in his day? At any rate, it’s wonderful.

He’s got this great new theme going on, too. In the past, he would generally choose relatively exotic recipes that would involve a trip to the grocery store (or several grocery stores) to get the ingredients. His latest thing is to find something in the pantry or freezer that has been hanging around for a while, and find something to do with it. Oh joy of joys!

A couple of weeks ago he made a dish of white beans (from the freezer) on garlic-scrubbed toast, topped with sardines (from the pantry) and a drizzle scallions sautéed in olive oil (the scallions had been languishing in the ‘fridge). This week he got the idea to use up a big can of hominy, and ended up making this great vegetarian posole! He used up a tub of cooked kidney beans from the freezer, as well as a bunch of carrots and celery.

I’m not sure what he’ll decide to cook next. Will it be the buckwheat groats I bought several years ago for a reason I don’t remember? Or maybe that box of whole wheat couscous from the Pleistocene Era? (It can’t go bad, can it?) What about that celery root in the vegetable drawer that has held up remarkably well for the last several weeks? Go, Sweetie, GO! Am I well-married, or what? 

vegetarian posole

This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. He tells you to cook the hominy from scratch, but I think the canned stuff works just fine. You can usually find it in the Hispanic section in the grocery store. Same goes for the little cans of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Freeze the leftover chiles in a ziplock bag for later use.

1 28-ounce can cooked hominy
2 cups cooked beans: red, pinto, or anasazi (see directions below, for cooking beans, if you haven’t already cooked them)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small onions, diced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped finely
sea salt or kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried sage (you can use 4 leaves of fresh sage if you have it, minced)
3-4 cups mushrooms, preferably baby portabellas, or white mushrooms
freshly-ground black pepper

1. In a heavy soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes, until beginning to get transparent. Stir in the carrot, celery, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, chiles, cumin and sage. Add ½ teaspoon salt, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
2. Chop the mushrooms into quarters or sixths. Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon of salt until the mushrooms have released their liquid, the liquid is cooked off, and they are starting to brown. Set aside.
3. Drain the liquid from the canned hominy and add it to the vegetables. Add the cooked beans and 2 or 3 cups of bean cooking liquid to the vegetables, as well. If you’re using canned beans, don’t use the canning liquid—drain the beans and use water for the liquid, instead.
4. Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender and the stew has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Add the mushrooms to the stew, and salt and pepper to taste.

cooking your beans

This will make twice as many beans as you need for this recipe, unless you make a double batch of posole—but cooked beans are handy! Just freeze the extra beans to use in another recipe later.

2 cups beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
2 bay leaves
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Drain the soaked beans, then put them in a pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add the quartered onion, garlic, and bay leaves and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.

 


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