Category: Miscellaneous


[Winter Squash, Part 2]

Squash!

After finishing off the last of the spaghetti squash, I decided to tackle the butternut squash that you can see lurking there in the background.  Weighing in at over 5lbs, it was an impressive specimen!  I’ve always liked butternut squash (despite the lack of recipes featuring it on this blog!), and I frequently use it in any recipe that calls for pumpkin, since it’s often more readily available than pie pumpkins.  This time, though, I wanted to do something a bit different.

5lbs+!

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s various squash salad applications (for example this or this), I decided to make up my own.  I contemplated various beans and grains before deciding on using red lentils because a) we had some in the pantry and b) you don’t have to soak them overnight.  Along with the squash and lentils, I decided to roast a few shallots that had been rolling around in the bottom of the fridge, and to top the whole thing off, I went with some feta, parsley, and toasted hazelnuts.  Of course the feta turned out to be the wrong kind for crumbling, but since the salad was warm, I rather liked how it melted and mingled with the squash and lentils.

Cubing a squash that big takes a while...

Parchment keeps your towel clean

So much for the main ingredients, but what about spices?  Normally I probably would have gone with a bolder spice palette, and no doubt would have added a healthy dose of cayenne pepper (or even added some fresh cayenne peppers for that matter–we had quite the haul this year from our balcony garden!) but alas, since pregnancy has given me the gift of heartburn, I had to get a bit more creative with my flavors.  In the end, I decided to roast the squash and shallots together with some whole cumin seeds and a bit of salt, and to cook the lentils with a cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and some black peppercorns, as well as a couple of tablespoons of tamari soy sauce (which is my favorite trick for imparting flavor to any sort of bean/grain/rice).  I also created a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, rice vinegar, and tamari–the acid from the vinegar definitely brightened up the dish, although in retrospect a bit of lemon juice would have been very nice too.

In the end, this dish turned out to be one of the best applications of butternut squash that I’ve ever made–it managed to be filling without being heavy, spiced without being spicy, and it was pretty easy to pull together with a fairly minimal amount of pre-planning.  It also made enough to feed a small army, and the leftovers tasted just as good cold as warm.  I think this dish is definitely going to be a permanent addition to the fall meal rotation.

squashlentils

Warm Salad with Cumin Roasted Butternut Squash and Spiced Lentils
(Serves 6-8)

For the squash:

  • 1 large butternut squash (approx. 5lbs)
  • 1-2 large shallots
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2-3 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the lentils:

  • 1.75 c red lentils
  • 3.25 c water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 9 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp tamari soy sauce

Dressing:

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Toppings:

  • 1/4 c crumbled feta cheese (or finely diced if your feta doesn’t crumble)
  • 1/4 c hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
  • small handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread out the hazelnuts on a parchment-lined sheet pan (the kind with edges so they don’t roll off!).  Put them on the middle rack and toast for 8-12 minutes, giving them a good stir halfway through.  You’ll be able to smell when they’re done–don’t burn them!  Remove the hazelnuts from the oven, and turn up the heat to 400 degrees in preparation for the squash.  Allow the hazelnuts to cool for a bit.  Then take the corners of the parchment and bring them together, creating a little package.  Wrap the whole thing in a towel, and rub it around until the nuts are mostly peeled (they don’t need to be perfect).

While the hazelnuts are toasting, peel your butternut squash, halve it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, and then cut it up into 1-inch cubes.  Peel the shallot(s) and cut into large chunks.  Line the sheet pan you used for the hazelnuts with aluminum foil, and spread out the squash and shallots in a single layer.  Drizzle the grapeseed oil over everything and then sprinkle on the cumin seeds and salt.  Mix it all together with your hands, making sure that all the pieces of squash are coated in oil, spread them back out, and then put it in the oven (which should now be at 400) for 20-30 minutes or until the squash is fork tender but not disintegrating.

Once the squash is going, rinse and pick over your lentils and then add them to a pan with the water, tamari, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Give it a good stir and bring it to a boil.  Then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are fully cooked–probably about 20 minutes.

While the lentils and squash are cooking, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.  Taste, and adjust the ratio of vinegar/lemon juice to oil as needed.  You may end up wanting to sprinkle a bit more lemon juice or vinegar over the finished salad if the acidic flavor gets lost in the squash and lentils.

Once the lentils are done, drain off any excess water, and pull out the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and (if you can find them) the peppercorns.  (If you can’t find them, just chew carefully!)  Put the lentils in a large serving bowl along with the squash and shallots.  Mix them together, and then pour on the dressing and add the toppings.  Give everything a good toss, add extra vinegar, lemon juice, or salt to taste, and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Hi, everyone!  I am FINALLY back on my blog after several months of radio silence.  I’ve been away on campus teaching for the semester, and while I had originally intended to continue posting, there’s not much to say when your primary instrument of cooking is a microwave.  (If you were wondering, it is possible to successfully make pasta, beets, potatoes, and a variety of other things in the microwave.  But after a while you get lazy and just buy a lot of boxes of soup.)  I am super excited to get back to blogging, and I have some awesome recipes coming up including a butternut squash dish, a cake, a salad, at least one type of cookie, and, the subject of today’s post: mushroom barley soup!

I’m a big fan of barley.  It is both absurdly healthy and absurdly versatile–you can make it into a breakfast cereal, put it in soups, make it into a risotto, use it as the base of a dish like you would rice or couscous…

Except.

It takes forever to cook.

Oh, the pearled kind cooks up in a perfectly reasonable amount of time, it’s true.  But pearled barley doesn’t have nearly the nutritional punch that hulled has, plus it doesn’t have quite the same pleasing, chewy texture.

Solution:  slow cooker. With a minimal amount of planning ahead, I pre-cooked the barley overnight in the slow cooker, so that when it came time to make the soup, all I had to do was throw it in.  And it’s so easy to make barley in the slow cooker, you can do it while you’re sleeping.  Literally.  If you cook it on low, it’s ready in 6-8 hours max, which means that this is also an excellent way to replace your breakfast oatmeal with breakfast barley.  And in fact, I ended up with more cooked barley than I needed for the soup, so I had ready-made breakfast for the rest of the week!

The soup itself was something I came up with while falling asleep one night–it just popped into my head like a dream and practically wrote itself–when I made the soup a few days later, I felt like I was following a recipe, even though I was making it up.  It’s a good soup for a cold winter day–the hearty barley and beans along with the rich mushroom flavor and just a touch of sour cream warms you through without being heavy, and the topping of freshly grated Parmesan adds the perfect amount of umami.  (It would be a good thing to enjoy with a nice thick slab of oat soda bread from 101 Cookbooks.)

So here it is, just in time for Christmas:

Mushroom Barley Soup
(Serves 9)

For the barley

  • 1 cup dry hulled barley
  • 4.5 cups water

For the soup

  • 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup hot (not quite boiling) water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled, smashed, and roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cups sliced raw mushrooms (I used a mixture of crimini and white button)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups mushroom broth
  • 1 can of navy beans, drained
  • half to all of the cooked barley
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (for topping)

The night before you plan on making the soup, get out your slow cooker and put in one cup of dried, hulled barley and 4.5 cups of water.  Give it a stir (and pick out any bits of chaff that may have been in with your barley), cover it, and set it to low for 8 hours.  In the morning, scoop it out, put it in a container, and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to make the soup.

When you’re ready to make your soup, take your dried porcini mushrooms, put them in a small bowl, and cover them with hot water.  Let them steep while you get everything else going.  The water should turn a rich shade of reddish-brown, and the mushrooms will re-hydrate.

Meanwhile, in a large stock pot or dutch oven, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.  When the butter is melted and the pan is hot, add in the diced onion and garlic, and saute until the onion starts to get transparent.  Then add the sliced mushrooms, and continue to stir occasionally until the mushrooms start to darken.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and let it simmer until most of the wine has cooked off.

Chop up the re-hydrated porcini mushrooms and add them to the pan, and strain in the liquid they were soaking in.  Add the mushroom broth, beans, and as much of the barley as you would like in your soup (more if you want your soup thicker like a stew, less if you want it more soup-like), and the kale.  Cover, and simmer until the kale has completely wilted.

Stir in the sour cream, and then add salt and pepper to taste.  It will probably take more salt than you think you need; just add it a little at a time.

Ladle it into bowls, top with Parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Mushroom Barley Soup!

Did you know it’s possible to make tofu that doesn’t taste like feet?  No?  Neither did I!

But it IS possible.  And the results are delicious!  All you need to do is watch some Good Eats and buy a lime.  (Well, and some other stuff…more on that in a bit.)

You might be asking yourself why, precisely, I was cooking tofu the other day when I was firmly of the opinion that it tastes like feet and that there are far better ways to get protein (nuts, dairy, eggs, or for us non-vegetarians, meat).  Well, the answer is that my vegetarian husband picked up a package of tofu at the grocery store and wanted us to try and make it like some of the “good” restaurant tofu that’s out there.  And tofu *is* actually quite healthy.

Now I will admit that there are varying degrees of tofu awfulness, and that I have, on occasion (usually in Asian restaurants), had tofu that bordered on being edible.  But I had never yet found tofu that I actually wanted to eat (unless I were starving on a desert island somewhere.)  However, I do like a challenge in the kitchen, and I did want to find a way to add more calories/protein to my typical stir fry recipes so that we wouldn’t negate the healthiness of all the vegetables by gorging ourselves on gelato afterwards.  So I needed some help.  I turned to Alton Brown, who is pretty much always the best source of information on how to cook an unfamiliar ingredient.  Or a familiar one for that matter.

I remembered having watched the tofu episode of Good Eats, and since we never delete Good Eats off the dvr, it was a simple matter of endless scrolling to find it.  What I was looking for was this recipe: thick slices of firm tofu, marinated, battered with egg and fried.  I decided, however, to make my own marinade, since I intended for this tofu to go with Asian-style stir fried vegetables.  While the tofu slices were being squished to remove excess moisture and render them ready to soak up my marinade, I took stock of my pantry options.

Tamari soy sauce of course would be a key ingredient for the marinade.  Mirin and rice vinegar also seemed like good options to get a bit of acidity in there.  Sriracha of course would bring the heat, ginger and lemongrass would add another nice flavor dimension, and then I remembered!  I had a sad, lonely lime sitting in the fridge, left over from making the curry paste.  It was a bit ugly on the outside, having given up its zest to the curry, but the inside was still bright and fresh, and full of juice!  This, in the end, turned out to be the key marinade ingredient, and the main one that I was able to taste in the finished product.

Tofu taking a marinade bath

After the tofu had soaked in its marinade bath for half an hour (15 minutes per side), it was time to fry it.

Now I am notoriously bad at pan frying.  Either my oil isn’t hot enough and things get limp and greasy, or it’s too hot and it smokes, or the things that I’m frying fall apart (looking at you, potato pancakes!), or things get all squished and deformed when I’m trying to flip them…

But this time I was prepared!  With the aid of Alton Brown’s recipe, I was able to create a nice egg batter that stuck to the tofu.  I decided to go with grapeseed oil instead of canola oil for frying because grapeseed oil has a much higher smoke point–thus I would be unlikely to smoke it.  I had spring-loaded tongs at the ready for flipping the tofu, and a thermometer so that I could periodically monitor the oil temperature.

After heating up the oil, I gently placed the egg-battered tofu into the pan.  Instant sizzle – success!  I kept an eye on the temperature and after two minutes, flipped each piece–they were actually golden brown!  After another two minutes I removed them to a cooling rack over a sheet pan to drain.  They smelled good!  I assumed the pleasant smell was just the egg batter, but I was quite pleased that they came out looking like they were supposed to.

Golden fried deliciousness!

Meanwhile it was time to stir fry the vegetables.  I had already chopped them up while the tofu was marinating, and since the burner was still hot, it was a simple matter to grab another (larger) frying pan, add a little oil, and toss the veggies in.

Rainbow!

You might want to tie your lemongrass in a bundle for easy removal. Doing it this way was a mistake.

After the veggies had softened up a bit, it was time to deglaze the pan and get some flavor in there.  I had planned on just using the rest of the marinade to accomplish this, but I overestimated how much was left and underestimated how much I would need to create any sort of sauce.  So I added more tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar, along with a sizable squirt (okay, several sizable squirts) of sriracha, and more grated ginger.  I also added the broccoli and finely sliced Thai chiles at this point, because I didn’t want them to overcook.  I covered it with a lid that is rather too small for the skillet, but it was good enough to collect some steam to cook the broccoli faster.  After a few more minutes, it was done!

The lid is too small!

To assemble the dish, I started with a nice scoop of brown rice (which I had cooked with a bit of tamari and lemongrass, and which, miracle of miracles, did NOT boil over!), and then topped it with a healthy scoop of vegetables, and then put the lovely golden tofu brick on top and spooned a bit of sauce over the whole thing:

Isn't it pretty?

Pretty, aren’t they?

And then it was time to taste it.  I cut off a corner of the tofu, admiring the crispy egg crust, and popped it in my mouth.  And was shocked!  It tasted good!  Not just in an I-can-see-how-this-would-be-good-if-you-liked-this-sort-of-thing way, but in a legitimately I-want-seconds kind of way!  It was delicious!  There was no trace of the soy flavor I typically find so unpleasant.  Just crispy egg batter, a pleasant tang from the lime, and a soft texture somewhat akin to a fluffy quiche.  No longer could I say that I hated tofu.  Hats off to Alton Brown.  His tofu-cooking technique is without equal.

Asian-Style Vegetable Stir Fry with Delicious Tofu
(serves 4)

For the marinade:

  • 2tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1tbsp mirin
  • 1tbsp rice vinegar
  • the juice of one lime
  • several squirts of sriracha
  • a pinch of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 stalk lemongrass halved and separated

For the tofu:

  • 1 15oz block extra firm tofu
  • 1/3c all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • grapeseed oil

For the vegetables:

  • 1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
  • 2 watermelon radishes (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 7-8 stalks of lemongrass, halved and tied in a bundle
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 green Thai chiles, finely minced
  • the leftover marinade
  • additional mirin, rice vinegar, and tamari in equal parts
  • sriracha (to taste)

For the rice:

  • 1c brown rice
  • just over 2c water
  • splash of tamari
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, halved and separated

Drain the liquid from your package of tofu, and then slice it and press the rest of the liquid out as per Alton Brown’s recipe.  A few minutes before it’s done, get out a container with a tight-fitting lid that’s big enough to fit the slices of tofu side by side.  Add in the tamari, mirin, rice vinegar, sriracha, lime juice, ginger and lemongrass and stir until the sriracha is fully dissolved.  Taste it, and add more sriracha.  (Don’t worry–you can add a whole lot and your tofu still won’t be spicy.)  When the tofu is ready, put it in the marinade, cover it up, and set aside for half an hour.  If the tofu isn’t fully submerged, flip it halfway through.

Meanwhile, wash and chop up all your veggies.  Be sure to mince the Thai chiles very finely because they pack some punch!  This is also a good time to get your rice started, since it will take a good half hour (more if you’re using wild rice) to cook.

If you happen to have two good skillets (and two good burners), you can fry the tofu and stir fry the vegetables at the same time.  The vegetables don’t take a whole lot of attention, and the tofu isn’t hard to fry.  But if you want to do them one at a time like I did, start with the tofu.  I followed Alton Brown’s instructions pretty much exactly, right down to the spring-loaded metal tongs.  The only change I made was to use grapeseed oil instead of canola oil.  This is not strictly necessary, but if you do use canola oil, keep a closer eye on the temperature.  Grapeseed oil is good to 420 degrees.  Canola oil varies significantly depending on how it’s processed, but the kind I have is only good to 375-400 degrees.  And I have made it smoke before.  Grapeseed oil seemed safer.  When your tofu is done, remove it to a wire rack over a sheet pan to drain off any excess oil.

For the vegetables, heat a little oil in your skillet and add everything except the broccoli and Thai chiles.  Toss/stir them around occasionally.  Once your vegetables have started to soften, deglaze the pan with the extra marinade plus equal parts additional tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar as well as some sriracha.  You want just enough to create some sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Add in the broccoli and Thai chiles, stir, and then cover to let the broccoli steam.

By the time your vegetables are done, your rice should also be done.  Put some rice on each plate, top with vegetables and a slice of tofu, spoon a bit of sauce from the vegetable skillet over the top, and enjoy!

I love my slow cooker.  It’s so nice to be able to just put the ingredients in it in the morning and have dinner ready and waiting for us when we get home.  And at 3.5 quarts, it’s plenty big enough to feed the two of us with enough leftovers for several lunches, and it’s also a great way to feed a crowd.  But when most people think about slow cookers, they think about things like meaty stews or pot roasts–obviously not going to fly around here!  However, slow cookers are also great for cooking beans.  And lentils, and chickpeas, and black eyed peas, and just about anything that you normally have to soak overnight and then boil for an hour.  Conveniently, these are all things that form the basis of a lot of Indian dishes, and so that’s what usually gets made in our slow cooker!

If you’re new to cooking Indian food (or even just to slow cooking it), I would highly recommend this book: The Indian Slow Cooker. So far all the recipes I’ve made from it have been delicious, plus it helps you get used to the cooking times required for different ingredients so that you can create your own recipes (which is what I’ve done here.)

So on to the evolution of this fusion curry.  I’ve been wanting to make my own curry paste for a while, and as I had a whole bunch of long green chiles from the farmer’s market, I decided now would be a good time to do it.  After a bit of googling, I discovered that the key ingredients for green curry paste are green chiles, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, shallots, garlic, cilantro, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, shrimp paste, and galangal.  Now for obvious (vegetarian husband) reasons, shrimp paste was out, but I figured that its primary contribution was salt, so if the paste tasted bland, I could always just add soy sauce (or more salt!).  Galangal was a bit more of a problem–I had nowhere to get it.  The Asian grocery store might have had it, and there are probably places in the city that sell it, but I was not about to go on a wild goose chase all over town.  So I decided to substitute ginger.  Yes, I know, it’s not authentic, but ginger tastes good, is readily available (I always keep some on hand in the freezer), and goes with all the other flavors.  So ginger it was!

The beginnings of curry paste

I ended up with rather a lot of curry paste.  Several cups of it in fact.  The first day I made it, I made a coconut curry on the stove with Thai eggplant, broccoli, kale, and soba noodles.  It…wasn’t that good.  I had tried simmering the vegetables in the coconut milk and curry paste but by the time the vegetables were reasonably cooked through, the coconut milk had reduced way past what I had wanted, and to be perfectly honest, I just don’t like eggplant very much anyways.

That's a lot of curry paste!

So the next day I decided to try again, this time in the slow cooker.  Using a little inspiration from the cookbook’s black-eyed peas recipe, I decided to go with a combination of chickpeas, black chickpeas (which are slightly smaller than the regular ones) and black-eyed peas.  If you’re making your own version, feel free to use whatever combination of dried beans you like.  After giving them a good rinse, I put them in the slow cooker along with four and a half cups of water and all of the leftover curry paste, plus some turmeric and a bit of brown sugar to provide a sweet note to counter the spice.  And then I just let it cook.  I set the timer for eight hours, and about ten minutes before the end I added a can of coconut milk and some vegetables–broccoli and green pepper.  I did end up adding an extra half hour to the cook time because the vegetables weren’t fully submerged so they didn’t cook as quickly as I had expected.  The end result?  Much better than making it on the stove and definitely delicious!

Fusion Curry

Thai-Indian Fusion Curry
(serves 6-8)

For the Curry Paste:

  • 5-10 peppercorns
  • 1tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion (or 2-3 shallots), roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of garlic (8-10 cloves), peeled and smashed
  • 7-10 stalks lemongrass, chopped
  • a 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 15 spicy green chiles (mine were about 6″ long. use more if you’re using the small thai chiles), de-seeded and chopped
  • a small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • the zest of one lime
  • 1/2tsp kosher salt

Everything else:

  • 1.5c dried chickpeas, black-eyed peas or beans in any combination, rinsed in cold water
  • 4.5c water
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 13.5oz coconut milk (1 can)
  • 1 large head of broccoli, chopped (you can use the stems too!  just peel them first)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped

Toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant.  Keep them moving in the pan so they don’t burn.  Then put them in a spice grinder with the peppercorns and grind them up.  Set the mixture aside.

Put the chiles, onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, lime zest, and salt into a food processor* and buzz it up until you have a relatively uniform consistency.  Taste it, and adjust the ingredients if you need to.  (Be sure to have a glass of milk on hand to quell the burning afterwards!)  Add the ground up spices, and run the food processor a bit longer until everything is fully incorporated.  Set aside.

Measure out your chickpeas and/or other beans and give them a good rinse.  Check for very small rocks (which, despite what you may have heard, do not float!).  Put them in into the slow cooker and add 4.5c of water.  Add 1-2 cups of your fresh curry paste (depending on how spicy you want your curry to be), the turmeric, and the brown sugar.  Mix everything up, cover it, and set your slow cooker to high for 9 hours.  Go about your day.

After 8 hours, the beans/chickpeas should be fully cooked.  Give everything a good stir, and then add the coconut milk and vegetables.  Stir again, cover it back up, and let it continue to cook until the vegetables have reached your desired level of done-ness.  Depending on how well the lid of your slow cooker seals and how submerged the vegetables are, this could take anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  When they’re done, stir, serve, and enjoy!  Leftovers should keep well in the fridge for several days at least, and leftover curry paste will last a day or two.

*If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this in a mortar and pestle.  Just chop everything as finely as you can first, and be prepared to put some muscle into it!

You guys, I’m so excited!  The husband and I are headed off on our honeymoon tomorrow to Portland, Oregon for 10 days of food nerd awesomeness!  We have both a spreadsheet and a customized google map marking out all the places we want to try–it’s going to be awesome!  (Of course we also have lots of walking and hiking planned…have to do something to burn off all the ridiculous meals we’re going to be eating!  Plus there are awesome waterfalls near Portland!)  I’m planning on tweeting pictures of the food (and anything else cool that we come across!), so if you haven’t followed me on Twitter yet, please do!  Or not if Twitter’s not your thing–don’t worry, I’m planning a round-up blog post about the trip when we get back.

And now on to today’s recipe!  I made this a couple weeks ago but I hadn’t gotten around to actually writing up the post yet.  But this might just be one of my favorite recipes I’ve shared here.  It has just the right balance of flavors…sweet/sour/savory/salty/bitter, with just the right amount of spice.  The key is really the lime juice at the end.  The lime juice takes what would have been a pretty decent dish to a whole other level of flavor.  So don’t leave it out!  Added bonus: this dish is ridiculously healthy, what with the quinoa and the beans and the kale and such.  But it doesn’t *taste* like health food.  It just tastes good.

Colorful, isn't it?

So without further ado:

Quinoa Adzuki Bean Stir Fry

  • 1/2c quinoa (uncooked)
  • 1.25c water
  • 1/2tbsp tamari
  • 2 carrots, sliced into discs
  • 1 daikon, sliced into discs
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1/2 habanero pepper, minced
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 can adzuki beans, drained (also rinsed if they contain salt)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • splash mirin
  • 1 inch knob ginger, peeled and freshly grated
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bunch lacinta kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/2c sugar snap peas
  • freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and pick over the quinoa, then put it, the water, and the tamari into a pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour until all of the water is absorbed.  Keep an eye on it, both so it doesn’t boil over and so it doesn’t overcook.  If it finishes cooking before you’re done with everything else, take it off the heat, fluff it with a fork so it doesn’t stick and then set it aside.

Meanwhile in your largest skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  When it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, daikon, ginger, and black pepper.  Stir periodically.  When the onion starts to get transparent, deglaze the pan with the mirin and add the kale and habanero.  When the kale starts to wilt, add the quinoa, green pepper, and adzuki beans.  Mix well.  When everything is heated through, remove it from the heat and add the sugar snap peas and a splash of tamari.  Pour in the lime juice, give everything a good toss to mix it all together and enjoy!

I made this recipe back at the beginning of January, but only now have I finally found the time to post it.  It’s a good, hearty bean soup, spicy but not overwhelming, and good for warming up on a cold winter’s day.  Y’know, if it’s still winter where you are.  It’s certainly not here!

Bean Soup!

For the beans, I used Trader Joe’s 17 bean and barley mix–a colorful collection of beans, split peas, and lentils including everything from baby lima beans to blackeye peas to pearl barley.  But if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, feel free to improvise and use whatever combination of beans, lentils, and split peas you like!  Do stick to dried beans rather than canned though, as dried will hold up better to the long cooking process.  (Plus they’re cheap to buy in bulk!)

For vegetables, I used onion, carrots and parsnips, which were what I had laying around in the bottom of the fridge.  You could certainly use other vegetables as well, such as celery or fennel…sweet potatoes would also go well with the spices in the soup–just dice them up into 1-inch chunks and add them at the same time as the beans.

Vegetables!

The strongly flavored spices in this soup contrast well with the relatively neutral flavors of the beans and lentils, as well as the sweetness brought by the carrots and parsnips.  But if you’re missing one or two of the spices, don’t worry–just use what you have.  And you can always adjust the flavors at the end.  But just to warn you, the cayenne pepper does give the soup a bit of a kick, so if you don’t like spicy food, just leave it out.

Spices!

 

Spicy Bean Soup
(serves 6-8) 

  • 1lb mixed dried beans, split peas and lentils (or 1 package of Trader Joe’s 17 bean and barley mix)
  • 3-5 medium carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 medium parsnips
  • olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3c white wine
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • dash of dried cilantro
  • dash of crushed red pepper
  • water or vegetable stock
  • salt to taste

Soak your bean mix in cold water for several hours before you intend to start cooking (or overnight).  Drain and rinse.

Put a large stock pot on the stove over medium heat.  Peel and dice the parsnips, carrots, and onion, and when the pot is hot, pour in a good glug of olive oil and add the vegetables.  Let them cook for a bit, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to go translucent.  Then add the wine and bay leaf, and continue to cook until most of the wine has cooked off.

Now add your spice mix.  After stirring it in, add your drained and rinsed bean mix, and enough water or stock to cover everything by an inch or so.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer until the beans are cooked through and tender.  This will take about an hour, depending on how soft you want the beans.  Check the soup periodically while it’s simmering, and if it seems like a lot of the liquid has boiled off, add a bit more water.

When the beans are cooked through, taste the soup and add salt as necessary.  If you want it spicier, feel free to add another dash of cayenne pepper.  Serve as is, or topped with a dollop of sour cream.  Enjoy!

It’s been too long since I last posted.  My time has been consumed with far too many books and not nearly enough cooking.  But at last I have survived my general exams and have time to get back in the kitchen!

I have a couple new recipes to write about, but I decided that this one needed to come first so that I wouldn’t forget what I put in it!  It was very much a make-it-up-as-you-go-along type of dish.  I bought the kale and mushrooms knowing that I wanted to put them with white beans, but aside from that I had no idea where I was going to go with this!

mushrooms, celery and onion

I ended up going in a garlicky, nutmeggy, peppery direction–because there was so much kale, the spices didn’t always get evenly mixed in, leading to bursts of different flavors in different bites.  If you want a more uniform flavor, it would probably be best to add all the spices prior to adding the kale to the skillet.

Speaking of the kale, you could really substitute any leafy green you like in this recipe–swiss chard, beet greens, lacinta kale or red kale would all work well.  Another addition that might be nice is bacon–if you fried the bacon in the same skillet with everything else, you could omit the butter and just use the bacon grease.  Bacon makes everything better, and gets along well with both beans and kale, but alas, it’s obviously not vegetarian-friendly.  If you do make this with bacon, though, let me know how it goes!

the finished dish

Mushroom, Kale and White Bean Skillet
(serves 4)

  • 4 big handfuls dried white beans (or 1 can)
  • 1 large bunch of kale (or other greens), roughly chopped
  • 12-15 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 2tbsp butter
  • splash of white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  •  thyme
  • oregano
  • garlic flakes
  • nutmeg
  • 1-2 pinches salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Soak your beans overnight, or at least for an hour or two prior to cooking.  (If using canned beans, simply rinse them off and skip the next few steps.)  Rinse off your soaked beans in cold water, and then put them in a medium-sized pan with enough cold water to cover them by at least half an inch to an inch.  Bring the beans to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer them until tender.  Keep an eye on them so they don’t boil over!

When your beans are almost done, put your largest skillet on to heat up over medium heat.  Once it’s hot, add a glug or two of olive oil, and then add the onion and celery.  When the onion is transparent, add a good splash of white wine, the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and garlic flakes.  (This is not an exact science–just put in a good shake of each).  Stir everything around, and let the wine cook off.

While that’s going, slice up your mushrooms, and when the wine is almost gone, add the mushrooms to the skillet.  While those are going, you can wash and chop the kale.  Once the mushrooms have started to brown, drain off any water that was still in with your beans and add them to the skillet.  (Or add your canned and rinsed beans).  Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, as well as the butter.  Once the butter is melted, add the kale.  It will seem like a lot of kale, but it will lose a lot of volume as it cooks down.

Once your kale is cooked down, make sure everything is mixed thoroughly and taste your dish.  Adjust the seasonings according to taste, take it off the heat, and top it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

(Or: How to make a healthy dinner when you’re tired and feeling lazy)

The other day I was torn by two conflicting desires.  On the one had, I was really in the mood for something healthy for dinner.  On the other, I was feeling really lazy and not in the mood for cooking.  Some time in the afternoon I decided to soak some black beans since they’re healthy, delicious, and practically cook themselves.  (If you’re feeling even lazier than I was, or you just don’t have the time to soak dried beans for an hour or two, you can cheat and use canned.  Just give them a good rinse before cooking them.)

Then I had to decide what to have with the beans, since a pot of beans by itself isn’t really a meal.  Then I remembered that I had a jar full of brown rice in the cupboard!  Beans and rice is a classic pairing, but the dish was still missing something.  I started digging around in the (very full!) freezer and discovered half a bag of frozen corn just waiting to be used up.  Perfect!

I mixed them all together, added some dried cilantro and chili powder, and topped the whole thing with a little grated cheddar, salsa, and guacamole, and dinner was complete!

Beans, rice and corn

And if you’re wondering…yes, the rice boiled over.  It always does.

Beans, Rice and Corn
(serves 5-6) 

  • 3/4c black beans
  • 1/4 bouillon cube
  • 1c frozen corn
  • 1c brown rice
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of dried cilantro
Toppings (optional):
  • guacamole
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • salsa
  • sour cream
If you’re using dry beans, give them a good rinse, and soak them for an hour or so before you plan to begin cooking.  (If you’re using canned, just rinse them off before you start cooking.)  Put your beans in a medium-sized pan on the stove, add the quarter bouillon cube (more or less to taste, but I find them to be really salty), and add enough water to cover the beans by about 3/4 of an inch (less if using canned).  Over medium heat, bring your beans to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover them, and simmer until they start to get soft.  Then uncover them and continue to simmer until the beans are fully cooked and most of the water has boiled off.  With dry beans, this process should take about an hour, maybe less if you like your beans a bit harder.  With canned beans it will take a lot less time since they’re already fairly soft and you really just need to heat them up.
Meanwhile, put your rice on the stove to boil, and try to time it so that it gets done at about the same time as the beans.  The rice I had takes a good 45 minutes to cook, so I started it not long after the beans went in.  Keep an eye on the rice so it doesn’t boil over and make a mess all over your stove!
When the rice and beans are almost done, thaw the corn in the microwave.  It doesn’t have to be hot–it will warm up plenty when you add it to the beans and rice–you just don’t want it to be frozen.
Once all three components are ready, combine them all in whichever pot happened to be biggest, and season with salt, chili powder, and cilantro to taste.  Top it with any combination of cheese, guacamole, sour cream, or salsa, and enjoy!

*Okay, so technically it came out as more of a puree.  But you can make it soup-like if you want.  More on that in a bit.

On this chilly (and if you’re in the Northeast, snowy) day after Halloween, you might, like me, find yourself craving soup.  I actually made this soup a few weeks ago, but with its lovely orange coloring, it’s really quite appropriate for Halloween.  Plus it’s warm and filling and delicious!  Just what I want when the weather turns cold!

Originally when I bought the butternut squash, I had intended to make a more typical, savory butternut squash soup.  But when I realized I didn’t have half the ingredients for the recipe I wanted to use, I decided to go in a completely different direction and make something with coconut milk and curry paste.  This turned out to be an excellent idea, with the sweetness of the coconut milk and the mild spice of the curry paste perfectly complementing the sweetness of the squash.  And best of all, it was really easy!

Roasting Squash

Soup!

Coconut Butternut Squash Soup
(serves 4)

  • 1 medium butternut squash 
  • unsalted butter
  • 1 heaped tsp brown sugar
  • scant 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • scant 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 can regular coconut milk
  • 1 heaped tablespoon red curry paste (more or less to taste)
  • salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • pinch of ground ginger

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Then slice your squash down the middle lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  (You can toast them later if you like!)  Set the squash halves face up on a cookie sheet (aluminum foil underneath would not be a bad idea–sometimes the squash drips!).  Put a few small pats of unsalted butter on each half, and then sprinkle with the brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin and cloves.  Bake the squash until it’s tender and a fork goes easily through the thickest part.  (Probably between half an hour and 45 minutes but it depends on both your squash and your oven.)  When your squash is done, take it out of the oven and set it aside to cool for a bit.

Meanwhile shake up your can of coconut milk and pour it into a medium saucepan along with the curry paste.  Put it on low-medium heat, and stir it until the curry paste isn’t lumpy anymore.  While it’s heating up, scoop out the flesh of your squash.  Once the coconut milk and curry paste are hot but not quite boiling, take it off the heat, add in the squash, salt (to taste), cayenne, and ginger.  Mix it up a bit with your spoon, and then use an immersion blender to smooth it all out.  If you don’t have one, a regular blender would work fine too–you just might lose a bit of soup in the bottom of it.  Once it’s all blended, put it back on the heat for a bit if it’s cooled off and then serve!

If you want to make your soup more…soupy, there are a couple of options.  You could try adding another can of coconut milk (add more curry paste and possibly more cayenne and ginger if you do.)  You could also try thinning it out with stock, milk, or cream–just taste as you go and adjust the seasonings, but with these you’ll probably lose some of the coconutty flavor.  Just a disclaimer–I haven’t tried any of these variations because I decided I liked the soup thick.  If you try one, let me know how it goes!

Acorn Squash Risotto

I’ve been cooking a lot lately and I have so many new posts to write!  But this one had to jump to the head of the line because, well, you need to make it.  It’s delicious.

I only recently learned how to make risotto, but it’s actually really easy to do, if a bit labor intensive.  And it’s definitely worth the work.

The first thing I did was roast the acorn squash in the oven.  It’s really unpredictable how long it takes for a squash to get soft–a tiny one the other day took over an hour.  This one was much bigger and was done in less than 45 minutes.  So put it in for half an hour, and then just make sure you check on it every 10 minutes or so thereafter (unless it’s still really hard after half an hour.  Then give it another 20 til you check it.)  Once it was done, I set it aside and got started on the risotto.  You can start your risotto while the squash is still in the oven if you’re pressed for time, but you might end up burning your fingers on the squash when you go to scoop it out!

Ready for roasting

For the risotto, I started with half an onion in a bit of butter and olive oil, and once that softened up I added the rice.  I had wanted to use 5oz of rice but our kitchen scale is, most inconveniently, out of batteries, so I had to guesstimate how much rice to use and how much broth to make.  After some quick googling and a bit of math, I decided to go with 3/4c of rice and 2c of broth.  It’s not actually a big deal if you run out of broth though…you can always use hot water towards the end.  Just make sure you taste things so they’re seasoned enough.

Another couple keys to tasty risotto which I’ve picked up from watching Jamie Oliver: use 1/2 cup of white wine in the beginning before you start adding the ladle-fulls of broth.  It makes the most amazing smell once that wine starts to cook into the rice!  Also, let the risotto rest for a while at the end before you eat it.  It makes it better!

Risotto in progress

When the risotto was almost done, I stirred in (most of) the squash and corn.  I added it a little at a time, tasting as I went, because I wasn’t sure how “squash-y” the flavor was going to be.  I ended up not using all of the squash, but I had a pretty big acorn squash that I was using.  If you have a smaller one, you might end up using all of it.

Squash and corn are added in!

And then the cheese.  You really need a good melting cheese–fresh mozzarella is good, but you can use something with a stronger flavor if you like.  And then you need freshly grated Parmesan.  I would really stay away from using the stuff in the green canister if at all possible–it’ll do in a pinch, but it’s so salty and the flavor is really quite different from Parmesan you buy in a block and grate yourself.  So get yourself a grater and a brick of Parmesan!  You’ll thank me!

Acorn Squash Risotto
(Serves 4)

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil (a drizzle and a splash)
  • 1 pat of butter 
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 5oz or 3/4c Arborio rice
  • 1/2c white wine (I find dry works better)
  • 2c vegetable stock (I use Rapunzel cubes, but I halve what the box calls for)
  • 1/2c frozen corn, thawed
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 1 leek
  • salt and pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3oz fresh mozzarella or other melting cheese
  • a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 400.  Cut your acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then place it face up on a baking sheet.  Drizzle it with a little olive oil and rub the oil in to the flesh.  Then cover it with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  Check it with a fork.  If it’s really hard still, set a timer for another 20 minutes.  If it’s getting soft, set the timer for another 10.  Check it again, and keep checking it at 10 minute intervals until a fork goes into it easily.  Then take it out of the oven and set it aside to cool.

Meanwhile, get out a small saucepan and pour the stock into it.  Keep it simmering on a back burner, and keep it covered so that it doesn’t boil off.  On another burner, get a medium-sized pan going on low heat (it was around 3 on my electric stove).  Add the pat of butter, a splash of olive oil, and the onion, along with a bit of salt and pepper, and a bit of thyme, finely chopped rosemary, and oregano.  I used dry herbs, but fresh herbs would make this even better.  Stir it around occasionally, and let it go for about five minutes until the onion starts to get soft.  While it’s cooking, scoop the flesh of the squash out of the skins and into a bowl.  Mix in the corn and then set it aside.

When the onions are ready, add the rice to the pan, and stir it around for about a minute or so until it’s well coated by the butter, oil and spices.

Pour in the wine, and stir it around more or less constantly until it gets absorbed by the rice.  Then you start adding your stock.  Add it one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, and wait until it’s fully absorbed before adding the next ladle.  By the time you’ve used most of your stock (maybe one or two ladle-fulls are left in the pan), your rice should be almost done.  Start adding your squash and corn to your risotto pan.  I added probably about 3/4 of the squash that I had, but if your squash was smaller, you might end up using all of it.  It all depends how “squash-y” you want the risotto to taste, so taste it periodically as you stir in more of the squash.  Then add in the leeks and garlic.

Mix it all together and let it continue to cook (while you continue to stir!)  The squash has a fair amount of liquid in it, so wait for it to thicken up a bit before continuing to add stock as before.  If you run out of stock and your rice still isn’t done, you can start adding hot water, but you probably won’t need much if any.

Once the rice is fully cooked, take your risotto off the heat.  Tear up the fresh mozzarella and toss that in, and grate in a generous amount of fresh Parmesan.  Add some crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how much of a kick you want to give it), and add salt and pepper to taste.  Then cover it up, and let it sit for several minutes to rest.

And that’s it!  Enjoy!