Monday, April 8, 2013

Travelin' Beans

Two and a half years have gone by. We sold our house and bought a 40-foot catamaran that is now our home. After nearly a year traveling up and down the east coast and learning the boat systems we finally made the jump to the Bahamas, the first big step in what we hope will be a trip around the world. You can read about it all <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.
On one of our first forays off the boat in the Bahamas I ordered Peas and Rice at Angela Starfish on Harbour Island.
They were so good I had to ask how to make them. Angela was a little vague, not because she didn't want to share a secret recipe but I think because she couldn't believe there was anyone on earth who didn't already know how to make them. Finally I wheedled out of her a few key ingredients: onions, peppers, thyme. It's a start.
Back at the boat I spent some time with my cookbooks and searched online for an authentic recipe for Bahamian Peas and Rice. No go. But I put the pigeon peas on to soak anyway Sunday night. Monday morning Bandit showed up to collect our mooring fee and I asked him about making peas and rice. He was pretty suspicious of the question at first but eventually I think he figured I was asking in earnest and began a long, explicit step by step explanation of the process. I wish I could convey his lovely lilting accent as he patiently talked me through the recipe.
He started the recipe with 2 strips of bacon, chopped up and fried, but said you could use oil instead and I did.
Sauté chopped onions and green pepper (I only had red pepper) for a while. Add thyme. I didn't have any fresh thyme so I used about a little less than a teaspoon of dried.
"How about garlic?" I asked.
"It's whatever you like. However you like it."
I added garlic.
Then add about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. Some recipes I saw said tomato paste but I asked Bandit and he said "regular tomato sauce," whatever that is. I used 1/2 cup of generic sauce from a jar that I happened to have in the fridge.
"And some Lea & Perrins, salt and pepper."
"Cook that for 20 minutes," my informant said.
"Really? Twenty minutes?" It seemed like a long time to me, but he gave me a knowing nod. In reality, I cooked it for about five minutes.
Add a cup of rice and stir and cook for a few more minutes before adding 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then add pigeon peas, either canned, drained, or home-cooked, as I did. I used the bean cooking water as part of the liquid for the rice.
Give it all another stir, cover and reduce the flame to low.
"And don't touch it again," said Bandit. "If you have to stir, use a fork and run that through."
I didn't touch it, even though I knew the burners on our propane-fired boat stove won't turn down low enough not to scorch the bottom of almost anything I cook. On the other hand, some recipes I read said this crusty bottom is key the the dish.
When the rice was cooked I turned off the burner and let the pot sit for a few minutes with the lid on. I like to think that helps loosen the stuck bottom but I'm not sure it really works. In the end I scraped the bits out and mixed it all up.
Add hot sauce if you must, but this dish was delicious as is.
The next day I thanked Bandit and told him his directions were perfect!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Senior Year Beans

My sister and I grew up in a little town on the outer suburbs of Philadelphia. Ridley Park is just over one square mile in area and when we lived there the population was under 10,000. We had our own high school, distinctive because it had a girl's entrance and a boy's entrance (not enforced by the time we were there) and at school assemblies boys sat on one side and girls on the other. This was a public school, mind you, so I don't know why we were separated. But it was a great school with small class size and wonderful teachers who cared about us and who believed that good students should be allowed to rise to the top and poorer students should be nurtured and encouraged. At our school, no child was left behind.

Ridley Park High School had about 750 students in grades 7-12 and since there weren't separate junior and senior high schools, my sister and I, four years apart, were in the same building for two years until she graduated. I loved being in the same school with my sister. I saw her at assemblies or in the hall between classes. I watched her with her friends and studied how to act around boys and teachers and coaches. She was beautiful and smart and popular and involved in everything from school plays and chorus to field hockey to the Hi-Q team. I idolized her and wanted to be just like her.

The year my sister was a senior our school hosted a foreign exchange student for the first and only time. He was "Willie from Chile" and seeing him in our school planted a seed in my mind. The idea of spending a year in another country was thrilling, but alas, our school didn't send any students abroad.

Two years later Ridley Park High School was knocked down to make room for a new middle school. We were sent to a big regional high school miles away where we were separated into rigid tracks and herded into large classes with teachers who didn't know us and hadn't taught our our older sibs. I was in 10th grade, and while I liked making new friends I missed the intimacy and academic challenge of Ridley Park. I knew within months that my high school experience would be different from my sister's.

One day at the beginning of my junior year they announced over the PA that anyone interested in applying to be a exchange student should see their guidance counselor. O happy day! I applied immediately without even discussing it with my parents. I was determined to do it, partly because I thought it was the only way I'd ever get to travel to another country and partly because I had no allegiance to my new school and missing my senior year didn't mean much.

For the next few months I was focused on getting accepted to the exchange program. There were applications, transcripts, essays, medical forms and hours and hours of interviews in hushed conference rooms with men in suits. Finally I was accepted, and by spring of 1968 I knew I would be spending my senior year in Sweden.

A few weeks ago I found Swedish Brown Beans at IKEA. During my entire year in Sweden I never ate or even heard of brown beans. I emailed my Swedish brother and asked for an authentic recipe but he wrote back, "I think it is not so common anymore. Younger people in Sweden are more into Asian food." A little internet searching got me to this recipe, and frankly, they were so delicious I'd rank them in the top five of Monday Beans so far this year. If you've got an IKEA near you, pick up a bag.

Swedish Brown Beans (Bruna Bönor) 

1 bag of Swedish Brown Beans (18 oz)

Soak the beans in water to cover overnight. The next day, bring the beans to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours or so until almost tender. Mine took much longer for some reason. 

Add to the beans:

1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup molasses
3 Tbsp brown sugar

Simmer for another hour or so until the beans are tender. My beans took a long time to cook and I eventually had to resort to the pressure cooker, but even then the beans kept their shape and didn't get all mushy. 

Some recipes recommended adding cinnamon and nutmeg to the beans, but I left them without the spices and instead served them on cinnamon raisin toast. They were fantastic, and even though the recipe makes a lot, I lapped them up for lunch all week until they were gone. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Salad Tacos

We love tacos. We love filling the center of the table with bowls and plates of sliced onions, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, guacamole, chopped hard-boiled egg and salsas. We assemble our own with refried beans, reaching and passing and getting messy and overstuffed. It's a great casual dinner with friends or family, but what if it's just the two of us? This week I came up with a great way to have tacos with less mess by combining the taco basics -- tortillas, beans and cheese -- with one of my favorite summer dishes, chopped salad. Jack and I agree that it's now our favorite way to have tacos; every one is perfect and delicious and there are fewer dishes to wash!

Summer Salad Tacos

1 lb. Dominican Red Beans, rinsed and soaked overnight. Any beans will do. I usually make refrieds with black beans but I'm trying to branch out and these are pretty.
 Drain the beans, cover with fresh water and cook until very tender with a chopped onion and a couple of bay leaves. Drain, but save the cooking liquid.

Saute in corn oil a large onion, chopped, and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced. Add a couple of minced jalapeno peppers and a can of chopped tomatoes or an equivalent amount of fresh.
Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground cloves and the juice of half a lemon. Simmer for a while, then add the drained beans. Cook until the beans are falling apart. Use the cooking liquid if they get too thick. Most people mash them into a puree, but I like some texture to them. Do them however you like. Add salt -- you'll need a lot -- and correct the seasoning.
For the salad we chopped lettuce, red onions, seeded cucumber, peeled avocado, green peppers and tomatoes. I also had a small yellow squash that I diced and sauteed until brown. If I'd had fresh corn or zucchini I'd have added those too. I suppose you could dress the salad, but I left it plain.
Assemble tacos with the beans and grated cheese, then pile on the chopped salad and top with salsa.They were so good we had them again a few nights later.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Favas for the Fourth

Months ago I bought some dried fava beans with no specific plans for them. I confess I'd never eaten favas, fresh or dried, and like most people I can't say "fava beans" without adding "and a nice chianti" and doing that creepy rodent-like sucking thing Sir Anthony did in the movie.

It's time to try them and a turn around the interwebs led me to some ideas. These are pretty plain and very similar to previous red beans, but the favas didn't hold their shape and that made the dish thicker and heartier.

I shared with a bean-loving friend and he gave them a thumbs up. We had the leftovers with eggs for Sunday breakfast, 'cause everything's better with eggs.

Dried Favas with Chorizo

2 cups of fava beans, soaked overnight, drained. Cook in water to cover and a teaspoon of salt until just tender. Cool and peel.
Saute together in a litle olive oil:
1 large onion, chopped
1 or 2 garlic scapes, minced or a couple of cloves of garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 pkg Trader Joe's soy chorizo

Add a can of chopped tomatoes, or fresh if you're lucky enough to have vine-ripened this early. Stir together until bubbling. Add the beans and simmer together for however long you want. My beans fell apart such that there were very few whole beans left in the pot.
Correct the seasoning. I didn't add any cayenne or  hot pepper flakes because the soy chorizo is perfectly spiced as is. You can season it further if you want.

Serve with rice and garnish with fresh parsely.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

School's Out Masala

My sister and brother-in-law retired last week, she after 38 years as a high school librarian, he after 35 years as a high school biology teacher and department head. Jack and I and almost everyone we know have always worked freelance, so experiencing a formal retirement was a new thing for us. Our ilk just eventually stop working when we decide the return is no longer worth the effort. My sister and BIL both loved their jobs, as I think most good teachers do, but they're happy to call it a day and move on to the next phase of their lives.
We were glad to be there to celebrate with them, but we came home to a nearly bare larder, with Monday Beans looming. We hadn't had chick peas for a while, so I've decided to make one of my favorite Indian dishes. This isn't really a summer dish, since it doesn't rely on fresh farm ingredients, and in fact can be made with cans from your cupboard in the dead of winter when you're snowed in.

As much as I love Indian food, I can't seem to make it with ease so I usually rely on this or that cookbook. This version of Chana Masala is based largely on "Very Spicy, Delicious Chick Peas" from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, a well-thumbed and thoroughly post-it noted volume on my cookbook shelf. I've changed it up a bit mostly because I like my chana masala more tomatoey and gingery, and also because my garam masala is a bit old and needs to be replaced. I think Indian food, like chili beans, is a personal thing and you can adjust the seasonings to your taste. Maybe I'm wrong about that and the amounts are actually prescribed and rigid. But I like to think not.

Chana Masala

2 cups dried chick peas

Cook the chick peas in water to cover until just tender. Drain, reserving liquid. 

2 Tbsp. oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced

Saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until caramelized. 
Stir together:
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. turmeric

Add the mixture to the onions and garlic; cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add a box of chopped tomatoes, or an equal amount of fresh tomatoes, diced. Cook until heated through.
Add the drained chick peas and a cup of their cooking liquid, more if the tomatoes aren't juicy.

Stir together:
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. amchoor powder
2 tsp. paprika
2-3 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

Add to chick peas. Stir and cook for 10-30 minutes. Add more liquid if you want it soupier. Add the juice of half a lemon, some minced fresh chili pepper and a 2-inch piece of ginger, grated. Correct seasoning.

Serve with rice or naan or both.
 The leftovers are going to make a delicious omelet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Early CSA Overload

Our CSA farm started with a bang this season. As always, the first few weeks are mostly lettuce and greens, herbs, spring onions and garlic scapes. We live on main course salads during June, trying to keep up with the produce we get every week.
When Monday rolled around this week I happened to come across a wonderful article by Anna Thomas in the latest issue of Yoga Journal about her book Love Soup and including a few recipes. I do love soup but I mostly make it in the fall and winter when a fragrant pot bubbling on the back of the stove warms the house and the soul. When I think of summer soups I think of cool gazpacho or Deborah Madison's Zucchini-Cilantro Soup, a favorite I often freeze during the zucchini abundance of July for a taste of summer in January.

So here's my idol Anna Thomas with three beautiful summery soups and one of them addresses both the challenge of Monday Beans and our CSA overload. To make it a perfect choice, Drew and Ericka brought some fresh oregano from their garden. I adjusted the recipe from the original based on what we actually had and on our preferences.

Butter Bean and Summer Vegetable Soup

1 cup dried giant lima beans

1 tsp. salt
2 onions
1 red bell pepper (I had an orange one)
1-1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes
6 oz. green beans
8 oz. summer squash
6 oz. spinach
2 garlic scapes, chopped
1 qt. light vegetable broth
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano
juice of half a lemon

Cook the beans in 7 cups of water until tender, then add the teaspoon of salt. Set aside, reserving the cooking liquid.

Saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat until caramelized. Add the garlic scapes and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Char the pepper either on a gas burner, a grill or a broiler. Let it cool, then peel, seed and chop.
Dice the summer squash; trim the green beans and cut in 1" pieces. Toss together with a little olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven until lightly browned, turning a few times during cooking. Wash and trim the spinach and coarsely chop. Skin and chop the tomatoes. I used a box of chopped tomatoes because we don't get fresh ones around here until nearly August.

In a large pot combine the broth, the beans and tomatoes, all of the vegetables and the herbs. Add bean cooking liquid if necessary to bring to soup to the desired consistency. Cook for 20-30 minutes, then add the lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Taste for salt. Anna Thomas recommends a swirl of olive oil on top. I left that out because I'm dieting and don't need the extra calories. I don't think the soup suffered for it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuscany on 21st Street

Jack and I don't go to supermarkets much. We have a shopping route that mostly takes us up and down the streets of the Strip District to produce markets and specialty stores, particularly our favorites, Penn Mac, Stamooli's, and Reyna's. We do our shopping and reward ourselves with espresso and cappuccino at La Prima Espresso on 21st Street where on weekday mornings the customers are mostly groups of men playing cards and talking in animated Italian. Next door and connected to La Prima is Colangelo's Bakery, offering various pastries but also delicious and reasonably priced lunches.

Last week we were later than usual in our shopping and found ourselves at La Prima just after noon and hungry. We ordered sandwiches and went outside to wait and enjoy our coffee drinks. When our food came we were delighted to see a simple bean salad on the plate. We tasted and inspected it, then I went inside to ask what was in it, in case there were super-secret ingredients we wouldn't know about. Nope. It's as simple as it looks, fresh-tasting and a perfect accompaniment to an Italian sandwich or other Mediterranean entree.

Tuscan Bean Salad

1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
broth to cover

Drain the beans and cook in the broth until just tender. Drain.

1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper. diced
3-4 scallions, sliced
a handful of fresh basil, chiffonaded
balsamic vinaigrette, either homemade or bottled, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and correct seasoning. Let stand for an hour to allow flavors to develop. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

We enjoyed them with a Mediterranean Chard Pie. Perfect!