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!

Memorial Beans

Seems like we've all become so much more sophisticated about food than our parents' generation was. Exotic ingredients are available year round nearly everywhere. Delicious international restaurants are in even the smallest cities. And chain supermarkets have aisles of ethnic foods. But sometimes you just need to have a good old-fashioned American cookout. How can you top the classic barbecue with hamburgers and hot dogs (veg for me), potato salad, cole slaw and best of all, homemade baked beans?

I made Boston Baked Beans not too long ago so this time I took a crack at Jack's favorite, barbecued beans. I wanted to add bourbon, but I searched the liquor cabinet and came up empty and used beer instead. I'm not sure it added to the flavor, so if you try these, add about 1/2 cup of bourbon to the sauce and use all stock when cooking the beans.

Beer-Barbecued Baked Beans

1 lb. pea or navy beans
1 bottle of beer of choice
vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme






  • 1 pound California small white beans














  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped














  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, finely chopped














  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped














  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced














  • 3 tablespoons olive oil














  • 1 16-ounce can tomato sauce or 6 large fresh tomatoes chopped and stewed for 1hour














  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar














  • 1/4 cup thick molasses














  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard














  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce














  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves














  • chicken, veal, or pork stock (optional)














  • 2 bay leaves














  • 1 teaspoon salt














  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper














  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme















  • 1 pound California small white beans














  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped














  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, finely chopped














  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped














  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced














  • 3 tablespoons olive oil














  • 1 16-ounce can tomato sauce or 6 large fresh tomatoes chopped and stewed for 1hour














  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar














  • 1/4 cup thick molasses














  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard














  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce














  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves














  • chicken, veal, or pork stock (optional)














  • 2 bay leaves














  • 1 teaspoon salt














  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper














  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme









  • 1 pound California small white beans



















  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped














  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, finely chopped














  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped














  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced














  • 3 tablespoons olive oil














  • 1 16-ounce can tomato sauce or 6 large fresh tomatoes chopped and stewed for 1hour














  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar














  • 1/4 cup thick molasses














  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard














  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce














  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves














  • chicken, veal, or pork stock (optional)














  • 2 bay leaves














  • 1 teaspoon salt














  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper














  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme









  • 1 pound California small white beans



















  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped














  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, finely chopped














  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped














  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced














  • 3 tablespoons olive oil














  • 1 16-ounce can tomato sauce or 6 large fresh tomatoes chopped and stewed for 1hour














  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar














  • 1/4 cup thick molasses














  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard














  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce














  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves














  • chicken, veal, or pork stock (optional)














  • 2 bay leaves














  • 1 teaspoon salt














  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper














  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme









  • Saturday, May 29, 2010

    Black Lentils for a Busy Week

    Four work deadlines have converged and taken time out from my real life: bike riding, reading, gardening and most of all, cooking.I did manage to make some black lentil dal, called Kali Dal in various spellings. I've been staring at these split urad dal in the pantry for too long and thought it was time to make something of them. And because I have so much of them, I actually doubled the recipe, thinking I could send the leftovers home with the troops after our semi-regular Sunday family dinner. Unfortunately, the Sunday family dinner didn't materialize. Faced with all this dal in the fridge, I dipped into it for lunch a couple of times and found that the flavor gets better and better as it sits. Which shouldn't have been a surprise, really. Most bean dishes are better the next day. We served it with delicious garlic naan bought frozen at Trader Joe's. I promised myself I'd learn to make homemade naan one of these days. But not this week.

     Kali Dal

    1 cup split urad daal
    2 onions thinly sliced
    2 green chillies, minced
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 tomatoes, diced
    3" piece of ginger, peeled and grated
    2 tsps ground coriander
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne
    2 tbsps oil

    Wash the lentils and soak in water to cover overnight. Drain.

    Put lentils in a pan with 3 cups of water, 1/2 the onions, the chilis and a little salt. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until tender.

    In a skillet, saute the rest of the onion until transparent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, cumin, coriander and cayenne, and cook a little longer. Add the tomato mixture to the lentils. At this point if the dal is too thick add a little water or stock.Cook until creamy and thick. Correct the seasoning.

    2 tbsps butter
    1 tsp cumin seeds

    Wipe out the skillet and heat the butter. When it sizzles, add the cumin seeds and give them a stir. Cook until fragrant but don't let the seeds burn. Pour the butter and cumin over the lentils, put the lid on and turn off the heat. After a few minutes, give the dal a stir and serve.

      Tuesday, May 18, 2010

      Oil and Water

      As I watch the trail of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm shocked by the extent of offshore drilling. This NOAA graphic maps 3,858 active platforms and each platform supports multiple wells. Everyone's focused right now on the disastrous spill from the explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon well, but as catastrophic as that is, the very act of offshore drilling is harming the ocean environment every day.

      Lubricants and other waste drilling "muds" contain mercury, lead and cadmium that accumulate in marine life that makes its way to your dinner table. The water that comes up with the oil and gas contains tuolene, benzene, lead, arsenic and radioactive pollutants. This discharge ends up in local waters, marshes and inlets.

      Even the surveys they conduct to estimate the size of an oil reserve cause environmental damage. These surveys are done by ships towing airguns that emit high db impulses to map the ocean floor. The sounds damage fish eggs and larvae, disrupt migration and mating patterns and impair the hearing of fish and other marine life, making them vulnerable to predators. Onshore areas used as staging grounds for offshore rigs require infrastructure like roads, pipelines and processing plants, often built on pristine natural areas.

      On top of that day-to-day assault on the water, wetlands and wildlife, add the decades long disaster of an oil spill. Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez an estimated 20,000 gallons of oil is still wreaking havoc in Prince William Sound. We just don't know how to clean it up completely.

      Other sources of energy carry similar risks of environmental damage. Coal ash waste contains arsenic and lead that ends up in water supplies and wetlands. And radioactive waste from nuclear plants is forever, and can poison hundreds of square miles.

      When did it become acceptable to trash our planet?  How can any self-respecting public servant support reducing environmental regulations in exchange for campaign contributions? How is it possible that our government considers limiting liability when one of these companies causes an environmental disaster?

      I'm as addicted to electricity as anyone, but it's clear we have to change. We need to legislate and enforce environmental protections and fuel economy standards. We need to invest in alternative clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. And we need to change our attitudes about what it means to be an earthling. In particular we need to relinquish the old biblical concept of dominion, and instead become stewards of our planet.

      Finally, I suggest that those people in Massachusetts who are against the wind farm off Cape Cod take a little journey down to the sugar-white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico before they're destroyed for generations by our greed and inertia. Wind farms are beautiful. Dead wildlife is not.

      Gulf Coast Beans and Rice
      This is my vegetarian take on Cajun rice and beans

      1 cup of red kidney beans, soaked overnight
      1 yellow onion, chopped
      2 cloves garlic, minced
      1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
      1 stalk celery, chopped
      1 bay leaf
      1/3 cup parsley, chopped
      1/2 package Trader Joe's soy chorizo
      3 cups vegetable broth
      2-3 green onions, sliced

      Saute the onions, garlic, celery and pepper in a little olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add the soy chorizo and cook a few more minutes. Add the drained beans, bay leaf, parsley and broth. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer gently until the beans are just tender. Correct seasoning.

      Serve with rice.

      Tuesday, May 11, 2010

      Lillian R. Again and Again

      I was a new vegetarian in 1977 when I moved to State College, PA, with my 3-year-old son to attend Penn State. We happily explored the town together and found what would be our favorite food store for the next six years. It was called New Morning Natural Foods and it was my first experience with recycling and buying in bulk. We learned to reuse glass and plastic containers and scoop our own honey and tahini and peanut butter. We carefully folded and saved small brown bags for dried beans and grains.  

      We fell into the reuse-recycle routine easily, and I realized why almost immediately. On one of our trips to New Jersey to visit my mom, she loaded us up, as mothers do, with bags of groceries, leftovers and road snacks. One of the bags was a little brown paper lunch sack with her name, Lillian R, written in her beautiful Palmer Method cursive. She'd used it to take lunch to her church sewing circle meeting, saved the bag, brought it home and passed it on to us. She grew up in the depression, and saving was a way of life.

      We added the bag to our collection for shopping at New Morning. The first time we used it the shopkeeper noticed the name and asked about it. I told him about my mom and her lunch and New Jersey. We decided there must have been another Lillian at the sewing circle, prompting her to add the 'R'.  We used that bag over and over, week after week, for beans and rice and bulgur and nuts. Every time we went to the checkout counter the shopkeeper would say, "Ah, we've still got Lillian R." I told my mom she was famous at New Morning and we laughed about it.

      We took good care of that bag and used it for a very long time. One day I noticed it was missing from the pile. I don't know what happened to it; it just disappeared. But by that time the habit of reuse-recycle was a way of life, in part because of our personal connection to that one little bag and the pleasure we got from seeing my mom's name again and again.

      America's had a tough time catching up to many other industrialized countries in recycling, maybe because we're a throwaway society or maybe because we have so much land that using some for garbage dumps doesn't seem to matter much.We're finally getting the hang of it, though, even if we're not quite as sophisticated as some places.

      A few years ago on a trip to Germany I got sick on a morning train to Passau. I was dizzy and nauseated and by the time we got to the station I had to throw up. I grabbed the empty bakery bag from our breakfast pastries and hurled. Now grossed out in addition to dizzy and nauseated, I stumbled through the station looking for a trashcan to dump the bag. What I found was a long bank of labeled containers with strict instructions for their use: metal, glass, plastic, paper, etc. There I was, holding a paper bag of puke, wondering which bin to use. I wanted to be a good recycler but between trying to translate the German lists of acceptable materials, and an inability to categorize the bag and its contents, I had a hard time deciding. Paper? Yes, but --- ? The bag started to leak and I quickly chose Mülle, which I think means garbage, but it was a stressful moment and I wonder even now if some municipal worker in Passau cursed my ignorance.

      In my video production work I've been to many dumps and landfills and scrap metal yards and nuclear waste sites. It's staggering how much waste this country generates and we've really got to get a handle on it. All we  can do, I guess, is start at home. We save and reuse everything, and what we can't reuse we try to recycle. Jack thinks I take it to extremes when I wash and reuse plastic freezer bags, but we do what we can and I've got to believe it makes a difference.

      New Morning Natural Foods is gone now. I loved that store; shopping there helped me make the transition to vegetarian cooking and the sandwiches they sold gave me tons of ideas for meatless lunches. The sandwiches were made with hummus or tabouli or something called miso pate, always on pita. The best-selling sandwich was called Peanut Better, a concoction of peanut butter, bananas, applesauce and raisins that weighed about a pound and was nearly impossible to finish. I have fond memories of those sandwiches and replicated most of them through the years.

      This week I wanted to cook adzuki beans for Monday Beans, and thinking back to New Morning inspired me to make a sandwich they might have made. It's light and healthy, if a little messy to eat.


      Adzuki Bean Salad in a Pita
      (based on a recipe in Gourmet, September 1994)

      1/2 cup adzuki beans, washed
      broth to cover by an inch or so

      Bring the beans to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until just tender. Drain. (I didn't soak these and it took about 50 minutes for them to be fully cooked. I don't know if soaking would reduce that.)

      1 large carrot, finely diced
      2 stalks celery, finely diced
      6 stalks of asparagus, steamed and cut in 1/2" pieces
      1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
      1/4 cup finely diced red onion
      a couple of handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
      2 2-inch strips of lemon zest, very finely julienned

      Mix together in a bowl; add the cooked beans. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 clove of garlic, finely minced, 2 Tbps. each of olive oil and lemon juice. Pour over salad and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

      At this point you can go several different ways. You can go Mediterranean and add fresh basil and grated Romano. You can go Turkish and add cilantro and mint. Or you can do what I did this time and add ground cumin, coriander and a little cayenne. Be creative and add whatever you're in the mood for.

      Fill pita halves with the salad. Add sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Or just put it on a plate.

      Tuesday, May 4, 2010

      Cuatro de Mayo

      This week is Cinco de Mayo, commemorating the victory of the Mexican army over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It's something we almost always celebrate in our house because it's an opportunity to have a theme party featuring our favorite Mexican foods, tequila drinks and beers. But for me, and for many people of my generation, Cinco de Mayo will forever be overshadowed by what happened on May 4th, 1970, at Kent State University.

      I was 18 that May, young and lost, trying to understand what was going on around me and out in the world. I had spent the previous year as an exchange student in Sweden, an experience at once exhilarating and disorienting and I arrived home in July 1969 to the moon landing and something called the "Vietnamization" of the war. That was followed by Charles Manson, My Lai, the draft lottery, Altamont, Apollo 13 and Cambodia. The number of dead in Southeast Asia hit 50,000 but it would be 1971 before the 18-year-old boys being drafted would be allowed to vote. At the same time there was Woodstock and Earth Day and the Moratorium to End the War. We were full of hope and optimism even as we saw the mess our parents' generation had made.

      The one thing that expressed the confusion, fear, anger and power we were feeling was the music we listened to. Buffalo Springfield, Country Joe, Bob Dylan, Edwin Starr, John Fogerty, John Lennon and others gave us anthems to sing and a connection to each other that remains to this day. They were our age and they spoke to everything we were feeling and some things we hadn't thought of on our own yet and they made us believe we could change the world.

      I remember feeling the power of youth and the absolute certainty that my generation knew more than our elders and that the world we would create would be better than before. And then came May 4th, and the news that the Ohio National Guard fired live ammunition into a crowd of college students protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was a punch to the gut. I remember the moment, and I remember thinking, "they're killing us."

      For me it was the beginning of distrust, of cynicism, of defeat. What had been a renaissance of art and philosophy, peace and love, became the butt of jokes and a theme of Halloween costumes. A few months after Kent State we lost Jimi Hendrix, then Janis Joplin. It would be five more years before the fall of Saigon and the end of US involvement in Vietnam. But at least we had the music.

      Four dead in Ohio.

       
      Spiced Red Beans

      1 lb. Dominican Red Beans
      1 medium onion, quartered
      1 bay leaf

      Wash the beans, then bring to a boil in water to cover. Add the onion and bay leaf, reduce heat and simmer until beans are just tender.

      3 Tbsp. oil
      1 large onion, chopped
      2-3 jalapeno peppers, minced
      3 cloves garlic

      1 box of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1/2 tsp cinnamon
      1/4 tsp ground cloves
      juice of half a lemon
      1 tsp chipotle chili, or to taste


      While the beans are cooking, saute the onion and garlic in the oil; add the jalapenos and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes, salt, cinnamon, cloves and lemon juice. Simmer for a few minutes.

      When the beans are nearly tender, add the tomato mixture and simmer the beans for as long as you want. Correct the seasoning, then add chipotle to taste.
      I like to make beans like this at least a day before we're going to eat them to allow the flavors to develop. I initially served them as a side dish with enchiladas for our early Cinco de Mayo dinner, but on Monday we ate them alone with rice and a little salsa verde. Delicious!

      Tuesday, April 27, 2010

      Appalachian Beans in my Dreams

      This week we drove 1100 miles to South Carolina and back for a 3-hour video shoot. Our route took us the length of West Virginia, over the mountains of southwest Virgina, and across North Carolina. This is the heart of Appalachia, one of the most distinctive cultural areas in America. 
      I've loved Appalachia ever since I read Catherine Marshall's "Christy" as a kid and started picking bluegrass classics on the guitar during the folk music craze of the sixties.  I've camped nearly the length of the mountain chain from Maine to Georgia and hiked to the top of Mt. Marcy, Mt. Washington, Mt. Rogers, Mt. Mitchell and Clingman's Dome. I feel as at home in these woods as I do in my own back yard. 

      On any road trip we try to balance the desire to explore and appreciate the countryside with the need to get to our destination. We get off the interstate when we can and drive the back roads through small towns looking for places where the locals eat, always asking our hometown server what the specialties are. This time we did that, but for mile after mile, all we found were strip malls and fast food chains, an endless stream of Shoney's, Bojangles, KFC/Taco Bell, CiCi's, Buffalo's, and McWendy King. We'd get to the end of the strip, drive a couple of miles through rolling hills and the sequence would begin again, usually anchored by a Walmart. Try as we might we found not one locally owned restaurant. Our last day, wending our way through southern West Virgina looking for a homemade breakfast we finally gave up and pulled into the Cracker Barrel.
      What's happening to Appalachia? What's happening to America? Everyone complains that Walmart puts local shops out of business, but is anyone concerned that chain restaurants are killing the local cuisine? We ended up eating at Buffalo's, Fatz and the Cracker Barrel, and all were packed with locals, groups of friends celebrating the end of the work week, young couples enjoying Saturday night, families sharing brunch after church. But they were all eating food chosen for them by corporate interests located far from their homeland with little awareness of local specialties.

      When we got home I looked up beans in Appalachia and discovered that in West Virginia they make something called soup beans, which are plain pinto beans cooked with fatback or other porky pieces, served with cornbread. Fatback is not going to happen in my vegetarian kitchen, but I managed to make some beans that filled the void we felt after a thousand miles of laminated menus.

      Mushroom Beans with Ramps
       
      1 cup pinto beans, soaked overnight, drained
      1 small onion
      1 bay leaf
      mushroom broth
      2 Tbsp. olive oil
      1/3 cup dried mushrooms
      5-6 ramps
      chopped red onion
      chow-chow

      Cover the drained beans with mushroom broth to cover; add the olive oil, the whole onion and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the beans are not quite tender.

      Meanwhile, cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and let stand until the mushrooms are softened. Drain the mushrooms, reserving liquid. Sometimes dried mushrooms are a little gritty, so wash well until running water, then pat dry with paper towels and chop fine. Add to the beans. Strain the soaking liquid (I use a paper coffee filter) and add to the beans.

      When the beans are about tender, add a splash of cider vinegar and liquid smoke to taste. Correct seasoning.


      Wash the ramps well. Trim the roots, then thinly slice the bulbs and stems. Stack the leaves and slice fine. Saute the bulbs and stems in a little butter. When they're transparent, add the leaves and stir until wilted. Add the ramps to the beans when you're ready to serve.

      The traditional accompaniment to West Virginia Soup Beans is an old-fashioned cabbage relish called chow-chow, a particular favorite of my mother. I couldn't find any locally (why didn't I buy some when I was in WV?!?) so we're using a corn salsa from Trader Joe's and some fresh chopped red onion. The added flavors give the beans a nice kick.

      We ate these beans with homemade cornbread and pretended we were sitting at a little Mom 'n' Pop filled with locals and bluegrass and tables covered in oilcloth, with a view of the New River. We'd like to believe that place is out there; we just couldn't find it.

      Wednesday, April 21, 2010

      Cannellini on the Set

      I've been making my living in video production for nearly 30 years. Most of the time I work on small projects with a crew of one to five. We usually only shoot for a few days in a couple of locations, then edit for a week or so, which means that projects come and go pretty quickly.

      Once, during the late 90s I was part of a large crew shooting the live-action sequences for two video games, Black Dahlia and Jet Fighter: Full Burn. My role was organizational rather than creative, but it was interesting to work on one project for months on end in the same location with a big cast and crew. Even more interesting was that since these were video games and the locations and backgrounds were created by the animators, all of the people scenes were shot in front of a plain colored background and then composited into the scenes by a process called chroma key.

      One thing about the movie business is that you eat well. Too well sometimes. There's food everywhere all the time and much of it not very healthy. Luckily on this job we had a terrific caterer who prepared a hearty hot lunch every day for anywhere from 20 to 80 people, depending on how many actors and extras were on set on the day. I was the only vegetarian yet Cindy always had several dishes that I could eat and I never went hungry.

      The first few months of this marathon were in the darkest, coldest winter and nearly every day there was hot soup on the lunch buffet to start the meal. Surprisingly, many of these soups were vegetarian and the one that most knocked my socks off was Tuscan White Bean and Escarole. I begged for the recipe but Cindy just smiled and changed the subject. That sent me on a mission to replicate the soup, and after many tries I finally succeeded. It's one of our family's favorites and perfect for chilly nights. It's probably worth doubling the recipe to have some in the freezer for when you come home cold and tired to your own hungry cast and crew.

      PS: If you ever play the game Black Dahlia and get to the very end, I am Severed Head #2. It's my only on-screen credit ever, and I'm pretty proud of it. :) 

      Tuscan White Bean and Escarole Soup

      1 cup cannellini or other white beans, soaked overnight
      1 small onion
      1 bay leaf

      Cook the soaked beans with the onion and bay leaf in water to cover until barely tender. Drain.

      1 stalk of celery
      1 carrot
      1 onion
      2 cloves garlic
      1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary

      Mince together until very fine, then saute in a little olive oil until golden and aromatic. Add the drained beans and 1 quart of vegetable broth. Simmer for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

      Chop one small head of escarole and swirl in fresh water until clean. Drain and add to soup. Simmer another 15 minutes or so, then taste and correct seasoning. I add a little cayenne for punch, a splash of cider vinegar for sparkle and a lot of freshly ground black pepper for bass notes.

      For some reason, every time I make this soup the flavor is a little thin at first, maybe because the water in the escarole dilutes the broth. I have a couple of secret fixes for that. Either one of these will pump up the flavor. Add just a little at a time; too much and your soup ends up too salty.

      I usually make this in the fall, but we've had such unseasonably cold weather here lately that when I saw the escarole in the market I snatched it up and put the beans on to soak. We've got a fire in the fireplace, biscuits in the oven and this soup simmering on the stove. What a great way to warm up a cool April Monday!