Monday, January 25, 2010

Modified Can Night

Awhile back we enjoyed a series of books by Lin and Larry Pardey about their sail around the world in the 24-ft Seraffyn. The books are charming and adventurous and worth a read. The Pardeys sailed -- and still do -- without refrigeration, and used to rely heavily on canned food on their long passages. When they needed to reprovision they would scout local stores and buy one of each kind of canned food that appealed to them and have "can night" where they would cook from the cans and decide which ones were good enough to lay in.

We don't eat anything from cans but I do have the habit of tossing things in the freezer when I cook too much or when I don't have time to use something before it will spoil. So today we're doing our version of can night -- cooking whatever is in the pantry and freezer. I scrounged around and assembled a bag of dried giant lima beans, a box of vegetable broth, a bag of mixed mushrooms I had sauteed and frozen about a month ago and some CSA kale blanched and frozen last summer. I don't even like limas so I can't remember what possessed me to buy them, but they're beans and it's Monday so let's make something of it.

Giant Limas with Mushrooms and Kale

1/2 lb. dried giant limas, soaked overnight
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 c. vegetable broth
1 lb. mixed mushrooms (I used shitakes and baby bellas)
1/2 bunch kale, blanched, squeezed dry and chopped
a few sprigs of thyme
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. or more berbere

Now here's where my lima inexperience revealed itself. When I drained the beans in the morning I noticed the skins were loose and yucky looking. Whenever I cook edamame I slip the skins off, so I figured I had to do this to the limas, too. Tedious, but zenlike.

Put the beans in a pan with the broth and thyme, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until beans are tender. (And here I realized that without the skins to hold the beans together, they pretty much disintegrated. Onward.)

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until golden; add to the beans. Saute the mushrooms on high heat until browned; add to beans along with the kale.

Add berbere or, if you don't have any, try a little smoked paprika, or cayenne pepper, or whatever appeals to you. You want the beans to be a little spicy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

We thought these were delicious, and ate them with a loaf of Irish soda bread from a mix I found in the pantry.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haitian Heartbreak

We listened in dread last Tuesday as the first reports of the earthquake trickled in, and just like during Katrina and Aceh, dread turned to horror as we began to comprehend the extent of the destruction and human suffering.

Haiti is never far from our minds here in Point Breeze because we live just up the street from The Friends of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti, the Pittsburgh fundraising headquarters of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. The office is a double storefront on our quiet block-long business district where they display and sell Haitian art and sponsor events to benefit the hospital (which survived the quake and is up and running ) and other health, economic and environmental projects in Haiti.

Despite seeing images of Haiti every day, all we really knew about the country is that it used to be a French colony and it's the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Jack and I turned to each other and wondered "why is Haiti so poor?" Google lead us to this essay, a good summary of Haiti's history and the factors that have kept the people in such dire circumstances for 200 years. It's worth a read.

There are many ways to help the relief effort. Here's a list to help you decide but please don't delay. There's an immediate need for water and medical supplies.

It's no surprise that beans and rice are a staple of Haiti's creole cuisine. Today we're having Diri Kole Ak Pwa Rouj, based on this recipe   from A Taste of Haiti by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas.

Rice and Red Beans
Diri Kole Ak Pwa Rouj

1 cup dried kidney beans
3 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 scallion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
2 cups long-grain rice
2 whole cloves
1 green Scotch bonnet pepper
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig

To cook dried beans:
Wash beans and drain. Place in a saucepan with 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and boil on medium-low heat, uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. When the skins wrinkle, taste to see that they are fork tender. Drain and keep liquid for cooking rice. This gives the rice a very nice color and lots of taste.

Heat oil in a cast iron pot on medium heat. Stir in garlic, onion, scallion, 2 teaspoons salt and black pepper for 2 minutes. Add and stir the cooked beans and fry for 5 minutes until the beans are crisp. Add 4 cups of liquid from the beans and bring to a boil. Add rice and cloves, stir and boil until the water evaporates. Lower heat, stir rice and place the whole Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme and parsley on top of rice. Cover and let cook for 30 minutes. Remove hot pepper, thyme and parsley. Stir before serving.

I reduced the rice to 1 cup and the liquid to 2 cups because in addition to promising to make beans every Monday, I'm also trying to not have leftovers. I probably should have just cut the recipe in half for the two of us because we had a lot left over.

I couldn't find a scotch bonnet pepper in January but I did manage to find a habanero. Whether that made a big difference I don't know because these beans were not at all spicy as we expected. Next time I would cut the pepper up and add it with the onions and garlic.

The beans were good and we spent the meal thinking about the trauma in Haiti, and sending golden healing vibrations their way.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Still with the flu

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Believe it or not I'm still not over the lingering flu, and because of that, tonight's beans will be the comfort food I crave when I'm sick -- simple Indian dal. For this I'm relying on my personal cooking goddess, Anna Thomas, author of The Vegetarian Epicure Books One and Two, The New Vegetarian Epicure, and the newer Love Soup.

I became vegetarian sometime in 1976 and struggled with how to cook without meat for a few years. I had some fairly radical input from friends who were macrobiotic, and experimented with unusual ingredients that were hard to find at the time. What I found challenging was putting food on the table that was both meatless and hearty without being overly dairy-laden. I was raised on meat and potatoes and I wasn't ready to live a life of salads.

Enter Anna Thomas, who proved that meatless cooking can be hearty and flavorful.. Many of her foods taste like they might be heirloom dishes handed down through generations, largely because she honors her Polish heritage even as she explores other cuisines. Book Two includes a chapter of Indian recipes and I admit they were the first Indian foods I ever ate. I think I made every one of those recipes, then went on to learn some more authentic Indian cooking, but the simple Dal on page 310 became an instant household favorite. During college I would make a batch and take it to school for lunch. Through the years it's been my go-to easy comfort food, especially when a head cold or upper respiratory infection calls for something spicy and sinus-clearing that doesn't require slaving over a hot stove all day. 

The rice accompaniment on page 311 is another Anna Thomas favorite, Plain Pilaf. It's an easy, fragrant rice flavored with green peas, almonds, cardamon, cinnamon and raisins. Together, the rice and lentils constitute a vegetarian meal we categorize in this house as "brown and lumpy," but it's so delicious and comforting that we don't care what it looks like.

Thanks, Anna Thomas!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Success, I think

We had the beans Monday tonight with crostini I made from a small sourdough loaf that needed to be eaten, and Jack had some leftover rice. I still only have about two working taste buds because of the lingering flu but as far as I could tell, these were pretty good. Not traditional Tuscan flavor perhaps, but I don't really know what else to call them. For me, the key was the roasted red onion. It's my favorite ingredient in a lot of food, and of course it's better to grill them but with a few inches of snow on the deck that was out of the question.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The beans are in the pot

Every year two circumstances coincide to force a New Year's resolution. I get buried in the last huge CSA boxes of root vegetables, and I buy too much food for holiday entertaining. When I see how full the larder is I resolve to EAT WHAT WE HAVE, damn it, and not keep buying things just because they're on sale or they look good or I'm in the mood for something else or I want to try a new recipe.

This year is even worse than ever because I came down with the flu two days before Christmas and had to cancel the big family Christmas dinner with all the food already bought and much of it half prepared. I could feed the block for a week with what's in the house. Luckily not too much of it was fragile, and what was I managed to salvage by cooking and freezing.

All of this is to say that until further notice, while Jack WILL have his Monday beans, I'll be making them with whatever we have in the house and hoping to reduce the ridiculous overflow in the pantry and fridge.

It's Sunday, the Steelers game is starting in half an hour, and I've already got the beans in the pot for tomorrow. I'm still on the tail end of the flu and don't trust my tastebuds so Jack will be the judge of how these turn out.

Tuscan White Beans

1 lb. great northern beans (I'd have preferred cannellini but didn't have any)
1 large red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage (use meat if you want)
1 small sweet potato
1 box Kitchen Basics Vegetable Stock
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp. minced fresh sage
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover, then drain and put them in the slow cooker with the stock.

Cut the onion in half lengthwise, then in thin wedges. Toss with a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven until browned and nearly crisp. Add to the bean pot. Mince the sausage (I only had one; I'd use another if I had it) and brown well in a skillet; add to bean pot. Dice the sweet potato and brown well in skillet, adding the minced herbs and garlic toward the end. Add to the beans, along with a little salt and a lot of freshly ground pepper. Set the slow cooker on high until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce to low and let cook for 8 hours or so.

I know the sweet potato isn't traditional, but it was half-peeled and unused from another meal, so rather than dump it I thought it might add a little body and sweetness to the beans.