November 11, 2009

Smoky and Spicy Black Beans

Nothing beats beans cooked from scratch. Their flavor and texture are vastly better than the canned variety, you can control how much salt you add, and they're more digestible, too. But old dried beans make me sad. And with the dried beans sold prepackaged or in bulk from the grocery store, there's a good chance they have been sitting around for a while. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered a bean purveyor, Cayuga Pure Organics, based near Ithaca, NY, selling at the farmer's market near me (97th St & Columbus Friday market). Not only does CPO offer fresh, high-quality dried beans that have been recently harvested (including pinto, navy, black, kidney, and soy), but also whole grains such as spelt and wheat berries, and a variety of flours (spelt, whole wheat, half WW/half white), polenta, and corn meal. Yay! I'm hoping they start selling wholemeal rye flour, too, so I can use it to make my no-knead sourdough rye bread. Read more about Cayuga Pure Organics here and look for them at your local farmer's market! I bought a bag of black beans at the market before work, soaked about a cup of them in water all day (about 9 or 10 hours), and cooked them when I got home (1 cup of dried beans yields roughly 2 cups soaked and 3 cups after cooking - easy to remember 1-2-3). The recipe below can be tailored to any volume of beans; just taste and adjust seasoning as you go. These smoky, savory, and spicy beans are great on their own, piled on top of a whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa, or, my favorite, blanketed over a bowl of creamy polenta with greens.

Smoky and Spicy Black Beans
Makes 2 to 4 servinngs

  • 1 cup dried black beans (or pinto beans, or whatever variety you have on hand), soaked in water for 6 to 12 hours, drained, and rinsed
  • 1-inch square of kombu (dried kelp)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 carrots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
  • 1/2 tsp New Mexican red chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Add beans, kombu, 1 tsp salt, and bay leaf to a 2 or 3 quart pot, cover with fresh water (about 3 parts water to 1 part beans). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, until beans are tender, about 1 hour (time depends on the age and variety of the beans).

Drain beans (discard cooking liquid and bay leaf). (I left the cooked kombu in with the beans. It had fallen apart into small pieces and its flavor wasn't noticeable in the final dish.)

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a 2- to 3-quart saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir for a minute more. Then add carrots and saute for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add beans, smoked and hot paprika, chili powder, and maple syrup to pan. Stir to combine, add 1/2 cup water, and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until carrots are tender and sauce has thickened. Add apple cider vinegar and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

November 7, 2009

Ultra-Creamy Polenta with Greens and Poached Egg

This dish is pure, elemental comfort food: super creamy polenta dotted with bites of bright, peppery greens, then topped with a rich poached egg and shavings of salty parmesan. A drizzle of fruity extra-virgin olive oil really ties the flavors together. Break the egg yolk with your spoon, and allow its goldenness to seep through the polenta. Yummmm.

Cooking the polenta in a mixture of milk and water leads to luxuriously creamy results. For the greens, I used a combination of mizuna, arugula, and flat-leaf parsley, but you can use any combination of greens and leafy herbs. If using heartier, tougher greens such as broccoli rabe or kale, quickly blanch the greens in salted water first, or saute for a few minutes in olive oil to tenderize them and mellow their bitterness. If you'd prefer to skip the egg, this polenta would also be delicious topped with smoky and spicy black beans (recipe coming soon). This is comfort food that can be enjoyed for any meal of the day.

Ultra-Creamy Polenta with Greens and Poached Egg
Makes about 4 cups of polenta

2 cups organic whole milk 
2 cups water
1 cup medium-ground polenta (not coarse)
1 tsp sea salt
2-1/2 cups greens and leafy herbs, washed well, spun dry, and roughly chopped into bite-size pieces
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or red wine or white wine vinegar)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese
  • Bring milk and water to a boil in a 2 or 3 quart pot, partially covered (keep an eye on it as it approaches a boil - milk loves to foam up and boil over!).
  • Add salt to pot, then add polenta in a steady, slow stream, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and continue to whisk for a minute or so to prevent lumps from forming. Partially cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until polenta is thickened and creamy. Whisk every few minutes (polenta likes to stick to the bottom of the pot). Add more milk or water (1/4 cup at a time) if the polenta becomes too thick (it should be the texture of porridge).
  • When polenta is cooked to your liking, turn off heat and stir in chopped greens. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Cover until ready to serve. (If reserved polenta becomes too thick, or to reheat leftovers, stir in 1/4 cup water or milk and whisk over low heat for a couple of minutes to loosed it up.)
  • To poach eggs: add water, to a depth of about 3 inches, to a small pot or saucepan. Bring to a boil, add vinegar, and reduce heat to low. (It should be just below a simmer, hot enough for small bubbles to form on the bottom of the pot but not actively bubbling - that would break up the egg.) Break each egg into a small cup and carefully slide egg into water. I like to swirl the water with the handle of a wooden spoon right after adding the egg; it prevents the egg from spreading out too much into the water. Poach for 4 to 5 minutes, until white is firm and yolk is still soft. Remove egg from pot with a slotted spoon.
  • Transfer hot polenta to bowls. Top each serving with a poached egg, drizzle with olive oil, and shower with parmesan shavings.

November 4, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a bag of freshly ground, wholemeal spelt flour at the local farmer's market. Wasn't exactly sure what I would do with it, but I've been curious about spelt flour for a while and knew I'd figure something out eventually. So when the opportunity arose to have breakfast for dinner, I knew exactly what to make - spelt pancakes!

I've been into soaking grains lately, so I decided to try Sally Fallon's pancake recipe from Nourishing Traditions, in which the flour is first soaked in yogurt, whey, or kefir. This makes the flour easier to digest and also allows its nutrients to be more readily assimilated by the body. I mostly followed the recipe but tweaked a couple of things: added a few tablespoons of rapadura to the batter for subtle sweetness, and substituted baking powder for baking soda (since I typically include baking powder as the leavener when I make pancakes).

The pancakes were wonderful: moist, dense, hearty, nutty, and more satisfying that the usual white flour pancakes. Drizzled with warm strawberry maple syrup and paired with scrambled eggs and crisp slices of Tamarack Hollow Farm's delicious thick-cut bacon, this was a perfect breakfast-for-dinner experience.

Soaked Grain Spelt Pancakes
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Makes 10 to 12 pancakes

1-1/2 cups wholemeal spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
1-1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1-3/4 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp rapadura or maple crystals
1/2 tsp salt
Butter or bacon fat for pan/griddle
  • Mix together flour and yogurt in a glass bowl. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperaure for 12 to 24 hours.
  • When ready to make pancakes, preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
  • Add remaining ingredients to flour and yogurt mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Add water until desired batter consistency is reached.
  • Cook pancakes on a lightly greased griddle or pan over medium heat (3 to 5 minutes per side), and as they are done transfer to a baking sheet in warmed oven until ready to serve.
Strawberry Maple Syrup

1/2 cup maple syrup
3 Tbsp strawberry jam or preserves
  • Combine maple syrup and strawberry jam in a small pot over low heat, whisking to dissolve jam. Allow to come to a simmer, then turn off heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.