February 24, 2011

spicy tomato ragu with chickpeas and olives

Meatless dishes are especially satisfying when they serve up an ebullient kick of heat. This past weekend I made a rustic tomato and chickpea ragu that was spiced with jalapenos and crushed red chile, brightened with fresh spinach, and livened up with salty brined olives. Tossed with wagon wheel pasta (one of my favorite shapes -- so cute!), the combination made for a hearty and satisfying vegetarian supper.

February 22, 2011

spicy toasted nori chips

One afternoon a while back, craving a crunchy snack, I discovered a packet of nori sheets in the pantry, skillet-toasted them, and voila - a bowlful of satisfyingly crisp chips! They hit the spot. Then more recently I picked up a packet of Annie Chun's wasabi seaweed snacks at Health Nuts on Broadway and, after eating its entire contents in about 5 minutes flat (they go down like wasabi-kissed air!) decided to go back to the drawing board to perfect a spicy, oven-crisped variety of my own.

February 20, 2011

farro and Christmas lima bowl

My crush on Rancho Gordo's heirloom beans shows absolutely no sign of abating. 

First was last weekend's auspicious introduction, in the form of their fat and creamy runner cannellini beans simmered into a chunky vegetable soup. A couple of days later, needing another Rancho Gordo fix, I cooked up a pot of Rio Zape beans, a variety similar to pinto beans. Rich, nutty, and creamy, they were delicious dressed simply with olive oil, minced garlic, and fresh herbs. Then later in the week, I made a batch of Christmas limas -- the enormous, burgundy-and-cream-mottled beans shown in the photo above. Earthy with a flavor reminiscent of chestnuts, these too were delectable treated very simply with a drizzle of olive oil and a little sea salt and black pepper. As for a favorite? I can't decide.

Cooking dried beans during the week requires a little pre-planning, but it is well worth it given all of the quick and delicious, protein-packed, and very economically friendly meals that can easily be thrown together when cooked beans are in the fridge. Soups, salads, bean-and-grain bowls, creamy purees. Before heading to work in the morning I set up some dried beans to soak; when I return in the evening the beans are rehydrated and plump, ready to simmer. I store the cooked beans in their cooking liquid, which helps them stay tender and creamy; they keep, chilled, for about a week.

One morning, poking around the fridge for the makings of a portable lunch bowl featuring leftover Christmas limas, I found promising accompaniments in the forms of cooked farro, roasted beets, greens, scallions, and a slab of Greek feta. A quickly whisked together tahini dressing, lemony and flecked with fresh herbs, made a great finishing touch drizzled across the top.

farro and Christmas lima lunch bowl
Lunch bowls are all about variety and experimentation. If you don't have farro around, you can substitute another hearty whole grain, such as spelt berries, wheat berries, barley, or brown rice. For the green element I chose Tuscan kale; spinach or arugula would also work well. And for the cheese, a crumbly goat cheese or ricotta salata would be great, too.

Serves 2
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked farro*
  • 1 cup cooked Christmas lima beans*
  • 4 or 5 leaves of Tuscan kale, torn into bite-size pieces 
  • 2 roasted beets, peeled and diced
  • Feta cheese
  • Sea salt and black pepper
Saute the scallions in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until they soften and begin to caramelize around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and beans and cook for a few minutes more, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Then add the kale and a pinch of salt and grind of black pepper, toss to combine evenly, cover, and cook on low for a few minutes until the kale is wilted.

Transfer the mixture to bowls, top with the beets and feta, and drizzle with tahini dressing.

creamy tahini-herb dressing
  • 3 Tbsp tahini
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For a rustic, herb-flecked dressing, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, and herbs, add a little water to achieve a drizzle-able consistency, and season with salt and pepper. If you're in a fancy mood, puree the ingredients in a blender for a vibrantly green, silky-smooth dressing.


*Cooking the farro and Christmas lima beans:

For the farro: Rinse 1 cup of farro, drain, and soak for 8 to 12 hours in 3 cups of water with a 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar. Transfer farro and its soaking liquid to a pot, adding additional water if needed to cover the grains by about 3 inches.  Add 1 tsp sea salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 1 hour. Drain excess water. Yields about 2-1/2 cups of cooked farro.

For the beans: Soak 1 cup of dried Christmas lima beans in 3 cups of water for 6 to 8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans, transfer them to a pot, and cover with fresh water. Add 1 tsp sea salt and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer, cover pot, and cook until beans are uniformly tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Yields about 3 cups of cooked beans.

A note on soaking: I cook grains in their soaking liquid, but not beans. With grains, some nutrients are lost to the soaking liquid, so cooking the grains in the liquid allows them to reabsorb the nutrients. With beans, soaking helps remove hard-to-digest, gas-producing substances, so it's best to discard the liquid and cook them in fresh water.

I add apple cider vinegar when soaking grains because the acid helps deactivate phytic acid (a substance that prevents GI absorption of certain minerals) in the grains. From what I've read this does not seem to be an issue with beans so I do not add vinegar when soaking them.

February 18, 2011

may the green force be with you

The springlike weather in New York these last few days (expected high of 60 today!) has inspired me to experiment with breakfast smoothies. A raw greens smoothie is a great way to get a boost of leafy green power first thing in the morning - loaded with vitamins, minerals, and live enzymes - in a form that's delightfully creamy, lightly sweet, and portable, too.

This green smoothie is nothing like a drink made with "powdered greens," which often has an off-putting grainy texture and dark, swamplike taste. Making a smoothie with raw greens allows you to achieve an ultra-smooth texture, with the greens contributing bright, fresh flavors that are perfectly balanced by the other components, like banana and ginger.

My favorite combination so far has included Tuscan kale, cilantro, fresh ginger, lemon juice, banana, raw coconut creme, freshly ground flax seeds, and homemade almond milk.

Spring in a glass. Or a mason jar, which has become my preferred green smoothie drinking vessel. (It's sort of weird to tote a mason jar on the subway. So this might signal that it's time to move to Brooklyn. Or Berkeley. Or Portland - Maine or Oregon. Or Seattle.  Any cities I'm forgetting here?  ;)

superpowered raw greens smoothie
At home I use a regular blender to make my smoothies. But a Vita-Mix, if you have one, would make this even more kick-a$$ (yup, you know I have one on my wish list).

Combine the following in a blender and puree on high speed until thoroughly homogenized:
  • 3 loosely packed cups of leafy greens and herbs (such as kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, parsley, cilantro)
  • 1 cup almond milk (recipe below) (you could also use coconut water or plain water)
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped (about 2 heaping Tbsp)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
 Then add:
  • 1 banana, broken into smaller chunks
  • 1 heaping tsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 Tbsp raw coconut creme or coconut butter (you could also substitute almond butter)
  • A couple of ice cubes (optional - if you like your smoothies on the icy side)
Blend again until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more almond milk. Sip and feel the green energy (mason jar optional)!

Creamy Homemade Almond Milk
For almond milk I use raw California-grown almonds, which are softer and less crunchy than toasted almonds. By law, US-grown almonds must be steam-pasteurized before going to market, so technically speaking even almonds labeled "raw" are not truly raw. If you prefer using truly raw almonds, natural foods stores often carry imported raw almonds that have not been pasteurized (or so the label says).

This almond milk is great in the green smoothie and also makes a deliciously creamy bedtime brew, gently heated on the stovetop, spiced with ground cinnamon, and sweetened with a touch of raw honey.

Makes about 2 cups of almond milk.
  • 1 cup organic raw almonds, soaked for 8 to 12 hours in filtered water, drained, and rinsed (soaking makes the almonds easier to blend)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1/4 tsp organic almond extract (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp organic vanilla extract (optional)
Blend almonds and 2 cups of water in a blender on high speed for a few minutes until homogenized. Strain through a large strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth (or a nut-milk bag or clean cotton dish towel - whichever you choose, rinse and wring out thoroughly before using), over a bowl.

Squeeze the cheesecloth tightly to extract all of the milk from the almonds. (Though I have not tried it yet, I have heard that the leftover almond solids can be used in baking.)

Optionally, if you would like to boost the flavor of the almond milk, stir in the almond and vanilla extracts.

The milk will keep, tightly covered and chilled, for up to 1 week.

February 14, 2011

and, of course, there was soup

This weekend was a whirlwind.

Saturday there was a braising marathon with friends, finished off with thick, chewy whole wheat chocolate chip skillet cookies (have you seen the recipe here or here? If you haven't made them yet, I highly recommend you get to it!)

Sunday brought brunch with the yogi at our favorite place. So many variables to a good brunch - the food, the light, the crowd, the coffee! - and they somehow manage to get all the essential elements right, every time. I departed from my usual, the country breakfast, and ordered the farmer's plate. Softly scrambled eggs, two slabs of creamy, crumbly aged cheddar, herb-roasted tomatoes, and a hunk of warm baguette. It's my new usual.

The day continued with much watching of Mad Men (we just finished season 3, now the wait is on until season 4 is released on dvd. I can feel the Don Draper withdrawal starting already).

And then, of course, there was soup.

I know, it's Valentine's Day, why am I writing about soup? Everyone's in the mood to indulge in rich meals, chocolate truffles, and the like. Well, okay, but what are you going to eat tomorrow? Ah, see? You need a V-Day Recovery Soup. I knew it.

I've been curious about the heirloom beans from Napa-based Rancho Gordo for a while now. The final nudge to order some was provided by Nancy's recent post on her scumptious-looking white bean lasagna, where she sang the praises of RG's mammoth-sized and amazingly creamy runner cannellini beans. I made my way over to their website and selected the Desert Island Sampler, which features five 1-pound bags of some of their favorite varieties (when I ordered, it was Christmas lima, cranberry, brown tepary, Rio Zape, and the aforementioned cannellini).

The RG cannellinis are the biggest I've ever seen -- and they cook up into the creamiest and most delicious white beans that have ever graced my palate. Tender, meaty, and buttery. Simmered in a base of homemade chicken stock, the beans slowly released their starch, which added a silky body to the broth and boosted its richness. Matched with the usual aromatics (onion, carrot, garlic), dried shiitakes, ginger, a little red chile, tamari, and (big surprise!) kale, I ended up with a soup that is satisfying and full of flavor yet also light and rejuvenating, the perfect antidote to a V-Day induced chocolate overdose.

vegetable soup with white beans
Makes about 2 quarts of soup

1 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini, soaked in water for 6 to 8 hours and drained
1-inch square of dried kombu
1 bay leaf
6 cups stock or broth (or water)

1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup dried sliced wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, porcini, maitake, or a mixture
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into short (about 1/2 inch-long) matchsticks
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 small red chiles (such as pequins or bird chiles), crushed, or 1/4 tsp red chile flakes
1 bunch curly kale, chopped

tamari, to taste
sea salt and black pepper
chopped scallions, to garnish

Combine the soaked and drained beans, kombu, stock or water, and 1/2 tsp sea salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the beans are tender (the time will depend on the size and age of the beans - the beans I used took about 2-1/2 hours).

Add the onion, carrot, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, red chile, and kale to the pot. Simmer for an additional 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with tamari (I used about 1 Tbsp) and black pepper. Garnish each bowl with scallions.

February 8, 2011

pear ginger muffins

Just stopping in with a recipe for the pear ginger muffins that I mentioned in my last post.

Guided by a hunk of fresh ginger and a couple of Bosc pears about to turn the corner into overripe territory, I made these muffins up as I went along, and they turned out really well. Built on the goodness of whole grain spelt flour and unrefined coconut palm sugar, the muffins have a tender, airy crumb infused with the mouth-warming spiciness of fresh ginger and loaded with chunks of juicy pear. The batter is just barely sweet, which allows the natural sweetness of the pear to really shine through. I like them that way, but if you prefer a sweeter muffin, try increasing the palm sugar from 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup. (If you don't have palm sugar around but have another granular unrefined sweetener, such as sucanat or rapadura, you can substitute that in an equal amount.)

I finely grated the ginger using a ceramic grater (one of my favorite kitchen gadgets - it looks a lot like this one); a microplane would work well, too. I didn't even bother to peel the ginger before I grated it -- the bits of ginger skin go unnoticed in the final product, and they might even add to the flavor.

pear ginger muffins
Makes about 10 standard-size (2-inch) muffins

wet ingredients:
1 large egg
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled

dry ingredients:
1-1/2 cups whole grain spelt flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced (I used Bosc)

Preheat the oven to 350 F with rack in the middle.

Whisk together the wet ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Then stir the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix. Fold in the pears.

Pour the batter into a buttered muffin tin and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

February 6, 2011

this weekend

Since we're watching the Super Bowl right now, I thought it would be a good time to post some images from the weekend. (If anything exciting happens, I'll catch it on the replay.)

 There was lunch at the recently opened Mooncake Foods, 54th St near 9th Ave. I had fish tacos with spicy hoisin sauce. Yum.

 And shiitakes from the mushroom guy at the Saturday Lincoln Square greenmarket (plus a maitake he threw in as a bonus). Sauteed in butter and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and black pepper, crazy good. I need to cook with maitakes more - so intensely earthy, the aroma reminded me of black truffle.

 Coconut chicken soup with Thai red curry and kale.

Pear ginger muffins, for the yogi (recipe coming soon).

February 4, 2011

old-school breakfast: kasha with egg

I seem to be channeling an Eastern European grandmother these days. For breakfast this morning I made kasha with egg. And added a spoonful of schmaltz.

Does anyone else think of Frank Costanza when they hear the word kasha? The famous Seinfeld kasha scene! It's one of my favorites (obviously I have watched one too many series reruns, but bear with me). I can't seem to find a clip of the scene on youtube, so instead I share with you an excerpt from the episode's script.


[George's Apartment]

George sits up in bed reading a magazine. Frank enters, carrying a small bowl. George puts his magazine to one side, as Frank carefully climbs into bed whilst keeping hold of the bowl. George takes off his glasses, as Frank settles back. Picking up a spoon from the bowl Frank is about to eat, when a thought occurs. Carefully, Frank reaches over with the spoon, to offer George a taste.

FRANK: Kasha?

George looks disdainfully at the spoonful. A few morsels have fallen onto the bedclothes, George picks them up and puts them back into Frank's bowl.

GEORGE: No. Thanks, dad.

Wearily, George puts his glasses on the bedside table, and switches off his bedside lamp, bringing darkness to the room. George shuffles down beneath the bedclothes, to get comfortable, just as Frank switches on his bedside lamp. Exasperated, George lifts his pillow and places it over his own face, as Frank continues to eat his kasha.


Although I've never eaten a bowl of it in bed, I do love kasha. My mom used to make it for breakfast, and it was one of my favorites. But I must have lost touch with kasha at some point, forgot about it entirely, until I was reintroduced to it in a whole-grains class during cooking school. The moment the aroma of steaming kasha hit me, I knew this was a food I had loved at a young age (behold the power of olfactory memories!). I've been cooking kasha ever since.

Kasha, or buckwheat groats, is one of my pantry staples -- it's quick-cooking, gluten-free, great at any meal, and has a unique, wonderfully nutty flavor. Though we often lump it into the grain category, botanically speaking the buckwheat groat is not truly a grain but rather the fruit seed of a plant related to rhubard. High in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, and one in particular called rutin, which helps to normalize blood lipid levels and mediate blood clotting. Also rich in magnesium, which promotes blood vessel relaxation, and manganese, which acts as a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions in the body. Altogether, a nice synergy of beneficial effects for the cardiovascular system.

This cold morning I decided to make kasha and egg, and since I can't resist tinkering, fancied it up with some fresh rosemary and parsley and a sprinkling of dulse flakes (a variety of sea vegetable). Remembering a container of schmaltz in the fridge, I stirred in a spoonful of that, too. The result was comfort food at its best: the kasha was tender, nutty and earthy, with notes of brightess from the fresh herbs and complexity from the rich schmaltz and savory, umami-rich dulse.

 (dulse flakes)

I have a feeling kasha is going to be a regular in my breakfast rotation from now on. Although I made a savory combination this morning, I can also imagine taking the kasha in a sweet direction, topping it with milk (dairy or not), butter, cinnamon, and honey or maple syrup. Maybe some diced apple or pear on top, too.

kasha with egg, herbs, and dulse
Serves 4

1 cup kasha (buckwheat groats), rinsed and drained
1 egg
2 cups boiling water
1/2 tsp sea salt
small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped (about 3/4 tsp)
1 Tbsp schmaltz (see below), unsalted organic butter, or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp dulse flakes
black pepper

In a medium saucepot combine the kasha and egg, stirring well so all the groats are coated. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the grains are separated and dry, and the kasha begins to smell nutty (about 5 minutes).

Add the boiling water, salt, and rosemary to the kasha mixture, stir well, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and kasha is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

Stir in the schmaltz or other fat, parsley, and dulse, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

a word on schmaltz

I made schmaltz for the first time a couple of weeks ago. As I was preparing to roast a pasture-raised chicken that I had brought home from the greenmarket, I noticed two large pieces of fat just inside the cavity, and immediately thought schmaltz! (This was a treat, since even when buying direct from the farm these fatty lobes are often removed before you buy the chicken.)

I removed the pieces of fat with kitchen shears, tossed them into a small pan, and cooked the fat, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes (I learned later that it's traditional to also add some chopped onion when rendering the fat). It spat and sputtered a good deal, and eventually I was left with liquified, translucent yellow chicken fat and two well-browned cracklin'-like things (which I discarded; though it's possible they are edible, I wasn't too eager to find out). I strained the fat to remove the brown bits, refrigerated the clear portion, and now have about 1/4 cup of lovely schmaltz to use in all sorts of things.

February 1, 2011

hello, february

 Well....I did it!

My new year's intention to post here every day during the month of January has officially been fulfilled! 31 days, 31 posts. Whew.

I learned that daily posting really makes time fly. When I wasn't actually posting, I was thinking about what to post, running out to gather ingredients, making grand (and delicious) messes in the kitchen, wandering the blogosphere looking for interesting tidbits to share, and snapping lots of photos. Inhabiting this space more regularly inspired me to think about things in different ways and devise some new combinations. Quite fun.

Now I'd like to keep the momentum going. There is so much more to explore, and my little Moleskine notebook is filled with possibilities. Stay tuned - who knows what February will bring?

For the time being, here's a recap of the top 5 posts during my January blogging spree. Enjoy!

1 ::: An homage to Rowan Jacobsen's book American Terroir.

2 ::: A creamy and comforting root vegetable soup - a snap to prepare and perfect for a cold winter day. (And which another Nancy liked enough to write about on her beautiful blog - thanks, Nancy!)

3 ::: A weekly round-up of food news, coffee geekery, and things I am coveting at the moment.

4 ::: More on coffee (and prana).

5 ::: Everybody loves kale! (Yay, kale!)