Monday, March 01, 2010

Haitian Red Beans

This recipe is a reminder that simplicity can be incredibly delicious. I found it on Gherkins & Tomatoes, a blog about food, history and hunger that I can't adequately explain in a short sentence, so please check it out for yourself. Cynthia posted this recipe in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. She once lived there and offered it as a meal of solidarity with the nation's people.

It's a big pot of beans to be eaten with rice and other dishes, or as a simple meal in itself. The method of frying aromatics in oil and using them to season the beans at the end interested me. It's similar to toasting spices in ghee to finish curries and dals in Indian cooking. Pureeing some of the beans and their rich cooking liquid creates a thick sauce. Adding the seasonings saturates the beans with flavors that keep you taking bite after bite.

I did embellish the recipe slightly, but I think it's still the ultimate in simplicity. You don't need fancy heirloom beans--I bought my grocery store's house brand of small red beans. And of course the leftovers are great. In fact, every time I ate them, I raved about just how great they are. I'm so making this again and again. If you try it, I hope you'll love what you end up with as much I did!

Haitian Red Beans
Adapted from Cynthia Bertelsen
Cynthia gives us this dish's proper name, Sos Pwa Rouj, or Red Beans in Sauce. She calls for peanut oil instead of ghee, but I didn't have any and didn't want to buy the refined, flavorless type they were selling at the supermarket. An organic or unrefined peanut oil should have actual peanut flavor and would be preferable here. Any oil good for high heat cooking will work, but ghee (clarified butter) tastes the best to me. For my version as written below, I couldn't resist adding 2 fat shallot cloves, which added beautiful aromatic flavor to the ghee mixture. Don't skimp on fat or omit this step--it creates an incredibly rich, satisfying sauce that is sometimes meaty, sometimes buttery, and quite complex for a simple pot of beans. Serve as a side dish with simply cooked meat or fish, or enjoy as a main course. Other possible accompaniments are pickled veggies, Indian pickles, hot sauce, chopped chile peppers and fried or hardboiled eggs.

Serves 6-8

1 lb small red beans, rinsed and picked over
1/2 onion, skin removed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbs ghee
2 large shallot cloves, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves, divided
Steamed rice for serving (I used long grain brown rice)

Place beans, onion, bay leaf and thyme in a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot and cover with water by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until tender. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed to keep beans from crowding (I added about 2 cups). Note: Unless the beans have been sitting on a shelf for years, you don't need to soak them. However, soaking for at least 6 hours will speed up the cooking time. Be sure to discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe.

Place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans. Measure the bean cooking liquid. You'll need 3 cups. If you have more, boil to reduce to 3 cups. If you have less, add water to equal 3 cups.

Put 1 1/2 cups beans and 1 cup of the cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Combine the puree, the whole beans and the remaining cooking liquid in the bowl you used to drain the beans. Add 1 tsp salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Wash the pot you used to cook the beans. Add the ghee and heat to medium-high. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until light golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the garlic and 1/2 cup of the parsley. Cook until garlic just begins to color, taking care that it does not burn. Add the bean mixture and stir to combine. Cook until heated through. Taste for seasoning.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday, I felt like eating something filling and hearty. The day turned dark and tropical-stormy (still 87 degrees though), so a big pot of lentils was exactly the kind of thing I wanted simmering away in my kitchen.

During the week when my husband travels for work, I often eat vegetarian meals because I don't feel like going to the trouble of wrangling meat for myself (as if I'm out killing fresh chickens like Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain). Anyway, I might do something with fish, but otherwise it's mainly vegetables, beans, pasta and grains for me (and eggs--I'm a fool for eggs lately).

With the hot summer weather, I haven't thought about lentils in awhile, but they are one of my favorite easy dinners. I love them in soups or alongside chicken sausage or salmon. Unlike other legumes, there's no pre-soaking, and they cook in about half an hour.

Lentils are hearty fare, but to make them a true main course, I added diced sweet potatoes that I roasted separately and added at the end. You could add a bit more broth and simmer the potatoes with the lentils, but roasting makes them nicely browned on the outside and gives you the chance to season them separately.

I find that brown lentils have a sort of natural earthy sweetness by themselves, which I played up by adding smoky cumin and mild chile powder. To balance out all the sweetness, I made my favorite green--deliciously bitter broccoli raab--to eat on the side. I wasn't planning to share this simple everyday meal on the blog, but it was so tasty, I had to.

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Okay, I didn't go totally vegetarian--I used chicken broth. But, I would just as readily use vegetable broth, especially since I started buying the Kitchen Basics brand. Their dark, rich vegetable broth is head and shoulders above other supermarket brands, and their broths have less sodium too. I didn't measure my spices when I made this, so I'm giving estimates here. For the lentils, just use a bit more cumin than chile, and feel free to adjust.

Serves 4

For the potatoes:
cooking spray
2 to 3 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound when peeled)
Mild red chile powder to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the lentils:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon mild chile powder
2 2/3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup brown lentils

To make the potatoes, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Pile on the sweet potatoes, coat them with cooking spray (you could use olive oil for this, but I was going for low-cal and fast) and season with chile powder, salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring once, or until potatoes are tender and browned in spots.

To make lentils, heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, cumin and chile powder. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, season with salt and pepper (keep it light, you can add more later), and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lentils are tender, but not mushy. Stir in the roasted sweet potatoes and serve.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham

When it comes to Christmas dinner, does tradition dictate most of the meal, or is yours the type of wild and crazy family that changes it up from year to year? When I was growing up, we went the traditional route. Even though sides, desserts and even the location of the meal changed, we always had a baked ham for Christmas Day. Just like we always had a turkey for Thanksgiving. I have to admit that there is some comfort in cooking routines, even though I was never a great fan of the sometimes dry, sometimes salty ham.

One thing I did like about the Christmas ham, however, was the yellow split pea soup my mom made with the leftovers. To make good split pea soup, you really need to have a ham bone to flavor the broth. All those little leftover pieces of meat can be added at the end to make a substantial, creamy soup infused with the flavor of pork--serious comfort food.

Mike and I don't have a traditional meal we eat every Christmas, but this year we decided to give the baked ham another shot. But instead of having it for Christmas dinner, we baked our ham a couple weeks ago and have been loving the leftovers, especially this Golden Split Pea Soup. Ham really shines in leftovers--think sandwiches, omelets, frittatas or pasta dishes. My mom had an aversion to green split peas, and no wonder--the brownish-green color of a green split pea soup isn't exactly appetizing. The yellow ones, on the other hand, are just as easy to find and result in an inviting, cheery-hued soup.

For this recipe I turned to Cook's Illustrated and adapted a version on their website. It's easy and so, so good. You just simmer the ham bone to create a smoky broth, then cook the split peas until nearly dissolved and creamy, along with some potatoes. Caramelized aromatic veggies are added at the end, along with leftover ham pieces. It is of course even better a day or two later, as it thickens further and the flavors develop. Whether or not you usually eat ham for Christmas, it is perfectly fine to get one for the sole purpose of using the leftovers in recipes like this.

Onions, carrots, celery and garlic--caramelized and buttery.

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Golden Split Pea and Ham Soup

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
You don't have to pick the ham bone clean. Just trim off the large pieces of fat and all the nice chunks of meat you'll want to add to the finished soup. Sauteeing the vegetables separately and adding them at the end allows them to retain their texture and caramelized flavor.

Serves 4-5

3 quarts water
Bone from a baked half-ham or ham shank
3 dried Turkish bay leaves
14 oz. yellow split peas, rinsed and picked through
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, plus a pinch
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups new potatoes cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 to 2 cups ham cut into bite-sized pieces
Optional Garnishes: fresh thyme, diced red onion and/or balsamic vinegar for serving

Bring the water, ham bone and bay leaves to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove bone from pot and discard. Add the split peas, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the liquid they release evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of dried thyme. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until vegetables are deeply browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter and garlic, cook for 3 minutes and set aside.

After the potatoes have simmered for 15 minutes, add the vegetables and ham pieces to the soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Skim any fat off the surface if desired. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Favorite Smoky Turkey Chili

When I think of chili, I think of windy fall evenings, football games and the weekend. Chili is such a weekend food because it takes at least a little while to simmer and feels like a feast--especially when you add some supporting players like skillet cornbread and a great beer. The Leffe in the photo, by the way, is one of my favorites of all time and an absolutely excellent food beer; it's worth tracking down, though we did recently find it in a mixed pack at Costco.

This chili is just the thing to have simmering on the stove as you decorate your Christmas tree this weekend. It's also great to make while watching football. Will you be tree-trimming and football watching simultaneously like I probably will? In that case, you can even make this ahead--it tastes even better reheated.

I made this chili for a Halloween dinner this year because of the festive color combo of the sweet potatoes and black beans. The smokiness comes from poblano chiles, a mild, easy to find dark green pepper that you roast, skin and cut into strips. If you don't like heat, remove all the seeds, and you won't have a problem. The pepper roasting is the only fussy part of this recipe, but you've done that before, right? And it totally pays off. I also recently discovered dried chipotle chiles which have the most intense smoky-sweet flavor in their dried form--but a little goes far. We grind these up ourselves to make the chipotle chile powder, but you can either buy it or use any chili seasonings you prefer.

Although I said I was feeling relatively healthy after our blowout Thanksgiving weekend, we've still been eating nutritious, comforting meals like salmon and lentils (my favorite healthy yet totally satisfying meal) and some great vegetarian soups. I have two outrageously good soups that I want to post soon--just in case you need a break from the holiday indulgence that's going to happen in the coming weeks--I'm sure I will!

Smoky Turkey Chili
Loosely Adapted from Food & Wine, January 2003
I’ve actually been making this chili since I received the January ’03 issue of F&W. I even hung onto the magazine because it includes quite a few great-looking, healthy recipes, though the chili is only one I’ve ever made. Because I love the intensely sweet flavor, I buy dried chipotles and grind them in a spice grinder. You can buy them already ground or use one or two canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Anything with the word “chipotle” is probably hot stuff, so use sparingly at first. You can skip it if you don’t like heat, but I’d encourage you to try it because the sweet, smoky flavor is wonderful. Of course, feel free to use your favorite chili seasonings and spices--it’s a fun dish to play around with. Here are some excellent instructions on how to roast peppers. I do mine (or I should say Mike does mine) under the broiler.

Serves 6

1 tbs. canola or olive oil
1 lb. lean ground turkey
Salt and ground pepper to taste
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbs. chile powder (the regular, mild stuff--Spice Islands makes a good one)
pinch of ground chipotle chile powder (or to taste) or 1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo (optional)
4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 quart water
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Two 15-oz. cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
4 large poblano chiles—roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup tomato paste
Sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions for serving (optional)

Add the oil to a large pot or Dutch oven and heat to medium-high. Add the ground turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking it up as you stir, until browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, both chile powders, cumin and cloves and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and water and raise the heat to bring chili to a boil.

Add the turkey, cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for 30 more minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add the beans and poblano, stirring to combine, then taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper or chile powder to taste. Stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions. Cornbread is an excellent accompaniment.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Curried Lamb & Lentil Stew, Plus a Bonus Lentil Soup Recipe

Lentils never fail to provide warming, hearty and healthy sustenance. Unfortunately they are not the most photogenic legume. I have made two very different lentil soups in the past week, and both yielded wonderful results, but very ugly photographs. My standout favorite, a Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk, also happened to be the ugliest.

Then I remembered this Lamb & Lentil Stew that I made in January, but never blogged about. I don’t know why this oversight was made because this is just the kind of meal I love: a big pot of something fresh and hearty that will provide ample leftovers. We were able to have the butcher at Whole Foods cut the proper-sized chunk off a boneless leg of lamb for us, but you can also get a pack of lamb stew meat already cut into bite-sized pieces at many grocery stores. Beef would be a fine substitute, but I love the flavor of lamb. It is also my favorite kind of meat for Indian curries, so this soup was doubly appealing.

I know I cannot mention how wonderful the un-photogenic lentil soup is without giving the recipe, so that one follows as well. It is from a book I love, and it was even better eaten for lunch the next two days with Irish soda bread. This one is vegetarian, so if you were put off by the lamb, give this soup a try.

Curried Lamb & Lentil Stew
Adapted from the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
I use French lentils because they hold their shape and have a toothsome texture when cooked. You may have to get them at a health food or gourmet store. Brown lentils are a good substitute.

Serves 4-6

1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ lb. boned leg of lamb, cut into half-inch chunks
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. red curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
cayenne pepper, to taste
4 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 c. green lentils (also called French or de Puy)
½ lb. baby spinach (the better part of a pre-washed bag)
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice

Heat the oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Add the carrots, celery and onion; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, cumin and cayenne. Stir to combine.

Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, then add the spinach, a couple handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted. Simmer for 3 to 5 more minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and serve.

Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Jerome Audureau and Frank Mentesana
I resisted grinding whole spices for a long time, but now I love doing it. For a small amount of extra effort, the payoff is a fuller, more intense, more genuine flavor. I recommend it highly for the cardamom and cloves, especially in a simple recipe like this that relies on a few key spices for its unique flavor. However, if using ground spices makes it convenient enough to make this soup on a chilly night, then I absolutely give you my blessing. The spices are toasted in clarified butter before adding to the soup. If this seems unnecessary, just add them with the thyme and turmeric. I liked the toasting technique, and it is easy to do, but it is a little fussy. Click here to learn how to clarify butter, or you could simply use ghee or olive oil.

Serves 6

1 tbs. unsalted butter
½ tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp. dried
1 ½ tsp. ground turmeric
6 c. low sodium chicken broth (I really like the flavor of Swanson’s)
1 ½ c. French green lentils, rinsed (called lentils de Puy)
2 tbs. unsalted butter, clarified; or ghee; or 1 ½ tbs. olive oil
8 green cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 can lite or regular coconut milk

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until lightly golden, stirring often. Add the garlic, thyme and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the broth and the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Bruise the cardamom pods with a heavy object (rolling pin, glass jar) or in a mortar and pestle until they begin to open. Pop out the cardamom seeds and discard the green pods. Grind the cardamom seeds along with the cloves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Warm the clarified butter, ghee or oil in small saucepan over low heat. Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook on low, swirling the pan often, until the spices become aromatic, about 2 minutes.

After the soup has finished simmering for 20 minutes, add the spices with the butter, ghee or oil. Stir into the soup. Shake the can of coconut milk well, open and stir into the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes more, taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

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