Right now my loving husband is working on our next post. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will hint at the fact that the love of my life, and our household’s chief engineer, is going to be presenting to you an essay and some technical hints on the preparation of one of our most favorite libations. But for more on that, you will have to wait, at least a teensy while longer.
And now that I have piqued your interest with a glimpse of things to come I would like to switch gears entirely to discuss the topic that has been “top of mind” for me over the last few months. I have spent a great deal of time lately ruminating on ideas related to the grand theme (and current social buzz word) of “Sustainability.” More specifically, I have been reading, researching and listening to various different sources in hopes of developing some deeper understanding of how my decisions, as a consumer, impact the environment, and, furthermore, how environmental impacts may threaten future generations ability to thrive.
The modern American Diet, with its focus on meat protein and packaged convenience foods, has taken a toll both on the health of our people and on the environment. I recently completed an eye-opening course on the American Food System on Coursera. The course provided an impactful overview of both historical and modern systems of agriculture and food animal production, as well as the policies, such as the American “Farm Bill”, which drive the complex networks of subsidies as well as the protocol governing food assistance programs and the dissemination of information related to nutrition. But among the many segments was most illuminating to me were the lectures on industrial food animal production systems and their environmental and health costs.
Not only do Industrial Food Animal Production systems have a stark impact on the ecology of the immediately surrounding area, but the industry’s hunger for resources, from water, to energy, to pharmaceuticals is stripping the nation of many resources and putting us at risk for environmental disaster. And that is to say nothing of the nasty byproducts of the production such as animal waste, methane gas, and potential for diseases that come hand in hand with large scale facilities. It is clear that something needs to change, in terms of our patterns of meat consumption (which, until recently, had been on the sharp rise over the course of the last century) as current trends are simply not sustainable.
While the facts of food animal production are certainly harrowing and, indeed, a bit off-putting, for me, the solution to lessening the impact of my food choices on the environment is not to simply forgo meat altogether. It is clear to me that meat protein should play a far smaller role in our modern diet. In our home, we have committed to eating less than a single small (3-4oz) serving of meat per day and endeavor to vote with our food dollars to support farmers who use sustainable practices in raising food animals. The recipe for black bean soup featured below was developed around a traditional practice of using a small portion of meat as flavoring for an otherwise plant-based meal. While the amount of meat used may be small, it’s smoky and savory favors make a big impact on the hearty soup, which is a warming treat to share with loved ones on a rainy spring day.
Before I delve into the recipe, lets take a moment to talk about soaking beans. If you look through our blog history you will note that I have shifted away from using canned beans. Canned beans are a great convenience food and can make a quick addition to a dish in a pinch but what you gain in convenience comes at a nutritional cost. Canned beans are traditionally packed with sodium, while rinsing the beans before using them does make an impact on the amount of sodium that makes its way into the final dish, even proper rinsing techniques are only able to mitigate about 40% of the added sodium. Dried beans are not an ingredient that can be used instantaneously in the way that they canned counterparts may be, but I, personally, find them no less convenient. Not only do I find the home cooked beans to be superior from a textural perspective, but I appreciate the opportunity to soak, rinse, resoak, and rerinse the beans before cooking. Putting the beans through multiple (2-3) changes of water over the course of an 8+ hour soaking process helps to rid the end product of some of the indigestible carbohydrates that give beans the monicker of the “magical fruit.”
One final note here on using dried beans, the dried nature of the beans used in this dish allows for them to be cooked for a much longer period of time without compromising the texture of the bean. With the longer cooking window the beans absorb a greater deal of flavor from the bacon and aromatics in the soup creating a richer end product. If substituting canned beans the overall cooking time for the soup will need to be much shorter in order to avoid reducing the beans to mush.
Black Bean Soup with Bacon (Serves 8)
500g (2.5c) Dried Black Beans
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Divided)
About 15 Slices of Thinly Cut Canadian Bacon
1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cubanelle Peppers, Diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 TSP Chipotle Powder (or Hot Smoked Paprika)
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1oz Tequilla (Blanco, or Reposado are OK – I would Avoid Anejo)
1/2 a Bunch of Cilantro, Washed Well and Chopped
1 TBSP Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Start by soaking your beans. I start mine in the evening after dinner and drain them and change out the water just before going to bed. If you are concerned about wasting water – the liquid drained off of the beans can easily be saved to water houseplants.
Once the beans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain them again and set them aside.
Heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canadian bacon and cook until any fat has rendered and the meat is slightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add and onions and sauté until soft, add the Cubanelles and continue to cook until they too soften. Stir in the canadian bacon, garlic, chipotle, and cumin and sautee for another minute or so before tipping in about 8 cups of water. Add the beans to the pot and stir.
Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. While the soup does not require constant monitoring at this point be sure to periodically check on the pot to ensure that there is still enough liquid present to cover the beans. About every 20 minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and then give the mixture a few slow stirs to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to do this in this order, skimming first and then stirring, as you do not want to stir the foam back into the soup.
The cooking time for dried beans can vary widely depending on the age of the beans and length of soaking time. After the first hour and a half of cooking time test one of the beans to see if it is tender. To do so, remove a bean or two and set it on a plate, as the beans may still be rock hard it might not be the best plan to toss it in your mouth and chomp down – instead test one between your thumb and forefinger to see if there is any give. If the bean is still completely hard keep the pot simmering away and test again after another 30 minutes have elapsed. If the bean has reasonable give you can move on to an actual taste test to better gauge the texture. When Dustin is put in charge of testing the doneness of things he invariably asks me how to know when it is done – here I will offer the same advice I give to him, when you like the way the beans taste, and the texture is to your liking, they are done. Once the beans are cooked to your preference, stir in the tequila, about half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste the soup and determine if more lime, cilantro, or salt is needed and adjust these seasonings until they, too, meet your flavor preferences.
This soup is great on its own but also pairs well with homemade cornbread – I love the cornbread recipe featured on the Anson Mills website. The recipe is as simple as it gets but is remarkably good. If you have not explored Anson Mills’ site before, it is a stunning resource for information on grains such as Oats, Corn, and Rice and their freshly milled ingredients are a world above anything available in even the best grocery stores.
In a world of so much variety it is still somehow easy to get stuck in a rut. Whether to save time or reduce the risk that comes from experimenting many of us have a certain leaning towards the familiar. To some extent, these likes and dislikes are what form the etchings of our identity. My certain love of vegetables, a penchant for puns and wordplay, my unending quest to develop and redevelop a methodology for composing the world’s most organized grocery list, a distinct urge to fill my closet with clothing in varying shades of grey and brown – these may be some of the things that come to mind when friends and family think of me.
These interests, likes, and dislikes piece together to form about a kindergarten level understanding of who we are. And its strange to think but we still so often rely on these identifiers to build bridges with new people. We may bond over a shared love of blues music, rock climbing, wood oven pizzas, vintage clothing, or old trucks and develop relationships with newcomers that largely revolve around these shared interests and activities. All of this is good and well, and really perfectly normal, but the problem is that as we change, and our likes and dislikes shift and morph and we evolve as individuals we experience a good deal of churn. There is often a turning over of acquaintances as we give up old hobbies and shed bits and bobs of our face value identity.
About 6 months ago Dustin and I stopped climbing. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a natural shift, we moved to a new house, took on new hobbies and found new athletic pursuits. And just like that our new identities formed adding new badges to our identities sort of “Brownie” style, an iron on patch for distance running, a sticker for gardening, pins for milestone achievements in weight lifting, a new sash for woodworking. These pursuits became our new topics of discussion, our new bonding points with passersby, something to talk about while standing in the grocery line or while waiting for a bench at the gym.
On the grand cosmic scheme of things, stopping climbing really changed nothing at all about Dustin and myself. We so quickly found new activities to fill our time, new ways to self identify, the old badges were put aside – maybe to be revisited, maybe not. But for larger, shape shifting changes these voids are not so easily filled. For all of my friends and family who have struggled to overcome addiction, to put the pieces back together after an illness, or job loss, who have suffered through depression – to pull through these crises of identity takes an enormous amount of soul searching. Pulling through each dreary day, each setback requires that you get real with yourself and search for that deeper kernel of identity that many never have the will or need to reach for.
This weeks dish is made up from some truly simple ingredients. The earthy radish, the humble bean, peasant greens and a scant smattering of nuts, cheese, and lemon pull together to create a nourishing meal. Lemon, Parmesan and garlic are flavors that I love, that can elevate even the humblest ingredient, and that bring me comfort. Like us, strong, basic ingredients need little embellishment to shine, at their core, simple, “whole” ingredients have the integrity to stand alone. This simple meal is a great staple to turn to for a rainy day. If you are willing to take on the time taking project of soaking, rinsing, cooking and rerinsing your own beans, I suggest you do yourself a favor and cook a double batch, the remaining beans can be frozen for a later use. Alternatively this dish can be made with cooked beans, I suggest buying the largest ones you can find, the giant limas are nice as they are about the same size as the halved radishes and make for a really attractive plate of food, but smaller white beans like navy, cannellini or even chickpeas would work well here.
Kale, Radish, and Giant Lima Sautee with Almonds
This dish was inspired by “Pan-Fried Corona Beans & Kale” from one of my all time favorite bloggers, Heidi Swenson, you can find the original here at 101cookbooks.com.
1 1/4 Cup Large Lima Beans (Dried) Soaked Overnight in Water
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Bunches of Kale, Washed Well (about 400g) Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/2″ Segments), Leaves Chopped (1″ Pieces, Strips are OK.)
1/2 lb (226g) Radishes, Washed (May Need to Be Gently Scrubbed If Very Dirty) and Halved
1/4 Cup (about 30g) Walnuts, Chopped and Toasted
1/4 Cup (about 28g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Zest of One Lemon, Minced
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Start the recipe the night before (actually, for all of the advance planners out there – this step can be done 2 or 3 days before, in fact, you can easily double the amount of beans you prepare here and do your future-self a favor by freezing one half of the beans for later use.) Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and cover with about 6 cups of water. Cover the bowl with a towel (I typically slip a rubber band around the rim of the bowl to secure the towel lest any of our insect friends get curious about the bowls contents.) Leave the beans overnight to soak. Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, the beans should be covered by about 1 – 1 1/2 inch of water. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook the beans or they will disintegrate when they are pan fried later. Drain the beans, rinse again and set aside to dry.
Once the beans have dried place a large (preferably non-stick) pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat till shimmering. Add beans to the heated oil and sautee, tossing every 2 minutes for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden, add the radishes and sautee for another 4-5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and sautee another minute. Add the kale and sautee until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts, parmesan, and lemon (zest and juice.) Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and serve.
For the last month or so Dustin and I have sought solace from the cold winter weather in hearty meaty sauces, stews, and chilis. This past weekend, with warm weather on the horizon, we looked to change tempo with a meat free weekend of cooking. Thinking of ways to make protein packed vegetarian mains my mind drifted straight to lentils. Lentils are by far my favorite vegetarian protein. I love that they are so amazingly versatile, the many different varieties make them well suited for a variety of different types of dishes. Firmer lentils such as puy and beluga add a nice toothsome bite to salads and can withstand longer cooking times without turning to mush. Yellow and red lentils, on the other hand, are easily transformed into smooth soups and make an excellent base for silky purees and dips.
There are few cooks famous for vegetarian cooking, and even fewer who approach meatless cuisine with the same innovative zeal as Yatam Ottolenghi. I love looking through Ottolenghi’s archived recipes on the BBC’s website. The hundreds of vegetarian recipes provide a breath of fresh air when my usual fail safe flavors prove boring and stale. This can be especially useful during the winter months when the variety of produce is limited and inspiration is hard to come by.
As if that wasn’t enough reason to scour the web for Yatam’s delicious dishes, many of his dishes offer creative ways to take advantage of dried legumes and whole grains, all of which are relatively inexpensive and incredible healthy. We typically have a wealth of stored legumes in the pantry but if you don’t have these on hand it is fun to peruse the dried goods section of Whole Foods (or other health foods markets that offer bulk grain bins) looking for new whole grains to try. I have been reading lately about many of the bargain options available at Whole Foods, it appears that many of their stores offer tours to show shoppers thrifty and healthy options.
This dish certainly packs a healthy punch. The lentils themselves are rich in protein. While they are members of the legume family, unlike beans they are free of sulfur an, therefore don’t cause the same “wind” issues as their beany brethren. Lentils have been a dietary mainstay since biblical times. They are, in fact, featured in the book of Genesis, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils. The coconut milk in this dish provides a nice substitute for heavy cream – which is more often used to create a creamy flavor in pureed soups. It also keeps this dish vegan friendly. I recommend using Chaokoh brand coconut milk, which is typically available at Asian markets – it is amazingly rich and smooth. While you can use lite coconut milk, I recommend using the full fat variety as it adds needed body and richness and helps the spices shine. The tofu and chickpeas are both “optional” – if you don’t have the time or don’t want to fry up the tofu it can easily be omitted. Both of these add a nice textural contrast to the smooth creamy soup.
Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas Adapted from a Recipe from Yatam Ottolenghi
2 TBSP Sunflower Oil
1 Large Onion, Chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
One 3 Inch Piece of Ginger, Chopped
¾ TSP Each Ground Cumin, Turmeric, and Coriander
One Pinch Each Ground Cardamom and Ground Cinnamon
400ml Good Quality Coconut Milk
250g Red Lentils
Thickly Peeled Skin of ½ Lemon, Plus Juice of 1 Lemon
For Chili Oil
1 TSP Cumin Seeds
¾ TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
For Fried Tofu
50g Corn Flour
220 Firm Tofu, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Can Cooked Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 TSP Smoked Paprika
1/4 TSP Salt
3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro
Heat two tablespoons of sunflower oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and on medium-low heat sweat for eight minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and ground spices, and cook, stirring, for eight minutes. Add 900ml water, the coconut milk, lentils and lemon skin (not the juice). Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the lemon skin, add one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and some pepper. Allow to cool slightly and then blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt to taste.
Pour another two tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and heat. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and cook on low heat for a minute. Tip out into a heatproof bowl.
Wipe clean the saucepan and pour in enough oil to come 2cm up the sides. While the oil is heating up, mix the corn flour with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Toss the tofu in the corn flour, shake off any excess and fry in batches until golden, about five minutes (the oil must be just hot enough gently to fry the tofu). Drain on kitchen towel and set aside somewhere warm.
For the chickpeas – preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the chickpeas with 1 TBSP sunflower or olive oil and the spices. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until browned and crunchy and 25 minutes.
To serve, heat up the soup, stir in the lemon juice and divide between four bowls. Top each with some fried tofu, crunchy chickpeas, and a drizzle of the cumin and chilli oil, and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.
Let us begin Part II of the pumpkin chronicles. As Dustin and I discovered last week, one average sized pumpkin makes A LOT of pumpkin puree. Which is great if you are planning to feed an army of pumpkin pie eating adults during the holiday season, but if, on the other hand, you are two young professionals who like to eat food on occasion that does not involve pumpkin, using all of the puree requires a significant amount of creativity. First and foremost I highly, highly recommend freezing a portion of the puree. I typically pack portions into large zip lock bags for freezing, just make sure to extract as much air as possible before placing the pumpkin in the freezer. Once frozen the puree will keep for several months and can be easily defrosted by submerging the bag in a bowl of room temperature water for a few hours.
Now, in my mind, one of the greatest pleasures of slicing, dicing, roasting, and pulsing your own pumpkin to make puree, is that you also have a golden opportunity to take advantage of the little treasure that hides inside of the pumpkin, the seeds. Like pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, which are often referred to as “pepitas” (the Spanish name for the seeds) can be bought in many supermarkets, but home made pepitas are noticeably different than their store bought counterparts. Most store variety pepitas are sold with the outer shell removed, which makes for a softer bite but a less toasty flavor. I found a recipe for home made pepitas which calls for the seeds to be first boiled in salted water and then roasted, the result is a crunchy exterior, strongly toasted flavor, and delicate center. I personally, much prefer this to the store variety, and highly recommend trying your hand at it at home!
To make the pepitas, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Separate the seeds from the stringy core and rinse them well. In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, you will need about 2 cups of water for every half cup of seeds. Stir in about a half tablespoon of salt for each cup of water and bring to a boil. Let the water simmer for about 10 minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Pour the seeds into a colander over the sink to drain. Toss the seeds in about a tablespoon of olive oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake the seeds for 15 mins or until they turn a nice golden color. These make a nice crunchy afternoon snack and are great on salads.
Part of my motivation for the great pumpkin puree project was to have an opportunity to try out a great fall soup recipe I had found for a black bean and pumpkin soup. As I read over the recipe and began to thinking about a strategy for incorporating some of my own favorite flavors into the original, I thought about how I could better leverage the pumpkin itself, and the byproducts of the roasting process, to make a better soup. What I discovered, was that a roasting pumpkin tends to release a lot of water, and I decided that, rather than discarding the pumpkin water I would try to save as much as possible and us it as a sort of broth for the pumpkin soup.
This soup really has that special “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” There is a nice subtle hint of smokiness and spice from the sausage, vegetarians can recreate this flavor profile with a little hickory salt and some pepper flakes. In terms of pepper flakes, my veggie friends, I would try either Aleppo or Chipotle, don’t go overboard, the soup is not intended to be “spicy” just spiced, a pinch or two will suffice. The texture is really divine, give the beans a good long whirl in the food processor, if the mixture is too thick to really “whirl, try thinning it out with a bit of water, or broth, or tomato puree from your canned tomatoes, whatever makes the process easier. To all of the vegans out there, the butter in the recipe isn’t really necessary and a nice olive oil can be easily substituted – combining this with the spice substitution I recommended above will transform this into a delicious and vegan friendly fall recipe.
Pumpkin Black Bean Soup – adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 Pound Cooked Chicken or Turkey Sausage (Preferable an Andoullie, Chorizo, or other Smoky and Spicy Variety)
Three 15 1/2 Ounce Cans Black Beans, Rinsed Well
1 Cup Canned Plum Tomatoes, Chopped
1 1/4 Cups Diced Onion
1/2 Cup Shallot, Thinly Sliced
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 TBSP Plus 2 TSP Ground Cumin
1 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Cracked Pepper
2 TBSP Unsalted Butter
4 Cups Pumpkin Broth – See Note Above on Pumpkin Broth (or Vegetable or Chicken Broth)
1/2 Cup Vodka
1 1/2 Cups Pumpkin Puree
Start by placing the beans and tomatoes in a food processor. Lock on the lid and let it whirl. If the mixture is too thick add up to a 1/3 cup of water to make the pureeing process easier.
While the beans puree to a nice smooth consistency, begin cooking the turkey sausage (vegans and vegetarians, omit this step.) Heat a 8 qt stockpot of medium heat, add a TBSP of olive oil and sautee sausage until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add enough oil to the pot to equal about a TBSP and a half. Once the oil is hot add onion, shallot, garlic and cumin and sautee until translucent. Add salt, pepper, broth and vodka and bring to a boil. Boil for about 3 mins to cook off some of the alcohol, reduce heat to medium and add beans and pumpkin puree.
Stir well and add additional water if needed to reach the desired consistency. Simmer for about 15 mins. Finally, taste for seasoning adding additional salt and pepper as needed.
Serve topped with home made pepitas and enjoy!
I cannot believe we are leaving on Friday, it still seems so unreal. Our belongings are almost completely packed away in boxes around the house, and its strange to open drawers and cabinets to find that the item I am searching for is tucked away in one of the brown boxes that line our walls. It is so strange to think that we will soon be leaving this apartment we have inhabited for so long, that I will no longer frequent the same restaurants, or shop in the same stores, or climb in the same gym after the end of this week. While I am excited to leave and to move on to a new scene in a new town my years in Delaware have been some of the best and I will certainly miss this place.
Last night we had a going away party for Dustin and countless members of the climbing gym came out to see him off. Thank you to everyone who came out, your presence meant so much to Dustin and to myself! We have learned so much from knowing each and everyone of you and will carry that with us as we move on to our new home in Nashville. We certainly will miss you! Our door is always open to visitors.
Now, before I get to sappy, lets move on and speak a bit about today’s featured recipe. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but these baked beans are pretty darn delicious. As the beans were simmering away in the oven the filled the home with the most amazing smoky sweet aroma. I could not wait to taste the final product! Like some other recipes featured here recently this one was inspired by a recipe in the June/July BBQ edition of Saveur and has been edited to meet our tastes. The initial recipe included significantly higher amounts of sugar which I reduced in the recipe below. If you prefer a sweeter dish feel free to adjust the amount of brown sugar to meet your liking.
Smokey Baked Beans with Kielbasa
1 lb. Smoked Kielbasa Cut into 1/2″ Round
10 Slices Bacon Cut into 1/2 Inch Strips
4 Cloves Garlic Minced
2 Medium Onions Diced
1 TBSP Thyme Minced
2 Cups Good Quality Barbeque Sauce (we used Trader Joe’s Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce)
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Beef Stock
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 TBSP Yellow Mustard
1 TSP Kosher Salt
4 15-oz. Cans Navy Beans Rinsed Well and Let Dry
1 16-oz. Can Whole Peeled San Marzano Style Tomatoes Crushed by Hand
Preheat oven to 300 degreese
Sear Kielbasa in a single layer in a small amount of oil in a pan on the stove (you may need to do this in batches.) Allow the sausage to brown, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Repeat the process with the bacon, browning in the bottom of the same pan and removing with a slotted spoon.
There should be around 4 TBSP of Grease in the bottom of the pan, if there is more remove excess with a spoon. Saute the garlic, onion, and thyme in the pan until translucent.
Add BBQ Sauce, Stock, Sugar, Molasses, Mustard, Salt and some good cracks of black pepper and allow to simmer. Add beans and stir gently. Break tomatoes into the pot by hand and stir again until just mixed. Taste for seasoning, remembering that the beans will reduce slightly, making the flavors stronger.
Put a lid on the pot and place in the oven, allow the mixture to bubble away in the oven for around 2 hours, removing the lid half way through baking.
Carefully remove the pot from the oven and taste for seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.