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Archive for the ‘Beans’ Category

Chili

I used to take it as dogma that chili, real chili, must contain beef—cubes of beef, not ground beef—and only beef:  no beans, no chicken, no nuthin’.  The very idea of vegetarian chili was ludicrous (and don’t get me started on that Cincinnati stuff that they serve on spaghetti).  Indeed, this is the kind of chili that’s prepared on the competitive chili circuit.  This, I believed, was the authentic chili.

But then I got to thinking:  One, I really needed to lighten up.  Two, a combination of beef and beans (or chicken and beans, or beans by themselves) in a tomato-y spicy broth is a fantastic meal, whatever it’s called.  Three, I happen to write a blog called The Militant Carnivore Cooks for his Vegetarian Wife, so I should probably be open to the idea of less meat-centric chilis.

The final straw was an article in a recent Cook’s Illustrated that discussed that “authentic” chili that is prepared on the competitive chili circuit.  In addition to being bean-free, that chili may not contain any visible traces of tomato or onion.  It consists of nothing more than beef and heaps and heaps of ground spice, added in layer after layer over several hours of stewing.

Eew.

So, I’m a convert.  I’m a born-again chili-head.  Beef, beans, chicken, turkey, mushrooms—whatever you want to use in your chili is fine by me.  (Well, OK, I draw the line at TVP.  Again, eew.)  The only ingredient that should be common to all chilis, in my opinion, is some form of chile.  (Call me crazy.)

So it was that I decided to turn a batch of pinto beans into an all-bean, vegan chili.  The recipe is very similar to the Soupy Lentils from last week, but the spices give it a very different flavor profile.  I was out of dried chiles and couldn’t find chipotles en adobo at the supermarket, so I turned to the one smoked chile that I always have on hand:  pimenton.  It worked like a charm.  I couldn’t decide how to cut the onions for the chili (did I want big chunks?  thin slices?); being lazy, I went for the path of least possible work and tossed the onion in the food processor and pulsed it into a coarse puree.  A fortuitous and felicitous phenomenon resulted:  The tiny pieces of onion in the finished chili gave it a coarse texture that resembled that of ground beef.  Voila!  Vegan chili with beefy, hearty texture, and no TVP in sight.

  • 1 large onion, peeled, cut into rough 2-inch chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1 T dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 T pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 1 28-oz. can of tomatoes
  • 1 12-0z. can of PBR (or another appropriately cheap and hipster-worthy beer)
  • 4 c cooked or canned pinto beans

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Toss the onion and garlic into the food processor.   Keeping your face well back, pulse until the onion is coarsely pureed.  Add to the Dutch oven with a generous pinch of salt and saute over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, pound the cumin seeds and oregano in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground; add to the onion mixture along with the pimenton and cook for about 2 minutes.

Drain the liquid from the can of tomatoes into a bowl; reserve.  Using scisscors, roughly chop the tomatoes inside the can, then stir into the onion mixture.  Turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato juice and beer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until most of the alcohol has evaporated off.  Stir in the beans.  Add water to cover and stir to combine.  Simmer until the mixture comes together, about 10-20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and spice; if desired, add a few dashes of hot sauce or cayenne pepper.  Serve with grated cotija or Monterey Jack and/or a dollop of sour cream and any other garnishes you wish (particularly chopped green onions).  Definitely add some cornbread on the side.

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Soupy Lentils

This was supposed to be lentil soup, but the bast laid plans of mice and Militant Carnivores…

That’s OK, though:  I think I like lentils this way even better.

First, cook your lentils.  Actually, first buy your lentils:  French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) are what you want here, and for all other lentil applications.  They hold their shape well and seem less dingy and sludgy when cooked then traditional brown lentils.  Next, sort through the lentils to make sure there are no stones or clods of dirt hiding in there.  So now you have:

  • 2 c dried lentilles du Puy
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf

Dump everything in a  pot and cover with water by an inch.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain the lentils, reserving cooking liquid, and discard garlic and bay leaf.  You could eat the lentils at this point (with a little salt), but just wait.  You’ll want to eat these soupy lentils all winter long.

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large can (28 oz.) of tomatoes (Whole tomatoes, please.  I always buy whole tomatoes.  Diced tomatoes are treated with calcium chloride or some such chemical that keeps them from ever fully breaking down in a sauce, and tomato puree tastes precooked.  Stick with the whole tomatoes.  I don’t care if you use chi chi San Marzano tomatoes flown all the way from Italy or if you use Costco brand tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes are the way to go.)
  • cooked lentils from recipe above (this probably yields about 6 c of cooked lentils)
  • 1 c of reserved lentil cooking liquid (see above)
  • 1 big handful of parsley, thoroughly washed

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to use mirepoix more often.  Mirepoix is a traditional French combination of carrots, celery and onion that is sauteed as the foundation for a soup, sauce, stew or other recipe.  (I know, I know:  I have weird New Year’s resolutions.)   In the past, I rarely used carrots and celery in my cooking, but now I understand that they function the way that bitters and sugar function in a cocktail:  The carrots, like the sugar, add sweetness while the celery (and the bitters) provides bitterness, thus ramping up the amplitude of a dish (or a cocktail) and creating a fuller flavor profile.  So, mirepoix it is:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Add the *liquid* from the can of tomatoes to the pot.  Stir into the vegetables with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Stick a pair of kitchen shears into the tomato can and cut up the tomatoes (this is much faster and neater than trying to chop them on a board).  Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine.  Cook until the tomatoes break down and become integrated with the other vegetables, about 10 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils and a few generous pinches of salt; stir to combine.  Add the lentil cooking liquid and about 3 c water (or stock, if you have it) to cover.  Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  When the liquid boils, reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture comes together, about 10-15 minutes.  (You’ll know it when you see it.)

There you have it:  soupy lentils.  Ladle into bowls.  Roughly chop the parsley and scatter over top.  Drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil that you have and sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top.  Serve with bread (or even better, bruschetta) on the side.

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I better put this up while it’s still fava bean season.

Fava beans are almost next to artichokes in my book of things which are such a pain in the ass to cook that I almost never make them.  (I love artichokes, but I feel about them the way I feel about sushi:  I’d rather pay somebody else to prepare them for me.)  Fava beans are so delicious, though, and so suggestive of late spring and early summer that I don’t mind a little hassle once or twice a season.

I learned this technique for prepping favas from Saveur, which used to be one of my favorite cooking magazines, before a series of editorial changes took all the fun and flavor out of it.  Essentially, three things must be done to favas before you can eat them:

1)  Remove the beans from the pods.  (The pods are strangely fuzzy on the inside.  Budget a couple of minutes for playing with the pods into your prep time.)

2)  Blanching the beans for about 30 seconds in boiling water.

3)  Slipping the beans out of their skins.  (I generally tear an edge of the skin with one hand and pop the bean out with the other.)

The picture below shows a blanched bean on the left, a blanched bean removed from its skin on the right, and the discarded skin in the middle.

As I said, it’s kind of a pain.  But it’s not rocket science, and once the beans are prepped, the recipe itself is easy:

  • 1 c prepped fava beans, removed from pods, blanched, skins discarded (from about 1 lb. whole fava beans)
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • as much olive oil as needed
  • 1 baguette, sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • handful of mint leaves
  • 1 oz. Pecorino Romano (preferred) or Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

Put the fava beans, garlic, lemon juice, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a food processor.

Pulse a few times to grind up the beans.  Scrape down the sides, then process on high for 15 seconds.  The goal is to really puree the beans before adding the olive oil in order to form a nice creamy emulsion.

With the food processor running on high, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  You’ll probably need at least half a cup.  When the mixture is nice and creamy, taste it for seasoning.

Meanwhile, make the crostini (which, like bruschetta, is Italian for “toast”):  Toast as many slices as can fit in your toaster (or spread them on a baking sheet and broil them, or bake them at 350 degrees, or fry them in olive oil…).  Spread a generous spoonful of fava bean purée onto each toast.  Roughly chop the mint leaves, then sprinkle them over the crostini.  If using the cheese, shave thin slices with a vegetable peeler and put enough cheese on each, um, crostino to cover it.  (If not using the cheese, drizzle a little more olive oil—the best you have—on top and add a little coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon.)

Eat these outside on a nice day.  Wash them down with a glass or two of chilled rosé.

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This is barely a recipe, just a celebration of the magical combination that is white beans and sage.  (And garlic, of course.)

While this dish will certainly be better with dried beans that you soak and cook yourself, canned beans will do in a pinch (just drain and rinse them thoroughly).  Cannellini, great northern beans or any other kind of white bean will do.

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • handful of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 c cooked white beans
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat a cast-iron skillet or stovetop-safe, broiler-safe gratin dish over medium heat.  Add the butter, olive oil, sage, garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet; cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the beans and stir to coat thoroughly with the butter and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together the bread crumbs and Parmigiano and sprinkle over the beans.

Place the gratin in the oven for about 15 minutes; the beans should be hot and the topping golden brown and crisp.  If the topping needs to be cooked longer, run the gratin under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.  Serve immediately.

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Before I met my Lovely Vegetarian Wife, this is the sort of thing that would have struck me as just godawful, a dish that sounds like rabbit food, warmed over.  Little did I know that properly cooked chickpeas are addictively good, and cabbage—Cabbage!  Who knew?—when properly roasted is as tasty as french fries.

This is the sort of warm salad that’s great when you need a break from heavy, dairy-rich food but still want something filling and hearty.  The bell peppers add a nice touch, but, given their expense, you should consider them optional.  Some parsley or chives would not be amiss either.

  • 3 bell peppers, preferably of different colors (optional)
  • 1 small head of cabbage, cut into quarters
  • 3 c of cooked chickpeas
  • olive oil, as needed
  • a splash of sherry vinegar or lemon juice

If you decide to use the optional peppers, this technique will help you roast and peel them quickly:  Preheat the broiler with the oven rack at its highest setting.  Cut the top and bottom off one of the peppers.  Make a vertical cut through the side of the pepper, and unroll the pepper to reveal the seeds within.  Remove and discard the core and seeds.  Repeat with the other two peppers, then place all of the pepper pieces skin side up on a baking sheet.

Put the peppers under the broiler and, uh, broil.  After 7 minutes or so, you might want to rotate the tray so that everything browns evenly.  Don’t be shy when roasting, grilling or broiling peppers.  It’s OK if the skin gets blackened because you’re going to remove it anyway.  Go ahead and nuke the suckers.

The peppers in the picture above could have been cooked even longer, but I was hungry, so I took them out and proceeded to the next step:  Put the peppers in a bowl; cover the bowl with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap.  This is the miracle step in this whole recipe:  By allowing the peppers to steam in a bowl for 10 minutes, the skin will separate from the flesh and come right off when you peel them.  It works like a charm and saves you a lot of hassle.

While the peppers are doing their thing, toss the cabbage and chickpeas with a little olive oil, then spread them out on a (rimmed) baking sheet.  Put the sheet under the broiler and—you guessed it—broil.  When the cabbage is getting nice and brown, flip the wedges and stir the chickpeas.  Broil some more until the cabbage gets nice and brown on the second side.

Peel the peppers and discard the skin; chop the peppers into 1 inch-wide strips and add to a mixing bowl.  Cut the core out of the cabbage wedges and discard.  Chop the cabbage into 1 inch-wide pieces; add with the chickpeas to the mixing bowl.  Add a glug of olive oil, the vinegar or lemon juice, a generous sprinkling of (coarse, flaky, as hoity-toity as you can get) sea salt and several grinds of black pepper.  Mix thoroughly and serve warm.

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Falafel

I used to think I hated chickpeas—HATED them.  I thought they were insipid, with a grainy texture that was startlingly unpleasant.  For years, I assiduously avoided anything that contained them.

I’m not sure what made me decide to start cooking my own chickpeas, but it was then that I realized that what I hated so much was not chickpeas per se, but *canned* chickpeas.  The difference between canned chickpeas and dried is like night and day:  Dried chickpeas cook up as rich, meaty, tender, flavorful legumes.  Sometimes I wonder if I can get enough chickpeas:  I just ate them three ways (falafel, hummus, roasted chickpeas) and loved every bite.

In my ongoing series of tributes to the great eating establishments of Washington, DC (and that is not an oxymoron, for all you haters out there), I was inspired to make falafel out of my pining for Amsterdam Falafel Shop.  Why isn’t there a falafel shop next door to me that is open until 3 am, with a huge fix-it-yourself condiments bar featuring very well-roasted cauliflower and a parsley sauce that, paradoxically, contains a higher molarity of garlic than pure garlic itself does?  I’m sure there’s great falafel in Seattle, but I ain’t found it yet, and I won’t bank on it being available every time a falafel craving strikes.  Best, I thought, to make my own.

You should make your own, too.  It is actually ridiculously easy, as easy as making a hamburger.  You do have to plan ahead and soak the chickpeas overnight (which you should do with dried chickpeas, anyway), but you don’t cook the chickpeas before you chop them up and form them into patties.  (This seems very counter-intuitive and unsettling the first time you do it:  Why am I eating raw chickpeas, you think?  Can they possibly cook all the way through and come out tender?  They will, miraculously.  Have faith.)

A couple of pointers:   You don’t want to over-process the chickpeas, or the falafel will be tough.  Just puree them until they’re coarsely ground, somewhere between cornmeal and gravel in size.

Also, patties are easier to form than balls and can be cooked in much less oil; they also feature a higher crispy-surface-to-tender-inside ratio, which I prefer.  Finally, the dough is so fragile that the patties tend to come apart in my hands.  I figured out the technique of mashing the patty onto the end of a slotted spoon, and then sliding the patty off the end of the spoon into the pan.

Amazingly, even if the patty breaks apart a little, I can push the pieces back together in the pan and they will fuse back together as they cook.

  • 2 c dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water to cover by an inch, then drained
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped, or 3 green onions, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • either 1 t each of coriander and cumin, ground, or 1 t pimentón
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • olive oil for frying, as needed

Combine the first five ingredients with several pinches of salt and several grinds of fresh ground pepper in a food processor.  Process until coarsely ground; transfer to a bowl.  Preheat oven to warm or lowest setting.

Pour olive oil into a cast-iron skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat over medium heat.  When oil is hot and shimmery, form slider-sized patties with your hands.  (Your hands will get very messy, and the falafel dough feels very gritty and unpleasant.  Just man up and deal with it.)  Mash the patty onto the end of a big spoon, and then carefully slide the patty of the spoon into the skillet.  Repeat; you should be able to fit four patties in a 9-inch cast iron skillet at a time.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until bottom forms a nice brown crust.

Flip the patties and cook for 2-3 more minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined ovensafe dish, season with salt and pepper, and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the rest of the falafel.  You should get at least a dozen patties from this recipe.

Serve hot with:

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