Friday, February 26, 2010

Chipotle Sausage with Pinto Beans

The sausages I used in today's dish are not to my knowledge AWA approved or Niman Ranch products.

I bought them at the Whole Foods meat counter but I did not ask where the meat was from and if it had been raised humanely.

Despite that I've been suggesting the above practices are the way to ensure that the meat you're eating is traditionally-farmed versus factory-farmed, it is a challenge to find high-welfare meat items.

I read on the AWA's website that since much of the meat on display at Whole Foods is not marked with the Animal Welfare Approved stamp, consumers are advised to specifically ask for product from AWA-certified farms or farmer groups.

Now that seems easy.

So I'm going to incorporate this question into my grocery shopping meat-counter vocabulary: "Can you tell me which meat and poultry items are from AWA-certified farms or farmer groups?"

I'll let you know how I get on.

The choice some people make as a way to bypass the above issues is to become vegetarian, but that's not a choice I'm contemplating.

It is the choice Righteous Porkchop author, Nicolette Hahn Niman made.

However, rather than tout the benefits of becoming a vegetarian in her writing and activism, Nicolette has made it her mission to educate animal-protein consumers (which is the majority) on the meat industry, offering solutions along lines of how to avoid food produced on factory farms.

It's a great article, I urge to follow the link and read Nicolette's solution-oriented suggestions.

And then if you're still keen to put the ingredients in the above picture together to make my version of spicy sausages and beans, here's my method:

Chipotle Sausage with Pinto Beans
1) Soak a cup of pinto beans overnight, strain of soaking water and then gently boil for about 2 hours.
2) Cut up a couple of chipotle beef, pork or turkey sausages (sausages that you feel have been made with meat that has been farmed with integrity).
3) Peel and chop an onion and a clove of garlic.
4) Toss onion and garlic and sausage into a casserole pot with some oil and gently saute over med heat.
5) If you'd like your dish extra spicy, add-to-taste your favorite chili powder and stir into ingredients.
6) Now add cooked pinto beans and a teaspoon of cumin or caraway or dill seeds.
7) If you have any chicken or vegetable stock, add about half a cup to the pot and gently cook casserole on low for about 45 mins.

To Serve: Stir your favorite salsa into the casserole. A smoked peach or tomato and garlic or a combination of both would be yummy. Squeeze the juice from half a lime over the lot and stir through about a cup of chopped, fresh cilantro.

A bowl on its own suffices, or you could serve the beans and sausage over buttered rice, quinoa, millet or even buttery, mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ethical Meat Makes Better Beef Rib Stew

I've set the bar high declaring my intention to purchase traditionally farmed meat over cuts from factory-farmed livestock.

It's actually not as easy as I'd hoped, sourcing traditionally-farmed protein items.

At the store, the meat and poultry I gravitate to is labeled organic, organically fed, and or natural, but I've never noticed a label identifying protein items as "traditionally farmed."

And of course labeling is not always accurate.

On further reading of Nicolette Hahn Niman's Righteous Porkchop, I followed the author's research trail and found my way to the Animal Welfare Approved website.

On their home page I read that the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) program "audits and certifies family farms that utilize high-welfare methods of farming."

And what that means for the consumer is this:

"Animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range on true family farms with the most stringent welfare standards according to the World Society of Protection of Animals ..."

I liked the sound of this and so I scrolled down the home page to a window that says "Find Farms and Products in your Area."

If consuming high-welfare meat, poultry, dairy and eggs stamped with approval by the AWA is of interest to you, type your area and the product you're seeking into that window and see what comes up.

I noticed that Whole Foods carry AWA certified products. Perhaps there's a store near you; follow the link to find out.

Compared to rock-bottom priced factory-farmed meats, you'll pay a bit more for products stamped with the AWA symbol. However, as I've written many times in this blog, if you're on a budget, buy less meat, buy less expensive cuts of meat and or stretch your meat items further.

Yesterday I posted a recipe for hamburgers consisting of 50 percent ground beef and 50 percent hummus. Today the meal idea I'm proposing is beef rib stew which is less about the beef and more about the vegetables and barley that make up most of this dish.

Beef Rib Stew
1) Fill a large pot with water and add your choice of vegetables such as a chopped onion or leeks, carrots, celery, potato and garlic.
2) Add a half to 3/4 of a pound portion of beef back ribs or the portion that will fit into your pot. In the pic above I have approximately 3/4 pounds of beef ribs.
3) Add a few black peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves and if you have any fresh thyme or sage, add a few sprigs.
4) Pour in half a cup of barley or brown rice or brown rice and lentils or your favorite cooked beans i.e. kidney, pinto, canellini or Great Northern -- or a combination of all of the above.
5) Simmer stew for 2-3 hours on low, periodically skimming the surface of the stew for fat and debris.
6) The liquid in the pot will decrease during cooking creating a thickened stew, however if the contents of your pot begins to look too dry, add a bit more water.
7) Taste test and season to your liking.

To Serve: Remove ribs from stew pot and cut meat from bones, trimming away any excess fat. Toss meat back into the pot and ladle spoonfuls of stew into serving bowls; top with chopped parsley and present with chunks of crusty bread or corn bread.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hummus Hamburger

Last weekend I did my grocery shopping and noticed that meat prices are higher than a year ago.

That happens -- prices go up and if you're on a budget, you adjust your purchases accordingly.

With the hike in price on meat it certainly prompted me to reconsider, yet again, my relationship to eating animal protein.

It was only last month that I dedicated a series of posts to Reducing, Refining and Replacing animal protein in one's diet. More recently, I began reading Righteous Porkchop by Nicolette Hahn Niman.

If you've read Righteous Porkchop you know that it's an exploration of the factory farming industry, vis-a-vis the inhumane farming of animals for human consumption.

To be honest, I'm skimming content because I can't stomach reading the details of factory-farming livestock and poultry; cruel and inhumane treatment of animals is abhorrent to me.

And yet I eat meat.

And if I eat animal protein then I need to know how I can do so without supporting an industry that does not align with my belief that livestock and poultry deserve to live out their lives in environments that are natural to their species.

So I've been reading more carefully the back section of Nicolette's book where she offers solutions such as "Finding the Right Foods" by seeking out meat, eggs and poultry not grown on industrialized farms but on traditional farms.

When I read that I realized one of the reasons I so enjoy watching the All Creatures Great and Small series on Netlfix is the depiction of traditional farming practices.

Though somewhat romanticized (it's set in the 1930's), the series nevertheless is a reminder that raising livestock for human consumption is not an evil when the farming practices are in harmony with the cycles of nature.

Oddly, I didn't realize it until I put two-and-two together that the author of Righteous Porkchop is married to Bill Niman, of Niman Ranch, whose mission it is "to raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably ..."

Before reading Nicolette's book, I wrote a post titled French Lentils and Ham Hock Stew referencing Niman Ranch pork as one of the more humanely farmed pork meats available and thus a brand worth looking out for at your grocery store.

Ultimately, what I've learned through my recent reading and my relationship to eating meat is that I can be a more conscious consumer of animal protein simply by asking questions of my grocery store meat-counter associate and or by researching where in my area I can buy humanely farmed meat and poultry.

If you're a meat eater, I encourage you to be vigilant in your efforts to consume meat and poultry that has been farmed humanely.

Meanwhile, this week at the grocery store I reduced the amount of meat I purchased in order to stay within my budget.

And then once home, here's a delicious trick I employed to make my Niman Ranch ground beef go further:

Hummus Hamburger

1) Mix 1/4 of a pound of hamburger meat with approximately 4 ounces of home-made hummus.
2) Form meat into rounds and brown in a skillet, cooking hamburgers for approximately 10 mins on med to low heat.

To Serve: Because chic pea hummus is moist and quite garlic-y in flavor, when mixed with the beef it makes for a very succulent and tasty hamburger. I still had some good-quality organic Ketchup on the side, but home-made tomato salsa or even fruit chutney would be a great accompaniment as would a crusty chunk of bread.

In the top pic you'll note that I had one hamburger (I kept the other for lunch the following day) with a large helping of the Colorful Winter Vegetables I wrote about earlier this month

Friday, February 19, 2010

Millet Pudding Video

This week I've been revisiting Market to Mouth posts I wrote in February last year. But today, I'm sharing a video demonstration of a recipe I posted on facebook last week.

My facebook friend Jonathan liked the sound of the millet pudding so he subsequently made it for his two little kids, and he videoed cooking the pudding, while the kids waited in anticipation.

Now, the kids enjoy "monkey brains" or cooked oatmeal for breakfast so millet, with its comparatively earthy flavor, had the potential to be a flavor-stretch for the Machen kiddies.

I wish I could say confidently that the proof was in the pudding, however as you will note, their reactions were mixed; though I am hanging onto Phoenix's generous assessment: "It makes your body wiggle."

Wiggling-Good Millet Pudding
1) On med-to-low heat, cook one cup of dry millet in 3 cups of water for about 15 mins. Turn heat off and let millet steam cook for about another 15 mins.
2) Into a bowl, add one cup of the cooked millet.
3) Add a quarter-to-half a teaspoon (depending on how spicy you like your food) of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, or just one or a mix of two of these spices.
4) Now add an egg and about half a cup of milk, cream or half and half. Mix ingredients well with a fork.
5) Pour batter into a baking dish greased with butt and dob the top with extra bits of butter.
6) Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 15-30 mins or until the pudding is slightly brown on top and set.

To Serve: Spoon into breakfast bowls and top with either fresh fruit like banana or seasonal berries or stewed fruit like apple or pear. And if you wish, sprinkle with toasted almonds or walnuts or raw sunflower seeds; for additional sweetness you might like a little honey, agave or maple syrup over the lot.

This breakfast dish recalls the posts I wrote last month on cooking whole grains for breakfast. So if you'd like to experiment further check out the following:

1. Nutmeg, Spinach and Millet
2. Millet with Buttered Apples
3. Polenta Cake with Yogurt

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recipe Independence

Recipe Independence is one of my favorite topics.

I first blogged about it this time last year and subsequently linked to that post many times in the effort to inform readers about the budgetary and creative benefits of being independent of recipes.

Because I'm revisiting some of my top posts from this time last year, today I'm re-posting my original essay on said topic:

You've probably noticed that I tend not to post detailed recipes but rather, method notes for preparing main meals. That's because I prefer not to use recipes and I want to encourage you to avoid becoming recipe-dependent.

When dependent on recipes, there is a proclivity to make extravagant purchases at the grocery store in the effort to ensure that we have all ingredients on hand for a particular dish. If you're trying to stay on-budget, then cooking directly from recipes is a recipe for going off budget!

That said, I did mention in a prior post that when I write up my grocery list for the week, I sometimes peruse my favorite recipe books for ideas on what to cook. But I tend to modify recipes to suit my budget.

For instance, Beef Bourguignon is a classic French beef dish (featured in the movie "Julie and Julia"). It calls for lots of ingredients including:
  • a pound of good quality beef
  • top-quality bacon
  • a red wine, like Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
  • Cognac (though it's not listed in the link above)
  • mushrooms, onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and tomato paste.
Because of my French culinary training, it's easy for me to manipulate recipes and I want to encourage you to do the same by trusting your instincts, your palate and your creativity -- you can't go too wrong when you trust your inner-chef in the kitchen.

With that in mind, instead of buying all the ingredients listed in the classic version of the recipe, I'll make a modified version of Beef Bourguignon to suit my budget, and the ingredient list might look like this:
  • cubed stewing beef
  • leftover red wine -- I'll use that rather than dashing out and buying a bottle
  • I'll probably leave out the Cognac because it's not something I have on hand
  • Bacon-- I might use turkey or I've also taken to using prosciutto chunks that Whole Foods sells in small containers for $3-$4. It's delicious in soups, casseroles and for jazzing up bean and lentil dishes and for sauteing with veggies.
  • Mushrooms, onions, garlic and carrots are veggies I often include in my weekly grocery list so I'll probably have those on hand. If I don't, I'll leave them out and maybe just add extra onion, and fresh tomatoes or good quality spaghetti sauce if I don't have tomato paste in the cupboard.
My method for preparing the ingredients might involve the following:
  • Brown the beef cubes in a hot, deep-sided skillet lined with a little oil. Remove browned beef to a plate. (Classic recipes call for tossing the beef cubes in flour before sauteing, but I tend to bypass that step for the sake of time and convenience.)
  • Turn hot plate to med, add bacon or prosciutto chunks and saute gently, allowing the fat from the pork to release.
  • Add chopped garlic and your choice of veggies. Saute gently in fat.
  • Add browned beef, stir, and now add red wine or red wine mixed with stock or water.
  • If you have some tomato paste on hand, add a blob of that or a slurp of some good quality bottled, plain-tomato spaghetti sauce.
  • If you have bay leafs pop in a couple or some dried or fresh thyme or a mix of both.
  • Allow the contents of the skillet to simmer before putting the lid on and placing it in a 350-degree oven for about 2 or so hours or until the beef is tender. Check periodically to make sure there is still liquid in the skillet, if not, add more stock, wine or even water.
  • If you prefer that that your mushrooms and onion not turn to mush in the cooking process, saute them in some additional bacon or even a bit of butter, and add them just before serving. And if you do have cognac in the cupboard, once you've sauteed the mushies, slurp a bit into the pan, allowing the alcohol to evaporate, and then pour contents of pan into the skillet with the cooked beef.
So as you can probably tell, my Beef Bourguignon might morph into succulent Beef in Red Wine casserole, which is perfectly acceptable if you're open to improvising and being creative, and I hope you are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Organic or Conventional

Late last February, as early spring vegetables began to appear at the market, I posted a list of produce that consumers are advised to purchase organic plus conventionally grown produce that's safe to consume.

Since my posts over the last few weeks have featured lots of seasonal vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, it seems like a good time to revisit that list (see below).

I sourced the list from the Vegetarian Times; another great resource is Food News which offers an extensive list of fruits and vegetables containing pesticides.

Also, I noticed the March issue of O Magazine has a two-page spread titled "Are Organics Worth Their Price?" Written by Nina Planck who also wrote Real Food, you'll probably come away from the article feeling as though your health is definitely worth buying all organic.

However, if that's simply not within your budget, consider the list of conventionally grown produce that's safe to buy, but at the same time, do your best to buy those items listed under "Buy Organic."

Feel free to print this list out.

Buy organic:

Beets (thin-skinned veggies that grow underground absorb pesticides and heavy metals)

Bell peppers (all colors – conventionally grown are likely to contain multiple pesticide residues)

Carrots (are good at absorbing heavy metals from the soil)

Celery (most likely to contain pesticide residues)

Leafy greens i.e. lettuces, chard, collard greens, spinach (are grown low to the ground and are thus likely to have high pesticide residue levels)

Cucumbers (highly toxic pesticides are used on conventionally grown cucumbers)

Green beans (conventionally grown are sprayed multiply times with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides)

Potatoes (especially russets are highly likely to contain pesticide residues)

Winter squash (mild pesticides used, conventionally grown are acceptable if you don’t eat the skin)

Almonds (toxic pesticides and herbicides used on almond trees)

Peanuts (peanuts grow underground and are known to absorb toxins from the soil)

Pecans (pecan trees tend to be sprayed frequently with pesticides, herbicides and miticides)

Okay to buy Conventional:

Asparagus (does not appeal to many pests and so rarely treated with pesticides)

Avocados (low pesticide residues and a thick skin make the conventionally grown okay)

Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage (pesticides don’t work well on these veggies thus few are used on them)

Sweet Corn (though it may be sprayed with herbicides and some pesticides, it almost never contains pesticide residue, but buy local)

Eggplant (selectively sprayed with minimally toxic pesticides thus it rarely contains pesticides residue)

Garlic (has natural pest control and is rarely sprayed)

Onions all varieties (like garlic has natural pest control and thus minimally sprayed)

Rhubarb (rarely sprayed)

Sweet potatoes (pesticides are used sparingly on these)

Tomatoes (buy local)

Zucchini (doesn’t tolerate pesticides/herbicides)

Dried Beans (beans are sprayed with insecticides but are then soaked and washed and boiled so residues are likely removed – buy local)

Cashews (are grown in tropical locales where pesticides are rarely used)

Macadamia nuts (few pesticides are used on macs)

Sesame seeds (organic is better but pesticide residues are minor in non-organic sesame products)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lunches made with Leftovers

This week I'm going to revisit M2M posts from winter 2009, in particular recipes that make the most of abundant, winter-time produce.

Today I'm returning to Leftovers Made into Delicious Lunches:

The trick to using leftovers is to jazz them up -- that way you have a completely new meal.

In other words, don't serve for lunch or dinner exactly what you ate the night before; your poor taste buds will be terribly bored.

Here are several examples of lunches using leftovers from meal ideas posted February 2009:

1) My Spicy Butternut Pumpkin Soup (pic above) will jazz up well with the addition of say, half a cup of cooked millet, quinoa or rice. The grain will create a stew like consistency. Serve with a blob of yogurt on top, and sprinkle with toasted almonds and or sunflower seeds.

2) Leftover Garbanzo Bean Casserole will roll up inside corn tortillas. Just mix in some feta or mozzarella, heat in the microwave or oven, and serve with avocado pieces on top and some crackers or chips on the side.

3) I suggested you make turkey stock with turkey wings. Fresh or fresh-frozen stock is great to have on hand to use as the basis for nourishing soups.

You'll note celery and beetroot listed on the Feb 5th 2009 grocery list, so a
Beet, Celery & Apple Soup using your turkey stock would be a great lunch.

Simply chop some celery, a beet, apple, and an onion (a chunk of raw ginger root if you have it). Put ingredients in a pot with enough stock to cover.

Simmer till veggies are cooked (about 45 mins). Season, and then whiz soup in the food processor or serve it chunky as in the pic above.

On the side serve a couple of corn tortillas or a chunk of crusty bread with a soft cheese like feta or mozzarella.

Making meals with leftovers is both budget-wise and less of a hassle than starting from scratch since you already have something to work with.

The key is to be unabashedly creative, adding other ingredients from the fridge and cupboard to make a whole new dish so that you don't feel like you're eating the same meal you ate a day or two beforehand.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More Colorful Winter Vegetables

Yesterday I wrote that green vegetables are nutritional power-houses, particularly dark leafy greens like kale, collard and dandelion greens, chard, mustard and beet greens.

Calorie for calorie, they're a highly concentrated source of nutrition, rich in phytonutrients, vitamin K, minerals and even Omega-3's.

Yet for some, the slightly bitter, sometimes tough leafy greens are about as appetizing as old shoe.

I had a comment from a reader yesterday who said, "I've never had success making kale taste good, which is key when it comes to feeding it to your kids."

Children tend to be highly sensitive to the bitter flavor so it is challenging to get them to eat dark greens.

I remember sitting at the dinner table refusing to eat spinach, my mother hovering in the background threatening me with "You'll sit there till you eat it." So I sat there for hours.

What she didn't realize is that mixing bitter with slightly sweet makes the bitter flavor far more appetizing.

For instance, in the pic above, I've sauteed in olive oil a rasher of turkey bacon with a medley of winter vegetables:
  • brown onion and a clove of garlic
  • peeled and chopped butternut pumpkin
  • sliced red cabbage -- all slightly sweet veggies
  • and topped the dish with pieces of leafy kale.
The bitterness of the kale is not the stand-out flavor in this braised dish. The soft, smooth, sweet pumpkin dominates, and for kids this combo of texture and flavor is far more palatable.

So if you inner kid still cringes at the thought of a side of bitter greens, try combining greens with sweet, colorful, winter veggies.

Another tip for cooking kale into palatable bliss came from a friend on facebook: Judi grows her own green, red, white Russian and lacinto kale.

Her favorite way to prepare her kale is to saute a combination of leaves with caramelized onions (this link goes to my recipe for caramelized shallots but you can apply it to brown or white onions).

The natural sweetness of the onion, plus caramelizing it in brown sugar and butter, offsets the bitterness of the kale creating a sumptuous and rich veggie side.

Celery is a slightly bitter green most often thought of as a summer-salad item. Yet it's fabulous cooked since the process of heating it both breaks down the sinewy fibers and lessens the bitter flavor.

It's also a great alkaline vegetable as are the vegetables discussed above. If you have a predisposition to acidity, integrating more alkaline foods into your diet is a must for your health.

Braised Celery with Eggplant

1) Wash and chop up several sticks of organic celery.
2) Peel and chop a brown onion and a clove of garlic.
3) Chop an eggplant into bite-size pieces.
4) And either chop an organic red bell pepper or wash a handful of cherry tomatoes.
5) In a skillet saute the eggplant in olive oil over high until it browns slightly. Turn heat down and toss in all remaining ingredients, except tomatoes (if you're including them).
6) Add a chopped dried or fresh herb such as basil, sage, thyme or oregano.
7) Put lid on skillet and gently stew on low for about 10 mins; at the last minute, toss in cherry tomatoes.

To Serve:
Season to taste, drizzle with a grated dry cheese like Romano or Parmesan. You might enjoy this medley of veggies over a bowl of shell or spiral pasta topped with a couple of the meat balls I posted last month.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eat Colorful Winter Vegetables

I noticed as I went back over the last few posts that color was lacking in the food pictures -- bar green.

Green is good, in fact eating green in the form of spinach, kale, chard, celery and broccoli is fantastic because these vegetables are nutritional powerhouses.

Yet sitting down to a meal dominated by green is not always appetizing. Though, I have to say the spinach saag I blogged about yesterday and last week is yum by virtue of all the spices, onion, garlic, and milk or cream added.

Despite that I think spinach and kale can be appetizing, I had a conversation with a friend who is determined to include kale in her diet and as she talked about her good intentions, the look on her face said "yuk."

It's with that in mind that I thought today and tomorrow, I'd offer tips for preparing colorful vegetable dishes. Easy-to-cook and tasty sides that make use of in-season veggies, like winter kale, that are abundant and therefore priced well.

When grocery shopping, 80% of your food should come from the edge of the store, for example, whole, unprocessed food like fresh produce, protein items, some dairy and bulk items like grains, nuts and seeds.

And then the greatest volume of your groceries should be fresh produce -- both for health and economy.

According to a USDA study, in 2007 a family of four on average spent about $189 on groceries a week. Yet, according to that study a family who chose a healthier meal plan consisting of inexpensive protein items, whole grains and fresh produce was actually able to reduce its grocery bills by about $20 a week.

Braised Veggie Medley (top pic)
1) To a skillet add about a tablespoon of light oil, eg. olive or canola. Heat on med to high.
2) Add a smashed clove of garlic and if you have it, some peeled and chopped fresh ginger.
3) Now toss in half a peeled and sliced Spanish onion, a red or yellow organic bell pepper, a couple sticks of celery, and some broccoli florets (check my list for produce best bought organic).
4) To the skillet add a selection of winter greens, and gently saute. Add a little water and quickly place the lid on the skillet, allowing the greens to steam cook for a few mins.
5) Optional: If you want to enrich your braised veggies, you could pour a little cream into the skillet at the last minute, and with the heat on high, let the cream and veggie juices gently boil and thicken before serving. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I tend to buy Whole Foods braising greens. The mix consists of 2 types of kale, radicchio, chard, collard greens, beet greens and mustard greens. I like this combination because it's colorful (see top pic), I'm buying the small succulent leaves only (the woody stalks have been removed), and I can buy it in bulk so I pick and pay for only what I want.

Additionally, the braising greens are right next to the bulk spinach and arugula and they're all the same price so often I add spinach and arugula to my bag of braising greens for an even tastier mix.

To Serve: Eat braised veggie medley for lunch or dinner over a grain or pasta topped with toasted seeds or nuts or sprinkled with feta or grated Parmesan. Or serve as a side with your favorite protein item.

Roasted Winter Root Veggies

1) Onto a baking tray add a selection of washed and chopped root vegetables such as fingerling potatoes, carrots, beetroot, acorn squash, butternut pumpkin, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, onion and garlic.
2) No need to peel the potatoes, squash, pumpkin, celeriac, sunchokes or the garlic.
3) Drizzle olive oil over veggies; use your hands to coat the veggies well with oil.
4) Put baking tray in a 350-degree oven for about 45 mins to 1 hour. Check progress at the 30-min mark, turning veggies so they brown evenly.
5) A few minutes before they're done, toss fresh rosemary over veggies and roast just a little longer so rosemary turns slightly crispy.

To Serve: Turn veggies onto a platter and top with your choice of ground salt. I have a sesame seed and sea salt mix that I love to use on vegetable dishes. You might like to serve veggies with crusty bread or crackers, if so, remove the skin from the garlic and spread the garlic, which is like a paste when it has been roasted, onto the bread or cracker, and top with a soft white cheese, like goat or feta.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Meals to Make with Leftover Saag

Last week I blogged about Indian spices, posting several recipes for sides that made up an easy Indian meal.

The recipes came from a friend who conducted an in-home class on Indian Cooking 101. I assisted Cindy as she ran her class, subsequently writing up what I'd learned on this blog.

At the end of the evening class, all participants sat down and ate what we'd made. And despite 7 hungry women chowing down with gusto, there were still leftovers.

I took home some leftover saag. I had basmati rice on hand plus some additional winter greens, and some fish in the freezer, fresh ginger root in the fridge, and slivered almonds in the pantry.

With these ingredients and the leftover saag, I made a couple of meals: a breakfast (below) and a dinner (above).

Neither meal was particularly spicy; however, I made chai, as per the recipe posted last week, and drank it with the breakfast dish. Between the black tea, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns and fresh ginger, the chai had more get-up-and-go than a morning espresso!

One of the women who participated in the class is a morning-coffee drinker. She and her husband have a little trick they employ to spice up the flavor of their coffee: they add 3 to 4 cardamom seeds to 5 tablespoons of coffee beans and grind them together.

Using a drip coffee machine, the ground beans and seeds infuse the flavor of the resulting coffee. I'm not a coffee drinker, except for the occasional dry cappuccino, but I love the sound of their home brew.

You might like to try a cup of cardamom coffee with this leftover saag breakfast dish:

Rice with Saag, Raisins and Almonds
1) To 3/4 cup of leftover cooked basmati rice, add some raisins and half a cup of homemade chai (or water), warming the lot in a pot on the stove.
2) In another pot, warm a portion of leftover saag, plus a few leaves of winter kale.
3) Meanwhile, toast some slivered almonds in the oven.

To Serve: Spoon saag and kale mix into a bowl, top with warmed chai rice and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

And as I said, I drank a spicy cup of chai with this and was subsequently well fueled for the morning.

(You might be aware that this recipe recalls the series of whole grain breakfasts I featured a number of weeks ago, in particular the millet, spinach, raisin and nutmeg dish.)

The main meal dish I made with the leftover saag was very easy.

Saag with Mahi Mahi
1) Add a portion of the leftover saag to a skillet. Heat it gently on low.
2) I had a frozen fillet of mahi mahi in my freezer, which I unfroze and sliced into chunks.
3) Place the chunks of mahi mahi into the center of the warming saag by making a bit of a well. Top the fish with peeled and sliced fresh ginger root.
4) Add the lid to the skillet and gently cook the fish for maybe 5 mins. Once the fish is done, remove skillet from heat and squeeze the juice from half a lime over the lot.

To Serve: Spoon saag into a deep bowl, top with pieces of fish and the chopped ginger. You could add some chopped cilantro, or serve a chunk of lime on the side. I had a bowl of steamed basmati rice with this, which I'd enriched with a blob of homemade ghee.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chai and Spicy Rock Cakes

I'm finishing this week's series of posts on cooking with Indian spices with a stove-top recipe for spicy chai tea.

Last fall, I wrote about brewing your own aromatic teas with herbs from the garden and spices from the cupboard and chai was one of the teas I featured.

Today's chai recipe is a variation on the one posted in September, though it comes from the same source, my friend Cindy, who is very talented and adept cooking with Indian spices.

Yesterday, I talked about improvising and experimenting with all the recipes posted this week since that's the beauty of using spices; you can add and subtract this and that creating just the flavor you desire.

Chai is a spicy, milky tea which is usually sweetened; however it doesn't need to be spicy, milky or sweet. Experiment with the following recipe and create a tea to your liking.

Chai Tea
1. In a saucepan bring 6 cups of water to the boil.
2. Add 1/2 cinnamon stick (2nd bowl from the back in pic above).
3. 6 to 10 whole cloves (2nd bowl from the front in pic above).
4. 10 to 15 smashed cardamom pods, including seeds (bowl at the very back in pic above).
5. About a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger (bowl at the very front in pic above).
6. About the same of fennel seeds, plus a few black peppercorns and if you have them, a few allspice berries (not seen in pic above).

1. Simmer ingredients on low for about 10 mins.
2. Add 5 cups milk (you could use dairy or nut or grain milks) and simmer on low.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of black Assam tea or Darjeeling or both -- vary amounts depending on how strong you like it. Or instead of black tea, you could use your choice of green tea or Rooibos aka red bush tea.
4. Turn heat off and allow tea to infuse with milk and spices.
5. Add your choice of sweetener to-taste such as honey, maple syrup, agave, cane sugar, maple sugar, date sugar etc.
6. Strain chai into cups. The above recipe makes about 8-10 cups.

Chai is a delicious ending to an Indian meal along lines of the meal featured this week. To accompany your home-brew chai, you might like to make spicy rock cakes.

As with the chai experiment with adding the spices of your choice to create just the cookie-flavor you want.

Spicy Rock Cakes
1) Into a mixing bowl add one cup of your choice of flour. I used brown rice flour.
2) Add a pinch of salt, one teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves.
Note: You could add ground cardamom, ginger, fennel, allspice instead of the spices listed above -- experiment.
3) Take a stick or 4 ounces of butter and rub it into the flour and spices until the mix resembles bread crumbs.
4) Add half a cup of raisins, half a cup of chopped dates and half a cup of chopped walnuts. (Optional: Add 1/4 cup of sugar or orange marmalade.)
5) Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in an egg which has beaten with 2-3 tablespoons of milk (dairy, nut or grain).
6) Mix all ingredients with a fork, adding more milk if the mix is dry or more flour if the mix is too wet.
7) Drop spoonfuls onto a greased tray and bake for about 15 -20 mins in 350-degree oven.

Buying and Storing Spices
Keep in mind when buying Indian spices that you can pick and pay for as little as a teaspoon or as much as a pound if you buy spices in the bulk aisle at say Whole Foods or your favorite organic grocer.

You want to select spices sourced from wholesalers who've sourced their spices from reputable growers. Growers who've avoided using herbicides and pesticides since these will alter the spice plant's properties and thereby the flavor and medicinal attributes of spices.

Once home, spices are best stored in glass where they will last up to 2 years, though ground spices are best used within the year.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spinach Saag and Papadams

This week, I'm blogging about the basics of Indian spices and cooking.

The recipes, plus tips and tricks I'm sharing, I learned while assisting my yoga-therapist friend, Cindy, conduct an in-home class on Indian cooking 101.

I read on one of the handouts Cindy gave her students that curry powder came into being as an easy way to approximate the flavors of Indian curried dishes.

During the class, it became apparent that one of the advantages to familiarizing yourself with Indian spices is that instead of using generic curry powders or paste, you can improvise with individual spices and create uniquely flavored curries.

As with the food of any culture, there are standard recipes for creating certain dishes, like the saag recipe I'll share today.

However, once you have the basics of a recipe down, and once you feel comfortable with the flavors and properties of Indian spices, you can add or subtract particular spices to infuse a dish with just the flavor you desire.

Cindy included in her handouts a standard recipe for Indian creamed spinach or saag, yet as she prepared the saag, taste-testing as she went, she improvised, tossing in extra spices including a bit of this, a bit of that, till she determined the flavor and the consistency of the spinach was just right.

Certainly this is a style of cooking I prefer since it fosters recipe-independence by engaging our inner culinary expert, reminding us that our taste buds are our best guide when it comes to food and cooking.

All the recipes this week are very simple, so you might like to try experimenting with the spices and ingredients as you make these delicious Indian dishes.

Creamed Spinach -- Saag
2 pounds of fresh spinach (this feeds about 10).
1 chopped white or brown onion.
2 tablespoons oil, it could be a combination of olive and sesame oils or olive oil and ghee or just ghee -- experiment.
Mustard and cardamom seeds, cumin, fennel, and freshly grated ginger.
Milk or cream or a combination of both, or a combination of a vegetable or chicken stock followed by cream or milk -- experiment.
Optional: One can chopped tomatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste.

1) In a large saucepan, heat oil and saute onions and spices on low to med heat.
2) Add spinach in batches, stirring well so that it wilts or cooks down.
3) Once all the spinach has been added to the pot, you can help it cook down by adding some stock, or water if you don't have stock.
4) When the spinach has reduced, add the milk or cream or a combination of both, enough to soak the spinach, though you don't want to drown it (see pic above).
5) Gently cook with the lid off the pot for about 10 mins or so.
6) You can serve the saag chunky or you can put it through the food processor and puree it (as in the top pic.)

We had fried papadams or Indian lentil chips with the dishes made during the class (pic to left).

Light, crispy, plain or spicy, you can purchase the dried chips online or at an Indian grocer.

Chances are if you've eaten at an Indian restaurant, you've had papadams.

Usually they're served as a starter with dipping sides such as yogurt cucumbers, mint sauce, chutney, and a spicy tamarind sauce.

Fried Papadams
1) Heat about an inch of light oil like canola or olive in a skillet or fry pan.
2) Once the oil is smoking, add pieces or whole papadams to oil.
3) The chips will begin to crinkle and then puff up.
4) Once they're lightly browned, remove chips with tongs, placing them on a plate lined with paper hand towel to soak up any excess oil.

To Serve: As you can see in the picture above the papadams, we had side bowls of Dahl, and plates filled with heaping spoons of the Spiced Tumeric Potatoes, boiled basmati rice and Saag.

During the meal, we sipped on glasses of coconut water mixed with plain water. It was slightly sweet (it's very sweet if not diluted with plain water) and coco-nutty but also cooling so it offset the spiciness of the meal beautifully.

After dinner we had cups of Cindy's fabulous homemade chai the recipe for which, I'll post tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Spicy Turmeric Potatoes

Yesterday I mentioned that turmeric is the base of almost every curry.

And today the Indian dish I'm highlighting from the cooking class I assisted with last week features turmeric -- the beautiful golden yellow spice in the picture to the left.

In the Indian Ayurveda tradition, turmeric has many healing properties. For example, it's as an anti-inflammatory and blood-purifier. (Yesterday's post offers a more complete list.)

According to Cindy, who taught the cooking class, turmeric as a medicinal spice mirrors the properties of the Chinese medicinal herb coptis.

However, I've not heard of Chinese herbs like coptis being used to color and flavor foods in the way turmeric is used in say, spicy turmeric potatoes!

That's the beauty of Indian spices: their color and flavor beautifies and enhances food, while their organic properties act as natural healing agents.

Spicy Turmeric Potatoes
4 potatoes such as russet or Yukon gold
3 white sweet potatoes (not yams)
1/4 cup light olive oil and 1/4 cup sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 - 1 teaspoon turmeric
half a bunch or more of chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

1) Peel and boil potatoes in water with a little salt until tender, about 20 mins.
2) Drain and return potatoes to the pot and mash with oils (adding more oil than listed for a smoother mash).
3) Add smashed and chopped garlic cloves, turmeric, salt and pepper.
4) Stir ingredients together well before folding in chopped cilantro.

The interesting variation with this dish is mashing the potatoes with oils rather than butter and milk or cream as is traditional in the west.

Light oil like olive or canola enriches the potatoes without the heaviness of butter and milk. Sesame oil is dense and more flavorful than olive or canola, but despite this, it's not in any way overpowering.

Adding raw garlic really gives the potatoes oomph, and the addition of the fresh, slightly spicy cilantro adds to that oomph.

The turmeric is barely detectable as a flavor, yet the color is obvious since it turns the potatoes a delicate golden color.

The above recipe makes enough for 10 people so if you're feeding less, adjust the ingredient list accordingly.

Tomorrow I'll be featuring Cindy's version of Saag, spicy Indian creamed spinach, plus tips on frying up papadams. The next day, I'll post Cindy's specialty: spicy homemade chai, followed by tips on buying and storing Indian spices.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Indian Dahl

My Indian cooking extends to using a blob of Pataks, Taste of India Curry Paste, to spice up meat and vegetarian dishes.

I feel a bit daunted when confronted by the vast array of individual spices used in traditional Indian cooking, hence my preference for a ready-made curry paste.

So when I asked a friend if I could assist her while she conducted an Indian cooking class from her home, it was out of curiosity and a desire to learn more about the spices I tend to avoid.

Cindy, who is a yoga therapist, hosted an Indian couple for several months some time back and subsequently traveled to India and stayed with them.

Aisha, Cindy's hostess in Mumbai, helped refine her already advanced skill cooking with Indian spices, so I knew that I'd learn something if I assisted in the kitchen as she passed on her knowledge to the women attending the class.

What I already do know is that the spectacular colors of India, as seen in the beautiful saris the women wear, are reflected in their cooking spices.

In Cindy's class, the spices above, plus some, were used in various combinations according to the Ayurveda practice of including in each meal all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Here are a few other things I discovered about the spices used in Dahl, the Indian dish I'm featuring today:
  • Turmeric (the yellow spice above) is the base of almost every curry. It's a warming spice, contributing bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes. It's also a natural blood-purifier and anti-inflammatory. It detoxifies the liver, fights allergies, boosts the immune system and stimulates digestion. Used in tiny quantities it colors boiled white rice, potatoes and lentils. It combines well with cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
  • Cumin Seeds (the light green seed behind the turmeric), are pungent, slightly bitter and warming. An excellent digestive, they combine well with fennel and coriander (and then its action is cooling), turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.
  • Black Mustard Seeds (in the forefront of the photo above) are pungent and warming, oily and sharp. They relieve muscular pain and warm the digestive system.
  • Fresh Grated Ginger (not seen in pic above) is is pungent and warming and it is used so widely in Ayurveda medicine that it's considered a medicine chest unto itself!
  • Fresh Cilantro (not seen in pic above) is cooling and used fresh as a garnish -- as it is in Mexican cooking.

Indian Dahl
1) 1 cup yellow split Moong (or Mung) Dhal -- this is the easiest to digest of all the legumesSesame or light olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
2) 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (Optional: same of coriander seeds)
3) 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4) 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5) 1/2 teaspoon grated or chopped ginger
6) Optional: paprika or your choice of chili
7) Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

  • Rinse and soak split dahl in water for 30 minutes
  • In a large pot (or pressure cooker) heat oil. Add spices, stirring over med. until seeds pop
  • Add dahl and 6 cups of water, bring to boil and let simmer 45 mins on stove top or bring pressure and rock 5 minutes and then let sit until pressure falls. You want the dahl to cook to a butter-soft consistency.
To Serve: Spoon into a bowl and top with fresh chopped cilantro, perhaps a spoon of boiled rice and a side of freshly-cooked papadams.

I'll post some cooking tips for papadams this week, along with several other dishes to serve alongside the dahl.

Note: Adding a cup of (uncooked) basmati rice, perhaps some carrot and sweet potato turns dahl into kitcheree, a high-protein, easy-to-digest soul food -- the Indian equivalent of chicken soup.

According to Cindy, doulas in India feed kitcheree to new mothers. Made with spring vegetables it's also the sole food eaten as part of the Ayurvedic spring-detox program known as Panchakarma.