Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gallo Pinto

Billions of people all over the world have survived on beans and rice - in their many different forms - for thousands of years. Obviously, it's an incredibly cheap and healthy meal. And so delicious...I love rice and beans.

Typically, when I make beans and rice, I simmer brown rice in vegetable stock for 45-50 minutes, then simply add black beans and a jar of homemade roasted tomato salsa. It's a great, satisfying, simple supper. But it can get kind of boring and one-note. Gallo pinto takes beans and rice and kicks it up a notch with the addition of an extra layer of flavor with Worcestershire sauce.

I first heard the words "gallo pinto" in 2004 when Cassandra returned from the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and raved about it as the best breakfast ever. It's actually the national dish of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. If that's not a testament to the greatness of this dish, I don't know what is!

Gallo Pinto, adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 4

1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups brown rice, cooked in vegetable stock
1 pint black beans, with liquid (preferably home cooked)
4 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
cilantro, chopped
4 eggs

In a large skillet over medium high heat, saute your onion and red pepper in some olive oil until soft. Add rice, beans, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Turn off heat and stir in cilantro.

Top with fried eggs.

TWO YEARS AGO: Succotash

Friday, May 20, 2011

Roasted Onion Soup

French Onion Soup has always been a fascinating food to me. It smells wonderful every time someone orders it at a restaurant, and the thick crust of melted cheese on top is mouthwatering. I'm half tempted to try it every time. But the thought of all that salty beef stock turns me off and it seems like one of those things where a vegetarian version just can't do the original justice (i.e. Turducken ?!?)

I've tried making a vegetarian version of onion soup before with slow caramelized onions but I just didn't have enough patience to cook the onions long enough and I missed out on that deep flavor that I was looking for. Fail.

Success today though, now that I've discovered the trick to amazing vegetarian onion soup. The answer, of course, lies within my favorite cooking technique....roasting. If you roast those onions, they develop an intensely sweet yet savory umami, that when paired with cooked down balsamic vinegar and red wine....well, let's just say I was not disappointed in the least.

I've been watching less and less Food Network in my free time, and more PBS cooking shows like America's Test Kitchen, Ming Tsai on Simply Ming, and Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. This last one is where I learned about Roasted Onion Soup, so I gathered up everything in my house that even remotely resembled an onion or garlic - I had yellow and red onion, ramps, scallions, and garlic that I chopped and roasted. My house smelled amazing.

Then you add the roasted onions to some parmesan-flavored stock and let the flavors simmer together for awhile. I served the finished soup topped with a thick slice of high quality multigrain bread (from Rustica Bakery) and a mountain of freshly grated Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese. After a quick trip to the broiler, the soup was ready. It was amazing.

Roasted Onion Soup, adapted from Ciao Italia
Serves 4-6 as a main course, more as a starter

Recipe notes: use any combination of onions and garlic you can find, I just listed what I used. Also, I didn't chop my onions small enough so the soup was a bit chunky. I would recommend dicing finely before roasting. But if not, you can do what I did and send the finished soup through a few quick pulses in a food processor or blender before serving. Finally, the parmesan cheese rind is optional in the stock, but adds a crazy awesome flavor. You should store your rinds in the freezer and they'll keep forever until you need to add them to soup!

1.5 large yellow onions, diced fine
1 large red onion, diced fine
1/2 bunch scallions, sliced fine
1 bunch ramps, sliced fine (ramps are wild leeks available only for a brief time in the spring)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
olive oil, salt, and pepper
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine
6 cups vegetable stock (I used 6 cups water and 2 cubes Rapunzel veg bouillon)
1 parmesan cheese rind
3 dried bay leaves
handful fresh chopped parsley leaves
thick sliced multigrain bread
grated cheese - gruyere, parmesan, or provolone would all be great

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Toss your chopped onions and garlic with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes, or until nicely charred.

Add balsamic vinegar, stir, and roast another 5 minutes (it will get all glazey and sweet and delicious smelling).

Add wine and roast another 30 minutes.

Heat your stock, parmesan rind, and bay leaves in a large soup pot on the stove top. Add your roasted onion mixture and any remaining wine/balsamic liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add parsley. Blend at this point if too chunky.

Ladle soup into an oven-safe bowl. Put a thick slice of bread on top, then cover with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melty and bubbly.

ONE YEAR AGO: Sloppy Lentils
TWO YEARS AGO: Grilled Romaine Salad

Monday, May 16, 2011

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pizza is such a magical thing. It's filling and comforting and familiar, but at the same time you can put crazy toppings on it and make something totally different from the traditional pizza you are used to.

I wanted to put my favorite springtime flavors (lemon, asparagus, goat cheese) on a crust and call it a pizza. It was incredibly good, with the exception of my cheapo lazy cop-out of a crust from a pop open can. It would have been so much better with a homemade crust but I don't like making dough. My summertime challenge is to find a local pizza place that will sell me a delicious ball of pizza dough for a reasonable price (and would it be too much to ask for whole wheat?).

But even despite the crust, I loved having this pizza for the first al fresco dinner of the year on my back deck with a fresh radicchio salad and a glass of chilled white wine. Spring really truly has finally sprung!

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Pizza, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 3-4

1 pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
1/2 bunch asparagus, peeled with a vegetable peeler
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper and olive oil
1 log goat cheese
parmesan cheese
flat leaf parsley, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together your peeled asparagus, juice of 1 lemon, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let it sit to let the flavors meld 5-10 minutes.

Roll out the dough to your desired thickness on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Crumble goat cheese over crust in an even layer. Top with lemony shaved asparagus. Finely grate a layer of parmesan cheese over the whole pizza.

Bake for 11-13 minutes or until crust is nicely browned at the edges and your asparagus has a bit of char on it. Immediately top with lemon zest, parsley, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Add more salt and pepper and parmesan cheese if needed.

TWO YEARS AGO: Chicken Paillard

Friday, May 13, 2011


Do not immediately dismiss this recipe just because it sounds gross. Many people have done that with my green smoothie and have been proven wrong when they find out it tastes great.

Chocomole is exactly what it sounds like...chocolate guacamole. Gross, right? Actually it's the silkiest creamiest chocolatiest pudding you've ever eaten and it doesn't even contain any dairy. I'm obsessed.

I saw a recipe for Avocado Cacao Mousse on The Kitchn this week and a giant lightbulb exploded over my head because I remembered about Jason Mraz. Yeah, that Jason Mraz, the king of Lite FM stations everywhere who sings lovely little tunes that I quite enjoy. I found out he's more than just a pretty voice. This dude was a raw vegan for awhile (I think he's moved away from that now), blogs, and lives on an avocado farm in California. Cool, right?

Well, a few years ago there was a big fuss made about Jason's recipe for Chocomole, made with avocados from his backyard. At the time, I laughed it off as a weird celebrity with strange eating habits and nothing better to do with his time and millions of dollars.

Today, it's a different story. As soon as I recalled the strange thing called Chocomole, I ran right out to get my greedy little paws on a pile of avocados and whipped up a batch in about 5 minutes. It was good straight out of the food processor, but after a night in the fridge it's fantastically puddingish. Add a few toasted almonds and you've got a very healthy dessert that nobody needs to know contains avocados unless you really want to tell them.

Chocomole, adapted from Jason Mraz
Serves 2 (big portions)

4 ripe avocados
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark - it was intensely dark chocolate flavored. If you like more mild chocolate, go a bit less here, or use regular cocoa powder.)
4-6 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla

In a food processor, blend your avocados. Add cocoa powder and 4 Tbsp honey or maple syrup and vanilla and blend more. Taste. If not sweet enough, add more honey/syrup 1 Tbsp at a time until it's sweet enough for you.

Garnish with berries or toasted nuts.

ONE YEAR AGO: Avocado Boats

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sprouted Lentil Tacos

This week, I saw a bright and shiny fiery orb in the sky that was creating what I'm told is called "warmth." To fully explore this phenomenon, Marney and I picked up sandwiches at Jimmy John's and ate them outside at the Nature Center before helping plant a bunch of shrubs (seriously, my job rocks - how many office drones get that kind of perk in the spring?).

Anyways, those Jimmy John's subs are stuffed with sprouts. I love sprouts. I remember in college, my roommate at the time (and BFF) Amy bought some strange sprout growing machine that we used quite a bit. I did a little research to see if I could grow sprouts myself without buying the machine. Turns out, I can and it's wicked simple.

You can sprout most dried legumes (NOT split peas though, I checked) and sprouting exponentially increases their nutritional value and makes them easier to digest.

To sprout, simply soak some legumes in water overnight (I used French lentils because it's what I had on hand). The next day you drain the water and put the lentils in a colander or large mesh strainer.

Then you simply rinse them two or three times a day until they're sprouted as much as you want. Leave the colander on a plate on your kitchen counter, covered with a thin kitchen towel. I let mine go 5 days, but they were sprouted and edible after only 2. When you've got them where you want them, keep in the refrigerator and eat within a day or two or they'll go bad.

Here's what it looks like. Day 1 morning (after soaking overnight):

Day 2 morning (I see sprouts!):

Day 3 morning (looking good):

Day 5 (perfection):

You can eat sprouted lentils on their own as a snack, or add them to salads or sandwiches (the flavor reminds me of mild fresh green peas). Tonight I turned my sprouted lentils into taco filling to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I didn't have enough sprouts to make much filling, so I stretched it with half an onion and a shredded zucchini. It was a quick, satisfying, and filling dinner.

Sprouted Lentil Tacos, adapted from gnowfglins.com
Serves 2 hungry people

1 cup sprouted lentils
1 zucchini, grated on a box grater (or just diced fine)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 tsp chili powder
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
pinch dried oregano
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
pinch black pepper
2-3 Tbsp water
taco fixin's such as beans, corn, salsa, cheese, avocado, jalapenos, sour cream, lettuce or cabbage, flour or corn tortillas, etc

In a medium skillet over medium heat, saute onion in some olive oil for 7-8 minutes or until soft. Add zucchini and sprouts and all the seasonings. Add water, 1 Tbsp at a time until seasonings are mixed well into vegetables with a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat slightly and cook until the sauce has thickened a bit, about 5 minutes more.

Heat your tortillas over an open flame, or in the oven or microwave. Add your sprouted lentil taco mixture. Add your desired taco fixin's and enjoy your healthy Cinco de Mayo dinner.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Peanut Maple Salad Dressing

Last year, I threw a Spring Fling cocktail party when Cassandra visited Minnesota. Everyone brought something to share. Angela and Ben brought a veggie-packed salad and I don't remember what all was in it besides lettuce and fried tofu strips. But I do remember that it was served with the most amazing peanut maple dressing. It's been called "Ben's Sauce" ever since then.

I've made peanut dressing before, and it was really good. But I guess not good enough, because I've never made it again. This dressing, however!!! THIS dressing I've made TWICE in the last month! I've been eating it on greens, but I'm quite certain it would be great on noodles or in a grain based salad as well.

The night of the party last year, I forced Ben and Angela to recite everything that went into the dressing and Cassandra recorded it for me. I've kept that list of ingredients (but no measurements) this whole time, just waiting for the perfect day to bust it out. I think I've got this dressing exactly where I want it, but when you make this, be your own chef and add a bit here and there to match your palate.

Tonight I wanted an extra crunchy salad so I tossed the dressing with lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, ramps (oh yes I did!), toasted pumpkin seeds, zucchini, and chicken. It was a lot of chopping and slicing, but it was worth it.

Peanut Maple Salad Dressing (aka "Ben's Sauce")
Makes about 1.4 cups of sauce

2 Tbsp peanut butter (I used crunchy)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
1 clove garlic, grated on microplane
1 inch ginger, grated on microplane
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk everything together. Taste and add more of whatever you think it needs. Serve as a salad dressing or as a sauce for noodles.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chipotle Salad