How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Tabbouleh and Hummus

OK – this is the last Cookbook Challenge recipes from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I had a huge bunch of parsley that needed to be used up so tabbouleh seemed like the perfect choice. And what better to go with tabbouleh than hummus with some warm pitas. That makes a nice meal.

I usually think of tabbouleh as a grain salad because it is made with bulgur wheat. While it does have bulgur in it, it is really an herb salad; lots and lots of herbs, a few vegetables and some bulgur to go along with.

I followed the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian recipe (more or less) exactly – with one glaring exception. I was a little short of mint. My mint plant was not as prolific as it needed  to be. I only had about a quarter cup of mint.

Ingredients for tabbouleh

So here are the ingredients you will need:

  • 1/2 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup scallion
  • 1 really good tomato

I used Bob’s Red Mill Bulgur. I cooked the bulgur according to package directions, and I actually cooked some extra because I had another use for it. Bulgur is a terrific whole grain because it cooks very quickly. With a ratio of 1 part grain to 2 parts water, the bulgur was cooked in about 15 minutes.

Once the bulgur was cooked and slightly cooled it was time to start chopping. Roughly chop the parsley and mint. Chop the scallion and tomato. The tomato is optional. You can skip it if you don’t have a really delicious one on hand.

In a large bowl add the cooked bulgur (about a cup and a half), herbs, tomato, scallion, olive oil and lemon juice.

Tabbouleh ingredients, chopped

Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Beautiful Bowl of Tabbouleh

This tabbouleh is gorgeous. It looks so fresh and flavorful!

Next up, I prepared the hummus. Earlier in the day I had cooked a pot of chickpeas. I used Rancho Gordo chickpeas.

In my small crock pot I cooked about a cup of chickpeas with 4 cups of water. I let them cook all day as the recipe calls for them to be well cooked.

Ingredients for Hummus – except for the lemon!

For this recipe you will need:

  • 2 cups well-cooked, drained chickpeas (reserve the cooking liquid)
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 peeled cloves of garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon cumin or paprika (and a little more for garnish)
  • salt and pepper

Tahini is a sesame paste. It looks like peanut butter. Most stores carry it. You may find it in the peanut butter aisle. Or it might be in the Kosher section. It will keep for a long time in the refrigerator.

Hummus ingredients – ready to process

Put chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon, paprika in a food processor. I have two food processors and I always use the larger, more powerful one for hummus so that I end up with a smoother result.  Turn on the processor. Add cooking liquid as needed (in small amounts) to get a smooth puree.

Dinner

For dinner I served the hummus and tabbouleh with some warm pita bread. I used Ezekiel pocket breads. They are made from whole grains and they don’t have any weird ingredients. You can find those in the freezer section of well stocked stores.  served a yogurts sauce that I made using Greek yogurt, lemon juice and some spicy chili paste, like Srirachi. And I chopped up some cucumbers, red pepper and romaine lettuce.

The Verdict: This was a fantastic dinner. The tabbouleh was just perfect. It was so fresh tasting. It had a lot of lemon so it was very bright. The bulgur gave the salad a nice nutty quality. That was great. I am in love with that recipe. I have eaten lots of tabbouleh in my day and this was the best. Husband ate seconds and thirds of this salad.

The hummus was delicious also. I make hummus from time to time and we aren’t usually all that thrilled with the outcome. But this hummus was great. It was balanced. Not too tart. Not too garlicky. It was just right. Husband was very impressed too.

We made pita sandwiches with hummus and lots of vegetables. The tabbouleh tasted great as a side dish but it was also terrific tucked into the pita sandwich.

I loved both of these recipes and I will definitely make them again. This is the only hummus recipe that I will use in the future. Delicious!

 

 

 

Chickpea Tagine and the Best Whole Wheat Couscous Ever!

A tagine is a Moroccan dish that is named after the clay pot that it is cooked in, which is also called a tagine. It comes from a Berber tradition and similar dishes can be found throughout North Africa. Tagines dishes are usually made with some kind of meat, an exotic mix of spices, vegetables and often, some kind of fruit. Traditionally the dish would be cooked over hot coals. This cooking method was popular because it required very little water as a small amount of moisture would create condensation which would then collect in the top of the tagine and then roll back down the sides of the conical-shaped lid.

My Tagine - You Can See Why I Had to Have It!

 

Several years ago I bought a glazed, ceramic tagine. I felt like I had to own it because it was beautiful and I could imagine all sorts of wonderful, exotic meals prepared in it.

Two or three times a year I haul out my tagine and make my version of a Moroccan meal. Last weekend, the mood struck me, and I made a chickpea and butternut squash tagine. I cooked a Moroccan spiced chicken for Husband.  I served that along with some whole wheat couscous.I recently learned the secret to making really good couscous – and I am going to share that with you!

So let me start with the tagine.You don’t have to own a tagine to make this meal. A good Dutch oven will work just as well.  I looked at a number of recipes for tagines and then decided to make up my own, taking a little inspiration from all of them.

I made a spice blend using the following:

  • 1 Tbs. Paprika
  • 1/2 Tbs. Cumin
  • 1/2 Tbs. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 Tbs. Ground Coriander
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon

Tagine Ingredients

 

Earlier in the day I cooked 3/4 cups of dried garbanzo beans. To the tagine pot I added the drained cooked garbanzo beans, 3 cups of cubed butternut squash, a can of Rotel (any diced tomato would work), chopped garlic, chopped dried apricot, lemon peel, a boquet of cilantro and parsley (to be pulled out later), and a healthy dose of the spice blend. I like things to be highly spiced – but you should use your own judgement on that. I added some of the garbanzo bean cooking liquid so that the mixture looked moist.

Tagine Assembled and Ready to Cook

 

My tagine was ready for the oven.

I wanted to make this a meal that Husband would also enjoy. He likes a little more protein with his meal. So I cooked a Moroccan spiced chicken for him. I am a vegetarian so handling a chicken is a problem for me. Husband helped with the prep. He put several cloves of peeled garlic, slices of lemons and oranges into the cavity of the chicken. He put the chicken into my Royal VKB Slowcooker.  We used the Moroccan spice blend as a rub on the outside of the chicken.

Chicken Ready to Cook

 

This cooking dish has a terracotta lid that has to be soaked in water for a few minutes before cooking. We placed the well soaked lid on top and then both the tagine and the chicken were ready for the oven.

 

A Busy Day for my Oven - Tagine and Chicken

 

I put both dishes into a cold oven and turned the temperature to 400 degrees. The pot that the chicken was cooking in cannot go into a hot oven. I figured that would work OK for the tagine as well. I let both the tagine and the chicken cook for an 75 minutes. They both came out looking great.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

 

I finished the tagine with some grated lemon zest, chopped green olives and some raw cashews that I had toasted.Traditional Moroccan cuisine would use preserved lemons rather than lemon zest. I wish that I had some of those preserved lemons!

Tagine Just Out of the Oven

 

I let the chicken and the tagine rest for a few minutes while I prepared the couscous.Couscous is not technically a grain. It is actually a small pasta. But in this case it was made from whole wheat – so let’s call it a grain! I have never really been crazy about couscous because it always seems a little gummy to me. I’ve never been able to prepare it so that it is delicious and fluffy.  But this is really a great recipe. I saw this on America’s Test Kitchen and now I feel like I have the cracked the couscous problem.

The first thing you need to know is that you should ignore the directions on the couscous box – it calls for too much water. I used RiceSelect While Wheat Couscous.

I finely chopped about a half of an onion. America’s Test Kitchen suggested using a shallot, but I didn’t have one. I sauteed the onion in a little bit of butter and olive oil until it was soft. Then I added one cup of couscous to the pan and toasted that for about 5 minutes. At first it looks like nothing is happening – and then it happens very quickly. So keep an eye on it at this stage. Add one cup of water to the pot (the package directions call for a cup and a quarter).  I added a couple of tablespoons of raisins at this point. Quickly bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot. Remove from heat and let sit for 7 minutes. Perfect, fluffy couscous. Tasted delicious!

Best Couscous Ever!

 

We got some whole wheat flat bread at the store to serve along with this meal. You can see the whole grain stamp on the front of this package.  I heated up our outdoor grill and toasted the flat bread then I brushed it with some good olive oil. The flat bread was tasty – but the list of ingredients was bothersomely long.

Store Bought Flatbread - Notice the Whole Grain Stamp

 

Well – as you can imagine I went to quite a lot of trouble to make this meal. I am sure there are easier ways to get all this done. But sometimes I enjoy the labor of putting together an unusual meal. Since I had gone to all this trouble I decided to go all out and set a romantic table. Serve a nice bottle of wine.  Make it special.

Do It Up Right - Set a Romantic Table!

 

So how was it?  Well – it all tasted really good. I will say that somehow the vegetarian tagine never quite lives up to my expectation. I think that when you slow cook a meat tagine it somehow ends up with a certain richness and body. I’ve never eaten a meat tagine – so that’s just a guess. But my vegetarian version, while very flavorful, seems to lack that unctuousness that I am looking for. I will keep working on that! I am thinking that perhaps the addition of some potatoes would help because they would give off starch and perhaps create a more cohesive sauce.

Finally - Dinner!

 

Husband enjoyed the chicken.

And seriously, that couscous is a winner. I will never follow the package directions again. It was wonderful. That’s the only way to go!

Let me make a few points about the tagine pot. I love my tagine. I think it is gorgeous. But it is a little hard to deal with because it is so tall. I have to put my oven rack on the lowest rung. Also, my tagine cannot go on the stove top. Well maybe it could but I don’t want to risk breaking it. If I had it to do over again, I would buy the Le Creuset Enameled Tagine.

Because it is enameled cast-iron, it can sit directly on the stove top so that you can sautee onions, brown meat, etc. before you put the tagine in the oven. That seems like a plus to me. The one drawback of the Le Creuset is that it is pretty heavy.

There are a lot of interesting websites about tagines and Moroccan food. Here are a few links if you want to learn more:

tagines. com

taginecooking.org

friendsofmorocco.org

And finally, here are some Moroccan cookbooks that I own and enjoy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mourad: New Moroccan – This is a beautiful book with lots of color photos. Some of the recipes are complicated. I would call this a new take on an ancient cuisine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon – Another beautiful book. Lots of great recipes, many that are fairly simple.

 

 

 

 

 

The Vegetarian Table: North Africa (Vegetarian Table Series , Vol 4) – color photos and lots of exotic meatless options.

 

 

Burgers Made with Beans and Grains

I eat a lot of veggie burgers. Veggie burgers are one of my go-to meals. When I need something quick and satisfying, a burger does the trick. I have a couple of frozen brands that I like and I always keep some in my freezer, ready to make a quick meal.

But it has certainly occurred to me that I should be able to bypass the frozen brands and simply make my own at home. That gives me complete control over the ingredients, the added flavorings and the freshness. And of course, I can use beans and grains!

Awhile ago, Mark Bittman had an article in the New York Times titled, “No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem“. He presented several meat-free, dairy-free recipes. One of those recipes was for a bean burger. Naturally I was intrigued. It’s such a simple recipe and is just chock-full of good-for-you ingredients. A similar recipe appears in Mr. Bittman’s book, “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”. If you get the recipe from the book, he presents lots and lots of options for the preparation of these burgers.

The time had come for me to give this recipe a try.

I used his recipe from the book which is slightly different than the recipe in the NY Times. The recipe called for 2 cups of drained beans (any variety), one onion cut into quarters, 1/2 cup rolled oats, chili powder, salt and pepper, and some olive oil for pan frying. The book calls for one egg, to act as a binder or if you want the recipe to be vegan, leave out the egg and use a 1/4 cup of vegan mayonnaise.

Bean Burger Ingredients; simple and healthy

 

You can use canned beans or home cooked beans. If you cook your own, let them cool before making this recipe.  I used garbanzo beans for my burgers, because I like their taste and texture. I used only half of an onion because I didn’t want it to be overpowering.  And I used chili powder, but it occurs to me that many other seasonings would also be delicious (curry powder, Old Bay, a Moroccan spice blend…).

I threw all the ingredients into my food processor and pulsed that until the mixture was broken down but still has some texture. I am going to show you a photo…but be aware that it’s not the most delicious looking thing you’ve ever seen!

Burger ingredients in the food processor. Not very photogenic!

 

The recipe in the NY Times suggests that you make 4 burgers out of this mixture. I think that results in a patty that is way to big. I divided the mixture into 7 patties. That seemed more manageable. Keep reading…I’ll tell you more about that in a bit.

Patties formed and ready to cook

 

I heated a large non-stick skillet that I had coated with a tablespoon of olive oil. I cooked the patties three at a time for about 5 minutes on each side. Here is the trick – these patties are a little bit difficult to turn over.  They will have a tendency to fall apart and/or lose their shape. Don’t over crowd the skillet so that there is plenty of space to maneuver. Also  use two spatulas to flip the burgers so that you can keep everything together.

Burgers cooking on the second side

 

The burgers turned out very  nicely. They were well browned. They had a crunchy exterior and a moist, crumbly interior. They didn’t taste really “beany”. I served them just like a burger; on a bun with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise.

My Burger

I took the remaining burgers and froze them. I laid them out carefully in a freezer bag and froze them flat so that they weren’t touching and would not stick together too much. I have used my frozen burgers. I didn’t thaw them. I put the frozen burger on a piece of foil and put it on a hot grill. I am sure that a hot skillet or toaster oven would work as well.

So what’s my take-away? I like these a lot and I will definitely make them again. But I will make one change.  I would divide the bean/grain mixture up into smaller patties, maybe the same diameter but less thick. I think I could easily get 10 patties out of this recipe. I found that if the burger was too thick it had a tendency to smoosh when eaten.

I think that this would great served like you would a crab cake…so it wouldn’t be on a bun, but would be the centerpiece of the meal. You could season it with Old Bay and serve it with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. You could season the patty as you would falafel and serve it with a yogurt or tzaziki sauce. You could use black beans instead of garbanzos and serve the patty with salsa.

I love that it is so simple to make. I love that it is made with straight-up beans and grains. And I love that it is something that I can make ahead and freeze.

I think there are lots of interesting ways to play around with this recipe. I will be experimenting!

 

The Great Bean Challenge: A Taste Test

Last week, I assembled all available family members for a bean taste test. At issue, do heirloom beans really taste better than ordinary, store bought beans?

Rancho Gordo Beans - Cute Packaging!

I purchased heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. I got a pound each of garbanzo beans, pinto beans and black beans. Rancho Gordo has many more interesting and exotic beans, but I choose bean varieties that I could also get at the the supermarket. The Rancho Gordo beans cost $5.50 a pound. I ordered them online. They arrived in about 5 days.

I went to my local grocery and purchased a one pound bag of their store brand, of the same 3 varieties of beans. The prices ranged from 89 cents for a pound of pinto beans , 99 cents for black beans and $1.19 for the garbanzos.

Store Brand Beans

As you can see there is a pretty big price differential between the heirloom beans and the store bought. I did pay some shipping on the Rancho Gordo beans. And I did have to wait a few days to receive them.

Beans ready to soak. Store brand up top, Rancho Gordo below

While I do not have a particularly scientific mind, I did try to be as scientific as possible in the conduct of the taste test.  Family would test, side by side, heirloom vs. store bought of each variety.

I cooked all the beans simply and in exactly the same manner. I used 1/2 cup of each dried bean. I soaked them overnight in fresh tap water. In the morning I drained the beans, set them to cook in 3 cups of water with no seasonings.   I checked the beans frequently for doneness. As soon as they were tender, I added 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt to the pot. I didn’t add any other seasonings as I wanted that pure bean flavor to shine through.

With the exception of the pinto beans, cooking times between the heirloom and the store bought did vary somewhat. To my surprise the heirlooms took a bit longer to cook than did the store bought. I am going to say that this result was un-scientific because I had the beans in different pots and on different burners. That would certainly be an issue.

The Cast of Characters: My panel of judges included Husband, my Mom, my Dad, my Sister, my Niece (she is a professional pastry chef!) and Niece’s two adorable kids, ages 8 and 6. I did not participate as a judge. I was just there to observe.

The Rules: This was a blind taste test. The beans were labeled “A” and “B”. I knew which was which…but the judges didn’t. Each judge had a note card for each bean. They were asked to make notes on taste, texture, appearance and last but not least, they needed to tell me their preference. They weren’t trying to guess which was the heirloom, they were simply stating a preference. I provided them with water, saltines, table salt, pencils, and a whole lot of plastic spoons.

Judges - readyto get started

Garbanzo Beans:  We started with the garbanzo bean. The heirloom bean was described as firmer, held it’s shape better, grainy. The store bought bean was described as creamy, a bit sweet, mild and tender. Four of the seven judges preferred the store bought bean. Interestingly, both kids, preferred the heirloom bean!

Cooked Garbanzo Beans

Pinto Beans: Let me say at the outset that the panel of judges unanimously agreed that this was the hardest bean to judge. They all said that these two beans were so similar that they could hardly make a judgement. They spent a lot of time on the pinto beans, going back and forth trying to discern subtle differences. The judges found the color of the store bought bean to be more appealing. The Rancho Gordo bean had a bit of a purple, gray-ish tint. The store bought was browner in color. The taste and texture were so similar as to make little difference. So I guess it came down to appearance. Six out of the seven judges chose the store bought pinto bean. The one person to pick the heirloom? My six year old nephew!

Cooked Pinto Beans - note the color difference

Black Bean: The judges were really knocked out by the difference between the store bought black bean and the heirloom. The store bought bean was deemed to be bland and tasteless. The heirloom was flavorful and creamy. They loved the heirloom black bean. Their comments about the Rancho Gordo black bean were far more effusive than on any other bean in the taste test. And their disinterest in the store bought bean was particularly apparent.

Cooked Black Beans

My Conclusions?  Well, the store bought garbanzos and pintos were chosen as the winners. The heirloom black bean won out by a long shot. My Dad suggested that perhaps the reason that they preferred the store bought beans was that it’s what they are used to (we eat a lot of beans in my family!). Perhaps appreciating the full value of the heirloom takes a bit of time.

A thought about the pinto beans; we live in South Texas so I am sure that the turn-over of pinto beans in our grocery store is very high. Pinto beans are a staple here. Maybe that plays a role in the outcome.

Judges - Tasting and taking notes

Will I stop buying heirloom beans? No. We were all a little surprised by the outcome of the taste test. However, I think that the companies that are selling heirloom beans are really passionate about beans. I think that they are making environmental contributions by preserving these beans. I think that they are helping communities by preserving these beans. I think that the heirloom bean movement raises interest, awareness and enthusiasm for making beans a part of our daily diets.

 

On the other hand, it is valuable to know that good tasting beans are readily available, inexpensively and conveniently at the grocery store.

These results aren’t scientific. And they only reflect the preferences of my family. It is possible that the results would be entirely different if I had served them more complex bean dishes. My Mom was really longing for some hot sauce. That’s how we eat beans in Texas!

We had fun. We all sat down around the table, tasted, talked and discussed. So I have to consider our taste test to be a great success. After the bean tasting, I served everyone a big dinner of baked ziti, salad, garlic bread and lots of Chianti. It was a good excuse to bring the family together.

One final note – The only judge on our panel to consistently choose the heirloom bean was my six year old nephew. He picked the heirloom bean every single time! The boy knows his beans.