Colorado Beans and Grains

As noted in my last post, Husband and I are on an extended vacation in Durango, Colorado. We are staying in our 27′ travel trailer in the beautiful Haviland Lake National Forest Campground.

One thing that I have recently learned is that we are in close proximity to the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World”. Yup, Dove Creek, Colorado, a mere 80 miles from where we are staying is the self-proclaimed Pinto Bean Capital of the World. In addition to pinto beans, we have found a wide variety of unusual and interesting beans grown in these environs.

Last week we made a quick stop at the Durango natural food store, Nature’s Oasis. They had in stock three very interesting beans varieties grown on local farm, La Paloma Dove Creek Bean Company LLC.

We found a bag of Cranberry Beans.

Cranberry Beans

A bag of Zuni Gold, a variety I have not heard of.

Zuni Gold

Last, but certainly not least, a bag of Mortgage Lifter beans.

Mortgage Lifter Beans

These beans were well priced at $1.95 a pound. La Paloma does not have a website. You can order directly from the owner, Mike Coffey, 970-677-2445, PO Box 552, Dove Creek CO, 81324. They grow 10 different varieties of heirloom and antique beans.

A few words about the beans I purchased: Zuni Gold beans are originally from Mexico and are now uniquely grown in the Four Corners region. Apparently they are somewhat rare and hard to find. Lucky me! The cranberry beans are originally from Columbia. They get their name from the cranberry colored markings on the skin. They look a lot like a pinto bean. And now the Mortgage Lifter, you just have to love that name! This is a gigantic white bean. Supposedly it has a very meaty taste and is good in soups and stews. It is said that the name comes from a farmer who was about to lose his land, but an unusually good crop of this bean saved him and thus lifted the mortgage.

Adobe Milling is a large producer of beans and other Southwest goodies. They are also located in Dove Creek CO.  In the local Durango grocery store I found several beans produced and packaged by Adobe Milling.

Adobe Milling Beans

I bought a bag of Pinto Beans. As this is the Pinto Bean Capital I felt that I certainly must sample some! According to the bag, Anasazi beans were one of the few crops cultivated by the Anasazi Indians. The Anasazi Indians are known for their cliff dwellings which they inhabited as early as 130 A.D. Wow! The Anasazi bean has a slightly sweet flavor and is good with all kinds of Mexican food. And finally, the Bolita bean is originally from Mexico from New Mexico, brought there by the Spanish. They are a little sweeter than a pinto bean and have a quicker cooking time. Again, I learned this from the Adobe Milling package. Can’t wait to try them for myself.

I now have eight pounds of beans to haul back to Texas. That’s OK. I can never get enough beans!  Husband is very patient with my extensive bean shopping.

What about the grains? I did find some locally milled flours. But my big grain find was a bag of dried posole, packaged by the Fernandez Chile Company of Alamosa. CO.

Fernandez Posole

Posole is a very large white kernel-ed corn that has been soaked in a lime solution and then dried. Posole has a long history in Mexico. I am familiar with it from the fantastic restaurants in Santa Fe NM that serve it as a side dish cooked with lots of red chili. Posole is like hominy but it is generally purchased dried or frozen.

I am planning to cook this posole while we are on vacation. I have read that I should soak it over night. Then I will put it in my little slow cooker with a ton of New Mexico red chili. That should make a gorgeous soupy dish that I will serve with grated cheese, sliced radishes and finely chopped ice berg lettuce. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Of course, we have been eating lots of beans and grains. Yesterday we stopped and got burritos at Zia Taqueria here in Durango. I love this place. They actually have three types of beans you can get on tacos or burritos; pinto beans, black beans and refried pinto beans. All three are vegetarian and all are locally grown.

Last night I made a farro salad for dinner. I had quick cooking farro. It only took 10 minutes to prepare. To the cooked farro I added chopped red bell pepper’ green onions, celery, carrots, some lightly steamed broccoli, olive oil and vinegar. At the end I decided to throw in some canned, drained chickpeas. This made a great light supper. And I have left overs to eat as a side dish. Very good!

Farro Salad

 

 

Living Out of My Pantry – Day Seven, Half Way

Day Seven presented a serious no-grocery-store challenge for me! Husband bought me a Vitamix blender for Mother’s Day.

The Vitamix is a super powerful blender that is supposed to create the creamiest, smoothest purees imaginable. It’s great for fruit smoothies, gazpacho, pureed soups, salsas, etc. Naturally my inclination was to run to the grocery store and stock up on fruits and vegetables.

But I didn’t! It took some serious willpower. Instead I decided to be creative and use whatever I could scrounge up. I found a bag of mixed fruit in the freezer. It had mango, raspberries, strawberries and who knows what else. Threw that in the Vitamix. I still had a couple of oranges in the refrigerator so I peeled one and threw it in as well. I threw in a carrot and a chunk of fresh ginger. And there it was, my first Vitamix smoothie. It was delicious. I can’t wait until the two week pantry project is over so that I can try all sorts of goodies in my Vitamix. In the meantime we may be seeing some very odd concoctions!

Vitamix Smoothie

For dinner on Day Seven I decided to put together what I would call a New Mexican meal. I have some dried New Mexico red chilies on hand. And my friend Margaret from Albuquerque gave me some of her frozen green chilies. If you have ever been to New Mexico, you know that their cuisine centers around the chilies.

I had a can of hominy in the pantry.

Can of Hominy from the Pantry

When I was a kid my Mom used to make us a delicious hominy casserole that probably had Velveeta in it. It was wonderful. Hominy has an unusual flavor and texture. Sometimes you can find it dried  or frozen, though it is generally called posole on that packaging. As far as I know, hominy and posole are the same thing.

Is hominy a whole grain? Well, here is what the Whole Grains Council has to say on the subject:

“Soaking corn in an alkali solution makes its B vitamins and amino acids more bioavailable, and (if lime-water is used as the alkali) adds calcium. The resulting corn is known as hominy, or nixtamal. Hominy can be eaten as is, coarsely ground into grits, or mashed to make masa, the dough used for tortillas. The nixtamalization process may cause some bran loss, but as long as this loss is kept to the absolute minimum, hominy is usually considered a whole grain.”

Good enough for me. Hominy is low in fat and calories and is a good source of fiber. A 1/2 cup serving has 60 calories, zero grams of fat, and 3 grams of fiber. A can of hominy costs a dollar or less.

Of course, I wanted to jazz it up a bit. I sauteed an onion in a little bit of olive oil. To that I added a quarter cup of chopped green chilies. In a mixing bowl I combined onions, chilies, drained can of hominy, a quarter cup of grated cheese, and enough sour cream to bind the ingredients together (maybe a 1/3 of a cup…and I used light sour cream). I put that in a baking dish. Topped with some more cheese and baked it until it was bubbly and the top was brown, about a half hour.

Really Good Hominy & Green Chili Casserole

I also cooked a small pot of pinto beans with New Mexico red chili. I got this idea from a recipe from the book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.

.

In my small crock pot, I added 3/4 cup pinto beans, 1 large dried red chili pod (stemmed and seeded), some cumin, coriander and oregano. I put in about three cups of water and cooked that on high until the beans were tender. I transferred about 1/3 of the beans to the blender along with the chili pod that had been cooking with the beans. I pureed that mixture along with a heaping teaspoon of masa harina. Masa harina acts as a thickener and gives the beans a really good flavor. It’s not essential – but it is a good addition.

The puree went back in the pot and the beans cooked for another 15 minutes or so.  That is one of my favorite ways to eat beans.

A Dinner of Hominy and Rather Soupy Beans

The beans and hominy made a fantastic dinner that reminds me of the good flavors of New Mexican food. Husband loved it. He loved the hominy. He loved the beans. He highly recommends this meal. Husband said it was so good we could serve it to company, even if it is rather humble!

Half Way – I am half way through with the two week pantry project. I find myself hoarding certain things. Or maybe rationing is a better word. I don’t want to run out of all my fresh foods before it is all over. I am one of the few people in the world who loves going to the grocery store. It’s something that I actually look forward to. I am definitely missing those bi- weekly shopping excursions. But I think this is a good experiment. I am trying to convince myself that this is like shopping in my own pantry!

Enfrijoladas

Enfrijoladas are sort of like enchiladas. They are made with corn tortillas, beans, cheese and possibly some additional protein.  With enchiladas, the tortillas are dipped in an enchilada sauce. With enfrijoladas, the tortillas are dipped in a bean puree sauce. You could add beef, chicken, cheese to your enfrijoladas or you could make them completely vegan. This is a dish that is served throughout Mexico,  especially in Oaxaca. It is a homey sort of meal; the kind of thing that is perfect for a comfortable evening around the dinner table.

As  far as I am concerned, this meal has everything going for it: it’s easy to make, inexpensive, good for you, delicious, and it can be served with a multitude of condiments so that each person can dress it up to their  personal taste.  I think it would make a perfect Meatless Monday meal because it is so satisfying and filling that no one would miss the meat. It does not have a whole grain – but it does have corn tortillas which are a whole grain product.

This is the first time that I have made enfrijoladas. I checked out a lot of recipes. I adapted my version from a Rick Bayless recipe that I found online. His recipe called for chorizo which of course, I don’t eat. And he used black beans flavored with an avocado leaf. That is a typical Oaxacan preparation, but alas, I had no avocado leaf! So I had to make a few alterations.

I used Rancho Gordo pinto beans. I love black beans but on this particular day I had a hankering for pinto beans.

Rancho Gordo Pinto Beans

 

In my small crock pot I cooked one cup of pinto beans along with 2 cloves of garlic and one dried chipotle pepper. Chipotles are dried jalapenos. They have a really smokey flavor. When I opened the bag of peppers I was pleasantly bowled over by their smokiness. I wasn’t sure how hot they would be so I only used one pepper. Canned chipotles are generally pretty hot but these dried peppers were more flavorful than spicy. Next time I would use two.  I stemmed and seeded the chipotle and then threw it right into the pot with the beans.

Pinto Beans and Chipotle Peppers

 

When the beans were good and tender, I put beans, garlic and chipotle into my blender and pureed until smooth. I added bean broth to thin the puree. It needs to be the consistency of “a thick cream soup”.  I used all of my bean broth and still needed to add a little water to get it to the proper consistency.

Pureed Pinto Beans

 

The next step is to dip the corn tortillas into the bean sauce and assemble the casserole. There are several possible ways to do this. You can dip the tortillas in the bean puree then put cheese/meat in them and roll them up like an enchilada. You can put sauce on them and simply layer them with cheese/meat in between.  In the end, I went with Rick Baylesses suggestions, and simply dipped the tortillas in the sauce and then folded them into quarters. I did not put cheese in them – decided that cheese on the top would be sufficient.

I found this step to be a bit tricky. I steamed the corn tortillas so that they would pliable. The tortillas were hot. The sauce was hot. Everything was just hard to handle. So here is the method that I used:

Lay a warm tortilla on top of the bean puree, using tongs, turn the tortilla over so that it has sauce on both sides.

 

Tortilla Flat in the Puree

 

With the tongs, gently fold the tortilla in half.

 

Tortilla Folded in Half

 

Fold into quarters.

 

Tortilla Quartered

 

Layer in the casserole dish. Pour additional sauce over the tortillas.

Tortillas Sauced and Folded

 

Top that with some cheese. I used cheddar cheese, but you could use Monterrey Jack or a crumbly Mexican cheese.

Ready for the Oven

 

Pop that into a 400 degree oven and bake until the cheese is melted and everything is hot and bubbly.

So while that was baking, I turned my attention to the toppings. I made a homemade salsa with fresh tomatoes, Serrano peppers, cilantro and lime. That is a favorite in my house. Of course, your favorite store bought salsa would work fine. I cut up an avocado and squeezed a lime on it.  I thinly sliced iceberg lettuce and chopped some green olives.  I set out some sour cream.

Salsa, Condiments & Toppings

 

I forgot to put the jalapenos in that photo. But for me, these are a must!

Don't Forget the Jalapenos!

 

So with the toppings assembled, the enfrijoladas were ready to eat.

Enfrijoladas - The Finished Product

 

And it was delicious! The bean puree was so flavorful. The chipotle chili gave it a wonderful smokey flavor. The tortillas largely held their shape, but the sauce gave them a silky texture. And of course, the toppings mean that Husband and I could each make our plate exactly as we liked. Husband raved! Husband had seconds!

Would I make this again? Absolutely! It was easy to make and tasted great.

And this meal was budget friendly. No…it was cheap. This could have easily served six. I saved my grocery store receipt and calculated the cost. Even with all those toppings, the cost came out to about a $1.50 per serving. I think the one wild card here might be the corn tortillas. I live in South Texas so corn tortillas are inexpensive and readily available. I am guessing there are places where that isn’t entirely true.  I don’t think there are any good subsitutes for corn tortillas in this dish.

I also calculated the calories, fat, fiber and protein in this dish. I know this isn’t completely scientific, but I added up the values in each component and did the math that way. My estimate is that each serving is about 275 calories, 8 grams of fat (from the cheese), 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. That does not include the toppings and those you can add as much or as little as you like, giving you complete control.

Like I said, you could add meat to this dish so it would please the carnivores. You could serve it with Mexican Rice and a big salad. We had some fresh cut mango with ours. I think this is a terrific, versatile dish that will make a regular appearance on our dinner table!

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.

Bean Dips, Spreads and Purees: The World Tour

 

Bean dip. Most of us think of this little pop-top can when we think of bean dip. But interestingly, you can find homemade bean dips, spreads and purees in cultures all over the world.  And you can reproduce them at home to good effect. The bean dishes you make at home will be healthier, fresher and certainly more interesting than what you find in a can.

Husband and I recently took the opportunity to cook up and sample a world tour of bean dips, spreads and purees.

Puree de Lentilles au Celeri – first stop, France, for puree of lentils with celery. I found this recipe in “Provence: the Beautiful Cookbook ” by Richard Olney. I used the little green lentils from France called Lentil du Puy. I bought mine at Whole Foods in the bulk section, but you can certainly get them online . These lentils are small, round and speckled. They are supposed to hold their shape very well when cooked. As I was making a puree, that was not a big consideration!

Lentils du Puy

I cooked the lentils in a pot with thyme, bay leaf, two garlic cloves and a large chunk each of celery and carrot. When the lentils were very tender, I fished out the vegetables and aromatics. I pureed the lentil in my food processor until they were quite smooth. I put the lentil puree back in the pot to heat through, then moved it to a serving dish where I topped it with chopped fresh celery, chopped parsley and a chunk of butter. The butter added richness and the celery gave it a nice fresh crunch.

Lentil Puree with Celery

I served that with a homemade seeded ciabatta. That and a tart green salad and we had dinner! Husband actually liked this quite well, to his surprise. He doesn’t generally like lentils.

 Bessara – Berber bean puree from Morocco. This recipe came from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks “Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Making the dip was a snap. The side dishes I made were a different matter!

To make the bean puree, I cooked a half cup of small red beans  and two large garlic cloves in my little crock pot until the beans were tender.  I put the cooled beans and garlic into my food processor along with dried red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, a good squeeze of lemon and salt to taste.

To accompany the bessara, I made the North African spice blend, harissa. In my mortar and pestle, I ground up a teaspoon each of lightly dry-roasted coriander seeds, caraway seeds and cumin seeds. Then I added two cloves of garlic and a good handful of reconstituted dried red chili arbol. I pounded away until that was a coarse paste. I added olive oil and pounded some more until I had a smooth paste. Making a paste in your mortar and pestle is HARD WORK. No one ever tells you that!

Mortar and Pestle - grinding spices for harissa

I made a loaf of the traditional Moroccan anise bread, ksra, to serve as well. You can find that recipe in Flatbreads and Flavors. Husband doesn’t usually like things that have an anise or licorice flavor, but he did like this bread pretty well.

Ksra; anise bread ready for the oven

I served the bean puree, ksra and harissa with some pickled vegetables. We ate this as dinner. Husband had some roasted chicken as well. The anise bread was good, but you could certainly serve this delicious puree with store bought pita.

Berber bean puree, harissa and ksra

 

Hummus – The Middle East. Ten years ago, who even knew what hummus was? Now it is so common that you can find several brands and several varieties in any grocery store, no matter how remote. Store-bought hummus is pretty good, but I set out to make a better one. And I think I succeeded.

Several years ago, Husband, Daughter and I spent Christmas in London. We had several fantastic meals at a restaurant called Sofra. They started every meal with the best hummus we have ever had. It was extremely flavorful and had a smooth, creamy texture. I wanted to see if I could duplicate that.

I started off with a hummus recipe from the cookbook “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi. I cooked 1/2 cup of chickpeas until they were tender. After letting them cool, I drained the chickpeas and reserved the cooking liquid. Then I pulled the skin off of each and every chickpea. It’s not hard to do. It just takes some patience and some organizational skills.

I put the skinned chickpeas into the food processor along with two heaping tablespoons of tahini, a good squeeze of lemon, one clove of minced garlic and salt to taste. I whizzed that around for a bit and then checked the texture. I added the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time until I got it to the exact texture I wanted. Husband describes that as the texture of melted peanut butter.

This was excellent hummus. I think the secret is skinning those chickpeas!

Hummus with crispy pita

 

Frijoles Refritos – classic Mexican refried beans. For this recipe I referred to the cookbook, “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen“. I cooked a half cup of pinto beans. When they were tender, I put a large skillet on medium heat and sauteed a half of a small onion, finely chopped in olive oil. When the onions were soft and starting to brown I added two cloves of chopped garlic and let that cook for a minute or two. Then I add the drained pinto beans along with enough of their liquid to keep things moist. I also added a little bit of chile powder for flavor and kick. Let that cook together for a few minutes.

Put the whole mixture in the food processor and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. I like my refried beans to be quite smooth, you may prefer more texture. Put the mixture back in the skillet to heat through. When you are ready to serve, top it with some grated cheese.

I served the refritos with guacamole, homemade fresh salsa and tortilla chips. This is my kind of food! I could eat this every day. Rick Bayless’s refried beans were ever so much better than the canned variety!

Frijoles refritos, salsa and guacamole

 

Dal and Chapati – India. The way that I understand dal, it is a thick soupy bean dish that would be served every day in an Indian household. The dish “dal” is made with beans called “dal”. There is a huge variety of dal beans. And there is a huge variety in the way that the dal dish can be prepared. I think that it can be served in a thinner version that would be more soup-like, or it can be served in a thicker version that would be be eaten in a scooped up fashion using a flat bread as a utensil. Sort of like a dip…that’s what I was going for here!

I heard once that the trick to dal is to cook the beans until they are tender. Then you cook up all the seasonings in a separate skillet and add that to the beans. So I hunted down a recipe that used that technique. In the end I sort of used an amalgam of several recipes.

I used a cup of masoor dal. I bought this at The Middle Eastern market in my town. They had dozens of kinds of dal. They were quite affordable. Masoor dal looks like little red lentils. I cooked the beans in a pot with water, a little bit of turmeric and some cayenne pepper. The beans started breaking down very quickly, but I cooked them for about 45 minutes.

In a small skillet, I heated some canola oil, sauteed an onion.  When the onion was soft I added turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and grated ginger and let that bloom for a minute.  I put the onion mixture into the blender with a half cup of the cooked dal and pureed. I put the puree in the pot with the remainder of the dal. I added some finely chopped tomato and finely chopped serrano pepper. Then I just let it cook down until it reached a very thick texture. I put in a bit of coconut milk and a squeeze of lime and it was ready to go.

Dal and Chapati

I made some chapatis, an Indian flatbread,  to go with this. But I have to tell you, they didn’t turn out all that great. Mine turned out leathery and flavorless. I think that may require a little practice. Serve yours with some of that good-looking store bought naan bread, and you’ll be in business!

The Bean Dip World Tour – what did I learn? Once I started doing some research on this, I was really surprised by all the kinds of bean puree to be had. I’ve listed five varieties here, and I have barely scratched the surface.

All of these bean dishes are great used as a dip or topping. But they would also be great as a spread for a sandwich or wrap. They make a great side dish for any meal. You can use them for snacks.

They were all pretty easy to make. The ingredients are humble, easy to find and inexpensive. When you have a pot of beans in the refrigerator, turn a portion of them into a dip. I am guessing that you could freeze all of these dips, spreads and purees.

This has been an interesting way to expand my repertoire of bean recipes!

The Week Before Christmas – 3 Different Soups

Three Soups and a Christmas Tree

As we were heading into the last few days before Christmas, I had the brilliant idea to make three different types of bean and grain soups. This way I would have my refrigerator loaded with healthy choices. At meal times when we are frazzled and tired, rather than snack on Christmas cookies or order pizza out, we’ll have three healthy soups that just need to be heated up. I am sure that we’ll eat more than our fair share of junk, but at least we have an easy option!

On Sunday I got out my trusty Fagor Pressure Cooker and settled in for a marathon soup-making session. Daughter is at home for the week so I am cooking for three people and I want to make things that will appeal to her too.

Garbanzo Beans and Bulgur Wheat Soup – This soup was easy to make but the garbanzo beans take a little extra time to get tender.  I didn’t soak that garbanzo beans. After picking over the beans and giving them a quick rinse, I put a cup of beans in my pressure cooker with 4 cups of water. I cooked them on high pressure for one hour. They were just barely tender after an hour. To the pressure cooker I added a cup of crushed tomato, chopped onion, celery and carrot, chopped cabbage, a quarter cup of bulgur wheat and some frozen spinach. For spices, I added a bay leaf, paprika and oregano. I got the pot back up to high pressure and cooked for another 20 minutes. At the end of that time, the garbanzo beans were quite tender and the bulgur still had a little bit of chewiness.

Garbanzo Bean and Bulgur Soup

You could make this soup on the stovetop, no pressure cooker needed, but plan on a good long cooking time for the the garbanzos. Just as  above, get the beans almost tender and then add the remaining ingredients.

My recipe yielded about six cups of soup.

I rinsed out my pressure cooker and started on Soup #2

Split Pea Soup – I love split pea soup but Husband and Daughter won’t touch it. I think that I will freeze half of it…save it for later.

To my pressure cooker I added one cup of green split peas, about 2/3 cup of potatoes in small dice, chopped carrots, celery and onion. I put is some thyme and a bit of smoky paprika. I added four cups of water and set my pressure cooker on high for 45 minutes. That was probably longer than it actually needed, but I like my split peas and potatoes to be really broken down.

Split Pea Soup

The soup was a little thick for my taste. And it will thicken up more in the refrigerator. Rather than thin it down right away I decided that I would just add water as needed when I was heating the soup to eat. My recipe yielded about 5 cups of soup.

I serve this with a lemon wedge and some pumpernickel bread. It is so flavorful. It seems very substantial. It is an excellent meal, lunch or dinner. I just wish I could convince Family of that!

Once again I rinsed out the pressure cooker and got started on Soup #3.

Pinto Bean Soup – this is one of my favorite soups of all times. I follow Deborah Madison’s recipe from her book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
(one of my favorite cookbooks!).

To my pressure cooker I added 1 cup of pinto beans, 2 dried New Mexico chilies, seeded and stemmed, chopped onion and a clove of garlic, minced. I set the pressure cooker on high for one hour. At the end of the hour, I put a cup or so of the cooked beans and the chilies into the blender and pureed, along with 3 tablespoons of masa harina. I added the puree back to the pot, brought the soup to a boil (not under pressure) and cooked for about 10 minutes. The masa harina acts as a thickener and gives it that good corn-tortilla flavor. If you don’t have masa harina, just leave it out and the soup will still taste great.

The chilies that I added were not particularly hot. They added flavor but not too much heat. When I don’t have New Mexico chilies on hand I use chili powder. I would like to experiment with lot of different chilies – maybe chipotles would be good in this.

I made some Cajun Country Popcorn Rice to serve with this. The package directions called for 1 cup rice and 2 cups water. The rice ended up a little bit mushy. Next time I will cut back on the water.

Cajun Popcorn Rice

I serve the pinto bean soup over rice with grated cheese and salsa.

Pinto Bean Soup

How did my soup plan work out? I am not going to tell you that we didn’t eat some junk this week, but I will say that it was really handy to have all this soup ready in the refrigerator ready to eat.

Daughter really liked the garbanzo/bulgur soup. I served that to her a couple of times for a quick lunch along with some crackers and fresh fruit. All three of us liked the pinto bean soup. It made a quick, satisfying meal on more than one occasion. I was the sole enjoyer of the split pea soup, and I enjoyed it a lot. I still have a half batch in the freezer for next week, which will no doubt be busy too.

It took about 5 hours to get all three soups cooked, cooled and put in the refrigerator (though much of that time did not require my attention). When it was time to eat, any of the three soups could be heated up in just a few minutes either in the microwave or on the stove top.

The soup recipes could easily be doubled or halved depending on the number of people that need to be fed and their enthusiasm for soup. Using the pressure cooker cut down on the time needed for each soup but if you did it on the stove top, all three soups could cook concurrently.

All three of the soups had very different flavors. So outside of the fact that they were all “soup” they didn’t seem repititious. I think that with some imagination you could make three soups with flavors that are even more diverse. You could have a dal with Indian flavors, garbanzo beans with a North African twist, and black beans with a Caribbean taste.  The sky’s the limit.

Here is one last bonus to the bean and grain soup idea: If you have even  small bowl of one of these soups before you head out to a cocktail party or a family gathering, you will be much less likely to overindulge. These soups are so filling and good for you, you’ll be more likely to say “no thanks” when the bowl of queso is put in front of you!

 

Week Four- Polenta and Pintos

For Week Four I prepared polenta and pinto beans. I chose these two, not only for the alliteration, but also because I thought it would give me a lot of options.

My best friend Margaret tells me that pinto beans from the Great State of Colorado are absolutely the best. Margaret says that they are creamier and better tasting. She lives in New Mexico so it may be easier for her to get beans from Colorado. I had a jar of pinto beans on my shelf -no idea where they came from.

Half Pound of Pinto Beans - Origin Unknown

I cooked a half pound of pinto beans in my small crock pot with about 5 cups of water. I also added two dried New Mexico chilis to the pot. I got that idea from Deborah Madison’s cookbook “Vegetarian Soups”.  The beans cooked for about 4 hours on low. When the beans were tender, I transferred a cup of bean and juice, along with the two chilis to the blender and pureed. I added that back to the crock pot. The chilis add flavor as well as a gorgeous color. The pureed beans thicken the broth. Without any alterations this is a delicious bean soup.

I had a bag of polenta from Bob’s Red Mill that I had recently purchased. The back of the bag informed me that polenta is also known as corn grits and it dates back to antiquity. A version of polenta nourished soldiers of the Roman Army. Good to know.

Immediately after the polenta is cooked, it can be eaten as a soft, creamy porridge. Once it is cooled it becomes rather firm and can be eaten as cakes. It’s versatile.  Generally, making polenta means standing around the stove for 20 to 30 minutes so that you can give the polenta an occasional stir. I had an idea that I could cook it in my crock pot. I hunted around until I found a recipe.  I did veer from the recipe…so here is how I made crock pot polenta:

I put 3 cups of water into my small crock pot, then whisked in one cup of polenta and a half teaspoon of salt. I set the crock pot on high. Every 20 minutes or so I would give it a little stir. After about an hour and a half, the polenta seemed to bloom, and suddenly it was a thick and creamy porridge. I turned the crock pot to warm and walked away from it. When we were ready to eat, I stirred in a tablespoon of butter. The process took about 2 hours, but it was super easy and yielded the most delicious polenta that I have ever prepared.

Polenta in the Crock Pot

This was a weird week for me because Husband was out of town for four days.  That put me off of my usual schedule. And he wasn’t around much to share in this weeks beans and grains. He was home on Day One, Sunday, so here is how we ate the polenta and pintos:

Creamy Polenta with Marinara

Day One – Creamy Polenta with Marinara and Grilled Shrimp. With the polenta still in the crock pot Day One seemed like the perfect time for a warm bowl of creamy polenta. I used a homemade marinara, but a favorite store brand would have been good too. Husband grilled some shrimp to add to his dinner. We each spooned up the warm, buttery polenta into a bowl and topped it to our liking. We grated some Parmesan over the top. I served a salad alongside. It was delicious. The warm polenta was the best ever.

After we had eaten our fill, I poured the remaining polenta into a pan, flattened it out, covered it and put it into the refrigerator to cool. When it was cool and firmed-up, I cut it into squares to be used later in the week.

 

Polenta - Cut Into Cakes

Day Two – Tamale Pie. By Day Two, Husband had left town so I was on my own. I put three squares of firm polenta in the bottom of a baking dish. I covered that generously with some chili-pinto beans, topped with grated cheese and baked until it was hot and bubbly. I served that with a salad and some salsa. Some sour cream might have been a nice addition. And guacamole would have tasted great along side. Meat-eaters could add some cooked ground meat to the beans. This was really good. I think it might have been a little better if I had pan fried the polenta in olive oil before layering it in the baking dish. Still, I enjoyed half of it on Day Two and ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Tamale Pie

Day Three – Nachos! With Husband away, I spent the whole day working on a very absorbing project. When dinner time rolled around I wanted something quick and easy. And nachos seem like a perfect thing to eat when you are home alone. I took three corn tortillas, sprayed them lightly with olive oil, sprinkled them with Old Bay seasoning, cut them in quarters and baked them on low heat until they were crispy. This is my version of baked tortilla chips. I put the chips into a baking dish, top with beans, grated cheese, jalapenos and diced tomatoes. I stuck that in the oven long enough to melt the cheese. I ate that with salsa. Guacamole and sour cream would have been nice additions. I know this sounds an awful lot like the tamale pie – but it was crunchy and seemd more fun.

Nachos Ready to Melt the Cheese

Day Four – Polenta Cakes for Breakfast. I tend to be a creature of habit about breakfast, but I thought today,  it would be nice to try polenta for my morning meal. I sauteed four firm polenta squares in a pan along with some olive oil. I ate the cakes with a little butter and honey, a Morning Star Farms breakfast soy sausage and some fruit. The cakes were delicious. An egg or two might be a nice addition. It was quite hearty. Polenta cakes would be an unusual and welcome addition to a Sunday Brunch menu.

Pan Fried Polenta Cakes

Day Five – Polenta Antipasto Appetizer. I found this recipe at the Vegetarian Times Website. I still had several of the polenta cakes in the refrigerator. I browned them in olive oil and set them aside on a plate. In the same pan I sauteed some artichoke hearts (from a bag of frozen artichokes). To that I added a chopped roasted red bell pepper, sliced olives and chopped pepperoncini. This mixture just needs to be heated through. Spread the warm vegetables evenly over the polenta cakes. Have that with a nice glass of wine.

Polenta Appetizers

On Day Six the polenta was completely gone but I still had about a cup of beans. Too bad. I was tired of those beans. Husband hadn’t had even a bite of those beans. I bid the beans a fond farewell and I made a spinach salad! As an aside, I received the recipe for this salad in a weekly e-mail that I get from Lynne Rossetto Kasper at The Splendid Table. Check out their website.  They have lots of great recipes. You can sign up for a weekly email with a weeknight dinner recipe. You can also sign up for their weekly podcast.

Spinach Salad - No Beans, No Grains