Monday, November 23, 2015

My 2 cents on soaking or not soaking beans and a bean soup recipe

There's an article up on Food52 that presents both sides of the bean argument. That argument being should you soak your beans before cooking or should you go straight to cooking?

I've done it both ways. Sometimes I use the fast soak method. I've cooked them from dried too. Now that I have a modern electric pressure cooker, I almost always cook beans from dried under pressure. It is the quickest way to tasty beans. You can cook chickpeas from dried in under an hour.

The biggest reason beans are blah-tasting, no matter which way you cook them, is you didn't add enough (or any) salt when you cooked them. You will find many chefs who say "Don't ever salt your beans before they are nearly completely cooked. They won't cook if you add salt." To this I say  "Have you actually tried it?" Because, I have, and I find that salt does not slow down the cooking. I live in a place where beans cook more slowly anyway (water boils here in Boulder at 204°F - about 8°F lower than sea level) so I have no desire to slow down the cooking. It takes a long time already! My experiments show that adding salt at the beginning doesn't slow down cooking. And it definitely makes your beans taste better than if you wait until the end to season them with salt.

Here's a bean soup recipe where the salt goes in at the beginning, as well as a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The beans aren't soaked first. They are cooked with the seasonings until nearly done. The soup is finished with some fresh veggies that need only a short time to cook. It's a hearty soup with plenty of umami from the Parmigiano-Reggiano. I recommend that you always toss the rinds in the freezer so you can add them to soup, this one or this one with chickpeas.

Tuscan Bean and Swiss Chard Soup
(serves 6)

1 pound (2 cups) Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups water
3" x 4" piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cups low-sodium stock (either vegetable or chicken)
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, cored and coarsely chopped
½ pound Swiss chard leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook another minute. Add beans, 8 cups of water, rind, bay leaves, black pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours until beans are tender. The time is variable - depends on your altitude (will cook quicker at sea level) and the age of your beans (old beans can take a very long time to cook). Test at an hour and see how its doing.

Once the beans are tender, add in the stock, fennel, and Swiss chard. Cook until fennel is tender, about 10 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind and chop. Add back to the soup. If the rind fell apart on its own, no worries. The rind is totally edible and it adds great flavor and texture to the soup.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet January 2004.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chinese Black Bean Fish with Broccoli

Chinese black beans are fermented soybeans. According to the late Barbara Tropp, an American chef and expert on Chinese cuisine, fermented black beans are the oldest recorded soyfood. It is the ancestor of miso and soy sauce. They are used as a salty seasoning in stir fries or mild steamed dishes, where they add a healthy dose of umami . You can find them at Asian grocery stores. They are not common at supermarkets. I've only found black bean sauce (a garlic and black bean premixed combination) at even well-stocked supermarkets. Chinese black beans keep indefinitely. If you buy a small bag, you won't have to buy them again for a very long time. :-)

This dish can also be made with medium shrimp or bay scallops. I used thawed frozen fish chunks from Trader Joe's. The fish chunks come in 1 pound packages and are usually Pacific Cod. This is a sustainable fish harvested in Alaska. They are very reasonably priced.

Chinese Black Bean Fish with Broccoli 
(serves 4)

½ cup reduced sodium chicken stock
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning broccoli
1 pound of broccoli stems, cut into ⅛" thick slices
1 pound fish chunks, patted dry
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1" piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 ½ Tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ fresh Jalapeno chile, cut into slices crosswise
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Stir together the chicken stock, rice wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.

Steam broccoli stems for 5 minutes until just tender. Drain and pat dry. Place in a warmed serving dish, season with salt, and cover to keep warm.

Heat a wok over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes instantly. Add the oil and swirl around. Add the ginger and quickly stir around. Add black beans, garlic, and Jalapeno. Stir fry 1 minute. Add fish chunks and spread out in one layer. Cook for 3 minutes without stirring. Continue cooking, now stirring until fish turns translucent, about another minute. Stir the broth mixture to redissolve the cornstarch and pour into the wok. Bring to a boil and stir. When the sauce thickens, remove from the heat, drizzle on sesame oil, and stir. Pour everything over the broccoli stems and serve immediately with rice.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, February 2006.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Kohlrabi is an uncommon vegetable. My research puts it mostly in the turnip sphere and treats it thusly: saturate in butter and/or cream. That's a very European view of this vegetable. Kohlrabi is also popular in India and China, though you wouldn't know it looking through most vegetable cookbooks.

A kohlrabi along with some Kashmiri saag (probably mustard greens)
I'm here to fix that. Kohlrabi does not need to be cooked to death, then puréed, and finally bathed in butter and cream. It's quite delicious lightly cooked. In texture and flavor, it is similar to broccoli stems, which you could use instead of kohlrabi in this recipe. It has great crunch. It isn't overly cruciferous in flavor. Perfect for a stir fry.

This is a mild flavored dish with a play of textures: crunchy from the kohlrabi, chewy from the mushrooms, and soft from the tofu.

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
(serves 6)

8-10 large dried black mushrooms (shiitake)
1 ½ pounds kohlrabi
2 scallions
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian roasted sesame oil
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
14-16 oz. tofu, cut into cubes

Soak the black mushrooms in about 2 cups boiling water for at least 30 minutes.

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick julienne, like thin French fries. Cut the scallions into 3" lengths, then slice thinly lengthwise. Set aside.

Remove the mushrooms from the water, cut off the woody stems, and slice the caps. Pour off ½ cup of the soaking liquid, being careful to leave the bits at the bottom of the bowl in the bowl.  Mix 4 Tablespoons of the soaking liquid with the cornstarch, rice wine, black pepper, ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside. Add ½ teaspoon salt to the remaining ¼ cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.

Heat up oil in a wok or large skillet until nearly smoking. Add the ginger and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the kohlrabi, scallions, and mushrooms. Stir fry for one minute. Stir soaking liquid with just the salt added and add to wok. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered for 4 minutes.

Add the tofu, but do not stir, and sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir the mix of soaking liquid, etc. to redissolve the cornstarch. Pour over everything. Stir lightly. Bring liquid to a boil to thicken sauce; there isn't a lot of sauce. Serve immediately over rice.

Photo: By Tarunpant (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cranberry Walnut Upside Down Cake

I pulled this recipe out of a Gourmet from November 2005. It's a delicious butter cake made seasonal with cranberries and walnuts. As cakes go, it's quite easy. I brought it to a party and it was a huge hit.

You can get the recipe on-line from Epicurious:

Some notes on the recipe:

Recipe says it serves 8. I'd say 10. It's sweet and rich, though if you want to cut it into 1/8th's, I would eat the whole piece. :-)

The cake is baked in a 10" cast-iron skillet, not a cake pan. You'll also need an electric mixer for creaming the butter and sugar. Unless you have very strong arms. :-)

The only altitude adjustment I made (I live at 5300 ft.), was to reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, from 1 ½ teaspoons. There is also baking soda in the recipe, but I left that as-is. The baking soda interacts with the buttermilk for leavening while the baking powder gives some extra lift. It didn't over-rise, so I think my adjusted leavening measures are good for Denver altitude.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meatless Monday: Egg Curry

This recipe comes from a wonderful Indian cookbook called 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. The five spices are cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black mustard seeds. They are the basis for a lot of delicious Indian recipes. This recipe uses four out of the five spices and they are all easy to find in any supermarket.

Onion and Yogurt Egg Curry
(serves 4)

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium to large onion, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne (it will be pretty darn hot with ½ teaspoon)
1 cup low-fat yogurt, whisked to break up lumps
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
non-stick cooking spray
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved the long way

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onions are dark brown. This will take a while, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the onions from burning. Add the coriander, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often to keep the spices from burning. Turn the heat to low. Whisk the yogurt into onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the water, salt, and sugar. Continue simmering the sauce while you fry the eggs.

Spray a large skillet, preferably non-stick, with cooking spray. Fry the egg halves, yolk side down until they start to brown. This helps to seal the yolk to the white so the eggs don't break apart in the sauce. Carefully place the eggs in the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes. Serve with hot naan or rice.

Recipe adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate, Chronicle Books, 2007.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Broccoli Crumble

I love broccoli, so I am always hunting for another interesting way to prepare it. Broccoli in cheese sauce is a classic. I wanted to lighten it up a bit but not in those kludgey 1980's ways, by using things like evaporated skim milk and low-fat cheese (really, low fat cheese?). I removed nearly all of the fat in the topping. Usually, there's a lot of butter, which coats the crumbs so they crisp as this bakes. You can crisp up the crumbs by spraying them with non-stick cooking spray. It's made of oil but the spray allows for even distribution and you end up using much less.

Here's a baked dish for your broccoli. Or your cauliflower. It would be wonderful with cauliflower.

Broccoli Crumble
(serves 6)

non-stick cooking spray

2 Tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 medium shallots, minced
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
⅔ cup 2% or whole milk
½ cup water
1 pound broccoli florets
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup grated cheddar cheese

½ teaspoon dried basil
2 slices fresh white or whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a medium baking dish (such as 8" x 8" x 3") with non-stick cooking spray.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for 3 minutes. Add flour and stir to coat shallots. Whisk in the milk and water. Bring to a boil, then add broccoli, salt, and pepper. Stir, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add cheese and stir. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

To prepare the topping, add the basil, bread pieces, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a food processor until bread is reduced to crumbs. Spread the topping over the broccoli. Spray the top generously with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes until topping is browned. Serve hot.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread

A not-too-sweet quick bread with chunks of apple and the flavors of Autumn
I am a big fan of quick breads. They are yummy for snacks and as an on-the-go breakfast. But, so many quick breads are really cakes in disguise. They are so damn sweet they make my teeth ache. Admittedly, I don't eat a lot of sweet things. Which is my way of saying, this quick bread is not very sweet. I'm just giving you heads-up on that. Don't expect cake. If you need to sweeten it up, slather on some apricot jam or apple butter. It does taste of the season with pumpkin, apple, and warm spices like cinnamon, but minus a lot of the sugar.

I specify separate spices but you can use premixed pumpkin pie spice instead. Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread
(makes 1 9"x5" loaf, about 12 servings)

non-stick cooking spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (use 1 tsp. at sea level)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
⅓ cup low-fat or whole milk
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼" dice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9" x 5" loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, both sugars, and the oil. Beat until smooth - brown sugar tends to be lumpy. Add the pumpkin puree and milk. Beat again until well-combined. With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients, walnuts (if using), and apple pieces. Do not over-mix; mix only until all the flour is incorporated into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Tap a few times on the counter to shake out any big air bubbles in the batter. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean with no liquid batter sticking to it. Set the loaf to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn out and let it finish cooling to room temperature. You won't be able to slice it until it's completely cool. To store, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. It can be stored at room temperature for about 3 days. After that, store in the fridge to prevent mold.