December 28, 2007

Texas caviar: black-eyed pea salsa

I like traditions - especially if they're connected to good luck. That's why I used to make this black-eyed pea salad nearly every New Year's. It's called Texas Caviar and in southern lore, eating it on New Year's Day is supposed to bring you good luck. About ten years ago we started going to Florida every year from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day to visit my late father, and my recipe got filed away into my piles of recipes that I was going to "organize." It hasn't been seen since — until now. I searched it out hoping that it would qualify as "easy" and I could make it and post it, since New Year's is right around the corner. I think if you use canned beans instead of cooking them yourself, it is perfect. The only qualifier here is that the mixture is supposed to marinate in the refrigerator for at least two or three days, so you have to plan ahead. Sometimes planning ahead is the clincher for me and enough to stop me from making something, but I really like this dish - and it never hurts to have a little luck. And the truth is that although marinating for a few days is ideal, eating this a few hours after you make is pretty good too. This recipe is meant to be scooped up with sturdy chips but you could also just serve it on a plate like any bean salad. We had some for dinner with kasha and steamed kale.

Texas Caviar
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
  • 4 scallions, finely sliced
  • 3 jalapenos, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil,
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground peppercorns

  1. Rinse and drain the beans and place in a bowl with the scallions, cilantro and peppers. 
  2. Put the oil, vinegar, lime juice and salt in a one cup glass measuring cup and mix together. 
  3. Add the liquid to the beans mixture and combine. 
  4. Place in a shallow glass (or other non-reactive) dish. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few days. Mix occasionally to distribute the marinade evenly. 
  5. Grind some peppercorns over the top just before serving.

notes: I thought the mix looked a little too green and beige so I went looking in the refrigerator for a few grape tomatoes to chop up. They were gone so I got a few slices of the tomatoes I dried last summer (and keep in a sealed freezer bag in the fridge). I chopped those up and added them for color and tang. I also used jalapenos from last summer's garden. I always freeze bags of whole, hot peppers from the garden to use in cooking during the rest of the year. This was the first time I tried to use them uncooked. Couldn't tell they weren't fresh.

Fresh squeezed lime juice makes a superior salad but I would understand if you kept a bottle of lime juice (like Santa Cruz organic) in your refrigerator for "emergencies." The beans will still taste great. Guess how I know.

I like to rinse and drain canned beans in a wire wok skimmer that I got in an Asian market years ago because I liked the way it looked. It's easier to clean than my fine mesh strainers and holds about one can of beans at a time.

French toast for breakfast

What's come over me. I was lying in bed thinking about french toast and how I would make it if I weren't so lazy and the next thing I knew I was in the kitchen. No company, no kids — just two of us and I was pulling bread out of the freezer and grabbing for the blender.

First I made a simple topping starting with frozen wild blueberries (hey, it's winter) and apple juice, thickened with arrowroot. I didn't measure, sorry, but there was probably about 3/4 cup each of fruit and juice and a level tablespoon of arrowroot softened in a tablespoon of water and added to the bubbling fruit mix and cooked until clear and thickened. I ended up with leftovers.

Here's the recipe for french toast
Whole wheat bread slices (there's probably enough batter for 6 to 8 slices)
1-1/4 cups soymilk (plain or vanilla)
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon evaporated cain juice (Sweeten to your personal taste. If you're going to top the French toast with maple syrup or jam, you might want it less sweet. I used 1 teaspoon)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (to your taste)
pinch salt (optional)

Blend everything (except the bread, of course) for 2 to 3 minutes until it's liquified. Put the bread slices in a shallow pan and pour the batter over. Turn the bread to soak up the batter on both sides. You'll have to coat the bread in shifts, soaking the remaining bread while the first batch sizzles on the stove.

Spray a non-stick griddle (or cast iron pan or wok or whatever you have) with canola oil and heat until a drop of water sprinkled on the surface, hisses. Cook the slices over medium heat until nice and brown and no longer wet. Turn several times for even cooking. Put on plates and pour on the topping of your choice — blueberry sauce, maple syrup, all-fruit jam. Enjoy.

December 26, 2007

Quinoa soup

You can have delicious quinoa soup in about a half hour, more or less. It's one of my favorite fast dinners. Quinoa is really good for you and so easy to make.

I first had quinoa soup in Quito, Ecuador in someone's home. It was so delicious I had no idea it was so easy to make. I wanted to be able to make an authentic version of the soup back home so I brought back achiote (annato seeds) so I could make the red oil used in Ecuadorian cooking, and bottles of the hot sauce we put on just about everything we ate there. I still have the seeds somewhere and I think we used all the hot sauce. For a quick, easy and delicious soup, read on.

Quinoa soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 cup chopped onion (it's good if half of it is green onion)
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup floury potatoes cut into small cubes (peeled at your discretion)
1 cup shredded cabbage
several "baby" carrots from the ready-to-eat bag, sliced into strips
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup rinsed quinoa
5 cups water

optional but good
sliced ripe avocado
2 inches of a tempeh block sliced crosswise into thin strips and browned
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
green onion for garnish
hot sauce for adding at the table

Rinse the quinoa well in a fine strainer under cold running water and set aside to drain. (The rinsing is important so it won't be bitter and bad-tasting) Sauté the onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano and tempeh (if using) in the oil until the onion is wilted and the tempeh brown. Add the quinoa, salt, potato, cabbage, carrot and water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the frozen corn, stir it up, garnish as desired and eat.

note: In Ecuador we did have the avocado slices and I recommend it. The lemon juice gives it a nice tang and the green onion is a nice touch especially if you're not using the avocado. Also in Ecuador, we had rounds of corn on the cob (yes, ON the cob) in the soup. It had been cut crosswise into one inch rounds. We picked it out and ate the corn kernals off and I think there was a bowl on the table for the cob pieces. In the summer when fresh corn is available, I do this. But the rest of the year I reach for that handy bag of frozen corn that's always in my freezer. Also, you can substitute different veggies for the cabbage - you could use zucchini or kale or as you see in the photo, cauliflower. (Some recipes call for chopped tomatoes or you can add mushrooms if you want.) I like the cabbage best but didn't have any the day I made the soup.

December 24, 2007

Can home-made pizza be fast?

Well, now, it depends on your definition of fast. In light of how long it can take to make pizza, yes, this recipe seems pretty fast to me. Is it easy? I think so but you'll have to decide for yourself. There are always short cuts for anything. No leftover pasta sauce in the fridge? You can always keep some emergency cans of pizza sauce on hand. Don't want to blend up a vegan cheese substitute? You can always buy some vegan mozzarella (Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet is a good choice) And there's the wonderful bread machine.

I once laughed my friend Deborah out of the house when she first rhapsodised about a new appliance that had just come out - the bread machine. Understand, she was talking to someone who had once taken a pottery class to create a huge bowl in which enough bread dough could be made to create four loaves of bread. I still have that bowl but it hasn't seen the light of day in years. I love my bread machine and without it there would probably be no pizza at our house. So, yes, making pizza dough seems quite do-able to me.

(I have a bread-making book called "The Bread Maker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart and it's an amazing book. Not fast. Not easy. It's an all-day (sometimes two-day) approach to making the best bread you've ever tasted. Sometimes I use the recipes and adapt them to my machine (just for making the dough, not for baking). I'm telling you this because if you really want to learn about bread-making, you might want to read this book.)

I'm about to simplify something that's not really so simple and that I've been trying to perfect for about 30 years. Anyway, I'm going to give the recipe I've been using pretty successfully and hope that it works for whoever tries it. Before scooping the flour into the measuring cup be sure to stir it up well to lighten it. And level off the cup with the flat side of a knife or chopstick.

into the breadmaker (I have a Breadman) put:
1 cup semolina flour (the yellow, sandy stuff meant for noodles and baking)
1 cup unbleached white flour (you can substitute 1 cup unbleached white for the semolina and just use 2 cups unbleached white)
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons evaporated cane juice (like Sucanot)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking yeast (the kind called "instant yeast")
1 1/3 cups water
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Set the machine to make pizza dough. This will make enough for two large pizzas.
When the dough is ready, I put it into a bowl, spray with oil, cover with plasic wrap and a towel and let rise if I have time. If I'm in a hurry I just use it right away. Divide it in half and cover the part you're not using. Turn on the oven to 500˚. (I keep a baking stone in my oven at all times and bake my pizza on it. You should too.)

Sprinkle cornmeal on a large wooden board and roll out the dough very thin. I make it about 15" diameter to fit on my stone. I then put it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled wooden pizza paddle and cover it to rise while I cut the veggies. (The cornmeal sticks to the dough and prevents it from sticking to the stone. NEVER oil the stone. This is very important.) If you don't have a stone, put the dough on an oiled pizza pan to rise. I then thinly slice mushrooms, broccoli and onion. To use the Follow Your Heart cheese, slice about 1/2 of a bar as thinly as you can. It's easiest to slice across the end. This will be enough for two pies.

Spread sauce (you know, that leftover pasta sauce or stuff from a can or jar.) lightly on the dough. Use less than you think you'll need. Too much sauce makes a soggy pie. (Last night I made the best pizza ever and I was sure there wasn't enough sauce.) then arrange the cheese slices in a pattern around the pie. Next arrange the onion, then the mushrooms and broccoli. Sprinke the whole thing with oregano and spray with olive oil. Ease it onto the stone with the help of a spatula if necessary (or put the pan in the oven, near the bottom or on the bottom) and set the timer for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, lower the temerature to 350˚ and set the timer for 10 more minutes. Check the pizza and if it's all brown and delicious looking take it out. Or bake a little longer if it's not quite done. Cut and EAT.

As soon as the first pizza goes in the oven, start assembling the second so it can go in when the first comes out. Good luck.

Polenta in the crock pot

I had a potentially great idea that turned out to be not so great. Had I taken a minute to type my idea into google I would have found lots of recipes on how to do it right but...oh well. I wanted to try polenta in the slow cooker. I've been using an oven method that I found in a cookbook but it takes an hour and I wanted to come home and find the polenta done. I think it would have worked if I'd used the low setting instead of high and had sprayed the cooker with oil. (I should mention that I have a really OLD slow cooker inherited long ago from a friend. The new ones probably have more accurate settings.) Anyway, I used one cup of polenta and four cups of water. I had a lot of usable polenta for dinner, I really did. And it tasted okay but slightly weird in some undefinable way. And after several days of soaking, I got the cooker clean so it wasn't a total bust. I stir-fried veggies and tempeh and added some leftover pasta sauce (we ALWAYS have leftover pasta sauce) for the topping and it was a satisfying meal. Polenta is still one of my favorite fast foods and I will address it some time soon and provide recipes. Just looking at the picture makes me want some.

Chocolate crispy bars: almost instant dessert

We had last minute company coming and I wanted to make something really easy for dessert. (The last time these out-of-town guests came I made polenta with roasted veggies and red pepper purée, which I didn't write about because I forgot to photograph it. For dessert we had baked apples. The whole dinner was so easy to do that it felt like I hadn't done anything and it was pretty impressive both in taste and appearance.) For this dinner Ken was making pasta with tomato sauce and a salad and I was going to stir fry some green beans and make dessert.

There was a recipe in Oct. 2007 Vegetarian Times for a version of crispy rice treats with chocolate that I wanted to try and they were so fast and easy to make that I'll share my slightly revised recipe. I served them on an attractive platter with orange wedges. It looked great but - no photo. I set up a little plate with a leftover piece and a couple of orange slices but the photo doesn't do them justice at all. They were quite appealing -and very sweet.

Crispy bars
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
5-6 cups crispy brown rice cereal (like Erewhon or Barbara's)

Oil a 9x9 baking dish. Place almond butter, syrups, and chips in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until melted and beginning to bubble. (about 5 minutes) Remove from heat, stir in vanilla then stir in as much of the cereal as the syrup will absorb without becoming too dry. Press into the dish. You can use a piece of parchment paper to help press the bars down. Cool in the refrigerator 15 minutes then slice into pieces with a knife dipped in cold water. Refrigerate to harden.

I have a recipe that I created years ago for a puffed rice, no chocolate, version of this dessert that I want to find and test. I remember really liking it and taking it to a zillion potlucks. It was based on a Japanese street sweet, and made with barley malt, and I think I called it Andrea's Crispy Treats.

December 03, 2007

Red lentil soup

What could be easier than a simple soup of red lentils. The leftover roasted sweet potatoes in the fridge will add a rich, sweet taste, and some cauliflower cut in small pieces will add nutrition. Just me tonight and I want enough for dinner and lunch tomorrow.

Red Lentil Soup

I rinsed a cup of red lentils and put them into a 1-1/2 quart enamaled cast iron pot with the leftover, roasted sweet potato (about a cup), a small, whole hot pepper, the cauliflower (about a cup) and a minced clove of garlic. I filled the pot halfway with water and brought it to a boil then turned it down to the lowest simmer, covered the pot and went to hang out with the dog. I came back about an hour later to a creamy pot of cooked soup. I added a little water as it was kind of thick. I added some salt, fresh ground pepper and a dash of umeboshi vinegar for tang to balance the sweetness. And I removed the pepper. It tasted great with a piece of homemade toasted bread.

November 25, 2007

Soup in the slow cooker

I love to cook and I love to eat but I'm too busy to spend a lot of time preparing food. I need food that looks and tastes great but is EASY to prepare. I appreciate complicated and strongly flavored foods but mostly I prefer simple foods with clean tastes.
This bowl of soup was done in a slow cooker. I was on my own for ten days and didn't want to come home to an empty kitchen so I forced myself to drag out the slow cooker and, in an unusual bit of pre-planning, soaked a half cup of dried black beans. Before I left for work the next morning I quickly cut up a bunch of veggies (cauliflower, potatoes, mushrooms, celery, onion, carrots (from a bag of washed and peeled), green beans, parsnip and put them, with a can of crushed tomatoes and the soaked and drained beans, into the cooker. Added water (about three inches above the veggies), flicked the switch to high and left. The best part was that when I got home eight hours later the house smelled wonderful - like someone had been cooking all day! I seasoned the soup with a generous amount of freshly ground peppercorns, threw in some frozen corn and leftover rice and it tasted soooo good.