Archive for April, 2009

Spinach Almond Pesto

Pesto recipes aren’t hard to come by, and with the ingredients they usually contain, you really can’t go wrong.  So, this just serves as a reminder of how a simple recipe can be the base for so many variations, which can then be used in so many ways.  Spinach is in season and basil is not, so this is a great time to try something different! 

Read on after the recipe for some ideas on variations and uses for this delicious pesto.  The bean and grain recipe is especially worth trying with whatever type of beans, grains (or potatoes) and vegetables you have available. 

By the way, this isn’t my recipe, but I got it from a friend’s cookbook and I don’t remember the name.  I’ll find out, then update this post when I do.

Spinach Almond Pesto

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup whole raw almonds
  • 2 cups packed chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, optional
  • salt, to taste

Blanch the almonds: boil enough water to cover the almonds, about 1/2 cup.  Put almonds in boiling water for 45 seconds to a minute.  Drain and rinse with cold water, then pinch the skin off with your fingers. 

Heat olive oil over medium heat, add blanched almonds and cook until just lightly browned, keeping in mind that they continue to brown while they cool in the oil.  Allow to cool, then blend with remaining ingredients in a food processor.  Add salt, to taste. 

Why blanch the almonds, you wonder?  According to Ayurveda, the skins can be difficult to digest.  Soaking almonds makes them even easier to digest and soaking them overnight allows you to slip the skins off without boiling.  However, the skins come off more easily with the boiling method, in my experience.   

As I said above, the options are practically limitless, so take these suggestions and run with them…

  • Replace the spinach with any other green vegetable.  Some vegetables, like broccoli, might work better blanched or lighly steamed.
  • Replace the almonds with another type of nut, walnuts and pine nuts come to mind, but pistachios might also be delicious.  Actually, any nut would probably be delicious.
  • Replace olive oil with ghee for a richer, though less pesto-like flavor
  • Use on pizza, pasta, grains, etc. as you would any pesto
  • Spread on crackers and top with sliced tomato
  • Use as a sauce for a bean and grain dish; and example…saute a spring onion and garlic scape (don’t know what that is?  head on out to the Farmers’ Market or join a CSA and you will likely find out), add sliced cabbage, carrots, and a leafy green veggie and cook until crisp-tender.  Add cooked black beans and rice and continue to cook until heated through.  Stir in the pesto, add some chopped fresh tomato and enjoy! 
  • Rub some oil and garlic on a piece of bread, then top with pesto and lightly toast for a delicious garlic bread

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Mung Bean Dahl for novices

Don’t let the name throw you off.  For some reason, “mung”, as a word, doesn’t appeal to me, so I never bothered to cooked with mung beans…just because of the name.  Silly, huh?  But, now that I have tried them, I am a total convert!  I also never made dahl, I think because I’ve always been under the impression that there is some secret ancient technique and I’m not privy to it.  I’m sure there are many who could show me a thing or two about authentic dahl, but, until then, here is my version…fyi – onions are often avoided in ayurvedic cooking, but, like I said, I am a novice. 

I am offering a very simple recipe, but as far as I can tell, there is no end to the number of ways you can make dahl.  I wouldn’t worry about whether or not it’s traditional, just make it according to your own taste.  You can add vegetables, use a different type of beans (e.g. red lentils, yellow split peas), add coconut milk, fresh herbs, and on and on and on.  I generally don’t use butter when I cook, but I definitely make an exception for dahl and use ghee (clarified butter) to saute the spices.

Mung beans are nourishing and easier to digest than larger beans.  They contain very few oligosaccharides, which are the sugars that can make beans difficult to digest for some.  You can buy them whole or split (the latter do not need to be pre-soaked, though I think it’s helpful to do so for anywhere from 2-12 hours).  According to ayurvedic thought, they are balancing to all three doshas. 

  • 1-2 Tablespoons ghee (or oil)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon, or more, grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup split mung beans (or lentils or yellow split peas)
  • 3-4 cups water, more or less depending on the consistency you want
  • sea salt, to taste
  • recommended options: lemon or lime juice and hot sauce for serving
  • Other options/additions: cayenne, fenugreek, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, chilis, fresh cilantro (to finshed soup); you can also saute the spices at the end and add them to the finished soup

Soak and or rinse the beans.  Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Add ghee, swirl around in pan, then add onion and cook until lightly browned.  Push the cooked onions to the edges of the pan, add a little more ghee, then cumin, mustard and coriander seeds.  Cook, stirring, until they begin to pop.  Remove spices and smash in a mortar and pestle or equivilant (or just do this in the pot), then stir back in.  Stir in ginger, turmeric, and beans, then add water and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are very soft, adding more water, if necessary.  Or, after you bring to a boil, pour into a slow cooker and cook on low for several hours or overnight.  Stir in about 1 teaspoon salt.  I like to add a little fresh lemon or lime juice and dash of hot sauce to each serving.  Serve with rice on the side.  Experiment and enjoy!

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Winter to Summer Salads

We have quite a variety of vegetables available at the Farmers’ Market already, much more than I remember so early in previous years.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to shop around yesterday while the full array was available, because I was at my own booth.  Fortunately, a friend from one of the farms saved a bag of salad greens, then I managed to scrounge up some spinach, spring onions, and garlic after the market ended.  I’ll still have to go to the store for my other greens this week, but I’m already planning to set up early next week (instead of running in 5 minutes before the market starts!) so I can get my shopping done early. 

Receiving my little bag of salad greens while bundled up in my Winter jacket, hat, and gloves made me think again about this transitional time and how we have elements of Winter and Summer on our tables right now.  A salad is the perfect way to see this in action, and, as always with salad, there are so many options.  I think I was probably in a salad rut until I picked the build-your-own salad option at Watercourse Foods (far and away my favorite place to eat in Denver) a year or so ago.  Since then, I’ve become much more creative with my salad-making, inspired by their variety of interesting options.  They have separate lists, lettuce types, proteins, vegetables, etc.  And, of course, several dressings from which to choose.  I never would have thought to put cooked, cubed Winter squash or sweet potatoes on my salad before this, but now I’m so glad I have…

So, here is my new favorite transition-time salad.  I love the lightness of the spring greens, combined with more hearty and warming “Wintery” vegetables.  I have been enjoying a tahini-based balsalmic dressing, especially when I am having salad as an entree.  This is what I like, but please use it as inspiration to create your own combinations, then go to the Farmers’ Market and see what new things come every week!  And…join a CSA or grow food in your own garden, so you can enjoy the surprise of whatever comes up in each new day! 

April Salad

  • Dressing: tahini-balsalmic dressing
  • Salad greens (locally grown, if possible)
  • Orange veggie: roasted Winter squash or sweet potato cubes (or diced carrots)
  • Green veggie: stir fried, steamed, or roasted broccoli or asparagus, (and/or frozen peas, my packaged food weakness)
  • Red veggie: Roasted Beets
  • Protein: roasted or baked tofu or tempeh, or roasted chickpeas
  • Crunch: raw almond/spinach/carrot crackers, or raw or lightly toasted nuts
  • Optional embellishments: roasted leeks or spring onions

I listed the dressing first, because I like to mix it up in the bowl before to avoid washing another jar, dish, etc.   I don’t measure the dressing ingredients, but I’ll approximate here for one serving, then you can adjust it according to your taste…Put 1 Tablespoon tahini, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1-2 teaspoons balsalmic (or lemon juice), squirt of agave, and freshly ground salt and pepper, then stir briskly with your fork until it’s creamy and well-combined.  Add remaining salad greens and other vegetables and toss to combine with dressing.   Mix in protein of your choice, then top with whatever is providing your crunch.   Enjoy!

I was hoping to be able to link to the Watercourse menu so you could see all of their salad choices, but they don’t list the build-your-own salad ingredients.  So, from what I can remember, a few other things to think about are:

  • a variety of lettuces and leafy greens
  • roasted or sauteed portobello mushrooms
  • boiled potatoes
  • any type of cooked bean
  • avocado
  • olives
  • sweet roasted nuts
  • dried fruit, if you are a fruit in salad person
  • etc, etc, etc…

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Pinto Bean Home Fries, and refried too

For some reason, my kids aren’t usually huge fans of pinto beans.  Add leafy greens, and they like them less….unless, homefried potatoes are thrown into the mix, then suddenly they exclaim yum!  Or, mash them up with some seasonings and, again, yum!  Good for me, because I have a 25-pound bag of them in my basement. 

As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, if you are going to cook beans, you might as well go big.  I like to cook my pinto beans with a dried chipotle chile (1 per 3 cups of beans); it adds a hint of a smoky flavor and just a bit of heat.  I really mean just a bit too, because we are a heat-sensitive family.  If you like them spicy, experiment with adding 2-3 chilis.  Once they are cooked, I’ll use some for the recipes below, and maybe some bean burgers too, then freeze them for another week. 

Oh, and by the way, I cook the potatoes first.  Cooked, diced potatoes are one of my fridge staples.  I’m offering approximate measurements, but you don’t need to worry about measuring, just make it how you like it.  This a quick meal for us, so I tend to keep it simple.  You could add ground cumin, fresh cilantro, chopped green chilis, etc, etc.  If you have leftovers, use them for a burrito filling, serve on a tortilla with eggs and all the fixins for huevos rancheros, make a quesadilla, or just eat them as is!       

Pinto Bean Home Fries

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot, onion, or scallion
  • 1 cup cooked diced potatoes
  • a couple handfuls of chopped leafy greens
  • 2 cups cooked pinto beans
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional: cumin, cilantro instead of parsley, fresh tomatoes, salsa, sour cream and/or guacamole for serving, baked tortilla wedges for scooping, or maybe some hot sauce…

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add oil, then onions and cook until lightly browned.  Stir in potatoes, then turn heat up just a bit and cook, undisturbed, until browned on one side.  Flip over and brown on the second side.  Once the potatoes are cooked to your liking, move them to the edges of the pan and pour a little more oil into the empty part of the pan.  Add the chopped greens, season with salt, cover, and continue to cook until greens are tender.  Add pintos, season again, and cook until heated through.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley, garnish/embellish as you please, and serve.   These are great for a hearty meal any time of the day.   

Refried Beans

For some reason, certain members of my family think that refried beans only come out of a can.  Seeing as I’m not a big fan of canned food, I had to prove otherwise and these certain members were pleasantly surprised.  I often send these for lunches, served as a dip with veggies and tortillas, but they are also a great filling for enchiladas or as a quick meal with a rice, guacamole, salsa, and a chopped green salad.   I confess that, while for most dishes I use fresh onions and garlic, I like to use onion and garlic powder for refried beans.  It avoids the whole, crunchy onion issue and, since I hated cruncy onions as a child, I have to respect that preference.  I got over it and they probably will too, though I’m not sure about my husband… 

  • 2 cups pinto beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste or salsa
  • optional – chopped bell peppers, chilis, cilantro, parsley, tomatoes

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mash until they are the consistency you like.  Or, if you like them smooth, use a food processor.  It’s that easy!  Heat or serve cold.  They also freeze well.

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