Archive for January, 2010

Hoppin’ John

Since I just got back from Atlanta and am also reading a book set in the South, I’ve got black-eyed peas on my mind.  I’m not sure that this dish sounds as delicious as it is, but please trust me when I say it is worth making.  It’s really hearty and yummy, and leftovers freeze well!  Traditionally, Hoppin’ John is made with ham hocks or bacon, but that’s where Southern-style and my style digress.  To infuse some of that deep, smoky flavor we would otherwise get from the meats, I like to cook the black eyed peas with a dried chipotle pepper or two, then season it with a little smoked salt at the end.  If you want some more spice, go ahead and add some cayenne or season your Hoppin’ John with hot sauce. 

Here in Boulder, dried New Mexico chipotles can be found at Whole Foods.  They keep forever and are nice with black or pinto beans, as well.  As for smoked salt, I know it’s available at Savory Spice Shop.  I’ve purchased it at natural grocery stores too, but availability seems to be spotty.  A trip to Savory Spice is always fun and smoked salt is great to have around for split pea soups, lentil soups, or even a Winter Tomato soup.

As with almost all beans and grains, please be sure to soak the black eyed peas and rice ahead of time.  I’m guessing many of you out there eat collard greens fairly rarely and this is a great place for them.  However, if you want to use a different type of green, go right ahead.  If it’s a wilty one like spinach or chard, I suggest adding them about 10 minutes before the Hoppin’ John is finished.  On my heat scale, one chipotle is mild, two medium, and three is hot.  I bet some of you out there could go for four, but I stick with the mild-medium version…have fun with it.       

  • 2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 shallots, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • 1 1/2 cups black eyed peas, soaked overnight
  • 1 cup brown rice, soaked overnight
  • 8 cups water, or more as necessary
  • 1 strip kombu
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Smoked salt, to taste
  • Herbamare, to taste
  • additional flavor enhancers, optional, such as hot sauce, a dash of apple cider vinegar and just a pinch of cayenne

Heat a soup pot to medium, then saute onions in olive oil until soft and lightly browned.  Add shallots and continue to cook until they begin to brown.  Add celery and collard greens and cook 4-5 more minutes.  Add black eyed peas, rice, water, chipotle, kombu, and bay leaves, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about an hour or more, or until rice is cooked and the beans are soft.  Season with 1 teaspoon smoked salt, then additional sea salt or Herbamare to taste.  Add optional ingredients as desired.  Stir in the kombu until it dissolves, then remove the chipotles  and bay leaves before serving.  You can also do this in the pressure cooker – cook at high pressure for about 20 minutes, or in the slow cooker (aka crockpot) overnight.  We like it with cornbread…Enjoy!


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Homemade “Larabars”

Great for travel or for a quick on-the-go snack, I love Larabars.  With just a few ingredients, it’s really easy to make them at home.  The bonus is that you get to make them exactly how you want them, with organic ingredients and without the need for a disposable package.  They take about 5 minutes to make, then will last for months in the refrigerator or freezer.

You have a lot of choices in terms of how you make these bars.  I prefer a higher proportion of nuts to dates/dried fruit than the standard Larabar, but these are still plenty sweet.  Use this basic recipe as a starting point and experiment with flavors and texture until your bars are just how you want them.  Some thoughts on creating your own variations are listed below. 

Frankly, you really can’t go wrong with nuts and dates.  It’s helpful if the dates/dried fruit are soft when you are ready to start, but a little warm water will soften them up quickly.

  • 8 medium dates, pitted and at room temperature
  • 2 cups raw cashews*

Put 4 of the dates in a small bowl and pour 2 Tablespoons or so of warm water over them to soften.  Put the other 4 dates and 1 cup of the cashews into the food processor and process until they are crumbly and relatively uniform; they will not stick together at this point.  Pour them into an 8×8 glass baking dish, or equivilant.  Put the remaining four dates, their soaking water, and the remaining cup of cashews into the food processor and combine to form a paste; this is your glue.  Pour the glue over the crumbly cashew-date mixture and stir to combine.  Spread evenly into the dish, cover, and put in the fridge.  Once he batter has firmed up, cut bars or squares (or shape however you like).  You can continue to store these in the refrigerator in your covered glass dish, or place the individual bars/squares on a baking sheet or something that will fit in your freezer and freeze them until they can be piled in a container or bag for storage.  Enjoy!  

*If you like to soak your nuts, I recommend that you dry them out in a dehydrator or in the oven (or skillet) before using for this recipe.  If you don’t, you will still have yummy bars, just a different texture. 

Some other thoughts….

  • Feel free to stuff in as many nuts or other yummy things as you want, just make sure there is enough “glue” to hold them together. 
  • Make these in whatever shapes you like – roll into balls, flatten into cookies, cut with cookie cutters, etc. 
  • Stuff in as many nuts or other additions as you like, just be sure there is enough “glue” to hold them together. 
  • Roll your bars in chopped nuts, coconut, etc. 
  • Make different flavors by keeping the “glue” part of the recipe the same, but replacing the other four dates with a different dried fruit.
  • Use almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc, or a mix of nuts in place of the cashews. 
  • Use salted nuts for a salty-sweet bar. 

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One Pot, Infinite Possibilities

This is, first and foremost, a basic vegetable soup recipe; something everyone should have in their reportoire.  But, it’s also a perfect way to illustrate that everyone can cook.  Accoding to my theory of food, people don’t cook for a multitude of reasons, the most popular of which are: (a) some people say they don’t like to; (b) some people say that they don’t know how to; and (c) others just say that nothing they cook tastes good.  I believe that (a) cooking can be overwhelming, in which case it’s not enjoyable, but everyone should learn to like it at least a little because it’s important; and (b) anyone can heat up a pan, throw some vegetables in, and add water and salt to make a soup; and (c) there are lots of little tweaks that, if you know about them, can make help make food tastier. 

Of course, there is a (d), and this applies to a majority of us I suspect, and that is that cooking can be time consuming.  I have a long answer to that, which I’ll revisit at a later time, but the short answer is that with one pot of soup, which really only takes about 15 minutes of your time, you could create variations for every day of week and more.  You could put it in the fridge and eat a different version everyday, or throw some of your creations in the freezer for a busy week. 

The idea for this particular topic stems from an actual pot of soup, by the way, that just didn’t taste that good as it was.  Instead of messing with it at the time, I put it in the fridge and added whatever I had leftover in the next few days.  One day I added French lentils, brown rice, cooked potatoes,  and cabbage, one day garbanzo beans and strained tomatoes, then finally I added strained tomatoes and mixed it with some leftover red lentil soup, then added noodles and a bit of parmesan for the kids – this was their favorite version.    

So, here we go…feel free to double, triple, quadruple, etc.  Omit, add, or substitute as you please!  I use mostly fresh, seasonal vegetables, but I’ll throw in some frozen green beans or peas too.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • something oniony (1 large onion, 1-2 leeks, a bunch of scallions, and/ or shallots)
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped or sliced
  • 4 large carrots, chopped or sliced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 head cabbage, chopped
  • 1-2 cups frozen green beans
  • 1 small-medium bunch kale (or other leafy greens), chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried herbs, optional
  • 6-8 cups water, more or less (this will vary depending on types of vegetables used and preference)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional additions; see below

Heat a soup pot to medium and swirl with olive oil.  Add oniony vegetable and cook until soft and lightly browned.  Add the carrots and celery, cover pot, and cook until they have softened a bit.  Make a space in the center, pour in some more olive oil, and add garlic; cook 30 seconds or so.  Add cabbage and leafy greens and saute a minute or two more until they turn very green.  Add water and 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Taste and, keeping in mind that soup gets better over time, consider the following:

  • Did you add enough salt?  There is a fine line between too little and too much salt, so do add mindfully, but do add enough.  The right amount brings the flavors out and melds them together perfectly, so that you are tasting the delicious ingredients of your soup.  You shouldn’t actually taste the taste of salt.  This is personal, of course, because we have different tolerances.  If anything, err on the side of being light on salt; you can always add more individually. 
  • Add herbs.  If you aren’t very familiar with dried herbs, choose some spice blends from the grocery store or, better yet, from a spice shop like Savory Spice.  Just a few teaspoons will go a long way.  If using fresh, you can add them more liberally, but add them at the end. 
  • Add pesto – just throw some basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt into a food processor or mortar and pestle and stir it into the soup.  You could add some walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts too, as well as some parmesan cheese.  Experiment with other types of herbs, as well.
  • Add something pungent, like minced ginger, additional garlic or roasted garlic, browned onions.
  • Add tomato.  I am avoiding canned tomatoes because of the BPA issue, despite the fact that I love canned roasted tomatoes, but you can buy strained tomatoes in a glass jar.  Be careful, your soup can become too tomatoey; just add it slowly until the broth turns a little orange when mixed though.  If it is red after you have stirred it though, you’ve probably added too much, so dilute with a little water. 
  • Add a splash of fresh lemon juice or a good vinegar to enhance the flavors in your soup. 
  • Saute shiitake or other mushrooms in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then add to the soup.
  • Saute additional vegetables and add them to the soup at the end, so they stay vibrant.
  • Add cooked chickpeas, French lentils, or other delicious beans
  • Add cooked root vegetables for body and flavor.
  • Add cooked grains, like brown rice or quinoa.
  • Add cooked pasta.
  • Add flavored salts, such as Herbamare or Trocamare, or smoked salt if your soup could use a smokey flavor (great with green split peas, blackeyed peas, tomatoes
  • Add any leftovers that seem compatible with the flavors in your soup. 

Taste, adjust, and enjoy!

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Curried Winter Squash Soup

I brought this soup to a New Year’s Eve party.  I wasn’t sure how it would go over because most of my family won’t touch squash soup, so my tasting audience was limited to myself, but it seemed to be a hit with everyone to whom I am not related.  A soup like this is a wondeful way to add sweetness and balance to a meal with nourishing foods.  The sweetness of the soup will vary a bit depending upon the type of squash used.  I highly recommend roasting the squash first, as opposed to peeling, dicing, then boiling it.  I find that roasting brings out the flavors of vegetables more than most other ways of cooking; this is especially true for starchier vegetables. 

Despite my love for Winter squash, I cannot claim to be an expert on the different varieties.  I do know that you will not go wrong with butternut, delicata, buttercup, hubbard, or turban squash.  Butternut and delicata are probably the most common at the grocery store, out of those varieties.  Spaghetti squash is too fibrous and, though you can get sweet, smooth acorn squashes, they can also be a bit fibrous.  In this case, I used butternut and a mystery variety from my CSA; I think it was turban.  But, use whatever is available; just taste and adjust the flavors as you go.   

Much of this soup can be made ahead of time.  You can roast the squash and cook the veggies ahead of time, then blend the soup and heat it up when you are ready to eat it.  Extra cooked squash and leftover soup will both last in the fridge for a few days or will freeze quite well, so feel free to double or triple the recipe. 

  • 1 medium-sized Winter squash 
  • 1 Tablespoon ghee or olive oil
  • 1 smallish onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 4-6 cups water
  • 2-3 Tablespoons coconut butter and/or ghee, optional
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Turn the oven to 400 degrees; go ahead and put the squash in to give it a head start while the oven heats up.  If roasting it whole, poke with a sharp knife a few times to allow the steam to escape and put it in the oven with an tray or ovenproof dish underneath it to catch the juices that will otherwise make quite a mess of your oven.  You can also cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and rub the exposed flesh with oil, then place on a tray cut-side down to roast.  Roast 30-45 minutes, or until the skin looks puffy thoughout; it will be quite browned in some places.  The flesh should be very soft and creamy.  Be sure to test the smaller end; the large end actually cooks more quickly because it’s hollow.   

Meanwhile, heat a soup pot to just under medium heat and add ghee or olive oil, then the onions.  Allow the onions to cook slowly until they are soft and slightly browned, then stir in the leek and cook a few minutes more.  Make a space in the center, add a bit more oil and the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or so.  Stir in the curry powder, then turn off the heat until you are ready to finish the soup. 

Once the squash is roasted, cut in half and scoop out the seeds if you roasted it whole.  Set the seeds aside to roast later.  Remove the skin; if it’s really fully cooked, you should be able to pull it off quite easily.  If the skin is not coming off easily, use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, or a regular spoon if neither are available, to scoop out the flesh.  Break it up a bit to help the heat escape, then put the cooked squash into a blender along with the sauteed vegetable mixture, the coconut, and 4 cups of the water.  Blend in batches if you have a small blender.  Blend on high speed, adding water as necessarily to blend it until very smooth.  Pour back into the pot and bring to a boil, adding a little more ghee or some coconut butter if you wish.  Season with just a bit of salt and pepper, to taste, then simmer the finished soup until you are ready to serve it.  Enjoy!

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