Perfect Soy and Mustard Green Beans

2016-food-blog-september-0790It is uncommon for me to champion a dish for being quick and easy, as so few of the recipes I create for you are. But every once in a while, particularly at the beginning of a new semester of school as I re-learn how to do my job and how much time it entails, I have to shift my cooking style a bit – multi-part sandwich experiments just don’t fit into my day. Once in a greater while, a dish that results – like this one – is such a stunner that we have it three times in as many weeks and I know I have to share it with you as soon as possible.

2016-food-blog-september-0775This one is everything. I mean, with a claim like “perfect” in the title, it had better be, but trust me. Not only does it take advantage of the late summer green bean harvest, but the ingredient list can almost fit on one hand, and aside from the green beans and citrus (unless you are lucky enough to have a lemon tree nearby), it really is composed of ingredients you probably already have.* Mustard and soy are a dynamite pairing that work well as a marinade for meat too (and tofu and tempeh, for that matter), and the squeeze of lemon right at the end keeps things light despite the short, buttery stir-fry the beans are subjected to.

2016-food-blog-september-0783Okay, so there are two cooking methods here. But honestly, each of them only takes 3 minutes at most, and you can prep the beans while the water to blanch them is heating up. One knife, one cutting board, one skillet, one bowl or pie plate, and one pair of tongs. It’s hard to beat that, especially when the result is a pile of snappy, still-crisp beans speckled with a perfectly savory, tangy, just-salty-enough coating that pairs as well with a roast chicken as it does with a sandwich or a bowl of quinoa.

2016-food-blog-september-0779* this is a television chef claim that bothers me: while I do usually have things like canned tomatoes and a selection of beans in my pantry, sardines in olive oil, bars of white chocolate, and marsala wine are just not “pantry staple items” that I always have on hand to “throw together” a quick meal (though let’s not pair these particular options – this sounds even worse than a bad Chopped basket).

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Perfect Soy and Mustard Green Beans
Serves 4 normal or 2 green bean-obsessed diners
10-15 minutes
Cold water
1 tablespoon salt + more to taste if desired
1 pound green beans, stem ends removed (but leave the little tails on – they look nice)
¼ cup soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
2 tablespoons Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of ½ a lemon (around 2 tablespoons)
black pepper to taste

 

  • Fill a 12-inch skillet with cold water, add the 1 tablespoon salt, and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • While the water heats, prep the green beans and whisk the soy sauce and mustard together in a wide, shallow dish – a pie plate works well for this.
  • When the water is boiling, carefully drop in the green beans, stirring to ensure they are all immersed, and cook for about 90 seconds (2 minutes if your green beans are very large).
  • Immediately drain off the water and relocate the beans to the soy and mustard mixture; toss to coat evenly.
  • Place the skillet back over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and the butter, and when the mixture is shimmering, use tongs to add the green beans back into the skillet, shaking them off a bit as you do so to avoid adding excess liquid to the pan.
  • Cook, tossing often, for about 2 minutes, until the beans are well coated with little brown bits. Squeeze in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper to taste if desired, and cook, tossing frequently, about 1 minute more.
  • Serve immediately.

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Green bean and roasted red potato salad with blue cheese

Food blog May 2015-0733As buried in pages as I am, it’s difficult to believe that I’m only one week away from “summer.” Well, four days of class and about 120 mixed papers and exams. This is difficult to bear – something about this semester has been more burdensome than usual. It’s hard to know how to feel when there is so little time but so much work between me and those glorious two and a half months of no work but also no paycheck.

Food blog May 2015-0705As if matching my own cloudy-with-a-chance-of-vacation feeling, our weather lately has taken turns back and forth between what looks like summer and what, for here, passes as wintry. Typically June mornings in Southern California are overcast such that they even have their own nickname: June gloom. We’ve hit this a trifle early, it would seem, with the last week sporting what my officemate helpfully titled “May gray,” and temperatures barely grazing 70F. This is, it would seem, an uncertain entree to summer.

Food blog May 2015-0707Speaking of entrees, let’s talk food. Specifically, let’s talk potato salad. It’s not summer just yet, so it’s a little soon to dive into a platter of mayonnaise-robed spuds shot through with crisp cubes of onion and pickle. But because I surely am not the only one longing for everything a good potato salad represents, this adaptation from The Bon Appétit Cookbook is a perfect compromise. Here, roasted potatoes provide warmth and comfort, all caramelized edges and creamy softness, but a sharp, tangy mustard vinaigrette and crisp-tender green beans push the dish salad-ward.

Food blog May 2015-0711To fill my yen for green vegetables, I’ve doubled the amount of green beans and reduced the quantity of oil from the original. I’ve also eliminated walnuts and changed up the herbs to suit my fancy, and gone with whole grain rather than dijon mustard, because I like the tart pop of the little seeds. This can be eaten at room temperature as well as slightly warm, but because a generous scattering of blue cheese adds a creaminess and funk to the party, you don’t want things too heated, lest melting commence.

Food blog May 2015-0717This is the kind of dish that contents me as an entree. I suspect it would happily welcome a handful of crisp crumbled prosciutto or diced hard salami, if you want a little meaty component. If you’re treating it as a side dish, I highly recommend sausages of any variety to round out the plate, or a nicely roasted or grilled pork tenderloin.

Food blog May 2015-0725As most things are, this was just as good on day two heated up just enough to take the chill off, and topped with a fried egg still runny enough in the yolk to offer a velvet golden cascade that turned the salad into something more like a hash, my own ideal of comfort food. It’s the very thing you need, when you know summer is coming but you can’t quite see the light yet.

Food blog May 2015-0738

Green Bean and Roasted Red Potato Salad with Blue Cheese
Adapted from The Bon Appétit Cookbook
Serves 6 as a side dish
For dressing:
¼ cup whole grain mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons finely minced chives
2 teaspoons finely minced sage
For salad:
2 pounds red skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
16 ounces green beans, trimmed of stem ends and halved on an angle
⅔ cup crumbled blue cheese

 

  • For the dressing, combine the mustard and vinegar in a 2-cup measuring cup or a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil until well emulsified. Add the herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind the flavor will be much sharper alone than when it’s coating the salad.
  • Preheat oven to 450F. Toss the potato chunks with ¼ cup of the dressing in a 9×13 inch baking dish. Roast for 20 minutes at 450F.
  • After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375F. Shuffle the potatoes around for even browning, then roast 30-45 minutes more, until tender. Stir and shake once or twice during the cooking process to minimize sticking and ensure even cooking. When potatoes are tender, remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  • While potatoes cook, bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil and drop in the green beans. Cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes, then drain and cool.
  • When the beans and potatoes are still warm but not piping hot, combine in a large bowl (or just keep them in the original baking dish, as I did), add cheese and ¼ cup of the dressing (you may need to re-whisk the dressing first, as it will separate as it sits), and toss gently. Taste for dressing and seasoning, and adjust to your preferences (I added about 2 tablespoons additional dressing and a bit of black pepper).
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Beer Braised Beans

Food Blog March 2015-0444There is little glamour in a pot of beans. Beans are humble, simple food. They are inexpensive, they fill you up, and most often they serve as a neutral backdrop for flashier plate-mates: pork, beef, cheese… When it comes to aesthetics, things don’t get much more exciting. Photographing a pot of beans is not particularly rewarding. The overwhelming, well, brownness of the whole deal makes any tremendous infusion of flavors discernible in descriptors only. In short, I suppose, beans are not Pinterest food.

Food Blog March 2015-0435More and more, though, I’m appreciating beans – not as an excuse to shovel away great spoonfuls of bacon and brown sugar (though really, that sounds far from terrible), but for their savory value. Beans are a vehicle for flavor. They are, as a friend once remarked while I was preparing dinner, “Nature’s little sponges.” Aside from the fact, as I pointed out, that sponges are in fact Nature’s little sponges, this tends to be quite true. Beans learn by osmosis.

Food Blog March 2015-0436Typically I take advantage of this tendency to suck up flavors in Latin American directions: cumin, garlic, various chiles. A few months ago, though, needing another few minutes before dinner and not wanting the beans that had been simmering away on the stove for who-know-how-long to dry up, I cast about the kitchen and emptied a bottle of beer into the pot. I’m not going to say angels sang or the clouds lifted (because let’s be honest; this weekend’s welcome rain aside, this is Southern California. What clouds?), but the revelation was substantial in its own way. Beans already have an earthiness that separates them from the rest of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. Theirs is not the leafy greenness or plump juice of their compatriots, but a creamy, grounded neutrality. Brown. Earth. How odd that they grow on bushes and vines rather than beneath the surface, like potatoes.

Food Blog March 2015-0440Beer, I found, enhances this earthiness perfectly, especially a dark beer like a porter or a stout. The bitterness of an ale or even a lager is tempered in a darker brew, giving way to toasted, bready flavors that mingle well with the earthy pleasantness of beans. Since this discovery, we’ve charged through a number of bean-and-beer concoctions, including a chile that also contained hunks of slow cooked bison stew meat and a barrage of spices – a triumph. But the one I want to come back to for you is the original, simple combination. Beer and beans. A few flavor enhancers by way of garlic, onion, some almost-burned corn kernels, and a scoop of fire-roasted tomatoes, and you’re looking at a side dish that I’d push away the mains for.

Food Blog March 2015-0439If you like a good garnish, I recommend the standards: crumbled queso fresco, cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, generous chunks of avocado, perhaps a dollop of sour cream or a few snippings of chives. But really, these beans don’t require much beyond a bowl, a spoon, and a belly in need of warming.
Food Blog March 2015-0442Food Blog March 2015-0445

Beer Braised Beans
Serves 2 as a main; 3-4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 dried chile of your choice (I like ancho chiles for this)
½ cup diced red onion (about ½ a medium onion)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup corn kernels (defrosted, if you’re using frozen corn)
14-16 ounce can of black beans
1 cup drained fire-roasted tomatoes, from a 14 ounce can
12 ounces of dark beer like a porter or a stout
salt to taste
garnishes of your choosing: crumbled queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, etc.

 

  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the dried chile and the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes. The chile may sputter a bit, and the onions will start to turn translucent.
  • Stir in the cumin and coriander and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes, turning the heat down to medium-low if the onions threaten to burn.
  • Add the garlic and corn, turn the heat back up to medium if you previously lowered it, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the corn picks up some roasty color; about 3-5 minutes.
  • Now pour in the beans, canning liquid and all, along with the tomatoes and the beer. Turn the heat up to medium high, stir to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan, and let it bubble away, stirring occasionally, until much of the liquid is absorbed. For me, they reached the consistency I wanted in 20 minutes – not totally dry, but not tremendously soupy either.
  • Taste for salt (canned beans can sometimes be quite salty, and reducing the liquid enhances the sodium content), pick out the dried chile, and serve hot with whatever garnishes you wish.

Bean and cheese stuffed poblanos and “stuck pot” red rice

Food Blog October 2014-0674I must have been this busy last year. I just don’t remember. When I get to work, I sit down at a desk on which the stacks of papers have been rearranged so many times they might as well be dancing. When I get home, I sit down at a table slowly succumbing to a pile of opened and unopened mail, notes and lesson plans, and yes, more papers. I am freest when standing, and when I am standing I am either stalking the classroom (a practice that, though necessary, regrettably and inevitably produces yet MORE papers), walking my sweet dog-daughter, or leaning over the stove to smell or to stir or to taste.

Food Blog October 2014-0645 Food Blog October 2014-0651 Food Blog October 2014-0652 It’s mid-October. It is at once much later in the year, and much earlier, than I’d hoped it would be. Recently my parents phoned to confirm a flight time for Thanksgiving; could N. or I pick them up from the airport if they arrived at x time? My brain flew ahead, thinking of food, thinking of games, thinking of the family closeness of the winter holidays and longing, longing, for that to be now, now, right-now-thank-you-very-much. But at the same time, there are so many things I wanted to accomplish, as always, that remain undone.

Food Blog October 2014-0648

Food Blog October 2014-0653All I can do is what I have. And what I have for you this week is, as promised, a pair of dishes that fit together so well I can’t, in retrospect, imagine presenting them here separately.

Food Blog October 2014-0655These dishes, a bean and cheese stuffed poblano and a take on the sort of rice you find shaped in a mound or a scoop on your enchilada plate at a certain type of Mexican restaurant, came into being for me during one of our dinners this past summer with our closest graduate school colleagues. Dinner was made by T., previously featured here as a salt expert, and she presented us a casserole dish approximately the temperature of hot magma, laden with fragrant peppers piled with beans and cheese. Beside them, she wedged a heavy dutch oven filled to the brim with “red rice,” a medley of tomato-laced long-grain rice shot through with aromatics and spice. It was one of those dinners where everyone ate without speaking.

Food Blog October 2014-0657I had to have it again, and I knew it would take some tinkering. T.’s rice was fluffy and almost dry, whereas recipes I’d tried for this style of rice produced something wet and floppy – a Mexican risotto, if we’re trying for politeness – and that wasn’t my aim. I wanted something toastier, more like a pilaf. Inspiration and guidance came, as it so often does, from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, in a simple, hearty little feast she calls “Stuck Pot Rice and Lentils.” Inspired by Middle Eastern rice dishes that praise the tahdig, a crispy layer on the bottom of the pot, this rice gets parboiled vigorously, then mixed with other ingredients and cooked slowly, with very little additional liquid, until it adheres into a massive round cake you can, with some care and bravery, flip out onto a plate in a large, crunchy-topped wheel.

Food Blog October 2014-0673Food Blog October 2014-0679Are you hungry yet? There’s more. The peppers, which get roasted over a gas flame until their skins split and peel away and their flesh hangs like wet velvet (you could likely also do this in the oven at high heat or under the broiler, but I haven’t tried it – if you do and it works out, leave your procedure in the comments!), get delicately split and seeded, and then gently loaded with a mixture of smashed black beans and cheddar cheese before being baked for a half hour to bring everything together. Upon emergence from the oven, as if all this weren’t enough, they are subjected to a shower of crumbled queso fresco cheese, cubes of avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds and (if you’re the sort who appreciates this sort of thing) a sprinkling of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

Food Blog October 2014-0660This is a play of heat. The pepper is a gamble – some poblanos (they may be labeled pasillas in your grocery store) are moderately spicy, while others are barely hot enough to tickle the back of the throat. The beans keep even the spicier peppers from overwhelming the palate, and if you are steaming, the cool avocados and a big forkful of the starchy rice relieve the sting. If you really want to tease your taste buds, you could add some diced jalapeño to the rice along with the other vegetables. I resisted, since the poblanos we used were aggressive enough.

Food Blog October 2014-0668This is, I must admit, not a quick weeknight dinner. The peppers must be addressed in several stages, the beans are seasoned and cooked separately, and the rice collectively takes the better part of an hour to complete. But it’s worth it, especially as temperatures cool. At this point in the season, I’d rather be warmed from within by a well-seasoned pepper than I would by the relentless sun (did you hear that, Southern California?!). It’s a warmth that almost, almost, chases away the busyness.

Food Blog October 2014-0667*** I’ve presented these recipes with the peppers first, since they require a bit more advanced planning. But I’ll inject spots in the procedure for each where you can switch between dishes to get both on the table at roughly the same time.

Food Blog October 2014-0676

Bean and Cheese Stuffed Poblanos
serves 6
6 large, shiny, firm-fleshed poblano peppers (they may be called “pasilla” peppers at your market)
2 cans (14 ounces each) black beans, one drained, one with liquid reserved
8 ounces cheddar cheese, as sharp as you like it
½ a red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon cumin
(you may find you want salt for this, you may not. It will depend on your taste and how salty your black beans are. Taste first, add second)
¼ cup crumbled queso fresco
¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 whole avocado, cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons cilantro
squeeze of lime juice

  • If you have a gas stove, turn the burners on to medium-high heat and set the whole poblanos over the flame, charring them on all sides. Turn as needed until the skins are uniformly black and crackly and the flesh feels soft; for me this took 10-15 minutes. As they finish roasting, pop them into a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave them to steam (this helps the skins peel off) until they are just warm to the touch (I, um, forgot about mine while I did some other chores; they were quite certainly ready half an hour later…).
  • If you don’t have a gas stove, I suggest using your broiler. Since I haven’t tried this I can’t give indication of times, but put them close to the heat, watch them carefully and turn as needed.
  • When the peppers are cool, use your fingers, a paper towel, or the edge of a knife blade to scrape and peel the skins off. A few black specks here and there is okay, but the skins are a bit bitter, so the more you remove, the better.
  • (While you wait for the peppers to cool, you can turn your attention to prepping ingredients for the rice)
  • As you relieve each pepper of its skin, carefully cut a slit through just one side of the pepper and excavate the seeds and ribs inside. You want an empty, in-tact pouch, and this takes some delicacy. The flesh is quite tender at this point. Wedge the skinless, empty peppers into a greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
  • Saute the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until they are starting to shade gold, but are not burned. For me, this took 5-10 minutes with frequent agitating.
  • When the aromatics are toasty and golden, add the beans – one can that has been drained, one complete with the liquid. Add the cumin and stir to combine. Then, use a potato masher to smash about ¾ of the beans into a thick paste. A few whole or half stragglers are okay – they break up the texture nicely. Cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated: 15-20 minutes.
  • This is a good moment to preheat your oven to 350F.
  • (While the beans cook, you can shift your focus to the rice for a bit. Just don’t forget to give the beans an occasional stir to ensure they are not cementing themselves to the bottom of the pan.)
  • When the liquid in the beans has mostly disappeared, turn off the heat and add the 8 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.
  • To assemble, load up each empty pepper pouch with about ½ cup of the bean and cheese mixture. This takes a bit of finagling – get the mixture in there, but don’t tear up the peppers too much. Use the sides of the neighboring peppers to help everyone stand up straight and hold in their own filling.
  • If you wish, you may sprinkle on the ¼ cup queso fresco at this point. I found I preferred it as a post-baking addition, but it’s also nice baked on.
  • Bake in your preheated 350F oven for 25-30 minutes.
  • (While the peppers bake, carry on with your rice – if you are setting it over a low flame as you put the peppers in the oven, both will be ready at the same time)
  • When the peppers emerge from the oven, set them aside for 5 minutes. Then, serve, sprinkling as desired with queso fresco, avocado chunks, toasted pumpkin seeds, and cilantro. At the last possible moment, squeeze a bit of lime juice over the top.
Stuck-pot red rice
Serves 6-8
1-½ cups long grain white rice
¼ cup olive oil, divided
½ a large onion, diced (the other half of the one you used for the peppers is convenient)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
part or all of 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced (optional)
½ cup fresh or defrosted frozen corn
juice of 1 lime
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
Water as needed (see procedure)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt
fresh cilantro to serve, if desired
queso fresco to serve, if desired
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice all at once, clamp on the lid, and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Drain and set rice aside in a large bowl.
  • In the same large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the onion, garlic, corn, and jalapeno, if using. Stir in a pinch of salt, then put the lid back on and cook 10-15 minutes, or until the vegetables are browning nicely. Be sure your corn is defrosted before adding, or it will take longer to cook off the water it emits.
  • While vegetables cook, drain the canned tomatoes, reserving their juice. Add enough water to the tomato juice to reach ⅓ cup, then add an additional 2 tablespoons.
  • When the vegetables are nicely browned, add them to the rice and mix well to distribute evenly. Add the canned tomatoes, the cumin and coriander, the salt, the lime juice, and the mixture of tomato juice and water as well, stirring to combine.
  • (The mixture can sit for a bit at this point if you need to go back and pay attention to your beans and peppers)
  • In the same pot you used to boil the rice and cook the vegetables, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Quickly and carefully, add all of the rice mixture and use a spatula to smooth it down into an even layer.
  • Now, being sure to keep edges away from the burner, place a clean kitchen towel over the open top of the pot, clamp on the lid, and securely wrap the edges of the towel around the handle of the pot lid. This creates a tighter seal and prevents extra water from dripping from the lid back onto the rice.
  • Once your towel and lid are securely situated, lower the heat to medium-low or low and cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. After about fifteen minutes you should start to smell a lovely toasty rice-y smell. If it smells closer to burning, turn the heat down a bit but don’t remove the pot from the heat. Check Deb’s post (linked above) for more on the procedure, if you like.
  • When 30 minutes has passed, turn the heat off and let the pot sit for 5 minutes to allow the rice to firm up. Then, using pot holders or a thick towel, carefully position a large plate or round platter over the top of the pot and, over a counter, invert the pot onto the plate and set it down. The rice should plop down onto the plate or platter; if you’re lucky, it will do so in a single round wheel.
  • Scatter it with cilantro and crumbled queso fresco, if desired, and serve.
  • If you don’t want all that fuss, just scoop the rice into a bowl, scatter on the optional garnishes, and be done with it.

Stir fried green beans with coconut (green bean poriyal)

Things are getting busy around here. I’m coursing toward midterms, which means piles upon piles of grading, as the students need to know where they stand at the halfway mark. Spring break approaches, and papers must be returned, research topics and methods must be interrogated, and evaluation work must be completed. There’s little time for a mellow afternoon at home, punctuated by soft cheese oozed onto crackers at an impromptu happy hour, rather than the locomotive “just-one-more, just-one-more” echoing in my head as I face thirty-five opinions about whether Beowulf’s choice to take on a dragon single-handed was admirable or foolhardy.*

Food Blog January 2014-3049So I’m thinking back to my winter break, when I cracked the spines of two new cookbooks (does that make you cringe? It makes N. just ache inside, but dammit, I want them to lie flat!) to devour their offerings. One, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, has convinced me our refrigerator should never be devoid of homemade hummus again. The other, Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness’s Indian Home Cooking, is a beautiful and fairly accessible interpretation of some classic and some entirely original Indian and Indian-inspired dishes that leave me alternately drooling and scribbling feverish grocery lists to take to my nearest Indian market.

Food Blog January 2014-3037In the vegetable section, Saran and Lyness take on green beans in several ways, almost always doctoring them with chilies and deeply toasted spices. In one, the addition of coconut stopped me in my proverbial tracks. In fact, I’ve now made this recipe three times, as though it’s not possible to turn the page anymore because this one was just too good.

Food Blog January 2014-3039Despite this overwhelmingly positive review, I had my qualms when I first approached the recipe. This dish is called a poriyal in the Tamil language, and as I understand it, this means a stir fry or sauté of vegetables. This one happens to have coconut, split peas, urad dal (black gram beans) and numerous warm, earthy spices along with some dried chilies competing together in a beguilingly spicy umami flavor bath. But the original directions in the recipe call for sautéing the beans for five minutes, then simmering them for ten, and then evaporating the water and stir-frying again for another five – twenty minutes of cook time for green beans! I was horrified by the potential for overcooked, mushy limpness.

Food Blog January 2014-3043But I tried, I really did, to follow the directions, at least as much as I could stand it. I shortened up the cooking time for the green beans a tiny bit, but otherwise left the procedure essentially the same. To my surprise, I ended up with meltingly tender, sublimely flavored beans, with none of the unappealing mushiness I’d feared. They give up any sort of dental resistance, yes, but this is ultimately not a bad thing. The toasty split peas and chewy, deeply bronzed coconut provide sufficient texture, and the beans just give a kind of unctuous, vegetal goodness.

Food Blog January 2014-3045Still, though, there’s something about green beans sautéed until just crisp-tender, and so I revisited the recipe, this time adding the beans later, simmering them a shorter time, and ending up with a just-toasted, still fresh pile of vegetables I couldn’t help but demolish. Though the ingredient list is the same, I’m giving you both sets of procedures, so you can choose how you like your beans. However you want them, though, meltingly tender or still a bit crisp, this combination is worth stopping over.

Food Blog January 2014-3074

* Not really. My students have written on a number of intriguing topics, this only one among them. But sometimes, when I look at my “to be graded” tray, it feels that way.

Food Blog January 2014-3077

Stir Fried Green Beans with Coconut
(Slightly adapted from Indian Home Cooking)
3 tablespoons neutral flavored oil, like canola or vegetable
2 tablespoons split peas (the recipe calls for yellow, but I used green because that was what I had. Both will work fine – you are toasting them thoroughly to provide crunch)
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (here, though, don’t use yellow instead. The taste is quite different)
1 teaspoon hulled black gram beans (also called urad dal; optional – they are there for the crunch factor, like the split peas)
3 small whole dried red chilies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, divided
¾ pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut on a bias into 1-2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I found I liked a bit less)
1 cup water, for meltingly tender beans, or ½ cup water, for crisp-tender beans

 

For meltingly tender green beans:

  • Add the oil, split peas, and mustard seeds in a large skillet or wok with a lid over medium-high heat. The mustard seeds will pop and splatter, so clap a lid on quickly. Cook, stirring, until the peas turn golden-brown and the mustard seeds begin to crackle, 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the black gram beans, if using, the chilies, and the cumin and cook uncovered, stirring, for one more minute, until the chilies are well oiled and the cumin seeds smell fragrant.
  • Add ¼ cup of the coconut and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the beans and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.
  • Add the remaining ¼ cup coconut and the water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are tender, about 10 minutes (I tried, I really did, but the best I could manage was five minutes before I got worried about limpness, and the beans were still plenty tender).
  • Uncover and cook, stirring often, until all of the water has evaporated, about five more minutes. Taste for salt and serve piping hot.

 

For crisp-tender green beans:

  • Add the oil, split peas, and mustard seeds in a large skillet or wok with a lid over medium-high heat. The mustard seeds will pop and splatter, so clap a lid on quickly. Cook, stirring, until the peas turn golden-brown and the mustard seeds begin to crackle, 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the black gram beans, if using, the chilies, and the cumin and cook uncovered, stirring, for one more minute, until the chilies are well oiled and the cumin seeds smell fragrant.
  • Add ¼ cup of the coconut and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add ½ cup water, salt, beans, and remaining ¼ cup coconut. Immediately clap on the lid and leave it for at least two minutes, or until the splattering stops.
  • Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the water has evaporated and the beans are barely tender and have had a chance to toast a bit – this should take five more minutes at most. Taste for salt and serve piping hot.

Kidney bean, brown rice, and shiitake “vurgers”

I talk a lot on this blog about myself.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about my husband.  Before I met him, N. did a study abroad program in London.  He was there for six months, and by “there” I mean taking classes in London, but also zipping around England and then parts of Europe with a speed that his British hosts looked upon with alarm (“what do you mean you’re going to York just for the weekend? That’s a 3-4 hour trip!  It’s a whole holiday!”  To which N., who grew up in a road-tripping family, would shrug and go anyway.  Example: his family, when they lived in a suburb of Sacramento, California, thought nothing of jumping in the car to drive to Reno for the day.  Once when his parents visited us in Oregon, we drove to Tillamook from Eugene via the coast to get ice cream and cow cookies at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and then headed home in time for dinner).

Skyscraper gazing

N. is a little camera-shy.

Interestingly, and perhaps unfortunately, N.’s study abroad program took place shortly after some of the worst scares of mad cow disease in England.  He was there in late 2002, and eating beef was a no-no.  This meant, when I met him, that N. had some food issues.  He wasn’t a picky eater – that’s not quite the right word.  He was, let’s say, a particular eater.  Beef, especially beef that wasn’t well-done, was out.  The frightening potential consequences had been too drilled into his head.  Lamb was too gamey.  Pork was not his favorite.  When I was trying to impress him with my rudimentary cooking skills when we first met (rudimentary is kind – the first time I tried to make him French toast for breakfast, the bread collapsed into over-soaked crumbles in my custard mixture.  But we fried it up and ate it anyway – sweet scrambled eggs with bread bits – and he was either kind enough or smitten enough to pretend he liked it), we ate a lot of chicken breast.

N.’s willingness and preference when it comes to food has expanded and matured significantly since we’ve been together.  Still, though, he is wary.  When we lived in Oregon, we were lucky enough to find ourselves in Eugene, which is a bit of a hippie mecca.  This meant we had a wide variety of vegetarian choices.  Neither of us is vegetarian, but N. developed the habit of ordering veggie burgers when we went out to eat, since it was a safe bet.  You didn’t have to worry about doneness, and many of the restaurants we frequented made their own patties instead of relying on something frozen from a box.

Even though we’ve been living in Los Angeles for almost a year now (can that be true?!), and we’ve done our share of restaurant investigating, we don’t have the favorites yet that we had in Eugene.  Though we’ve found some delicious options, N. doesn’t have a go-to veggie burger yet.  This week, therefore, I decided to make him one.

It always interests me, when a veggie burger is advertised as a homemade patty, to find out what its base is.  A lot of meatless patties – especially the premade kind you find in the freezer section – are wheat based, which seems like a strange thing to put on a sandwich: a patty of pressed wheat between two pieces of bread made from wheat.  Gluten-fest!  But sometimes they are made from tempeh, and sometimes from beans, and we had a really tasty one once that I’m sure had shiitake mushrooms mixed into it, which contributed a fantastic texture I haven’t found again.   Food Blog May 2013-1444

Food Blog May 2013-1446Taking this textural component as my must-have, I considered my pantry and spice cabinet, and cobbled together what turned out to be a delicious, filling patty made of brown rice, kidney beans, and reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms.  I used a mixture of red wine and hot water to reconstitute my mushrooms, which contributed to their deep, earthy flavor.  You could use chicken or vegetable broth if you prefer, or just hot water.

Food Blog May 2013-1447To bump up the flavor and add a little moisture, I added onions and garlic I’d sweated down with some warm, southwestern spices, and pulsed the whole thing in a food processor with a generous pinch of salt until it was willing to be molded, but not completely homogenized.  The beans should be smashed but not totally pureed, and you should be able to discern the occasional grain of rice in your shaped patty.  This adds texture and interest when you are chewing, and makes the finished product less like you’re chowing down on a fried patty of bean dip.  Not that fried bean dip patties necessarily sound like a bad thing…

Food Blog May 2013-1448N.’s one complaint about veggie burgers is that they are often smothered in cheese.  It’s as though restaurants are trying to hide the flavor-that-isn’t-meat.  That might be exactly what some people want, but for us, these non-cow flavors are just as interesting and tasty.  To make this a burger (or vurger, as one of our Eugene favorites called it) worthy of N.’s preferences, I decided to skip the cheese on the actual patty, and incorporate it into the bun instead.  Thus we settled our patties on homemade jalapeño cheese “kaiser” rolls, which I’m going to have to boast about… maybe next week…

For now, though, the patty itself: these are a bit dense and fairly filling, but the mushrooms really do add a delightful chewiness that I wouldn’t want to skip.  Adding in some tempeh crumbles to replace or enhance these components would likely be delicious, though I haven’t tried this yet myself.  The final addition of the barest squeeze of lime juice makes a surprising difference: it takes them from slightly heavy to a flavor I can only describe as somehow more awake.

Food Blog May 2013-1452A few days ago Deb at Smitten Kitchen asked what her readers’ go-to dinners were.  I thought about this for a while and decided ours were pizza, roasted vegetable tacos, and a lovely little one-bowl meal I learned from a friend called “Scatter Sushi.”  I can tell you, though, based on the reaction these “vurgers” got at our house, they just joined that list.

Food Blog May 2013-1456

Note: these patties are vegan (until you put them on a cheese roll), which means they lack the dependable binding power an egg typically brings to such a party.  Therefore, I recommend shaping them and then letting them sit for half an hour or more before cooking, which will let the rice and beans soak up some of the moisture from the vegetables, and thereby hold together better.  If they threaten to crumble on you or you’re frustrated or frightened by their potential fragility and not determined to keep them vegan, go ahead and add an egg to the mix.

Brown rice, kidney bean, and shiitake “vurgers”
Makes 4 patties
1 cup cooked, cooled brown rice
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms (about 12)
3 cups wine, water, or broth for reconstituting mushrooms
¼ cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 TB olive oil, divided
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt (if you are using dried beans rather than canned, you might want to increase this quantity)
1 tsp lime juice or red wine vinegar
  • First, reconstitute the mushrooms.  Heat water or broth to near boiling, then pour into a heatproof bowl with dried mushroom caps and wine (if using).  I typically like to use 1 cup of wine and 2 cups of hot water – it’s enough heat to revive the mushrooms, and enough flavor to intensify them.  Cover, making sure the mushrooms are fully immersed, and let sit for about 20 minutes.  I like to place a small plate atop my soaking bowl to keep the mushrooms underwater.
Food Blog May 2013-1445

Mushroom soaking contraption

  • When the mushrooms are soft and pliable, drain them and set aside until cool enough to handle.  Heat 1 TB of the olive oil in a skillet and gently sweat the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent and the garlic is aromatic and sweet.  This should take 5-8 minutes over medium-low heat.
  • As the onions soften, add the cumin, paprika, oregano, and pepper, turn the heat down to low, and stir to combine.  Let the spices cook with the vegetables for another 2 minutes, to let their flavors meld and warm.  Turn off the heat and set aside.
  • Once your mushrooms are cool enough to handle, squeeze them gently to release some of the water they have collected in their bath.  You don’t want them to be drippy, but you don’t want to squeeze them completely dry either.  Some of the liquid they’ve soaked up, especially if you’ve used wine or broth, will add lovely flavor to your veggie patties.  It will also help hold the patties together.  Remove the stems (they are tough and unpleasant to eat) and then chop the shiitake caps roughly.
  • Place rice, beans, chopped mushrooms, onion, garlic and spice mixture, and ½ tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse 4-5 times at 3 second intervals, just until the beans are broken up and the rice is in smaller pieces.  You want some of the mixture to be smooth, but some to retain texture and shape.  Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if needed.  Squeeze in the lime juice and pulse one more time just to integrate it.
  • Remove your mixture from the processor, being careful of the blade, and dump it into a large bowl.  Press it together with your hands a bit to ensure workability.  If it is really crumbly or you are nervous about the patties holding together, you might add a lightly beaten egg or some olive oil here.  However, don’t be too worried – they are going to firm up a little when you let them sit after shaping.
  • Divide the mixture in four even quantities.  One at a time, press and shape each quarter into a round, flat patty no more than 1 inch thick.  Everything is cooked already, so you don’t have to worry about rawness, but you do want everything to heat evenly.  Any thicker than this and your burgers might still be a bit cool in the middle.  Mine were just under 1 inch thick, and had a diameter of about 3 inches.
  • Once all 4 patties are formed, set them aside on a plate or a board for at least half an hour.  If you are going to wait much longer than that or if you are making them ahead, stick them in the refrigerator, but be sure to let them come back up to room temperature before cooking, so they heat evenly.
  • When you are ready to cook, heat the remaining 2 TB olive oil in a skillet (I just used the same one I’d cooked my onions and garlic in) over medium to medium-high heat until it glistens and ripples.  Add the burgers carefully to the skillet and let them sizzle for 4-5 minutes on each side, until they develop a deep, bronzed crust.
  • Serve with your favorite condiments on the bun of your choice.  We kept it simple: mayonnaise, red leaf lettuce from the garden, on the jalapeño cheese rolls I’ll share with you here next week.

Note: if the burgers look like they are falling apart, or if they threaten to break when you try to flip them, turn the heat up a little.  This, bizarrely, helps keep them together because it sets the outside faster, so the surface of the patty is firmer.