Thursday, January 15, 2015

Soup, mmm good

I lived so many years on own that I became very proficient in the one-pot meal. Of course, the time of year will inform what I was making. So easy to toss a salad together in spring and summer when the majority of fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw – and I do love me a salad. The one-pot meal gets revved up as wool scarves become a daily accessory, and I tend to offer hot tea to all guests. A favorite cast iron saucepan, I rescued from a flea market, facilitates the best crispy biryani that is a go-to this time of year, however, plunging temperatures make these days, soup days.

Can anyone argue that a steaming bowl cannot melt away the nip of frost, and immediately make very thing cozy? Harkening back to my childhood when bowlfuls of tomato/rice or chicken noodle re-fueled, warmed and readied me tackle an afternoon of sledging. My mom knew what to prepared on frigid snow days. These days you would be hard pressed to get me on a sledge, or spend a extended period time in the snow, voluntarily. A simmering pot of brothy or creamy sustenance perfuming the house helps melt away the hibernating blues of mid-winter.

Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings – yields approx. 12 servings

For dumplings:
1 green plantain (about a ½-pound) – peeled
2 scallions – green tops only
3 tablespoons unsalted butter – at room temperature
¼-cup masa harina
1 teaspoon salt

Roughly chop the plantain, and in a food processor fitted with the steel blade blend the plantain and scallion greens to a smooth paste. Transfer to a work bowl and thoroughly mix in the butter, masa harina and salt.  You do not want to see any ribbons of butter.

With slightly moistened hands form the plantain mass into 14 walnut size balls. 
In a four quart pot bring 2½ quarts of water to the boil, and gently place in the dumplings. Lower the heat to a simmer, and place a tight fitting lid the pot. Cook the dumplings, undisturbed for 20 minutes. (This can be done separately or placed in the soup in the last half hour.)

For the soup:
1 capon – cut into 12 pieces and rinsed under cold water
4 quarts chicken stock
3 carrots – peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 celery stalks – washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large onion – cut into 1 inched pieces
5 garlic cloves – peeled and chopped
¼- cup Italian parsley leaves – roughly chopped
1 pound cassava (yucca) – peeled and cut into about 2 inch pieces
½-pound button mushrooms
⅛-cup cilantro – roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 limes cut into 12 pieces for garnish

In an eight quart bring the capon and stock to the boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes skimming the fat and impurities off that float to the top.

After a half hour add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, cassava and mushrooms. Bring the soup back to the boil, and continue cooking for a minimum of 1 hour (up to 3 hours). Add the cilantro, dumplings and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot in a large bowl with each serving getting a piece of chicken, and garnish with a lime wedge.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Beans, Beans -- the more you eat

Over the last few days I have been seeing the #beanmonth hashtag on various social media platforms. I can get behind the promotion of this very much, maligned legume. January seems an appropriate month to take on this duty given it is eaten on New Year’s Day, especially in the southern part of the United States, to herald a prosperous year to come. However, with the strength of the Paleo diet fad and it categorizing legumes as forbidden fruit this celebration maybe hard-pressed to ignite even though it is vital to many Meatless Monday meals. I do not put beans in that category and regularly serve up myriad dishes based upon and augmented with this diverse seed -- granted they can cause eruptions of socially embarrassing calls that reduces all of us to sophomoric giggles.

I am not sure why the idea of legumes would not 
be part of the Paleo diet. If Paleolithic man was dragging home a wooly mammoth during a thunderstorm across a field strewn with an uncultivated variety one late summer could that not be considered an early form of a Cassoulet? Why not believe that our ancestors, who had conquered fire, had discovered that cooking them in a liquid would make them more digestible? Today, I always add a knuckle of fresh ginger into the cooking liquid (to be discarded after cooking) believing it helps make the beans a slightly less conversational process. Ginger possesses carminative, anti-flatulent properties that can only help silence some the legumes’ naysayers. Nutritionist will tell you they are powerhouses -- a dynamic part of our diet delivering protein and dietary fiber as well as being low on the glycemic indexes.  Not to mention the cost. In my pantry there will always be a canned, dried and frozen beans. The latter, having been squirreled away from summer’s harvest and are always gone before the spring thaw. The brilliance of dried beans is the multi-year shelf life they offer, however, a bit of fore thought is required because you definitely want to soak most beans for about 8 hours in three times their volume of water before cooking them. But that is why it is a good idea to have a can or two. I am always buying a new variety whenever and wherever I come across them. From creamy to chalky in texture and sweet to meaty in taste there is no reason not   
to have these little dynamos in your repertoire.

So, I see no reason but to let it rip.

Tomato stewed Black Beans – yields 6 servings

1¼-cup dried black beans
1-inch piece of ginger root – cut in half lengthwise
1-teaspoon whole coriander seed
1-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1-can (13.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1-tablespoon Mexican achiote paste
5 garlic cloves – chopped
1 medium-sized onions – chopped

Soak the beans in 4-cups of water for about eight hours. Drain the beans, and place in a 2-quart saucepan along with the ginger root. Cover with 4-cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the beans for an hour to hour and half – until tender.

Drain the beans, reserving about ½-cup of the cooking liquid. Discard the ginger root.

To the 2-quart saucepan return the drained beans, coriander, cumin, tomato, achiote paste, garlic and onions.  Bring back to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmering.  Covered with a lid. Season with salt, and simmer for another hour.