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Archive for the ‘side dishes’ Category

Beans have taken over my life as of late. I have pounds upon pounds of beautiful heirloom beans in my pantry, the welcome if overwhelming results of membership in the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Six pounds arriving on my doorstep every three months has proven a bit overwhelming and there’s another shipment due in the next week. In addition to all that, I have a case of canned beans of various varieties currently sitting on my dining room table, leftovers from work projects. There are beans everywhere. Everywhere. Because of this, I’ve sort of rediscovered my love of refried beans. Sure, I’ve been making more complicated curries and lentil dishes and Mediterranean inspired bean salads, but it’s the humble refrieds I’ve turned to time and again. When I get a burrito from the corner joint, I always get a side of beans and chips. It’s one of my favorite snacks. A plate of creamy cheese topped beans scooped with chips? What can be better? 

I’m long past the days of opening a pasty can of Rosarita refrieds, though I did that for ages. As soon as I discovered how easy they are to do myself, I never turned back. To be clear, if using canned beans this will all be finished in about 15 minutes, HOWEVER, refrieds made from dried beans, especially a good quality dried bean, are vastly superior. It’s true but it takes a bit of time and planning, something I don’t always have or do. Have I come home from a busy day and popped a can of beans and had something to eat in a few minutes? Absolutely. Was it delicious and satisfying? Absolutely. Do what you need to do.

Dried beans usually, but not always, benefit from a soak. If your beans are very fresh, a few hours will do. If you’re not sure of their freshness, they’ve likely been sitting on the grocery store shelf for years so soak them overnight. Lately, I’ve preferred soaking them in a brine as I find them better seasoned in the end. This involves adding a Tablespoon or so of salt to the soaking water. You can cook in this liquid, however, I’ve been guilty of terribly oversalting my beans lately so I’ve been draining and cooking in fresh water. Put the beans in a pot and cover with several inches of cold water; maybe toss in a a bay leaf and a few garlic cloves too. Bring to a hard rolling boil for 10 minutes then lower the heat and simmer until tender, checking the water levels occasionally – do not let the water boil off. Again, this length of time will depend highly on how fresh your beans are. (My pintos were very fresh, had a 4 hour soak and took 1 hour at a low simmer to get tender.) 

Another favorite method is to pop the covered pan into a low-ish oven to cook (300°F). This has many advantages: you don’t have to keep an eye on them as closely and the water rarely boils off. That said, I don’t always like firing up the oven in the hot summer months though I do appreciate the hands off approach and find they cook more evenly this way. 

Regarding pressure cookers/Instant Pots: many like to use them to cook dried beans though it’s never been my favorite method as I find it cooks dried beans inconsistently. That said, you can’t really beat the speed and convenience – no real need to soak and they’re ready in maybe ½ hour. Overcooking, a common problem with pressure cookers, isn’t really an issue here since these are going to be mashed anyway. The final option, of course, is to use canned beans, the simplest choice of them all. 

Once you have your beans sorted, it’s really very easy. All you need is a few simple things: some kind of fat, maybe something aromatic, a bit of liquid and something to mash with, like a fork. That’s really it though they can be jazzed up in a myriad of ways.

  • Beans: any variety really, though pinto or black are most traditional. Dried or canned. If canned, drain and rinse. If dry, soak (or not) and cook until tender.
  • Fat: personally, I think a little lard or bacon fat is best but any oil will do. Even butter. And you know what’s really good? That orange fat left in the pan from frying up some chorizo. Yep.
  • Aromatics: not necessary, but nice. This could be a bit of onion, a minced garlic clove or diced jalapeno. Just a little something to add a bit of flavor, sautéed up in that fat before the beans are added.
  • Liquid: if cooking from dried, use that flavorful cooking liquid. If not, use stock or even water. I’ve also used a splash of milk for extra creamy beans.
  • Spices: salt is the only requirement – beans need salt – but maybe a bit of ground cumin or chili powder would be nice. Cayenne and coriander wouldn’t be out of place. Sometimes I’ll add a shake of adobo seasoning.
  • Cheese: definitely cheese, whether that’s cheddar, cotija, queso fresca, chihuahua. Anything nice and melty. You don’t need much, just a healthy pinch, but cheese is non-negotiable. I often will stir a little into the beans too or put a bit in the bottom of the serving bowl before adding the beans.
  • Toppings: keep in mind you’re not making nachos here (yet) so just a little bit of something extra for a little flavor and/or texture can be nice. Anything goes. As mentioned, cheese is a must but something crunchy is always nice – diced radishes, pickled jalapenos, scallions, pickled onion, diced tomato. Just a sprinkling. I particularly like a bit of chopped raw onion. A pinch of cilantro, a spoonful of salsa, a dollop of sour cream, a squirt of lime or a shake of hot sauce. A handful of crushed fried pork skins is delightful as is some diced avocado. A bit of crumbled cooked chorizo is a wonder. 
  • To serve: I like them best scooped with tortilla chips or warmed tortillas, but I might cook up a quick cheese crisp for dipping, and perhaps a fried egg. And I have been known to just eat them out of the pan with a spoon on a particularly bad day. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: MASH THERAPY. There’s something to be said for the therapeutic benefits of beating the hell out of something. Mashing beans can be very satisfying. Add to this the sheer comfort of eating something warm and creamy and this is a win-win type of situation on all fronts. This has been a year of non-stop cooking for us all – often breakfast, lunch, dinner and endless snacks – and I often hear “I’m out of ideas. Just tell me what to make for dinner.” Make this. Throw some bowls of beans on the table, topped with a handful of chips and a variety of stuff to customize and let ‘em all go to town.

other bean recipes: Navy Bean Soup, BBQ Baked Beans, Pico de Gallo White Bean Salad, Modern Three Bean Salad, Lulu’s Two Bean Salad, Cowboy Beans, Borlotti Beans with Italian Sausages and Fennel-Pepper Relish, Rosemary White Beans with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Gjelina Style Roasted Beets with Spiced Lentils

twelve years ago: Brown Butter Banana Bread

eleven years ago: Almond Tea Cake

ten years ago: Smoky Ginger Bacon Cookies

nine years ago: Buttermilk BiscuitsRamp Green KimchiCoconut Layer Cake

eight years ago: Scallion PancakesRendering Lard

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Crispy Prosciutto

five years ago: Coconut Tres Leches Ice CreamMashed Peas with Chile and Mint

four years ago: Bacon Fat PolvorónesPlantain Chips with Cilantro Dipping Sauce

three years ago: Lemon Knot CookiesYellow Pickled Cauliflower & Carrots

two years ago: Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake

last year: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding) 

REFRIED BEANS

Serves 4, can be double or halved or tripled.

4 Tablespoons fat – lard, bacon fat, drippings from Mexican chorizo, butter or good-quality vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped (or whatever aromatic you desire)

3 cups drained cooked or canned beans – pinto, black, pink or whatever 

Reserved cooking liquid, water, stock or milk

salt and pepper

Optional seasoning: 2 teaspoons ground cumin + ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

Optional toppings of choice (see above)

Warm tortillas or tortilla chips for serving 

  1. Put half the fat of choice in a large skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Sauté the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining fat and when hot, add the beans. 
  4. Mash with a large fork or potato masher to break up and stir around.
  5. Add a good pinch each of salt and pepper (and the optional seasonings, if desired).
  6. Continue to cook and mash until the beans are more or less broken up (a little chunky is fine), adding reserved cooking liquid as needed to keep from being too dry.
  7. Add more cooking liquid or water to adjust to the consistency you like. I often like to simmer them for a while with some additional liquid to make them nice and creamy.
  8. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish as desired and serve with warm tortillas, chips or whatever you like.

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It was the Lunar New Year last week, The Year of the Ox. To celebrate I decided to make some dumplings. It was a snowy day, again, and I had a whole lotta nothing going on. A few weeks ago, The New York Times published a recipe by Genevieve Ko for Chile Crisp Dumplings. I adore chile crisp and was intrigued but I’d recently culled down my subscriptions and the NYT food site was one of them. I was unable to breach the paywall to access the recipe so my imagination took over. In my mind, the filling was a rich ground pork, with ginger and garlic and hits of that wonderful magic that is chile crisp. I drooled at the thought. As I later discovered, that’s not at all what they were. After some determined digging, I cracked the NYT code and got to that recipe only to learn the filling consisted of tofu, spinach and celery. Huh. Sounds delicious but it wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.

My idea got stuck in my head. I obsessed over it, just a little. I get like that sometimes. While wrapping up some leftover tofu one night after teaching a class, the idea further solidified. What about mapo tofu? It’s a dish I order often: ground pork and tofu chunks in a blistering spicy sauce. I had a ton of pork in my freezer, I had tofu and I had a whole bunch of various chile type sauces and things, including some homemade chile crisp. This could be interesting. So I did it.

To a nice fatty ground pork (scoff if you will but that fattiness makes a luscious dumpling) and diced tofu I added various aromatics – garlic, ginger, scallions, Shaoxing wine and then came the chilies. Chile crisp, of course because that’s where this whole idea started, and in the spirit of mapo, tobanjan (a fermented spicy bean paste) and fermented chili bean paste (often referred to as mapo sauce). It was spicy, but not overly so, more a pleasant zing. Wonderful.

I also opted to make homemade dumpling wrappers as they’re not all that difficult – two ingredients! – and I had the time. I should be honest and admit that the decision was heavily influenced by the fact that my little car has been stuck in an ice floe for weeks and likely won’t be free until sometime in July. A quick trip to the Asian market for dumpling skins just wasn’t in the cards. Besides, I greatly prefer the wonderful toothsome texture of a homemade wrapper. They’re so much better so it was a happy compromise. The recipe is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings” and comes together very easily though I roll/cut it a bit differently than she directs. 

A quick note about chile crisp. It is the wonder condiment everyone is talking about – chilies, fried shallots and garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts, ginger. It is strangely addictive and good on everything. You can purchase the Laoganma brand in any Asian market, there are several specialty brands available online or you can make your own, which I highly recommend. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: BUSY HANDS. It’s no great secret that I love a project. Rolling and folding homemade dumplings is right up there at the top. It’s not overly difficult but it does take a fair bit of time and attention so it’s perfect when you need a distraction but more importantly, when you need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. This one fits the bill perfectly. I find great satisfaction in fat, pretty little pleated dumplings lined up on a pan, waiting to be seared off or stashed in the freezer for a later treat. I like knowing that they are there, in the depths of my freezer, for some later comfort even though I’m trying hard to keep from putting more things in my freezer. I like knowing that as temperatures drop in the coming weeks, I can easily pull 6 or 8 or 10 plump little fiery dumplings from my freezer and have a little treat that will warm me from the inside. I just like everything about it.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Won Ton Soup

ten years ago:  Dark Chocolate TartChocolate Ganache Tart

nine years ago: St. John Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

eight years ago: Peppermint Patty BrowniesChocolate Raspberry Tart

seven years ago: Dulce de Leche FondueChocolate Linzer Cookies

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Orange Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Candied ClementinesMexican Chocolate Poundcake

four years ago: Chocolate Cardamom Shortbread HeartsDark Chocolate Pudding

three years ago: West African Puff Puffs

two years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

SPICY MAPO TOFU DUMPLINGS – the dumpling dough is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings”

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

While you can certainly used purchased dumpling wrappers, I urge you to make your own. Sure they’re a little time consuming but no more so than say, a pie crust. The texture is far superior so I think the effort is well worth it. The different chile sauces will require a trip to an Asian market but don’t let that stop you from making this recipe. If you want to skip those, use more chile crisp. Do not skip that. You need chile crisp in your life. Trust me. If you need a better idea of how to fill and pleat a dumpling, I have some photos and a more detailed explanation in my potstickers post.

4 oz firm tofu, drained

½ pound fatty ground pork, preferably pork butt 

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup minced peeled fresh ginger 

½ cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1-2 Tablespoons chili crisp

1 Tablespoon tobanjan (fermented broad-bean paste) 

2 Tablespoons fermented chili bean paste (ma po sauce)

3 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine 

1 large egg white 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons cornstarch 

round dumpling wrappers – either homemade (below) or purchased

vegetable oil, for frying

  1. For the filling: Cut the tofu into ¼” thick slices; wrap in a layer of paper towels and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the pork with all the ingredients except the tofu and cornstarch.
  3. Cut the tofu into small dice and fold gently into the spiced pork mixture.
  4. Fold in the cornstarch just until incorporated.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. To assemble: Lay a wrapper in the palm of one hand or on the work surface. Using your finger, brush the outer edge with water. 
  7. Spoon 1 heaping Tablespoon of filling in the center. 
  8. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon; pinch at the top to adhere. 
  9. Fold a pleat in the wrapper on the top left, angling the pleat back toward the center, pressing to adhere. 
  10. Repeat the pleating on the top right of the wrapper to meet the first pleat in the center. 
  11. Transfer the dumpling to a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap; repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling.
  12. To cook: pour enough oil into a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom in a thin even layer. 
  13. Arrange some of the dumplings in the skillet, flat side down (pleats up). You will need to work in batches if cooking all the dumplings in one go. 
  14. Cook over low heat until golden on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes.
  15. Carefully pour in enough water to reach halfway up the dumplings – careful it will spatter aggressively. 
  16. Cover and cook until almost all of the water is absorbed, and the filling is cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
  17. Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, and the dumplings are crispy on the bottom, about 2 minutes longer. 
  18. Carefully invert the dumplings onto a plate. 
  19. Repeat the process with the remaining dumplings. Serve warm.
  20. Do ahead: filling can be refrigerated overnight. The assembled, uncooked dumplings can be frozen for up to 1 month and cooked from frozen. Just add 2 minutes to the covered cooking time. Alternatively, you can boil or steam the frozen dumplings for about 8 minutes.

DUMPLING DOUGH:

Makes enough for about 46 3 ½” dumplings

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup boiling water 

  1. For the dough:
  2. food processor method:
  3. Put the flour in the work bowl and with the machine running, add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube. 
  4. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. 
  5. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. 
  6. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5-10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.
  7. by hand
  8. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. 
  9. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour while adding the water in a steady stream (a kitchen towel rolled into a ring with the bowl nestled in the center will keep it steady.) 
  10. When all the water has been added, there will be a lot of lumpy bits. 
  11. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add additional water by the teaspoon.
  12. Knead: Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour the surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. 
  13. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. 
  14. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. 
  15. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become soft, and pliable which makes the wrappers easy to work with.
  16. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers or, refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature before using.
  17. To roll: divide the dough into four pieces. Sprinkle each piece lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap.
  18. Roll a piece of the dough as thin as possible, working it back and forth and using additional flour only if it sticks terribly. Keep turning the dough and rolling to get it as thin as you can.
  19. Cut rounds with a 3 ½” round cutter. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, keeping the rounds covered to prevent them from drying out. The scraps can be re-rolled but they benefit from a rest so it’s best to save all the scraps, tightly wrapped, to roll last.

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I have a remarkable cadre of friends in Southwest France, mostly retired, who are truly living their best lives. They are constantly posting beautiful, luscious, envy inducing photos of meals they’re enjoying through this pandemic and it’s been enough to make me tear up a few times. Maybe one day we’ll be able to enter the country again. Maybe one day, I’ll see them again and share a lovely meal.

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Even before this pandemic began, I was a bean hoarder. You see, I’ve got a real thing for Rancho Gordo, those utterly delicious heirloom beans. They are fantastic and live up to all the hype. I’ve bought them in stores, I’ve ordered them online, I’ve received them as gifts. I even went to the home base in Napa, CA … and bought more beans. Back in October, I received an email that their Bean Club was open to new subscribers. This rarely happens. There’s a 5,000 person waiting list and somehow, I had the golden ticket. I’d passed on it once, years ago, and wasn’t going to let it happen again. On a whim, I quickly joined and a month later, a box with 6lbs of beautiful beans arrived in the mail. It was glorious. A few months later in the midst of a nationwide lockdown when everyone was clamoring for beans, and these beans in particular, my little whim seemed pretty damn smart.

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It seems I am incapable of cooking for one person. I try, I do, but this fact has become abundantly clear during this quarantine and I am overrun with leftovers. Browning bananas, pieces of half used vegetables, staling loaves of bread, and plastic deli containers of semi-identifiable ingredients are taking over my kitchen. I don’t like leftovers so I’ve taken on the challenge of turning them into something new. Last night’s pasta, beans and greens became today’s lunchtime soup. Dinner leftovers were chopped up, encased in pie dough and reinvented as lovely turnovers. Last week’s excess cinnamon rolls became the weekend’s bread pudding. It’s been working out pretty well. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. The other day I found a plastic wrapped chunk of cornbread, hidden behind an enormous bowl of oranges. Wonderful. Forgot about that. It was fine, but stale. I thought about making stuffing to go alongside a roast chicken but bread pudding has been on my mind. What if I turned this stale hunk into a strada, a savory pudding with whatever I could wrangle up in the fridge? I could use those little bits of whatnot tucked in plastic wrap and Ziploc baggies and make something delicious. This was how a cornbread pudding was born.

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Cooking in the time of corona and self-isolation is getting interesting. Hopefully you have what you need or more importantly, need to get by. I hope you’re digging into the depths of your freezers for long forgotten treasures and your pantries, finding those lost bags of beans and jars of things you bought a while back for something. I am unusually well stocked and have been diligently working my way through all my stuff and am doing pretty well. I’m taking on long, involved cooking projects because I have the time – sourdough (who isn’t??), fresh pasta, kimchi, lasagna, bagels. Why not? Perhaps you’re like me and made some curious choices on your last grocery trip. Case in point: I am perplexed as to why there is not one, but two, whole heads of cabbage in my refrigerator right now. One red, one green. Why? That is 50% more cabbage than I purchased in the 2019 calendar year. I suspect my instincts took over while shopping; cabbage is a good keeper and at least one was certainly a St. Patrick’s Day inspired purchase but why two? Regardless, I have a lot of cabbage taking up too much space for one person and it needs to go. Time to get creative.

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I came home from the Labor Day weekend with a big bag full of peppers, a gift from a friend with a large and productive garden. I was thrilled – homegrown produce is always welcome – but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her husband suggested salsa but I’d just come off a similar project and wasn’t all that interested in making more. I’d already made a delightfully cheesy hatch chile queso dip, but that only used five of the hatch chiles. There we so many more in the bag. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed: I googled. “What to make with a lot of peppers” yielded the expected results with recipes for peperonata dominating. No surprise as it is essentially a pepper dish but I was surprised at the lack of variety in the recipes. Italian in origin, peperonata contains slowly stewed sweet peppers, onions, garlic and sometimes tomato, and it is absolutely delicious. But my peppers were mainly Mexican/Southwest in origin – anaheim, poblano, hatch, jalapeno as well as a mess of hungarian yellow. An idea formed. Would a spicy version work? I wasn’t sure but a southwest style peperonata was now in the works.

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I’ve been on a dumpling kick lately. A few weeks ago, I made out a bunch of Asian dumplings – pot stickers, won tons and the like – with various combinations of pork and shrimp fillings and homemade wrappers. Last week I made gnocchi, a frequent craving. In a few weeks I’ll make dozens and dozens of pierogis for my annual Polish Easter dinner. I’ve also made something simpler a few times to fill that dumpling gap – spätzle. Simple little noodle-type dumplings found in the cuisines of southern Germany and Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Alsace, Moselle and South Tyrol. They come together with basic ingredients – flour, eggs, milk, salt, pepper – and are quickly cooked in hot water. I usually have these ingredients on hand and they’ve become a frequent meal around here.

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Hey! So I’ve been cooking up a storm lately, but nothing really blog worthy. More so, just some old favorites, many that I’ve already posted. With Easter coming up, there are some good things in the archives for your holiday brunches and dinners so let’s recap today.

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When I started this exploration of the foods of recently maligned countries a few weeks ago, the only real familiarity I had with African foods were those from Ethiopia. When I first moved to Chicago, there were three Ethiopian restaurants within walking distance of my apartment. I’d go frequently on the weekends when they had a cheap and plentiful buffet and load up on all sorts of delicious things – the spongy sour bread that sops up all the delicious flavors, the deeply flavored, subtly spicy stews and the tender, flavorful greens. Oh man, those greens. Right off the bat, I knew I had to make those greens.

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