Honey Garlic Lentils

I read this item on a menu once and though I never tasted them, the idea has been dancing around my head ever since. I searched for recipes online.I found some with a similar title, but the ingredient list never fulfilled the image and expectations my mind had created. I was expecting a strong but creamy roasted garlic with a surprising, but not overwhelming, sweetness. The other recipes included too many other overwhelming flavors such as soy or dijon. After too much searching, and plenty of thinking, I devised this simple recipe.

I love roasted garlic, and I find that its far too easy to consume too much. Some nights we each finish an entire head, wanting more, although we know it was plenty to begin. This recipe was begging for it. I roasted three heads, but think perhaps a few more could be added for stronger results. A few tablespoons of honey and barely a dash of balsamic. All whisked together, simmered for a minute, and folded in with barely-done lentils — al dente, if it can be applied here. You want them to keep their shape. Some red onions, gently sauteed, and pistachio nuts (although I would have used walnuts or pine nuts if I had had them around). Its better if allowed to sit overnight in the honey garlic mixture, and the onions and nuts added the next day right before the meal.

Honey Garlic Lentils

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked lentils
3 heads garlic, roasted
3 T honey
2 t balsamic vinegar
olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
salt
a pinch of red pepper flakes
pistachios, walnuts, or others– preferably toasted and well salted.

Directions:
Cook lentils and roast garlic ahead of time.

Squeeze roasted garlic from bulbs, and whisk with honey and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Let simmer just a minute. Remove from heat. Pour over lentils. If you have time, let mixture sit overnight.

Heat olive oil on medium in a pan, and gently cook onions until just tender. Add a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes. Stir in lentils with honey sauce until just heated through. Toss in toasted nuts.

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Wasabi White Bean Spread

This spread is one of Hec’s newest creations. He doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen these days for few reasons, mainly work and that I don’t share creative control of dinner once I have an idea in my head. Usually he catches up on preparing class, washes dishes, or plays the guitar for me while I work on dinner.

But this is 100% his creation. I had other plans for the white beans we had cooked that day, but when he said he had an idea, I let him run with it. At one point he was a genius in the kitchen, combining things I never would have imagined yet producing the most succulent meal. I recall a certain pork chop with pineapple, raspberry jam, bbq sauce, and who know what else was in there. I think I need to encourage him to come into the kitchen more, and perhaps its time I washed the dishes and learned guitar.

This dish has few ingredients — but that is the beauty. The white beans blend to a smooth and creamy texture, the olive oil adds depth and richness, and the wasabi gives a strong kick at the end. And it is versatile. Eat it on toast or crackers, use it on a sandwich in place of the usual condiments, or serve as a side dish instead of the average mashed potatoes.

Wasabi White Bean Spread

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked white beans, drained completely
1 T wassabi paste
2 T olive oil
salt to taste (I add it when I cook the beans)

Directions:
Blend everything together until smooth. Enjoy!

*Everything is more or less to taste. Adjust the wasabi and olive oil to your liking.

Anise Scented Garbanzo Cookies

I’m glad you looked to the text despite the title of these cookies. I promise you (to those with a health-food palate), these are yummy. If you refer to anything containing whole wheat as “cardboard” , if you don’t enjoy super dark chocolate, crystallized ginger, or nuts and raisins hidden in you food, maybe this cookie isn’t for you. They are a dense chewy texture; just sweet enough for adults, while children might not enjoy them; and a deep intense flavor of anise. On top of that they are a healthy snack filled with protein, fiber, and good kinds of sugars and fats. Give them a try!

Anise Scented Garbanzo Cookies,
inspired by 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients:
1 can of garbanzo beans, well smashed
1 egg
3 T olive oil
2/3 cup honey (or brown sugar)
1/2 cup dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup wheat bran
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
4 star of anise, toasted and ground
1 t ground ginger
1/3 c sesame seeds

Directions:
Smash well the garbanzos. Beat in the egg, then honey and olive oil. Combine well. Mix in the dates and crystallized ginger. Add all dry ingredients, mixing well.

Let mixture set up in the fridge for a half an hour. Roll about 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a ball, and roll the ball in the sesame seeds. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350ºF.

Ribollita, Italian Peasant Stew.

We went to Xela (Quezaltenango) last weekend. It was a lovely end to a nice, long break from work. In the 22 months I have lived in the country, I had yet to make it there. It seemed a bit far (although now the highway has improved and it is barely a three hour drive now!), and I never had any business out that direction. But my visa renewal was coming up and I was looking for a cheap way to leave the country. So Mexico it was. Mexico really isn’t close, but from Xela it was a day trip, so we took advantage of the trip. I won’t go into details, my passport is now renewed, and Xela is a beautiful beautiful place I hope to visit again very soon. Hidalgo, Mexico — not a town I’ll recommend.

Whenever I travel someplace new I like to indulge in the culinary treats typical of the town. In Xela it is Shecas…a sweet bread often flavored with anise. We bought half a dozen from a bakery in town, and although they were delicious we were disappointed they had no anise. Oh well, we though. Then, on our way out of town in Quatro Caminos, there were venders at the stoplights selling bags of them. Impluslively I rolled down my window, asked if they contained anise (“si, si” , he responded), and we traded a 10Q bill for a bag of 10 shecas before the light turned green. I ripped open the bag and tore off a bite, and immediately disappointed. Not only was there no trace of anise, they were dry and tasteless. Ugg, I thought. I pondered “what am I going to do with 9.75 dry and tasteless pieces of bread?!”

Then, instantly, an image of old useless bread brought a rush of fond culinary memories. I rummaged through my bookshelf until I found the mini “marble memo” notepad where I scratched down the recipe.
Lets jump back 5 years to November 2004. My junior year in college, study abroad in Rome, Italy. My parents visited for a couple weeks. We toured the country side, including a few days in Florence (Firenze!). We went to the museums, shopped on Ponte Vecchio, and ate delicious Tuscan cuisine. I’m not sure how we discovered the tiny restaurant in that little village tucked in the mountains surrounding Florance. (I should have done proper research here, but in my emotion I didn’t have the time…Mom, do you remember? Do you still have that little ceramic ashtray the restaurant owner gave us?).

I remember very clearly it was very very cold. We took a bus about 20 minutes up the twisted mountain roads and were dropped off on the main street of an empty town. We ate the most delicious**, tender whole chicken, butterflied and grilled to perfection with that crusty blackened skin. We had a tomato stew thickened with day old bread, and we had Ribollita, a white bean stew also thickened with day old bread. There was no one in the tiny place. It was dark outside, but candles surrounded us in every direction giving an old-fashioned glow to the place. I felt like I was back in the 1800s. The owner chatted with us (and now I forget if it was in my broken Italian or his broken English). He explained the preparation of the dish in enough detail that I was successful in my online search at the internet cafe the next day (I don’t think I knew about Google back then). He gave us a little ceramic ashtray that I think my Mom uses for coins.

Good memories. I would like to go back. I wonder if it is still there. In the past 5 years, on and off I remember the stew and thought on making it, but the timing was never right. But finally it happened and it was magic. The white bean are great. It’s loaded with veggies full of vitamins. It’s healthy. And letting chunks of day old bread absorb the broth and disintegrate completely thickens the stew and creates a hearty, delicious texture. And it’s cheap and easy to make, although a bit of chopping is required. I just ate a bowl and my belly is warm and satisfied. I will sleep well tonight.

Ribollita. Italian White Bean Peasant Stew.

Ingredients:
1 cup dried white beans*
8 cups water
1 red onion, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional/more or less to taste)
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 potato, diced (optional)
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 bay leaves
3 springs thyme (dried or fresh)
3 sprigs rosemary (fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups red cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
2 cups savoy cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch kale or swiss chard, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 loaf day old bread (traditioanlly “italain peasant bread”, but you can use whatever you have).

Directions:

1) Soak beans overnight. Cook in 8 cups water according to directions (I do it in my slow cooker on low for about 5 hours). Once cooked, reserve all the liquid. Puree half of the beans while keeping the rest whole. The pureed beans will add a nice thick texture to the soup, while the whole beans let you know they’re still there!

2) Meanwhile, cook onions and garlic until soft. Add celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are softened, about 10 minutes.

3) Add cabbages. Cook until softened and flavors combine.

4) Add tomato paste, still well to combine.

5) Add the liquid from the beans, the pureed beans, the chicken broth, and swiss chard/kale. Let simmer on medium heat about 30-45 minutes until potatoes are cooked and the flavors well blended.

6) Add the whole beans, and let warm through.

7) Meanwhile, toast up the old bread. Rub a clove of peeled garlic over each piece. Place a piece in each bowl, crumbling it well.Once stew is cooked, and seasoning adjusted if necessary, spoon a serving over the bread. Mix to integrate the crumbled bread into the stew. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

8)Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, and grated parmesean, pecorino, or assiago cheese if desired. Enjoy!

*You may use canned beans instead. Make sure to use water or broth to replace the cooking water from the beans.

**I stated in my last post that the chicken I made was the most delicious chicken I have ever had. I take that back…it is the second most delicious chicken I had ever had. The one I had in Italy was hands down the best!

Veggie Burgers

Veggie Burgers - Plated

The first time I made veggie burgers I was with my friend Julie in D.C. visiting her sister who was a Lutheran Volunteer Corp member at the time. The volunteers make a commitment to service and simplicity, which includes a tight monthly budget for food and household necessities. While there Julie and I took part of this lifestyle. For dinner one night her sister taught us how to make a simple veggie burger of lentils, seasoned bread crumbs, and egg, and some tomato paste. It was simple yet impressively delicious and cost about $1 per person. Since then I’ve been playing with ingredients and spices to come up with an ideal flavor texture and moisture ratio. I think I hit gold here, people.

Veggie Burgers. Serves 4

Ingredients:
1.5 cups cooked beans of your choice (I used colorados, but black are good as well)
2 eggs
1 to 2 onions, depending on your liking
1 carrot, shredded (or more if you use less onion)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I always use whole wheat)
1/4 cup rolled oats, toasted
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1.5 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (I toast them with the oats so they release more flavor)

Directions:
First, toast the rolled oats and fennel (and also a crumbled piece or two of old bread if you don’t have breadcrumbs already made) in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. With your hand blender, food processor, or blender, combine until barely chunky the eggs, beans, onions, carrot, and spices (except fennel). Mix in the breadcrumbs, oats, and fennel. Set the moist mixture in the fridge to let it set up–about half an hour. Veggie Burgers - BallsHeat oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Form patties about 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. I usually form them into little “meat balls” using 1/3 cup of the batter, then smash them flat once in the pan. Place the patties in the pan and cook on each side until brown and crispy, and heated through, about 10 minutes on each side. It may seem like a long time, but the batter is moist (which is what we want so our burgers are not dry and difficult to eat) and so it will take some time to warm them through and allow the egg to set.

I usually serve them as an open faced sandwich along with a salad, and often times avocado or guacamol. Here I served it with my Vegetarian Salpicón.

Moroccan Fava Beans

Moroccan Fava Beans - Plated

You know, I had never had fava beans before Guatemala. I’m sure they exist in the U.S., because I encountered a number of recipes written by U.S. based authors. However, they were never served in my family, my friends families (that I know of), nor in any restaurant or school cafeteria I ever visited. Perhaps its because in appearance they resemble lima beans. I don’t know. But they are delicious and praised for their extremly nutritious content. Low in sodium, fat and cholesterol, yet have extremely high protein and iron content for a bean. Theses “nutrition superheroes” were often called the “meat of the poor” . I hope they are becoming more prevalent, for all ya’lls sake.

In Guatemala I started noticing them because of the vendors selling boquitas (snack foods, usually to accompany alcoholic beverages) on the streets. When my friend Katie (hola pic!) was living in Guatemala last year we would frequent a local cantina situated a perfect distance between our apartments. After work we would walk down there and share a liter of beer to shake off the day. Often a boquitas vendor would stop into the pub offering spiced peanuts, caramelized nuts, cashews, and fried fava beans. I was crazy about these. They were deep fried and still had their shells on, but I enjoyed peeling them away before enjoying the crunchy salted beans. Not exactly healthy.

After this initial encounter I started researching the beans and finding recipes I wanted to try…but I could not find any fresh beans! How could there be the fried version but not the fresh? Grr… Once I found a  canned variety at a Mediterranean market, but they were a different variety. Delicious but lacked the freshness I had read about. Finally last week Héc and I went to the market and I saw a bag of fresh fava beans. For 10Q we took them home, and I made this concoction.

Moroccan Fava Beans - BoilingMoroccan Fava Beans - Pan fried with cebollines

When I told Héc that we would be having fava (faba in Spanish) for dinner he sounded less than thrilled. I even think I caught some eye-rolling. But since we had eaten tenderloin the night before I figured it was a vegetarian night. I came across a number of dishes, mostly calling for a simple herb and lemon mixture, or for a puree similar to hummus. They all sounded lovely in their simplicity, but I settled on a Moroccan version with a spicy tomato sauce, to which I made a few adjustments of my own. Let me just say for the record that Héc cleaned the pan.

A novice’s note on paprika: I tend to forget how spicy my hot paprika is. My lack of reverence for this spice originates from the memory of my mom’s delicious twice-baked potatoes. The red paprika-flecked top, I imagined, was only for color, as I could detect no noticeable taste.  This memory, despite my updated knowledge of the varieties of paprika, must remain stronger than my pain-sensors’ ability to form new memories of my current reality. So I tend ot over-use the paprika. Needing cool this batch down I added a few tablespoons of yogurt, which was the touch. In the recipe below I scaled back the amount of hot paprika from what I actually used, so taste it yourself  and adjust to you liking.

Moroccan Fava Beans

Ingredients:
1 lb fava beans (fresh or frozen. canned is ok, but skip first step)
6 Roma tomatoes, diced or one 14oz can diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1.5 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 additional garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons greek style plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste, and generous amount of fresh black pepper

Directions:

1. Place fava beans in a large pot, add some salt, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Drain immediately and run under cold water. Set aside.

2. Tomato sauce: Sauté garlic and onions in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add tomatoes and spices, and a few pinches of salt, and let simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes until tomatoes break apart. Remove from heat and blend with hand blender until smooth but still fairly chunky, OR let cool and blend in processor or blender. Set aside.

3. About 15 minutes before ready to serve, heat a little more oil in a pan, and sauté remaining cloves of garlic. Add fava beans and green onions and sauté on high heat until the beans become golden brown and crispy.

4. Warm tomato puree and stir in the yogurt. Toss the sauce with the beans, and sprinkle on fresh cilantro. Serve with crusty bread, pita, or crackers for sopping up the sauce.

Chile Relleno (Stuffed Peppers)

IMG_1741

In Guatemala chile rellenos are a very traditional dish. They might begin with chile dulce, a sweet bell pepper, or even something has hot as a jalepeño. They are stuffed with anything from potato to picada (minced chicken or pork with potato and other veggies and spices), but something they all have in common is that they are battered in an egg mixture and fried on a pan. This here that I have made is not at all near the traditional recipe. I’ve never seen beans or corn or even cheese inside Guatemalan chile rellenos. I would say these are more of a tex-mex adaptation. But what is so wonderful about this meal is they perfect are for catering to picky families. You can probably put anything in them you desire, and you can make them all distinct. For example, Héc loves rice, and I don’t generally care for it unless its fried up with egg, veggies and soy sauce (which actually sounds like a wonderful idea for an asian version of this dish). So I made his with rice, and mine with out. And because he is lactose intolerant it was easy to leave the feta cheese out of his.

I made this in a slow cooker, but you could prepare these in anything from the oven to a pressure cooker.

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