Thursday, July 26, 2012

Garbanzos Galore

Whatever your preference, chickpeas, garbanzo beans, ceci beans, chanas, Indian peas, or bengal grams... they have a long history in world cuisines with credits dating back over 7,500 years as one of the earliest cultivated vegetables. In early antiquity, chickpeas were associated with Venus and revered for medicinal attributes linked to increased sperm and milk production.  The Roman gourmet Apicius offered several recipes for chickpeas.  Culpeper found "chick-pease or cicers" less "windy" and more nourishing than peas.  In 1793 a German writer noted that ground roast chickpeas were considered a suitable coffee substitute.

It’s hard to compete with garbanzos when it comes to nutrition, they are a good source of zinc, folate, and protein.  They are very high in dietary fiber and a good source of carbohydrates for those with insulin sensitivity or diabetes. Chickpeas are low in fat, mostly polyunsaturated, and are also an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in energy production and in antioxidant defense.  Garbanzos provide dietary calcium with some claims of content at about the same level as yogurt and close to milk.

 I enjoy their nuttiness, their slight crunch, and the extra dimension they provide, but I’m a little late to the game when it comes to appreciating the full capabilities of these mighty legumes.  In my pantry there’s always a can on the ready for when I’m craving hummus, or need a quick addition to a salad, soup, or stew.  Admittedly, since I have always relied on the convenience of canned varieties it never occurred to me that I could actually cook my own from the dried state. It seemed like a lot of work for one can’s worth. 

But, thanks to the arrival of my new pressure cooker the world looks different these days, and life has morphed into a garbanzo bean bonanza.  I’ve discovered that given a night of pre-soaking, it only takes about 10 minutes before I am totally surrounded by a full pot of these lovelies.  Instead of cans, my freezer is now stocked with quart bags filled with cooked ceci beans. 

Released from this unnecessary stinginess, I plan to take full advantage of my new store of frozen garbanzos. Beyond the obvious, there will be more tajines, curries, and stews, probably more exotic veggie burgers, I’ll even spice some up for snacking; and maybe I’ll find a good falafel recipe that uses cooked chickpeas instead of its flour. 

Here’s an idea expanded from Spicy Garbanzo Burritos, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper at Splendid Table.  Tacos and burritos fixings are a standard in my kitchen, and this offers a ton of options for quick meals. The flavors are reminiscent of the Mediterranean, yet melded with Latin touches a dynamic partnership is formed.  I have included chicken here (because I had one cooked breast on hand), but it is optional; the satisfying garbanzo beans can easily stand alone.      

Spicy Garbanzo Bean Burritos with Yogurt Sauce
Inspired by a recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table early newsletter.

1  tbsp olive oil
½  red onion, sliced
1 poblano or other green or red pepper, seed and slice
1 large clove garlic, mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½  tsp. oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 cups garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drain
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup stock or water, as needed

4 large wheat tortillas, warmed
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded (optional)
1 cup feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
Arugula or other greens, approx. 16 leaves or so
fresh oregano for garnish

Yogurt Sauce
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
2 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seed, chop
2 tbsp cilantro,  chop
1 small clove garlic, mince
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion and toss to soften, then add the pepper and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic, the cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika and sauté to blend flavors.   Add the garbanzo beans and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and adding liquid to moisten if it becomes dry; season with salt and pepper.
For sauce: combine ingredients and set aside. 
To assemble:  Warm tortillas and spread each with sauce and top with a few leaves of arugula.  Add a dollop more of sauce and top with chicken if using.  Cover with garbanzo mixture and top with feta.  Sprinkle with fresh oregano. Roll up the tortillas and serve. Pass the hot sauce.  Serves 4

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Pressure is On

I’ve noticed my cooking routine has changed with my increased use of whole grains, legumes, and beans.  I’m planning more meals ahead and precooking those time-consuming staples for convenience later in the week.  I’m cooking more in stages, always looking for ways to streamline so that when it’s mealtime  I can enjoy cooking as much as possible.  

For months I have been eying pressure cookers―tempted, but unable to get passed that lingering anxiety of hot exploding objects.  It seems no matter where I turn lately, someone is talking about how they love their PC.  On the Food Network I watched Trisha Yearwood and a girlfriend effortlessly whip up a batch of mashed potatoes in what resembled the Fagor PC I have been considering.  I visualized myself, lid in hand, standing over my mashed potato filled pressure cooker, smiling confidently, too.  In that moment, my fear was replaced with desire―and there was no turning back: I was all in. 

Fagor 8-Qt Pressure Cooker
This week my Fagor Pressure Cooker arrived and I have kept my mitts on and faced the demons. There have been moments when pressure was building (or releasing) and I wondered if I would be rocketed into the third dimension, but it didn’t happen.  Yes, it’s all a learning process, and I’m gaining confidence.  The trickiest part has been to determine the best heat setting on my electric range that will mesh with my PC and maintain the proper pressure level.    

After a preliminary run through to test my new equipment, I launched my first official project:  chicken stock.   I added my usual onion, celery, and herbs to assorted chicken parts and bones defrosted from the freezer, and covered it all with water.  Since directions suggest moving the PC between two electric burners to maintain pressure, one on high, the other on a low setting, I juggled between burners and held my breath for 20 minutes.   Once the pressure subsided I opened the lid and peered in:  there was still plenty of water and nothing had burned.  I had two quarts of chicken stock!    

I have since tested both lentils and buckwheat, with varying degrees of success.  Erring on the side of caution, the le puy lentils needed a bit more than the meager 4 minutes cooking time (how bad is that?!).  But, I would rather have them al dente than mush, anyway.  The kasha took longer.  The directions suggested letting it cool naturally in the pot, which cooked it too long and it stuck to the bottom surface.  Fortunately, it was not burned and came off easily. 

This morning’s breakfast:   steaming hot kasha with a snappy banana-yogurt sauce.  All smiles here. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Marriage of Fufu and Ndolé

Ndolé and Fufu
I finally had a chance to test a recipe for ndolé, the national dish of Cameroon which features bitterleaf (or other hearty greens such as chard, kale, or spinach), groundnuts or peanuts, shrimp and/or dried or smoked fish, and spices such as ginger, garlic and peppers. Ghana, Nigeria, and other West African countries have their own versions which may include melon seeds and meat such as goat. 

Here’s where the party begins:  fufu, the standard ndolé starch accompaniment, is made with plantains, yams, cassava, or other roots or starches that are pounded in a large mortar and pestle affair until it forms a smooth ball of dough.  The traditional method requires two people to get the job done: one to add, combine, and manually turn ingredients in a super-sized wooden bowl while the other pounds with a long wooden pestle to smash and breakdown the additions.  After considerable practice the two develop a rhythm and harmoniously succeed in creating a silken dough, with no fingers broken in the process.  Once the ndolé is served, individual portions of the fufu are pulled off, and pieces are then dipped with the fingers into bowls of steaming soup or stew to assist in scooping up juicy morsels. 

In all fairness, I admit, I have never been a fan of peanut butter type sauces; Asian noodles with the peanut-butter-spice combinations leave me cold.  The ndolé recipe I use as my beginning point comes from John Gerber's Just Food Now a great website of well-researched food from not only Africa, but  from all over Europe and points beyond.  With full confidence in my source, I was game.  Since this recipe and others I considered tend to use metric weights and measures, I took a few conversion liberties, as well.  But, what the heck, it’s a stew.  I doubt if everyone in Africa measures all their ingredients either. 

Now that I have a few preliminary caveats out of the way, I confess, I love this dish ― in all its shrimpy peanut buttery glory.  The bitterleaf was a bit of a stretch, so I blanched a nice bunch of kale and cut it into bite sized pieces.  I channeled my Caribbean cooking days and asked what they would do?  Why, add a little thyme, of course!  I’m glad I added the second poblano pepper along with a good hit of cayenne because they stand up to the dose of ginger and garlic. In fact, the stew would not be same without kale or other assertive greens; to make up for the missing ‘bitter’ element, a splash of lime on the finish supplied a prerequisite brightness.   Who knows, it may not be totally authentic, but it is completely outrageous―and I will be making it again― soon.  

Right, I also took a few liberties with the fufu.  After reviewing a flight of how-to-cook and eat fufu videos on YouTube, there was no way I was going to swallow my fufu without tasting it.  I’ve included a Dutchvlog clip worth viewing on an authentic Ghanaian approach to making FuFu with plantain and cassava, which further supports my position on making fufu: it needs to be tasty.  

Consequently, I opted for what my grocer calls white yams, something that looks suspiciously like a blonde sweet potato (unlike the rough skinned African variety). I used my food processor to begin the fufu event and to add the butter, salt and pepper; then the yams were returned to the straight sided cooking pot where I continued to pound them unmercifully with a wooden spoon until they relented and formed a springy cohesive ball.

In sum, I’m not sure which is better: the ndolé or the fufu. This is a world class marriage destined for eternal bliss: a complex utterly delicious stew lapped up with buttery tinged slightly sweet mashed potatoes with some serious body.  Finger lickin’ good!

Ndole (Bitterleaf Soup)
Inspired by:  Just Food Now, “African Spirit: The food of Cameroon. Just Food Now”.  

500 ml dried bitterleaf (or 1 large bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or spinach)
1 lb cooked shrimps (size of your choice, I used small)
2 green onions chop
3 clove garlic, divided
¼ tsp cayenne (or more)
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chop
1 green pepper; or 2 poblanos, if available, seed and chop
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp fresh thyme
3 tomatoes, peel and chop (or 16 oz. diced canned tomatoes, drain and save liquid
¾ cup natural peanut butter, (extra-crunchy works well), approximate
2 cups water, approximate
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lime, or to taste

If using dried bitterleaf, soak it overnight; drain in the morning and press out the excess water.
If using kale, collards, or turnip greens, wash the greens, remove spines, chop them, and  simmer simmer in a pot of boiling water 3-5 minutes, until the greens begin to become tender. If using spinach, wash and chop.
Marinate the shrimp:  combine the green onions, 1 minced clove garlic, and 1 Tbsp. olive oil into a thin paste and toss with the cooked shrimp.  Chill until needed.  
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pot, add the onion, green pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic,  ginger, thyme;  sauté for a few minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the chopped tomatoes, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes to combine flavors.  Add the reserved tomato juice and enough water to thin as needed, and simmer another 5-10 minutes. 
Add the peanut butter, the greens and additional liquid to thin if too thick.  Cover the pot and continue simmering until greens are tender, another 10 – 15 minutes.  If dry, add additional water, a little at a time, as needed. 
Just before serving, briefly sauté the shrimp, add to the soup, and heat well. Add a dash of lime juice to brighten flavors and correct seasoning. Serve with fufu.  Serves 4.

Inspired by:  , editor of the African Culture Site at Bella Online
4 medium white yams, peel and cut into chunks
2 Tbsp butter
½ tsp salt, white pepper

In a heavy pot, simmer the yams in salted boiling water until they begin to soften when pierced with a knife.  Allow to drain well.   
Place the yams in a food processor or beat with a mixer, adding knobs of butter, salt and pepper until there are no lumps.   
Return the mixture to the pot and continue to beat with a wood spoon, mashing against side of pot until a silky cohesive dough forms.  
Portion into individual rounds and serve each surrounded by soup or stew; use the fufu as bread for dipping with fingers. Serves 4. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 1: California Bans Foie Gras!

Life continues to be stranger than fiction.  In California, the PETA people scored one against the folks in the treacherous foie gras trade―and all those complicit in fattening up adorable ducks and geese for slaughter by force feeding. For the delirious wobblers unable to protest the perpetual pig-out, justice has been served.  Fair warning, to those people over-fertilizing their tomatoes or perhaps plying their kids with two scoops of ice cream instead of one:   beware, the food police are watching! 

Either as an act of public protest or sheer gluttony, a Farewell to Foie Gras lunch was held recently during the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival.  The rogue delicacy was celebrated with a five-course-heart-arresting foie gras studded meal presented by chefs from around the country, according to the Huffington Post.

Lobster and stone crab hot pot with foie gras noodles
     Courtesy Huffington Post
Dishes ranged from San Francisco Chef Chris Cosentino's whole-bird squab with foie gras and hay, to Miami Chef Andre Bienvenu's lobster and stone crab hot pot with foie gras noodles and foie gras butter crackers with pop rocks.

Approved in 2004 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the July 1 ban effectively prohibits force-feeding birds, a regular practice in the foie gras industry. Force-feeding engorges the liver of a duck or goose by pumping feed into the bird's esophagus via a metal tube. Animal rights groups like PETA have criticized the practice, claiming that it violates animal cruelty statutes.

Producers were given a window to come up with alternative production methods, but the window closed on July 1. As the deadline approached, foie gras proponents  hosted fundraiser dinners and worked to correct past violations.  Despite a last minute charter signed by more than 100 of California's most famous chefs  including Thomas Keller, Vinny Dotolo, Tyler Florence, Michael Mina, Michael Chiarello and Mark Gold, the foie ban is now the law of the land.  

In the charter, CHEFS proposed that foie gras (duck or goose liver) remain legal, but suggested a number of strict regulations including hand feeding, a cage-free environment by 2017, regular visits from animal health care professionals, USDA inspections at the time of slaughter and living conditions that maximize mobility and comfort and minimize stress.

According to other Post articles the key question boils down to "whether the process, called “gavage,” of putting a tube down the animal’s throat rises to the level of actual animal cruelty. Foie defenders will tell you that gavage is almost second-nature to ducks and geese, whose bodies happen to be built to seasonally gorge themselves to prepare for migration. Their esophagi expand easily and they lack a gag reflex, so the process isn’t as uncomfortable — if it’s uncomfortable at all — as we might be led to believe. Foie opponents contend that the practice, which swells the animals’ livers to many times their normal size, is inherently inhumane.

At least 14 countries now have some sort of foie gras ban on the books, though most of these only target its production — not possession or consumption — through laws banning force-feeding as part of larger animal cruelty measures. The two exceptions to this are Chicago’s short-lived ban and California’s new law, which not only prohibits foie gras production but also bars shops and restaurants from selling it. It’s the closest thing to a scorched earth victory foie gras opponents might ever see." 


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