Sunday, April 27, 2014

Farro, Borlotti, and Garbanzo: Law Firm? Three Tenors? Not quite.

Farro with Fresh Garbanzo and Borlotti Beans

Fresh garbanzo beans may be “the new edamame” as some have claimed, but this is probably a one-time dinner ingredient at our table.  It turns out that, despite their nutritional merits and all that farm-to-table stuff, fresh garbanzo beans are a real pain to extricate from their fuzzy little pods.  They are quite delicious, though, with a nice nutty taste that doesn’t come through in dried or canned products.  
garbanzo pods

Michel isn’t sorry he bought the fresh ones on a whim the other day but he hadn’t planned on spending half an hour shelling the tiny green guys.  After a few years of regular zazen practice, it seems Michel hasn’t yet acquired the patience to try fresh garbanzos a second time.  If any of you know a special trick for shelling these or any type of bean, please share.  In the meantime, try the new recipe.  It will work with the garbanzo of your choice.  It’s vegan, too, if you skip the parmesan sprinkles. 
fresh borlotti beans

Farro with Fresh Garbanzo and Borlotti Beans

You will need:
·         1 cup fresh garbanzo beans
·         1 cup fresh borlotti beans
·         ½ cup farro
·         1 carton vegetable broth
·         ½ an onion, diced
·         5 cloves garlic, chopped
·         4 carrots, cut into small pieces
·         1 teaspoon dried tarragon—but fresh is better if you have it
·         ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes—more to taste if you like it hotter
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon olive oil
·         1 teaspoon chopped capers
·         Grated parmesan cheese—optional

In a large skillet:

  • Heat the olive oil.  Add onion, garlic, and carrots. 
  • “Sweat” the onions then add tarragon, red pepper flakes, and salt.
  • Add fresh garbanzo and borlotti beans.
  • Add farro and vegetable broth.
  • Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium
  • Simmer for 30-45 minutes until farro is done.
  • Add more broth if needed, cooking until farro has a risotto consistency.
  • Top with grated parmesan cheese. 
  • Serve with kale salad.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Blender = Kale Smoothie, Finally.

Small appliances aren’t meant to last forever and some people have a hard time knowing when to let go and move on to a new machine.  Can you relate?  Michel has owned countless kitchen gadgets and machines, most of which have served out their days in a normal way while one or two have met an untimely end—like the grinder he tried to use to turn some South American lapis stones into pigment for painting. 

The blender he’s been using for the past few years was adequate but not powerful enough to liquefy belligerent kale leaves and stems into a potable substance.  When the blender failed to do the job, Michel excavated an old juice machine from the corner cabinet and tried to juice some fresh kale.  The result: Lots of kale pulp and a tiny amount of juice.   It was time to shop for a new blender. 

I began to look for online blender reviews and at the widely touted Vitamix in particular.  It’s supposed to be the best, right?   I always avoid those noisy guys who occasionally make Vitamix smoothies at Whole Foods.  The decibel level is more than I can stand with their product hawking and hands-free microphones, not to mention the machine itself.  It’s like walking through the exhibit halls at the State Fair.  Not my idea of a fun time. 

What I discovered via Google is that, first and foremost, the Vitamix is very expensive ($400-700).  Although I found an abundance of rave reviews, I wasn’t ready to make that kind of small appliance commitment.  I finally came upon a link to something called a “5 Blender Show-Down: Abusive Lab Test (With Video!)” and, of course, I had to read it.  I was surprised to see that the article was on the Popular Mechanics web site because I thought that publication had to do with automotive stuff.  No matter.  The blender dilemma was resolved after just a few paragraphs and Vitamix did not win the show-down.  Breville did.  So, we immediately set out for Williams-Sonoma and the Kale Smoothie was born. 

Michel is delighted with the Breville machine.  The patented blade design is ingenious and it’s very easy to clean—none of those nasty rubber rings and hazardous removable blades.  He’s tried a variety of ingredients for the kale smoothie—carrots, cucumber, berries, apples, etc.  At first I had the sensation of drinking a glass full of lawn clippings, but now I can say with absolute confidence that the drink is quite delicious and, of course, a very healthful thing to consume.  So, play around with ingredients until you find the combo that pleases your palate.  

Blend until smooth:
4-5 kale stems
1½ cups unsweetened apple juice
1 apple, cut into chunks
1 cup fresh strawberries
“a few squeezes” of agave nectar

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Got Dukkah? Quinoa Salad with Carrots, Parsnips, and Middle Eastern Spices

By now you've probably read a few anecdotes about Michel’s Adventures in Unusual Food Markets.  One of those excursions took us to a rather sad Egyptian shop in Hikes Point where we saw some truly scary-looking meats—but we did come home with a nice assortment of spices, one of which is dukkah.  If you’re not familiar with dukkah, here’s a little information from The New York Times:   Expanding Your Kitchen Literacy: Dukkah

Quinoa Salad with Carrots, Parsnips, and Middle Eastern Spices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You will need:
  • Olive oil—1 tablespoon for cooking onions, additional oil for salad dressing
  • Vinegar and pomegranate molasses for salad dressing
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ½ onion, cut into thin “half moon” slices
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dukkah
  • 1 package baby arugula or other salad green of choice
Mix the oil and vinegar* dressing whatever way you like it, adding a little pomegranate molasses to make things more snappy and delicious.  Set aside for later. 

*A note about Michel’s new favorite vinegar: Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with The Mother.  (Thanks, Josh.)  OK, the name is somewhat disturbing.  The word “Mother” connotes all manner of emotions, good and bad.  And I find the photo on the label oddly troubling in a Grant Wood kind of way.  The vinegar “mother” refers to a substance in the vinegar that becomes visible when you hold the jar to the light.  The Bragg web site claims “The presence of the mother shows that the best part of the apple has not been destroyed.”  In other words, the vinegar still has nutrients that have not been removed by processing.  Some people use this vinegar for weight loss and skin care and all kinds of surprising things.  Read more here if you like:  Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

In a 3-quart saucepan:
  • Add quinoa and vegetable broth, stirring to mix.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover for 15-20 minutes until quinoa “blooms.”


Meanwhile, in a double boiler (or steamer):
  • Bring 1” water to a rolling boil.
  • Steam parsnips and carrots for 3 minutes.
After steaming:
  • Remove carrots and parsnips and place in a small baking dish.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and dukkah.  Stir to coat with spices.
  • Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast for 10 minutes or until quinoa is done. 

carrots, parsnips, spices
While the quinoa is blooming and the root veggies are roasting: (maybe the birds will be singing, too)
  • Wash and drain the arugula and put in a large serving vessel.
  • Drizzle salad dressing over the greens then gently mix using your hands to make sure everything is nicely coated.
In a small skillet:
  • Heat one tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Fry the onions over medium heat, stirring to caramelize.  This time you’re not sweating the onions but “really frying them.”
Back to the quinoa:
  • Add at least ¾ teaspoon salt.  “It needs more than you think,” so taste to make sure.
Build your salad:
  • Place quinoa on top of greens already in place in serving vessel.
  • Add parsnips and carrots.
  • Top with caramelized onions. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Plays Well With Others: Chickpea Soup With Bamboo Shoots

Some people have a natural ability for putting things together.  You’re bound to know at least one of those people. Maybe it’s your neighbor who can assemble an IKEA bookcase without reading the directions or your co-worker who can mix patterns and prints with fashionable flair.  You know the type, right?  Their natural talent for combining things is enviable.  Michel is one of “those people” too.  His talents for music and painting allow him to put interesting concert programs together or to create mesmerizing images from pigments he makes himself.  It won’t surprise you to know that he creates imaginative dishes with the same innate ability.  Michel knows which ingredients play well with each other to make good food.  A person can have the most outrageously expensive kitchen amenities and watch Food Network around the clock but still not know how to make an edible meal.  If you’re interested, here’s a link to a recent Mark Bittman article about our “celebrity chef” culture and why isn’t doing anything to help us understand how to make better-tasting food. 

And here’s a little video humor from The Onion for those of you—Michel included—who find pretentious menu items annoying.  The language in the video is a bit salty (see what I did there?) but you’ll get the point.  Michel says those chef-types “drag the food up and down Bardstown Road” before they bring it to the table.  He prefers a simple approach with wholesome, straightforward ingredients that taste good.   

Chickpea Soup with Bamboo Shoots

A slow-cooking recipe for a nice day at home (3 hrs. +/-). 
Makes enough soup to last for days. 

You will need a 3-quart saucepan and your favorite soup pot and these ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
  • 1 dried chipotle pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro—remove leaves from stems, chop stems/leaves separately
  • ½ red onion, chopped
dried chipotle peppers

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
star anise
  • 2 star anise
  • 5 cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground coconut
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried lemon grass
  • Optional: dried pepper leaves (from Vietnamese market)
pepper leaves
Pot #1
In a 3-quart saucepan:
  • Put dried chickpeas in enough water to cover plus 2-3 inches on top.
  • Add salt, cardamom seeds, and whole dried chipotle pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat. 
  • Continue to “vigorously boil” for 2 ½ hours or until chickpeas are really soft and water has been reduced to the same level as chickpeas.

Pot #2
Everybody in the pool.
  • Heat sesame oil in your favorite soup pot.
  • Add onion, garlic, ginger, and chopped cilantro stems.
  • Stir until onions become transparent and garlic “gets fragrant.”
  • Add cumin, star anise, pepper leaves, fish sauce, tamarind paste, lemon grass, and coconut.
  • Stir while you add a carton of vegetable broth. 
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Taste for seasoning.  Add a little salt if needed but be careful because the chickpeas have salt in them.

Quick trip back to Pot #1:
  • Discard cardamom and chipotle pepper from chickpea broth.
  • Add cooked chickpeas and bamboo shoots to soup pot mixture.
Continue to cook over medium heat until chickpeas are very soft.  Just before serving, add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to give the soup an impromptu, “broken” quality.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves and enjoy--but don't eat the star anise.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Vegan Protein Smoothie? Yes!

Michel has created many incarnations of the protein drink he’s been making for us each morning for the past few years.  It all started with a simple recipe given to us by an enthusiastic “recruiter” at our former gym. She suggested blending a banana, skim milk, peanut butter, and chocolate whey protein powder.  It was a tasty beverage but we soon figured out that the sugar/calorie numbers were too high for what we wanted.  Michel kept experimenting: water vs. milk, milk vs. pomegranate juice, with/without flaxseed oil, chocolate vs. other powder flavors, etc. 

The nutritional supplement market is saturated with various protein powder options.  As always, Michel did his research and discovered that consuming soy protein can be harmful for men.  (Soy powders are not an option anyway because of his allergy to soy products, period.)  He’s also careful to choose a protein powder that won’t elevate levels of creatine in the blood.  We've always used whey protein powder until we found a raw protein product at Whole Foods a few months ago that is vegan and all natural.  If you’re considering nutritional supplements, read the labels and do your homework.  There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” 

Michel has settled on the smoothie recipe below and it has served us well.  We don’t have scientific proof, but it seems to help keep colds at bay and it is filling enough to hold us through a good part of the day.  He adds turmeric and its spicy cousin, ginger, to prevent a host of nasty ailments you can Google if you’re in the mood to read more.  Turmeric and ginger have been used medicinally for centuries.  The flax milk is a more healthful option than cow's milk--which is only good for you if you're a cow.  

Grab your trusty blender and go for it.  We'd love to hear your smoothie recipe ideas, too.  Leave a comment if you like.  

 You will need:
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 5 thin slices of fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup watermelon chunks (or cantaloupe, strawberries, mango, whatever you like)
  • 1 ½ cups flax milk
  • 1 heaping scoop protein powder
 In your blender, add: (see photos below)
  • Banana slices
  • Fresh ginger slices
  • Turmeric
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Melon chunks or other fruit of your choice
  • Flax milk
Blend just enough to break up chunky ingredients.  Add protein powder and blend until smooth. 

Fresh Ginger Slices

Bananas, Ginger, Turmeric

Frozen Blueberries


Pour in flax milk.

Blend to break up chunks.

Add protein powder and blend until smooth.  

Drink up!