Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chickpeas and Christmas Chocolates (in July)

Roasted Chickpeas with Chocolate and Almonds

People always seem to be in a good mood whenever chocolate is involved.  All the recent scientific evidence about antioxidants, flavonoids, and other health benefits of chocolate makes a compelling case for indulgence now and then, but do you know anyone who really needs convincing? What are your fondest or most vivid memories about chocolate?  Maybe it’s baking cookies and eating Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips straight from the yellow cellophane bag when your mother wasn’t looking—not that I ever did that.  You didn’t either, right?  Or opening a can of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and drizzling it into a glass of milk in such a way that a lickable amount of syrup stayed on your spoon.  Or making chocolate fudge and cleaning the warm, buttery, fudgy goodness out of the pan with a spatula that also required a good licking.  

I’m sure you have plenty of happy chocolate anecdotes to share.  Or maybe you have a chocolate trauma or grievance you’d like to get off your chest.  Please feel free to leave a comment or two about your relationship with chocolate.  Maybe we can (or should) start a support group for People Who Are Way Too Fond of Chocolate.   

Michel loves chocolate, too.  He exercises his considerable Taurean willpower about almost everything but, when it comes to chocolate consumption, all bets are off.  He’s very careful not to overdo it.  One of the chocolates he recalls from his childhood in Holland was a powdered cocoa in a can, similar to the Nestle Quik stuff we have here in the U.S.  The Dutch brand is Droste (Droste B.V.).  As a boy, Michel was transfixed by the image on the tin: a stern-looking nurse holding a tray which held a can of Droste and a mug, both with the same image of the nurse.  It was like looking into infinity for him.  He couldn’t get enough. 

Another chocolate Michel was fond of as a boy was the traditional Dutch holiday treat, chocoladeletters—chocolate letters in the shape of the child’s first initial.  These were given on the occasion of Sinterklaas, the feast of Saint Nicholas celebrated on December 5th in the Netherlands.  Michel’s initial M meant that he had about twice as much chocolate to enjoy as his older brother Lancelot who was stuck with only a letter L.  Score one for the little brother. 

One of Michel’s more recent chocolate delights occurred during a business trip to Lausanne a few years ago.  While waiting to meet a client, he was strolling the streets of the beautiful Swiss city when he came upon Blondel Chocolatier on the Rue de Bourg, clearly a venerable institution.  In the window he saw enormous trays of large pieces of various chocolates and he couldn't resist.  He went into the shop and chose several pieces which he took back to his hotel and consumed with great pleasure. 

Image from Chocolats Blondel photo gallery

Are you salivating yet?  All this talk of chocolates and holidays is dandy, but it doesn't diminish my annoyance with the current spate of television ads for “Christmas in July” sales that have nothing discernible to do with Christmas.  I understand that there are countries in the Southern Hemisphere where the holiday is celebrated in July because that’s when the winter weather happens.  It’s more festive, I guess.  But here in North America I think it’s a tiresome marketing ploy to shore up retail sales between Fourth of July barbecue bargains and the inevitable Back-to-School blitz.  I’ll deal with Christmas when the time comes.  In December.  Probably at the last minute, as usual.  

Image from Australia, via Wikipedia

On to the food.  Michel decided to spice up some chickpeas with chocolate and peppers—a combination that works very well.  Hope you enjoy this new vegan recipe!  

Roasted Chickpeas with Chocolate and Almonds

·        1½ cups chickpeas, soaked overnight and rinsed
·        1 teaspoon salt
·        ½ teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
·        1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
·        3 pieces star anise
·        1 tablespoon cumin
·        3 cloves
·        3 cardamom seeds
·        ¼ cup cocoa powder
·        ½ cup grated almonds
·        1 cup almond milk

You will need a soup pot or saucepan and a baking dish.

·        Place chickpeas in water in a large pot with 2-3 inches covering.
·        Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, then cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours until chickpeas are really soft.
·        Drain all the liquid away.
·        Transfer chickpeas to 9 x 13 baking dish.
·        Remove the cloves, star anise, and cardamom pieces.
·        Sprinkle chickpeas with cocoa powder and grated almonds.
·        Mix to coat then bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.
·        Set oven to broiler temperature.
·        Pour almond milk over chickpeas.
·        Place baking dish under broiler for about 10 minutes until almond milk has almost evaporated and a slight crust forms.

·        Serve over quinoa mixed with chopped basil and baby kale (liberally sprinkled with vinegar and olive oil). 

Or, skip the almond milk part and eat the roasted chocolate-almond chickpeas as a crunchy, healthful snack. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Not Your Grandmother’s Green Beans: Dal with Long Beans, Green Garlic, and Fenugreek (vegan)

If you’re a regular reader of The Expat Epicure (thank you!), then you’re familiar with Michel’s adventures in exotic food stores.  He recently went to Patel Brothers on a quest for fenugreek leaves which are widely used for many culinary and medicinal purposes, especially ayurvedic applications.   My utterly non-scientific Google search for fenugreek led me to wildly divergent homeopathic treatments for everything from thinning hair to weight loss to lactation problems.  As for culinary uses, fenugreek seeds and leaves are quite commonly found in Indian cooking—curries, dal, etc.—even salads.   Some cooks use the leaves like those pretentious “microgreens” I fail to understand.  
Fenugreek Leaves--photo from BBC Good Food website
Michel conducted his on-site interviews at Patel’s just the way he always does, asking other customers how they use various greens and odd-looking vegetables.  His interview subjects are always friendly, sometimes offering entire recipes on the spot.  After all his questions had been asked (at least for the moment) and answers weighed, the fenugreek leaves were acquired along with some long beans which were sort of an impulse buy, not unlike those memorable fresh garbanzo beans that turned out to be such a pain to peel.   
long beans
Michel has always asked lots of questions.  About everything.  In food stores, the most common question is “What is that?!”  Like I would know.  He admits this trait must have driven his parents and teachers crazy when he was a child.  Some people still find it unsettling, while others find it amusing and even fun.   For me, it depends on the topic at hand. I have resigned myself to the fact that I can never answer all of Michel’s questions, even though I’d like to be able to.   To that end, I have devised a short series of hand signals that indicate to what degree I don’t know the answer to a given question.  This little set of gestures saves time and minimizes frustration. It’s like a sign language consisting of only three phrases and it has served us (me) well so far. 

Back to the beans.  Michel bought the long beans because “you don’t always see them.”  They are used a lot in Chinese cooking and they’re quite different from traditional “green beans” or string beans in texture and taste.  Those childhood neighbors of mine who would show up at the door with “a mess of greens” from their summer garden would also bring enormous amounts of green beans.  It was my job to snap the beans into bite-sized pieces and peel away those annoying strings from the edges.   Most of the cooks I was around as a child would either cook the beans to death with a hunk of ham bone for seasoning, or can them in very large Mason jars for winter meals.  Bless their hearts.  They meant well.   Long beans are less belligerent than Western string beans, I think.  They require less cooking time and have a slightly sweet taste.   

Here is Michel’s new recipe.  Hope you like it! 

Dal with Long Beans, Green Garlic, and Fenugreek

You will need: a large skillet, a soup pot, and something for steaming the beans.

Here’s a list of ingredients (à la Trader Joe’s soft-sell junk mail shopping list):

Fresh ingredients
Other ingredients and spices 
1 bunch long beans
1 ½ cups lentils
6 slices fresh ginger
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
½ an onion
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
4 Thai chili peppers
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
3-4 stems green garlic
1 teaspoon pickled mango ginger               (or pickled mango leaves)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

dried fenugreek leaves

First, the long beans:
·        Cut into 2-3 inch pieces.
·        Steam for about five minutes.
·        Set aside for later. 
steamed long beans
In the soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil then add:
·        5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
·        3 slices ginger, chopped
·        4 green cayenne peppers, chopped
Thai chili peppers

Sweat the ginger, garlic, and peppers.

·        1 tablespoon turmeric powder

Stir, then add:
·        1½ cups lentils
·        4-5 cups water
·        1 teaspoon pickled mango ginger and 1 teaspoon salt

pickled mango ginger

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30-45 minutes until lentils are done. Stir occasionally, using your kavvam if you have one.  (I wrote about the kavvam adventure in a previous post.)

In the large skillet, heat one tablespoon olive oil then add:
·        3 slices ginger, chopped
·        ½ an onion, chopped
·        3-4 pieces of green garlic, chopped
green garlic

Sweat the garlic, onion, and ginger. Move everything away from the center of the pan, then add:
·        1 tablespoon mustard seeds
·        1 tablespoon cumin

Let seeds and cumin “start to explode a little and that’s what you want.”
After the seeds and cumin have exploded and the herbs and onion have had a good sweat, add steamed long beans. Gently mix to coat beans with spices.

Add bean mixture to lentils and top with crushed dried fenugreek leaves. 

And there you have it: Dal with Long Beans and Fenugreek. 

Serve over quinoa, cauliflower “couscous,” or any grain of choice. Delicious with freshly pickled cucumber slices on the side.

Bon appetit! 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Oh, Snap! Fire Roasted Vegetables or, "Man of La Plancha"

Summer is grilling season for lots of people.  These are the times that tempt some vegetarians (who shall remain nameless) to fall off the wagon.  Stores are filled with colorful paraphernalia ranging from aprons to patio umbrellas to tiki torches.  Neighbors cook hot dogs and steaks outdoors and our four little dogs come inside smelling from charcoal and irritated by the voices of cornhole competitors.  Meanwhile, Food Network television programming is overrun with shows about meat, fire, and various cooking methods for the best carnivorous results.  Michel’s vegetarian cooking is inventive and satisfying, aside from its obvious health and environmental benefits but—once in a while he gets a notion that he’d like to have something meaty.  This is what happened recently when we watched one of those “meat and fire” food shows.  The guys on the program were outdoors cooking a whole animal “a la plancha,” translated, grilled on a metal plate.  

It was this Argentine cowboy-style cooking method that gave Michel the idea to make grilled vegetables with smoked sausage.  We rationalized our decision to eat meat and weighed the consequences in a Mark Bittman “flexitarian” way, noting that we hardly ever break our diet.  So the shopping list was made and everything was fine until we read a New York Times article titled “Virus Plagues the Pork Industry, and Environmentalists.”  Nope.  The end.  No sausage for us. 

Michel, still determined to cook something over a fire, decided to make vegetables a la plancha.  On the menu: sugar snap peas, leeks, asparagus, and carrots.  Our little grill is nothing special. It’s a floor sample we bought at Home Depot a few years ago after our eBay hibachi fell apart. We don’t have a fancy Williams-Sonoma plancha, just an old baking sheet thing that my grandmother used to cook with.  As for my unforgiveable pun, if someone ever makes a “Man of La Plancha” musical, I think Al Franken would have to play Michel’s part—not that the world needs another forgettable musical, or another terrible wordplay.  Imagine two hours of singing and dancing about a man and his grill. No thanks. But Michel and Al Franken do look alike.  Check it out next time you're Googling around. 

Fire Roasted Vegetables with Garlic, Basil, and Rosemary

You will need: (for two servings)

·        1 cup sugar snap peas
·        1 leek, cut into ¼ “ slices
·        12 asparagus spears
·        6 carrots
·        2-3 tablespoons olive oil
·        4 cloves garlic, chopped
·        1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
·        1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
·        1 teaspoon salt

·        Black pepper to taste

Place baking sheet on hot grill. 
Pour a little olive oil on the pan and let it get hot—but not too hot.
Place vegetables on hot pan all at once.

Add garlic, basil, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Drizzle olive oil over everything. (Yes, Michel orders California olive oil by the gallon.)

Turn vegetables “once in a while” using tongs to make sure everything gets cooked.

Veggies should be done in about ten minutes.

Serve over Michel's quinoa salad (quinoa with chopped baby kale, basil, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar--the organic one with the mother).

The dish can also be made in a skillet indoors if it's raining or you're not in a grilling mood.