Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rice and Beans

Every year in the fall I go on a silent retreat at a Buddhist meditation center. It's amazing what five days without a computer, cell phone, television, and talking can do for the mind and body. One of my favorite parts of the retreat, besides the peacefulness, is the new focus and dedication that I can give to meals. It's hard to rush through your lunch when you have nowhere else to be and nothing you're supposed to be doing.

When you are truly present, even a simple dish can taste amazing.  You begin to notice all of the small things about eating that you are usually too busy to experiece:  the aroma of the food, your watering mouth, what it feels like to chew, the feeling as the food reaches your stomach.  Not only does food taste better, but my body digests it better and I don't overeat because I'm present enough to realize when I'm full. 

With that being said, it's time for me to unplug for a little bit again. To remember life outside of emails. To be outside. To relish all of the beauty in my life and the blessings around me. To enjoy what quiet and simplicity feels like.  And to be present.  To be present at every meal, in every moment of my life, and with all of the people I love.    

This is where rice and beans come in.  Rice and beans sound so simple, and yet, they are extraordinary.  Rice and beans are a staple around the world with good reason - they are nutritious, affordable, and delicious.  You can use any type of rice and beans you desire and it always ends up as a nourishing meal.  I typically use brown rice and black beans, but I had some leftover sticky rice from homemade sushi and it was perfect for this.  

Here's how it goes:  Make a pot of rice and a batch of beans, top with any vegetables and herbs lying around, and you have a quick and tasty meal.  It's perfect for a weeknight dinner or as a way to clean out the random bits in your fridge.  It's also great if you have some picky eaters in your house.  Everyone gets a bowl of rice and beans and they can pick their favorite toppings.  Genius.

Everyone has their own special way to prepare beans and this is my favorite way to cook black beans.  I like to make a big batch and freeze the extras for later.  I cook my beans with kombu (edible kelp) because it helps to soften the beans while cooking and it is a great source of trace minerals and aids in digestion.  If you prefer canned beans you can use the Eden Organic brand which are cooked with kombu.  
 Cooking Basic Black Beans
1 pound black beans (about 2.5 cups uncooked, yields 6 cups cooked)
1 strip kombu

Soak the beans overnight.  Drain the soaking water.  Add the kombu and beans to a large stock pot.  Cover with double the amount of water.  (This doesn't have to be an exact science because any extra water will be drained at the end.)  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer.  Simmer for 1.5 - 2 hours until beans are cooked.  The beans are done when they are chewable, but not mushy.  If there is any extra water, drain from the pot and remove your kombu.

Simple Black Bean Recipe
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups vegetable broth
freshly ground pepper to taste

Add the olive oil to a pot over medium heat.  Saute the onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic, bay leaves, and cumin and saute for an additional minute. Add the black beans, salt, vegetable broth, and ground pepper.  Turning the heat down if necessary, simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until the beans are soft and the broth has become thicker from the beans.  

Remove the bay leaves, add some beans atop your rice and finish with any of your favorite veggies and toppings.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Warm French Lentil and Brussels Sprout Salad

No I did not spend all weekend watching Twilight.  Why would you ask?  What an odd question.  You must be a weirdo.

Definitely weirder than me who, um, just might have spent all weekend watching Twilight.  I also might have had to join a local movie store because Netflix didn't ship the third movie in time.  Hey, I said might.  It doesn't mean it happened. 

Still think I'm weird?  Don't worry, I was just kidding a minute ago. I didn't spend all weekend watching Twilight.  Really!

It was my cat.  He's kinda creepy like that.  See?  Creepy cat.

I know what you must be thinking.  I mean, watching Twilight all weekend?  Eating Brussels sprouts in May?  I may not be able to defend my recent movie selections, but it sure doesn't feel like May in Seattle right now and Brussels sprouts are hitting the spot.

This salad was inspired by Joy The Baker.  It is simple, earthy, and delicious, without a lot of fuss.  It's perfect for after you come home from the Farmer's Market drenched from an unexpected downpour.  Or after you've spent all morning weeding in a cold, gloomy garden.  Or, you know, after you spend all day catching up on your favorite romantic vampire flicks.  If you're into that.

Warm French Lentil and Brussels Sprout Salad
Serves 2 as an entree or 4 as a side

1 cup french lentils
3 cups vegetable broth (or water)
1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut into ribbons (lay sprouts on their sides and slice thin, creating green ribbons)
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1 avocado, pit removed and chopped
freshly grated pepper and sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Add your lentils and vegetable broth (or water) to a pot and bring to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes, then bring down to a simmer.  Simmer until lentils are cooked and tender (about 30 - 45 minutes).  Drain any extra liquid from the pot. 

Using your hands, mix the Brussels sprouts with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, ginger, and garlic. Use your fingers to get the oil worked into the Brussels sprouts well.  Lay flat on a sheet pan and place in the oven for 8 minutes, turning them after 4 minutes.  When cooked, the Brussels sprouts should be tender (but not mushy) and the garlic and ginger will be fragrant. 

Divide the Brussels sprouts evenly amongst your plates.  Top with the lentils.  Add the chopped scallions, avocado, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with a little olive oil over the top.  Serve warm. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Springtime Fiddleheads


That's right, I said fiddleheads.  Ever heard of 'em?  I hadn't either until a couple of weeks ago when I learned that you can eat young ferns.  No way?!  Way.

Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled beginnings of new ostrich ferns.  They aren't around for very long so if you're interested in trying them, you'd better get to it before it's too late.  They typically grow low to the ground in wet areas and begin to pop up when temperatures start rising in spring.  (Since some fern varieties are toxic, only forage for them if you know how to correctly identify them.)  I was lucky enough to find them this past weekend at the farmer's market.

They have a similar texture to asparagus, but a taste all of their own.  When steamed they become a bit bitter, but boiling helps bring out their sweet flavor. They are also full of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.  Who knew all those nutrients could be packed into one little fern! 

To prepare your fiddleheads, begin by washing them thoroughly to remove any grit.  Snip off the brown ends and store in water until using.  I opted for a simple recipe with balsamic vinegar, but they can be used in place of broccoli or asparagus in any recipe or even used in place of basil in pesto. The possibilities are endless!  What fiddlehead recipes have you tried?

Fiddleheads with Balsamic Vinegar
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, sliced into halfmoons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound of fiddleheads, washed and ends trimmed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a pan over medium heat.  Add the onion slices and saute for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.  Add garlic and saute for an additional minute. 

Meanwhile, boil fiddleheads for about 5 minutes, or just until tender.  Drain, then add to the pan with the onions and garlic.  Saute for another 2-3 minutes, until fiddleheads are tender but not mushy.  Add the balsamic vinegar.  Top with sea salt and black pepper to taste.