Getting Back to Bean Basics

There tends to be debate over time/convenience/cooking meals quite often on message forums and even within your own home. Many of us lead busy, multi-tasking filled lives that do not allow for proper meal preparation, nutrition, or even just sitting down to eat at all. I find that the act of sitting down to eat a meal in the evening, whether it be at 7PM or at 9:30PM, is relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time.There is certainly something to be said for preparing a meal and enjoying the final outcome- you created it for yourself and family/friends; it was your desire to provide without the ruling hand of someone else leaning over you. Even after a long day at work, the act of cooking can be something that calms us, inspires us, and brings us back to homeostasis. I placed a picture of chickpeas (and an awesome skull shot glass) at the top of this post for the following reasons: 

a) to show that it is easy to master a task that is viewed as unattainable by some
b) to encourage you to adopt more basic, homespun, wholesome elements into your cooking process. 

Recently I became involved in a discussion on a message board regarding cooking beans and fitting it into a weekly/nitely dinner schedule. Many people on the board felt that cooking beans took too much time to invest in on a day to day cooking basis, even though the cost was considerably less expensive for organic dried beans, the taste and texture superior to canned, and added BPA and other chemicals non-existent (I don't need to tell you about BPA's, do I?) . Now allow me to offer up a bit of reality: Frank and I both work full-time jobs and engage in other outside activities as well. Granted we are only providing for the two of us, but time is still a precious commodity. And yet after a whole winter of talking about it last year, we managed to incorporate cooking dried beans into our weekly dinners this year. Here are some time-saving tips and ideas for you to incorporate punk-rock kick-ass home cooked beans into your schedule:

-We buy our beans in bulk, and for organic beans, they are less expensive and fresher than the non-organic Goyas that sit on the shelves for months at a time. Fresh dried beans will cook in very little time, especially with a nice long soak. We soak the beans from the morning when we leave for work (so 7:30), or if we remember, the nite before. This gives the beans at least a solid 10 hours of soaking time. With this amount of time, even chickpeas cook up for us in under an hour.

-Many people will cook beans in a pressure cooker; if that works for you, great. We live in an apartment in Brooklyn, and while decently sized, apartment dwelling keeps unnecessary owning at bay. Thus, we cook them on the stove, the boring way. Stove top cooking is greatly benefited by the use of a cast iron pot that will maintain even heat.

-Cooking beans in bulk and freezing for future use or using them throughout the week is a great way to maximize time. Conversely, if the thought of cooking 2 pounds of beans scares you, or you are the menu-planning type who also leads a busy schedule, figure out a day that is most convenient for you to cook your beans. Some people prefer weekends, etc. That way, when you need the beans later in the week for a quick meal, they are there.

-Start cooking your soaked beans either when you get in from work (you aren't going to start cooking right away, are you?!) or as you start prepping your vegetables, etc for your meal. Most beans do not need to be added until the end of cooking a dish anyways. 
If you put the beans up to cook when you get home, you can do whatever you need to do to unwind, and by the time you start dinner, they should be done. How easy is that? Not only did you just listen to your newly purchased She & Him record, but you have food too! Beans are pretty low key if you allow them to be. And they totally dig records.

-If you are intimidated, start with quick-cooking no-soak beans like lentils, black-eyed peas, and split peas.

So now! Go cook some beans!

Pop Art Stuffed Peppers

The winter here has been a bit bogged with mundane slumps and wretched snowstorms, which I am sure many of you are familiar with. How does one escape from winter? We could say vacation in exotic locales, listening to tropicalia music, or we could even say reading a fantastic book (I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett comes to mind), but I am a firm believer that colorful, exciting food helps as well. Hence, stuffed peppers. But not any stuffed peppers. Pop art. They are boldly colorful and just as flavorful, and in a winter where peppers have been at times 4 dollars/pound and tomatoes are reaching the throes of $6/pint, this warming south western-tinged dish is a breath of fresh air. The dish is even prepared a bit exotically by using a stovetop steaming for the peppers, which is perfect for a weeknite dinner for Frank and myself.  Serve with a contrasting green vegetable and perhaps a dollop of your favorite non-dairy sour cream for extra flair.

Pop-Art Stuffed Peppers

3-4 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (3 if super big, 4 if normal-sized)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1-2 chipotle peppers, depending on your heat tolerance
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 cup quinoa
24 oz. stewed or canned tomatoes (preferably golden tomatoes for contrast- ours were frozen from our CSA)
1 1/4 c. pinto beans

Directions for peppers: 
Cut peppers in half, either into long boats or into cups. If cutting into cups, leave stem tip in so pepper remains sealed. 
Trim out membrane and seeds, and place facedown in a 12-inch skillet filled with water. Steam over medium heat until crisp-tender, roughly 20-25 minutes.

Directions for quinoa filling:
In a medium sized dutch oven, steam saute onion and garlic until soft. 
Add in spices and chipotle, toasting for 1 minute. 
Stir in quinoa and tomatoes, bring to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer until liquid has been absorbed. The tomato liquid will act as a water substitute in this recipe; if you need more liquid add in water by 1/4 cup until quinoa is soft. When quinoa mixture has finished cooking, stir in beans to heat through.

To serve:
Using tongs, remove pepper halves from pan, and place in a colander to drain of excess water. Move peppers to a cutting board, and spoon filling into each pepper half. Place 2 halves on the most colorful plates you own alongside a green of your choice.

On Re-Discovery

Bear with me while I get a bit philosophical for a few minutes. The following story can be viewed as both a concrete and metaphorical tale, so read wisely. I think that I can safely count myself in as part of the 'It's a Vegan Cookbook, OMG!' crowd. I tend to limit my purchases to a few significant ones per year rather than buying each and every book that comes out, but you get the idea, I'm sure. So now, I am going to tell you the story of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I purchased this book at least 3 years ago, and up until this past month, do you know how many recipes I had made out of it? One. YES, one very good dish. Now it's not as if these recipes are particularly demanding time or technique-wise (I have cooked more from the Millennium book than this one), or that they even require a hefty amount of exotic ingredients (one well planned trip to the Indian grocery should take care of your needs). No, it's just that I was *intimidated* by the idea of cooking "exotic" cuisine, even though I love love love it so very much. The recipes in this book are not part of my Italian roots, and they are not strictly the Nouveau Contemporary Vegan that has risen in the past 15 years. These are dishes filled with culture and heritage that I am unfamiliar with. I should not be cooking them, I should be cooking Italian!

So now I ask you all: how many of you have purchased a book, or on a larger scale, a more significant item that simply sits on your shelf because you feel intimated by the prospect that it presents? Whether it be technique, requirements, cuisine, time etc etc, I feel that we have all done this at some point. Why does this happen for you, and how do you come to change this realization? (Now if you
really would like to get philosophical, apply this to your daily lives, and one element that you lack / ignore / find intimidating. How can you work through this?)

After hearing me complain about wanting to utilize this book more in my cooking so that I can learn and experience everything from it, Frank finally made the bold statement that we should work to cook one dish per week from it. What a novel idea! And guess what? We have survived! From Creamed Eggplant to Okra with Tomatoes, each dish that we made from the book has been delightful. Now, when we have extra of a particular vegetable, we include WOE into our option searching. And along with this re-opening of a cookbook has come an opening of the mind.

Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Carmelized Onions

One of the many things that I love about barley is its seem-less entry into turning itself into a lovely risotto. Sometimes you just need something that is a bit more hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, and other times, you just want to avoid white rice. This recipe came out of desiring both. It was cold and we wanted to feel comforted. This my friends, is where barley steps in. Pair it with some hearty porcini mushrooms and a liberal dose of basil; top with carmelized onions and pine nuts for extra flair, and you have a one bowl feast. The result was very delicious. But before the recipe comes to you, a bit of history and nutrition about our humble grain barley. Barley, for those of you who don't know, has been with us since the beginning of time. Before there were refining mills and cross-pollinated strains of god knows what, many people relied on barley as both a food source, and of course, a beverage source (mmmm, beer).The grain is often thought to be the first cultivated grain in our civilization, and according to Pliny, was the food of the gladiators until the rise of Rome. Those in ancient Greece fermented beverages that were made of barley and used in ceremony and ritual. (source). Barley most likely fell out of fashion with the rise of wheat, and thus, the middle and upper classes. In more recent times, barley was considered to be peasant food, while wheat was the grain of choice for those who were prosperous. But here's a little bit more to chew on: one cup of cooked barley provides a quarter of your daily fiber requirements, is high in protein and iron, and is a great of calcium, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus. So onward and upward with barley! In this recipe a simple grain is turned into the most elegant of meals, pleasing the highbrow snob in us all.

Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Caramelized Onions

2 large red onions, sliced into thin half moons
; water for deglazing pan
6 c. water
1 10 oz package porcini (baby bella) mushrooms, stems removed and reserved, caps diced

1 1/2 c. barley
1tbsp olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 c. pine nuts


For the onions:
We are going to caramelize onions a la Mark Bittman (whom I adore). In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, place onion slices and a dash of water. Cover and let sit for about 7 minutes, or until onions begin to brown on one side and sugars caramelize on the bottom of the pan. When this happens, add about 1/4 c. (I eyeball it) water to the pan, swishing and scraping with a rubber spatula to de-glaze. Do this as needed until the onions are sufficiently caramelized. I find that once you de-glaze the pan, you are golden (ha ha ha, I have been quite pun-laden lately), and the rest takes about 5 - 10 minutes. Easy and tasty! When finished, cover and set aside.

For the barley:
Place 6 cups of water and mushroom stems in a sauce pan or a large tea kettle (I find that my kettle is great for this!). Heat until significantly warm; turn off heat and cover.

Following this, place oil in a medium-sized casserole, preferably cast-iron. Heat oil and add barley, stirring to coat each grain and toasting a bit. Add mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, stirring for a majority of the time to release the starches in the grain. As the liquid is absorbed, add 1 more cup stock. After adding the fourth cup of liquid, stir in chopped mushrooms and cook down. Depending on the tenderness of your grain (yes, you should taste it), you may only have to add one more cup of liquid; others may have to add two. Whatever the verdict is, add the fresh basil in after you have added your last cup of liquid. The idea is to let the basil wilt and infuse its flavors into the dish. Taste again and season with black pepper and salt to your liking (you may notice that I never really cook with salt- and if so, it's just a dash. Too much salt is not good!).

When the risotto is finished, place into serving bowls and top with a healthy dose of caramelized onions. Garnish with pine nuts for extra Gladiator Goodness and supreme upper echelon points.

PS I always promise music as part of the cooking experience, and while Frank and I listen enthusiastically while cooking, I rarely discuss it. While making this meal, I do believe that we were listening to the delightfully challenging and catchy RAM, by Paul McCartney. Released in 1971, it was his second post-Beatle LP, created largely with Linda, and leading into Wings. All Music describes it as 'humble' 'organic' and 'ramshackle'. I call it, catchy, ragged, and almost reeling in the power that it manages to give off to the listener at times. RAM feels like a proper follow up to later Beatle material, while being slightly less abstract in its musical tendencies. The album is a definite investment for those, who like me, are all about the Beatles together and solo, but really really dislike Wings and Ringo.

Spicy, Hot, and Damn Good

As we all know, the throes of winter and January blues have descended upon us all, due to this explanation. I grew up in Rochester, NY, where temperatures of 0 and below are pretty common every winter. Unfortunately, this weather every year did nothing to increase my tolerance for it. Even though it is a 'balmy' 25-30 degrees here in New York in comparison to the arctic temperatures present in other parts of the country, simply walking for 10 minutes in this weather makes your toes go numb, your fingers unable to bend and your poor mouth longing for something warm to be promptly placed inside of it. So dear readers, that is where I come to the rescue. No, I won't fly out of the sky with a piping hot bowl of soup to hand to you on the street, but this is pretty close. Prep time excluded (and it's not long), this takes about 30 minutes to have on the table, and will warm up your mouth and body with spice and nutrition.I had been thinking about making a vegan tortilla-esque soup for a while, but since there are no refined flours on the menu for January, this has turned into a lovely Mexican Vegetable Soup. Onwards and upwards!

Mexican Vegetable Soup


1 large red onion,
3 cloves garlic,
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (we left the seeds
in rather than using chili powder or cayenne, but use your judgement)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp marjoram

1 tsp coriander

1/2 Tbsp cumin

black pepper to taste

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

7 cups water (2 cans worth)

1 can 15.5 oz can black beans, rinsed

3 ears of corn, or 1.5 cups frozen
8 oz frozen or fresh summer squash, diced into quarters


In a large pot, saute onion, garlic, and jalapeno over med-high heat using
either water or olive oil. When soft, add in all spices and cook for
another 2 minutes.

Add in tomatoes and 2 cans of water (the easiest way to measure out water and get the extra tomato in the can!), beans, and corn. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes to allow flavors to come together.

If using frozen squash (we received ours from our winter CSA share), thaw in a colander under running water and add to the soup. With the frozen squash, the soup really only needs to cook for another 5-10 minutes or s
o; just enough to warm everything up to your desired temperature again. If using fresh squash, add to soup and cook until tender-firm, roughly 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste for seasoning, and enjoy!
What, you ask? Why, this post my friends! Between the holidays and traveling and moving and starting a new job, my world has been hectic to say the least. So in order to get back into the swing of blogging life, I have decided to offer up to all of you a re-cap of the culinary highlight created in my kitchen over the last bit of time. Some come from my head; due to time, most from books; and some are a combination of both... but the main key is that they are all tasty super-vegan winners. So, without further ado...

Celeriac-Apple White Bean Pie
Adapted from Asparagus White Bean Quiche from Veganomicon, subbing celeriac for the vegetable, thyme and sage for spice and adding sliced apple on top. Mmmm Mmmm.

Chickpea Cutlets, Brussels Sprouts and Mashed Turnips with Chickpea Gravy
The vegan version of meat and potatoes, with a side of greens. If you have not made mashed turnips (we used CSA turnips), they are delicious!

Chickpea Pancakes with Cardamom Spiced Cabbage
The cabbage comes from Robin Robertson's Vegan Fire and Spice. Simple, but one of the many tasty options Frank and I discovered this year for our CSA cabbage. The chickpea pancake recipe comes courtesey of the Indian Culinary Institute and is delightful. You can find it here on Not Eating Out in New York, a great blog that, while not completely veggie-minded, offers cost cutting/calculation tips and plenty of adaptable recipes.

Spicy Bolivian Cabbage and Potatoes
The final cabbage dish! A quick and easy recipe from Vegetarian Times that tastes as good as it looks. Use purple potatoes and green cabbage (maybe even a yellow or orange pepper instead of red) for extra color contrast. You can find the recipe here.

Cranberry-Ginger Scones
A beaut of a scone! The basic dough recipe was adapted from Vegan with A Vengeance. I then added in 1 cup of sliced fresh cranberries, subbed brown sugar for regular sugar and used ground ginger in place of the spices. I place non-crystalized candied ginger on top. These were the hit of the weekend when I made them.

Christmas Cookies!
And lastly, a fine way to cap off the holiday season. This is the selection that I sent to Frank's office, on a groovy Cynthia Rowley for Target plate that I bought millions of years ago but still love. Anyways, back to the matter at hand. The majority of these cookies came from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, the latest offering from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Allow me to say, woah! Everything was incredible and once you get into cookie-baking mode, easy to take on for an afternoon. Starting with the second cookie on the left, we have: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows, Linzertorte Thumbprints, Magical Coconut Bars, and Pignoli. The Linzertorte Thumbprints call for hazelnut butter, which I made in my food processor (soon it will be a Vita-Mix!) with a little bit of elbow grease, and it definitely paid off. Frank, his co-workers, and my co-workers all gave these cookies thumbs up. The first cookie on the left is one of my 'staple cookies', a veganized recipe from Better Homes and Gardens called Cardamom Snaps. This cookie pleases everyone from aged 6 - 100, so beware of cookie stalkers knocking on your door at all hours of the nite. You can find that one here.

There you have it! A round-up of the top notch recipes I have made over the last month or so. I highly encourage you all to try these if you have not done so yet, or go back to them if you already have. I tend to find that I make recipes from books only once, but all of these are repeat offenders in the best way possible.

Back to Home Back to Top Red Beets & Rock and Roll. Theme ligneous by Bloggerized by Chica Blogger.