Sweet and spicy dal (C)

May 30, 2006 at 7:55 pm (Beans, F (0 stars, inedible), Indian, Website / blog)

This dal is based on a recipe on RecipeZaar chana dal with bell pepper, except I used yellow split peas instead of chana dal and bottle gourd (lauki) rather than the bell pepper.

250 g channa dal (gram dal)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 large red bell pepper
1 large tomato
1/2 onion
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
2-3 dried red chilies
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3-5 curry leave
  coriande (optional)
  parsley (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ginger paste
1/4 teaspoon garlic paste
  1. Soak chana dal in water for a few hours prior to use.
  2. Heat oil and add mustard seeds, bay leaf, cinammon, ginger and garlic pastes, and cloves.
  3. Add onions and let it heat till they turn translucent.
  4. Add chopped tomato and curry leaves and then the chana dal, making sure to add enough water to cover the dal as it boils.
  5. Cook on medium-high heat with a closed lid for 15-20min until the chana dal softens, while continuing to replenish the water now and again as it evaporates (make sure that you add boiling and not cold water).
  6. As soon as chana begins to soften, add the sliced capsicum (or diced bottlegourd, if that is your preference).
  7. Stir it in well with the chana and continue to cook until both the chana and capsicum (or bottlegourd), have softened sufficiently.
  8. Garnish with cilantro.

My Notes

Unfortunately, although the recipe recommended bottle gourd as a substitute, it forgot to mention that the gourd needs to be peeled. I had never cooked with it before so just assumed it was like a zucchini or summer squash…. It isn’t. The peel was really hard and tough, and I had to pick out all the pieces of bottle gourd before I could eat it. Other than that, the recipe seemed okay. Quite untraditional due to the cinnamon making it quite sweet tasting. Like the other dal I just made, the leftovers didn’t move very quickly. Again, I don’t think I’ll be making this recipe again.

Rating: C

Permalink Leave a Comment

Cruciferous caraway cumin soup

May 30, 2006 at 7:54 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, My brain, Other, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, soup, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

This is the first recipe I ever made with rutabagas, and I really love it. The recipe is adapted from one in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley. His recipe calls for making a spice oil with the cumin and coriander and drizzling it on top. I’m sure that would be nice but I was too lazy so just added the spices to the soup. The slow sauteeing of the onions and toasted flour bring out the natural sweetness in the rutabaga, and the combination with caraway is a winner. I love caraway but never know what to put it on–problem solved!

  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1.5 or 2 cups?)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil (or use 1 olive oil, and 1 of butter, or just 1 of olive oil)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large rutabaga, peeled and diced (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground caraway seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground cumin
  • 4 cups water (use 3 cups for a thicker puree, if you have a tall narrow pot)

1. In a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and rutabaga in the butter, olive oil and salt. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook gently for 20 minutes. The onions should brown and start to caramelize.
2. Stir in the caraway, garlic, cayenne, coriander, cumin, and flour. Raise the heat and saute for 5 more minutes.
3. Add enough water to cover the vegetables by 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the rutabaga crushes easily against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon.
4. Use a stick blender to puree.

Yields about 5 cups–3 large or 5 small servings

My Notes

The first time I made this I followed Berley’s recipe exactly, except for the spice oil part (his recipe is no longer posted here–you’ll have to look it up in his cookbook.) I liked it a lot, but thought the recipe could use some tweaking.

I made this a second time, using only 1 Tbs. olive oil. I also had about 2-3 cups of zucchini insides leftover from my stuffed zucchini the other night, that I added and let cook down completely. The soup tasted pretty much the same from what I could tell, but was healthier. I want to keep working on this recipe to get a recipe with the same great flavor, but more nutritious and more filling. Eventually I’m positive it’s going to be a winner.

Okay, in a third attempt I used two leftover pattypan squashes. I was a bit short on rutabaga so I threw in the end of my celery root. I also still just used 1 Tbs. oil, but added more of the spices. The squashes were not noticeable, but the vegetal herbaceousness of the celery root interfered a bit with the sweet cabbage-y taste of the rutabaga. I wouldn’t add celery root again. The soup was still tasty though.

On my fourth try I used one rutabaga that was just over a pound, 1 Tbs. flour, 2 Tbs. olive oil, and 4 cups of water. It was just a bit spicy and really satisfying. It made 5 cups. I had it in a bowl that I had just had yogurt with cinnamon in, and I really liked the combo. Next time I might try adding cinnamon and a swirl of yogurt. Derek didn’t like it, although both his parents did. The nutritional stats still weren’t great–it’s pretty low calorie but 46% fat and only 6% protein.

Rating: B+

Stats Per Cup
Calories 106
Total Fat 5.8g
Saturated Fat 0.7g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 256mg
Carbohydrate 13.3g
Dietary Fiber 2.4g
Sugars 6.9g
Protein 1.8g
Vitamin A 1% Vitamin C 32%
Calcium 6% Iron 4%

Cauliflower Version

Jan 2007: Today I tried a Cauliflower soup with caraway from Sara Moulton’s cookbook “Cooks at Home”. Well, I kind of tried it. I didn’t have chicken stock (or even veg. stock), or rye bread, or chives. I didn’t feel like using 2 Tbs. olive oil and 4 Tbs. butter for 4 servings, and I forgot to add the fresh lemon and plum tomatoes that are supposed to go in at the end as a garnish. What I did do:

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium head cauliflower (I used about 1 2/3 pounds)
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled (I left mine unpeeled)
  • 2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 3 cups water (I would have used veg. broth if I had any)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander
  • lots of pepper
  • 3/4? tsp. salt (def. more than 1/2 tsp.)
  • a big shake of aleppo pepper
  • 2 Tbs. half and half

I broke off about 1.5 cups of florets, then sliced the remaining cauliflower.

I sauteed the onion slowly with the olive oil, caraway seeds, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a covered pan. When the onion softened and started to brown I added the sliced cauliflower and potato (sliced thinly). I sauteed a minute then added the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. I then used my stick blender to puree the cauliflower. At this point I tasted it and realized it tasted a lot like the rutabaga soup above. The texture was different–more grainy, and it wasn’t very rich tasting since I’d used so little oil, but the basic caraway / cruciferous taste was the dominant one. I had half and half around for some Cook’s Illustrated recipes so added 2 Tbs to see how that worked. I think I liked it better without the half and half, which sort of mellowed the Cauliflower flavor too much. It did make it more filling though, but next time I think I’ll just use more olive oil to start, or make a spice oil to drizzle over the top.

Sara Moulton said to pre-steam the handful of cauliflower florets she had you hold aside, but I was too lazy so I just threw them in the hot pureed soup and hoped they’d cook. They were still a bit crunchy, but in a good way. Probably not the most elegant version, but easy, and has the benefit of getting both the enzymes that are only present in raw crucifers and the ones that are only present in cooked ones!

In any case, it still tasted a lot like the rutabaga soup, but kind of bland, so I added the cumin, coriander, and some aleppo, then I liked it much better.

Rating: B

Permalink 3 Comments

Spicy Mung Bean Dal (C)

May 30, 2006 at 7:54 pm (Beans, F (0 stars, inedible), Indian, Other)

This recipe comes from Brooke Dojny’s cookbook Full of Beans. Moong dal is mung beans, dried and splilt.

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalepeno or serrano, minced
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 medium-large tomato, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup mun bean dal, rinsed and picked over (but not soaked)
3 cups vegetable broth
3 Tbs. grated coconut, unsweetened
1.5 tsp. garam masala
1/3 cup chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the oinon over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, coriander, and turmeric, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute

Add the chopped tomato, dal, broth, and coconut. Bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the mixture is quite thick (about 30 minutes). (Can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Reheat gently, adding a bit of water if necessary.)

Add the garalm masala and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro just before serving.

Right after I made this I thought it was pretty good, but the leftovers just sat there, I don’t know why. I really wanted a recipe for a traditional Indian dal, and this isn’t quite it. Despite the initial positive reaction, I don’t think I’ll make it again.

Rating: C

Permalink Leave a Comment

Avocado and greens (B)

May 30, 2006 at 7:51 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Dark leafy greens, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Vegetable dishes)

When I’m lucky enough to have avocados I usually put them in a salad or on top of a bowl of beans. But I was out of lettuce and had no beans, and three avocados sitting on my counter were becoming precariously ripe.

So rather than saute my greens in olive oil like I normally would, I steamed some chard and tat soi together, then seasoned them with a little yeast and soy sauce, cilantro and mashed avocado. The combination was really nice. The creaminess of the avocado toned down the harshness of the chard, and the light green on the dark green was very beautiful. It needs some work, but I think it’s a great starting point for an interesting dish.

Rating: B

Permalink Leave a Comment

Popcorn at home (B-)

May 28, 2006 at 11:04 am (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Grains, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe)

In going through my pantry I found a jar of dried corn I had bought months or years ago to make popcorn. Since then my microwave has died, so I decided to try a stovetop method recommended by my friend Alekz:

Pop it in a traditional popper with 2 teaspoons olive oil, and add chunks of garlic to the hot oil with the unpopped corn… which results in lovely carmelized garlic. Add a dash of salt and copious amounts of nutritional yeast.

I didn’t know what a traditional popper was so I just tried it in a saucepan. I heated the oil then added the garlic and popcorn together and shook pretty continuously. Unfortunately, all the garlic burned to a crisp, and only about half the popcorn popped. I ate it but decided that the idea was a bust.

I still had popcorn left, so I tried making it in the microwave at work. I put 1/4 cup in a paper bag, folded it over twice, and popped for 2 minutes. Most but not all of it popped and none of it was burnt. I sprayed it with cooking spray, then seasoned it with Penzey’s Turkish seasoning (which is salty) and nutritional yeast. The combination was pretty tasty, but I’ve decided popcorn isn’t a great snack for me. It’s not as low calorie as some would have you believe, nor is it particularly filling. I could probably eat 6-8 cups no problem. Plus, I like it salty, and I don’t need more salt in my diet. Finally, popcorn is nutritionally mediocre–a little fiber, a little iron, but not enough for the calories, nor tasty enough for the calories. So I’m hereby giving away the rest of my popcorn. First come first serve.

Rating: B-

Permalink Leave a Comment

Peanut Sauce No. 1 (B)

May 27, 2006 at 8:02 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), East and SE Asia, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe)

3This is an old recipe from my co-op days, and I don’t remember where it originated, but I suspect I futzed with it quite a bit.

Add to a small saucepan:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. soy sauce (I think this is too much, try 2 Tbs.)
  • 1.5 Tbs. honey
  • 3 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1.5 Tbs. rice vinegar (maybe too little?)
  • 1-1.5 tsp. red chili flakes
  • 1 cup broth or water (maybe slightly too much?)
  • 1? garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 Tbs. grated ginger

Heat and whisk to combine.

I made it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, and it was tasty, but I felt like it overpowered the spring rolls. They need a lighter sauce I suspect.

Rating: B


Permalink 1 Comment

Carrot ginger dressing

May 20, 2006 at 8:27 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cook's Illustrated, Japanese, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, Sauce/dressing)

This recipe is from the Angelica Kitchen cookbook. It’s quite similar to the carrot ginger dressing that you get in many Japanese restaurants.

1 Tbs. minced onion
2 tsp. minced ginger
1/4 tsp. mustard powder
1 cup grated carrots (This was two medium carrots for me)
2 tsp. soy sauce (or if you don’t have soy sauce you can use 1/4 tsp. kosher salt)
2 Tbs. apple juice or cider (I used 1.5 Tbs. water and 1/2 Tbs. Cascadian farms apple juice concentrate, which is way better than most frozen concentrates)
4 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
6 Tbs. olive oil (I used 4)
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend! (I just put in a tall beaker and used my stick blender for less mess).

I thought this tasted pretty close to the Japanese dressing, maybe a little more watery (although that’s my own fault for reducing the oil). But I would do it again since even with less oil it stil had a nice consistency, not *too* watery.

It was supposed to make 2 cups, but for me it made more like 1.25 cups I think, maybe since I cut down on the oil? Even so, each Tbs. has only 31 calories by my calculation. If you use the original amount of oil it will have 10 more calories per Tablespoon.

This dressing was marvelous on sliced cooled beets. It was also very tasty on steamed broccoli. I didn’t like it on grain croquettes, however, since the flavor overpowered the flavor of the croquettes.

Rating: B+
Derek: A-

I decided to try another variation of this recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe cookbook. The major difference between this recipe and the one above is it has fewer carrots, uses sugar instead of apple cider, rice vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar, has more sesame oil, way more sodium, and adds water to bulk it up.

  • 1 Tbs. minced shallot or red onion
  • 2.25 tsp. grated fresh ginger (I grated a little extra so just threw it in)
  • 1.5 carrots, peeled and shredded (I left mine unpeeled, and grated it on the large holes of a box grater)
  • 3 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce (not sure if mine was low sodium)
  • 3/4 tsp. sugar
  • 4.5 Tbs. rice vinegar
  • 9 Tbs. water
  • 6 Tbs. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2.25 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 3/4 tsp. salt (I used 3/8 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (I gave a few whirs of my pepper grinder)

Shake all of the ingredients together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 7 days; bring to room temperature, then shake vigorously to recombine before using. Makes about 1.5 cups, and has about 40 calories per Tbs. serving.

My Notes:

I made a big salad for two and added 3 Tbs. of the dressing. I wasn’t very happy with it. I found it a bit greasy, and very bland. I could barely taste the ginger or carrots, and it was nearly vinegar-y enough for me. I don’t really understand this, since the recipe above is quite similar and I like it much more? Also, this made a huge amount of dressing. I think I might only make 1/3 of the recipe in the future.

Permalink 1 Comment

Hearty greens and beans with pasta

May 18, 2006 at 4:30 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Alma's faves, Beans, Beans and greens, Cook's Illustrated, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, Monthly menu plan: dinner, Pasta, Starches) ()

A big bowl of pasta, hearty greens, and beans can really hit the spot on those days when you’re just hungry. Plus, beans and greens are two of the most nutritious foods you can eat.  And beans, pasta, and greens make a great one-dish meal.  Yet there are numerous pitfalls that a chef trying to make this dish for the first time can fall into. Especially a vegetarian chef! Over the years, I’ve made variants that are quite bland, versions that are bitter, and even dishes in which the greens are either undercooked and crunchy or an overcooked putrid green color.  Below are my notes on how to make an excellent vegetarian version of beans and greens with pasta. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 7 Comments

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Vinaigrette

May 12, 2006 at 4:31 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Meyer & Romano, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Vegetable dishes)

I never used to like asparagus. At all. I always felt it tasted like grass (or at least what I imagined grass must taste like). Disliking asparagus wasn’t a problem in my family, however, since there was always someone willing to take mine off my hands.  Really, however, I should say I didn’t like asparagus until a few years ago, when I first made roasted asparagus. I followed the recipe from the cookbook Second Helpings from Union Square and I thought it was marvelous. The asparagus became black and carmelized, and the crunchy sea salt and sweet balsamic vinegar and earthy parmesan cheese all complemented it perfectly. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

Lentil salad with capers and currants (B-)

May 11, 2006 at 10:21 am (Beans, C (2 stars, okay, edible), Quick weeknight recipe, Website / blog)

3I found this recipe on recipezaar265 when I couldn’t find any interesting lentil salad recipes in any of my cookbooks. I used one can of lentils, rather than the dry red lentils the recipe called for, and thus I had to adjust the amounts, of course.

1 can lentils (about 1.75 cups)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1.5 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbs. honey
1/3 tsp. kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. cumin, ground
1/4 tsp. mustard powder
3/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/16 tsp. cinnamon
30 grams currants (about 3 Tbs?)
1 Tbs. capers, rinsed
red onion (optional)

I tried to drain the lentils but they ended up pretty wet and also quite mushy, which didn’t really lend itself well to a salad, but I made it nonetheless. The flavors worked okay together; I especially liked the currants with the lentils. Overall, it’s quite a sweet flavor, except for the odd brine of the capers. If I were to make this again I’d use only 1 tsp. honey and maybe only 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, as the flavor was pretty strong. I’d also try it with the red lentils.

Makes 3 servings.

Rating: B-

Permalink Leave a Comment

Watercress arugula lemon pasta (B)

May 8, 2006 at 7:32 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Dark leafy greens, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches)

I made a quick pasta dish with

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1 cup watercress
2 cups arugula
1 serving brown rice spiral pasta (2 ounces dry)
zest of 1 lemon and a bit of juice

The flavor was excellent, I really enjoyed it. However, the greens were a bit “stringy”. Next time I’d chop them up into smaller pieces.

Rating: B

Permalink Leave a Comment

Oat Flax Currant Cookies

May 7, 2006 at 5:51 am (B_minus (2.5 stars), Cookies, Dessert, From a friend)

3My friend gave me this wheat, dairy, egg, cane-sugar free cookie recipe. She said they’re allergen free (except for the nuts), but not taste-free. She claims they’re superb out of the oven, but even better the next day.

1/2 cup hot water (not boiling)
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup safflower oil (I used canola)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla flavoring (I used extract)
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsulfured currants
1 cup brown rice flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8-1/2 tsp. cardamom powder (I used 1/3 tsp.)
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
2. Heat up 1/2 cup of filtered water. Do not boil it. In a small dish add flax seeds and cover with water. Let sit until ready to use.
3. In a bowl add oil, maple syrup and vanilla and mix together.
4. In another bowl combine oats, walnuts, currants and brown rice flour.
5. To the dry mix add cinnamon, baking powder, cardamom and salt.
6. Pour oil mixture into the dry and fold until well blended. The flax seeds by now should look like egg white texture (gelatinous). Pour the flax seeds into the batter and with a mixer or hand blender combine and blend until it begins to get lighter in color and mixes altogether. If you need to add more water it’s okay. (It will have an appearance of goop.)
7.Spoon or scoop with an ice cream scooper the batter on an ungreased cookie sheet. These make very good large cookies. Small too, but if you want a big cookie this will be a success. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and brown on bottom. Let cool completely. Flavor is enhanced overnight if there are any left.

The batter freezes well also. I use an ice cream (large one or small) and scoop it and place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Than put in tupperware and pull out any time you want to cook some.

My notes: the batter was suprisingly wet, much more so than a typical cookie batter. I made 16 very small cookies, and 7 large cookies in the second batch. On a first taste right out of the oven I found the cookies not very sweet, but not terribly nutty tasting either. The texture from the oats and flax seeds was quite nice, but I thought the cookies were a bit greasy tasting. I wonder if really emulsifying the flax and oil and maple syrup together rather than just stirring with a spoon would reduce the greasiness? The thing I liked least about the cookies was that they didn’t get crispy. The larger ones almost had the texture of muffins it seems. Perhaps by reducing the liquid slightly and making the batter less wet these would crisp up more. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously liked these because in the end I ended up eating about half the batch, and probably would have eaten all of them if I hadn’t sent them home with Derek!

Derek liked the texture, especially that they were a bit greasy, but thought they were somewhat bland.

Rating: B
Derek: B-

Permalink Leave a Comment

My tea recommendations

May 3, 2006 at 6:31 am (Product Reviews)

I am what Derek calls a teetotaler. I’ve never been a fan of coffee, and don’t really like any alcohol either. Juice is delicious but the calories add up fast. What does that leave? Tea.

Why drink tea?

  • Tea is a very healthy way to satisfy a sweet-tooth craving.
  • Tea is a great way to train the palate. After I tried lavender tea for the first time I could pick out the lavender flavor in my salad dressed with herbs de Provence. I never really knew what turmeric tasted like until I made myself a cup of straight turmeric tea.
  • Many teas are full of antioxidants.
  • Hot tea is a marvelous thing to bring to the movies. I always seem to want popcorn or candy or some such thing, even if I’m not really hungry. Instead I bring my largest mug and buy a big mug of a very fragrant tea. It lasts me a good half hour and I’m always happy.
  • Herbal teas make it easier to get in the recommended amounts of water each day, without feeling like you’re forcing it down.

Simple herbal or spice teas:

  • lavender tea is pale purple, floral, and delicious
  • plain ginger is intense but very soothing
  • plain turmeric is very strong and metallic tasting, but not unpleasant. Give it a try sometime.
  • burdock?
  • dry lemongrass?

Homemade herbal blends:

  • fresh ginger and fresh lemongrass is intense and wonderful
  • lemongrass and chamomile?

Proprietary blends:

  • Stash’s lemon ginger tea is very good, but hard to find in Pittsburgh. If anyone knows of a local vendor please let me know.
  • Celestial Seasonings’ Red zinger makes great ice tea, but I don’t like it hot
  • Good Earth tea is so cinnamon-y, I love it.
  • I tried Celestial Seasonings Roastaroma but didn’t enjoy it at first. I thought it was dirty tasting and not sweet enough. Lately I’ve been enjoying it more. Its bitterness helps keep sweet cravings at bay.

Green tea:

I’m pretty picky about my green tea, but I like the yogi tea green tea super anti-oxidant pretty well. I also really like green tea with mint.
Black tea:

White tea:

Permalink Leave a Comment

Ethiopian Red Lentils

May 2, 2006 at 8:06 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, Ethiopian)

Berbere is the hot spice mixture that is used in many Ethiopian wats, or stews. It can also be used in other recipes that call for a hot spice. I found three berbere recipes. One in the cookbook Sundays at Moosewood, one online from a personal chef, and one in my recipe collection from who-knows-where originally. But they were all relatively similar. I wonder if they were all based on the same recipe originally?

The recipe in the cookbook “Exotic Ethiopian Cooking” by D.M. Mesfin that I checked out of the library certainly was extremely different. First of all, it called for 15 pounds of dried new Mexican chilis! It was more of a paste also, with fresh garlic, ginger, and red onion. It also had a number of ingredients I didn’t recognize, like rue seed, sacred basil, and bishop weed. After all the ingredients are ground down, the mixture is supposed to stand for 12 hours, then be baked in an oven or the sun, so I’m not sure how wet the final product is. Another spicy paste in the cookbook, Awaze, looks pretty similar except it also includes 2 cups of red wine. Anyway, here is the recipe I ended up using for berbere:


2 tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. fenugreek
8 cloves
3/4 tsp. cardamom seeds (black)
3/4 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. whole allspice (or 1/4 tsp. ground)
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric, ground
1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried shallots (optional, or dehydrated onions maybe more, up to 2 ounces?)
3 ounces dried new mexican chilies, seeded and stemmed (or 3 Tbs. sweet paprika and 5 tsp. red pepper flakes or 10 small dried red chiles)

In a small frying pan, on medium-low heat, toast the whole spices (cumin, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, and allspice) for about 2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constnatly. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.

If using the chiles, discard the stems. If using the New Mexican chiles, seed them and tear into coarse pieces. In a spice grinder finely grind together the toasted spices and chiles. Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Store berbere refrigerated in a well-sealed jar.

Yields about 3/4 cup (i.e. 12 Tbs.) Or maybe 1/3 cup if using the small chilies and 1/4 cup if using the chili flakes?

This berbere recipe has an awful lots of spices. I wonder if they’re all absolutely necessary? Could I make a berbere that was just as good with only 1/2 the number of spices?

Spicy red lentil stew (Miser Wat)

The Ethiopian cookbook mentioned above calls for 2 cups lentils, 6 cups water, and 1.5 cups oil! I cut down on the oil, but used the 6 cups of water, which was probably a mistake.

4 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups onion (one large onion or two small onions)
1 tsp. garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbs. berbere
2 cups split red lentils
6 cups water or vegetable broth
1.5 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. tomato paste (maybe more, up to 1/4 cup? or chopped tomatoes?)
1 ounce red wine (optional, maybe more?)

Saute the onions in the olive oil, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add the berbere and saute for a few minute smore, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. The onions should start to carmelize Mix in the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lentils, tomato paste, salt, red wine, and the vegetable stock or water and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook uncovered for an hour?

Serve with injera and a vegetable.

Makes about 7 cups?

My notes: This recipe is quite good. My friend said it tasted just like what you get at an Ethiopian restaurant. I wasn’t positive about that, but enjoyed it thoroughly. I do however find the lentils a bit strong to eat by themselves. They need injera or a vegetable or other starch to eat in conjunction. Also, with 6 cups of water my lentils started out very soupy and I thought they would always be soup, but after cooking them on very low for a long time they eventually developed the nice thick consistency they’re supposed to have. However, if I made them again I think I would use less water (maybe 4-5 cups?) and cook covered instead. I also might use slightly more berbere, or make a spicier berbere since although the lentils had great flavor they weren’t spicy enough in my opinion.

These lentils (like all red lentil dishes) have more calories than you might think. They are, however, quite filling, so 1/2 cup is quite sufficient.

Nutritional info for 1/14 of the recipe (about 1/2 cup I think)
Calories 144
Total Fat 4.5g (27%)
Saturated Fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 282mg
Carbohydrate 18.9g (51%)
Dietary Fiber 4.4g
Sugars 1.7g
Protein 7.8g (21%)
Vitamin A 1% Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 2% Iron 10%

Rating: B+
Derek: B+

Update May 8, 2006: I used 4 cups of water and it didn’t quite seem like enough, so I added another 1/2 cup after they’d been cooking a while. The quantity of lentils seemed like less than last time though, maybe 5 cups rather than 7 cups? I think next time I will try starting with 5 cups of water. I used 2 Tbs + 1 tsp. berbere and the lentils tasted good but still weren’t spicy enough. I don’t think they need any more berbere–I think I’ve just got to add some cayenne.

Permalink 6 Comments

Polenta Nera (B-)

May 2, 2006 at 7:24 pm (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Italian, Rebecca Wood)

Polenta nera means black polenta, although in actuality it’s more grey than black. In the north of Italy polenta made from buckwheat flour is a common “peasant” food. This recipe is from Rebecca Wood’s cookbook the Splendid Grain.

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the flour and water until smooth. Combine the stock, salt, and 1 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the flour mixture in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring as necessary, for about 7 minutes, or until quite thick and smooth. Pour into individual bowls as hot cereal (top with milk and maple syrup for breakfast), or pour into an ungreased pan, smooth the top, and let cool at room temperature until firm.

Cut the polenta into squares. Heat the remaining oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When warm, add the polenta squares. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

My notes:

Okay, I confess, I didn’t follow the recipe very closely. I thought it would be forgiving like regular corn polenta. So I just mixed it all together at once. But the texture was kind of like glue. Well, lumpy glue. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but lumpy glue doesn’t really “simmer.” So I kind of skipped that step. I tried a little porridge-style and the flavor wasn’t unpleasant–a very mild kasha taste. The texture was like over-mashed mashed potatoes though. Yuck. So I let the polenta cool and cut it into slices. I’m not sure if I didn’t let it cool long enough, or what, but the slices were much more sticky and less firm than regular polenta. But I formed about 16 “pieces”. Again, I didn’t follow the directions about frying, but put put 1/2 Tbs. oil down on a cookie sheet, then drizzled the other half over the top. I baked them at 500 degrees until they were crisp (about 15 minutes I think), then flipped them and cooked until the other side was crisp. I originally placed my cookie sheet on top of a cast iron pan to get it closer to the heating element, but then only the polenta on the edges was crisping so I removed it and it cooked more evenly.

In the end the top and bottom of the polenta got nice and crisp, but unlike corn polenta the inside stayed sort of soft and gooey. I really liked the crispy outside, and the contrast with the soft inside wasn’t unpleasant. I had to add extra salt though. 1/4 tsp. just didn’t cut it. I think if I make this again I will try 3/4 tsp. salt. But besides that follow the directions 🙂

So I liked the crispy polenta okay, but when I tried reheating in the toaster the next day it wasn’t particularly good. So I’d rate the porridge a D, the original broiled version a B-, and the reheated version a C.

Nutritional info for 4 pieces (of 16):
Calories 160
Total Fat 7.7g
Saturated Fat 1.1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 295mg
Carbohydrate 21.2g
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 0.8g
Protein 3.8g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%
Iron 7%

Rating: B-

Permalink 2 Comments

Burdock in Yeast Gravy

May 1, 2006 at 8:32 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches)

I had some leftover julienned burdock in the fridge, so I threw it in a cast iron skillet with a few mushrooms and diced carrots, and a little water, and cooked it a bit until the veggies started to soften. The I added in:

2 Tbs. white rice flour
2 Tbs. nutritional yeast

and let them start to brown. When they started smelling toasty, I added in 1 Tbs. of the mustard vinaigrette from the fennel, then about a cup of water and some salt, and mixed it until it was a gravy consistency.

I enjoyed the gravy a lot, and thought it was a pretty good match with the burdock, but I think the burdock would have been better cut some other way rather than julienned. The dish wasn’t perfect but it’s a good starting point.

Rating: B

Permalink Leave a Comment

Warm fennel in vinaigrette (B)

May 1, 2006 at 8:15 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), French, Georgeanne Brennan, Quick weeknight recipe, Sauce/dressing, Spring recipes)

This recipe is from the cookbook France: The Vegetarian Table, by Georgeanne Brennan. She also suggests using leeks, celery hearts, belgian endive, asparagus, or beets instead of fennel, and garnishing with an herb like tarragon, chervil, chives, or parsley.

4 medium-sized fennel bulbs
3/4 cup mustard vinaigrette or shallot vinaigreete
1 ounce asiago or other hard, aged cheese, shaved into paper thin slices with a knife or vegetable peeler
1 tsp. minced fresh chervil

Trim the fennel bulbs, discarding any tough or discolored outer leaves and cutting away and stalks and feathery tops. Cut the bulbs, from the top through the stem end, into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrance the slices on a steamer rack over boiling water, cover, and steam untnil tender when pierced with the tines of a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove the fennel slices to a bowl.

Mustard Vinaigrette (makes 1 cup):
3/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

Pour 3/4 cup of the dressing over the warm fennel, gently turning all the slices to make sure they are all evenly coated. Cover and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Top with the cheese and serve warm or at room temperature.

My notes: well, I made a very pared down version of this recipe. I didn’t use the cheese or fresh herbs. I did, however, throw in some carrots with my fennel. Wow. I always forget how tasty steamed vegetables are. I could have just eaten them plain. But I made the vinaigrette. It tasted like oil to me. I doubled the vinegar and mustard and it was better, but still very oily. Could there be something wrong with my vinegar that I needed so much more, or is it just a preferences thing? I enjoyed the vegetables with the vinaigrette, but I didn’t need the full amount called for. If I make it again I will add even more mustard and vinegar to the vinaigrette, and using only about 1/2 to 3/4 as much dressing as called for. But I definitely like the idea of steamed fennel with vinaigrette. The fennel had such a decadent mouthfeel to it, and a mild but very distinctive flavor.

Rating: B

This is a nice recipe for late spring, when some of the early vegetables like fennel, beets, and asparagus are just starting to be available.

Permalink 1 Comment

Common Bean Myths

May 1, 2006 at 3:35 pm (Beans, Food Science)

There’s always controversy surrounding beans. Myths and superstition abound. In this post I discuss the pros and cons of soaking beans, when to add salt, and a few other controverisal issues.

Soaking Beans

The number one issue of debate when cooking beans is whether they have to be soaked first, and if so for how long. There are a number of issues that must be considered when deciding whether to soak your beans:

  1. the effect on cooking time (and hence energy usage)
  2. the effect on complex carbohydrates that cause flatulence
  3. the effect on beneficial nutrients
  4. the effect on palatability, including flavor, texture/consistency, and whether the beans hold their shape

Cooking time:  The consensus seems to be that soaking does reduce cooking time, but not by a huge amount.   If you’re in a rush to get your beans cooked, then it’s better to just start them cooking rather than leave them soaking.  But if you have the time, then a pre-soak will reduce energy usage slightly, possibly up to 25%.

How much does soaking beans actually reduce cooking time? There’s no one answer. The time saved depends on the size and age of the bean, on the cooking method, and on whether your soaking water is salted or not. Soaking saves more times with larger beans and older beans, since they take longer to hydrate. Soaking will save you more time if you’re using a slow-cooking method (like oven baking) rather than a fast-cooking method (like a pressure cooker). And soaking in a brine (i.e., heavily salted water) will reduce the cooking time more than soaking in plain water.

Epicurious tested with plain pinto beans and found that an overnight soak saves only 10 minutes of cooking time (on the stove). Russ Parsons in this 1994 article baked white beans with seasonings in the oven, and found that the pre-soaked beans were done 45 minutes sooner.

Harold McGee’s latest book (Keys to Good Cooking: a Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes) apparently says that soaking beans reduces the cooking time by around 25%. This eGullet poster explains “This is primarily because the bean is already hydrated. Heat penetrates the bean much faster than water does, so when you cook unsoaked beans you are spending some of that time simply waiting for the beans to hydrate. This can create an effect whereby the outer part of the bean is overcooked and becomes fragile by the time the center is fully cooked, although this can be mitigated by cooking just below the simmer.  Anyway, a 25% reduction in cooking time is not all that much. So it’s unclear that presoaking is worth the trouble on a time basis. If unsoaked beans cook in an hour and a half, the same beans presoaked would still take around 67 minutes. A 23 minute difference is not such a huge amount of time saved that presoaking is worth the bother. ”

cook at Saveur says:  “Here’s what we found out: soaking dried beans overnight is fine, and even good, in that it reduces the cooking time by at least a quarter, but if you have the time for a longer simmer, then soaking isn’t necessary. As for the quick-soaking method—i.e., bringing the beans to a boil and then letting them sit for an hour—we found that an hour in warm water made virtually no difference in the cooking time, so go for either the overnight soak or none at all. ”

Michael Ruhlman writes:  Certainly you don’t have to soak your beans overnight; if you want beans for dinner, put them in water and cook them till they’re tender or at least edible, no soaking, no blanching, just put them in a pot and cook them.

One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that if you are in a rush, don’t bother to do a quick-soak. Even a quick soak takes an hour, and clearly saves less than an hour of cooking time. So it’s a net loss. However, if you know in advance that you will have a limited window of time to cook your beans, then it is worth it to pre-soak your beans.

If you decide to pre-soak your beans, how long should you soak them for?

Many people simply soak beans overnight or put the beans on to soak before they leave for work—in both cases leaving the beans soaking for about 8 hours. But is 8 hours really necessary? Or optimal? According to McGee, soaking beans for more than four hours doesn’t gain you anything. (According to one blogger–need to look this up in his book. It’s unclear if this statistic assumes salted or unsalted soaking water.)

Also, here is another interesting comment from Rancho Gordo beans expert Steve Sando, who tends not to soak his beans.

Eric in Customer Service received a call recently about our Royal Corona beans not cooking. This confused us as we know exactly how old these are (we keep the lot numbers handy and we haven’t had this bean for long). The caller cooked the beans for hours and they weren’t softening. No salts, no acids, no reason! Then she said, “And I soaked them for 24 hours so they really should have cooked fast!” Bingo! There’s the culprit. Whenever we hear about cooking problems, they always seem to stem from over-soaking. It’s not intuitive but it seems to be the reality with our beans. If you want to soak, I would suggest from 4 to 6 hours.

So the science of this is not clear to me, but I think I have noticed this myself. Oversoaking beans (especially if they are fresh) can be a bad idea.

Other factors that affect cooking time

What most affects cooking times is how fresh your beans are. If the beans are really old then they might take many, many hours to cook, even if they were pre-soaked.

Another reason beans might take forever to soften up is if there are lots of minerals in your water (i.e., if you have hard water). Try using filtered water and see if it makes a difference.  Some people say you can soften your water by adding baking soda, but then I’ve heard that this destroys vitamins (B vitamins?). [I still need to find a reference for this claim. Anyone know of one?]

A third factor that affects cooking time is whether you leave the lid on or off. Leaving the lid on saves 15 minutes on the stovetop (according to Epicurious) and much longer in the oven (according to Parsons).

Recent testing by food science writer Harold S. McGee and the editors of Cook’s Illustrated has shown that brining the beans in salted water helps them cook more quickly than soaking in plain water. Cook’s Illustrated also says that brining helps soften the bean skins, which helps them cook more evenly and reduces the number of beans that rupture. Read more: How to Brine Beans | eHow.com. In September 2015, Cook’s Illustrated posted an update, in which they tried to reduce the amount of brine used. Their original formula recomended a gallon of water and 3 tablespoons of salt to soak 1 pound of beans. Their updated formula calls for just 2 quarts of water (and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt) for a pound of beans. With the lower amount of brine, however, they recommend using a deep rather than shallow container (i.e., a relatively narrow bowl or pot rather than a wide Dutch oven) to ensure that the beans remain submerged as they hydrate and swell.

Flatulence: Beans are rich in fiber and complex sugars called alpha-galactosides which humans cannot digest.  Bacteria in the intestines digest these complex sugars, producing carbon dioxide.  The two primary alpha-galactosides in beans are raffinose and stachyose. Cook’s Illustrated analyzed how soaking affects stachyose. They found that a long soak led to a 28% reduction in stachyose, and a quick-soak (1 minute boil, 1 hour soak) removed 42.5% of stachyose. Thus, they argue that if you have intestinal discomfort issues from beans then soaking and tossing the soaking liquid will help. But they don’t actually cite any studies about how much a 28-43% reduction in stachyose actually reduces flatulence, if any.

Parsons claims that even if you do three quick soaks and discard the soaking liquid each time, you still only manage to reduce stachyose and other indigestible sugars by 90%. More importantly, people still get gas from these beans, due to their high fiber content. And the three quick soaks negatively affect flavor and texture.

Harold McGee recommends “soaking beans, then cooking them in the same water at a bare simmer for at least a couple of hours, even if they’re soft before then.”  That way you keep the nutrients in the soaking water, and the extended cooking breaks down the gassy carbohydrates. (Or so he says. I couldn’t find any other source claiming that cooking breaks down the indegestible sugars.)

Instead of trying to reduce gas by tweaking how you cook your beans, a better strategy seems to be to eat lots of beans and other high fiber foods on a regular basis.  Eventually the micro-flora in your gut adapt in some way so that less gas is produced.  (I don’t understand how though. Can anyone explain what chemical changes actually take place?)

None of these sources discusses a common scenario: you’re making a dish that doesn’t call for the bean broth (like a bean salad). In this case I would imagine that soaking is totally irrelevant to flatulence, since you’re going to toss the liquid in the end anyhow. I suppose it’s possible that the indigestible sugars get reabsorbed during the cooking process, in which case a quick soak and discard of the soaking liquid would result in higher reduction of the indigestible sugars.

Nutritional content: Cook’s Illustrated also studied how soaking affects beneficial nutrients. They say that during soaking many nutrients leach out of the beans, more so with a quick soak (presumably due to the brief heat) than with a long cold soak. Apparently heat breaks down cell membranes within the beans, and increases the solubility of water-soluble nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. As a result, quick soaking tends to leach somewhat more of the nutrients out of the beans than do slow soaking methods. Again, however, if you either retain (and eat) the soaking liquid or discard the bean cooking broth it seems irrelevant which soaking method you choose. In the latter case, I would assume that the same quantity of water-soluble nutrients (if not more) would be leached out of the beans when you cook them. (I also assume, but do not know, that the nutrients don’t somehow get back into the beans during the cooking process.)  The only situation in which the soaking strategy would matter, it seems to me, is if you discard the soaking liquid, but use the bean cooking broth in your recipe. In that case, you should use a cold, slow soak to maximize nutritional content.

How does cooking affect the nutritional content of beans? A nutritionist interviewed by Cook’s Illustrated says: “More than 70 percent of bean nutrients are retained during cooking, including 86 percent of the protein, 83 percent of the iron, 96 percent of the zinc, 66 percent of the niacin, and 70 percent of the thiamine. About 53 percent of the calcium content, however, is lost. These numbers take into account that nutrient concentration diminishes during cooking because the beans take on moisture. For instance, one cup of dry kidney beans containing 44 grams of protein expands during soaking and cooking to two and one-half cups containing 38 grams of protein.”

There’s a huge camp of people who follow the paleo or Weston A. Price diet, who argue that beans are full of anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which substantially reduce nutrient availability.  They say that soaking beans can deactivate these anti-nutrients, and thus radically improve the amount of magnesium, zinc, and iron you actually absorb.  The best analysis I’ve found is on the rebuild-from-depression blog, which says that cooking doesn’t reduce phytic acid much.  The blog says that the best way to reduce phytic acid is to soak beans at 140º Fahrenheit for three hours, at room temperature for a very long time (around 18 hours), or in very warm water overnight. I think that after 18 hours at room temperature the beans would start to ferment.  Would keeping them in the fridge have the same effect?  One last note:  I vaguely remember reading that for neutralizing phytic acid the soaking water should be free of chlorine, so use filtered water or water that’s been sitting for long enough for the chlorine to evaporate.  (Need to find a citation.)

The folks who are very concerned about phytic acid generally recommend tossing the soaking water (I believe, need to find a reference).  But I thought that they argue that soaking actually neutralizes the anti-nutrients, not that they leach into the soaking water. If this is the case, then why the need to throw out the soaking water?  I don’t get it.

I was wondering if a slow cooker mimics the optimal temperature for phytic acid reduction described above.  Does cooking your beans in a crock pot keep them around 140 degrees?  My mom sent me this info:  “A typical slow cooker is designed to heat food to 77 °C  (170 °F) on low, to perhaps 88-93 °C  (190-200 °F) on high. Many recipes that include sauce or liquid will reach the boiling point around the edges, while food in the center remains gently cooked. This may be because slow cooker settings are based on wattage, not temperature.”  So it seems that a slow-cooker is too hot for optimal phytic-acid reduction.  But maybe it depends on how long it takes to get the beans up to temperature.  If you start the beans at room temperature, then how long are they in the 140º F range?  And as long as we are talking about crockpots, there are lots of warnings about cooking kidney beans in crockpots.  Apparently kidney beans contain relatively high amounts of some toxin that is only destroyed by boiling, and crockpots never get the beans hot enough.

Going back to phytic acid… The Weston A. Price people are rabidly anti phytic acid, but the vegan camp says that phytic acid is good, because it has some health-promoting effects.  They say that you shouldn’t try to reduce the phytic acid content but instead try to enhance nutrient absorption.  What you eat the beans with affects the bioavailability of trace nutrients.  It’s well known that eating beans with a food that contains vitamin C will substantially enhance absorption of non-heme iron.  That’s relatively well known among vegetarians. But something I hadn’t heard before: Dr. Greger claims one or two cloves of garlic or slices of onion can enhance nutrient absorption substantially.  I haven’t read the studies he’s citing yet, but the link to the articles on PubMed are underneath the video ([1] and [2]).

Flavor, texture, and whether the beans hold their shape:

Russ Parsons, author of “How to Read a French Fry”, says “Not soaking them [beans], really improves the flavor I’ve found.” But it’s unclear to me if he throws out the soaking water or not. Everyone seems to agree that tossing the soaking water reduces flavor. Cook’s Illustrated claims that quick-soaking beans has a negative effect on the texture. They also say that soaking beans for too long results in beans with tough skins, mealy interiors, and a lack of flavor. More specifically, they soaked black beans in the fridge overnight. They used one batch immediately, drained a second batch and left it in a ziplock bag for three days, and left a third batch soaking for three days. The first and second batches made excellent black beans soup. Both batches of beans were tender, moist, and creamy and had a rich, full-bodied broth. The third batch, resulted in a soup that was thin and bland, and the beans were too firm with tough skins. Now, presumably they threw out the soaking water. I wonder what would have happened if they retained the soaking water for the soup?

Epicurious is an outlier in that they actually recommend a quick-soak for optimal flavor. Their “winning method”:

For the Epi Kitchen, the results were clear. Quick-soaking the beans, salting them at the beginning of cooking, and cooking in a pot without a lid, resulted in beans with great texture and a flavorful broth. To cook: Place 1 lb. dried pinto beans in a large, heavy pot. Cover with water about 2” above top of beans. Cover pot, bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Let rest 1 hour. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Uncover, reduce heat, and simmer until beans are tender and creamy, checking after 1 hour and adding more water as necessary to keep beans submerged, 1–1 1/2 hours total.

Some people say soaking beans helps the beans hold their shape.  I think that probably the issue is that if you cook beans at too high a heat then they often break into pieces. Since soaking uses no heat, that can’t happen.  But if you cook your beans very, very slowly (like in a crockpot or in the oven, for example), they shouldn’t break up either.

Interesting note:  Apparently soaking beans is rare in Mexico—where beans are a staple of the daily diet.

One last comment about soaking beans. Whether or not it’s a good idea may actually depend on the type of beans. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats strongly recommends against soaking “quick-cooking, thin-skinned” black beans, but states that “with firmer beans like cannellini or kidney, soaking can mean the difference between a pot full of blow-out bean fragments and a pot full of perfect smooth-skinned beauties.”

Adding Salt to Beans

Another controversial issue is whether adding salt or acids to beans slows down the cooking time, or toughens beans.  The acid claim seems to be true (depending on how much acid you add), but the salt claim is somewhat controversial.  A lot of chefs and cooking scientists discard this claim as an old wives tale, and argue that adding salt to beans at the start of cooking makes them taste better and have a better texture than adding beans after they’re cooked.  Others suggest salting the soaking water, but then not adding salt to the cooking water until close to the end of the cooking time.

Russ Parsons, author of “How to read a french fry” did some tests for an LA Times article that was published on 1/29/03. The article reports:  “Conventional wisdom dictates that dried beans should only be salted toward the end of cooking, because the salt draws moisture from the bean, producing an unpleasantly dry texture. But exhaustive tests done by Times columnist Russ Parsons showed that beans cooked with a teaspoon of salt per pound compared to beans cooked without salt cooked to exactly the same degree of softness in almost exactly the same time. Moreover, the beans salted during cooking required half as much salt.”   Parsons says “After doing my experiments, I started salting at the beginning rather than at the end and I think that makes a big difference in flavor as well (seasoned beans rather than salty broth).”

Cook’s Illustrated did a study with lentils and concluded that salt has no effect on cooking time or bean texture.  Furthermore, they suggest that for maximum flavor it’s actually essential to salt your beans at the beginning rather than the end of of cooking. Also, when soaking beans Cook’s Illustrated says that by using salt water the bean will cook up with softer and more pliable skins. Apparently the salt displaces some of the minerals like calcium and magnesium in the bean skins, which tends to make the skins tough. Since salt ions are weaker than mineral irons, they allow more water to penetrate into the skins, leading to a softer texture. Apparently during soaking the salt doesn’t make it all the way to the center of the beans, so the largest effect is on the outer skin. Cook’s Illustrated recommends 3 Tbs. of salt per gallon of soaking water.

Apparently Sara Moulton on Sara’s Secrets also dispelled the myth that salt makes beans tough, as did Shirley Corriher in this article from finecooking. Shirley actually says that salt aids softening: “A good soak in salted water can fix a hard-to-cook batch of beans.”  A cook at Saveuer says:  “And the salt? Adding it didn’t change the texture of the beans or alter the cooking time, so salt as freely as your taste dictates.”

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats in his column on top cooking myths concurs: “A simple side-by-side test can prove to you conclusively that salting beans (both the water used to soak them in and the water used to cook them) actually tenderizes the skins. It’s got to do with magnesium and calcium, two ions found in the bean skins that help keep the structure of the beans’ skin intact. When you soak the beans in salt water, sodium ions end up replacing some of the magnesium and calcium, effectively softening the skins. Your beans come out creamier, better seasoned, and have a much smaller likelihood of exploding while cooking.”  He even has a nice picture to support his claims.

Harold McGee has a more nuanced take on the matter.  He writes in a New York Times Q&A on salt: “Salt does slow the softening of dried beans, but adding it early also gets salt into the bean interior, while adding late leaves most of the salt on or near the surface. If you’re thinking ahead early enough to presoak the beans, salt in the presoaking water actually speeds the cooking, in addition to salting the beans evenly.”  Another article summarizes’s McGee’s advice in his new book: “Go ahead and soak the beans in mildly salted water, but don’t add it to the cooking water until the end because it will take longer for the beans to cook.”  From an eGullet post:  “McGee says that using salted water has two interesting effects: It slows the rate at which the beans absorb water; but cooking beans which have been hydrated in salted water reduces cooking time significantly. When we cook no-soak beans, the hydration of the bean is already accelerated by higher temperatures. Then, when we use salted cooking liquid right from the start, we are hydrating the beans with salted water and this hastens the cooking time. The net effect is probably an overall shorter cooking time.” More from McGee: “the presence of salt [in the beans from the hydrating water] reduces the swelling and gelation of starch granules within the beans, which means that it favors a mealy internal texture over a creamy one.” The poster continues:  “Mealy” is exactly the kind of “al dente” effect I get when I cook beans using the no-soak method with salted water. On the other hand, sometimes what you want is a creamy texture. This is a case where I wouldn’t use the no-soak method and would hydrate in unsalted water.

One holdout is Steve Sando, owner of Rancho Gordo, who says that he salts roughly halfway to three-quarters of the way through cooking, once his beans start “smelling like beans”.  He says this gives him the same flavor result but fewer broken beans.”

How much salt should be added?  Somewhere I found this statistic:  Adding salt at concentration of 1%( 2 teaspoons/qt) will also speed up the cooking time by 25%.

Other Issues

Effect of acid, sugar, and calcium-containing foods:  Cook’s Illustrated says that acid does slow down the cooking process, but that the cooking liquid has to be pretty acidic to have a noticeable effect, so adding a few Tbs. of vinegar or tomato paste won’t interfere in any way, but cooking your beans in pure tomato sauce might be slightly detrimental.  However, if you want to cook your beans in a stew for a long time without them falling apart then adding some acid can actually be useful!  I found other posts saying that calcium and sugar also slow down the softening rate of beans, so blackstrap molasses should be added towards the end of cooking when making baked beans, but I haven’t confirmed this.  But a cook at Saveur says:  “A final revelation: for one version we tried, we removed the tomatoes and noticed that the beans cooked a lot faster. Acidic ingredients, it turns out, slow down the cooking process dramatically.”  The recipe they’re using only calls for one tomato in a pound of beans.  I wouldn’t think that would be enough to make a difference.

Amount of water:  Both Paula Wolfert and Harold McGee say that “less is more” when it comes to the amount of cooking water used to cook beans. McGee says the the beans will actually absorb more water when cooked in a smaller volume of water. Apparently, less cooking water means fewer carbohydrates are leached out, and these carbohydrates absorb a lot of water which then can’t be absorbed by the beans. It doesn’t quite make sense to me, but I think I have seen some evidence of this in my own bean cooking experiences.

Centralbean.com says to cover with 6 cups fresh water for each pound (2 cups) of beans, or to about one inch above the beans, but I think that’s for pre-soaked, rehydrated beans.  Non-soaked beans will take twice as much water??

Note that if you cook your beans without a lid then you will probably have to add water sometime during the cooking process.  If you leave your beans tightly covered then you shouldn’t have to add more water.

The U.S. dry beans council says “During cooking, the quantity of water should not exceed a third of the volume.”  They don’t say why.  I would think the percent would depend on whether your beans have been soaked or not.  I assume this statistic is regarding pre-soaked, hydrated beans.  Otherwise it seems way too low.

Shape of pot:  Harold McGee (in his new book, Keys to Good Cooking: a Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes) recommends using a wide pot with a lot of surface area, for faster, more even cooking.

Foam:  What causes it?  How to reduce it (adding oil?)  Should it be removed? What happens if you don’t remove it?  If you don’t remove it will your beans be more likely to boil over?  It seems that if you cook the beans in the soaking water there is more foam.  Does that have anything to do with fermentation, or mineral content of the water?

Cooking/Soaking beans with kombu.  

Some sources claim that dried kombu (the kelp that is used to make dashi stock) neutralizes difficult-to-digest small carbohydrates in beans.  I haven’t seen this tested, but Cook’s Illustrated did test the effect of kombu on flavor and texture.  They say that cooking beans with a strip of kombu “not only boosts bean flavor but also improves texture: Pinto beans soaked and then cooked in water with a strip of kombu had soft skins and smooth interiors; soaked beans cooked in water alone were more grainy and tough.”  They say that the kombu is essentially achieving the same effect as overnight brining, “its sodium and potassium ions trading places with minerals in the beans to create a smoother, creamier consistency.”   However, “dried beans that went directly into the pot with the seaweed were nearly as tender as those that had been soaked in plain water or even brined. ”  In the end that say that if you have time for an overnight brine, then the kombu isn’t really needed, but if you don’t have time for an overnight soak, the kombu helps.  Their recipe:  “In 4 quarts of water, simmer 1 pound of beans, 1 tablespoon of salt (for seasoning), and one 3 by 5-inch strip of kombu until the beans are tender.”   I remember reading some warning somewhere about kombu having extremely high levels of iodine, so if you regularly cook beans with kombu this could be an issue.  I’ll try to find the exact source and write more.

Bean cooking chart

Here’s a table that lists cooking times and the amount of water to add for each type of bean.  A few caveats:  The cooking times also don’t match the table in Laurel’s Kitchen–I’m not sure why.  Also, it’s unclear to me why the amounts of water vary so much.  The table says to add 4 cups of water for 1 cup of black beans.  That sounds like too much to me.  So I’m doing an experiment:  4 cups of black beans (unsoaked, 1 lb 10 oz.), 10 cups of water (still seems like too much), put in a 5 quart pot, covered and brought to a boil, turned down to a low simmer (still covered) and cooked until tender.

From www.thekitchn.com:

How to cook dry beans in the oven:
Heat the oven to 325°. Put 1 pound of beans in a 3-quart (or larger) Dutch oven or pot with a tight-fitting lid. A clay pot is ideal. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1 inch. Put on the lid and bake for 75 minutes. Check the beans and stir them. If they are tender, take them out of the oven. If they aren’t done, put them back in for 15 minute intervals until they are, adding a cup of hot water if they seem to be drying out. This will take at most 2 hours, but will probably take less than 90 minutes.

Fresh vs. canned equivalents:
• Canned vs. freshly-cooked beans: A 15-ounce can of beans will give you about 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups of beans, depending on the size of the beans.  For small beans like black beans I think it’s about 1.6 cups.  For larger beans like kidney or cannellini I think it’s close to 1.5 cups.
• Canned vs. freshly-cooked bean equivalents: 1 pound of beans will give you roughly the same amount as three 15-ounce cans of beans, or about 5 to 5.5? cups.

  • This site says:  One cup of dried beans will expand to 2 – 3 cups cooked beans.  One pound of dried beans equals  5–6 cups cooked beans.  It says that for soaking you should cover with 3 cups of water per 1 cup of beans (or 10 cups water per 1 pound package dried beans).

Permalink 35 Comments

Call for recipes

May 1, 2006 at 2:46 pm (Uncategorized)

My friend brought over some Good Earth® tea, which tastes very cinnamon-y to me, and comforting. I would love to make something similar myself. Anyone have a recipe? I looked online for ingredients:

Good Earth® Original Caffeine Free is a blend of Masai(Rooibos), Rose Hips, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Lemon Grass, Peppermint, Papaya, Anise, Orange Peel, Ginger, Artificial and Natural Flavors.

Good Earth® Original Tea & Herb Blend is a blend of Tea, Rose Hips, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Lemon Grass, Peppermint, Papaya, Anise, Orange Peel, Ginger, Artificial and Natural Flavors.

I can buy all of those things at the co-op, except the papaya. I wonder what form of papaya you’d use to make tea?

I bought some “broccoli slaw” off the salad bar at whole foods. (It was soy-free amazingly enough). I just ate it and it was delicious, and tasted very healthy too. But it was expensive. Anyone have the whole foods cookbook? Is the recipe in there? If not, anyone have a similar recipe. It had brococli, black sesame seeds, red bell peppers, carrots and I’m not sure what else, but no soy or dairy!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Product review: Nut butters

May 1, 2006 at 5:13 am (Product Reviews)


I normally get tahini from the bulk section at the East End Food Coop. I’m not sure if it’s from roasted sesame seeds or not, but it’s never bitter at all. After sitting in the fridge for awhile it separates into sesame oil and a firm paste that tastes almost exactly like halvah to me.

I ran out of tahini recently and couldn’t make it to the co-op so restocked at whole foods with Marantha brand unroasted unsalted tahini. The consistency seems thinner, although maybe it will also separate after sitting in the fridge leaving a firmer paste. It’s also somewhat bitter, and not nearly as tasty to eat by the spoonful. As it has aged, however, it seems that the bitter taste has decreased.

Peanut Butter
At Whole Foods they have peanut butter made from ground honey roasted peanuts–talk about decadent. For more every day needs, Derek swears by Smuckers. He can’t stand the co-op peanut butter but I think it’s okay. It does go rancid if you leave it out of the fridge for a while, however. Derek also claims that all organic peanut butters taste awful. I think this is because almost all organic peanut butters are made from Valencia peanuts, which are a different peanut that grow in drier, more temperate climates, and apparently don’t taste nearly as good (at least to us). Derek’s mom gave us some non-valencia organic peanut butter from Whole Foods though, that tasted fine I thought (Derek was less positive.)

Almond Butter
I love almond butter and honey sandwiches on Ezekiel sesame bread. I haven’t noticed much difference between brands, however, except in price.

Sun butter:  see my review in a separate entry

Permalink Leave a Comment

Ethiopian-style Cabbage (B-)

May 1, 2006 at 5:05 am (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Cruciferous rich, Ethiopian, Vegetable dishes)

My Ethiopian collards were not very successful so I decided to try my hand at Ethiopian cabbage. I couldn’t really find much in terms of a recipe online, so I improvised. This is approximately what I did:

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion
1 jalepeno, seeded, diced
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 carrot, julienned
2 tsp. ginger, minced
5/8 head of savoy cabbage, shredded
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1-2 Tbs. berbere powder

I thought they tasted good, a bit sweet, a bit savory, although not necessarily like the ones at the Ethiopian restaurant. They were very oily. I always forget how greasy cabbage can get. I’d use less oil next time.

Rating: B-
Derek: B-

Permalink 2 Comments