Wintry root vegetable risotto with red beans

November 12, 2016 at 11:35 pm (B plus, Beans, Fall recipes, Grains, Peter Berley, Uncategorized, Winter recipes)

A friend served us this recipe from Peter Berley’s cookbook The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and both Derek and I really liked it. Shredded carrots and parsnips add a bit of sweetness, turnips add a slightly funky note, while the beans add an earthy, hearty feel. Ginger and tomato paste add even more flavor. The original recipe also calls for burdock, but we can’t get it here, so we left it out. I’m sure it would make the dish truly stellar. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kasha casserole with mushrooms, parsnips, carrots, and chickpeas

November 10, 2016 at 2:38 pm (B_, Fall recipes, Grains, Peter Berley, Uncategorized, Winter recipes)

When my mom was visiting she made me kasha with mushrooms, and I quite enjoyed it. I have quite a bit of the toasted groats leftover, and so when I was looking for something to do with parsnips last night, I was excited to come across this recipe in Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast. It came out a bit soupy, but I really liked it! Read the rest of this entry »

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Quinoa Spinach Croquettes, Toddler Approved

February 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm (Alma's faves, B plus, breakfast, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Vegetable dishes, Website / blog) ()

Last month I made broccoli cheddar quinoa bites, and liked them. So I decided to try this recipe for “Quinoa quiche muffins with spinach and cheese.” Although they are called muffins, the recipe is actually quite similar to the previous recipe, except that it calls for spinach instead of broccoli, has more eggs, and uses feta in addition to cheddar. Like before, I made them on a cookie sheet instead of in a muffin tin, to save on cleanup time. Although they are called “quiche muffins,” the way I made them they didn’t have the texture of a typical quiche or of a typical muffin. The texture is more grainy and crumbly, similar to the texture of these five-grain croquettes.

Alma really likes this recipe, and Derek and I enjoy it as well. The croquettes freeze well, and along with a piece of fruit they make an easy quick breakfast. I’ve made this recipe at least 5 times since I originally posted it (often with a slight variation), and it’s always a hit. It also works well as a take-along snack—just bring the frozen croquette with you and it will probably be defrosted by the time you get there. It’s fine room temperature. Just don’t giveit to your toddler inside without a plate because it can be a bit crumbly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quinoa broccoli cheddar croquettes

January 7, 2016 at 9:30 pm (breakfast, B_, Cruciferous rich, Grains, Website / blog)

After the disappointment of November’s double broccoli quinoa recipe, I was surprised when Derek picked another broccoli quinoa recipe to try. This one for broccoli cheddar quinoa bites is easier though. Once you have the quinoa cooked you just chop some broccoli, grate the cheese, mince a few cloves of garlic, and mix it all together and bake it. Easy peasy broccolisy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Brown rice supper with tofu, peanut sauce, and stir-fried carrots

December 31, 2015 at 12:07 pm (B_minus, Deborah Madison, East and SE Asia, Fall recipes, Grains, Root vegetables, Sauce/dressing, Spring recipes, Tofu, Uncategorized, Winter recipes)

In the 70s and 80s many vegetarian restaurants offered some kind of brown rice bowl, which consisted of some combination of borwn rice, tofu, beans, veggies, and a sauce. In NYC in Angelica Kitchen they called it the Dragon Bowl. It’s simple, hearty, co-op food—nothing fancy, but tasty and filling. So when I asked Derek to pick a recipe for dinner last night, he picked this “brown rice supper” menu from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers cookbook. Read the rest of this entry »

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Double Broccoli Quinoa Recipe

November 16, 2015 at 9:40 pm (101 cookbooks, B_, Cruciferous rich, Grains, Sauce/dressing, Uncategorized)

We are big broccoli fans here. Even Alma loves broccoli. And pesto? Yes. So a double broccoli quinoa recipe with broccoli and broccoli pesto from 101cookbooks  — sounded great.  But it ended up being a surprising amount of work, and had an awfully lot of fat for something that didn’t taste particularly decadent. We didn’t love it. And there were a few things about the recipe that we found odd. Read the rest of this entry »

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California barley bowl with arugula, avocado, seeds, and feta

December 31, 2014 at 4:39 pm (101 cookbooks, breakfast, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Necessarily nonvegan, Salads, Starches, unrated)

This was another pantry-cleaning-inspired selection. I wanted to use up some whole (unhulled) barley, and Derek and I chose this refreshing-sounding recipe for a barley salad from the 101 cookbooks website. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pumpkin risotto with sage and arugula

December 31, 2014 at 4:30 pm (Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Grains, Italian, Meyer & Romano, Necessarily nonvegan, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

I’m doing an end-of-the-year pantry cleaning, and wanted to use up some risotto rice. Derek and I looked at a couple of different recipes and finally decided on this pumpkin risotto recipe from the Union Square Cookbook. The recipe first has you make a pumpkin broth using standard vegetable broth ingredients (onion, leek, celery, carrots, etc.) as well as 2 cups canned pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Once the broth is made, you make the risotto, adding diced winter squash along with the rice, and then tossing in fresh sage, arugula, and mozzarella right before serving. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bean, barley, cabbage stew with bear garlic pesto

April 12, 2014 at 10:21 pm (101 cookbooks, Beans, Beans and greens, Derek's faves, Grains, Miso, One pot wonders, soup, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

I found some small red beans in the Turkish store near my house last week. I snapped them up, excited to add something a bit different to my usual rotation (black beans, cranberry beans, kidney beans, white beans, lentils, various kinds of dals, chickpeas, and split mung beans). I cooked up a big pot of red beans, then had to figure out how to make a full dinner out of them. I searched all my cookbooks for recipes for red beans (with the convenient eatyourbooks.com website) and found this 101cookbooks recipe for a farro and bean stew. Amazingly, I had (almost) all the ingredients.

The recipe looked pretty plain. It’s just veggies and beans and grains without any spices or herbs, not even garlic—the only seasoning is salt. So I decided to use the Bärlauch I had in the fridge to make a Bärlauch pesto. I tried to look up what Bärlauch is called in the states, and found a number of translations. Wikipedia says “Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear’s garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia.” It’s a broad, bright green leaf that tastes strongly of garlic, and (as I discovered this week) lasts quite a long time in the fridge! I had it in a plastic bag in the fridge all week and it didn’t seem at all the worse for the waiting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Buckwheat vegetable pancakes with spicy yogurt sauce

February 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm (B_minus, Cruciferous rich, Grains, Peter Berley, Sauce/dressing, Spring recipes, Starches, Winter recipes)

Derek and I picked this recipe from the winter section of Fresh Food Fast for dinner last night.  The pancakes are supposed to be chock full of shredded cabbage, grated carrot, scallions, and dill.  Instead of adding the shredded green cabbage, however,  I used some of my homemade sauerkraut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Roasted delicata squash with quinoa salad

December 27, 2012 at 4:35 pm (B_minus, Grains, Salads, Vegetable dishes, Website / blog)

I saw delicata squash in Saarbruecken for the first time this year, and was so excited I bought all of them.  But my mom told me that they don’t last as long as other winter squashes with harder skins, so I asked Derek to choose a recipe to use up some of them.  He chose this recipe from a “lighter cooking” section of Food and Wine magazine. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hot and sour tofu and rice soup

November 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm (breakfast, B_, C, East and SE Asia, Grains, soup, Spring recipes, Tofu, Winter recipes)

I’ve never actually had hot and sour soup before, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to taste like.  But Derek has fond memories of it, so I thought I’d give this recipe from the AMA cookbook a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Anjelica Home Kitchen cookbook

July 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm (Grains, Other, Salads, Sauce/dressing, Tempeh, unrated)

I really liked the tagine recipe that I made from the Anjelica Home Kitchen cookbook last week, so I decided to try a few other recipes.  Brief notes are below.

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Rice and sesame pancakes

July 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm (101 cookbooks, breakfast, Grains, Necessarily nonvegan, Starches, unrated)

I had a three-grain pilaf that I needed to use up, and was looking for recipes that call for leftover grain, when I found this rice and sesame pancake recipe from 101cookbooks.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Congee with bok choy and scallion oil

April 24, 2012 at 11:18 pm (breakfast, B_, Chinese, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Spring recipes, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

When I visited China I found it quite difficult to find vegetarian food, but I usually didn’t have to worry about breakfast.  Most hotels offered a big pot of congee–basically porridge made from white rice.  It seems to be the Chinese version of oatmeal, except that instead of maple fruit, nuts, and fruits, the congee was served with meats, stir-fried vegetables, chili pastes, and pickles of various sorts.  I really enjoyed the combination of the hot creamy congee and the stir-fried Chinese greens.   An excellent breakfast.  Today I had some bok choy that I wanted to use up and I was excited to come across this New York Times recipe for congee with bok choy and scallion oil.  It’s from a vegetarian Chinese cookbook:  “From the earth: Chinese vegetarian cooking” by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegetable, lentil, and grain croquettes

February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm (Beans, B_minus, Grains, Peter Berley)

I really like the five-grain croquettes in Peter Berley’s cookbook Modern Vegetarian Kitchen (especially the amaranth), but Derek was never a big fan of them.  Since he’s out of town this week, I thought it would be a good chance to finally try Berley’s other croquette recipe from the same cookbook.  This recipe is a bit different in that it uses fewer grains (only white rice, quinoa, and millet), but adds in red lentils, sesame seeds, and chopped sweet potato, plus the seasoning is a little different (garlic, ginger, celery, scallions, and parsley). Read the rest of this entry »

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Quinoa and winter squash potage

December 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm (B plus, Fall recipes, Grains, Quick weeknight recipe, Rebecca Wood, soup, Winter recipes)

Butternut squash season is short-lived here in Germany.  It seems to be available only for about six weeks, starting in early October.  I bought a bunch of butternut squashes, but somehow managed to use them all, save one, by early December!  I decided to use my last half of a butternut squash to try this simple soup recipe from the quinoa chapter in Rebecca Wood’s cookbook the Splendid Grain.  Wood is an expert on quinoa.  She was travelling around Peru and Bolivia researching her book Quinoa: The Supergrain in the mid 80’s, long before almost anyone else in the States had even heard of quinoa.

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Seitanic red and white bean jambalaya

September 10, 2011 at 10:05 pm (Beans, B_, Caribbean, Grains, Isa C. Moskowitz, Seitan)

This is actually the second recipe I tried from Veganomicon.  (I’m blogging in reverse order today.)  It’s a mix of veggies (the cajun holy trinity–onions, celery, and bell pepper), rice, kidney beans, seitan, tomato sauce, and spices. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cafe Gratitude Sushi Rice Bowl

July 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm (B_, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Japanese, Other)

I had a delicious smoothie at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley right before I moved to Germany.   I never got a chance to try their food though, so when I saw this recipe for a sushi rice bowl based on Cafe Gratitude’s “I Am Accepting” I decided to give it a try.  The recipe says it serves 2-3, depending on how hungry you are. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bengalese kamut and coconut stuffing

June 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm (B_, Derek's faves, Grains, Indian, Rebecca Wood)

This post was originally entitled Grilled bitter melon stuffed with kamut and coconut.  The bitter melon was a disaster, but the Indian-flavored stuffing was quite tasty, and I finally got around to making it again, over five years later.  Rebecca Wood says the flavorings are a mix of New Mexican and Bengalese, but I get more of an Indian vibe than a New Mexican one.  I served this as a side dish with roasted cauliflower, but it would also be good as a stuffing for other veggies:  cabbage leaves, small pumpkins, summer squash…

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Quinoa and pinto bean loaf

May 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm (Beans, B_minus, Grains, Miso, Ron Pickarski)

I have recently acquired a new cookbook, and so according to my one in, one out policy, one of my old cookbooks has got to go.  Scanning the shelf, Ron Pickarski’s book Friendly Foods caught my eye.  It’s a vegan cookbook published in 1991, and written by a Franciscan monk.  It includes quite a few seitan, tempeh, and tofu recipes, and a whole section on recipes for which the author won a medal in the Culinary Olympics!  I used Friendly Foods a few times in college, but (as far as I recall) not since then.  It seemed a good choice to pass on.   But I couldn’t get rid of it without giving it at least one last chance to wow me.  So Derek and I sat down and picked a few recipes to try.  The first one I made was this quinoa loaf.  It’s mostly quinoa mixed with celery, pinto beans, some other veggies, and seasonings.  It sounded a bit strange but I like quinoa a lot and I had just made a pot of pinto beans, so I decided I’d give it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quinoa with brussels sprouts, tempeh, and toasted almonds

March 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm (B_, Fall recipes, Grains, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, Tempeh)

I’ve been eying this recipe in Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast for quite a while now.  I love brussels sprouts and I’m always looking for new tempeh recipes.  The recipe is basically a stir-fry.  You saute onion and caraway seeds, add tempeh and a sliced bell pepper, then toss in the halved brussels sprouts, water, soy sauce, and mirin.  The stir-fry is served over quinoa and sprinkled with toasted almonds and a squirt of lemon juice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Braised wild rice with cranberries and sage

November 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm (AMA, C, Fall recipes, Grains, Winter recipes)

This is another Thanksgiving-y recipe from the AMA family health cookbook.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Fruit and nut bulgur dressing

November 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm (AMA, B_, Fall recipes, Grains, Winter recipes)

As Thanksgiving is approaching, I’ve started experimenting with possible recipes for this year’s feast. This modern stuffing from the AMA Family Health cookbook looked tasty, and pretty easy, so I made it for dinner a few weeks ago, along with barbecued tempeh and some roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

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Millet and vegetable pilaf

June 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm (C, Grains, Peter Berley, Salads)

This recipe is from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen and the head note just cracks me up.  Berley calls millet a “curmudgeonly uncle” who needs a good deal of “buttering up”.  I’ve always liked the dry austerity of millet, but I’m sure Derek would agree with Berley’s description. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cook’s Illustrated Veggie Burgers

May 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm (Beans, B_, Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Grains, Spring recipes, Vegetable dishes, Winter recipes)

Cook’s Illustrated’s veggie burger recipe is (as always) fastidious to a fault, and as a result quite labor intensive.  It’s also a bit light on vegetables.  But the burger tastes good and holds together well, even on the grill.  It’s definitely a good place to start when learning the art of creating veggie burgers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Creamy celery root, leek, and barley soup

April 26, 2010 at 12:00 am (B plus, French, Georgeanne Brennan, Grains, Root vegetables, soup, Starches, Winter recipes)

Derek and I are going to spend a few days in Paris next week–just in time for his 30th birthday!  In anticipation of the trip, I recently bought the cookbook France: The Vegetarian Table, by Georgeann Brennan.  The Vegetarian Table is a series of cookbooks written by different authors, one per country.  In addition to the France cookbook, there is a cookbook for American, Japan, Indian, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, and North Africa.  (When I lived in the co-op in college we had the Japan cookbook and I made excellent pickled ginger using their recipe._  One thing that I really like about the French cookbook is that it offers recipes using produce appropriate to every season.  Mediterranean cookbooks so often rely almost entirely on vegetables that are local here only in the summer–peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.  But Brennan includes recipes that uses Spring vegetables, and ones that use vegetables that are available in the winter.  Here in Saarbruecken we’re just starting to see the first of the Spring vegetables, but I’ve been stuffed up lately, and so I was craving hot soup rather than fresh Spring vegetables.  I decided to try one of the winter recipes instead.

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Farro and yellow soybean risotto with spinach

March 24, 2010 at 12:33 am (B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Italian, Peter Berley, Soybeans & edamame, Spring recipes, Starches)

It’s that time of year again.  As Passover approaches I try my best to do a Spring pantry cleaning, using up all the grains and beans that I purchased in the previous year but never got around to using.  I bought a large bag of dry yellow soybeans at the Asian store when I first moved to Saarbruecken, and I suspect that the two cups still in my cupboard are from that original batch.  I could have just cooked them up and eaten them with nutritional yeast and soy sauce, as I normally do, but I was in the mood for something different.  I looked around on the web, but found very few recipes, and almost nothing of interest.  The Farm Cookbook has a couple recipes for soybeans that I remember from my childhood, but the only one that I considered trying was the recipe for barbecued soybeans (kind of like baked beans).  Then I found this recipe in the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley, for a risotto with black soybeans and spring white wheat.  I subbed in my yellow soybeans for the black ones, and used farro for the wheatberries.  The recipe also calls for fresh sage, but I used what I had on hand — fresh oregano.

The recipe says to cook the soybeans and wheat berries separately from the rice.  Perhaps because my soybeans were quite old, by the time the soybeans were soft, the farro was extremely well-cooked — with the innards exploding through the husks.  I didn’t have any vegetable broth, so I used bouillon cubes.  The recipe says to use 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, but I put in more oregano, and then after the dish was cooked, I put in about another Tbsp of fresh oregano.  (I think almost all fresh herbs taste best added at the very end.)  The recipe calls for 4 Tbsp olive oil, but I think I used 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1-2? Tbsp butter.  Berley says to stir in 1 Tbsp olive oil at the very end, but I tasted the risotto and it tasted so good I didn’t bother to add the extra olive oil.  I think I may have also reduced the salt.

Berley says to cook the risotto in a 2-3 quart saucepan, and I used my 3-quart wide casserole pan.  When it came to adding the spinach, however, it was extremely difficult to get it incorporated into the risotto.  Even just adding small handfuls at a time, it kept popping out and getting all over the place.  If I make this again, I’ll make it in either my big dutch oven or maybe in a 5-quart pan.

I really liked the combination of the arborio rice and the exploded farro kernels.  Berley calls the combination of arborio rice with whole grains and beans “new wave risotto”.  I actually think I might prefer it to the old wave.  There weren’t a lot of soybeans, and you couldn’t really taste them per se, but they added a nice textural contrast and a little…heft.  I’m usually not a big fan of spinach, but I actually really liked the spinach in this dish.  Derek always likes spinach, and as expected he thought it was good.  The first time I served it, he said it was tasty but he was a bit concerned about the quantity of risotto remaining.  Berley says it makes 4-6 servings, but I would say six very large servings.  Derek’s anxiety, however, was unfounded.  We easily polished off all six servings.  I actually wouldn’t have minded having it one more time!

Rating: B+
Derek: B+

Update:

I liked this recipe a lot, and I still had soybeans and farro left, so I decided to try another recipe from the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen:  Spelt, black soybeans, and vegetable casserole.  The casserole calls for carrots, mushrooms, celery, canned tomatoes and cabbage.  The combination didn’t sound particularly appetizing, but I liked the risotto so I figured it was worth a shot.  I cooked my (yellow) soybeans until soft, then added the farro and cooked until it was al dente.  Meanwhile I sauteed all the veggies until they started to caramelize.  (I used all the olive oil and salt called for.) Next Berley says to add the tomatoes and some of the cooking liquid from the grain/bean pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  It seemed like a bad idea.  At this point the cabbage was nice and crisp and caramelized, but I didn’t think the cabbage would be so appetizing after simmering it for 30 minutes.  I did it anyway.  In the end, I didn’t care for the dish that much.  There wasn’t anything wrong with it exactly, but neither Derek nor I were particularly interested in eating it.  It just was blah. We had one or two servings each, then I gave away the remaining quart of casserole/stew to a hungry grad student.

Rating: C

Update December 2010:

I made this recipe again, doubling it this time.   I was out of farro so used kamut instead.  Also I forgot to chop up the spinach, and the long, stringy pieces of spinach were pretty unappetizing.  The dish was also underseasoned this time.  Without enough salt and pepper it’s not nearly as tasty.  Derek wouldn’t even eat the leftovers–I had to finish them off myself.  I’ll have to try again with farro, chopped spinach, and enough seasoning.

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Saffron Risotto

January 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Grains, Italian, Jack Bishop, Necessarily nonvegan, Spring recipes, unrated, Winter recipes)

My friend Alex and I took a walk along the river Saar this evening.  Despite the cold, the damp, the dark, and the mist, I had a lovely walk.  In the course of our conversation, we started talking about saffron, and I realized I’d never posted one of our favorite risotto’s to my blog:   saffron risotto.  This dish is plain, but very satisfying. The daisy-yellow color and creamy consistency make me feel like I’m eating macaroni and cheese. There’s just something about saffron that tastes like comfort food to me, even though I never had it growing up.  I can’t actually remember the first time I ever ate saffron, but it very well might have been the first time we made this saffron risotto!

The recipe we typically use is based on a recipe from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. The saffron flavor is maximized by dissolving it in a little hot stock then adding it to the rice toward the end of the cooking time.  Bishop’s recipe is good, but quite rich.  We usually cut down on the butter quite a bit.

Below I’ve compared Jack Bishop’s recipe to the saffron risotto recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Light Recipe.   I believe Jack Bishop works for Cook’s Illustrated, so it’s a bit odd that the recipe aren’t more similar. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nikki’s no-sugar, no-flour cookies

December 31, 2009 at 1:54 am (101 cookbooks, Cookies, Dessert, Grains, unrated)

I accidentally left my freezer open last night and everything in it defrosted.  I’m taking it as a higher power’s way of telling me it’s time to do some New Year’s cleaning.  I decided to start with a ziploc bag full of now uber-soggy bananas.  I was going to make banana bread when I came across the recipe for Nikki’s healthy cookies on the 101 cookbooks blog.  I’ve made vegan cookies with banana before (from the Rancho la Puerta cookbook I think) and they were terrible–fluffy and too-banana-y and not really anything like a cookie.  But the comments on Nikki’s recipe were almost universally positive, so I decided to give it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tofu and millet patties

December 27, 2009 at 11:10 pm (B_minus, Grains, The Vegan Gourmet, Tofu)

I wanted to use up some leftover millet, and decided to try a variation on the tofu patties in The Vegan Gourmet.  I figured I’d try out one more recipe before passing it on.  The recipe calls for bulgur rather than millet, but I figured the two grains are similar enough, and the substitution should work okay.

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Moroccan tempeh tagine with spring vegetables

June 4, 2009 at 1:59 am (B plus, Derek's faves, Grains, Middle East / N. Africa, Peter Berley, Spring recipes, Tempeh)

I finally found tempeh in Saarbrücken.  I’m so excited!  It’s a beautiful tempeh too:  big and fat and covered in a soft white layer that looks almost like paper.  I tried to take it off at first before I realized it was part of the tempeh.  Rather than use the tempeh in one of our old tempeh recipes, we decide to try a new one from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast.  We chose one of the spring menus:  charmoula baked tempeh with vegetable couscous.  Apparently charmoula is a spicy Moroccan marinade.  Derek was worried, as he claims not to like Moroccan food but I thought the combination of spices looked good. Read the rest of this entry »

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Farro Risotto with Three Mushrooms

December 21, 2008 at 12:42 pm (B_, Grains, Italian, My brain, restaurant inspired)

In October Derek and I took a trip to Tuscany.  The highlight of our trip was the four nights we spent in Southern Tuscany, at Terre di Nano, an estate perched on a hilltop halfway between Montepulciano and the tiny medieval village of Montechiello.   When we arrived at Terre di Nano our first night, it was quite late, and the manager suggested we eat dinner at a nearby restaurant: La Porta, in Montechiello.  The drive took less than ten minutes, but it felt longer because the road was narrow, unpaved, and pitch dark.  Despite the fact that Montechiello is a tiny village, and off the main road, La Porta was almost completely full; a large group of about 20 Americans took up over half of the tables.  The hostess sat us upstairs on a balcony overlooking the main dining room.  Although the couple at the neighboring table kept complaining about the cigarette smoke wafting down from the attic kitchen, I didn’t notice it.  I quite enjoyed our balcony perch; I liked watching from above as the waitresses brought out the food for all the other guests. We had a lovely, if not spectacular dinner at La Porta, and headed back to Terre di Nano.

The next morning at breakfast we met all the other Terre di Nano guests, and discovered that almost all of them had also eaten dinner at La Porta the previous evening!  One woman (the one who had been complaining about the cigarette smoke) could not stop raving about their mushroom barley risotto.  She said it was the best risotto she’d ever had. I was skeptical, as I’ve never had a barley risotto that I’ve liked.  Still, when we headed back to La Porta a few nights later, I decided to take a chance, and ordered the mushroom barley risotto.  It was excellent.  The texture of the risotto was creamy, but each grain was perfectly chewy and nutty tasting.  The mushroom flavor was intense, but not overpowering.  Even after finishing the (quite) large dish of risotto, I wasn’t tired of it.  It was anything but the one-note, overly-rich dish I was expecting.

My only objection to the risotto was directed at the menu’s claim that it was a barley risotto.  I’ve had pearled barley, and hulled barley, but this didn’t taste like either.  The grains had more fiber and heft than pearled barley, and more chew and flavor than hulled barley.  I suspected that the risotto was actually made with farro, a local Tuscan grain.  I asked the waitress to confirm that the risotto was really made with barley—she said yes.  Then I noticed that behind me was a shelf of local agricultural products that the restaurant was offering up for sale.  The shelf contained both barley and farro.  I held them up to the waitress and asked which was in the risotto.  She looked back and forth between them a few times, then said she had to ask the chef.  When she returned, she confirmed that the risotto was indeed made from farro.

Our waitress and menu aren’t the only ones confused about the difference between farro and barley.  All over the internet you see confusion about whether farro is the same as barley, the same as spelt, or some other grain entirely.  There was an even an article about farro in the New York Times recently, which attempted to debunk some of the misconceptions about farro.

Farro is not barley, but wheat.  The wheat family encompasses a number of related grains, including durum wheat (used to make pasta), spelt, common wheat (used to make bread flour), and kamut.  The precise name for Farro is Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), and it is more closely related to durum wheat and common wheat than to spelt. From Wikipedia, the major domesticated forms of wheat:

* Common wheat or Bread wheat — (T. aestivum) A hexaploid species that is the most widely cultivated in the world. [note: called der Weizen in German]
* Durum — (T. durum) The only tetraploid form of wheat widely used today, and the second most widely cultivated wheat. [note: often used to make pasta, called Glasweizen or Hartweizen in German, according to Leo ]
* Einkorn — (T. monococcum) A diploid species with wild and cultivated variants. Domesticated at the same time as emmer wheat, but never reached the same importance.
* Emmer — (T. dicoccon) A tetraploid species, cultivated in ancient times but no longer in widespread use. [note: most commonly eaten now in Italy, but also still used in other countries like Switzerland]
* Spelt — (T. spelta) Another hexaploid species cultivated in limited quantities. [note: now more popular in the States among the “bio” set, apparently called der Dinkel or der Spelz in German]

Kamut is another wheat variety, with unusually elongated grains.  Unheard of 20 years ago, lately Kamut has been growing in popularity in the states. Kamut’s taxonomical classification is still unclear: some say it represents a unique species, others say it’s simply a form of durum wheat, whereas others argues it’s a hybrid of durum wheat and another wheat. I’ve found Kamut in Germany in my local Biofrischmarkt, under the name Kamut.

Oops, back to mushroom farro risotto.

Determined to recreate La Porta’s risotto, I returned from Italy with a pound of farro (purchased from La Porta for 3 euros, compared to the 9-10 dollars you’ll pay in New York), and a bag of dried porcini mushrooms.  I spent some time searching around on the web to try to figure out the best way to cook farro for risotto, but found a lack of consensus.  Some people said just to boil farro in water as you would pasta, then once it’s tender add in butter and cheese to make it creamy.  Other recipes suggsted parboiling the farro, then treating it as if it were arborio rice.  I decided to go with the latter method, as I thought it would result in a creamier risotto, without requiring a huge amount of butter and cheese.

I started out by boiling 2.25 cups of farro in 5 cups of water for 20 minutes.  I ended up with about 8 cups of semi-cooked farro.  I soaked the porcini mushrooms, and cooked the button mushrooms ahead of time, because Derek is picky about overcooked mushrooms.  He likes them plump and juicy, and I was afraid that after 20 – 30 minutes of simmering they’d be dried out and tough. Besides holding the mushrooms aside until the last five minutes of cooking, I followed a standard risotto technique, using the following ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 cups of parboiled farro
  • vegetable broth, plus the strained soaking liquid from the dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1.25 pounds white button mushrooms
  • a bit of red wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter (1 in the mushrooms, 1 for the onions, and 1 after the risotto was done)
  • 1 shallot + a bit of red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1.75 ounces parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • porcini salt and truffle salt
  • a pinch of sugar

The risotto turned out really well.  It had the same great chewy/creamy texture as La Porta’s version, and good flavor, although perhaps not quite as good as La Porta’s version.  Even Derek, who was very skeptical about my ability to replicate the original, said that it was excellent.

I ended up eating the rest of the farro plain, either for breakfast with soymilk and a bit of granola, or just treating it like brown rice.  It was delicious.  Farro is definitely now one of my favorite grains.

More about my farro: The label says Farro Decorticato, and it’s from Az. Agr. Barbi, which is apparently near Monticchiello.  I think decorticato means hulled.  The bag weighs 500 grams. I think it’s organic because it says “da agricoltura biologica.”  To prepare the farro, the label says to wash in cold water, then cook in a pot for 40 minutes.  It says it serves five people.

Update December 13, 2009:

I cooked 1.5 cups farro in 3 cups vegetable broth.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer, and cooked until all the liquid was absorbed, about 35 minutes I think.  This produced 5 cups of al dente farro.  I used 4 cups for the risotto.  I sauteed 1.5 pounds mushrooms in 1 Tbs. butter, and added 1/4 cup white wine and some soy sauce (1/2 Tbs.?).  The mushrooms didn’t end up salty enough.  When the mushrooms were cooked but still quite fat and juicy, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.

I sauted the shallot and red onion (about 1/2 cup) in 1 Tbs. of butter and 1 Tbs. of olive oil, then added 2 garlic cloves chopped.  I added the 4 cups of parboiled farro, and some red wine (1/2 cup I think).  Then I added the liquid from the porcini mushrooms and more vegetable broth.  The farro ended up too soft.  I think I pre-cooked it too long.  Next time I would start with 1 cup of farro and 1.5 cups of vegetable broth, cooked for 20 minutes only.

At the end I added in the soaked, chopped porcini mushrooms and the cooked button mushrooms, and about 1/2 tsp. salt, then beat in the final 1 Tbs. of butter. We were out of truffle salt, and that definitely resulted in a less mushroom-y tasting dish.  It was still tasty, but less mushroomy.  We garnished the risotto with parmesan.  It was tasty, but not as good as last time.  I liked it with al dente farro much better than the somewhat soft farro I ended up with this time.

Derek rated this recipe a B+.  I would give it a B due to the texture and the absence of truffle salt.  With a few fixes it would definitely be a B+.

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Baked polenta slathered in carmelized onions

December 21, 2008 at 8:43 am (101 cookbooks, Grains, unrated)

At the local Turkish market last month I bought an enormous bag of yellow onions for a pittance.  Although I use onions all the time, after a month I’d barely made a dent in the bag.  Afraid that the onions would start to go bad if I didn’t increase my pace, I started searching around for onion-demanding recipes.  I considering attempting vegetarian onion soup, but instead ended up trying Heidi Swanson’s recipe for cornmeal crunch—essentially baked polenta slathered in carmelized onions.  The recipe calls for medium grind cornmeal, but I wasn’t sure what that means.  Is that supposed to refer to a not too coarse polenta grind, or a very coarse cornmeal grind?  I can only find two types of cornmeal here in Germany: a very fine cornmeal, and a quite coarse polenta.  I decided to take the middle ground:  I civilized my coarse polenta by pulsing it a few times in my mini-processor.

The water to cornmeal ratio in Heidi’s recipes seemed quite low (2-to-1).  After cooking the cornmeal the porridge wasn’t really pourable, as I had expected it to be, so I added a bit more water to thin the cornmeal down before pouring it into the baking dish.  Perhaps this is why my cornmeal didn’t turn out particularly crunchy, or perhaps it’s because I used a polenta grind instead of a cornmeal grind.  Along with the extra water, I also added more salt than the recipe called for, as I didn’t think 1/2 tsp. was enough for a full 1.5 cups of cornmeal. In retrospect, however, 1/2 tsp. of salt is probably a reasonable amount, considering the low amount of water called for.   Normally I use at least 4-to-1 water to cornmeal, so I end up with a lot more polenta, and as a result need more salt.

When it came time to stir 2/3 of the carmelized onions into the polenta I couldn’t do it—I didn’t think there’d be enough onions left to cover the top of the polenta.  Instead, I stirred less than half of the onions into the cornmeal, and then spread the remaining onions over the top of the cornmeal.  This was a mistake.  I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, and didn’t realize that you were supposed to spread the onions over the top only after the cornmeal is cooked.  As a result, my onions started burning after only about 20 minutes, and I pulled the polenta out of the oven early (perhaps another reason my polenta didn’t end up very crunchy).  Still, the polenta was delicious.  It was very flavorful (and very rich).  Everyone liked it.  I’ll definitely make it again, following the recipe more precisely this time, but maybe using more onions.

Update January 11th:  I didn’t civilize my coarse polenta this time, but just used it as it was.  I added only the suggested amount of water and salt, and stirred in 2/3 of the onions as instructed.  I was out of parmesan, however, so simply left it out.  I baked the polenta for the full 45 minutes this time, then spread the remaining onions over the top.  The final polenta was not nearly as good as last time.  It was simply okay the first night, and not at all appealing as leftovers.  I’m not sure if it was the absence of parmesan, or the smaller amount of water, or the longer cooking period.  Whatever it was, I wouldn’t make it this way again.  I also thought the carmelized onions were a bit too wormlike.  I preferred them like they were last time–a bit on the charred side, but less slimy.

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Basic Oatmeal from Rolled Oats

October 19, 2008 at 11:01 am (breakfast, Grains, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Soymilk, unrated)

I much prefer oatmeal made from steel-cut oats to oatmeal made from rolled oats, but I haven’t been able to find steel-cut oats in Germany yet. Plus, Derek prefers the flaky texture of rolled oats. Here’s the basic recipe we’ve been using.

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • just under 2 cups of liquid (milk, soymilk, water, or a combination)
  • pinch salt

Turn the heat down to medium but keep at a steady simmer, stirring occasionally. If the oatmeal starts to splatter, turn the heat down a little more. Cook until liquid starts to turn creamy, and individual flakes are just starting to break down. When done remove from heat and top with:

  • 2/3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar

For variety try adding one (or more) of the following:

  • shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • chopped nuts or seeds (whole or sliced almonds, hemp hearts, pecans, walnuts…)
  • raisins or other dried fruit
  • fresh fruit (bananas, apples,…)
  • use almond or other nut extract instead of the vanilla
  • cocao nibs or chocolate chips

This makes two servings, although we usually don’t split it evenly.  I have a small serving made from 1/3 of a cup of dried rolled oats and Derek has a larger serving made from 2/3 of a cup of dried rolled oats.

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