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Meatless Monday: Black Bean Soup

It’s officially fall.  I think we’re going to have Black Bean Soup tonight.

This is a delicious and easy soup, and like so many soups it can be a very nice template for all kinds of things you’d like to get out of the fridge. But the basic recipe is here:

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Basic Black Bean Soup

In a saucepan, saute 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in a little oil till soft.  If desired, add chopped bell or other peppers and saute. (If it weren’t meatless Monday, a little bit of ham is nice to add here too…but it’s Monday.)

Add 1-2 cups vegetable stock

Add 2 cups cooked black beans, drained or not, as you wish. You can use canned or some you made earlier in quantity.

Season with 1-2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp oregano, up to 2 tsp of your favorite chili powder blend, and/or a few drops hot sauce.

If you wish, attack just a little with an immersion blender, or remove a cup or two of soup into a blender or food processor, to thicken. Alternatively, if you use canned beans, use half and half whole beans and “fat free refried” beans (essentially just mashed up). Or completely mashed ones.  It’s your dinner.

Serve with a dollop of plain creamy yogurt and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

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Yummers.  If you like, you can decrease the broth by a lot and serve this over rice; it’s just as good.

Enjoy!

(UPDATE: and after all that, I got home from work to realize I’d used up all my black beans when I made chili last week…so we had pasta instead.  Sigh…)

Meatless Monday–Supernachos!

Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties.  (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)

Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?

Er…me neither.

The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.

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Bean and Cheese Supernachos

Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)

Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.

Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.

Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple.  (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)

Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like.  Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)

Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well.  Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice.  (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.

Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)

Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

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Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all.  But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around.  Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.

But there’s something about those nachos…

Pass the jalapenos, please. 😉

Afternoon of domesticity (crockpot rice pudding risotto)

This is my busiest work week of the year.  It’s insane.  Way too much to do, and way more organization than my brain can deal with.  (I’m just not a linear thinker, I tend to jump around–and this week I not only have to be linear and cover a lot of big-picture and small-detail bases, but I have to do it in several linear streams at once. Oy.)

Yesterday afternoon I had a little respite, though, and in my usual vein, rather than doing something intelligent like, oh, taking a nap, I went into this burst of homey activity.  None of it was difficult, but it was all the kind of thing that I hope will yield long-lasting (through the week, at least) rewards.

Risotto Rice Pudding in the Crockpot–This is one of my favorite comfort foods, right after baked egg custard (which I now know how to make in the microwave).  I previously posted a recipe for making this rice pudding in the oven, which was absolutely delicious, but tonight I tried it in the crock instead.  Lower maintenance, and easier to make more of.   It was yummy, and much easier than any of my previous incarnations–I put 8 cups of milk, 1 cup arborio rice, and 8 tbs. sugar into the crockpot, added a few generous shakes of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and ground cloves (very generous with the cinnamon; not as generous with the cloves), maybe a tsp. of vanilla extract, and cooked it all on low for about 3-4 hours. I was lifting the lid and stirring a lot during the last hour, too.  In the meantime, I soaked 2/3 of a cup or so of currants in maybe half a cup of frangelico liqueur–you could use brandy or any other liqueur if you wanted, or cream sherry would be nice too–or you could use juice if you don’t want any alcohol–for the duration.  At the end of the 3-4 hours when the rice was all soft and the whole thing had a sort of creamy texture (it thickens up a good bit when it cools), I dumped the currants and liqueur into the pudding. (Most recipes say to drain the currants; I say the hell with that.) Stir it up good–since the pudding is still steaming hot, I figure most of the alcohol cooks off, right?  I added a lot more spices at this point too, to sort of freshen them. This is a lovely, yummy, comforting pudding with no fat in it beyond whatever was in your milk to begin with, and not an excessive amount of sugar either. (Verdict from later that night…okay, this is beyond lovely and yummy, this is flipping AMBROSIA.)

Black Beans–now that my husband is allowed to reintroduce some of his potentially allergic foods one at a time, we’re starting with the black beans.  I did the quick-soak method (bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, turn off the heat, let sit covered for at least an hour), then drained and rinsed them and simmered them slowly for a couple of hours with a little salt and thyme in the water. (I would have used a bay leaf, but I discovered too late that I’m out.) These will go into chili, burritos, quesadillas, soups, heck, all over the place!  And I will freeze a bunch of them by putting half a cup into each muffin tin and freezing them, so when I need to thaw smaller quantities they’ll be there and ready to go.  They’re also really easy in the crockpot, but my crockpot was busy and my counter too messy to allow for two going at once. Sigh.

Brown Rice–again, cooked in quantity, it’s something I can pull out all week for breakfasts, snacks, dinners, to throw under chili, whatever.  Two parts water to one cup rice, simmer half an hour or so till done.  I make 6-8 cups at a time and they last the week.

Chili–okay, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s what the rice and beans were in preparation for…and The Man has been Craving Meat.  So I bought a measly pound of organic ground beef (which I know is still not sustainable for all its organic-ness–but if doing this once every 4 months or so can keep the “why don’t we eat more meat” pleas at bay, it’s worth it), and into the crock this morning I threw the beef, a bag of frozen bell peppers, a chopped up onion, and a few cups of beans.  Threw a few tablespoons of chili powder on top of that and added some extra ground chilis and garlic, a pinch of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a good shake of cinnamon, and threw a can or two of diced tomatoes on top of that.  When I come home from work I’ll futz with it and check out the seasonings, make sure they’re what I want them to be, and doubtless add a bunch  more chili powder and other seasonings.  This chili is not particularly sexy, no one’s famous secret family recipe, nothing to go “ohmigodwow” over–but it’s a good solid filling healthy (except for that beef) dinner that is easy to freeze portions of for later, or save for other nights this week when I know I won’t have energy or time to cook.  (Now my crockpot green chicken chili recipe is something to wow over a bit, but I’m not making that this week.)  Served over brown rice, it’s a Real Dinner.

And then the Man and I watched 24 (if the world recycled its goods the way that show recycles plots, we’d be in good shape!) while munching on homemade multigrain fresh artisan-baked bread with olive oil and grated parmesan. I guess as fattening vices go this is as good a one as any, and better than ice cream or chips.  It’s our weekly (whenever I’m home and have time to make bread–which is to say maybe monthly if we’re lucky) ritual, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend the only evening I’ll have at home this week…

[UPDATE: I made the rice pudding again yesterday with 2/3 cups arborio rice and 8 cups of milk; it’s an even nicer texture, IMO…depends whether you want more of the rice or more of the creamy part…]

Easiest ever veggie burgers (Attack of the Killer Zucchinis, IIa)

Okay, this barely deserves to be a separate post from yesterdays, but I discovered at lunch today that yesterday’s Easiest Ever Falafel single serving recipe is almost seamlessly adaptable to become the Easiest Ever Veggie Burger, with almost infinite substitution potential.

Easy Veggie Burger (single serving: quadruple as desired!)

Combine in a bowl; squish with fingers until well mixed:

  • 1/4 cup hummus or mashed beans (black, cannellini, great northern, kidney, lentil, whatever)
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated zucchini (or other grated vegetable)
  • 1 tsp chopped cilantro (or basil or parsley) (optional, but it really makes a difference!)
  • 1-2 cloves mashed garlic (also optional, also really difference-making)
  • powdered seasonings to taste (cumin and chili powder, or cumin and coriander, or basil and oregano, or curry powder…use your imagination!)

Stir well, then smoosh into a ball with your hands and flatten into patty shape.  Coat with more breadcrumbs if you wish, then cook over medium high heat till crispy on each side.

This was incredibly easy.  And got a little more zucchini out of the fridge.

Six more behemoths to go.

–J

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart

Actually, they say that if you soak the beans, dump that water, and then cook them in new water, you’ll avoid a lot of the…side effects.

They also say that if red kidney beans aren’t cooked really well, there’s a toxin in them that can make you pretty sick. (I don’t actually care for the red beans as much, so I don’t cook them on anything like a regular basis.)

So for me, “beans” means either black or white, and if white, usually Great Northern because they’re easier to find than cannellinis. (Cannelinis are yummy, though.)  One of my ways to try not to generate so much throwaway packaging (not to mention the cost to transport beans in metal cans full of a lot of liquid that’s going to be drained away anyway) is to mass-cook dried beans in my crockpot periodically.

I have a big 6-quart cooker, so I can do 4 cups of dried beans at a go. (Not really more than that, though. I think that’s about 2 lbs.)

I usually start in an ordinary stockpot, though, just for speed, to get the beans soaked.  To do this, put the beans in a big pot, covered with at least 2-3 inches of water.  I use my pot with the pasta insert because it makes draining them really easy.  Bring it t a boil on the stove and let it boil for a few minutes (some sources say 2 minutes, some say 10, I figure it’s a pretty inexact science!), then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let it sit for at least an hour untouched. (Again, some sources say an hour, others say 5, others say you can leave it up to 24.)   Basically, in the soaking process you’re just shortening the amount of time actual cooking will take, although some say it also affects how soft your beans can actually get after cooking…My MO is to start the process when I get home from work, boil the beans and then let them sit in their water for a few hours.

Then  (usually after the kids have gone to bed) I drain the soaked beans and drop them in the crockpot. At this point, there’s a lot more than 4 cups of beans because of all the water they’ve picked up, so they probably fill the crockpot 2/3 or 3/4 of the way full.   Fill it the rest of the way with water (it’s honestly at this point about as full as I can get it!)  Put it on low overnight, or for 8-10 hours, or sometimes more, depending on how old the beans were and how long you soaked them.  The only way to really tell is to test them and see if they taste right.

At that point, I drain them again.  At this point I have two choices: either I can put larger quantities in quart ziploc bags in the freezer (they stack very nicely and take up not much space), or if I have more time to futz I put half cup quantities into my muffin tins, and freeze the tins for a day or so.  Then I can take the nicely pre-measured “bean muffins” out of the muffin tins and put them back in the freezer in ziplocs, and I have nice, easily thaw-able, pre-measured cooked beans.  They are easier to get out of the muffin tins if you plunge the cup parts into hot water for a couple of seconds until the “muffin” loosens.  From the original 4 cups of dried beans I ended up with 24 “muffins,” i.e. about 12 cups of beans.)   I will have to again do the cost-benefit analysis of doing it this way, but in terms of greening my footprint, it’s a fairly easy no-brainer.

So now I have a freezerful of black and white beans, waiting for salads and chilies and all that good stuff…