BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Dip, Dip, Hooray

In the battle for snack supremacy, the competition is fierce, but a few front runners have emerged from the pack. Potential winners are obvious from any vantage point in the bleachers, if you just take a moment to look at the odds. Think back and try to remember the last time you attended a decent party that didn’t have a bottomless bowlful of hummus on display, for starters. And what would Taco Tuesday be without nacho cheese in ample supply- Maybe just Tortilla Tuesday? All bets are off when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I think I have a solution that neither side would see as a compromise.

Nacho hummus, bearing all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals complement and contrast one another with surprising ease, a natural union that has been long overdue.

Whether you smear it in a pita, thin it out to drizzle on corn chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudites and let the crowd go wild, it’s a fool-proof formula deserving of a gold medal.

Nacho Hummus

1 14-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Red Pepper, Seeded and Roasted, Chopped
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 Chipotle Pepper Packed in Adobo Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Thinly Sliced Scallions, to Garnish (Optional)

Like any other hummus variant, this dip couldn’t be easier or quicker to prepare. Toss the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic, and lemon juice into your food processor. Pulse to being breaking down the ingredients and pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the tahini, mustard, and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Puree, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed. Adjust the spice level to taste.

Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

Makes 6 – 10 Servings as an Appetizer

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More Than a Hill of Beans

Sunshine floods the open field with warmth, kissing every blade of grass as it rises to greet the day. Work and school are but a passing thought, quickly swept away by the gentle breeze. It’s summertime, and the day is primed for a picnic. Spread out a blanket, open up the carefully packed basket, and unveil the savory spread crafted to power a full day of play. Everything is perfect… Until the bean salad hits the bench.

Swampy, limp green beans slither throughout the miasma, already looking well past their prime. Watery dressy hemorrhages outward, pooling at the bottom of the bowl in a murky sludge. Fresh vegetables are scant, if at all discernible, limited to stringy chunks of celery at best. Though perpetually invited to these outdoor excursions for its stability at any temperature, the average bean salad is a terrible, ungracious guest. Mere blandness would be a blessing in most cases, but the list of culinary crimes committed to this dish could fill a novel. After so many years of innovation in food, why does it still have to be this way?

It’s high time we take a stand to build a better bean salad. Traditionalist and adventurous eaters alike can benefit from the very same sturdy base, constructing unique legume dishes to suit every occasion. Select each ingredient with intention rather than just slapping together the standard formula, and you’ll never be disappointed by the result. Infuse real flavor into the mix each step of the way for the very best side dish your summer cookouts, barbecues, and road trips have ever seen.

Like any strong master plan, the following suggestions are just that; a guide, not a formula recipe, meant to inspire your own bean salad adventures. Mix and match your favorites, incorporate new ideas, color outside the lines! My only golden rule? No canned green beans. Quite frankly, they’re an insult to vegetable preservation and have no place in the modern grocery market.

In case you’re still feeling stuck in the same old bean salad rut, here are some of my greatest hits…

Spicy Southwestern: Black beans, pinto beans, cilantro, red onion, bell peppers, lime juice, avocado oil, chipotle pepper, grilled corn kernels, avocado

Mideast Feast: Chickpeas, lentils, parsley, shallots, cucumbers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, crumbled vegan feta

Asian Persuasion: Edamame, lima beans, cannellini beans, scallions, rice vinegar, sesame oil, shredded carrots, crushed red pepper flakes, diced mango, sliced almonds

Don’t let a bad bean salad ruin your summer celebration! It’s just as easy to throw together a bright, bold, and refreshing blend fit for a real party. Start mixing it up and tell me, what’s your favorite blend?

Basic Bean Salad Blueprint

3 (15-Ounce) Cans Beans, Rinsed and Drained or 4 1/2 Cups Total Cooked Beans (Cannellini Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Lima Beans, Black-Eyed Peas, Lentils, and/or Shelled Edamame)
1 Cup Loosely Packed Fresh Herbs, Finely Chopped (Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, and/or Basil)
1/2 Cup Alliums, Finely Chopped or Thinly Sliced (Red Onion, Sweet Vidalia Onion, Shallots, Scallions, or Leeks)
1 Cup Crisp Vegetables, Finely Chopped (Celery, Shredded Carrots, Cucumbers and/or Bell Peppers)

1/3 Cup Vinegar or Citrus Juice (Red Wine Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice or Orange Juice)
1/4 Cup Oil (Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Sesame Oil, or Peanut Oil)
3/4 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper (Ground Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Chipotle Pepper, or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)

Bonus, Optional Mix-Ins (Avocado, Halved Cherry Tomatoes, Pitted Olives, Corn Kernels, Chopped Walnuts, Sliced Almonds, Diced Mango, Shredded or Crumbled Vegan Cheese… Get Creative!)

Preparation couldn’t be simpler: Once you’ve selected your star players, toss together the beans, herbs, alliums, and crisp vegetables in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the vinegar or citrus, oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the goods and toss to coat. Mix in as many bonus ingredients as your heart desires. Enjoy right away or stash in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Try it both chilled and at room temperature!

The finished bean salad should keep for 2 – 4 days if kept refrigerated, depending on the selected components.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings (4 as an Entree, 8 as a Side)

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Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

Caramelized Onions:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.

The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.

Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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When In Rome

Rumblings about the latest legume superfood have been reverberating through the food scene for years now, but until lately, little proof could be found on grocery store shelves. Lupini beans (otherwise referred to as Lupine/Lupin) have been called the “perfect protein,” boasting even greater numbers than soybeans along with the full complement of essential amino acids. They’ve slowly begun to work their way into meatless meals, snack foods, and baking mixes, but few opportunities have allowed them to shine all by themselves. The main problem plaguing this humble bean is a natural bitterness that is very difficult to overcome. Prepared at home, they must be soaked, boiled, drained, boiled, rinsed, and boiled some more. Even then, pickling might be necessary to cover up any residual off flavors. Even worse, getting the process wrong isn’t just distasteful, but possibly poisonous. High levels of alkaloids can cause everything from dizziness to potential liver damage. That alone could scare off most reasonable eaters.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the lupini kingdom, though. Initially recognized for their nutritional prowess, they’re finally getting attention for their unique culinary potential as well. Brami has taken out their bitter bite and made it easy to enjoy them as a new kind of savory snack. Imploring us to “snack like a Roman” in reference to their Italian origins, it took a bit of modern technology to bring this ancient food back into relevance. Fully cooked and seasoned to enjoy much like edamame, needing no refrigeration and thus ideal for eating on the go- Although with my lack of grace, I’m not sure I could daintily eat them in public. It takes a bit of practice to gently ease the beans out of their tough skins without shooting them clear across the room.

The serving size might appear small, but it makes for a highly satisfying snack, indeed. These beans possess a very mild, slightly sweet and nutty flavor, accompanied by a firm, meaty texture. Of the four flavors, the garlic herb variety was my favorite, and likely the greatest crowd-pleaser of the batch. Overall mild and agreeable, the garlic flavor won’t put you at risk for dragon breath, but offers enough interest to entertain the palate. Chile lime is presented with equal finesse; tangy, warm spice accompanies the natural earthiness of the lupine without overwhelming it. This delicate balance can also be found in the bolder hot pepper flavor which dances with punchy seasonings that resist the urge to beat you up. Sea salt is for purists, but also seems ripe for additional creativity. Think of them as mixed nuts, capable of accommodating both sweet and savory tastes, and the sky is the limit.

I, for one, hope that the lupini bean continues to find new fans abroad. As a self-contained super food that genuinely lives up to the moniker, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile, tasteful option for healthy snacking.


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The Onion Grass is Always Greener

This spring has been a temperamental one, no doubt about it. Gardening ventures have been unsurprisingly stymied by unexpected cold fronts and unreliable rains. Even so, by mid-May, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of visible progress out there in the vegetable patch. Nearby friends boast impressive flowers and a few hearty vines, bearing the promise of a fruitful harvest soon to come. All we have are chives. But oh, what lush, long, and prolific chives we have! Shooting up faster than they can be mowed down, these edible weeds are beginning to present a real threat to the surrounding plant life. Choking off sunlight for the smaller sprouts while edging closer into their territory, they’re the only things that seem to be thriving in spite of the elements. Even after plucking a bushel of the slender green blades, a whole field still remains to be eaten, so it’s high time those chives get put to proper use. If the other seedlings are ever going to break through the earth, I had better start making space!

Initially whipping the fine onion grasses into a basic pesto formula, it dawned on me that I had no idea what to do with it next. Should I just spread it on bread and call it a day? Would it be better mixed into pasta? Still in the teeth of final exams, complicated preparations were out of the picture, which brought me to my favorite default option: Soup. Keep it chilled for those warmer days or throw it on the stove the next time a frost warning comes along, since it tastes just as bright, fresh, and comforting either way. The whole thing comes together in a matter of minutes, and since it utilizes a bare minimum of ingredients, it’s the perfect spring soup, no matter how pitiful the growing conditions.

Chive Pesto Soup

2.5 Ounces Fresh Chives
2 Tablespoons Prepared or Finely Minced Fresh Horseradish
1/4 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 – 5 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 3/4 – 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Cooked Beans*
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt

*I used one 12-ounce package of Trader Joe’s Melodious Blend, which includes green garbanzo beans, red lentils, and brown lentils. Any blend or single varietal will work just as well though! I would recommend either white beans or regular chickpeas as my second and third choices, personally.

Snip the chives into short 1-inch lengths and toss them into your food processor. They need to be broken down somewhat before you start to blend, because I find that the long pieces will just wrap themselves around the motor without getting chopped otherwise. Add in the horseradish, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice as well. Pulse the machine repeatedly to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, ensuring that everything gets incorporated. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified and fairly smooth. It doesn’t need to be a perfect puree, since a bit of texture will add more body to the soup, but make sure there are no remaining whole seeds or long strands of chives remaining.

At this point, you can transfer the pesto to a jar and save it for up to a week, if you’d like. To proceed with the soup, place it in a medium pot and whisk in 1 3/4 cups of the stock. Stir in the beans and salt, to taste. Adjust the amount of liquid if you’d like the soup to be slightly thinner. Either chill for 1 hour before serving for a more refreshing bowlful, or pop it on the stove for about 5 minutes to heat through, to serve it warm.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

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Take the Chill Off with Chili

When it snows, it blizzards. You’d think the east coast had never seen the powdery white flakes before, based on the panicked reaction that the most recent storm brought bubbling to the surface. Just short of mass hysteria, it’s true, it was not entirely unwarranted. Just the next town over from me, a few miles away at most, streets remained unplowed and impassable for a full week after the sky suddenly dumped three feet of frozen raindrops. Times like these call for a fully stocked pantry and a good instinct for comfort cooking.

Though this cranberry chili, equal parts spicy, tangy, and savory, could very well be the story of this harrowing tale, there’s just one small catch: I wasn’t home. In a fluke that couldn’t have been better timed had I known the forecast four months in advance, I managed to perfectly miss all the commotion while partying it up in Germany. The landing may not have been smooth on the return flight, but there were no delays, no disasters, and no damages for me to deal with. “Lucky” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Thus, my thick and warming stew of hearty beans was not made just for the occasion, but it very well could have been. Considering all of the additional flurries still threatening to darken our days, it’s a recipe that will undoubtedly see more good use before the winter is through.

Cranberries are clearly an odd-ball ingredient here, but suspend disbelief for just a moment and hear me out. Every fall and winter, when bags of the fresh bog berries are on sale, I snap up a handful and toss them in the freezer. Always on hand but rarely called for, they turned out to be the perfect addition to the complex layers of flavor in this classic stew. Adding both their signature tart flavor and incredible thickening powers, they pull the whole dish together, without overwhelming the palate. The combination of both beans and bulgur are sure to satisfy, and with a handful of scallions or vegan cheese to help it all go down, no one will walk away from the table unhappy, no matter the conditions outside.

Cranberry Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion
1 Small Carrot, Finely Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Ounce Dried Mixed Mushrooms,* Roughly Chopped/Broken, Re-hydrated in Water and Drained
12 Ounces (1 Bag) Fresh Cranberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno Pepper, Finely Diced
3 – 4 Tablespoons Chili Powder
26.5 Ounce Aseptic Box Chopped Tomatoes (or 28 Ounce Can)
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Prepared Salsa**
4 Cups Cooked Cranberry Beans (AKA Roman Beans) or Pinto beans
1/2 Cup Coarse Bulgur
1/2 Cup Water
Salt, to Taste

Optional Topping Suggestions:

Thinly Sliced Scallions
Finely Diced Red Onion
Hot Sauce
Shredded Vegan Cheese
Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt
Crushed Tortilla Chips

*I used a combination of dried porcini, shiitake, black, and oyster mushrooms, but anything you’ve got will work just fine.

**Use your favorite! Ramp up the heat with a spicier choice or keep it more tame with mild salsa; it’s all good.

In a large stock pot, pour in the oil, swirling to coat the bottom of your vessel, and set over medium heat. Add in your onion, carrot, and celery, sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 5 minutes. Introduce the garlic next and continue cooking until the onions begin to look lightly golden brown. This should take between 7 – 10 more minutes, but you’re better off keeping an eye on it rather than timing it. Add a small pinch of salt if they begin threatening to stick.

Toss in the re-hydrated mushrooms next, along with the cranberries and jalapeno. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and let the cranberries soften a bit. After a few minutes, use the back of your spoon or spatula to crush the berries against the side of the pan, helping to break them down and release their pectin. Give them about 10 minutes, more or less, to get acquainted.

Starting with the lower amount of chili powder, sprinkle it in and stir well, incorporating it thoroughly with the other ingredients. Quickly add in the chopped tomatoes, liquid and all, to prevent those spices from burning. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your stirring utensil to properly deglaze and ensure that nothing is left sticking there. From that point, add in the rest of the ingredients except for the salt, taking care to first work the paste out so that it’s smoothly dissolved into the stew without any large blobs remaining.

Cover, reduce the heat just slightly again to keep it at a low simmer, and the chili gently bubble away for about 30 additional minutes. Stir and check for consistency periodically. Near the end of the cooking time, adjust the amount of chili powder and salt to taste. When it’s properly thick and the bulgur is tender, you’re good to ladle it up and enjoy! Top as desired, or of course, feel free to just eat it straight.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings (And Freezes Well!)

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Deconstructed and Reconstructed

Die-hard devotees may cry foul, but I happen to love seeing new renditions of classic dishes. The originals may stand the test of time, and retain their allure despite their newer, trendier counterparts, but times change and food changes with it. For example, falafel is a Middle Eastern staple that almost everyone can claim some sort of fondness for, but no one would want to eat it every day. If the palate fatigue doesn’t get to you, the heavy, greasiness of it all will. Though lusciously rich and filling, those golden fried orbs tend to sit in my stomach like leaden golf balls, encouraging naps soon after rather than resumed productivity- Not exactly the thing to take in for lunch on a work day. After spending one too many afternoons in a falafel-induced daze, I knew that this was one tried-and-true meal in need of some reinvention.

Baked or raw falafel is certainly a worthy consideration, but for days when there’s barely enough time to get dressed and run out the door in the morning, let alone get something into the oven or dehydrator, I have just the alternative.

Still bearing all of the vibrant flavors and key components of your standard fried falafel, my falafel-inspired salad is considerably lighter on the stomach, and easier on an over-scheduled day. No cooking required, just mix and enjoy. Best of all, this assembly is just as tasty warm as it is cold, so it’s perfect packed lunch fodder.  Highly satisfying and re-energizing, I daresay this more modern take on falafel has the edge on the competition… Should you crave that hand-held eating experience, you can even stuff it snugly into a pita, and enjoy it in a more “tradition” fashion!

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas
1 Small Leek, Cleaned, Greens Removed and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic, Minced
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds, Toasted

Additional Options: Chopped cucumber, tomato, or tahini sauce, if desired

Preparation for this one couldn’t be simpler- Just toss everything together in a large bowl until the ingredients are well distributed and evenly coated in spice, and either heat and serve, or cover and stash it in the fridge until chilled. It will last up to 5 days refrigerated, so you can make this at on Monday and enjoy it throughout the work week with ease.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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