Legume Love Affair

Stocked up on dry beans recently? Judging by the empty shelves anointed with “sold out” and “temporary shortage” placards replacing usual price tags, you’re certainly not alone. Always one step behind the trend, pickings were already slim by the time I got motivated to hit the grocery store. A few bedraggled sacks of dusty pinto beans looked the most promising, which isn’t saying much.

Nothing against the little legume, but it doesn’t inspire the same way that, say, chickpeas do. They’re not quick-cooking like lentils. They’re not sexy like fresh fava beans. They’re not my first choice, but by no fault of the bean itself. It’s a personal failing that I couldn’t see beyond their ruddy pink skins to embrace the creamy elegance within. Every bean is worthy of greatness, especially in such lean times, so it was still a prize to snatch up at that late hour.

Rather than taking the typical Texan approach, I cast an eye out to farther afield to Georgia for inspiration. No, not The Peach State, but the eastern republic nestled at the intersection of Europe and Asia. There, lobio (ლობიო), is an indispensable staple, marking the place at every dinner table throughout the year. A thick, rich stew made with pureed kidney beans, finely ground walnut paste, and the tangy smack of tart cherry juice, sour green plums, or unsweetened pomegranate juice gives it a distinctive (and addictive) taste. It’s worth pointing out that the word “lobio” only means “beans,” allowing ample room for variations on the theme. There are a number of varieties of this dish already in the wild, so one based on pinto beans is hardly a stretch.

Some prefer to keep their beans entirely whole, while other cooks roughly mash the tender legumes, and still more chose to puree the mixture to silken sufficiency.

Tkemali, a sharp, fruity sauce made from sour plums is the traditional topper most highly recommended here, but a drizzle of thick, syrupy pomegranate molasses, or even a bold balsamic reduction can provide a similarly satisfying contrast, cutting through the concentrated bean bonanza.

You can serve lobio as an easy one-pot entree, or a side with grilled kebabs, baked tofu, or some other simple meatless protein. Either way, don’t let a lack of any one bean stop you from firing up the stove; all legumes, big and small, are welcome here.

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Wordless Wednesday: Greens is the New Black

Potato Griddle Cakes with vadouvan and spinach. Served with coconut tamarind chutney, shaved fennel, mint, and lime vinaigrette.

Arugula Salad with charred cauliflower, watermelon radish, avocado, and pumpkin seeds.

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with muhammara sauce, pomegranate reduction, and slivered almonds

Mesquite Grilled Brochettes with mushrooms, Mariquita Farm potatoes, peppers, fennel, sweet potatoes, red onions and Hodo Tofu with chermuoula.

Wild Mushroom and Spinach Phyllo with Moroccan chickpea stew, green harissa, roasted carrots, and maitake mushrooms.

Broccoli Pizza with macadamia cheese, baby arugula, and spicy red pepper pesto sauce.

Blackened Hodo Tofu with Carolina Gold hoppin’ john, cabbage slaw, and golden BBQ sauce

DeVoto Orchards Apple Crisp with ginger streusel and coconut sorbet

Greens Restaurant
2 Marina Blvd A
San Francisco, CA 94123

Wordless Wednesday: Once in a Lifetime Fine Dining

Focus \ Concord Grape, Parsnip

Maize \ Husk
Smut \ Huitlacoche, Corn, Pink Pepper

King \ Coconut, Culantro, Mango
Ink \ Korean Barbeque

Truffle \ Pine Nut, Wojap
Bone \ Mushroom, Barbeque

Heirloom \ Beans, Sassafras

Trumpet \ Cured, Blueberry

Cookie \ Lavender

Taco \ Smoke, Myoga

Rosini \ Cauliflower, Frites
Fungi \ Mushroom, Truffle

Paint \ Strawberry, Banana, Toasted Jasmine

Alinea
1723 N Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614

 
 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday: Let’s Do Brunch

Huevos Divorciados with JUST Egg & Morning Bowl with Avocado from Wooden Spoon

Breakfast Plate from Gay4U

Greektown Scramble from Kal’ish

Pesto Tofu Scramble, Caesar Salad, and Country Fried Chick’n Platter from Eternal

Chipotle Tofu Burrito from Candle Cafe

Garden Breakfast with Tofu from Bouldin Creek Cafe

Japanese Tea Service with Tempeh from Samovar Tea Lounge

Tofu Scramble and Buffalo Salad from Two Mammas Vegan Kitchen

Turmeric Daikon Congee with Tofu from The Well

Pearls of Wisdom

Some dishes just have no right to be so good. They’re too simple, too ordinary, too easy to yield such spectacular results. No matter how uninspired the ingredients look on paper, a jolt of bold flavor belies such humble components. It’s the kind of dish that makes you wonder what magic has conspired in the kitchen, or perhaps, some secret MSG is spiking the punch.

Such is the case for the curried couscous salad at Mendocino Farms. The creamy, golden yellow pasta pearls don’t even look vegan at a glance, but lo! Clear labels reassure eaters that it’s vegan mayonnaise carrying the torch.

Decadent to a degree that would make the average side salad blush, a large part of me wants to hate it on principle. One should never add sugar to a savory dish, and at such a lethal dose! Mayonnaise should be used sparingly at best, a breezy whisper across a slice of bread, barely detectable by the human eye. Then, to go ahead an add even more oil on top of that fatty spread sounds purely excessive, unnecessary, uncalled for, hedonistic in the worst kind of way…!

But, falling prey to the offer of a free sample, I cast all common sense to the wind, letting go of those ingrained notions of decency just long enough to get hooked. I can’t get enough, and I don’t quite know why.

Perhaps the appeal is exactly for all those reasons. It’s because it flies in the face of preconceived boundaries of health and balance, that somehow, it manages to simply WORK.

I can’t claim to understand the compelling appeal of the curried couscous salad, but I can’t deny it, either.

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Chickens Come Home to Roost

Wasn’t it hard to give up meat? Didn’t you crave your old favorite foods?

Asked about my conversion to a plant-based diet, the questions are as predictable as they are consistent. When I went vegan, despite what my culinary background might suggest, I was not the least bit interested in food. In fact, I was a terribly picky eater, shunning all green vegetables, most fruits, and yes, any sort of meat that resembled the original animal. It wasn’t hard to make the switch because I barely ate anything to begin with!

Staple foods like ramen, mac and cheese, and hotdogs were my primary sustenance, despite my mother’s valiant attempts to expand my palate. Only after making the switch did I declare that veganism would not become a limitation, and declared that I would try absolutely everything cruelty-free.

Prior to that moment, however, one dish that would bring everyone to the table was chicken paprika. Despite the difficulties posed by two fussy children and one equally discerning husband, my mom did enjoy cooking, and tried repeatedly to find something that we could all eat together, in health and happiness.

Chicken posed the least threat; bland and anonymous, it’s really the tofu of the animal world, and thus got a pass from all of us. Onions were a bit contentious, but she was very carefully cut them into large chunks, so us kids could easily sweep them aside on our plates.

It’s incredibly basic, as the most comforting dishes tend to be. In tough times, when I miss my parents, my cozy home back on the east coast, and all the tenderness they showed me as I grew into a self-sufficient little herbivore, I do crave these flavors. Swapping out the meat is effortless now, thanks to the rapidly expanding array of plant-based options in stores.

I still don’t miss the chicken one bit. All I’m missing now is the company.

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