"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recipes–Beans and Lentils

When my son was a vegetarian, I made some kind of recipe for legumes every week.  The following were his and my favorites (The black bean dish calls for bacon, but he agreed if I made it infrequently.  It was so good, however, that it might have hastened his return to the non-veg world.  The lentils with lamb we stayed away from during the veg years).  All the recipes call for dried beans which are preferable because they have no salt or preservatives and I think have a better taste.  Rehydrating them is easy – just soak them overnight; or bring them to a boil and let sit for about an hour. I much prefer the soaking method.   The other trick with dried beans and lentils is to be sure to pick through them carefully to remove any small stones, always a possibility even with popular commercial brands:

Italian Navy Beans

This is really pasta fagioli without the pasta – a rich, thick bean dish/soup with lots of flavor.  You can always add the pasta, usually elbow macaroni. The sauteed garlic, celery, and onion in olive oil is called a battuto. Italians vary the ingredients of their battuti, but this is the basic.  It doesn’t need additional spices or vegetables.

* 2 cups dried navy or other white beans, soaked overnight (cover the beans in cooking pot with at least 2” of water over the beans)

* 6 very large cloves of garlic, chopped, or one full bulb of garlic.  Garlic is critical for this recipe, and although you may think this is too much, it will not be.  Remember, there are a lot of beans.  Two dry cups makes four cooked cups, plenty for at least four people as a main course or many more for side dishes.

* 4 lg. stalks of celery, chopped

* 3 lg. onions (the biggest onions in a supermarket mesh bag)

* 1/2-3/4 cup olive oil

* Salt and ground pepper – depending on your taste, about 2 tsp. salt and 10 grindings of black pepper

- Sautee the garlic in the pot you will use for cooking the beans until it is just beginning to brown.  This gives a characteristic taste to the battuto and to the entire dish.  Be careful not to blacken or burn the garlic, for that will give a bitter, unpleasant taste. 

- When the garlic is beginning to brown, add the celery and onions, and cook the mixture until soft

- Drain the beans, add them to the battuto, and cover with at least 2” water over the top of the beans

- Cook over low heat (the beans should be simmering) for about 3 hours.  You want to end up with a very thick and creamy mixture.  The beans should be very soft, but not totally disintegrated.

- Adjust for salt, pepper, and olive oil (I like a lot of olive oil in my beans, so I often add some near the end of the cooking.  Do not add right before serving, for the olive oil taste will predominate.  Give it a chance to blend in)

Guatemalan Black Beans

This is a variation on a classic Guatemalan recipe which I no longer remember.  As those of you who follow my blog know, I adapt, adjust, modify, and downright change the recipe ideas I have gotten from tasting around the world:

* 2 cups dried black beans (to rehydrate, follow the instructions above).  This will yield 4 cups of cooked beans

* 6 strips bacon

* 1 very large bunch of fresh coriander, coarsely chopped (usually 1 supermarket bunch is sufficient; but sometimes if the bunches are very small, then you will need two)

* 3 lg. onions, chopped (as above the three biggest onions from a supermarket mesh bag)

* 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

* Salt to taste and at least 5 grindings fresh pepper

- Drain the beans, then cover with at least 2” of water above the top of the beans

- Add all the above ingredients.  Put the bacon in uncooked.  It will cook with the beans and the fat will be an important taste ingredient in the dish

- Cook for about 3 hours or until the beans are soft and the liquid is thick and creamy.  The beans should be soft but not disintegrating.  Taste about half way, and adjust for coriander, adding more if there is not enough taste; for bacon; and for garlic.

- Adjust for salt

Indian Dhal (Lentils)

This recipe is about as close as you will get to the real thing – the creamy dhal you get in India.  Not hard to make and worth the effort! The spice mix is the standard for many Indian curries, and in a sense is like an Italian battuto.

* 2 cups of dried red lentils (You should be able to find these in the supermarket, certainly in Asian stores. Brown lentils, the most common variety will do, but not as good).  As above, you should soak these overnight or bring to a boil, set aside for an hour, then proceed with the recipe.

* 1/2 cup safflower, peanut, or similar oils (NOT olive oil which is too strong for this recipe).

* 4-5 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped and lightly browned, as above

* 1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger

* 1 tsp. each of the following spices: mustard seeds, coriander seeds (lightly crushed), poppy seeds, fenugreek seeds (sometimes hard to find, and you can leave out, although they add to the authentic taste), fennel seeds,

* 2-3 tsp.  ground cumin (2-3 tsp.), turmeric

* 5 shakes of hot pepper flakes

* 1 medium bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

* 10 whole black peppercorns

* Salt to taste, about 2 tsp.

- Sautee the garlic in the oil until it begins to brown.  As above, you should be sure not to blacken or burn the garlic; but if you do, start over!

- When the garlic begins to brown, put in the ground ginger and sautee for about 3-4 minutes

- Add the spices and sautee over medium high heat until the mustard seeds just begin to pop

- Drain the lentils well, and add to the spice mix

- Cover with water up to at least 2” above the top of the lentils and cook for about 2 hours, stirring frequently over low heat.  Unlike the other recipes, the lentils should disintegrate and become a thick, creamy mix. Be careful not to have the lentils begin to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan

- About an hour into the cooking, adjust for salt and hot pepper.  It is hard to add additional whole spices at this point, but you can add more cumin, and some dried garlic if necessary.  You can also add more oil if you like a creamier texture

Mediterranean Chick Peas with Swiss Chard and Mushrooms

This is a classic recipe and delicious.  The combination of the dried black mushrooms, basil, the battuto, and Swiss chard (or other greens like kale or even spinach which I like less because it has less flavor) is unbeatable!

* 2 cups dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight

* 1/2 cup olive oil

* 1/2 cup dried black mushrooms, rehydrated, chopped lightly.  I like the Chinese mushrooms for they have the strongest, most pungent taste, but you can choose other black mushrooms.  The key, however, is to choose the black mushrooms that have the most taste.

* battuto, as above (celery, garlic, onions)

* 1 lg. Tbsp. dried basil

* 1 lg. bunch Swiss chard, kale, spinach chopped very coarsely.  “Large bunch” means one bunch bought in the supermarket, or 1 lg. bag of fresh spinach

- Make the battuto, as above; but add the dried basil leaves as well. 

- Add the rehydrated mushrooms and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes

- Drain the rehydrated chick peas, and add them to the spice mixture

- Cover with water to at least 2” over the top of the beans and cook for about 3 hours

- Taste about half way through the cooking and adjust for spices and add additional water if necessary.

- When the beans are done – soft, but not mushy – add the greens and let them cook in the bean mixture for about 5 minutes.  You do not want them overdone.

- Add salt to taste, and grindings of black pepper.

Brown lentils with Lamb

This is the simplest recipe of them all.  Basically you put a big chunk of lamb shoulder in the lentils, add thyme, and let simmer for 2 hours.  The lamb is very flavorful and the thyme is a perfect compliment.

* 2 cups dried brown (ordinary) lentils, cleaned and rehydrated as above

* 1 Tbsp dried thyme

* 1 1/2 lbs. lamb shoulder (I like this cut because it has fat on it and therefore gives consistency and extra taste to the lentils. You can use a leg of lamb as well, although this is more expensive and not necessary for taste).

* 2 Tbsp. olive oil

* 3 lg. onions, coarsely chopped

* 4-5 med. cloves garlic, chopped

- Lightly brown the lamb in the olive oil

- When browned, add the garlic, onions, and thyme and cook until soft

- Drain the lentils, add to the lamb and spice mix

- Cover the lentils with at least 2” water over the top of the lentils and cook for about 2 hours.  Cooking time depends on a lot of factors, so you will have to test.  The lentils should be disintegrated, and the texture smooth and creamy but not a puree.

- Midway in the cooking, adjust for salt, spices.

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