Beans, beans, the more you eat them, the more you…

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Stock photo – Dreamstime Images

Well, you know how the rest of that goes. But BEANS! Frijoles. Oh, the humble bean.

A few years ago when our budget was stretched wafer thin and I was worried about how to feed the four of us without spending a lot, I made a decision.  I took about $30 and bought a whole bunch of beans. I mean a whole lot! We’re talking 25 to 30 pounds total of pintos, black beans, and garbanzos. Costco was running a special. *shrug*  I figured I could do a lot with these beans and I was right. I did a lot with them. Nearly every week, I cooked up a batch of beans in the slow cooker and then divided portions to make any number of delicious recipes: black bean soup, black bean burgers, hummus, chana masala, pintos for beans and rice. I mashed the beans. I made bean and rice fritters. Bean enchiladas. Chili! (And before you pearl-clutch, this Tejana likes beans in her chili. My kitchen. My recipes.)

If you are on a budget, find yourself going through a rough patch financially, transitioning to vegetarianism, or just like legumes, then knowing how to cook up delicious beans is something you owe to yourself.  

No cocina Tejana would be complete without a fool proof recipe for beans. You’re probably thinking that cooking beans is too labor intensive, takes too long, or is complex but you would be wrong.

This recipe needs only a few things: beans, a slow cooker (also a budget friendly tool. I routinely see these handy gadgets on sale for under $30. It is an investment if you are currently strapped for cash, so I understand that), spices and aromatic veggies*, water. That’s it.

The method I’m sharing requires no soaking. Not even a quick method soaking. Caveat, though, I am not the final word on cooking beans. I’m sharing with you what I do. I make a very large batch of beans every week, and the slow cooker method is my favorite way. As Ron Popeil said, you just set it and forget it!

Big Batch of Slow Cooker Pinto Beans (you can use just about any bean you want in this method. Some beans will require more or less liquid so be mindful of that.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of dried pinto
  • 8 cups of water
  • Variety of dried spices such as onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, ground pepper.

*A word about using aromatic veggies: When I first started on the big batch of beans cooking routine, I preferred to use dried spices and still do. About 30 minutes before the end of cooking time, I add 1 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cumin.  If you prefer to use fresh seasoning, you can make a sachet of cheese cloth but wrapping up one small peeled onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, some cumin seeds, peppercorns. DO NOT ADD SALT until your beans finish cooking. Add salt before then will cause your beans to stay hard and that’s just not going to taste good. My recipe below will include the dry spices method since that’s what I usually do.

Directions:

  1. Rinse beans in cold water and inspect for stones (for some reason pinto beans are rocky.) You do not need to soak beans to cook them. In fact, soaking many beans actually causes them to lose their distinct “beany” flavor.
  2. Put beans and water into slow cooker.
  3. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 8 – 10 hours (high for 5-6 hours.)
  4. When there are 30 minutes left in the cooking time, add the following dry seasonings:
    1 tsp of salt
    1 1/2 tsp of onion powder
    1 tsp of garlic powder
    1/4 to 1/2 cumin (or more if that’s your pleasure)
    ground pepper to taste
  5. Allow to simmer until finished cooking.
  6. Serve with anything you want – corn bread, tortillas, rice, just in a bowl. Cooked beans freeze very well, so if you want to have some on hand for those weeks you want beans but don’t want to cook, once cooled, divide your big batch into smaller portions and store in resealable freezer bags or other freezable container.

 

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Shakshuka a la Tejana

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Stock image – Dreamstime Images

OH-EM-GEE! I love shakshuka! I don’t know how familiar you may be with this dish, but if it’s not a regular part of your budget-friendly-crowd-pleasing-eat-it-any-time menu, you need to add it, like yesterday!

So what is shakshuka (which iPhone likes to auto-correct to “Shark Hula.” We’ve started calling it that around the house because, you know, kids)?  Short story is that shakshuka is a tomato and eggs dish. Eggs are poached in a savory, spicy tomato sauce that is flavored with onions, peppers, and cumin. It’s a very popular dish in the Middle East that originated in areas of North Africa and you’ll find variations in just about every area of the region.

My sister suggested this dish to me when I was having a very uninspiring season when it came to feeding my family. She had just returned from her second trip to Israel and said I had to try this deliciousness.  Everything about the dish spoke to my Jewtina heart and I quickly adapted the recipe to my Tejana-Mexicana palette.

There are recipes for varieties all over the Internet and I certainly don’t claim to have The Only recipe for shakshuka, so feel free to add your spin on it. All the flavor profiles can be adjusted to taste or preference. Being Mexicana, I love a lot of heat in my food, so you’ll see that I use serrano peppers rather than mild green peppers, but certainly feel free to substitute peppers of you choice.

I’ve even made a version with roasted hatch chilies when hatch season is upon us (if you’re from the Austin area, for some reason this is a huge deal, but I know it’s an even bigger deal in New Mexico. Shout out to my New Mexican readers!) I’m less about the cumin and more about adding paprika. You may love that smoky, pungent cumin flavor. You do you!

Because the sauce is so soppable, shakshuka is generally served with some kind of bread item – challah, pita, tortillas even (dude! We’re in Texas!)  I’ve made this dish during Passover and ladled it over big pieces of matzo.  Of course, cheese is life and so I’m pretty generous with feta or queso cotija sprinkled on top of my shakshuka. Many people also like a smattering of flat leaf parsley or mint to dress it up. I’ve even seen it get even more Tej-Mex by adding cilantro (pero, not me. Cilantro me sabe a jabon.)

Without further delay, I give you my recipe for Shakshuka Tejana

Ingredients:

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Notice that there are no peppers in this picture. I’d already chopped them up when I thought “Hey! I should take a picture.”

  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 to 1 large onion, diced (small or large dice, it’s up to you)
  • 1-2 serrano chilies, diced (you can keep the seeds for more heat or remove the seeds and veins for a less spicy dish)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T of tomato paste (this is optional, but I do find that it deepens the tomato flavor)
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cumin (again, this is to your individual taste buds’ delight)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil, lots
  • 6 eggs
  • pita or other bread for serving
  • feta or queso cotija for serving
  • parsley, mint, or cilantro for serving

Directions

  1. In a hot large, heavy bottom pan (I’m using an enamel cast iron braising pan), drizzle a generous amount of olive oil.
  2. Once oil is just slightly shimmering, add onions, peppers, and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent, edges just barely begin to brown, and garlic is very fragrant. Keep heat at medium and be careful not to over brown the garlic.
  3. Add paprika and cumin. Stir to coat vegetables and allow spices to bloom.
  4. Add tomato paste and stir. Then add one can of petite diced tomatoes with the juice. Use this juice to deglaze the pan.
  5. Allow mixture to gently simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir.
  7. At this point I let the dish simmer on low until I’m ready to drop the eggs in. You definitely want to make sure the tomato mixture is nice and bubbly hot before you add the eggs, but timing this step can be tricky timing if you want the eggs to have cooked whites but runny or soft yolks. My advice is to drop the eggs a little bit before you want to serve. They’ll take only a little time to set the whites and still maintain a runny yolk.

Dropping the eggs:

Using a wooden spoon, make 6 little “wells” in the tomato sauce, being careful to space them out. Gently crack an egg into each well. Reduce the heat, cover the skillet, and cook on low until the egg whites are set.

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I dish up one or two eggs in a bowl with lots of the tomato mixture, dress with a little olive oil and sprinkle on the herbs and cheese. Serve with pita or bread of your choice and dig in. Bete’avon!

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A Recipe for Hummus

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I have a household comprised of 75% adventurous, I’ll-try-anything eaters, and 25% “I’ll have beans, please” eaters.  My son, Mr. Selective, is crazy for pretty much any legume and I’ve tried hard to hang on to any foods remotely nutritious that he’ll eat.

But like I said, he’s selective. He has particular tastes and opinions about the food he eats (and shouldn’t we all, really?)  He loves hummus but not just any kind. Most store brands are too grainy or too garlicky or have too much cumin or not enough cumin or not enough lemon (actually this last part is also a complaint of mine. People are afraid of the acid. Embrace it! Lemon makes life, and food, bright!)  He prefers the hummus served at a couple of local restaurants and after many attempts, I’ve finally created the perfect recipe.

And today I’m sharing it with you! So get ready to makes some delicious hummus!

What you’ll need:
Ingredients

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  • 3 cans garbanzo beans, drained but reserve the liquid from one can (you can cook up your own dry beans and use those. Be sure to reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid. I didn’t have time to cook my own, so canned it is. If you want to control the amount of sodium, purchase “no added salt” beans.)
  • 1-2 juicy lemons (when selecting lemons at the store, go for the thinner skinned ones. You want smooth, thin, yellow fruit that should feel heavy for their size)
  • 2 small garlic cloves (more if you like your hummus garlicky)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided (I know this sound like a lot. Trust me on this.)
  • 1/4 cup tahini (don’t skip on this ingredient. Most grocery stores now carry this product.)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin (or more if you like)
  • salt to taste
  • Paprika for serving

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine garlic cloves, 2 T of olive oil, and 1/4 cup tahini. Process until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated.
  2. Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving the liquid from one can, and add ONLY the beans to the food processor. Process until beginning to become smooth.
  3. With the food processor still running, slowly add the reserved liquid until you reach a very smooth consistency (I usually end up using all the liquid however if you like your hummus thicker and less creamy, use less liquid).
  4. Stop the processor and taste. Now is a good time to add salt if you think it needs it. Because the canned beans are pretty salty, I didn’t add any to my recipe.
  5. Adding the lemon – I started with the juice of half a lemon. Add the juice, process, then taste. Keep doing this until the hummus has enough lemon for your taste.
  6. Adding cumin – Cumin is a very pungent herb and lends depth to recipes. I started with a pinch of ground cumin, processed, then tasted. Sometimes I add none and sometimes I had as much as 1/2 tsp depending on how many beans I’ve used.
  7. Mr. Selective loves his hummus served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle the remain olive oil over the top and sprinkle with paprika.
  8. Enjoy!

Hummus is a food I make weekly and we usually have one dinner a week where it is the main event. I serve it with Greek cucumber-tomato salad, various raw veggies, greens, warmed pita, and olives and feta. Other times (like I’m doing right now as I type this), I just eat it with a spoon!

 

Clever food: Picadillo Empanadas

I am a huge fan of fun food. I love things that can be carried and snacked on. Empanadas are a perfect example of clever food. A pastry hand pie (for lack of a better descriptions) that is filled with all kinds of delicious sweet treats like pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, nuts and raisins.  My favorite flavors for empanadas, however, are savory combinations.

Picadillo, a savory-sweet meat dish, is a perfect filling for empanadas.  There are many traditions of picadillo all through Latin America and Spain. Each region has its own favorite meat, spices, and complimentary ingredients.  My dad first introduced me to picadillo when I was a kid. He is the family chef and from whom I’ve learned most of my cooking skills. He would use ground beef, add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onions, tiny diced potatoes, and other good stuff. This is the picadillo that I know best.

Surprisingly, it is not my favorite. I actually enjoy the savory-sweet combination of a more Caribbean picadillo from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The recipe below is my version on that.  I use spices like cumin, coriander, and oregano as well as sweeter tastes like cinnamon and golden raisins.  Keep in mind that in the recipe below, I have purposefully made this filling drier than a picadillo that you might serve as a main dish. To make it as a main dish, increase your liquid by not draining the diced tomatoes before crushing them in the food processor or blender. Serve with rice.

Now let’s get started on picadillo empanadas!

Picadillo filling

Ingredients:
1lb ground beef, about 93% lean (too lean and the meat is less flavorful. Too fatty and you lose a lot of the bulk.)
1 small onion, diced small
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and pulsed smooth in a food processor or blender
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sofrito*
3/4 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed fine
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed fine
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped green olives
salt & pepper
Olive oil

*A word about sofrito. Sofrito is a wonderful mixture of various aromatics such as tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, and other flavors. It adds a richness to any Latin dish.  In this recipe I did not plan on making my own sofrito and used a store bought product by Goya.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high and add onions. Saute on medium heat until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute more. You want the garlic to release its flavor and aroma but not brown or burn.
2. Add beef and cook until browned.
3. Once beef is browned, add tomatoes, sofrito, spices, sugar, raisins, and olives. Allow to simmer slowly on low until flavors begin to meld; about 20 minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t scorch. Be sure to taste the mixture for any needed seasoning. I find that with the olives, very little additional salt is needed.
4. Allow mixture to cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to fill the empanadas.

Empanada dough

Ingredients:
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut in to several pieces
1 egg
6-8 tablespoons of cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse mix the flour and the salt for a few seconds then add the butter.
2. Process the butter and flour until you have pea sized pieces. Add egg.
3. While mixing the flour and butter and egg, slowly add the cold water until the dough forms a ball.
4. Remove the ball from the processor, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Assembling your empanadas

What you will need:
Picadillo filling
Emapanada dough
1 egg, slightly beaten
A pastry brush
A small fork
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter for cutting circles, abut 4″ to 6″ in diameter (I just use a small cookie tin lid.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a clean surface, liberally flour your rolling pin and counter. Begin rolling out the dough.
3. Roll to about 1/8″ thick and then begin cutting your circles. This dough is similar to biscuit dough and can become tough if over worked. You want to be careful not to over handle the dough.
4. When you have cut out your circles, place 3 to 4 Tbs (eyeball the dollops. You don’t have to be precise) of filling on one half of the dough and about 1/2″ from the edge of the circle. Using your finger or a pastry brush, dab a bit of cold water on the free edge, fold the remaining dough over and press firmly.  With your fork, press along the edge of the dough to seal it.
5. Repeat step 4 for the remaining empanadas.
6. Arrange empanadas on a large cookie sheet. With your pastry brush, brush a light coating of slightly beaten egg across the top and along the pressed edge. This will give your empanadas a beautiful golden color and help seal the edges.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and even play around with the various ways one can make picadillo. If raisins aren’t your thing, try diced mango or currants. If you want a spicier, more savory dish, leave out the fruit and add chili powder or diced fresh chilies or even a couple of chipotle peppers.  Try your hand at making sweet fillings for your empanadas. Experiment with various fruits and even fruit and nut combinations.

Buen provecho!

Wednesday What’s For Dinner: Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Breast, Sauteed Kale, & Roasted Red Potatoes

I love to cook! It’s been tricky trying to get any meal on the table that didn’t start in my slow cooker.  I also have a problem with buying things at the grocery store or farmer’s market that look tasty but never get eaten (because I forget about them!)

So this meal is brought to you by Food That Was On Its Way to the Compost Heap. That’s not to say that it was going bad, because it certainly wasn’t. But if the kale and the potatoes had stayed another week in the fridge, well they would have been microbe food.

Take note that even though we are Jewish, we do not observe kashrut. That means we eat non-Kosher meats as well as treif (pork and shellfish. There are other treif foods but I don’t have an intense love of insects or carrion birds.)  It also means that I will mix meat and dairy together. At some point I’ll post why we don’t keep kosher, but for now, let’s just say it’s because we’re Reform.

So on to the menu and ingredients:

Roasted Red Potatoes
About 1 lb of red “C” potatoes, cut into quarters
Salt and pepper to taste
Some oil (I used canola but you can use olive oil)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. You’re going to roast the potatoes and the chicken at the same time.
2. Cut the potatoes into quarters.
3. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the oil and salt and pepper.
4. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until potatoes are golden and tender. Toss periodically through out the roasting process.

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken
Four chicken breast halves, pounded thin-ish
Eight thin slices of prosciutto
Boursin garlic and herb cheese (you can use any soft, tasty cheese you like or no cheese at all)
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil

1. Oil or spray with non-stick cooking spray a 9″ x 9″ glass baking dish.
2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
3. Lay chicken breast flat over two slices of prosciutto. Spread the cheese on half of the chicken piece.
4. Wrap the prosciutto and chicken tightly into a roll. Set in baking dish, seam side down.
5. Repeat with remaining chicken.
6. With all pieces in the baking dish, drizzle and spread a bit of olive oil over each piece.
7. Bake in oven for about 30-35 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temp of 178-180 degrees.

Sauteed Kale
About 1 lb of Dino (as in dinosaur) kale, also called Tuscan kale
1/2 a medium onion, diced small
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
olive oil

1. Remove large ribs from kale and chop or tear into bit size pieces.  Rinse and set aside.
2. In a large saute pan, heat oil until shimmering. Add onions.
3. Saute onions until clear, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Turn heat down slightly and add garlic. Don’t over cook the garlic or you will have a yucky burned garlic flavor.
5. Add kale. Saute kale until slightly wilted but still bright green.

Let me know if you enjoyed this menu or have suggestions for making it better.

Buen Provecho!