I have a group of awesome friends and one of my favorite things about them is that we all love to cook. With the New Year and increasingly crazy schedules and tight budgets, we decided to start a supper club of sorts. Once a month, we get together and somebody teaches us how to make one of their signature dishes and everybody brings complimentary side dishes. I claimed the month of February because of Mardi Gras and my love for New Orleans food. Together we made my red beans and rice and a King cake and we munched on Cajun spiced deviled eggs, crab dip, pralines and all sorts of other goodies.
Traditionally red beans are made with andouille sausage but as a vegetarian with mostly vegetarian friends, I obviously leave the meat out. Instead I substitute one of my favorite secret ingredients: liquid smoke. It costs a whopping $2.50 at my grocery store (next to the BBQ sauce and marinades, if you’re interested) and lasts forever. It adds a little bit of oomph to dishes that usually include sausage or bacon. Can’t find it or a little afraid? Feel free to leave it out, but you’re missing out on something. As for the beans themselves, this is a recipe where you’ll really want to start with dry. You’ll end up with a really tasty dish that’s fat and cholesterol free. Not a bad way to celebrate a holiday that’s normally associated with indulgence.
Red Beans and Rice
- 1/2 pound dried red beans, picked through
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
- 1 tbsp liquid smoke (optional)
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- salt to taste
- 4 cups cooked rice (brown or white!)
- Tabasco (optional)
In a large pot, cover beans with an inch of water. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 30 minutes, adding water if needed. Once beans start to soften, add onions, celery, garlic, Cajun seasoning and liquid smoke. Cover and simmer until beans are soft, another 30 minutes or so. Remove cover, add bell pepper, and continue simmering uncovered. Periodically stir the beans, mushing them against the sides of the pot with the spoon until the mixture is thick and stew like, then adjust salt to taste. Serve over with rice with Tabasco on the side. Serves 4 to 6.
Y’all, I feel a little silly posting this recipe. After all, it only calls for 4 ingredients. But this is hands-down my favorite way to prepare baby lima beans: the limas get to stand out, rather than being smothered in sauce, and they taste fresh and summery, even though they’re cooked from dry.
Simple Lima Beans
- 1/2 pound dried baby lima beans
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
(See? Only 4 ingredients!) Pick through and rinse dried beans. Then transfer to a pot, add the remaining ingredients then enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Add additional water if needed. Drain, and serve with a splash of olive oil and additional salt if desired. Serves 4.
Y’all, I feel a little silly sharing this recipe. I mean, it’s just vegetable soup, nothing fancy, right? But I love this soup. It is absolute comfort food to me. This makes an enormous batch, which I always freeze half of. When I feel a cold coming on, I pull out a quart of this soup. When a friend has the flu or just got out of surgery, I pull out a quart, bake or pick up a fresh loaf of bread and take it to them. The secret is allowing this to simmer for a long time so that the flavors become more than just some vegetables in broth. Anyways, with a raging flu season going on out there, I hope you enjoy it, despite the less than ideal picture.
I know that going from cornbread to sourdough sounds like going from the baby pool to the deep end of the pool, but once you get past the starter, sourdough can be a fairly hands off. I bake a loaf of this bread once a week and eat it almost every morning with almond butter and homemade jam or fried eggs. Compared to your standard grocery store whole wheat bread it’s a little denser and more tangy, but very filling. I know it contains all purpose flour, which isn’t quite as great for you as 100% whole wheat, but maintaining a whole wheat starter is next to impossible.
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp instant yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 pint glass mason jar
2 to 3 days before you want to bake your first loaf, mix the above ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Transfer to the mason jar, cover loosely and set in an out of the way place in your kitchen at room temperature. Stir every 8 to 12 hours, until the mixture is bubbly and smells slightly sour. This takes as from 1 to 3 days, usually. Congratulations, you just made sourdough starter! Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
- 1 batch sourdough starter
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- Transfer the sourdough starter to a large bowl. Add the all purpose flour and water. Cover and leave at room temperature for 6 to 10 hours, until bubbles start to form on the surface. Now you’ve fed your starter.
- Transfer half the mixture to a pint glass jar and put in the refrigerator for next time.
- With the remaining liquid, mix in remaining ingredients until dough forms a smooth ball. A Cuisinart with a dough blade or Kitchenaid Mixer with a dough hook are great tools for doing this.
- Cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.
- Transfer to a lightly greased bread pan, cover and allow to rise for another hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Bake bread for 45 minutes.
- Allow to cool before slicing.
This might sound weird, but I’m not the biggest fan of potatoes. I do like french fries and potato salad, but those rely on a ton of fat to add flavor to a fairly bland star ingredient. However, they’re cheap and on their own, not all that bad for you. However, a while ago a found a recipe that was deceptively simple: potatoes roasted in lemon juice. No garlic, no onions, no herbs; none of those things that I rely on to add lots of cheap flavor. But oh my goodness, they’re so delicious. I had to restrain myself from eating the entire pan in one go.
Whoops! Meant to post this on New Year’s Day, but these beans are so delicious, I hope you won’t mind the wait.
As most of y’all know, I’m from the South and every New Year’s Day we eat black eyed peas and greens for wisdom and wealth in the New Year. This isn’t the way my mother and grandmothers make them, but with my version, you won’t miss the hambone.
So last week, I managed to celebrate with food every single day and there are still leftovers in my fridge. This week I wanted some kind of dish that might use up some of those leftovers, would be nice and light but still warm and filling on cold (for NorCal) fall nights. I came up with this all from my kitchen staples, which happens tastes great and is good for you. However, just to ease myself back into this health food thing, I added a blob of sour cream, but nonfat Greek yogurt would also be tasty. And for the record, this would be really easy to throw in the crockpot for later.
- 4 cups cooked pinto beans or 2 cans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups salsa
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cups corn
- 1 box frozen spinach or 1 bag baby spinach
Combine beans, broth, salsa and onions in a soup pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until onions are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in corn and spinach and cook until hot, about 5 minutes. Serves 6.