Yellow Beans with a Chipotle Dressing

When you start looking around, it turns out that there are surprisingly few recipes for yellow beans out there.

Now, I suppose you can do all the same things to yellow beans that you might do to green beans, but if you went out nosing around just to see what was out there in the literature, so to speak, for yellow beans, if you, say, had some in your fridge as I did this week, you would find a multitude of recipes for sugary homemade versions of that nasty three-bean salad (all three beans from cans – can it legitimately be called a salad if everything comes from a can?) that I ate so much of as a teenaged vegetarian fifteen years ago because the fact that it had the occasional forlorn kidney bean included meant it was the only thing on the salad bar that had any vegetable protein to offer whatsoever.

And you would not want to recreate that palate-scarring experience at home, would you?

No, you would not.

This was a dinnertime improvisation, a little side dish to perk things up. It is, I think I can say fairly, quite perky with a whole chipotle in it.

Michelle, at K.M.K. Farms, whom I visit with at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, grows these beautiful red torpedo onions, which are perfect to go into a green bean salad, as they can be cut as long and slender as the beans themselves. I’ve also recently used them in a batch of curtido, and they were wonderful with the long shreds of cabbage as well. I keep meaning to use them in a gratin, perhaps with some zucchini also cut lengthwise, but I just haven’t had the will to turn on the oven.

But back to the beans…and some cilantro, and a little cumin and lemon juice and olive oil, and there you are.

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Mean Peas

It’s been a very long time since I shelled peas.

I had plenty of time to try to think of when it might have been that I last did so while I was shelling the peas, since I don’t do it often and I am terribly slow at it. I honestly couldn’t remember what year it might have been.

In the springtime in Michigan, we bought our peas already shelled at the Kalamazoo farmers’ market. I will admit, I appreciated these peas I shelled myself more, knowing what it took me to get this little bowl together, than I did the ones in Michigan when I could just dump a shelled pound into a pan without a thought.

Repetitive food tasks appeal to me – they become meditative. When I worked for Whole Foods as a cheesemonger, I genuinely enjoyed the first few quiet hours of the day, when there were few people around and I could wire-cut 120 lbs. of cheddar, wrap it, and stack it in neat rows. My mind could be somewhere else while I did that, as the task became second nature to me over the five years I did that work.

I was trying to be mindful of the peas as I shelled them, though. To shell peas, you press down on the far end of the pod first to open it, then peel it open and tease the peas out. When pressed, tightly-packed pods tend to make a cracking noise, I discovered on this occasion, and ones where there is a little space at the end make a tiny popping noise, one that sounds like the natural antecedent of the opening of a champagne bottle.

I cooked these peas in salted water with butter until they were creamy and soft – I was surprised to find that it took 10 minutes – then tossed them with sautéed onions, garlic and spices. I remembered, as I was getting my seasoning together, that peas have a natural affinity for cardamom, and was pleased I had – it really brought the dish together.

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Escarole Gratin

I had already washed the escarole from our first CSA box and cut it in quarters. I was searing it in olive oil, one quarter at a time, when Chimp walked into the kitchen.

“Oh man,” he whined in mock exasperation. “Not burned lettuce for dinner again!

“Burned endive, my dear. Escarole is an endive, not a lettuce.”

At our house, escarole most often ends up paired with white beans, olive oil, and lemon juice in a brothy soup. Liquid helps mediate its slight bitterness somewhat. I was in a different sort of mood today, though, and was thinking about how I could execute a gratin mostly in line with the Eat Local Challenge.

I knew I was going to brown one of my onions from K.M.K. Farms and make that part of the topping. I had Dry Jack cheese from Vella Cheese Co. in Sonoma in the fridge, and I knew that would go in. (Three Sisters Serena, from just south of Visalia, about an hour away, would have been much more local, but the wheel on offer at WFM wasn’t in the shape I wanted it to be. As a former cheesemonger, I’m terribly, terribly picky when it comes to the condition of my cheese. That tends to happen when you have 200 cheeses in front of you every day for five years and can eat each one at its peak.)

With the cheese figured, I also had cream, which would help add richness and moisture. Breadcrumbs are the traditional gratin topping, but I wasn’t in the mood for even a small amount of wheat, and there’s certainly nothing local about it.

I pulled a bag of walnuts out of the pantry. Chopped, they would add a crunch like breadcrumbs would, and though I bought these particular walnuts before I started the Challenge, there are plenty grown around here – I even know a couple local walnut growers.

Endive gratins I’ve undertaken a couple times before. I can remember a tomato-and-cheese topped one that I made probably ten years ago now. Escarole works better, though, in my opinion; because the ribs are thinner, it cooks more quickly and evenly.

The real evaluation is this, I suppose: there was none left within an hour of it coming out of the oven.

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Asparagus & Edamame Salad with Green Garlic

Edit 2/26/07: Hi Readers! If you’re visiting from the Bariatric Eating forums, please check out my post about the use of this recipe. Thanks, and enjoy your visit!

This is another dish from a what’s good in the produce section? moment. There was green garlic on offer, and that happens so infrequently that I cannot pass it up. It’s a springtime-only item.

Those of you who eschew soy, take heart; you could make this with lima or fava beans and achieve a lovely result as well. I had this all on its own for a light dinner. It would also work well over pasta or with a risotto.

I only used one stalk of green garlic in this – it came in a bunch of five. Green garlic looks like an overgrown scallion or a 98-pound weakling leek, but it is orders of magnitude stronger than either. Be sure to taste a thin slice before adding it to anything so you get a sense of how to harness its power rather than be overwhelmed by it.

The mustard in the dressing might seem a little incongruous. It does something to the lemon juice, though – it provides a mediating factor so that you don’t just taste the sharp acid note.

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A Perfect Artichoke

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables – okay, all vegetables, save eggplant, are my favorite vegetables, which is a handy quality for a vegetarian, but artichokes are a special favorite. They’re coming into season now – there will be many more available around the country (from California) in a month or so, but at least in California, they’re widely distributed now.

On your way into Monterey, the last few miles before you can see the water, there are rolling artichoke fields to the left, silvery, spidery plants that seem in motion, creeping and starting over the crests and turning into the hollows.

I know I was offered artichokes as a child – I can remember pulling the flesh off a leaf between my teeth, probably on the cusp of a dinner party that took place after my bedtime – but I was never a fan of mayonnaise or melted butter, the traditional accompaniments. I am certain that the flavor of the artichoke alone didn’t appeal to me as a special treat.

I had very Spartan tastes as a kid: no butter on my baked potato, bread, toast or pancakes; no mayonnaise on anything. No butter, even, on broccoli, my favorite vegetable, another with a stem. Artichoke stems are even better than broccoli stems; don’t cut them off. Have a cardoon, too, if you can find one, which you sometimes can in California around the turn of the year – that’s the ultimate artichoke stem.

My father remembers that his mother cooked artichokes – he wasn’t sure whether to place his first experience with them in Argentina or Brazil, but he remembered mayonnaise being involved.

I still don’t tangle with mayonnaise in conjunction with artichokes at home. I’ll use a little good-quality bottled dressing if a plain artichoke doesn’t feel like enough of a treat. Out, I’ve had a number of red pepper and other remoulades that have been quite good.

If there is an artichoke on the menu, I will invariably order it. In Vegas last weekend I had fried artichoke hearts. They were beautifully done – pan-turned until golden and slightly crisp, with ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, remoulade and a sliver of lemon.

On my trip out to New Jersey a couple weeks ago, I had one grilled and stuffed with breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs were forgettable, but having laid the artichoke on the grill did something magical just this side of burning to it. Some of the outside leaves were deeply browned and incredibly flavorful.

Now, this is purely a discussion of whole artichokes, not artichoke hearts – when we get to that perhaps I’ll dig up that invented appetizer Debbie and I did for Elizabeth’s going-away party – half artichoke hearts filled with romesco and run under the broiler.

To cook artichokes to perfection, here’s what to do.

First, set a large pot of water to boil. One you can fit in a saucepan. For two artichokes you’ll need a stockpot.

There are not many vegetables I boil, but this is one. I do feel sufficiently guilty for throwing out the water afterwards, don’t worry. I hereby absolve any followers of any guilty feelings they might experience from boiling an artichoke.

While the water works on coming to a boil, start by washing the artichoke as well as you can for a closed thistle. I usually force the top leaves open slightly and try to jam the thing on the faucet, hoping to drive out any beautiful black Castroville dirt that might be hiding in there.

Cut the cruddy-looking bottom of the stem, but not the stem itself, off the artichoke. Peel the stem lightly. Using a good paring knife and setting the choke head down on the cutting board is probably the easiest way to go at this. A few leaves may come off in this process; no matter, you would probably have pulled them off anyhow. If you have any wilted or badly split leaves around the outside of the choke, remove them now.

Do not worry about purplish leaves – those darkened tips are the result of cold temperatures and aren’t a problem. This year there haven’t been any frost-kissed artichokes so far – a warm winter out west is the reason.

I don’t bother lopping the top off the choke – more to hold onto when you’re eating, I figure, and it eliminates having to try to remember what type of metal your knife is, what type of metal is the problem, and to instantly rub everything in sight vigorously with a lemon as soon as you cut the thing in order to prevent discoloration.

Is that water boiling yet? If so, salt it – salt it seriously – and then taste it. You want it to be almost too salty to be used for soup in order to get the artichoke sufficiently seasoned. Add a good slug of olive oil – a tablespoon or so for two chokes. Plunk them in as well. Cover.

If you like, at this point you can add the juice of a lemon and its zest and/or a bay leaf to the water. Gilding the lily? You decide.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook the artichoke for 20 minutes, then turn it over (tongs) and cook for another 20 minutes. Check it at the end of 40 minutes for doneness. Remember that it is a very dense vegetable, and the inside will take longer to become tender. I generally cook artichokes for about 50 minutes. A leaf will come off easily and almost all of the flesh will scrape off without effort. Try pulling a leaf from further into the choke to check if you can – if you find that it looks white and waxy and the flesh will not pull, cook it longer.

When the artichokes are done, remove them from the water with tongs (tongs allow you to aim them head down and squeeze a little to get the water inside out) and place head down in a bowl to drain still further. Allow to cool somewhat.

Artichokes can be served warm or cold, but they don’t taste like much when steaming hot, and they’ll do nothing but frustrate you. You’ll think the thing is cooling, but as you remove layer upon layer of leaves, you’ll find that they’re a fine insulator, and the last row of leaves will burn your palate nearly as effectively as the first.

Dip leaves in melted butter, mayonnaise, or good-quality dressing if desired. If not, feel virtuous – even though you likely added a slug of olive oil to the water, an average artichoke has only about 80 calories – and it takes you about 20 minutes to ingest them.

Carrot-Jicama Salad

Please pardon the plastic container in the image.  I wanted a picture of this before it got eaten today, so this one was taken between bites of cereal while I was trying to get out the door for work, so it is in le container de storage.

This sweet and crunchy salad with a spicy, smoky dressing is a great partner for black beans. I wanted to make something cold to enjoy with dinner, but already had a fairly standard corn-and-tomato salad planned this week. This is what I came up with.

7 carrots, peeled and diced
1⁄2 of a medium jicama, diced
1⁄4 of a small head of red cabbage, diced

2/3 c. canola oil
1⁄4 c. orange juice
2 T. lime juice
1 chipotle chili, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. paprika
1⁄2 c. minced cilantro
1⁄2 c. minced parsley
2 T. minced spearmint
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the carrots. Place the carrots in a microwave-safe container and add a small amount of water. Microwave, covered, for five minutes, stirring once. Set the covered container aside and allow the carrots to finish cooking with their own heat while you prepare the other ingredients. Place the carrots, jicama, and cabbage in a medium bowl.

To prepare the dressing, combine the oil, juices, chili, and paprika in a vessel and stir vigorously until emulsified. Add the herbs and stir to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the vegetables. Place in the refrigerator until well-chilled. Toss before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Lime-Cumin Carrots

Carrots always seem to be the last thing left in the fridge at our house the night before we absolutely must go to the grocery store.  At that point, they often go into a lentil salad or get roasted with some potatoes and onions.  Tonight, though, we were making some black beans, so I decided to give the carrots a seasoning that would fit with the Mexican theme.  I put these in my black bean tacos, which I thought was great.  I cut the carrots the same size as the black beans so they’d harmonize nicely.

Canola oil for the pan

6 carrots, cut into bean-sized pieces

½ t. cumin seeds

Salt

Juice of half a lime

¼ t. paprika

Pepper to taste

 

Heat a small amount of canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.  Toss in the cumin seeds and allow to fry briefly, until slightly darkened.  Add carrots, season with salt and sauté for about two minutes, until almost crisp-tender.  Sprinkle the lime juice over the carrots and sauté, stirring, until evaporated.  Remove from the heat and add paprika and pepper to taste.