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Frito

This dish is one of those family classics that is very simple, but has stuck around for a reason.  Craig grew up on this dish, and when we moved out of the dorms in college and started making dinner for ourselves, it was one of the first recipes he requested from his mom.  At first, I was a little skeptical – Craig calls this “Frito pie,” which sounded odd to me.  After the first time he made it, though, I was completely won over.  What’s not to like about a crispy, cheesy Frito topping?  Of course, we had to make this recipe our own over time and put our own spin on it.  We have probably made this dish every couple of months or so for the past five years, and we now have it perfected to the way we like it. 

Last year, sadly, Craig’s mom passed away.  A couple of months later, wanting to assemble her best recipes and hold on to them, his dad and his sister were on the hunt for this recipe.  It seems the original copy had somehow disappeared from his parents’ house.  Well, I was so happy to be able to tell them that I still had the copy she had made for us during college, and I quickly sent it back their way.  This is a recipe that will certainly live on in our household, and we are looking forward to getting our own kids hooked on it someday as a family classic handed down from their grandmother.

Frito Pie

Our adaptations to Sally’s recipe

ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground meat (the original, of course, is ground beef, but I almost always use ground turkey or chicken)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 Tbsp. chili seasoning (I make my own using chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper)
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 oz. Fritos (as an interesting aside, I think that when this recipe was written, that was the standard size for a bag of Fritos. Now, needless to say, bag size has expanded and you will have Fritos leftover.)
  • 1 can beans (I usually use black beans, but the original calls for kidney beans. Pinto beans are also really good in this dish.)
  • 1 small can sliced black olives
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a Mexican blend)
  • Toppings of your choice, such as: sour cream, diced avocado or guacamole, shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomato, pico de gallo (the toppings were another modification that Craig and I made to the original, and I think they make it much more interesting.)

directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the meat in a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, chili seasoning, tomato paste, and water.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes, until mixture has thickened and water has evaporated, stirring occasionally.

2. Spray a round, high-sided casserole with cooking spray. Layer ingredients as follows: ½ of the Fritos, ½ of the meat mixture, ½ of the beans, ½ of the olives, and ½ of the cheese.

3. For the second layer, add ingredients as follows: remaining meat mixture, remaining beans, remaining olives, remaining Fritos, remaining cheese.

4. Bake at 350, covered, for 30 minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until cheese and chips start to brown on top.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving with toppings as desired.

Yum – check out that crispy, Frito-y crust…

Frito done

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koshary

For a long time (as in, 5 years!), I had been wanting to make a version of a dish my husband loved on his study abroad trip to Egypt. The only problem was, the dish isn’t at all common in the U.S., and since I wasn’t there, I had never tried the dish before. That made it hard to know if the recipes I saw online, most of which were vague and seemed not to be written by native English speakers, would turn out similar enough to bring him back to his good memories of the dish. When I stumbled across an article about the dish on Gourmet’s website, written by an American chef and calling for cooking each ingredient separately, I knew I had found my challenge.

Koshary is sometimes referred to as “Egypt’s national dish.” It’s a street food classic that combines lentils, rice, mini pasta, and chickpeas, all covered with a spicy tomato sauce and fried or carmelized onions. It sounds strange, but what I learned after eating it (and enjoying it very much) is that this dish is ALL about the texture. The combination of different textures makes this dish addictive and tasty.

It was a lot of fun to tease Craig about making him a “surprise dinner” and give him clues to see if he could figure it out. Some of the clues I gave him were that it was a vegetarian meal and that I had never had it before. What finally tipped him off was when I complained, after standing over 3 burners on a hot day, that I didn’t know how people in its country of origin could stand making it given the hot weather. After tasting it, he said that this version tasted pretty authentic, although he would have liked it spicier, and he really appreciated that I made it for him as a way of remembering his trip. I will make this again – it’s good! If you try this (and I hope you do), I think my version minimizes the number of dirty dishes and streamlines things over the original I’ve linked to.

Egyptian Koshary

adapted from: Francis Lam, gourmet.com

ingredients

1 large onion, sliced thinly

6 oz dry lentils, picked over and rinsed

8 oz small pasta (I used ditalini, which was great, but you can also use elbow mac)

1 cup (uncooked) basmati rice

1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

dash ground cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

3 cups homemade or store-bought arrabiata, fra diavolo, or other spicy tomato sauce

Hot sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Note: you will need a skillet, a pasta pot, a saucepan, and a large bowl in order to cook all of the ingredients separately.

directions

1. In the skillet, caramelize the onion. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil and heat over medium-high. Get it hot, so that the onion sizzles when it goes in. Quickly toss to coat the onion in oil, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low. Stir it occasionally while it’s still pale, then more frequently when it starts to take on color, so that it caramelizes evenly. It will take at least 20 minutes to caramelize. Once they are done, remove from heat and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in the pasta pot, bring water to a boil to cook the macaroni.  Once it boils, cook the pasta to al dente. Here is the trick to saving time in cooking all the ingredients separately – reserve most of the boiling water by pouring it into a large bowl. Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil so that it won’t stick while it’s cooling.  Cool completely. 

3. Return the hot water to the pasta pot and return it to a boil. When it boils, add the lentils. Turn it down to a lazy simmer, and cook partially covered, checking them after 20 minutes. Cook to al dente, which will probably take about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and let them cool slightly.

4. While the lentils are cooking, cook the rice in the saucepan. Bring the rice, 2 cups of water, and the cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 15-20 minutes according to package directions. Once it’s done, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Then, remove the cover and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the large bowl. Fluff with a fork and let cool slightly.

5. Meanwhile, in the now-empty saucepan, warm up the spicy tomato sauce, adding more hot sauce if desired (or, each person can add more to their own serving).  While that’s happening, heat some olive oil in the skillet. Get it really good and hot, and throw in your pasta. Don’t touch it for a minute; let it get a bit brown and crusty. Toss it, and let it toast for a while.

6. Combine the pasta with the rice in the large bowl, then add the lentils. Sear the chickpeas slightly in the skillet. Add the onions to the pasta, rice, and lentil mixture and toss to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. To assemble the dish, add a serving of the mixture to a shallow bowl. Top with the warm tomato sauce, then garnish with the toasted chickpeas. Serve with additional hot sauce if desired.

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chickpea burgers

I flew by the seat of my pants a bit with this dish, but it ended up being a delicious vegetarian dinner. I was inspired by the stuffed chickpea patties I saw over at 101 Cookbooks, a vegetarian and natural foods cooking site. Her thought is that veggie burgers don’t need buns, because the beans provide enough of a bread-y texture. Instead, the burgers themselves should act as buns, and they should be stuffed with interesting ingredients. I agree, and decided to stuff mine with some cotija I had on hand and let it melt in there a little – cotija doesn’t melt much at all, so you could use a slightly meltier cheese, like manchego, if you wanted. These burgers cook on low heat for awhile, though, so you wouldn’t want to use a softer cheese than that. As a topping, I decided on an heirloom tomato and kalamata olive relish with a vinegar-y bite. These were really tasty, especially served with the oven fries I made. A great, healthy vegetarian twist on burgers and fries.

Cotija-stuffed chickpea “burgers” with tomato-olive relish

Inspired by: Veggie burger recipe at 101 Cookbooks

ingredients

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (I prefer Goya)

1 egg

¼ cup canola mayo

½ medium onion, cut into chunks

1 garlic clove, crushed

Juice of ½ lemon

½ cup panko breadcrumbs

Salt, pepper, and ground cumin to taste

6 pieces cotija cheese – the pieces should be sliced so as to resemble thin pats of butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil, for cooking the patties

 

For the relish:

1 very large heirloom tomato, roughly chopped

8 or so pitted kalamata olives, sliced

Generous drizzle of olive oil (about 1 tsp.)

Splash of red wine vinegar (about ½ tsp.)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

directions

 

To make the burgers:

1. Place the chickpeas, egg, mayo, onion, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor. Process on medium speed until well-combined but still chunky. Add the salt, pepper, and cumin and pulse to combine. Turn the mixture into a mixing bowl and fold in the panko crumbs. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes so that the crumbs absorb some liquid. At this point, the mixture should be very moist, but should still form patties without sticking to your hand. Add a little water or mayo if it’s too dry, or some more breadcrumbs if it’s too wet.

 

2. Grab about 1/6 of the mixture (it should be large meatball-sized), and form into a 1-inch thick patty. Press a piece of cotija cheese gently into the center, and bring the edges of the patty up around the cheese so that it is completely covered. Repeat to form 6 burgers.

 

3. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a cast iron skillet (a regular skillet would probably work, too, but I like the extra browning that cast iron gives to the burgers). When the oil is hot, add the burgers and cover. Cook, covered, for about 8 minutes per side.

 

4. Meanwhile, make the relish – combine all in ingredients in a small, non-reactive bowl and toss to combine.

 

5. To serve, plate patties and spoon some relish over each one. Serve with oven fries and enjoy!

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pasta e fagioli

As I mentioned in my previous post, I will be doing a series of entries over the next several months on classic versions of traditional Italian dishes. This is my first in the series, although I may eventually re-tag the bolognese recipe I made recently (see it two posts down from this one). My mom mailed me this recipe from her Marcella Hazan cookbook. There is no doubt that this is a classic recipe, as Marcella Hazan is the absolute authority on traditional Italian food. This soup was delicious and had so much texture, with a nice salty bite. The shredded pork definitely added a lot and made it different from other versions I’ve had. This is certainly not a quick version of pasta e fagioli, but it is worth the time.

One of the key ingredients in this dish is dried cranberry beans. Finding this item took an in-store call to my dad to have him Google and see if Roman beans were the same thing – I had seen pictures of cranberry beans before, and the Roman beans looked the same to me, but I wasn’t sure. Indeed, cranberry beans and Roman beans ARE the same thing, so if your store calls them Roman beans like mine does, now you’ll know what to buy. If you absolutely can’t find either one, you could use light kidney beans or pink beans.

Pasta e Fagioli

Adapted from: A Marcella Hazan recipe as recounted by my mom

ingredients

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ large sweet onion, finely diced

1 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

Pork with a bone (you can use a few ribs, country ribs, a ham bone with some meat attached, or two small bone-in pork chops). I used 2 large bone-in country ribs.

2/3 cup Italian chopped tomatoes in juice (I used Pomi)

1 cup dried cranberry (aka Roman) beans, either soaked in cold water overnight or brought to a boil for 2 minutes and then allowed to sit covered for 2 hours

3 cups beef stock

¼ lb. small tubular pasta (I used mini penne)

2 cups baby or chopped spinach or chopped kale

1 Tbsp. butter (this is not optional if you want an authentic soup with a creamy texture)

2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

 

directions

1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until pale golden. Add carrot and celery and stir well. Add the pork, turning to brown on all sides, and cook about 8 more minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes with their juice and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.

3. Add the beans and stir well. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, then add the stock. Cover pot and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a strong simmer and stir. Cook partially covered until the beans are tender, about 1 hour, adding a little water as needed.

4. With a potato masher, mash about half the beans in the pot, leaving the other half whole. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pull pork from the pot and shred with a fork. Discard bones and return shredded meat to the soup.

5. Add about 2 cups of water (as much as needed to thin it out to a slightly thinner consistency than you’d like to serve it), and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Add additional warm water if needed. When pasta has 1-2 minutes left, add greens and stir to wilt. Stir in butter and cheese vigorously and then remove from heat. Check seasoning.

6. Ladle into soup bowls and let cool 5 minutes before serving – serve warm rather than piping hot.

Serve with toasted garlic bread!

soup and bread

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Texas caviar

For my second selection for Dinner Divas (see below for my first), I chose this Texas caviar recipe. If you are not familiar with Texas caviar, it is essentially a black-eyed pea salsa. I thought it was very appropriate to make these black-eyed peas during the first week of the new year, since they’re supposed to be eaten on New Year’s Day for luck. This dip is so delicious! We could not stop eating it. I will definitely be making this again as a side or appetizer in the future. I made a few changes from the original, so feel free to check the link if you want to see the recipe that claims to be from the “Cowgirl Hall of Fame.” Note that this recipe is one that definitely needs to sit in the fridge overnight for the flavors to marry. I couldn’t believe how different it tasted when we went to eat it than it had when I made it and tasted to check the seasoning the day before.

Texas caviar

Adapted from: Epicurious

ingredients

 

1 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

3 jarred roasted red peppers, chopped

4 scallions, thinly sliced, green part only

½ Tbsp. hot sauce (I use Cholula)

½ Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

6 pickled jalapeño chile slices, finely chopped

1 firm, ripe, chopped tomato

Vinaigrette (the original recipe just called for this without specifying, so I whisked together about 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, salt, and a generous dash of ground cumin with 3-4 Tbsp. of olive oil)

½ fresh red bell pepper, finely chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced

 

directions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and fold together with a spatula until well combined. Refrigerate overnight, in a covered container. Serve with saltine crackers or corn tortilla chips.

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Indian feast!

Tonight I cooked up an Indian-inspired feast, and it turned out really great. I made chicken tikka masala awhile back and was amazed at how juicy the yogurt coating kept the chicken. I wanted to make that chicken again, but minus the masala. While that was tasty, I wanted something slightly healthier and wanted to branch out on my own. I was really proud of how the chickpeas and spinach came out with very little recipe guidance, and the chicken was as juicy as last time. What made this truly a “feast” is that I served it with both oven-baked brown rice and a piece of storebought garlic naan. Even my husband, who is skeptical of Indian food, went out of his way to say how much he liked this meal.

I am filing this under the “Vegetarian” tab as well since you could easily make a meal out of the chickpeas and spinach over rice, which would make for a tasty meatless option.

Tandoori Chicken

Adapted from: a combination of this Food Network recipe and Cook’s Illustrated

 

ingredients

1 cup plain yogurt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon garam masala (optional)

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

 

directions

1. Combine all spices and yogurt in a large bowl. Marinate chicken breasts in yogurt mixture for one hour.

2. Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and let chicken breasts drain slightly before placing on baking sheet.

3. Broil chicken until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees and coating is lightly charred in spots, turning once during cooking. This should take about 20 minutes total.

4. Remove chicken to a plate and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

 

Indian-Inspired Chickpeas and Spinach in Creamy Tomato Sauce

Adapted from: my head

ingredients

One can chickpeas (I like Goya), drained and rinsed

4-5 large handfuls baby spinach (about 4 oz.)

1 ½ cups low-sodium plain tomato sauce

1/3 cup whipping cream, at room temperature

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

½ Tbsp. olive oil

¼ tsp. Asian chili garlic sauce

¼ tsp. ground cayenne

¼ tsp. curry powder

½ tsp. ground cumin

¼ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. garam masala

½ cup water

 

*Note: I did not measure the spices, so these proportions are approximate, and you should feel free to adjust to your tastes. I tried to underestimate the amounts I used so that more of any particular spice could be added according to your preferences.

 

directions

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook 2-3 minutes. Add chickpeas and toast, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes or so.

2. Add tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Stir in all remaining spices and check seasoning, adding more of your favorite spices if desired.

3. Whisk in cream and return to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently.

4. Begin adding spinach in batches, adding small amounts of water as necessary to wilt the spinach and keep sauce at desired thickness.

5. Once all spinach is added and wilted, turn the heat down very low and cover. Simmer 5 minutes covered, and hold warm until ready to serve.

 

Serve with brown rice and/or garlic naan, and enjoy an Indian feast!

 

11/30/08 Update – I am submitting this post to a contest hosted by Joelen’s Culinary Adventures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was searching for something to do with the rest of some boneless, skinless chicken thighs I had, and I came across this Emeril recipe. It called for cooking up a chicken chili in a cast iron skillet and then topping it with cornbread batter and popping the whole thing in the oven! I think this chili came out great and the cornbread was really nice on top. The other unique twist to this chili, which I didn’t have the guts to do my first time making it is that it calls for adding corn kernels and letting them pop in the pan. I wasn’t confident in my ability to make this work, so I just added regular corn, but I am quite intrigued by the idea of popped corn kernels in there. If anyone tries this, certainly let me know – I’d love to hear how it turned out (see the link to the original recipe for instructions on that).

As it was, this chili was very yummy – the chicken stayed nice and juicy and the bread topped with cheese was moist and fresh. It was very spicy. I would say we definitely like moderately spicy food, and we thought this was perfect with a large dollop of sour cream mixed into each serving to cool it down. If you don’t like things too spicy or if you don’t plan on adding sour cream, I would recommend reducing the cayenne a bit. I think we had a fairly hot jalapeno as well, so that played a part too.

Cornbread-topped chicken chili skillet

Adapted from: Emeril Lagasse, Food Network

ingredients

 

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed  (I had about ¾ lb., so I also added a can of black beans)

Sprinklings of cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried thyme, and dried oregano

1 ½  tablespoons vegetable oil

½  cup chopped yellow onions

½  cup chopped red bell peppers (I used green, only because the red at my store looked like they wouldn’t last until late in the week)

1 large minced jalapeno pepper

1 ½  tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 cup corn kernels  (As I mentioned, I used thawed frozen sweet corn)

1 (15-ounce) can chopped tomatoes and their juices

1 cup chicken stock

Cornbread topping, recipe follows

1 cup grated cheddar cheese, for topping (I only had sliced cheddar jack, so I scattered small slices over the top)

Sour cream

 

directions

 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Season the chicken with sprinklings of spices (listed second in the ingredients) on all sides.  Mix cornbread topping (see below).

 

2. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to the pan and when hot, add the onions, bell peppers and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the stock, and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring until thickened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add corn and black beans to skillet and stir to heat through. Return the chicken to the pot and cook until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. Spoon the cornmeal batter over the chicken mixture, leaving at least a 1/2-inch border around the sides.

4. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the cheese on top. Return to the oven until melted, 2 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with the sour cream. Serve hot.

Cornmeal Topping:

3/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

2 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil (I actually did use the bacon grease – might not have been as healthy, but certainly made a flavor difference!)

 

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, beat together the buttermilk, egg and bacon grease. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended, being careful not to overmix. Use as a topping for the Chicken Chili.

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