Quesadillas with Great Mother Stallard beans, sauteed cauliflower, and roasted butternut squash

Yes, I know. This post begs for a photo. I feel terrible not posting one. But I fell down on duty last weekend, abandoned ship, did not build light box. And it was dark last night. So, even though this dish turned out beautifully, the image I captured made it look like something (as my father would say when I was growing up) that I wouldn’t even feed the dog. In reality, I’d feed these quesadillas to anyone. They’re gorgeous AND delicious. Which means this is a perfect example of when no photo is better than a bad photo.Because a bad photo might make you decide against trying this recipe. Which you should.

I can also justify no photos here because I know I will make some version of this again soon, by which time I will have a light box. Because in addition to the fact that quesadillas make a super quick lunch or supper, they’re also a great vehicle for reinventing leftover ingredients into something completely new. I did have to cook the cauliflower last night, but the beans and squash were leftover from Saturday. Which made this come together super fast.

I’m a little obsessed with this cauliflower preparation, which I learned about in one of Alice Waters’ cookbooks. Seriously. I make it almost every week, so that I always have some in the fridge. It’s super easy and delicious, essential qualities, but I think the real reason I love it so much is its versatility as an ingredient for other dishes. I’ve made up so many crazy delicious things because of this cauliflower always being there. And I bet you will too. Here’s what you do.

Heat a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Then trim out the core of the cauliflower, wash, and slice it horizontally into pieces that are about 1/2″ thick. Although the edges will fall apart, the centers will look like cauliflower “steaks.”

Pour 1-2 T. of olive oil into the skillet. Add a single layer of cauliflower, arranging the steaks in the center, where the heat is probably concentrated, and placing the smaller pieces around the edge. Leave enough space to prevent steaming the vegetables and sprinkle generously (although maybe not quite as liberally as I always do) with salt. If you have a spatter guard, you’ll probably want to use it now.

After about 4-6 minutes, when you start to smell the cauliflower carmelizing, use tongs or a spatula to turn the pieces. Cook for another 3-6 minutes, until the other side is browned. I usually have to rearrange a bit to account for hot spots. And sometimes the process takes more or less time. Use your eyes and your nose. The point is that you want the cauliflower to be well browned but not burnt.

I love to serve (and eat!) this cauliflower as part of a composed plate, usually with kale and maybe a lentil salad. But it’s also a wonderful ingredient in frittata. And, obviously, quesadillas.

4 flour tortillas
1/4 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
2 T. cooked beans
2 T. diced, roasted butternut squash
2 T. diced, sauteed cauliflower

Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add a tortilla. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the top and then evenly distribute half of the beans, squash, and cauliflower. Cover with another tortilla. Cook for 1-2 minutes, spinning once or twice. Turn carefully with a spatula and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the other side. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

If you like, you can serve this with guacamole, salsa, and Greek yogurt or sour cream. Mango salsa might also be nice. But I thought this particular variation, with the sweetness of the squash and cauliflower against the spicy cheese and earthy beans, was very good plain. Again, I apologize for not having a photo. Fingers crossed that I’ll get it together to build a light box next weekend.

beans for breakfast

Breakfast tacos! With beans! breakfast taco with Great Mother Stallard beansThis is a standby, not just for me, but, apparently, in general for many newly single people who are trying to nourish themselves, find happiness, and recreate a life that makes sense without a partner. At least that’s the impression I got from reading the odd, sweet, witty, and at times super insightful A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/books/review/a-working-theory-of-love-by-scott-hutchins.html) I promise I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the newly divorced main character begins each day with a breakfast taco. His taco, which he prepares in the same way each day, consists of “scrambled egg, a slice of pepper jack, a corn tortilla, salsa verde.”

Thankfully, while I sympathize with this fictional depiction of routine as self-care, my version of the breakfast taco (like my life) is a bit different.

First, I’m a fan of flour tortillas, at least for tacos. Unlike corn tortillas, they don’t crumble, and the unassertive flavor provides a nice backdrop for the filling. I also prefer the texture of flour tortillas here.

Second, I think srichacha works better than salsa verde with this combo. The sweet spice cuts nicely against the earthy beans and rich egg.

Third, avocado is key, at least in times like these, when big, fat, perfectly ripe avocados are in season at my local market. (Yes, it seems likely that avocado will be a recurring theme over the next few posts.)

Finally, beans! I was inspired to make these tacos not by a fellow divorcee, but by what I had in my refrigerator. Which, thankfully, almost always holds something good.

Today’s breakfast was inspired by the leftover Great Mother Stallard beans that I made for dinner on Saturday night. While I still have a tendency to make more food than I can eat, I’m getting better. In addition to cooking less, I’m getting more creative about repurposing. As in these tacos. Which are delicious. Here’s the recipe:

3 sm. flour tortillas (I like El Milagro brand)
2 large eggs, ideally free-range, as fresh as you can get them
1 tsp. Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 or 1 ripe avocado, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro (optional)
srichacha sauce

1. Heat about a cup of beans, with some of their pot liquor, over low heat.

2. Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When hot, cook each of the tortillas for about a minute per side, giving them an occasional spin, until lightly browned and pliable but not crispy. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen or paper towel to keep them warm, set aside, and reduce the heat under the skillet to medium low.

3. Whisk the yogurt and salt into the eggs. Cook the eggs in the same skillet that you used to heat the tortillas, turning occasionally, until light and fluffy. Serve with the avocado, salsa, and, if desired, cilantro. You could also add cheese and yogurt (or sour cream), but I don’t think you need either.

breakfast taco ingredientsI still haven’t made a light box. But here’s a naturally lit photo of the separate components. And my place mat. Which I love.

Great Mother Stallard beans on a bed of wheatberries with roasted celeriac, turnips, and brussels sprouts

These are the Great Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo. As you can see, they’re gorgeous. I mean, even a person who doesn’t like beans would have to at least appreciate their beauty. Yes? Or maybe no. Although they didn’t blow me away like their friend Rio Zape, they’re pretty good. But those non-bean lovers are weird. And I’m no crusader. Not really. Not anymore.

When I first got all obsessed with beans, I sang their praises to every unfortunate soul I met. I had a missionary complex, was convinced that the lives of everyone I met would be much better if only they started eating more beans. When I encountered resistance, I insisted that no, they just hadn’t yet tried the right beans, prepared the right way. MY way, of course. And this is before I discovered heirloom beans. Oy.

It really was obnoxious. Which, sadly, I realized only when a dear friend, someone who is witty and hilarious and also probably the most considerate person I’ve ever met, finally, exhausted, explained his deep and abiding hatred of beans. It was the texture, he said. He really tried to avoid telling me, to spare my feelings. Which meant that when he finally did explain, the obvious effort and discomfort he felt at hurting my feelings somehow enabled me to finally learn that regardless of what I believed, he was entitled to his feelings.

Of course this is an obvious truth. Yet for me it was, and remains, a difficult lesson. Indeed, it’s one I seem to be learning over and over again lately. Not so much with food, but with relationships. I think maybe I’m going to be stuck in this track for the near future. Life lesson 2,000,022. Or something like that. I lost count long ago. As far as beans go, though, I think I’ve got it. Not everyone likes them. It doesn’t matter if I cook the most beautiful, best-tasting beans the world has ever seen. They still won’t like them. And that’s okay.

It’s okay because I still know plenty of people who do like beans. Thank goodness. Because I would be a sad little bunny if I couldn’t feed the people I love. And these days I want to feed them beans. Therefore I’ve been completely geeked all week because I had a date to cook dinner at my place for a bean-loving friend. Fun!

I spent the past couple of days daydreaming about menu ideas, trying to come up with a beautiful, satisfying, well-rounded vegan meal. (Although she’s not actually a vegan, she’s trying.) Since I had the entire day, I wanted to do something more complicated, maybe with multiple courses. But today, while I cooked and cleaned and listened to music after too little sleep last night and an intense Forrest class far too early this morning, I gradually pared down the plan and decided to keep it simple. I would just layer several uncomplicated individual components together to create a complex flavor without expending a lot of effort.

So this isn’t really a recipe as much as a collection. It takes a while to make everything. However, much of that time is not hands on, which leaves you free to do other things. You could also save time by using fewer, or easier, vegetables.

The next time I make this I will likely cook frizzled kale instead of brussels sprouts and maybe sweet potato instead of butternut squash. That would save time because the kale cooks on the stove top and sweet potato will cook more quickly than butternut squash. It’s a versatile dish. But whatever you change up, leave the turnip. It was really good. For now, here’s the “recipe” for the version I made tonight. Sorry there’s no photo. Hopefully I’ll get the light box done tomorrow.

Great Mother Stallard beans
1 lb. beans, soaked 4-6 hours if desired
1 sm. onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1 – 2 t. salt

Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add the beans and the kombu, with water to cover by about an inch. Bring the beans to a boil. After 5 minutes or so, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, adding salt after about an hour, when the beans have started to soften. The beans I cooked today, which soaked for 4 hours, took about 2-1/2 hours.

1 med. celeriac, trimmed and cut into 3/4-1″ cubes
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and whole (or however many you want — they will be good leftover)
1 med. turnip, trimmed and cut into 3/4″ wedges
1 sm. butternut squash, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 3/4″ cubes
olive oil to coat

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the vegetables in olive oil, separately. Season with salt. Cook in batches, one or two types at a time (I did the celeriac and turnips together, but gave the Brussels sprouts and squash their own turns), making sure the individual pieces have plenty of space. The celeriac and turnips took about 40 minutes, turning every 15 minutes or so. Although I left the Brussels sprouts in for 30 minutes, they were probably perfect after 25. And the squash took about an hour. You want everything to brown and get a little crispy. If you crowd them together everything will just steam. Which isn’t as good. Once everything is finished, transfer to a platter or baking sheet and keep in the oven at a low temperature until you’re ready to serve.

1-1/2 c. wheatberries, rinsed and soaked for 1 hour
pinch of salt
3 T. sherry vinegar
1 T. walnut oil

Drain and rinse. Put the wheatberries in a medium saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and cover with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about an 1-1/2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add more as necessary to make sure the top doesn’t dry out. At the end of the cooking time, switch off the heat, cover, and let sit for about 20 or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the vinegar and oil over the wheatberries and stir gently to combine.

When you’re ready to serve, scoop some wheatberries onto a plate. Spread them out, top with a ladle of beans, and then arrange veggies across the top. This makes a lot of food, probably enough for 8. If, like me, you’re feeding only 1 or 2, you will have leftovers. I’m thinking that for lunch tomorrow I will toss a cup of beans with pasta and veggies. The beans and wheatberries will probably also make a nice cold salad. As for the squash, I may use that to revisit the kale salad I made a few days ago. It’s addictive.

menu planning around a hill of beans

I always have a lot of beans lying around. But somehow these beans, in their fancy individual packages, seem more, almost overwhelming.

hill of Rancho Gordo beans

Not quite, though. Just on the edge, all the way to the end of anticipation, so that it’s taken me this long, almost two weeks, to digest the reality of all these new kinds of beans, only my beloved cranberry a variety with which I’m familiar.

Of these new beans, I’ve tried just one so far: the Rio Zape. It won me over. I’m now a believer in the whole concept of heirloom beans. When you think about it this makes sense. After all, beans are vegetables. Why wouldn’t an heirloom bean be to a regular grocery store bean as an heirloom tomato is to a regular grocery store tomato? It seems obvious now. Mostly. I still want to do a taste test with the cranberry beans. But that will be the subject of another post.

Now that I’ve been turned on to this larger world of heirloom beans, I’m eager to branch out from Rancho Gordo and try other farms, other sources, like Double Helix Farms (http://www.doublehelixfarms.com) and Purcell Mountain Farms (http://www.purcellmountainfarms.com). First, however, I need to cook my way through all the varieties that I have. Which is very, very exciting. And a bit daunting.

You may have noticed that I’m cooking a little less these days. I’m gradually learning to cook for one. Also, I’m still eating my way through the freezer. But the stock is getting low. Which means that my menu plan for the coming week needs to include at least one freezeable. So. Menu.

I love love love planning menus. It makes me happy. In addition to the joy I derive from thinking about food generally, I also get off on thinking about how to transform ingredients so that one dinner turns into the next. I suppose it’s the Protestant work ethic, or some secular variation on that general theme. Whatever the source, I’m grateful, as it permits me to live quite well within my means. At least when I stick to the plan. Here’s what I’m thinking for the next few days.

Great Mother Stallard beans with root vegetable hash and “cream” of broccoli soup

quesadillas with Great Mother Stallard beans and sauteed cauliflower

frittata w/ sauteed cauliflower and kale

Vegetarian chili w/ Lila beans from Rancho Gordo (this is the freezeable)

black bean burgers (from the freezer) w/ (fresh) mango salsa (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/12/black-bean-cheeseburgers-with-mango-salsa/)

I have no idea right now whether all of this will happen. But for now it seems like a good plan. I’ll keep you posted. (hee hee!) With recipes.