Kale salad with black eyed peas, strawberries, honey vinegar, and thyme

Summer finally made its way to Chicago. This means mornings full of blue sky and bright sun, long walks to my garden, lunch and occasional evenings with friends in Millennium Park, super moonlit nights, tank tops, skirts, dresses, sandals, and what seems like an endless round of late night weekend fireworks, at least in my neighborhood.  I love all but that last bit. It’s easy to be happy, relaxed.

The downside, at least for me, is that I’m not motivated in the same way I am in winter. For example, I haven’t really been cooking, at least not anything worth reporting. Which means I haven’t had anything to write about. So I was super excited last week, when this photo Black eyed peas calciumpopped up on my newsfeed in Facebook. I was on the el, on my way to work after the daily walk to water my garden. It was hot and humid, finally summer, and I had just eaten ripe strawberries straight off the vine. While I’m not sure I would have made the connection under any other circumstances, at that moment my first thought when I saw the photo was how to incorporate strawberries. And, unexpectedly, black eyed peas sounded good.

It was unexpected because despite my Southern heritage, I don’t really like black eyed peas. I want to. And I even have some in my bean cupboard. (Yes. I now have a dedicated bean cupboard.) So, as I imagined this salad, I mentally went through my food inventory, thinking about what I had either at home or in the garden. I remembered this incredible honey vinegar that my best friend brought me from Utah (http://www.slideridge.com/), which is so special and unique that I haven’t known quite what to do with it. That would be perfect with strawberries, yes! And maybe thyme? Maybe. Of course, I wouldn’t know for sure until I tried it, but in theory the idea sounded fantastic. So I scribbled in down in a notebook and committed to experiment this weekend, top priority.

Cut to today, Sunday. A more responsible, together person, someone more like my former self, would spend the day unpacking the boxes of crystal and china that litter the dining room. That person would probably also finish painting the bedroom. While simultaneously making food for the week ahead. And, to be fair, probably dancing around the kitchen while listening to something awesome. Maybe that version of myself will be back in the winter. But this now me, this relaxed, summer version of myself? I’m spending a day of leisure, some cooking plus hours of sitting on the couch, writing while listening to birdsong in the trees outside my living room windows. I don’t need china or crystal anytime soon. And it’s okay that the dining room is still full of unpacked boxes, that I have not yet hung art, and that the bedroom paint job remains only half complete. I am the only one I have to please. This is a revelation.

black eyed pea saladSadly, there is no corresponding revelation of taste sensation. I so wanted to write a glowing review about my experiment, to prove that my inspiration was well-founded. But no. It isn’t so. I mean, the salad good. But I’m not going to make it for a dinner party, or insist that friends at work tomorrow try a bite. And that’s okay. Because, as I reminded myself when deciding to go ahead and post, to not worry about making it perfect right now, this blog is supposed to be about the process, not the end result. And the process is not meant to be perfect on the first try. Or at least that’s my positive self speak of the day

The upside of this salad, the reason why I’ll definitely keep trying, is that it’s a perfect dish for summer. First, it’s super healthy. Second, everyone I know can eat this, as it’s vegan, gluten and dairy free. Third, the black eyed peas cook quickly with almost no need to attend, which means there’s almost no time spent over a hot stove. Fourth, all of the components can be made ahead. Finally, the ingredient list is super versatile; next time I may substitute plums for strawberries. And I will definitely add nuts. Almonds, probably, although I also think pecans might be nice. So, even though this first try wasn’t a roaring success, I’m quite pleased with the outcome of the experiment.

1 c. dried black eyed peas, rinsed
1/2 t. ground cardamon
1 dried chili pepper, crumbled
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 c. ripe strawberries, hulled* and sliced
a few springs of thyme
1 T. walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 T. honey vinegar (if you don’t have honey vinegar, substitute a fruity vinegar or sherry vinegar, then add 1 t. honey)

1. Place the beans in a medium pot with the cardamon and chili pepper. Cover with about an inch of fresh, cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about an hour, or until tender. Black eyed peas cook quickly and, if cooked too long, will fall apart. So check them every 15 minutes or so. Also check the water level, topping off as needed to make sure they’re covered. When the peas are tender, add 1/2 t. salt. Then cool to room temperature in cooking liquid.

2. Whisk the oil and vinegar (plus honey, if using) together in a large bowl. Add the kale, tossing to coat.

To serve, plate the kale and top with strawberries and thyme. If you aren’t serving right away, or will only be eating a portion or two, refrigerate the kale and peas separately. Add the strawberries and thyme when you’re ready to serve.

*To hull strawberries, hold the berry in one hand. hulled strawberryWith the other hand, point the paring knife at a slight angle alongside the hull. Turn the strawberry so the knife cuts around the hull. Then pluck it out. You lose almost none of the fruit. Although I didn’t manage a photo of the process, here’s a shot of the end result.

Chickpea tomato soup with Swiss chard

I first discovered this soup several years ago. chickpea swiss chard soupI promise you that it tastes much, much better than it looks. But it isn’t for those of you with food sensitivities, unless you’re only avoiding dairy–the creaminess comes from bread. Which makes the final result thick and unctuous, with a texture similar to ribollita. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/04/07/ribollita/) The flavor, however, is completely different, very bright and summery, with an almost citrus-like tang. It’s addictive.

The original recipe is from Skye Gyngell’s  My Favorite Ingredients, which at the time I had out from the library. So I had the book, which contained this recipe. And I had planted my first ever garden, in a 4′ x 6′ plot at the Peterson Garden Project. (www.petersongarden.org) It didn’t produce much that year. But for some reason, the Swiss chard grew like mad. I couldn’t keep up with it. Especially because I learned that I really don’t like it all that much. At least I didn’t before I tried this soup.

Truly, I still don’t love Swiss chard. But I grew it again this year in large part because I need a steady supply for this soup. Which I now crave. Indeed, this soup is so astonishingly delicious that after making it the first time I immediately ordered the book. If you don’t already have it, I recommend that you do so as well, especially since I just noticed there are a bunch of great deals on Amazon. (www.amazon.com/My-Favorite-Ingredients-Skye-Gyngell/dp/1580080502) Every recipe I’ve tried has been one of the best things I’ve ever made. And the book is beautiful.

Unfortunately, I have not yet unpacked my cookbooks. This moving in process is taking much, much longer than moving out. Which, while not ideal, has unexpected benefits. Like realizing that I did not actually need to buy a cabinet from IKEA for the bathroom. It’s true that my bathroom items aren’t perfectly organized and things aren’t as convenient now as they were before. But they’re completely fine. Good, even. Just different.

What does my bathroom have to do with soup, you ask? Thankfully, not much. Just that like my bathroom, when I decided to make this soup I had to make do, to be flexible, deal with what is. Which ended up with a similar lesson. That I can adapt. Look it up online. And then make it your own. What follows is my modified version of Skye Gyngell’s soup. Mine isn’t quite the same. It has double the Swiss chard and isn’t as lemony. But, like hers, it’s nourishing, comforting, and quite delicious. Here’s what I did.

2 c. cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I had some in the freezer but you could also use canned)
1 sm. can plum tomatoes (or half a 28-oz can–freeze the rest or use for something else)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 c. chicken broth
1 dried chili
2 springs rosemary
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice of day old, chewy bread, crusts removed
Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of Swiss chard

1. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Crumble the chili pepper into the oil, add the garlic and rosemary, and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, using the back of a wooden spoon to break them up. Add a pinch of salt, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the chicken broth, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 40 minutes.

2. Wash the chard and remove the stems. Tear the leaves into small pieces. You can either dice the stems or discard.

3. Just before the 40 minutes is up, remove the rosemary and add the bread and about 3 T. of grated Parmesan to the soup. Stir until the bread dissolves into the soup. Add the chard and cook another five minutes or so, until the chard is tender. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

This recipe makes two generous servings. After all, I’m cooking for one. So this is perfect: dinner one night, and lunch the next day.  The original recipe makes a larger amount, enough for a family. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can easily double this recipe using the same amount of Swiss chard.

Slow cooker chuck roast with Mortgage Lifter beans from Adobe Milling Company

pot roastThis is so much better than you’d think it would be. Honestly, I added the beans just because I wanted to find some way to use them and thought this might be good. I had no idea it would elevate the dish into something so spectacular. I mean, true, it’s just pot roast. Not something you’d expect from a real chef at a fancy restaurant. But for an at home dinner on a Monday night, a dinner that mostly cooked itself while you’re at work? Can’t beat it. Plus, on a whim, I decided to add turmeric, something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my diet. Because it’s supposed to be really, really good for you. Here, it was not only delicious, it also imparted a wonderful golden hue to the broth. The end result knocked my socks off. And it was super easy. Here’s what I did.

First, I cooked the beans. I used Mortgage Lifter beans, an heirloom Indimortgage lifter beansan (Native American) bean that I picked up at Adobe Milling Company, in Colorado. (www.anasazibeans.com) The woman at the store recommended pre-soaking these enormous beans. I soaked one package (2 cups) overnight, rinsed, and then cooked them in a slow cooker covered with about 1″ of water and a thumb-sized piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that helps with digestion). It took about 4 hours. When the beans were tender, I added about a teaspoon of salt, turned off the heat, and let them cool in their broth. The salt penetrates the bean during the cooling process, seasoning them through. When they were cool, I refrigerated the beans overnight. Although you can add more if you like (handy to stretch the dish to feed more people), you will only need about two cups of cooked beans for this recipe. I froze the rest to use later. If you go that route, just make sure the beans are fully submerged in their cooking liquid.

Second, this morning, I made the roast. The recipe for that is slightly more involved, but not much.

1 3-lb. chuck roast
2 onions, sliced medium
6 carrots, cut into chunks
2 T. cold water
1 T. kuzu (another kind of seaweed) or cornstarch, for thickening
1-1/2 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked mortgage lifter or cannellini beans, homemade or canned (if canned, drain and rinse)

Combine the water and kuzu (or cornstarch) in the insert of your slow cooker. Add the onions, carrots, and turmeric. Stir to combine. Wash and dry the roast, then rub the salt and pepper into both sides. Place the roast on top of the vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. About an hour or two before you’re ready to eat, use tongs to turn the roast and add about 2 cups of cooked, drained beans. Just ladle them around the sides. When you’re ready to eat, taste for seasonings. And that’s it! Super simple.  Surprisingly delicious. And a nice way to sneak some healthy beans and turmeric into your diet.