Pecan pie, redux

This blog is now almost a year old. Yet, despite the very best of intentions, I have yet to post about a bean-based dessert. Not because such desserts don’t exist. They do. And I am very curious, eager to try them. But during this same year I’ve been trying to cut down my intake of refined sugar. So most of my baking has involved experimenting with alternatives like maple syrup, honey, and rice syrup. Since I’ve never cooked a dessert with beans, I don’t know what I’m doing, and therefore am not comfortable taking the experiment that far out of the known. Not yet. Which means I still am not posting about a bean-based dessert. But it’s almost Christmas. And, to me, after growing up in in the South as part of a large Southern family, Christmas is not Christmas without pecan pie.

pecan pieAs a kid and young adult, I relied on my mother to make pecan pie, which she did twice each year, once at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas, excepting only the year she was in Nepal, the same year my mouth was wired shut because of a broken jaw. So I couldn’t eat pecan pie anyway. It was a blessing that none was there to torture me. Every other year, though, she made at least one, usually two pecan pies, which I loved equally well warm, at room temperature, or, after a night out with friends, cold from the fridge,

After I moved to Chicago and began hosting Thanksgiving for friends, I finally learned to make my own. And immediately realized that there is nothing easier than classic Southern Pecan Pie, which consists of eggs, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and Karo syrup. Yup, Karo syrup. Corn syrup. My mom, who is visiting right now from Florida, thinks that Karo syrup is not the same level of evil as the corn syrup that is wreaking havoc on American bodies, minds, psyches, causing an epidemic of obesity and, to my mind, reducing our ability to think and feel. But I think all corn syrup is created equal. The sweetness hides pure poison.

Yeah, I know. Hyperbole. But really this is what I believe. Based on no research or knowledge and therefore simultaneously indefensible and incontrovertible. It’s just a slow-burning conviction that started off small but has gradually built up to this stance that no level of taste bud delight can overcome. Truly, I don’t know whether Karo syrup is less bad for you than the commercial corn syrup that is in pretty much all processed foods. But I don’t care enough to find out. Because I know that I can no longer comfortably cook with, or eat, any form of corn syrup.

And yet. Pecan Pie. The best part of Christmas. A food that is, within my small world, something I am known for, something that people request of me for dinner parties.  A part of my identity. How could I give it up? Especially when a dear friend asked me to make a pecan pie for a holiday dinner party.

Enter Laura C. Martin’s Green Market Baking Book, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. (http://bit.ly/1fRvHTj) The recipes are neither gluten- nor dairy-free, but everything is made without refined sugar. And in addition to mouth-watering, easy to follow recipes, there’s a ton of great information that should allow you to adapt recipes to almost any dietary regime. I haven’t spent the time to do so with any bean-based desserts yet. I did, however, spend the time to make Martin’s pecan pie. Last night. And it turned out so well that seven of us ate it all, wishing there was more. So even though this recipe has no beans, or anything to do with beans, I wanted to share. Because it’s almost Christmas. And maybe you, too, want pecan pie without corn syrup. This one is delicious.

The crust recipe below is adapted from Alice Waters’s Art of Simple Food. (http://bit.ly/1coee66) It turned out really well and was easier than other recipes I’ve tried. However, if you don’t have time or feel up to making your crust, just buy one from the store and make the filling. It will be great.

Pie Crust
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 T. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. salt
1/3 cup ice cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a medium or large bowl. Using your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour until you’ve formed a crumbly mixture. It should take about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until large clumps begin to form. Gather the mixture into a ball, then wrap in plastic and press into a disk. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Or, alternatively, you can make ahead, refrigerating for up to 3 days or freezing for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw in the fridge for 1 day. If refrigerated for more than 30 minutes (or frozen), allow the dough to sit out for a little while before rolling.

When you’re ready to bake the pie, you’ll need to prebake the crust, so heat the oven to 400 degrees. To roll out the dough, lightly flour a large surface. Marble is ideal, but I use the wood top of my baker’s rack. You can also use a large cutting board. Whatever you use, flour it well, especially if you’ve never done this before. At worst, too much flour will make the crust a little tough. But that’s better than sticking. And when people bite into the pie they will never notice a tiny bit of toughness in the crust. Unless they’re hyper critical pastry chef experts. In which case they should make the pie themselves.

Assuming you’re making the pie, start in the middle, press down into the rolling pin, and roll outward. Lift the pin and start again from the middle, rolling in all directions, until you have a round sheet that is larger than your pie plate by about an inch all around.  Roll the crust onto the pin, transfer to the pie plate, and unfold. Here’s a tutorial that I found on Saveur’s website. (http://bit.ly/1a1IQoc) Press the crust into the pan, trim the edges, and refrigerate for a half hour.

To prebake, line the crust with foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans. You do this to prevent the crust from puffing up. If you use beans, save them for this use, as they won’t be good for anything else after being baked. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork, then brush with egg yolk. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Place a large baking sheet in the oven to heat.

Pecan Pie
prebaked 9″ piecrust
3 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1-1/4 cups pecan pieces
2 T butter

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. Add the syrups, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Heat the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then add the pecans. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned, then remove from heat. Let the pecans cool for 5 minutes or so then transfer them to the pie shell. Add the filling.
4. Sauté the pecan pieces in butter in a large frying pan for 3 to 4 minutes, then allow to cool. Transfer the pie to the oven, on the baking sheet, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until set. Serve warm or at room temperature with creme fraiche, whipped cream, or as is. And enjoy.

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Lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables

lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetablesThis is an intentional version of the accidental lentil stew I made a while back. (http://bit.ly/19jxNfI)  Or at least, the stew aspect is intentional. The cabbage, parsnips, and carrots are included because they were in the fridge. And because I like them. But I didn’t include onion or celery in this version because I was out of both. So yeah. Maybe this recipe is not so intentional. Yet it isn’t accidental, either. Somewhere in between. Maybe like the rest of my life. In which I try to act intentionally, always, try to make conscious choices. But somehow so often I feel like life just sort’ve happens. It’s challenging to be awake all the time, not go on auto-pilot. Especially when life is busy. Truly, though, as I’ve been reminded lately, every act is a choice, even the default of unthinking habit. Indeed, even not acting. Some acts, or moments of inaction, just require more effort. Intention.

But I digress. Really, the point of this post is the stew. Which is delicious. Also nourishing and affordable and filling and warming on a cold winter day. So you should make it. One note: the vinegar is essential. And, like the other ingredients, quality makes an enormous difference. I like Bragg’s brand the best, but whatever you use, make sure it is real apple cider vinegar, not the kind that is just white vinegar with artificial flavors. Here’s the recipe.

3 c. brown lentils
1 head of savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
1-2 carrots, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece of Kombu
3 T. olive oil
6 c. water
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Place the lentils, parsnips, carrots, garlic, kombu, and olive oil in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir to combine then add the cabbage. Pour the water over the top, cover, and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the cover, add the salt, and stir to combine. Wait a half hour or so before adding the vinegar, stirring again. You can eat right away but this will taste better if you bring to room temperature and then reheat. Or, better yet, make it a day before you plan to serve. A night in the fridge will give the flavors time to meld. Regardless of whether you eat immediately or the next day, enjoy! I like the stew as is, but it’s also very nice with a couple of slices of cheese toast.

Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!

Vegetarian variation of Rick Bayless’s “Classic Mexican Fried Beans”

refried beansIn his classic guide to Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, Bayless writes of this recipe, “this is one place where pork fat makes an enormous flavor difference.” It’s true. Like most things in life, these beans are even better with some bacon. But this version, made with pinto beans cooked in the slow cooker with kombu, is quite good. Thick, rich, and, well, meaty. Yet clean.

In fact, my original plan for this weekend’s post included meat. I had planned to make  an elaborate steak chili based on one that an intern in my office made for the fall pot-luck. (Yes, my office has a pot luck. I am very, very lucky.) But then I noticed that my bank balance was a bit off after my first post-divorce, new federal filing status paycheck.  Less than it was supposed to be. Apparently the single-person tax is higher. So I now have even less money. Which isn’t great. But it could be worse.

I don’t always appreciate everything that I have. Because I’m a hopelessly flawed human. Usually, though, if given sufficient time to ponder, I manage to come up with something reasonably positive. At least in writing. It’s my strategy for avoiding misery. So. The upside to my new financial reality.

First, I really like beans, which are notoriously affordable.

Second, while I would prefer to have more money, I still have enough. And I have so much more than many, a fact that I’m reminded of every day that I spend out in the world. I may not be wealthy, but I am not poor. Indeed, I’m quite insanely over-privileged. And grateful.

Third, this little shot of reality forced me to be flexible. Which is something I need more of. Yesterday morning, in yoga, the intention was to explore what happens when we let go, go with the flow. Anne used another word, which despite persistent efforts, I have not been able to remember. And, sadly, she did not record this class, so, unlike many of her other classes it’s not posted on her Soundcloud. But, while I may not be able to remember the specific word that Anne used, I got the gist.  Oh, and as an aside, Anne has been posting a whole bunch of her Forrest yoga classes, for free! She’s an incredible teacher.  Generous, creative, and wonderfully clear. Her adjustments are also out of this world, so you should really try to see her in person. But these classes are a nice second best. Check it out. (http://bit.ly/1akRqxh)

Getting back to now, the lesson I’ve been learning, the lesson Anne emphasized yesterday, is to allow space. To do this, I’m learning to listen to my body. Separating experience into individual components–thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I’m starting to be able, in moments of overwhelm, to focus on sensation. Stay in my body. Which permits everything else to slow down and shifts the experience into a process of allowing rather than forcing. Eventually I come back to thought with a new calm. The power of mindfulness is not overrated. (http://bit.ly/5YxQvx)

Of course, this process is a lesson I am only just now beginning to learn. It is very new. So I fail, again and again. Yet each time I fail, I do so with more grace, as I slowly learn that this is what it means to live. To breathe into and from the space in between moments, letting go of the illusion that anything is ever under control. The reward is resilience. Quickly realizing that it’s okay to not make the steak chili. There’s always another option. Just don’t freak out. And, if you do freak out (I always freak out), don’t freak out about freaking out. It will be okay.

The cool thing is that now, almost a year after I went from once or twice a week yoga to a more regular practice of 3-7 days a week, I generally live in a more resilient place. So it was pretty easy for me to let go of the steak chili, think about what food I had, and decide to keep it super simple. So, yesterday morning, even before I went to yoga, I started the beans.

I cooked them in the slow cooker with a 3″ piece of kombu. In case you don’t already know (if you do, please forgive the repetition), kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/reIsZA) Note that the Weston Price article that I just linked to calls for pre-soaking for optimum digestion. My digestive system is pretty well acclimated to beans, so I don’t bother. But if you decide to soak, note that the beans will cook faster. Also note that the beans may fall apart a bit after long cooking. For this recipe, that’s a bonus. But if that’s a problem for you, try brining. (http://bit.ly/1hEnp2Q)

Assuming you are neither soaking nor brining, start by sorting through and rinsing one pound of dried pinto (or any variety of) beans. Discard any that are broken or discolored, rinse, and put in the insert of your slow cooker. Cover with about three inches of cold filtered water, add a 3″ piece of kombo, place the lid on the insert, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the beans are tender. You want them to be on the soft side, so if you aren’t sure, cook a little longer. Once they’re done, salt liberally and allow to cool. The cooling period lets the salt fully permeate the beans. This amount will be enough to double the following recipe. If you’re making less, freeze the extra beans, making sure they’re covered by cooking liquid, or reserve for another use.

Now for the recipe. The following amounts make about 2 cups, enough to serve 1-2. Feel free to double if you’re cooking for more.

1 T. butter, olive, or vegetable oil
1 sm. yellow or onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 c. undrained, seasoned cooked beans, ideally slightly warm to facilitate mashing (if you’re using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
salt, if necessary

1. Heat the fat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or two, and then add approximately one cup of beans, using a slotted spoon. Mash the beans coarsely using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. When they’re mashed to your liking, repeat with another spoonful. Continue until you’ve incorporated all of the beans.

2. Once all the beans have been mashed, add about 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid or, if you’re using canned, water. (Bean cooking liquid alone is enough reason to make your own beans. It’s so good!) Stir the liquid into the beans and continue to cook until the beans are just a little more soupy than you want them to be. They will thicken once you take them off the heat.

refried beans and eggsSalt to taste and serve, either as a side for fried eggs, as I did this morning, as a filling for burritos, or as a side. Or, if you’re feeling incredibly lazy, eat them as is, with tortilla chips, as I did last night. It’s true that this doesn’t rate super high on the scale of excellent single person self-care, but, well, there are more shameful suppers.

Cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta with Parmesan

I made this last night for a very small dinner party with two trusted friends. cranberry beans with tomato fennel sauce over parmesan polentaA safe environment for a gamble, in case it didn’t turn out. The photo is terrible because we didn’t eat until late, after talking for two hours while drinking wine, so the photo was an act of duty, without regard to aesthetics. But omg — all I can really say is yum. Which is what I said at least three times while eating. Because I was trying to restrain myself. It is, after all, somewhat unseemly to freak out over the goodness of your own cooking.

To balance things out a bit, my praise was not entirely self-directed. Unfortunately, this is not an original recipe. I got it from theKitchn, who in turn took it from Rancho Gordo. Here’s the link. (http://bit.ly/17RQGQ4) And here’s the recipe, which I followed almost slavishly. My only departures were these: I used frozen borlotti/cranberry beans, I didn’t add butter to the polenta, and I didn’t add parsley or extra cheese to the finished plates. Oh, and I used 1 small yellow onion instead of half a medium onion as in the original recipe. A friend recently suggested that cut onions absorb all kinds of nastiness if stored in the fridge. This appears to be mere rumor. (http://bit.ly/JWhiqo) But, just to be on the safe side, and also because I have been cooking less and therefore never seem to use the other half of a cut onion, I’ve started buying the smaller ones.

Okay. Now. Recipe. It’s seriously worth your time. The individual textures of the diced fennel, the tomatoes, and the beans remain distinct, creating a pretty exciting mouth feel, while the flavor is a delicate balance of sweet richness. The savory polenta is the perfect balance. I highly recommend. It made for an entirely satisfying and delicious vegetarian, gluten-free main course. You could make it vegan by subbing oil for butter and eliminating the cheese. But man. That would be a bummer. The dairy is good here. Enjoy.

Serves 4 to 6

Tomato Sauce
3 T. unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and diced medium
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes or plum tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper

2 cups drained, cooked cranberry/borlotti beans
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Polenta
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the oregano,  red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Grate the carrot directly into the pot, stir, and saute for another minute or two before adding the tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt and stir for a couple of minutes to break up the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2-1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made up to this point 1 or 2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate.

frozen borlotti beans

For the beans, I highly recommend fresh or frozen beans if you can find them. Indeed, the reason I decided to make this dish was my recent discovery of frozen Borlotti beans at my favorite local grocery store, HarvesTime Foods. (http://bit.ly/ecrXBw) Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans, which, as I’ve posted about before, are my favorite beans. (http://bit.ly/19Kknpx)

To cook them, bring a pot of water to a boil, salt, and add the beans. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse, and add them to the tomato sauce after it’s finished cooking and sitting either off heat or in the fridge. They’ll absorb the flavor of the sauce. Extra deliciousness.

About 45 minutes before you plan to eat, make the polenta. (It will be okay if it winds up being more than 45 minutes, as happened last night.) Boil the water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir in the Parmesan and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm. 

About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, warm the beans and tomato sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well.

I served this with my favorite simple salad: arugula with thinly sliced fennel and shaved Parmesan, lightly dressed with walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was crazy delicious good.

Chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato, adapted from Ottolenghi

In the past few months I’ve read all three of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, PlentyJerusalem, and, most recently, Ottolenghi. (http://bit.ly/1caF9BA) With each book, I had big plans for making some elaborate meal. But it never happened. These past few months have not been the highlight of my cooking life. I think I’ve been overwhelmed. Life has been good, but maybe a little too busy. Plus I had checked the books out from the library. With each book, before I got around to making anything, it was due back, requested by another patron. So it’s only now that I finally tried a recipe. Which I did without fanfare one morning last week, the day after I left FB. Instant infusion of extra time. But that’s another story. For now, recipe.

chickpeas with spinach and honeyed sweet potatoesAlthough there were several dishes that looked good, I decided to go with this one because (a) it involved beans, which meant I could blog about it, (b) I had all the ingredients on hand, and (c) the flavors sounded simple enough to be able to eat more than just once. That meant I’d be able to eat for lunch and dinner a couple of days. This was important because I knew I probably wouldn’t cook anything else for the week. It was a busy one.

For my first go with this recipe, my only departure was in cooking the chickpeas. The original calls for an overnight soak with baking soda. But I didn’t soak or use baking soda. Instead, I cooked the chickpeas in the slow cooker with kombu, as I always do. It’s super easy.

To cook the beans, measure out a generous cup of dried beans. Pick through them and remove any that are discolored or broken as well as any stones or dirt. Then rinse, drain, and place in the slow cooker insert. Add a 1″ piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that adds a hint of smoky flavor and allegedly helps make beans more digestible by breaking down the phytic acid), cover with 2-3″ of cold filtered water, and cook for 8-10 hours or until soft. Add salt to taste and either use right away or cool and refrigerate until you’re ready to make the recipe. Here it is:

2 T. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. coriander seeds
1 T. tomato paste
14 oz. canned tomatoes, chopped
1 t. sugar
1-1/2 t. ground cumin
2 c. baby spinach
2/3 c. cilantro leaves, for garnish (I skipped this because I didn’t have any cilantro on hand)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb (2 medium sized) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1″ rounds
3 c. water
3-1/2 T. unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
4 T. honey
1/2 t. salt

1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, smashed
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 T. olive oil
1 t. dried mint
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the water, butter, honey, and salt in large skillet, and arrange the sweet potatoes so that they’ve pretty evenly dispersed with the pieces of butter. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook for about an hour, turning the sweet potatoes halfway through so they’ve evenly colored on both sides.

2. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, make the sauce for the chickpeas by heating olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds. Fry for 8 minutes, stirring, until golden grown. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute. Then add the tomatoes, sugar, and ground cumin. Cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the chickpeas are also salted.

3. Stir the spinach into the tomato sauce, then add the cooked chickpeas. Stir together and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. To make the yogurt sauce, whisk the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and mint into the garlic. Let the flavors meld for at least 10 minutes before serving.

5. To serve, simply transfer the chickpeas to a serving dish, place the sweet potatoes on top, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Either top with the yogurt sauce or serve it alongside.

When I made this, I was a little worried about eating whole coriander seeds. But they were delicious. As was the overall dish. Simple, but also fresh and interesting and somehow enlivening. I see what all the fuss is about. And I’m excited to try more recipes. Which I plan to do very soon. Because fall is here. And I’m tired of eating cheese and crackers for dinner. Ready to settle in, eat healthy food, reestablish a routine. Celebrate home and take care of myself by cooking. And writing. It’s a plan.

black bean tacos w/ sauteed kale, chevre, and tomatillo salsa

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about space. For example, so far my favorite of the sketches I’ve written with my comedy ensemble is almost entirely silent. This despite countless hours of writing and rewriting and working on other, more densely worded pieces. The space of silence. And I’m pretty sure the reason my garden isn’t as productive as it should be is because I filled every single square. The plants don’t have enough space to reach their full potential.

Of course, as seems to be the norm of my life lately, the place where the concept of space has been most profound is yoga. One of my teachers has also been fixated on the concept lately. I don’t know if I got it from her or she got it from me or if we both came to it separately in the way that ideas float around the universe and land on people who are in the same place. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is this realization that growth requires space. I’m slowly learning that the insistent pushing and tight control I’ve always thought was necessary actually inhibits growth. Instead, it happens when I stop trying so hard, when I let go. Which does not come naturally, at least not at this point in my life.

Yesterday I finally unpacked the last of the boxes left over from my move, including the ones marked “random,” which I’d left so long because I just couldn’t deal. Up til now my tendency has been to hold on. Not obsessively. I am no hoarder. But I find it difficult to let go, both physically and emotionally. So, yesterday, as I faced the boxes full of journals and photos and letters and a million tiny fragments of who I used to be and lives I used to have, I decided to practice this new concept of space by getting rid of everything.

Of course, because I’m me, that didn’t happen. I had to go through it all first to make sure there was nothing essential. Which meant that my unpacking of these few boxes wound up being an all-day trip. I traveled through time, looking at snapshots and reading journals and letters that spanned decades.  I succeeded in letting go of some things, but I kept a lot. And by the time I finished putting everything away I was spent, definitely not up to cooking. Yet I needed real food, something nourishing. Not cheese and crackers or chips and dip.

My original plan for the day was to make frittata. With cauliflower and Swiss chard, something that I eat very, very happily every couple of weeks. Because It’s super easy and delicious. But, when the dinner bell rang, I had no taste for eggs. And no desire to cook. Although I had beans in the fridge, that was not what I wanted. Because, as much as I love them, one can only eat so many beans in a week. It’s true that I haven’t written much lately, which could be interpreted to mean that I have not been cooking and eating beans. But my silence means only that I have not cooked or eaten beans worthy of writing about.

So it was with great reluctance that I pulled out some beans. Black ones. Then, behind the black beans, I found a small container of leftover kale that I’d sauteed a couple of days before and forgotten. In a flash of inspiration I remembered that on a whim the day before I’d picked up chevre. And suddenly, just like that, I was totally excited about dinner. In the space of letting go of my plan, I made up something new. Which turned out perfectly.

black bean taco w kale, goat cheese, and tomatillo salsaThe amounts listed below make a single serving. Multiply as needed.

1/2 cup cooked, drained black beans (canned are fine)
1/2 cup sauteed kale
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
chevre
2 flour tortillas
1 T. grapeseed oil
salt to taste

1. Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, rub a tiny bit of oil on the skillet before you heat it up) Warm the tortillas, turning, until lightly browned. Roll the tortillas together, put them on a plate, and cover with a kitchen towel or another plate so they’ll stay warm.

2. Add the greens to the skillet for a few minutes, until they’re hot. Put the greens aside and wipe out the skillet.

3. Return the skillet to the heat and add the grapeseed oil and a couple of tablespoons of water. Let it heat for another minute, then add the garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the garlic is very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add more water if necessary. When the garlic is soft, add the black beans. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans. Stir, adding a bit of water to keep the beans from drying out, until heated through, another 3-5 minutes.

To assemble the tacos, divide the black beans between the two tortillas. Add the greens. Then top with goat cheese and tomatillo salsa. You could certainly make your own salsa, and perhaps one day I will post a recipe. But this time, being lazy, I used a jarred version. Frontera. It was good.