Chickpea and sweet potato tagine

sweet potato tagineI made this last night, inspired by my most recent meal at Lula Cafe. Lula, which has had some variation of this dish on the menu since it opened, has been my favorite restaurant in Chicago since pretty much then.  Yet, despite the many times I’ve considered skipping over the specials and ordering the tagine, this last visit was the first time I managed it. And, as you can probably guess by this post, it was wonderful. Like all of Lula’s food, it made me feel like I was eating in a way that made everything in my life just a little better. My version is not as good as theirs was. But it’s tasty. And good for you– studies have shown that both ginger and turmeric may decrease inflammation. Because avoiding gluten apparently doesn’t do it all. Life is good but it is not fair. But so it goes. Now. The recipe.

1 Tablespoon butter or ghee or coconut oil (I used butter)
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh turmeric, minced (substitute 1 teaspoon or more dried if you can’t find fresh)
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
sea salt to taste
4 cups cooked chickpeas with their broth (you can substitute 2 small cans but rinse and use fresh water or broth)
1/4 – 1/2 cup golden raisins, to taste

Heat fat in a sturdy, medium-sized saucepan that has a lid over medium heat. Add onions. Saute for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add everything but the chickpeas and broth. Stir to combine and cook for another few minutes. Add the chickpeas and raisins with enough liquid to just cover the ingredients. Partially cover and simmer for a half hour or so, until the sweet potato is soft and the flavors have melded into something greater than their individual components, sweet and smoky and with hints of something mysterious and far away that you’ve always known but never quite known how to find. Or something like that. Serve over mashed cauliflower, quinoa, or rice, topped with a handful of arugula or some other bitter greens. The greens aren’t essential but they provide a nice balance for the sweetness.

“Cream” of broccoli soup

broccoli soupThis was a spur of the moment, I’m hungry, what’s in the fridge, kind’ve meal. Perfect for the cool weather we’re having in Chicago these last two days. I made the soup last night but brought leftovers to work today, which is when I decided to write this post. Because it’s so good! And because maybe you, too, have bone broth, white beans, and roasted broccoli in your fridge. If not, maybe this post will inspire you to make some. I like to make big batches of bone broth and beans (separately, as in one batch of bone broth and one or more batches of beans) when I have the time. I then freeze  small containers for later.

Indeed, that’s exactly how I wound up with 2-cup containers of bone broth and white beans in my fridge. I’d taken both of them out of the freezer a couple of days ago, after I finished teacher training, without a specific plan but knowing I needed food, didn’t have time to make anything, and would be able to make something quick, easy, and nourishing. And voila, broccoli soup! To make it I just combined the broth and the beans in a saucepan with leftover roasted broccoli, heated, and pureed with my handy immersion blender, which may be my most useful kitchen tool.

Because this was so simple, there isn’t really a recipe. But I don’t think I’ve blogged about bone broth yet. So that’s what I’ll discuss. Briefly.

I’ve been making bone broth pretty steadily for the last year or so. At first I made a new batch every week. That was great when my boyfriend (who wasn’t ever really my boyfriend and is still gone and who I still miss terribly — broken hearts SUCK) was around to create interesting soups and help me eat them. But he usually wasn’t around and I pretty quickly figured out that once a week made way more broth than my freezer could hold. Now I make a new batch whenever I use up the last container from the freezer. It’s a good system.

My recipe, if I can call it that, is based on this one from NourishedKitchen. Basically, you roast a chicken, cut off the meat, then simmer the carcass for a couple of days with vegetable scraps, a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, and filtered water. I used to let it go for days for perpetual soup, like the recipe at Nourished Kitchen. But I prefer the richness of single batch broth.

Allegedly, bone broth will heal your gut, fight inflammation, reduce joint pain, inhibit infections, and, my favorite, promote strong, healthy bones. I don’t know if any of these claims are true. And I don’t care. Because it’s delicious, easy, affordable, environmentally responsible, and, at the very least, more nourishing than store-bought chicken broth.  You should definitely make some. As an alternative for the vegans and vegetarians, use extra water next time you cook chickpeas and use that instead. It is wonderful.

Roast chicken with braised cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions. Plus stuffed pickled peppers.

roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onionsThis was the main course last night, at my first semi-solo (I had an awesome date, someone I’ve been seeing for a while and who came early and helped. A lot.) dinner party. Which was unbelievably great. So much fun. This shot doesn’t show much detail, but it captures the vibe pretty damn well. Beauty. Love. lightDeliciousness. Goodness, all around. Hooray for dinner parties! And I think this might be the best food I’ve ever made. Luckily, several of my friends are very talented photographers, so there is at least visual documentation. Proof. Because now, home alone with everything all cleaned and put away and fridge back to its normal state (it was packed with food for the past couple of days), it almost feels like a dream. A really, really good dream. But the photos show that it was real. Plus I have the menu! Here’s what we had:pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese (2)

snacks: Kalamata olives and pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese

salad: Vegetable “ceviche” salad

main: Roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions

cheese plate: stinky blue, aged goat, and a creamy cow/sheep milk something, all served with fig & almond cake, sliced apples, and grapes

dessert: peach crisp with vanilla ice cream, courtesy of one of my lovely and talented friends.

The main is actually several different recipes. So it’s pretty involved. But omg — it was so unbelievably good. And while you definitely have to plan ahead, nothing is difficult. Plus, this is one of the few times where I think canned beans would be fine. So I encourage you to make this, or some version of this. Then report back and tell me if it is the best thing you’ve ever had. Here are recipes.

First, the peppers. This isn’t so much a recipe as directions for one of the easiest appetizers ever. You buy the pickled peppers from somewhere that has them (I got these from the olive bar at Whole Foods). Stuff the peppers with goat cheese. Done.

Second, the chicken, which again is not really a recipe. I used chicken thighs plus one boneless, skinless breast. Wash the chicken then pat it dry. Toss in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Arrange on racks set on jelly roll pans. (I had five pieces of chicken on each pan. So you may only need the one pan.) Preheat the oven to 450. Let the chicken sit out while the oven is preheating, so it will season with the salt and come closer to room temperature. Sprinkle some fresh chopped rosemary over the top then slide it in the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, rotating top to bottom and back to front about halfway through, until the skin is crisp.

Third, the parsnips. Again, not a recipe. Peel parsnips (I used five) and dice into pieces a little larger than 1/2 inch. Melt some butter in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, then saute over medium high heat for ten or fifteen minutes, tossing occasionally. Set aside. After you turn the chicken, put the parsnips into the jelly roll pan and let them crisp up and absorb some juices. Unless there is a lot of rendered fat in the bottom of your pan, in which case maybe skip this step. It’s just a bonus.

Fourth, the pickled beets and onions. This recipe is from Saltie: A cookbook. I love this cookbook so much that I literally read it from cover to cover. Because it’s compulsively readable. You really feel like you get to know the authors and that if you lived in Brooklyn, you would want them to be your friends. Especially after making a couple of their recipes. So good! I deviated a little bit from the original, but only by cutting down the sugar and combining beets and red onions.

1 bunch of beets, scrubbed and trimmed
2 red onions, sliced into thick wedges
2 c. red wine vinegar
2 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1-1/2 t coarse sea salt
1 T whole black peppercorns
1 T coriander seeds
1 T mustard seeds
2 whole star anise, broken up
8 whole allspice berries

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the beets in a roasting pan. Add just enough water to the pan to evenly cover the bottom. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about an hour, depending on the size. Let cool until you can handle them, then peel the beets, slipping the skins off with your fingers or a kitchen towel and using a paring knife where they stick. Slice into ½” wedges, then put in a large, heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, remove the pot from the heat and add the onions, Stir to combine. Then add the beets and let everything cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to (preferably glass) container, cover, and refrigerate. The pickled beets will be ready to eat the next day and will keep for up to 2 months.

And finally. The beans. The idea for these started with a recipe for slow-roasted pork shoulder with garlic-rosemary beans from Cooking Slow, by Andrew Schloss. I made it a couple of weeks ago as a test for the dinner party. The pork was delicious. But it was the beans that blew my mind. The original recipe calls for canned beans, but of course I cooked mine from scratch. Because I didn’t see how they could possibly hold their shape, I decided to brine. But I digress. The point is the finished project. They were incredible. Firm and meaty and infused with all the flavors of tomatoes, pork, garlic, and rosemary. Seriously delicious. But heavy and not what I wanted to serve. So I continued thinking. Reading. And came across a recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef for beans braised in olive oil. Which sounded good. But a little over the top for what I was looking for. So I decided to experiment. Here’s what I did.

1 pound dried cannellini beans (if you want to use canned, you’ll probably need two 15-oz. cans)
1″ piece of kombu (if you’re cooking dried beans. This is for digestion.)
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. fresh rosemary
1/4 c. olive oil
1 14-1/2 oz. can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth or water

1. Brine the beans over night by adding about a tablespoon of salt to the water, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and then adding the beans. Rinse, cover with water, and add the kombu. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for about an hour or until the beans are tender. It’s okay if they split. But you don’t want them mushy. When the beans are cooked, add a teaspoon or so of sea salt and let them cool in the cooking liquid.

2. Once the beans have cooled, transfer to a dutch oven or slow cooker. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for another minute or two then add the onion mixture to the beans. Finally, add the beans and chicken broth or water. Make sure the liquid covers the beans by an inch or so; if it doesn’t, add more. Cover and cook. If you’re using the slow cooker, set for 12 hours on low. If you’re using the dutch oven, use the oven. To be honest, I did both. I started in the slow cooker, not just all day but all night. But there was still liquid on top and beans hadn’t turned dark and meaty. So I wound up transferring to a dutch oven and cooking for another hour or two at 400. They were perfect. Next time I’ll probably start with the oven. But we’ll see. Playing is fun. As is cooking for and eating with people you love.

gettting ready for dinner partyTo serve, scoop about a cup of beans and arrange them around the plate, randomly, leaving spaces. Sprinkle a smaller spoonful of parsnips over the beans. Fill some of the empty space with kale pesto, pickled beets and red onions, and chicken. Eat. Enjoy.clean plate

 

 

Fresh Summer Cassoulet w/ Gluten-Free Bread

More than a year ago I wrote this post, in which I talked about a vegan cassoulet I had at 29 Palms, in Joshua Tree. The chef gave me directions, which I documented with every intention of giving it a shot. But then life intervened. First I had to move. Then the summer was insanely hot, so that the very last thing I wanted to do last summer was spend time in the kitchen. Finally, I was me eating cassouletalways rehearsing.

All of that seems like it happened far more than a year ago. Wow. So much has changed. For example, I cut off my hair. See, there I am, last night, just about to dip a piece of gluten-free bread into the cassoulet. With really short hair. And not yet knowing whether the food had turned out as planned or was going to bomb. Nervous. Hopeful. Happy to be with people I love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cassoulet. Bread.

Until a couple of weeks ago my plan of recreating that delicious vegan cassoulet had fallen completely out of my mind. But I remembered it I was trying to figure out what to make for a dinner party I was co-hosting with friends who live in Evanston. Since Evanston is a bit of a hike from my place, I wanted to make something with ingredients that would be easy to carry. Also, affordability is always a consideration these days. Plus I have this new gluten-free thing. And, we were having the dinner party in honor of a friend who was visiting from California and is someone who really appreciates delicious food. (If you like to cook as much as I do, that’s an important quality in friends.) So I was super excited when I remembered the cassoulet. The only trick was coming up with a decent gluten-free bread. Which has been much more difficult than anticipated.

Indeed, during my relative silence of the past few months, I’ve actually been cooking a lot. But in addition to my generalized lack of creative energy (apparently I’m one of those people whose creativity is fueled by angst. Now that I’m no longer so unhappy, I’m not feeling the need to create. It is sad. But I like being happy.), I also haven’t been writing about it because there have been a lot of failed attempts. Specifically, with gluten-free bread.

I know, I know. Gluten-free bread does not involve beans. But, as I’ve mentioned before, bread is an essential component of a bean-based diet. Not only is it good for dipping into delicious sauces, bread adds an important textural variation. Here, it is necessary for both reasons. So, breath held and fingers crossed, I tried out yet another recipe promising delicious gluten-free bread so good that even people who can eat gluten will love it. And lo and behold, this recipe delivered! gluten free breadMaybe not the most beautiful loaf ever, but definitely, recognizably, bread. (The weird shapes happened because my dough was a lot more runny than it was supposed to be, so as it settled into the parchment paper, it took on the crinkles in the paper instead of being strong enough to straighten them out.)

This bread is a bit more dense and moist than regular bread, but totally and completely delicious. Indeed, last night a friend who habitually reached for the baguette wound up deciding that she preferred the gluten-free bread. Finally!

This version, which I think is the fourth recipe I’ve tried, was adapted from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, by Daniel and Shauna Ahern. I love this cookbook. I love them. And I love this bread. Here’s my version. The cassoulet recipe follows.

GLUTEN-FREE BREAD

  • 1-1/4 c. tapioca starch (The original recipe calls for potato starch. I subbed because I didn’t have any on hand and it was pouring out. Given what happened with my version, you should probably use potato starch.)
  • 1-1/4 c. almond flour
  • 2/3 c. oat flour (certified gluten-free)
  • 1/2 c. millet flour
  • 1 T. active dry yeast
  • 3 t. psyllium husks
  • 1-1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/3 c. warm water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/6 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil for the bowl

Combine the flours in the bowl of a standing mixer, if you have one. If not, just combine them in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add the yeast, psyllium husks, and salt. Whisk again. Pour the warm water, eggs, oil, and honey over the dry ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment (or a spoon) until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. At this point, the original recipe tells you that it will be soft and will slump off the paddle/spoon. But my mixture was a very runny, slightly grainy batter. Whatever you wind up with, oil a large bowl and scrape (or pour) in your dough/batter. Cover with a clean cloth and let it rise until doubled and bubbly. For me, that took about three hours. The original recipe says two.

sliced breadAt the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 500 and put a covered cast-iron Dutch oven in to come to heat. (The original recipe suggests either a Dutch oven or a pizza stone. My dough would never have worked for a pizza stone, as it was far too runny. But maybe you will have better luck. I hope so!) After the Dutch oven has been heating for thirty minutes, remove it from the oven and place a large piece of parchment paper on top, using an oven mitt or kitchen towel to push it into the container. Drop in the dough. If you like, top with a swig of olive oil and some sea salt. Then fold the parchment paper over, put on the lid, and return the pot to the oven. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least thirty minutes.

 

 

FRESH SUMMER CASSOULET (serves 4)

The original directions for this cassoulet are as follows: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

As you can see, the only ingredient with a specified amount was the wine. So what I wound up with last night was complete guess work, which I did not measure or document except in this photograph.cassoulet, uncooked Also, I used two separate skillets in order to feed 8. Therefore, what follows is my best guesstimate for what I did in a single batch. Which I may do differently next time. And which, if you try this out, I hope you make your own. This recipe lends itself to that sort of cooking. I hope you try.

  • 1-1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 3 T. halved, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 c. sliced Swiss chard
  • 4 c. cooked cannellini beans
  • 2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram, minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring, until richly fragrant. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for another minute or two of five. Then add the chard and herbs then cook, stirring a little, until carmelized. Add the beans and wine. Continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit and it smells so good you have to eat right now. Serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!

 

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Kitchari with cauliflower

I woke this morning to snow. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Spring has finally come to Chicago. Slowly and cautiously, true, but it’s here. I can tell from the constant birdsong outside my open bedroom window, and the slow greening of ground I saw peeking through the thin veneer of snow when I left home this morning. Thank god. It has been a long winter. I’m tired of wearing snow boots and coats and tights.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually rather enjoy winter, with the slow cooked foods and nesting. Few experiences comfort me as much as being home, all cozy and warm, during a snowstorm. And yet. I also love being able to leave home without having to spend ten minutes gearing up for the outdoors. The feel of air on skin. Skirts.

This transition may seem odd, but when I first heard of kitchari, from a friend out in L.A. who thought I might want to blog about it, the name made me think of skirts. Because there is a similarity of sound. In fact, however, according to Haley Hobson, “Kitchari is a traditional Ayurvedic dish that’s known to assist in detoxing the body and balancing all three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Kitchari provides awesome nutrients while cleansing the toxins out of the body. It’s a great way to cleanse the body and soul in a gentle way.” (http://bit.ly/1gqpwce)

Almost a year has passed since my friend first sent the link about kitchari.  At the time, I was completely scattered, still shell shocked from the end of my marriage, only just starting to get used to living alone, and preparing to move. I was a bit of a wreck. And I thought I was fine. Cleansing probably would have been helpful. But it didn’t happen. This year, though, I’m in a completely different space. I’m happy. More grounded than I’ve been since childhood. And slowly beginning to understand that the idea of external stability is a myth, that real stability must come from within.

These days, my life is all about this choice I’ve made to live every minute from a place of love, to dive down into the murky waters of the unknown, kick off, and start swimming. With no destination. Except that of course I’m hoping, expecting, to hit land. To find a shore. To not keep swimming forever. And that’s the thing: this swimming is forever. I will never land. That’s the illusion. My landing is inside, in yoga, the life I make. There’s no external island of safety, where someone else is going to take over, make things alright. It’s all only me. Maybe a partner, one day. But maybe not. And even if there is someone else, I now know that a committed relationship does not create certainty. Nothing is ever forever and certain. Life is fluid. And as scary as that is, it is also okay. I’m learning to be grateful for what I have now. Which is pretty wonderful.

In addition to many incredibly rewarding relationships, my life is wonderful because I have the constants of work, cooking, and yoga. Lots of yoga. Exciting yoga. Especially two weeks from now, when I get to take a workshop with Ana Forrest. (http://bit.ly/1c9ZnMG) I’m looking at it as a trial run for teacher training. So, to that end, I did a little research. I learned that there are all sorts of requirements for teacher training with Ana Forrest. Including dietary restrictions. Like no coffee. WTF?!

kitchari

The thought of no coffee is daunting. I can already feel the headache of withdrawal. Which makes me think I should probably do a trial cleanse before the upcoming workshop. Starting with Kitchari. So I made it today, adapting the recipe that that Hobson shared in the link, above. While I wouldn’t serve it at a dinner party, it’s actually quite tasty. And supremely comforting. Here’s what I did.

4 T. coconut oil
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
1 T. black mustard seeds
1T. mustard seeds
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 T. turmeric
1 heaping t. ground cumin
1/2 t. cardamon
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. coarsely ground black pepper
1 c. dry green mung beans
1 c. brown basmati rice
5 c. water
1″ piece kombu
1 T. pink Himalayan (or kosher) salt, or to taste

1. Rinse the beans, place them in a bowl, and cover with warm water. Set aside to soak.

2. Heat 1 T. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Spread a layer of cauliflower florets in the skillet, leaving room around the pieces, and cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until lightly browned. You’ll probably need to cook the cauliflower in two batches. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan if it starts to get too brown.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining coconut oil in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the seeds and heat until they start to pop. Drain the beans. Add the ginger, herbs, beans, and rice to the mustard seeds in coconut oil and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the herbs are fragrant. Add the water and kombu. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add the cauliflower, cover, and cook for approximately 40 minutes. Stir in salt. Serve!

Greek lima beans

greek lima beansThis recipe is adapted from one I found in The Great American Slow Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. (http://bit.ly/1ee8Aji) The original recipe is named “gigantes beans with tomatoes and dill.” Although my version is pretty close to theirs, I changed the name, because that’s what these beans are to me, a favorite side at some (although not all) Greek restaurants. Tangy, velvety smooth, and deeply satisfying, I’ve loved them since my first taste, probably 15 years ago. But they aren’t a sure thing. And I’ve had trouble finding a recipe that works.

Here’s what I wrote when I first made these beans: While this version is okay, even good, it isn’t perfect. The beans are a bit too sweet.

At the time I thought that was an accurate assessment. But last night, when I tried these beans again (I froze a few servings from the original batch), I realized that in fact they are absolutely wonderful. Sweet, yes. But in the best way, completely delicious. I had them for dinner with bread, nothing else, and at the end of the meal the bowl was literally unmarked. Because I scooped up every last drop of sauce.

That said, this version is not what I hold in my memory as the perfect Greek Lima Bean. And maybe there never will be a perfect. Because over the years I’ve tried several recipes.There was one that came close, which I made pretty regularly for years. I’ve meant to post about it. But I haven’t made it since I started blogging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I associate that version with a version of myself I’m glad no longer exists, the perfectionist version who made trial runs of everything before dinner parties and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t exactly right. That version of me had great dinner parties, it’s true. My food was always perfect. But back then, in my marriage, I was always too anxious to relax without at least two glasses of wine. And I didn’t really have much fun. I pretended, I think fairly well, but honestly I preferred for everyone to leave me alone while I worked. I was far too stressed out to enjoy a conversation, even with people I loved. Which is sad.

The good news is that lately I’ve started to think about dinner parties again. Real dinner parties. With more than two guests. Where I will have fun. For these dinner parties held by this now version of myself, I plan to be okay with cooking food that might not be perfect. Because what matters is that I’ll be relaxed. Have fun. Maybe even make food ahead of time so that I can devote full attention to guests. Which is what I’m doing now, with these beans. Sort’ve.

I say sort’ve because, while I’m starting to think about real dinner parties, it’s not happening just yet. But I am having a good friend over tomorrow. She offered to give me Reiki and I offered to give her dinner. Cooking for the people I love gives me about as much joy as anything. And I’d be fine cooking with her here. No anxiety in cooking for one or two people. Still, I’m cooking ahead of time because tomorrow another friend somehow convinced me to take a Bikram class, followed by brunch. Which is both exciting and terrifying. I dread Bikram, am convinced I’ll either vomit, faint, or both. However, I promised. So I’m doing it. And therefore I’m cooking today. Ahead of time. Being okay with imperfection.

Of course, while I’m happy to have lost the perfectionism, I hope my food is still good. Because, well, who wants to eat–or serve–bad food? Not me. So. Here’s hoping everything turns out. This is the recipe for the beans:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped (or diced)
1 lb. dried gigantes (or giant lima) beans
1-3/4 cup white wine or vermouth (I used white wine because I don’t have vermouth)
1/4 cup honey
3 T tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large cast iron (or other) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.

2. While the onion is cooking, pick over and rinse the beans, drain, and add to the slow cooker insert. Stir in the wine, honey, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, and kombu. In case you don’t already know, 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/1fgkJ6Z) Cook on low for 5-7 hours.

3. Stir in the dill, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to ensure the beans are fully submerged. But don’t add too much–you want a thick, rich sauce.

In case you’re interested in the rest of the menu, most of which I’m making today, we’re having these beans with a kale salad (http://bit.ly/1cKY6aE) and potato-celery root latkes (http://bit.ly/1dD8dC2). I’ll try to remember to comment to let you know how it all goes together. Bon appetit!