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!

Gluten- and dairy-free blueberry muffins without refined sugar

blueberry muffin insideDespite the almost slogan-like title, these muffins are delicious, solidly structured with a perfect balance of sweetness that’s just right for breakfast. Or at least so I believe. But I could be wrong. Because I made them yesterday for a brunch that wound up being cancelled at the last minute. So no one but me has tried them. And I have a cold. Which brings my palate into question. Still. I’m pretty sure they’re good. And I’m certain that they’re good for you, full of whole grain flours, coconut oil, and blueberries. And free of all those trendily objectionable ingredients.

Indeed, my original goal was to make free muffins that were vegan to boot. blueberry muffin failBut that version (the little sunken lava cakes pictured on the right) refused to rise or even cook all the way through. So I gave up. Used eggs. Because, while the problem with version #1 may well have been an excess of blueberries, I was in a rush, and just didn’t trust that ground flax seed and water can really provide the structure eggs lend to baked goods. And I have no regrets. Because the end result  turned out perfectly, with a crispy rounded muffin top, a tender crumb, and a rich bite that reminded me of  a much less sweet form of pound cake.

blueberry muffinsAll that and the recipe includes beans! Sort’ve. Here’s what I did.

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR MIX
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch

My mix is based on a thoughtful post from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. (http://bit.ly/1fARZsO) I discovered the site a couple of years ago after Shauna (Gluten Free Girl) and Danny (The Chef) Ahern published their first book, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. (http://bit.ly/Lrhj9I)  In addition to great recipes, both their books and their blog include a ton of useful information about living well on a gluten-free diet. Plus their entire life seems like a sweet love story that is real and true and thus inspiring. So that’ s nice too. But I digress.

If you read Shauna’s post, which I encourage you to do, you’ll see that she and the Chef don’t like bean flours. Which gave me pause. I wanted to use garbanzo bean flour so that these muffins could include beans. That seemed like the only way I could avoid feeling like a total fraud for posting this recipe on my bean blog. Yet I didn’t want to make something icky. What to do?!

For this first time, I decided to risk the garbanzo bean flour. For the sake of the blog. Happily, my gamble paid off. Next time, though, I’ll probably try a different blend. Just to see.

To mix the flours, I started with the whole grains: brown rice, garbanzo bean, and sorghum. (Check out this post for some good information about sorghum (http://bit.ly/1envadS).) (The bags (I used Bob’s brand) are pretty small, so I had to pour the flours into the measuring cup instead of using the cup to scoop it out. To avoid waste, I measured over a bowl. When I finished the whole grains, I put the excess into a separate bag. Then I repeated the process with the white flours. So I now have three gallon-sized freezer bags in my freezer that are labeled as follows: 70/30 G/F mix; mixed whole grain G/F flours; and mixed white G/F flours. The idea is that over time, I’ll wind up with a sort’ve grab bag approach to gluten free baking. Super fun! And convenient. Because I’ve recently considered that the sometimes painful stiffness in my joints may correspond with my all too frequent over-indulgences in baked goods. This doesn’t mean I’m anywhere close to giving up bread. Or delicious pastries. But, as with refined sugar, it does mean that I will mostly eliminate gluten from the food I cook at home. If you’re not so committed, however, you may be interested in reading this review of a few commercial blends. (http://bit.ly/1alqlAZ)

MUFFINS (recipe adapted from Laura C. Martin’s trusty Green Market Baking Book (http://bit.ly/1k5guCC).)
2-1/4 c. gluten-free flour mix
4 t. baking powder
1 t. sea salt
7 T. coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
zest from one Meyer (or regular) lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond milk
11/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 12-cup muffin tin with a little bit of coconut oil. Whisk the flour mix, baking powder, and salt until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk the coconut oil, syrups, lemon zest, eggs, and milk together until well blended. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold in the blueberries. Using a 1/2 cup measure, spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup almost to the rim. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cut along the sides and pop out to cool on a rack.

White bean, gluten-free, vegan pancakes

This morning, near the end of a three-hour Kundalini class, when I was meant to be deep in meditation, I started laughing out loud, realizing that the title of this post, a literal description of today’s breakfast, would fit perfectly into the sketch show I’ve been working white bean vegan gluten free pancakeson for the past several months.  (And which is finally almost finished!!!) So many health-food buzzwords crammed into a single recipe title, and all of them modifying the ultimate empty calorie breakfast food, pancakes. This recipe sounds like it would taste awful. So much so that it’s hilarious. And yeah. This may be the first time ever that I’m posting a recipe for which the photograph makes the food look better than it was in real life. But while I admit that these weren’t the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted, they were far from the worst.  In fact, they’re pretty good so long as you cover them with enough fresh fruit to ensure that each bite includes at least equal parts fruit and pancake. And maple syrup.

The truth is that I’d probably appreciate these much more if I did not have the luxury of a digestive system that tolerates gluten just fine, or if I was actually vegan. Because while the end result of this experiment is not light or fluffy, and a hint of beany flavor comes through if you don’t get enough fruit and syrup in each bite, they are pancakes. And who doesn’t love pancakes? Well, okay, I don’t. They just don’t compare to waffles, which I love without condition. But when I saw Kathy Hester’s beany pancake recipes, I knew I had to give them a try. (http://bit.ly/JP2DjX) Especially because I’ve had gluten-free pancakes in the back of my mind for almost a year now, since I saw this recipe for flax coconut pancakes in Food and Wine. (http://bit.ly/1dfRbcJ) So I decided to combine the two recipes, coming up with my own version. Which I ate this morning, a couple of hours before yoga.  The end result may not have been the very best pancakes I’ve ever tasted, but, as I said at the start, they were tasty enough. Especially given the title.

Note that the following recipe calls for several different types of flour, all of which I happened to have on hand. Because a while back I became interested in gluten free baking, trying to pack more nutrition into the baked-good punch. If you aren’t so stocked, however, please just use whole wheat pastry flour or even regular white flour. Although the nutritional value will decrease, I’m guessing the texture will improve. And it will definitely be less expensive and troublesome than going out and buying all these fancy flours. Now, here’s the recipe.

2/3 c. brown rice flour
3 T. potato starch
3 T. tapioca starch
3 T. coconut flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1-1/2 c. cooked (or canned) white beans, drained and rinsed
1-1/2 c. unsweetened almond (or other nondairy) milk
1/2 c. rolled oats (make sure they’re marked gluten-free if gluten is an issue)
2 T. olive or coconut oil, plus more for the pan
2 T. maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 T. ground flax seed mixed with 2 T. warm water
1 t. vanilla extract

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.

2. Using a food processor or immersion blender, puree the beans, milk., oats, oil, syrup, flax seed mixture, and vanilla together until smooth.

3. Stir the pureed bean mixture into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

4. Heat a skillet (I always use cast iron, because that’s what I have, but use what you like) over medium heat. For each pancake, scoop about 3 T. of batter into the skillet, making sure to leave space around each pancake. Cook the pancakes for 3-5 minutes on each side. Serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup. This makes a lot but they should freeze well. Enjoy!

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.

Sauteed chicken thighs over cranberry beans and kale pesto

Ten days back from vacation, and I am still feeling the positive effects. Which is remarkable. Because I returned to a Chicago that lived up to its status as a cold, windy city. It could not be less like Florida. Yet the city has its own beauty. The bare trees that line my street are outlined in snow, slow dancing stick figures clothed in white. Ethereal. They are no less mysterious and wonderful than the  beaches, the pine forests, and the cypress swamps of Tallahassee that I love so deeply. Just different. And colder.

Thankfully I have a warm coat. And a home. Where I enjoy cooking hearty, long-cooked food. Like this  recipe, which  is very similar to my beloved cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil (http://bit.ly/1bEQWT9), and, like that recipe, is adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients.

The chief differences between this version and the original are that I substituted chicken thighs for Gyngell’s squab, and, as in the other cranberry bean recipe I stole from her, cooked the beans in a crock pot. cranberry beans with sage, garlic, and tomato If you make this, use the best, most high-quality chicken you can find. It makes a difference.Oh, and I just realized that I accidentally used twice as much kale as I was supposed to. Happy accident that was facilitated by kale being on sale that day. Next time I will probably use less and will likely try it with frozen beans, as I did for the cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta. (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9s) This time the beans were mushy and not very pretty. But the flavor was terrific. So good that  as she took her first bite, one of the two friends I was cooking for, a serious foodie,  pretty much melted into flavor ecstasy. Which I totally agreed with. Even if it wasn’t humble.

This recipe is also nice in that it’s gluten-free, affordable, nourishing, and, while not the most simple dish ever, quick enough to make for a week-night dinner. Here’s the recipe, which will serve six. Or, if folks are really big eaters, three.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cranberry Beans
2-1/2 cups dried cranberry beans
1 (12-oz) can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of sage
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 dried red chili pepper
1 1″ piece Kombu (for digestion–check out this recipe for a fuller explanation (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9))
1/4 cup olive oil

Kale and kale pesto
4 pounds Tuscan Kale (or less if you wish)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 good-quality canned anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 dried red chili pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. To cook the beans, pick over to remove any that are discolored or broken, rinse, and place in the insert of a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, sage, garlic, olive oil, and kombu. Crumble the chili pepper over the top then pour cold filtered water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. When tender, salt generously and allow to cool in the cooking liquid while you prepare the chicken and kale.

2. For the chicken, wash if you like (despite the warnings about spreading bacteria all over your kitchen, I still wash my chicken) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the fat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the chicken. The short time at room temperature will season the chicken and make it cook a bit faster. (Note that this is my completely untrained opinion. Also note that so far as I know, my food has never poisoned anyone. That said, if you’re concerned, please keep the chicken in the fridge. You’re better off avoiding anxiety.)

3. For the kale, bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. (When I think ahead, as I did this time, I fill the pot with tap water in the morning and let it sit all day. My theory is that this will allow the chlorine to slowly rise out of the water instead of all at once. I do this because of some talk I heard a million years ago while visiting a friend in Bolinas, CA. I don’t know if it’s true. But it made sense at the time. So I do this as one of my small ways to ameliorate guilt about being a human and living a modern life here on earth.) Wash the kale leaves and strip them off the stalk. I do this by holding the end of the stalk with one hand, while grabbing on with the other and sliding it down the stalk. When the water is boiling, transfer the kale to the water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and dress the leaves with the olive oil while they’re still warm.

kale pesto3. To make the pesto, transfer half the kale to the bowl of a food processor. Or, if you decided to go for 2 pounds of kale, transfer all of the kale to the food processor. Add the butter, garlic, anchovy fillets, and chili. Process until smooth, using a spatula as necessary to push down the sides. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper.

4. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if you like (I like to freeze and use it as a substitute for broth) and discarding the garlic, sage, and kombu. Place the beans in the cooking pot and stir in the pesto. Add the whole kale as well if you decided to go for the full amount. Cover and set aside.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, place the chicken thighs in the skillet, skin side down. Saute for 7-10 minutes, until the skin is crispy and brown. Turn and saute for another 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the thighs sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Cut into the thickest part of the largest thigh to make sure they’re cooked. (I didn’t do this. My thighs weren’t all the way cooked. It is a testament to the graciousness of my two friends, and probably the past year of intensive yoga, therapy, and over-the-top fixation on good self-care, that I did not freak out even a little bit. We cooked them longer. It was fine. But if possible, I’d like to spare you–and your guests–that experience.)

chicken with cranberry beans and kale pestoTo serve, spoon about a cup and a half of the bean kale mixture into a shallow bowl or a plate with a decent lip, and top with a chicken thigh. We also had an arugula salad and fennel. Originally I planned on two thighs apiece. But we were all completely full with just one thigh. Beans are hearty! If you try this, I hope you enjoy. And that you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself during the holiday season. xo

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.

Many bean soup with a heap of kale

heap of kale 2Traditionally, summer is not the height of soup season. But I love soup. Plus I had an emergency situation. A friend invited me to raid her garden while she was out of town. So I came home with what seemed like a modest amount of kale.  At least, it seemed like a modest amount in comparison to what I left untouched. She has a lot of kale. So, when I was next to the plants, the single bagful seemed like maybe enough for a couple of salads. When I got home, however, my scale slid back to reality. The bag full of kale I’d picked, thinking I was being so moderate, was probably the equivalent of 5 or 6 bundles from the grocery store. And I’m one person. What was I going to do with it all?

Suddenly I was overwhelmed.  It was Friday evening and I was home relatively early, looking forward to a rare night at home. I still had enchiladas in the fridge and didn’t feel like cooking. And yet. I had picked the kale. I had a responsibility to eat it. But my next seven days loomed as a series of full days followed by full nights, with no time to cook. Whatever I was going to do, I had to do it now. I settled on kale chips.

Exhausted, but determined, I dutifully washed the dirt off, removed a couple of slugs, and stripped the leaves from the stems. So far, so good. Then, suddenly, I stopped. What was I doing? I was not having a good time. I didn’t want kale chips. And not only that, but I didn’t want to turn on the oven. It was going to make the perfectly temperate kitchen hot. Plus I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to do anything. What did I want?

As I stood in the kitchen, surrounded by kale, it hit me. I’m a single person with no children or anyone at all relying on me. Sometimes it is heartbreakingly lonely. I’m often terrified by the future, so different from what I expected, what I used to have. There’s so much loss. But there’s also an amazing freedom in this life I’m building for myself. I have no one to please except myself. Which means, if I’m so inclined on a Friday evening at home, I am free to do nothing. I just forgot for a minute. Which is pretty funny given the amount of time I spend doing yoga, trying to breathe and focus on being present. I love yoga. It makes me happy. But all that yoga is meaningless if my happiness is limited to the time I spend on the mat.

Bemused, I forced myself to put the washed, stripped kale away, stuffing it all into a gallon-sized ziplock bag, feeling good about taming the mass into such a neat package. Then I retreated from the world for the next few hours. I laid on the couch, went through Netflix, and wound up watching the very funny romantic comedy, Kissing Jessica Stein. Purged by laughter, I went to sleep at peace.

The next morning I woke up super early. I planned to go to yoga before putting in a full day at the office. So I went to grab some food from the fridge, for lunch. And I noticed that the kale looked a little too green, wetter than it should be. In my eagerness to package it up the night before, I’d not thought about longevity. It was already starting to decompose. If I didn’t do something, all the kale would be wasted. I checked the clock. I had a half hour. That was enough time to throw something in the slow cooker. But what? I looked up kale in Not Your Mother’s Slowcooker Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1558322450) and found a recipe for many bean soup with kale. I didn’t have the prepackaged soup mix. But I had something better: an entire cabinet full of beans. Problem solved! And so it was.

The downside was that of course it took more than a half hour. Which made me late for yoga. Late enough that although I went to the studio, I couldn’t force myself to interrupt the class by walking in so late. But it all worked out. Just not the way I’d planned. A lesson that maybe I’ll learn one of these days. Maybe. For now, here’s the recipe for the soup. It turned out well. many bean kale soup

2-4 bunches of kale, curly or lacinato 1/4 c. olive oil (use less if you like)
1 onion, diced
2 T. tomato paste
1 c. white beans
1/2 c. brown lentils
1/2 c. Scarlet Runner beans 1 1″ piece Kombu, broken into pieces
4 c. chicken broth
4 c. water

1.  Wash, destem, and slice the kale thinly.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium cast-iron (or other) skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes or so, until the onion is browning, then add the tomato paste. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, stirring, then turn off the heat.

3. Pick out any discolored or broken beans, rinse, and place in the slow cooker insert.  Nestle the kombu pieces down in the beans then add the kale. It will seem like a lot, possibly coming up out of the slow cooker. Scrape the warm onion mixture over the top of the kale and use tongs to gently mix the onion into the top of the kale. The heat should help it shrink down a little. Cover with the chicken broth and water, and, using the tongs (or a big spoon), mix things around a bit so the kale is coated with the cooking liquid and beans are under liquid. Cover and cook on low for 10+ hours.

The final dish is pretty kale intensive, so that the broth tastes almost like pot liquor from collard greens. I think it’s delicious. But a little goes a long way. Happily, it’s pretty filling…