Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Hoppin’ John

Hello, everyone! As we approach the end of another year, many cultures around the world begin their preparations for carrying out traditions that will ensure good luck, good health, and prosperity in the new year (at the very least, they can’t hurt). Food always—pretty much without exception—plays a part in these rituals.

Soba Noodles

In Japan, for example, it is customary to eat soba noodles during the New Year’s celebration to ensure a long life, symbolized by the long noodles. In Spain, 12 grapes are eaten at midnight on New Year’s Eve—one for each month of the year—and it is hoped that the grapes are sweet, which is considered a harbinger of a sweet year ahead. In Austria and Germany, they eat little marzipan pigs, which are considered good luck. In the Philippines, they make a lot of noise on New Year’s Eve, banging pots and pans, to ward off evil spirits. In Greece, they smash a pomegranate at the front door to spill the seeds, symbolically spreading wealth.

In many countries, legumes are popular for New Year’s because they swell when cooked, symbolizing increased financial prosperity. Lentils are used in Italy and Brazil because they are round like coins. In the United States, black-eyed peas are popular (the musical group and the legume) and Hoppin’ John, which features that particular legume, is a staple New Year’s dish in the South.

Recipes for Hoppin’ John first began appearing in cookbooks in the 1840s, but the origins are a little murky, and possibly a little unfortunate. Black-eyed peas are native to West Africa, and it’s believed that they were brought over by slave traders as part of their cargo. Naturally, the crops were planted in the South, and became an important commodity. Some believe that eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s is actually a carryover of a 1500-year-old tradition of consuming them by Sephardic Jews on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The beans themselves represent coins, and there’s one version of this tradition that calls for hiding an actual coin in the Hoppin’ John—bringing the finder good luck—as well as filling a bowl with beans and coins and leaving it on the table for some benevolent spirit in exchange for granting good fortune.

But why is it called Hoppin’ John? There are several stories. One says that there was an old man who hobbled around and sold peas on the streets of Charleston, and the dish was named after him. Another says that children would hop around the dinner table, eagerly anticipating the serving of this dish. A more likely story is that it comes from a French term, pois pigeons, meaning pigeon peas, which are a big part of Caribbean culture.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made with pork and served with rice. In many countries, pork, for some reason, is considered lucky to eat on New Year’s (marzipan is not the only kind of pig that Austrians and Germans eat for New Year’s). Rice flourished in the hot, steamy South (it was dubbed at one point Carolina Gold). Bring all three of these elements together, you’ve got one lucky dish. Also, Hoppin’ John is often served together with collard greens, because it represents money. Cornbread, too, is considered lucky because of its “golden” color (you get the idea).

I’ve made different versions of Hoppin’ John, with and without greens, with and without meat, with rice and with other grains… This is probably the simplest version I’ve cooked. The nice thing about it is that you can make it ahead of time and freeze it, then defrost it in time for New Year’s Day. By the way, unlike other dried beans, black-eyed peas do not need to be pre-soaked. You can, if you want to cut down cooking time, do a quick-soak method by bringing the peas to a boil in a pot of water, letting them boil for 2 minutes, then letting them sit in the water for an hour off heat. But, frankly, if you’re going to do all of that, you’re not really saving any time, unless you want to do this the day before. In my opinion, not worth it. Just let the Hoppin’ John cook for an hour, and it’s a done deal.  

Whatever traditions you have for New Year’s—or whether you have any at all—I’m wishing you all a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year. I wish for peace and tranquility, honor and compassion, and above all, respect for all living beings.

Hoppin’ John

Makes 6 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste

6 cups vegetable broth
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
2 large celery ribs, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes, liquid reserved
3 cups dried black-eyed peas
1 or 2 dried bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme or rosemary (or both), optional

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and sauté over medium-high heat until soft and translucent.Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Drop in the tomato paste and stir it in until it’s well blended, then let it cook for a minute or two, until the bottom of the pot starts to brown.Pour in a little bit of the broth to deglaze the pot and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Let this cook until the liquid has evaporated.Add the bell pepper, carrot, celery, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and sauté until all the vegetables have softened but are still firm.Pour the liquid from the tomatoes into a measuring cup and add enough water to make 1 cup. Add this to the pot. Pour in the broth, and add the beans, bay leaves, remaining salt, and black pepper. Mix well.Bring this to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. If the pot dries out before the beans are cooked, add more water or broth and stir it in. Stir in the parsley and other herbs and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and/or pepper, if you like.

Remove the bay leaves and serve with rice or cornbread, or on its own.

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Pancit Bihon Noodles with Snow Peas

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Pancit bihon noodles are long, thin noodles made from cornstarch and are used widely in Philippine cuisine. They’ve got a nice firm texture and can be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for long, spaghetti-like noodles. And they are gluten free.img_6471

Noodles were introduced to the Philippines by the Chinese. It’s said that the word pancit comes from Hokkien, a southern Chinese dialect: pian e sit, which means “something conveniently cooked.” Pancit noodles became a staple—in fact, national—dish of the Philippines.

The recipe I offer here today is a basic Asian noodle dish, and you can add or remove anything you like. Look for pancit bihon in Asian markets.

Pancit Bihon Noodles with Snow Peas

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

½ lb. snow peas
8 oz. pancit bihon noodles
2 teaspoons cooking oil (such as grapeseed or sunflower)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Sea salt, if desired

Trim the snow peas and either cut into strips or just chop coarsely.img_6470Bring a medium-large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and stir them in. Cook until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.img_6478Drain in a colander and run under cool water to stop the cooking. Set aside.img_6479In a wok or wide frying pan, heat the cooking oil, then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the snow peas and sauté a few minutes until softened but still crisp.img_6480Add the noodles, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Mix well with tongs.img_6481Taste for seasoning and add a little salt, if needed. Serve hot.img_6485

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Picnic Posole Salad

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I’ve been making posole salad for picnics, parties, and barbecues years. I think people enjoy it because it’s both something different from the usual fare, while offering something familiar and not too “out there.”

hominy

Dried hominy

So what is posole (or pozole)? Not everyone outside of the Latin community is familiar with posole. Posole means “hominy” (from the Nahuatl word pozolle), and actually refers to a stew, popular in Mexico and made with hominy and pork or chicken. But it is sometimes also used (loosely and unofficially) to refer to the hominy itself, which is properly called mote. Corn, in general, is known as maize.

Mote is maize that has had its hulls removed through a process known as nixtamalization. This involves boiling the kernels in a water-and-lime (or ash) solution. The resulting product is used in many traditional dishes throughout Latin America, the most commonly known being posole stew, a dish that goes back to the pre-Colombian Aztecs. Continue reading


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Oat Noodle Salad with Umeboshi Plum Dressing

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Yes, I’m still on a noodle kick. This time I’ve created a recipe using oat flour noodles. The nice thing about gluten-free noodles is that they’re lighter than wheat noodles, but like wheat noodles, they can be used in a variety of ways.IMG_6043

For some reason, these noodles are sold in packages with the odd weight of 13.4 ounces. I don’t know how or why they came up with that number, but it makes it awkward to create a recipe. (They probably started with 380 grams and it just happens to convert to 13.4 ounces, but why 380?) Well, I used approximately 10 ounces, which is three of the bundles that come in the package in the photo.

In this recipe, I’ve paired oat noodles with string beans and Japanese yams (although, if you can’t find Japanese yams, you can use sweet potatoes). The noodles and yams will soak up the dressing very efficiently, so if the salad is too dry for your tastes, you can add a little more olive oil, but the salad will not be oily in the slightest.

Ume Plum

Ume Plum

For the dressing, I used an umeboshi plum. Umbeboshi plums, a Japanese specialty, are ume plums (but more closely related to apricots) that have been salted and fermented. In the world of natural healing, umeboshi plums are considered miracle workers. If you divide foods into acidic, alkaline, and neutral, umeboshis are alkaline and can adjust imbalances in your body. It’s been used in Asia, particularly, Japan, China, and Korea, for centuries for a variety of ailments, including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, colds, indigestion, headaches, and hangovers, among other things. Samurai soldiers were given umboshi as part of their field rations. They not used the plums to help them battle fatigue, they also used them to flavor foods such as rice and vegetables. Umeboshis also acted as a water and food purifier. Continue reading


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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whet-Your-Whistle Bar

IMG_5525Yeah, that would be MY bar. It’s a cart in the corner of my dining room loaded up with various alcoholic delights. Don’t judge me.IMG_5509

Anyway, we hit a little cool snap here last week on the East Coast and suddenly people with gardens found themselves having to make some quick decisions about their remaining vegetables. My parents still had a garden full of tomatoes that had to be taken in.

There’s no better opportunity to make fried green tomatoes.

Although fried green tomatoes are associated with the American South, according to an article on Smithsonian.com and this article from Bon Appetit, they’re actually from the North and Midwest, possibly of Ashkenazi Jewish origins. But the use of cornmeal is probably a Southern contribution to the dish, and I think that the flavor and texture of the cornmeal are what makes the tomatoes so tasty and unique.

Fried green tomatoes are really easy to make and can be flavored with whatever spices you like.

Enjoy!

Fried Green Tomatoes

1½ pounds green tomatoes
1 medium egg
2 teaspoons milk (any kind)
¾ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground pepper to taste
Coconut oil

Line a large plate with paper towels and place it by the stove.

Slice the tomatoes into ½-inch-thick slices.IMG_5512Beat the egg with the milk in a medium bowl. Combine the cornmeal, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper on platter. Place a few of the tomato slices in the egg and coat both sides. Then put them in the cornmeal and coat both sides.IMG_5517Heat about ½ inch oil. Gently shake off excess cornmeal from the tomato slices and place them in the oil. Fry, flipping them over once, until golden brown on both sides, about 3 or 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper towels.

Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Replenish the oil in the pan as needed.

Serve with a creamy dressing, sour cream, or salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Colcannon—An Irish Mash

Irish cuisine is traditionally hearty and to the point. Years of impoverishment and famine led to honest cooking that holds the utmost respect for the food being used. In other words, food was not taken for granted. And it made use of foods that were available—the crops that would easily grow in the Irish terrain and the livestock that were raised in the countryside.potatoes

The food probably most associated with Ireland is the potato. Potatoes were introduced in the 16th century and because they grew abundantly and cheaply, they became the most important crop in feeding the masses, which is why when a blight destroyed potato crops in the mid-1800s, famine decimated the population.

Another important item in Irish cuisine is cabbage. It, too, grows abundantly and cheaply and, like potatoes, lasts a long time in storage. Sometimes kale is used, or other members of the cabbage family.AU_MAR~1

Colcannon became known in the 18th century, but some food historians believe that it existed before then. It combines these two staple ingredients in the simplest, most basic of ways: boiled and combined into a mash. Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not much. The potatoes and cabbage are flavored by sautéed leeks and enriched with butter.

For a little more in-depth history of Irish cuisine, and specifically colcannon, check out FoodTimeline.org or DoChara.com.

So, make this traditional Irish dish for St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you.

Erin go bragh.

(This recipe will be appearing in one of my upcoming cookbooks, so please do not reprint it in any format without express written permission.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print it out–you definitely should! Thanks!)
Colcannon

Colcannon
Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage

4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
2 large potatoes, quartered
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
2 large leeks, washed and sliced
2 tbsp minced parsley for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the cabbage and 1 tsp salt. Lower the heat to medium-low and boil until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain well.

At the same time, place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and boil until tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, peel, place in a bowl, and coarsely mash. Add the milk, butter, ½ tablespoon of the salt, and pepper and mix well.

Heat the oil in a wide pan. Add the leeks and sauté until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the cooked cabbage and remaining salt and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring often, until cabbage starts to brown. Add to the mashed potatoes and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. Transfer the colcannon to a platter. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Bisque

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I had no plans for cauliflower over the course of my very busy weekend, but when I saw big, beautiful heads of cauliflower in the store the other day, I couldn’t resist buying one.

It’s cold, snowy, wintry weather, and days like this just scream soup, and what I wanted was a creamy bisque. But before I get to my recipe, let’s talk a bit about this wonderful cruciferous vegetable.

Cauliflower is part of the Brassicaceae family and is related to cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choi, collard greens, and some other leafy green vegetables. In my cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, Volume 1, I talk a little bit about the history of cauliflower and its health benefits:
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