Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Umbrian Cicerchia Soup

cicerchia soupThere’s one thing I love about Eataly, the Italian market in Chelsea in New York, and it’s not the prices. It’s the fact that you can get products that have been imported from Italy, things that you wouldn’t otherwise find, at least not easily.IMG_5261

During one particular perusal of the market, I found cicerchia, an Umbrian hybrid of chickpeas and fava beans. Ceceri means chickpeas, so I imagine that cirechia is a playful word meaning “in the realm of chickpeas.” Italians love playing with their words almost as much as their food.

It’s probably a good thing, though, that cicerchia isn’t available widely. According to Vorrei Italianfood, they contain a neurotoxin and should not be eaten every day over a prolonged period of time (alhough I don’t know what that means.)IMG_5245

I wasn’t sure what to do with them, though, as this was not a common product, at least not in the region where my family is from (Basalicata). Ultimately, I decided to use them in a typical Umbrian dish: chickpea soup.

If you’re able to get your hands on cicerchia, try this recipe—it’s light but filling and scrumptious.
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PB&J Cake, aka Space Cake

IMG_5052You might be wondering why I’ve given this cake the alternate name of Space Cake. Or maybe you’re not, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

I went into my local kosher market to pick up a few specific things (it’s the only place I know of that carries my favorite hummus). As I do in any market, I started looking around to see if there was anything new and/or unusual, anything I haven’t tried before. And I was rewarded for my efforts.IMG_5025

I found a bottle of peanut butter powder. Yes, that’s correct. Peanut butter that has been dehydrated and turned into powder. Curiosity overcame me and, of course, I had to buy it. To use it, you mix the powder with water until it’s a paste. When I did that, I have to say that it looked, smelled, and tasted like peanut butter.

Space food.

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Coconut Rice-Cake Pudding

IMG_5017What is rice-cake pudding? you ask. I’m going to tell you.

I recently found in an Asian market another product that I had never seen before: rice cakes. Not the round disks of puffed rice that dieters have been munching on for decades, but flattened oval, kind of paddle-shaped, disks made from pounded sticky rice. Of course, I bought some.IMG_4999I had absolutely no idea at the time what I was supposed to do with these, so I looked around a bit. I saw a few recipes where the rice cakes are sautéed or stir fried with other vegetables, and that’s something that I’m going to try. But according to the package, they can be fried for a popped rick cake snack, to which you can add “highly tasteful or plain ingredients” for “indeed a favourable dish either for entertainment or for home meal.”IMG_5001Well, how could I not give it a try? I fried a small batch in oil and, as you can see in the photo below, they do puff up. I fried them until they were golden brown, at which point they are quite crisp but hard. Not unpleasantly hard—some people like that, including me. The ones that were more lightly fried had a flakier texture. A sprinkle of sea salt over the top and that was it.

So there you have it for fried rice cakes—a lighter fry for flaky/crispy, a longer fry for crunchy/crispy. (Make sure you dry the rice cakes before putting them in the oil. See note below about soaking.)IMG_5007But what I really wanted to try was rice pudding. Would it taste or be anything like regular rice pudding? I made mine with coconut milk and I can honestly say that it came out pretty darn good. What made it truly different from regular rice pudding, though, was the texture. Because the rice is in the form of these paddles that retain their shape, you have something that requires chewing, not just a mashing, as with regular rice pudding. I’m very much about texture where food is concerned, so I enjoyed this more than I normally enjoy rice pudding (never one of my favorite desserts).

If rice pudding is not usually your thing, whether because of the texture or because it’s a “milky” dish (another reason why I don’t usually care for it), try my recipe below. You might just like it.

So this is my coconut rice-cake pudding. It’s vegan, gluten free, and dairy free. Give it a go, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Coconut Rice-Cake Pudding

Note that the rice cakes have to soak in water a minimum of 12 hours or overnight before using them in any recipe.

Makes 2 servings.

2 ounces (about 2 cups) rice cakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups coconut milk
½ cup coconut water or plain water
¼- 1/3 cup sugar (based on your sweetness preference)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Garnish: Cinnamon and coconut flakes

Place the rice cakes in a bowl with enough water to cover by about an inch for a small amount or 2 inches for an entire bag. Cover and let soak in refrigerator at least 12 hours or overnight.

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Rice cakes after soaking overnight

Drain the rice cakes and place them, along with the cinnamon stick, in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.IMG_5012Drain and return the rice cakes and cinnamon to the pot. Add the coconut milk, coconut water, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a boil; lower heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until thick and creamy, about 45 to 55 minutes. Stir frequently, especially in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Divide the pudding between 2 pudding dishes and garnish with cinnamon and/or coconut flakes.

(I left my pudding unadorned in the photos so that you can see how the rice cakes retained their shape.)IMG_5024


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Almond-Lucuma Cake

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Photo: Akramm via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Akramm via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t heard of lucuma, it’s because it’s a fruit indigenous to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador that hasn’t really had much play outside of its native region, especially since it only thrives in subtropical climates. It has a dark green skin, and a pit (sometimes two) that look like avocado pits. Its yellow flesh is dry and often compared to hard-boiled egg yolk, and its mild flavor has been likened to maple syrup, caramel, and sweet potatoes.

Indigenous Andean peoples used lucuma not just as food but medicinally as well. The Incas believed it to be a symbol of fertility and creation and it was dubbed “Gold of the Incas.” Modern studies of lucuma show that the fruit contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. It aids in warding off heart disease and hypertension, maintaining skin health and blood sugar levels (and it is hoped that it will help people with diabetes), and supporting healthy digestion.lucuma[1]
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Split Chickpea Soup

IMG_4715So, I was perusing the bean shelves in my favorite Indian market and found roasted split chickpeas (chana dalia). I’d never seen them before and wondered if they could be cooked just like split green peas. I bought a package and this recipe is the result of my experimentation.IMG_4693The resulting soup is very thick—not just in the viscosity of the soup but the pureed chickpeas themselves leave a thickness on the tongue. Unlike pureed split pea soup, it has a somewhat grainy—but not unpleasant—texture, and the flavor is intensely nutty.IMG_4690

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Cooking with Cambrays

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Cambray onions, also known as spring onions, are related to scallions. In fact, they look like a cross between scallions and Texas onions—long green stems with big round bulbs.

I’d seen them before but had never purchased them, so when I saw them this past week, I grabbed a few. I learned that they are a popular onion in Latin cuisine (in which they are referred to as cebollitas de Cambray or cebolla Cambray), and almost always appear on mixed grill platters.

They can be used in many types of preparations, from salads to onion tarts to tacos. Being that this was the first time I was eating them (to my knowledge, anyway), I did what I often do with a new-to-me vegetables—I roasted them. I like to do this because it allows me to sample the new vegetable in its basic form with no added ingredients, besides olive oil, salt, and pepper. Plus, once you’ve grilled a vegetable, you can then add it into many other dishes.

So, I roasted the Cambrays until they were caramelized and tasted one by itself. It was sweet and creamy and I could imagine throwing them, cut up, into a dish of pasta or adding them to a stew or chili. I put a few pieces on some flat bread, drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over it, sprinkled a little more salt and pepper, and finished it with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Very simple and very good.

IMG_4430Roasted Cambray Onions

Several Cambray onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim onions by slicing off roots and removing outer layers that look brown or funky.

Lay onions on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil over onions and rub them to coat with oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper.IMG_4423Roast about 15 minutes; turn them over and roast another 10 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown.IMG_4427


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Black Bean Flour Bread with Herbs

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Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with quite a few gluten-free flours and I thought I’d seen, or at least heard about, most of them. Then, recently, I found a new one: black bean flour (or powder). The reason I hadn’t seen it before? It was in the coffee and tea aisle in an Asian market.IMG_4031

See, the coffee and tea aisle in an Asian market is not like the coffee and tea aisle in other markets. In an Asian market, next to the Folger’s and Maxwell House and Lipton and Celestial Seasonings, you’ll find an enormous assortment of beverage mixes to which you would add hot water. The teas, of course, include herbal “health” teas, but next to the coffees, you’ll find beverages made of grains, roots, and beans. These are all drunk in various Asian countries for various health purposes. In the case of bean flours, they provide protein.

Black bean flour lends a dark color to whatever you add it to, so it’s generally added to breads, chocolate cakes, or dark vegetable dishes, such as black bean quesadillas. I decided to try my hand at bread. It turned out very well, and I’m going to try incorporating it into a gluten-free loaf next time.IMG_4032

Black bean flour has an unusual flavor and takes a bit to get used to. But after I processed the first bite, I found the taste to be pleasant. I think it makes a great snacking bread with butter or jam to accompany coffee or tea. But I think it would also make a good hearty sandwich bread—any kind that you would make with a pumpernickel or dark European-style loaf.

If you want to give it a try, look for black bean flour in an Asian IMG_4033market or Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, Bob’s Red Mill has it (they seem to only have one size, though—6.5 lbs.). Oh, and be careful–I found one of those preservative packets in mine (oddly named “oxygen absorber”).

Black Bean Flour Bread with Herbs

1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup black bean flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ chipped dill

In a small bowl, stir yeast and sugar in ¼ very warm water until dissolved. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.

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Whisk together the flours and salt.

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(If you have a mixer with a dough hook, you can use that. You can also use a food processor. Otherwise, mix the flours and salt together in a large bowl.)

Pour in the yeast along with another cup of very warm water. Mix until all ingredients are well blended. Unlike most yeast breads, you don’t have to knead this. This will be a moist, somewhat sticky dough. Add a little more warm water if it seems dry.

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Coat the bottom of a large bowl with the oil; place dough in bowl and turn it over until completely coated with oil. Cover with a towel and set in a warm, draft-free place and let rise for 2 hours.

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Lightly dust a board with flour and turn the dough out. Flatten it a little. Add the chopped parsley and dill and begin folding it in. When herbs are well incorporated, stop working the dough.

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Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover again with the towel and let rise another hour. (You can divide the dough into 2 loaves, or make 1 big loaf.)

Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Bake bread until it sounds dense when you thump it, about 40 minutes for smaller loaves, 45-60 minutes for a larger loaf.

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My Exploding Nuts (Ginkgo, that is)

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I went to an Asian market the other day with a list in hand. I had specific things that I needed to buy and a short amount of time in which to shop, and I wasn’t looking for anything unusual or new, the way I usually do. I had grabbed my items and was just about to head to the check-out lines when something caught my eye. They were in the refrigerated case, where Asian markets generally keep the more perishable produce, such as mushrooms, water chestnuts, chili peppers, and a host of other delicate items.IMG_4016

Tucked between packages of freeze-dried ginkgo nuts and little cartons of quail eggs and 100-year-old duck eggs were small red mesh bags with these little white things in them. Curiosity got to me and I picked one up. They looked like pistachio nuts. I looked at the sign, which read, “Ginkgo nuts.”

Interesting. I’d had the freeze-dried ones before in a a stir fry, but I’d never seen the raw, unshelled nuts before. So, yes, I bought them.IMAG2360

Ginkgo trees are the oldest living trees on earth, unchanged for more than 200 million years. Evidence shows that Chinese began cultivating it more than 1,000 years ago. Last week, I unknowingly encountered a ginkgo tree. Because it’s, its leaves were turning yellow from the top down. I thought it was so pretty that I took a photo of it, but when I got near it, I was repelled by an odor of urine. I thought, “Great, some asshole ruined the beauty of this tree by peeing on it.” I posted it on Facebook and was told by one of my former NGI classmates that this was a gingko tree and the smell is natural. It’s believed that this odor was attractive to animals at some point.

What a coincidence that I would buy ginkgo nuts the same week. I asked my friend at work how to use them and she told me that I should boil them, shell them, and peel off the skin that’s on each one. While I trusted her advice, I wondered if there were any other methods. I read that another common way to prepare them is pan frying. I decided to try both. I put half in a pot of water and boiled them for about 15 minutes, and pan fried the other half in a little bit of sunflower oil.

After placing them both on the stove, I went into the other room to check on an email. There I was, scrolling through my mail, when I hear this loud POP. As I walked back into the kitchen, there was another big POP. I had a suspicion about what was happening, so I cautiously approached the stove and sure enough, those suckers were popping right out of the pan and shooting across the room. They had become oily little projectiles and little pieces of shell landed on my counter and floor like shrapnel. I shielded my face as I approached the stove because I didn’t want to become a casualty of detonating ginkgo nuts. At arm’s length, I turned off the flame and moved the pan to the back at a safe distance. The whole thing was rather ridiculous, but I pictured getting a sharp piece of shell in my eye and wasn’t thrilled by the thought. In fact, I did get a shot of hot oil right near my eye.

IMG_4023IMG_4027While both methods turned out perfectly fine ginkgo nuts, there were a few differences. The fried ones came out with a nice golden yellow color, while the boiled ones had a smooth creamy look to them. (Pictured above, on the left are the boiled nuts; on the right are the pan fried nuts.) That one is a personal choice. However, I don’t think anyone would argue that struggling to peel skin from a nut is not a fun task. The skins, for the most part, slid off the pan fried nuts, while they stuck a little to the boiled ones. I mean, it wasn’t as difficult as removing skin from, say, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts, but I did struggle a tiny bit. A few came out looking like plaster, crumbling into dust—I assumed those were rotten. IMG_4025

To avoid the missile launch from your frying pan, I think timing the cooking would help. I had them in there for approximately 8 to 10 minutes before they started exploding, so maybe keeping them in the pan for about 5 minutes would do the trick. And cracking them first would probably prevent the fireworks, too.

I also discovered that the pan fried nuts were less bitter than the boiled nuts. So if you’re going to eat them out of hand, I suggest pan frying them. Ultimately, they just tasted better.

All of this pertains to ginkgo nuts that have been removed from the fruit. If you have access to the fruit, handle them carefully. The fruit contains urushiol, the same element that’s found in poison ivy, and may cause a skin reaction. Also, your hands will smell like cheese, I’ve been told. You should wear gloves and remove the flesh from around the nuts. The upside is that ginkgo nuts are known to stimulate the brain, staving off memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease. They’re also used in Chinese culture to help with breathing/lung problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Chinese also believe them to be aphrodisiacs.

Whether you boil or fry them, whack them gently with a mallet (or meat tenderizer or blade of a knife, or whatever you’ve got handy). Or you can crack each one with a nut cracker. Don’t whack or crack them too hard as the nuts are rather delicate. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt and enjoy. Or add them to stir fries, soups and stews, or just about anything you would add nuts to.

The medical warnings about ginkgo nuts is that adults shouldn’t have more than 8 in one day and children should have a maximum of 5. And word on the street is that if you are allergic to cashews or mangoes, you should avoid them altogether.

Anyway, that’s the story of my exploding nuts. So, just let my stupid experience be your guide when trying this Asian specialty. Here’s hoping your nuts don’t explode.

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Ginkgo Nuts for Snacking

1 small bag ginkgo nuts
1 teaspoon cooking oil
Sea salt

Rinse nuts under running water.

If frying:
Lay the nuts out on paper towels to dry.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the nuts and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until you can handle them.

If boiling:
Place nuts in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Lay the nuts on a dish towel. Gently whack the nuts with a mallet (or other object) so that crack. Remove the shells and skins (a paper towel may help you rub the skins off more easily).

Sprinkle with salt and enjoy (in moderation!).

 

 


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Celeriac Bisque with Mustard Greens and Chick Peas

 

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This week’s catch at the farmer’s market was a nice big knob of celeriac and red mustard greens.IMAG2330

I’ve had celeriac (also known as celery root and knob celery) before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It has a great celery flavor to it, but a little sweeter and more intense. It also has parsley notes, and that’s because it’s part of the parsley family, and not the root of the celery plant.  Like other root vegetables, it has a long shelf life (6 to 8 months in a cool place).

Celeriac is not a beauty queen, and many Americans have no clue what it is or what to do with it, but it’s a flavorful addition to anything. You can cut them up and roast them. You can add them to chilis and stews. Or you can do what many chefs do with them, and what I’ve done for the recipe below: make a bisque. It’s wonderfully creamy when pureed and combined with either apples or pears, it has a rich, complex flavor.

They’re good for you, too. Celeriac contains antioxidants, and is very a good source of vitamin K, phosphorus, iron, calcium, copper (good for the immune system, prevents anemia, and required for bone metabolism), and manganese. And it contains some B-complex vitamins, such as pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, and some vitamin C.IMAG2335

The red mustard greens are new to me, though. They are Chinese in origin, but are also cultivated in Japan. They’re lovely to look at and just as nutritious as other mustard greens, all part of the Brassica family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, etc.

Celeriac is not found everywhere simply because they are an unfamiliar item for many people. But most larger stores, like supermarkets, carry a few, as do gourmet stores, and, of course, farmer’s markets. Enjoy!

Celeriac Bisque with Mustard Greens and Chick Peas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 lb. celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced
3 small celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 medium apples or Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 oz. mustard greens (or other greens), washed and chopped
2 cups cooked chick peas
Garnish: chopped fresh parsley (optional)

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Heat oil in a medium-large sauce pan. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add celeriac, celery, apples or pears, and salt and saute another 5 minutes.

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Pour in broth and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork.

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Transfer to a blender; add parsley and puree (the soup is hot so be careful to hold the lip of the blender with a hand towel.

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Pour back into pot. (Alternatively, you can add parsley to pot and use a stick blender).

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Add fresh pepper, mustard greens, and chick peas. Cook another 5 minutes. Check for seasoning and serve. Sprinkle parsley on top for garnish.IMAG2342

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Makes 4 servings.

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