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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Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

This recipe is a combination of two classic Italian pasta dishes: aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and asparagus with lemon-pepper sauce. (Both individual recipes, by the way, can be found in my pasta edition of the Vegetarian Italian: Traditions ebook series.)

One night after work, I was contemplating dinner. I wanted to do something a little different, but I wanted to keep it easy, and not stray too far from familiarity (I was tired and irritated from work, so simplicity and comforting were my top criteria).

Pasta is always easy, always comforting, and I had just happened to buy a bunch of pencil-thin asparagus. I also had lemons…and so I came up with this. Two savory Italian classics in one delicious dish, and the combo is not any more work than just one recipe alone.

Farro is an ancient Italian grain that is related to spelt and emmer, but is not actually spelt, as some believe. It’s commonly used in Italy, but is becoming more available in the U.S. Farro pasta is nutty, nutritious, low in calories, and is often well tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity (although those with Celiac disease should avoid it). Farro pasta can be found in Italian groceries, as well as gourmet shops. And, of course, online. Try it—I think you’ll find it an addicting alternative to whole wheat pasta.

Enjoy.

Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

1 pound asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ lb. farro linguine (or other long pasta)
2 large garlic cloves, sliced

½ teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Zest from 1 small lemon

Grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Snap or cut off the woody bottom stems of the asparagus and discard. Place the asparagus on a platter, drizzle with half the oil, sprinkle with half the salt, and gently toss. Try to keep the asparagus all facing the same direction (this will make it easier to handle).Place the asparagus on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast until tender and lightly browned (the time will vary depending on the thickness of the asparagus, but anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes). Remove them from oven and chop them into bite-size pieces.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and remaining salt and bring it to a boil, stirring often, until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Add the chopped asparagus.Pour the remaining olive oil in a small pan with the garlic. Heat until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the paprika, swirl it, then immediately pour it over the pasta. Season with more salt and grind on as much black pepper as you like.Sprinkle the lemon zest over it. Top with the grated parmesan and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve.


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Coconut Cornbread

There are many different variation of cornbread, and you will often find all sorts of ingredients being called for that aren’t typical or traditional for this very old recipe.

Cornbread goes back to pre-Colonial America. Native Americans made cornbread, along with many other corn-based products, since corn was a staple ingredient of their diet. Settlers, who were introduced to corn in its various forms, began making cornbread as well, sometimes calling it hoe cake (because they could be made on garden hoes against a fire).

The basic recipe was cornmeal, water, salt, and some form of fat. Over the years since, the recipe evolved to include leaveners, milk or buttermilk, and flavoring ingredients. Cornbread became particularly popular in the American South because corn was a staple crop.

Truly, almost anything can be added to cornbread to turn it into a complementary addition to any meal. It can even be savory or sweet.

For this recipe, I replaced the typical dairy liquid with coconut milk (just cuz). And to boost the coconut flavor, I mixed in some shredded coconut. The flavor is a lot more subtle than you would think, but it’s really good. It makes the perfect snack, breakfast, or accompaniment for chili, soup, or beans.

Enjoy!

Coconut Cornbread

Makes 1 cake.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk
¼ cup mild oil (such as sunflower or safflower)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

Grease an 8×8-inch loaf pan (or something of similar size), and line it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together.In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, and oil.Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, as well as the shredded coconut and corn.

Mix gently just until the ingredients are combined.Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top.Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

 

 


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Battered Squash Blossoms

Last week, I offered a recipe for Squash Blossom Frittata. Squash blossoms are the flowers that grow on any squash plant, including zucchini, butternut, pumpkin, sweet dumpling, and others. They’re used frequently along the Mediterranean—particularly popular in Italy, Greece, and Turkey—and in Mexico, where they’re called flor de calabaza (squash plants are native to the New World).

They’re a summer delicacy that can easily be obtained…if you grow your own squash or know someone who does. Otherwise, you’ll have to seek them out at farmers’ markets or specialty markets.

They’re not sold in most markets because they’re extremely fragile and don’t last very long. Handle them gently and use them quickly, preferably within 2 days. To clean them, cut off the stems close to the base. Open them gently with your fingers and check for insects. If you see insects, shake them out. If necessary, run them under a fine stream of running water and then  shake them out gently. If you can, remove the stamens (the long piece inside) as they can harbor insects.

Let them sit on paper towels to dry. If you’re not using them right away, place them in a plastic bag and close it loosely. Store them in the refrigerator.

In Italy, they’re called fiori di zucca. Although they are used in many different ways, the traditional, and most popular, way to use them in Italian cuisine is to batter and fry them. That’s the recipe I’m offering today.

Enjoy!

Battered Squash Blossoms

2 dozen squash blossoms
4 large eggs
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cooking oil (See Note below)

Clean the squash blossoms by gently shaking out insects and running the blossoms under a gentle stream of water. Lay them out on paper towels or kitchen towel to dry.

Place a large platter or a couple of large plates near the stove and line them with paper towels.

Beat the eggs together with the salt and pepper.Place the flour in a shallow dish.Heat about a half inch oil in a wide frying pan.

While it’s heating, prepare a few blossoms. Dip a blossom in the egg, coating both sides. Let the egg drip off. Next, dredge it in flour; shake off the excess. Do a few more and set them aside.When the oil is very hot, place a few blossoms in the pan and cook until the undersides are lightly browned, about 30 to 40 seconds. Turn them over with tongs and cook until other sides are lightly browned, another 15 to 20 seconds.Transfer them to the paper towels. Continue with the rest of the blossoms. Serve hot.Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Heat in the oven or a toaster oven.Note: If you want to bake them instead of frying them, lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Batter the blossoms as instructed above. Using a pastry brush, pat the blossoms with oil. Bake them at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I like to open the larger flowers out before placing them in the oil. It makes for a lovely presentation.

 


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Tuscan Kale-Bean Soup with Fregola

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Tuscan Kale

Tuscan kale is a beautiful specimen of the kale family. The leaves are long and dainty looking, and look really pretty in a garden. But like standard kale, the leaves are hearty and the stems tough. Thick stems should be cut off and the leaves need to cook for a substantial amount of time (versus greens such s spinach or chard, which cook down in a few minutes).

Continue reading


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Picnic Posole Salad

posole text

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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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.