Cold Day, Hot Soup

greens1 1.26.13Greens and beans. Second Week. Soup.

Still January. And…it genuinely got cold. Highs didn’t get out of the 20s this week, and the lows were in the teens. Even some snow.

Winter.

I wanted to make soup anyway, but it felt even righter.

This time I came home with collard greens and dandelion greens. I don’t always double up on greens in one dish, but they’ve been looking so good to me in the store, I can’t walk out of there with just one kind!

Lots of chopping for this one, but then it goes together pretty quick.

I used…

  • 1 bunch collard greens, rinsed and dried
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 4 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
  • 3 small carrots, diced
  • 3 small parsnips, diced
  • 3 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf

I decided to start by cooking the greens in a separate pan. A matter of logistics. Since I had such a lot of greens, I decided to start them in a pan with a wider bottom. Then I could spread them out, and they’d take a little less time to cook down, and would be co-cooking while the other vegetables got going. If I’d stuck to one pot, then I would’ve added the greens to the other vegetables after they’d cooked and browned some.

So I got oil heating in the pan for the greens. Trimmed off the ends of the collards, and cut the stalks into thin slices, then into smaller dice-size, tossed them into the pan to start cooking. I like to use the stalks whenever I can, as long they aren’t too fibrous. I’ll cut them into thin slices, and then cut further if I need to, as I did with these, because I wanted something that sits easily on a soup spoon! I cut the leaves in half once and then again, and in some cases even a third time (because collard leaves are like big fans!), to get vertical ribbons, which I cut into smaller squares, again keeping spoon-size in mind. Turned them in the oil to coat them.

I cut the dandelion greens, and added them. A little salt and pepper, stirred, put on the lid, allowing the greens to cook down over a low/medium-low heat.

I heated enough oil to coat the bottom of my soup pot. To that, I added the diced onion and celery, and the minced garlic cloves, and let them soften. Then came the diced carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and dried tarragon, with salt and pepper to taste. I cooked those over a medium heat til softened, and spooned in the cooked greens. Along with a bay leaf, I poured in four cups of vegetable stock and a can of rinsed red kidney beans, checked for seasoning, let it all come to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes to be sure everything was heated through.

And I toasted a thick slice of multigrain bread.

greens2 1.26.13You see it posing in the picture. After the beauty shot, I submerged the bread and let it get soft with the broth. It didn’t complain.

The broth took on the flavor of the greens, which was really nice. And each bite had a different mix of flavors. Sometimes carrot, sometimes parsnip, sometimes the kick of garlic, or the hint of tarragon.

Beautiful, hearty, and warming from the inside out.

The Call of the Greens

They had called me, and I had returned. “They” being the gorgeous bunches of deep green curly kale, lacinato kale, rainbow chard, green and red cabbage, spinach, bok choy, red bok choy, napa cabbage. All gathered together at a favorite nearby natural foods store.

greens1 1.20.13I had walked past them the day before, admiringly, but continued on. I’d had my list, and decided to stick to it. I don’t always stick to my list. I’m certainly not averse to inspiration. But it was the end of a long day, and it just seemed a good idea to mind the list. What’s spontaneous and inspiring with a clear head in the light of day can be muddled randomness with a less clear, very tired head at the end of the day. You buy things you don’t get around to using, they go bad, you feel guilty…. So, I skipped the greens.

But I guess they spent some time in my subconscious overnight, because the next morning I knew I wanted greens and beans for dinner. And that cornbread would be the thing to have with that. And even though it was a day off, with seemingly loads of time at my disposal, even time for lunch with a very good friend, my dinner ended up being bought and made at the end of what turned out to unexpectedly be another long day.

Still, I knew what I wanted, and the bag in my arms contained the ingredients to have it. So I walked in the door, took off my coat, and put on my apron. I didn’t even change clothes like I usually do when I get home. I turned on the oven, and began the cornbread, which is a quick thing to do from scratch really. A few dry ingredients in a bowl, to which you add your liquids, pour into a greased baking dish, and into the oven for 20 or 25 minutes.

And I began to relax. I took the large can of cannellini beans out of the bag, and then the two bunches of greens I’d chosen. Curly kale, so substantial and hearty, and the red bok choy, because it was just so beautiful.

I rinsed the greens and spun them dry in the salad spinner. I put a pan on the stove to heat, added oil and a few cloves of minced garlic. Trimming off the very end of the stalks where they were dried out, I continued by slicing the stalk into thin slices, then cutting the leaves in half vertically, and cutting those halves into nice bite-sized pieces. As I chopped each stalk and leaf I added it to the pan.

It was a full pan of greens, glistening as I turned them in the oil. When they’d cooked down a little, I added salt and pepper, and then a couple cups of vegetable stock to simmer in, followed by the rinsed cannellini beans. Stirred it all together. Checked for seasoning. I put the lid on to let it all heat through, and then took the lid off to let some of the broth cook off, but not too much, because, of course, there was cornbread, and it was going to need something to soak up.greens3 1.20.13

The beans were soft and creamy. The greens were hearty and light. It’s the kind of dish that is open to variations: different beans, different greens, maybe the addition of cubed potatoes one day or mushrooms on another, cracked red pepper flakes for a little kick or a dried or fresh herb to complement.

But it’s always satisfying, even at its most basic.

As it was that night.

When It’s Damp and Cool and January…

Not cold, because it just hasn’t been a cold January. But damp and cool, nevertheless. And gray. And getting dark. And mistiness giving way to rain.

Well, when all those things align, isn’t it wonderful to realize there is nothing more to do than sip wine, relax into a quiet evening, and have something to eat that’s a little quiet and relaxing, too.

And so I turned from the more colorful tricolor quinoa of the past two weeks to paler pasta-colored quinoa, which I rinsed a cup of in a strainer, and set aside. I then added five cups of water to a couple vegetable stock cubes to bring up to a boil and simmer.

And I picked a few sage leaves outside just as the mist was turning to a light drizzle.

Because, really, the only way to go was a creamy quinoa risotto.Quinoa risotto 1.12.13

So into a pan, in which I’d heated enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom, along with a tablespoon of butter, I added one cup of finely chopped white onion, two minced garlic cloves, and two finely chopped celery stalks. I sliced the sage leaves into thin ribbons and stirred those in. Salt and pepper. Allowed to soften, 10 to 20 minutes.

With the vegetables softened, I added the quinoa, and turned the heat up to a medium high to get it a little browned and toasted. Five minutes, maybe 10. Then a healthy amount of white vermouth (wine would, of course, be perfect,too). Maybe 1/4 cup. Maybe 1/2 cup. Not exactly sure, because I was eyeballing it…enough to get the quinoa pleasantly wet.

With the white vermouth easily drunk up by the quinoa, I began to ladle a spoonful or two of broth, letting it absorb completely before adding the next ladle, keeping the heat at about medium.

After five or ten minutes of ladling, the white rings began to appear around each kernel, and maybe another five or ten minutes after that, the quinoa looked noticeably expanded and full and soft.

I stopped ladling more stock and turned off the heat, then added those last creamy risotto touches: a little half and half, a good handful of grated cheese, and a pat of butter.

Oh, my!

Rain outside, candles lit inside, catching up on on some DVR’d TV, and something deliciously cozy to eat. What could be better than that?

Sometimes You Have to Do It Yourself

Like a burger with sautéed mushrooms and blue cheese.

quinoa 1.6.13

A great little casual food place in town has teased me plenty in the past with its black-and-blue black bean burger, and never delivered on the promise. I don’t think it’s on their menu anymore. But, for a while, it was. And it always sounded good.

A black bean burger, sautéed mushrooms and red onions, and crumbled blue cheese. When I’d call to order, they’d be out of one ingredient or another, and so I’d get something else, always very good, but never The One.

So here I am cooking with quinoa for a few weeks, and on the back of that Trader Joe’s tricolor quinoa package I bought for last week’s stuffed acorn squash, I see a recipe for a quinoa black bean patty. Well, I thought, here’s my chance. DIY.

I decided to follow the recipe as is, and I’ll say right from the start that it’s a tasty combo, but wasn’t the firm burger I really wanted. The mixture felt looser as I shaped it into patties than I’d have done myself if I was eyeballing it. But I decided to just go with it and see what the suggested proportions created. It created a beautiful patty that crumbled easily, which makes it fine for putting one or two on a plate as a main course with a veggie and a salad, or even served on the salad itself. For a firmer burger,  I’d up the black bean ratio with the quinoa next time, probably do half quinoa and half black beans, then add bread crumbs to the mix til I got the firmer consistency I wanted. And then, after I had the consistency I wanted, mix an egg in to bind it.

Having said all that, here’s the basic recipe, which you can then tweak to suit how you want to use it.

Trader Joe’s Quinoa Black Bean Patties

  • 3 tablespoons oil (your choice), plus additional to cook the patties
  • 3/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 3 cups cooked quinoa (cooked in water or broth)
  • 1 egg, beaten (optional)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a skillet, add red peppers and sauté until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and shallot and continue to sauté until soft. Remove from heat, cool for a few minutes, then scoop into a bowl with the black beans and cilantro. You may put this in a food processor to combine, per the recipe. I am currently food-processor-less, so I mashed the beans with a fork and even by hand to break them up, and that’s why I finely diced the vegetables I sautéed.

Mix in the quinoa, and salt and pepper to taste.

Add a beaten egg, if using. I used it, because an egg can help bind everything together, and I thought it might help here.

Divide into 8 patties and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Season the bread crumbs with salt and pepper. Heat additional oil in the pan. Dredge the patties in the bread crumbs, and fry until browning on each side, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

While the patties were in the fridge to set, I heated up the leftover oil in the pan, which was a deeper color from when it started, having absorbed some of the juices and flavor from the bell pepper and shallot. I added a little more oil and a couple tablespoons of butter. Into that I added one large red onion that I’d cut in half and thinly sliced, letting the onions brown and slump over medium heat, about 10 minutes. I thinly sliced a 10-oz. container of cremini mushrooms and added that, with another bit of butter, and cooked for another 5-8 minutes. Then I added 1/4 cup of white vermouth. (If I’d had a bottle of white wine open, I might’ve used that), turned the heat up a little, and let it cook down. Then I tossed in the rest of the chopped cilantro I had, a good handful.

I scooped all that into a bowl, set it aside, and then the pan was ready to fry the patties in.

To serve the burger on, I got a nice whole wheat loaf of bread, with some softness to it, because whenever you have a stacked sandwich, the bread’s got to have some give. You don’t want all the ingredients squeezing out, though, in this case, the crumbly patty, well…crumbled anyway! I did toast the bread a little, to warm it, but still keep that give.

The assembly: a half slice of the bread, baby spinach leaves on that, then a few thin slices of avocado, the quinoa-black bean patty, the mushrooms and onions, just a little blue cheese broken over the top, and the other half of the slice of bread.

Delicious flavors together, whether neatly stacked…or deconstructed!