April 27, 2012
Fresh Tomato and Squash Curry

I should call this refrigerator curry.  Essentially the curry version of the refrigerator soups I make so often, this curry was born of produce that screamed “use it or lose it” from the crisper.

First I diced and sautéed half an onion over medium heat in a splash of olive oil.  I seasoned the onion with salt, cumin, and some phenomenal homemade garam masala that was a gift from Marlene.  I allowed the onions and spices to cook together for a good 5-10 minutes, until the onions were thoroughly browned and fragrant.  I then added two large diced tomatoes.  Ordinarily one might use canned tomatoes, but why use canned when you have fresh?  The onion and tomato mixture cooked for another 5 minutes or so, allowing the favors to meld and the sauce to thicken.

I then added one large chopped zucchini and the bulb part of a butternut squash (leftover from the squash fries), cubed.  I added a healthy splash (1/4 cup or so) of vegetable stock and simmered, covered, for 20-25 minutes, until the squash was tender and cooked through.

I topped the curry with a dollop of Greek yogurt and some fresh cilantro.  It was out of this world delicious.  Aromatic, wholesome, and robust without being heavy, this squash curry was perfect for the wet and chilly spring weather we’ve had lately.

March 29, 2012
Chana Masala

It’s hard not to love Indian food.  The dishes are so flavorful and unique, like a spice parade for your taste buds.  And the abundance of vegetarian options!  If only every cuisine offered as many choices for vegetarians.

A few months ago I bought a jar of masala sauce and promptly smothered it on everything from chickpeas to tofu.  While yummy, it wasn’t nearly as delicious as the real deal.  Nor as healthful — all that added sodium and lack of fresh vegetables and spices.

Hence when I stumbled upon Buttered Up’s chana masala recipe, I knew I had to make it immediately.  Chalk full of warm spice and depth of flavor you won’t find in the prepackaged varieties, this dish is sublime.  Served atop a bed of quinoa and a dollop of Greek yogurt, it’s as well-rounded as it is satisfying.  That Jane really knows her stuff.

Sauté half a large onion in olive oil over medium heat, salting to sweat.  Once softened and translucent, add 2 cloves garlic (minced), 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Sauté until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.

Add 2 cups chopped tomatoes and their juices and cook at a gentle simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Add 1 15-ounce can chickpeas (or 2 cups cooked chickpeas) and 2 tablespoons water and cook for another 5 minutes. Add more water and cook until absorbed.  As Jane says, the “process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavour and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome.”  (She also adds cilantro just before the chickpeas, but I had none.)  Adjust seasoning if needed and serve atop a steaming mound of quinoa with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Resisting the urge to lick your bowl is futile, I assure you.

Recipe adapted from Buttered Up.

December 19, 2011
Kongjaban (Korean Sweet Black Beans)

Kongjaban is one of the many banchan, or small plates, put in front of you at a Korean restaurant before your meal.  I remarked on the multitude and tastiness of banchan several times during my travels, although I didn’t yet know its proper name.  Similar to bread at an American restaurant, banchan doesn’t need to be ordered and can be refilled many times at no expense to the patron.  Banchan is meant to be a complement to the meal, and usually involves an assortment of vegetables tossed with sesame oil or pickled in kimchi.

Kongjaban is the Korean preparation for black beans.  Unlike any other beans I’ve ever had, kongjaban is not soft or mushy.  Rather, the beans are dense and chewy.  They’re also sweet and salty, and thus wildly addictive.

The landlord has remarked for months that kongjaban contains such a simple list of ingredients, surely I could make it.  I’ve been skeptical and somewhat intimidated.  What do I know about Korean cooking?  I was finally nudged enough that I looked into it.  Happily, the landlord was right — kongjaban is a snap to make.

Bring one cup of dried black beans (rinsed and picked over for stray pebbles or broken beans) and one cup of water to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn down the heat to low and add 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.  Stir to combine and cook for 15 more minutes.  Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds (optional).  Allow to cool before serving.

Kongjaban is traditionally served at room temperature, but over the past week I’ve had it several ways: hot, cold, and various shades between.  I find I like it warm or room temperature best.  Feel free to play around with the temperature and serve it at your preference.

A note on the water: my beans started to smell as if they were burning, which worried me.  I added more water directly from the faucet so I couldn’t say how much precisely (probably 1/4 - 1/2 cup).  I stirred them regularly to prevent sticking or burning.  The result was rather brothy beans, which was a bonus: I used the broth a couple times during the week to flavor other dishes (sticky sweet soy sauce, yes please).  I wouldn’t worry about adding too much water here, as the end result can always be drained.

Also, they were quite sweet and quite salty.  Delicious,to be certain, but both the soy and the sugar could be toned down at no expense to the overall flavor.  I’ll probably use 1/3 cup of each in the future.

Go forth and make kongjaban!  You’ll be glad you did.

Recipe via About.com.

November 29, 2011
Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

When I was home last week I made lots of food that made Pops go “what?” and then do his grumble groan thing.  Which, for any of you who know my father, was hitherto thought not possible.  The man is not considered picky (a misconception my brother gleefully pronounces false whenever the opportunity arises).  He’s also considered one of the healthiest human beings on the planet — forever exhorting “five alive” and moderate portion sizes and so on.  So when I say “cauliflower” and he goes “meh,” heads turn.

Such is what happened with this chili.  My dad came home from work, I used the words “black beans” and “sweet potatoes” in the same sentence and he was giddy as a school boy.  Two superfoods in the same meal?  Jackpot.

Either I failed to say or he neglected to hear the word “chili.”  [Enter Y-chromosome joke here.]  Fast-forward an hour later as dinner is ready and someone asks what’s for dinner and when I answer “black bean sweet potato chili” my dad goes “chili?! I thought you said black beans and sweet potatoes.”  And when I explain yes, both, together, in chili, DAD WE HAD THIS CONVERSATION AND YOU WERE PUMPED, he’s all grumble grumble.  Because who’s ever heard of black bean sweet potato chili?

Yeah.  Well.  Guess who ate his words REPEATEDLY last week.

I believe if you had hovered around the dinner table on said chili night the only thing you would have heard is barn animals wolfing down their slop at the trough.  Because that’s what we sounded like.  And I’m being generous.

The inspiration for this chili came from Big Girls Small Kitchen, which is apparently my girl crush as of late.  I referenced their version for the foundation of my own, but omitted bell peppers due to the lack of any in our fridge and used two cans of black beans and one can of kidney beans rather than three cans of black.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.

Chopping the sweet potatoes is the hardest part; once you’ve diced those babies it’s downhill (in a good way) from there.

Dice a whole onion and sauté it over medium-low heat with a generous tablespoon of olive oil.  Once translucent (approximately 5 minutes), add two cloves of garlic (diced), 1 teaspoon of cumin and 2 teaspoons of chili powder.  We didn’t have I couldn’t find any chili powder and Pun was MIA so I subbed a pinch of cayenne and whatever else sounded chili-ish from the spice rack.  Stir everything together and continue to sauté until fragrant (approximately 2 minutes).  Add one 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes, two cans of black beans, one can of kidney beans, a diced chipotle (I subbed half a fresh jalapeno), and a fistful of diced cilantro stems (read: 1/4 cup, although I prolly used more as we’re cilantro wild in our house).  I also added 15 ounces of water (via filling up the tomato can); I feel like chili and soups and things need all the water they can get.  Add a pinch or two of salt and an entire beer, preferably of the dark persuasion.  Turn up the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add two diced sweet potatoes (as a rule I leave skins on everything — don’t be shy about doing the same to save yourself some time; the potatoes will be so soft you won’t notice the skins) and simmer for 20 minutes longer, until potatoes are cooked through but not falling apart.  Taste for seasoning and adjust spices as desired.  Spoon into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

I served ours topped with freshly grated cheddar cheese and sautéed kielbasa for the carnivores.  I also made roasted cauliflower, which was a nice complement to the chili.  Needless to say, Pops was all slurp, swallow, NOM NOM NOM, and licking his bowl with the rest of us.  That’ll teach him.

November 29, 2011
LivingSocial Room Service

LivingSocial recently debuted a new feature called Room Service, in which they bring the restaurant experience to your home.  We’re talking a prix fixe menu, legitimate dishes and silverware, candles and flowers, the works.  As a means of spreading the word and getting people excited, LivingSocial held a contest via Twitter to win a free Room Service experience.  Yours truly was one of the lucky winners!

Two Fridays ago, LivingSocial delivered dinner for four from Kushi, a local Japanese izakaya specializing in sushi and a whole mess of grilled delicacies.  The process could not have been easier: LivingSocial contacted me for my menu selections, reconfirmed all details the day-of, gave me a heads up when they were on their way, and set up everything exactly as I wanted it.  They left two giant tupperware bins for us to gather the dirty dishes and instructed us to leave them on our doorstep by 9am the following morning for retrieval.  Cheerful customer service accompanied every step.  I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Each of us had two bento boxes to plow through: a “hot” box containing a duck thigh, pork belly, fried chicken, shrimp tempura, grilled asparagus, and the most mind-blowing grilled mushrooms I’ve ever had in my life; and a “cold” box containing assorted sushi and rice and seaweed salad.  Our friend Justin was able to put down about 75% of both boxes, which was easily twice as much as the rest of us.  There was SO.MUCH.FOOD.  I sent everyone home with doggie bags stuffed to the gills and Frank and Taco ate like kings for a week.

LivingSocial’s Room Service was easy, convenient, and flawlessly executed.  We all agreed that for those who enjoy entertaining but don’t have the time or desire to cook an involved meal for several people and can’t afford full-blown catering, Room Service is just the ticket.  Talk about finding a niche spot in the market.

My thanks again to everyone at LivingSocial — my friends and I shared a terrific evening over fabulous food.  I’m so thrilled to have been one of your lucky winners and wish you all the best in your new endeavor!

Please note: LivingSocial did not ask me to review Room Service and is not compensating me to do so.  All thoughts above are my own and are freely given.

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