Tag Archives: chili

Butternut Squash, Black Bean and Charred Red Onion Tacos

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I’ve always envied those that are able to do what they love for their livelihood.  Although there are certainly downsides to it (as most authors, musicians, and artists know), there is great appeal to this lifestyle.  My sweetie is able to do what he loves, playing music and building instruments, and usually makes ends meet with the modest income that comes in.  It may not be all roses all the time, but there is something to be said about being able to have the time to spend on developing specialized skills and enjoying one’s passion.

Over the last few weeks Drew has been working long hours in the woodshop building a gourd banjo.  As a luthier (a beautiful way to say “builder of stringed instruments”) and newly learned clawhammer banjo player, he was intrigued when he heard Bob Lucas play a gourd banjo at a symposium called Common Ground on the Hill earlier this summer.  A couple of months later, he began to study plans of existing gourd banjos and set about building one himself.  After hours (and hours..and hours) of reading, planning and ordering supplies, and just a few weeks after the inaugural cutting of one large gourd, shipped from California, he sits playing his beautiful gourd banjo in the kitchen.

I am amazed that building a gourd banjo went from an idea of his to now, a few weeks later, a reality.  I do not have the skills required to build a musical instrument or the passion to do so myself but I most certainly am in awe of this beautiful instrument created by his hands.

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I do like my job and find excitement and satisfaction from it at times.  But as grateful for it as I am (and grateful for steady employment that affords us a comfortable home and meets all of our basic needs) I cannot honestly say it is my life’s passion.  Luckily, I get to spend time with my true passion from time to time and sometimes I even get to share it with others.  Tonight I volunteer taught a cooking class at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (a wonderful cancer and grief support clubhouse) and I got that feeling that I think Drew must feel when he is working on building a banjo or a guitar.  I felt like I was doing something that I could do forever.  I was completely relaxed, had fun, and felt so passionate about sharing my love for cooking with a great group of women.

Because I cook so much (daily), I sometimes take for granted the skills that I’ve acquired in the kitchen.  I’m just a simple home cook when it comes down to it but I am surprised when I show a class how to do something and they are excited and delighted by it.  Tonight I showed the women how to make a Mexican meal using butternut squash and black beans.  We made butternut squash and black bean chili and these butternut squash, black bean, and charred onion tacos.  At various points in the class I became animated and excited to show random little tips as they popped into my head.  How to slice an avocado in its peel.  How to peel and cut a butternut squash.  That you can eat the skin of a delicata squash.  That you can boil apple cider down into a glaze.  That you can warm and char a tortilla directly on the flame of a gas stove.  That you don’t have to measure everything exactly.  That a little chocolate in chili adds depth and richness.  Usually these little joys of the kitchen stay with me.  I am usually pretty quiet in the kitchen at home, choosing silence over music, focusing on the meditative act of chopping vegetables and washing dishes.  I usually take the little aha moments with cooking for granted or I assume that they will not delight anyone other than myself.  It was brilliant fun tonight to not only share my love for cooking but to have fourteen women clap, smile, and say mmmmmm along with me while I cooked, learned (yup–still learning!), and dished up samples of our fall fiesta.

I do hope you try these tacos.  They are a unique way to use my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash.  They are filling and hearty, aromatic and flavorful.  It’s really a compliment when someone who loves meat tacos deems these an A++ (thanks, hon!).  Needless to say, if I ever have a restaurant, these are making the menu.

And whatever your passion, I hope you get to spend a few moments with it today.

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Butternut Squash Tacos with Charred Red Onion and Black Beans (and a bunch of yummy toppings!)

Tacos:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup black beans, dried and cooked, or canned is fine too—be sure to drain well
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 12 corn tortillas

For topping:

  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, washed and stems removed
  • ½ cup queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese)
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  • 1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
  • Sriracha (garlic-chili hot sauce, a.k.a. “Rooster Sauce”)
  1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil.
  2. Prepare the squash:  Cut the bottom off of the butternut squash to create a flat surface and stand squash on its end.  Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or…as reader Natashia suggests, you can clean and roast them, spreading out on a baking sheet as if you were roasting pumpkin seeds–takes about 20 minutes).  Peel the outside of the squash with a knife, taking care to always have a flat surface for stability.  Slice the squash into ½ inch slices.  Cut the slices into ½ inch diameter matchsticks, about 5 inches long.
  3. Place the squash sticks onto the oiled baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Don’t crowd the pan—use two pans if needed.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes.  Poke with a  fork to test for doneness—the fork should easily pierce the squash and the squash should still hold its shape.  Remove from the oven when done.
  4. In the meantime, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil on medium high in a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet and add the onions and garlic along with a sprinkle of salt.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have browned and softened slightly.  Add the beans to the pan along with the cumin and stir for a moment until heated through.
  5. Heat a small skillet over high heat and add tortillas to the pan, one at a time, turning until they are heated and a little crisp.  Once all tortillas are heated, add a few sticks of squash to each, a large spoonful of the onion and bean mixture, and any toppings you like (from the toppings listed above).  Squeeze a wedge of lime over each and serve with Sriracha or another hot sauce on the side.

Makes 12 tacos

Lubia Chalow–Afghan Lemony Kidney Beans

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I’m happy to be hosting the Food Matters Project this week.  This was the perfect dish to make this Saturday on what was yet another rainy, cold April day in Michigan.  I have become accustomed over the last two months to the shared misery of a cold and rainy spring here (I have to remind myself that I am not alone in hoping for spring, lamenting every snow flake that falls–yup, we even got snow yesterday on April 14).  There is a sense of solidarity here in Michigan–we are in this together!  Because of this shared empathy about the weather, I kind of forgot that a lot of other areas of the country are having splendid spring weather, almost summery in fact.  So, here is to hoping that this dish is as satisfying in the warmer regions as it was here in the land of rain and snow.

I chose this dish for this week’s Food Matters Project because it is something that I normally might not make and I was really curious about it.  Bittman called it “Super Lemony Kidney Beans” and it sounded like it could either be really bad or really good.  Thank goodness it is the latter because this one, although requiring little hands-on time, takes a good chunk of time in the oven.  One thing that is really interesting about The Food Matters Project cookbook is that there are no photos so every recipe is kind of a surprise.  While I can usually imagine what the dish will taste like, I have a hard time imagining what it will look like.  This dish is based on an Afghan dish called lubia chalow and the best way to describe it is a bean stew with preserved lemons and plenty of spices (spicy-flavorful, not spicy-hot).  Having never cooked anything from Afghan cuisine, I was excited to try.  It used a lot of the same spices that I love to use in my cooking…cardamom, mustard seeds (I could write a blog post on how many ways I use mustard seeds in my cooking!), cumin seeds, cinnamon, chile, and garlic.

Spices for Lubia Chalow

It resembles a big pot of chili with the exception that rather than simmering slowly on the stove, it spends a couple of hours in the oven.  You’ll need a nice, heavy pot or Dutch oven–I used a Martha Stewart enameled cast iron Dutch oven.  A thinner pot might burn the food on the bottom in the oven.

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I am staying at my friend, June’s, beautiful little house in the country.  It is so cozy in her house and, having been a little damp and cold after running through pouring rain into the house, I decided to plant my chair right by the oven and work on my computer in the warmth.  I also took some breaks to take some photos of the birds (through the window, of course)! 

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After smelling cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon wafting through the air for the better part of two hours I could hardly wait to try this.  It was satisfying and very unique with the preserved lemons.  Oh, one thing I should note is that the recipe for the lemons makes a ton of preserved lemons (about 3 cups or so).  You can easily halve the recipe for the lemons and have enough for this dish with a little leftover.  Oh, and be sure to stop on by and see what everyone else on the Food Matters Project ended up creating here.

And just so you don’t think it’s all gloom and doom here, the sun finally came out Sunday (after the snow, sleet, and rain had made their point during the morning and early afternoon).  I finally got out for a walk with the pup.  It felt wonderful to get outside, breath in the fresh air, pick some daffodils, and stretch our legs.  I think my dog sums up perfectly how I felt yesterday–no words needed.

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Enjoy this dish and enjoy the springtime, wherever you are.

Lubia Chalow--Afghan Kidney Bean Stew

Lubia Chalow (Super-Lemony Kidney Beans); from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook

Serves 6 to 8; Takes about 3 hours, largely unattended

Based on an Afghan dish called lubia chalow, this soupy bean stew begins with quick preserved lemons, a staple of Middle Eastern cooking.  Usually the lemons are left whole or halved, heavily salted, and set aside to cure in a mixture of spices and their own juice.  Chopping the fruit helps speed the process considerably with delicious (if not entirely authentic) results.  Six lemons are enough so that you can use some of the mixture for the beans and store the rest in a jar in the fridge for later.  (They get better and better with age.)  These beans are good served over Basmati or jasmine rice with a dollop of yogurt.

  • 6 lemons
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (I reduced to about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods (I did not have cardamom pods so I added 1 tablespoon cardamom–I love cardamom though–if you aren’t sure, you may want to add a teaspoon, then adjust at the end of cooking)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 dried mild chile (I used ancho)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 pound dried kidney beans, rinsed and picked over; don’t bother to soak them (I used cranberry beans, which are very similar)
  • Black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint, for garnish (I used cilantro)
  1. Heat the oven to 325°.  Trim the ends from 4 of the lemons; quarter them, remove the seeds, and put them (rind included) in a food processor.  Add the juice of the remaining 2 lemos to the food processor (again, without the seeds) along with 2 teaspoons salt.  Pulse several times to chop the lemons into bits but don’t puree.  Put the mixture in a jar and leave it on the counter while you cook the beans; shake it every once in a while.
  2. Put the oil in a large ovenproof pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute more. Stir in the cumin, mustard seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and dried chile; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or so.  Stir in the tomato paste.
  3. Add the kidney beans and water to cover by about 3 inches.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and bake for 90 minutes (you can ignore the beans this whole time).  After 90 minutes, stir the beans and check to see if they are tender.  If they are, add water if necessary to keep the beans covered by about 1 inch and stir in 1/2 cup of the pickled lemons. Cover and continue baking for another 30 minutes.  If the beans are not yet tender, make sure they are covered by about 2 inches water and don’t add the lemons yet.  Cover the pot and check again in 30 minutes; repeat this step as necessary until the beans are tender enough to add the lemons.
  4. When the beans are completely tender and the liquid has thickened, fish out the cinnamon stick and chile if you like (and the cardamom pods if you can find them easily).  Then taste and adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and some more of the lemons if you like.  Serve, garnished with the mint (you can make the beans ahead and refrigerate them for up to several days; gently reheat before serving.

Homemade Kimchi

Ever since my big brother sent a gigantic Pickl-it jar to me for my birthday (with a card that said, “From the best brother in the world”) I’ve been in the mood to make and eat fermented foods.  I’ve always been a little nervous about fermenting things myself but this gadget takes the mystery (and fear) out.  I’ve got a big jar of sauerkraut going right now…can’t wait to try it out!

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The only bummers about this jar are that a) it is huge so I have to make A LOT of one thing at one time and b) I want others so I can pickle other foods simultaneously.  Recently, while lacto-fermenting a batch of mixed veggies (cauliflower, carrots, celery, and radishes, which turned the batch a nasty pink color…lesson learned) I had a hankering for Kimchi.  Much to my delight, I found a recipe that didn’t require any elaborate process, unless you call hanging out in the fridge for a week elaborate.

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This recipe, from Serious Eats, was exactly what I had in mind.  I wanted an authentic recipe and I wanted to know how to make it without shrimp paste, which I find to be a bit much for me.  This recipe shows you not only how to make it without shrimp paste, but how to make it vegetarian!  I’m fine with fish sauce so made my version with it but it was great to find out that you can use miso as a fine substitution, which I will surely try for next time.

I had some kimchi yesterday with my special grain blend for a snack.  To make my grain blend, cook wild rice and brown rice with water to cover for 25 minutes.  Add farro, black and/or white quinoa, and radish seeds.  Cook another 15-20 minutes covered on low heat.  Turn off and let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing.  The radish seeds are my favorite part.  they pop in your mouth and are so fun to eat!

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Homemade Kimchi; from Serious Eats

Ingredients

  • 1 large head napa cabbage, cored and separated into individual leaves, about 1 pound total
  • 1 small daikon radish (about 4 ounces)
  • 8 scallions, greens roughly chopped, whites reserved separately
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • One 2-inch knob ginger, peeled
  • 1/2 cup Korean chili powder (kochukaru)
  • 2 tablespoons white or red miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  1. Place cabbage leaves, daikon, and scallion greens in a large bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Toss to combine, cover, then let sit at room temperature until cabbage is wilted, at least 1 hour and up to 12. It should release about 1/4 to 1/2 cup liquid.
  1. Meanwhile, combine scallion whites, garlic, ginger, chili powder, miso paste or fish sauce, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until rough paste is formed, about 30 seconds total, scraping down sides as necessary.
  2. Once cabbage is wilted, add chili mixture and turn to coat. Add 1 cup water to mixture. Taste liquid and add more salt as necessary (it should have the saltiness of sea water). Pack kimchi into mason jars, pressing down firmly to pack tightly and using a chopstick to release any air bubbles trapped in the bottom of the jar. Cover the kimchi with its liquid.
  3. Seal the jars tightly and allow them to sit at cool room temperature for 24 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator. Allow to ferment at least 1 week before eating (see note). Kimchi will last for up to 1 month after opening. Alternatively, place directly in fridge and taste daily starting after the first week until it’s as sour as you like it. Consume within 1 month.

Notes: This kimchi will get more and more sour as it ages. It can be eaten immediately, but is optimal at around 3 weeks. For a more traditional kimchi, replace the miso paste with 1/4 cup fish sauce or 2 tablespoons jarred brined tiny shrimp. It’s normal for the kimchi to produce lots of gas as it’s fermenting. Your jar’s lids may pop open when you open them and bubbles may appear in the liquid. Do not be alarmed.

As for the kochukaru—Korean dried chili powder, this is perhaps the only ingredient that can be a little tough to track down, but it’s absolutely essential. Korean chilis are a lot more about flavor than heat. You can pack a whole load of chili powder into your kimchi before you end up with a significant amount of heat. I haven’t found any other pepper with a similar flavor profile and heat/aroma ratio.