Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tongues of Fire Pentecost Lentil Soup

Today is the feast day of when, according to the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit came down like tongues of fire in Jerusalem.  So, in honor of this feast day, I wanted to feast on something Middle Eastern that would set all of our tongues on fire.  This recipe is a variation on a pretty standard lentil soup recipe.  Often lentil soup calls for spinach; I am opting for Kale, as it's a little more substantive.


1 1/2 c. Brown or French Lentils

6 c. Water

1 t. Olive Oil (For boiling)

Already turning red for Pentecost
1 small Yellow Onion - Chopped

1 1/2 c. Sliced Carrots

3 Chile Peppers - de-seeded and chopped
*You can use fewer if you want tone down the spice.

2 cloves Garlic - Finely chopped

1/2 c. fresh Ginger root - finely chopped

1 T. Curry Powder

1 T. Olive Oil (For Sautéing)

1/2 Bundle of Lacinato Kale
*Apx. 6 c. after removing the stems and chopping

1/4 c. Balsamic Vinegar

1 t. Salt

1. Soak the Lentils over night in the 6c. of water.  See my post on cooking legumes.  The lentils will expand to several times their size.

2.  Boil the lentils on medium heat with the 1 t. of Olive Oil for apx. 20 min.

3.  While the lentils are boiling, chop and prepare the Onion, Carrots, Chiles, Garlic, and Ginger.  Heat the 1 T. Olive oil in a pan.

3.  Sauté the Onion, Carrots, Chiles, Garlic, and Ginger well.  Add the Curry Powder.  Continue to sauté the vegetable mixture until the vegetables are soft.  Then, add the vegetable mixture to the lentils, and simmer on low for apx. 1/2 hr.

4.  While the lentils and vegetables are simmering, remove the stems from the Kale and chop it, not too small.

It's Blurry Soup

5.  After the lentils and vegetables have simmered, turn off the burner or keep it on Low to where it's not boiling.  Add the Kale, Balsamic Vinegar, and Salt and let sit for 5 min.  Serve.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Strawberry Pancakes

On this Ascension Sunday, I'm going to rise early to make a rather uplifting dish.  Ok, it was the best segue I could come up with.  As it was on last day when the liturgical calendar was green (Shrove Tuesday), and now just before it goes back to being green, this is an apropos occasion for doing Pancakes.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with pancakes.  When I was younger, I didn't care for them at all.  My mom would make them into Mickey Mouse shapes, just so I would eat them.  My taste for them has now changed, and I think I have found a better way to make them instead of just making fun shapes out of them. 

One of the many commonalities that Americans have in our diet is that we tend to get things out of a box or can that really don't need to come from a pre-made source.  A few years back, my wife Kristen was in the mood for pancakes.  They were never my favorite thing, but I figured what the heck, I'll go get a box.  As I was waiting for our pancakes to cook, I started reading the ingredients, and I realized that aside from all the preservatives, there was really nothing in this box that I didn't already have in my kitchen.

Thus, began my journey to learn to make pancakes.  I found a number of recipes online and in old cookbooks.  After experimenting, I found things that they tasted a lot heartier when one used whole wheat flour.  I also found that they were even better when I threw nuts and fruit into them.  (As an aside, if you ever get a box of Blueberry Pancake Mix, it doesn't actually have Blueberries in it.)

Today, I'm doing my favorite fruit in the Pancakes: Strawberries.  Just a note: the additions, like berries and nuts are completely optional, and can easily be left out.


1 c. Whole Wheat Flour

1 T. White Sugar

1 t. Baking Powder

1/2 t. Baking Soda

1/4 t. Salt (Optional)

1 c. Milk

1 Egg

2 T. Canola Oil

1 c. Sliced Strawberries (Optional)


1.  If you have a griddle, preheat the griddle on Medium-High Heat.  If you are using a pan, you can heat the pan after mixing the ingredients.  The cooking surface will be hot enough if a drop of water evaporates immediately.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and Salt.  After they are mixed, make a well in the middle of the mixture.

3.  Slowly pour Milk, Egg and Canola Oil into the well, mixing them into the dry ingredients as they go in.  After they are mixed, let the batter sit for a minute.

4.  Oil the griddle or pan, spreading the oil evenly with a paper towel.

5.  Stir the Strawberries, or whatever addition you'd like, into the batter.

Photo courtesy of Kristen Buterbaugh

6.  For each Pancake, scoop out 1/2 c. of batter and pour it onto the griddle.

7.  When the batter rises to the desired thickness and is bubbly on top, flip them.  Make sure they are cooked on the bottom, before flipping them.
*For whatever reason, the last pancakes always come out better than the first, even on a preheated surface.
 *You may have to re-oil the cooking surface once during the pancake-making process.

Complete with butter and maple syrup!  Nom nom nom!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Red Beans and Rice

Last week, I explained how to make beans.  This week, I'm going to explain one of my favorite ways to use them.  I tend to think of Red Beans and Rice as a Southern dish, but myself, not being a Southerner have been making them for years.  I've tweaked and modified my recipe for years to get it to this point, and I never quite make it the same way twice.  So, here's how I made this dish this week.

2 c. Red Beans - drained
*If you cook them from scratch, leave them slightly harder than you normally would, as they'll cook more in this recipe.

3 3/4 c. Liquid from the Beans and Water added to make full amount - set aside
*Try to read ahead when you're making this and don't throw the Bean Juice away! 

2 c. Brown Rice - not parboiled

1/4 c. Ketchup
(Wait, did he really say Ketchup?  Yes, he did.  I think he's gone over the edge.)
1-2 Chile Peppers (depending on how brave you are)
*You can replace this with 1 T. of Crushed Red Pepper or 1 t. of Cayenne Pepper

1/2 t. Cumin

1 t. Salt

1 T. Olive Oil

3 Garlic Cloves

1.  After peeling the Garlic Cloves, crush them.

2.  Cut the top off Chile(s), slice them in half down the middle, and remove the seeds.

3.  Put the Beans, Rice, crushed Garlic Cloves, and Chile Pepper into a medium-sized saucepan.

Pictured sans Rice

4.  Add the 3 3/4 c. Bean Juice/Water mixture, Ketchup, and Olive Oil.
*If the beans are slightly undercooked, add another 1/8 c. of water.

5.  Turn the stove on high, and add the Cumin and Salt.   
*Don't stir them in - they'll mix on their own.  If you stir rice, it gets gummy.

6.  Cook on high heat until it gets to a rolling boil.  Let boil, uncovered, for 3-4 min.

7.  Cover and turn down to Low Heat, and let it simmer for 50 min.

8.  If you still hear water boiling in the pot after 50 min, turn off the burner and just let it set for 10 min. while it finishes cooking on its own.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Basic Beans

This week's recipe is a simple one. "Legumes" 

I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence by doing something this basic, but I'm doing this post for two reasons:

1.  Legumes are a staple in many other recipes that I'll post, and since I have my "no can" rule, I should probably explain this before moving on.

2.  Most Americans (myself included, at one point) probably don't know how to make them from scratch.

My introduction to bean-making came while I lived in Venezuela from 2003 to 2004.  One cool evening in Caracas (of which there are few), I decided to make Chili for the staff of the Diocesan House, who were all working late that evening.  I first went to the grocery store down the block to get all the ingredients.  To my surprise, a can of beans was really expensive!  I couldn't figure out how a culture that eats so many legumes in so many forms could pay so much for such a basic staple.  I just let this be a fleeting thought, and I bought my can of beans for that evening.

Sadly, this whole incident shows my own ignorance, but probably not uniquely my ignorance.  I was 23 years old, and I had never, to my knowledge seen a bean in a non-canned form.  It never occurred to me that beans came in another form.  As it turns out, I learned later that beans don't actually grow in cans, and most people around the world buy them dry.  Even more amazingly, you can buy them dry in this country AND they're cheaper AND healthier that way!

So, here's how to do it:

*Note: Proportions will vary depending on how much you need to make.
2 c. Dried Beans (whichever kind your are making)
10 c. Water
1 t. Salt
1 T. Oil (Preferably Olive, but you can really use any kind)
1 fg. Fennel Seed (Optional - I'll explain this one)
1 fg. Baking Soda (Optional)

1. Rinse the Beans in a colander under tap water.  (Remember they were grown in dirt)  You may have to move them around with your hand as you're rinsing, and pick out any bad beans, stones, or sticks.  Those are pretty common (again, dirt).

2.  Put the Beans into a large pot with the 10 c. of Water.  Some people say that the pinch (fg) of Baking Soda helps to soften the beans when soaking, so if that is your preference, here's where you put it in.  Also, it is common to put a pinch of Fennel in the soaking Beans.  This is supposed to lessen any of the intestinal side affects that beans cause when eating them - unless you like not having a social life. 

Black Beans - You can see the Fennel on top
Pinto Beans
Thin layer of foam
3.  Leave the Beans to soak in the water for 8-24 hours with the Baking Soda and Fennel, if desired.  It's best to let them soak long enough that they develop a thin layer of white foam on the surface of the water.  When you are ready to cook them, add the salt and oil.  The next day, there may be some shriveled up beans at the top.  Just skim them off and throw them away.

4.  Cook over medium heat, getting them to a rolling boil.  Make sure you stir them every 5 min, or so to keep them from sticking to the pot. 

Cooking times will vary depending on the type of legume or the quality.  In general, the older the beans, the longer they will take to cook.  Also, different beans take different times.  In general, I find the beans that soak up the least amount of water are the ones that cook the slowest, and vice versa.

Black Beans can take as little as 30 min, and as long as 2 hours.  I usually find 45 min. does the trick.

Red and Pinto Beans will take 20-40 min. 

Chick Peas tend to take 20-30 min.

Lentils can cook in as little time as 10 min, depending on the type of lentil.

Another issue while cooking legumes is that they develop foam while boiling.  There are a few things you can do about this.  Soaking is your first defense against The Foam that Ate Your Kitchen.  The oil is the major thing that keeps foam under control.  If you have an oil sprayer that can cover the surface of the water evenly, you are very unlikely to have a foam problem.  Even a glob of oil in the middle of the water will be helpful, though.  If you want the beans to cook faster, you can cook them on a higher heat, but they are more likely to foam up, and WILL boil over if you don't watch them.  If you reduce the heat to medium or low, you reduce the foam, however it will extend cooking time.  The biggest thing to do here is to keep an eye on them.  When foam arises, just scoop it off the top, and throw it into the sink.  Once the initial foam is off, it probably won't foam up again.

5.  Use the legumes in your favorite beanie recipe, or store them for later use.  If you are going to store the beans in plastic, let them cool for an hour before putting them into a container.  Most legumes will keep well in the fridge for about a week, then they may start growing mold.  However, you can store them in the freezer almost indefinitely.  I tend to store legumes in zipper bags still in their liquid, making sure there's no air in the bags, so they don't get freezer burned.  Months later, they will thaw out and taste just like you cooked them that day.

*A couple of notes about cooking beans:
-You can cook legumes without first soaking them, however they will take longer, foam up more, need more stirring, and your social life will be in more jeopardy than before from the intestinal effects.  

-One Venezuelan trick to cooking black beans, which take a longer time, is to use a pressure cooker.  You can knock them out in 30 min, without soaking or stirring.

-I don't know if it's an old wives' tale, but I have heard that you should never put a spoon into your mouth, and then back into boiling beans without washing the spoon first.  Supposedly, it will ruin the beans. I can't say that I know this to be true for sure, but it doesn't sound like a good idea either way.

-There are so many ways to cook beans, and what to or not to include, that there really is no wrong way to do them. For instance, you can cook them without salt or oil on low heat, and they will cook (albeit, after a longer cooking time) without foaming up.  In the end, as long as you make sure the water doesn't cook off in the boiling process and they don't burn, the beans will turn out just fine.