Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans


Sweet Potatoes Make Great Vegetarian Chili

Cold weather has returned here in St. Louis  — so naturally I’m craving a hearty dish.

When the temps turn chilly, I turn to chili.  But with sweet potatoes?  Sounds weird, I know.  They work brilliantly though, as I discovered.

Most of us know that the naturally sweet flavor of sweet potatoes is enhanced by even more sweetness.  Think Thanksgiving candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

Less well known is the sweet potato’s affinity for spicy flavors, particularly dried chilies.  To see what I mean, try adding a dusting of ground cayenne pepper to the top of those candied sweet potatoes.  It’s an amazing combination — and a revelation.

Sweet potato chili perfectly showcases the marriage of spicy and sweet.  The first bite will make your tongue smile.

The second bite?  You’ll probably decide this is the best vegetarian chili you’ve ever eaten.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Simple and Quick Vegetable Stir-Fry

Fear of Chinese

Many American cooks (even experienced ones) are intimidated by Chinese cuisine.  Some are scared away even before they start — by that long list of unfamiliar ingredients.

Then there’s all the preparation required.  Mise en place is a French term, but surely the Chinese must have invented the concept.  You can’t cook Chinese unless you first do your mise en place, and a lot of it.

And, of course, there are some unfamiliar cooking techniques.  (A stir-fry is like a sauté — but not quite.)  So that can be a bit scary, too.

Stir-Fry for Dummies

Well, good news!  The stir-fry method I use here is easier than the “classic” technique.  It’s more of a braise (the pork is stir-fried but the vegetables are braised in liquid).  And the flavor is excellent.

As for the rest?  Let’s just jump into the recipe, and you’ll see.  Everything will become clear as we go along.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eating Your Vegetables

The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture have updated their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.  Their takeaway message on how to reduce our ballooning national girth?   “Eat less.”

[Smacking forehead]  Now why didn’t I think of that?

Cutting down on food intake doesn’t excite most of us.  But substituting lower-calorie dishes might have more appeal.

Along those lines, two of the more sensible recommendations in the new Dietary Guidelines are to “increase vegetable and fruit intake” and “eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.”

How to accomplish this?  That’s just the question Alanna asks in her blog, A Veggie Venture.  In a post entitled How to Eat More Vegetables, she proposes “practical tips and ideas” for adding more vegetables to our diets.  She invites other bloggers to share some of their suggestions.  In this post, I oblige.

Kitchen Riffs doesn’t spend a lot of time advocating a vegetable- or health-centric point of view (as will be quite apparent when I get around to blogging about chocolate mousse).  But vegetables actually do occupy a prominent place on my dinner table.

Why?  Well, they taste good.  (Yes, honestly, they do, at least the way I cook them).   In fact, they often are more satisfying than the presumed “stars” of dinner, like meat or fish.

So how does Kitchen Riffs add more vegetables to meals?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Easy Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup with Bacon and Rosemary

Lentil Soup with Bacon and Rosemary

Lentils have exceptional ”nutritional value and health benefits”.  They are the second-highest source of vegetable protein (soy beans are first), have loads of fiber, and contain significant amounts of iron.,  Health magazine's online home, suggests they are one of the world’s five healthiest foods (also on their list are olive oil, soy, yogurt, and kimchi; yeah, that last one surprised me too).  Because lentils are protein-rich, they are favorites in countries where lots of people are vegetarians.

There are several varieties and colors of lentils.  Sometimes lentils are split to become dal.  In India (which leads the world in lentil consumption), lentils are most commonly eaten as dal.

Light-colored and red lentils predominate in the Near East and Asia.  In France, green “lentilles du Puy” are sought after.  In the United States, common brown lentils are what we usually find in the supermarket.

Biblical Portions

Lentils are also one of our oldest known foods, dating back to 8000 B.C.  They have been found in Egyptian royal tombs at Thebes.  They are mentioned several times in the Bible, most famously in the book of Genesis, when a famished Esau comes in from working the fields and sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob in exchange for a “pottage” of lentils.

Jacob must have cooked a mean bowl of soup.

Well, so can you!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn

Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn

Sweet potatoes are a power food.  They are low in fat and sodium, naturally sweet-flavored, and have tons of nutrients (especially vitamins A and C and calcium).  But they’re not just good for you.  They also taste good — really good.

Sweet potatoes combine well with a wide variety of spices and flavorings.  And they can be prepared almost as many ways as “standard” potatoes (although the two are completely different plants and aren’t even in the same botanical family).

Yet most of us eat sweet potatoes only once a year (at Thanksgiving) and in one way (candied, usually with marshmallows).

That’s how it was for a long time in the Kitchen Riffs household.  We knew how delicious these tubers could be, but somehow we just never got around to preparing them on a regular basis.

Sweet potatoes invariably made for some of our tastiest Thanksgiving leftovers.  And every year we would ask ourselves why we didn’t have them more often.  Then the holidays would pass, and we would forget about sweet potatoes.

Until a few years ago, when we decided to break out of the box.

Transgressing Against Tradition

We struck a blow against conformity!  We forged our own path!  In short, we started eating sweet potatoes during months that didn’t begin with the letter “N.”

And our eyes were opened to a really versatile vegetable with marvelous flavor.

One of the tastiest dishes we discovered was sweet potato soup.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stock Excuses

Food trends are quirky.  Back in the 1980’s when real men didn’t eat it, quiche was one of the more popular items on restaurant lunch menus, and home cooks frequently served it.  Today quiche has largely disappeared (though lately it has enjoyed a slight renaissance now that we’re losing our fear of eggs).

For a while, soup seemed to be disappearing too.  In 1984 Madeline Kamman wrote in her most innovative (and probably best) book, In Madeline’s Kitchen, that soups were in decline:
Soups have all but disappeared from French restaurant menus.  An occasional luxury restaurant still serves a delicious potage here and there, but the good old delectable fillers of my young days have gone forever.  Between 1950 and 1980 most of society became comfortable enough to afford a piece of meat, and people no longer had to tax their stomachs with a lot of liquid at the onset of a meal.

In the past decade, however, soups have started to show up again on restaurant menus — and on the home dinner table.

But while soups are regaining popularity in the home kitchen, homemade stock – the foundation of many soups – isn’t.  Instead, we often use substitutes like canned stock or soup bases.