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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

It’s that time of year again, where I start craving bright, cheerful vegetables that won’t be available in any degree of abundance for at least another three months. Generally, I try to eat more-or-less seasonally; out-of-season produce tends to be horrendously expensive, particularly if you’re buying organic, and I find that I appreciate the bounty of summer more when I’ve been deprived for a while (I think all Minnesotans must believe this on some level, with regards to life in general – otherwise, no one would stick around for more than one winter). Plus, it’s hard for produce grown in Mexico and trucked in to compete with the fresh, picked-ripe fare available at a farmers market in the summer, which makes eating out-of-season produce in the dead of winter a depressing reminder of just how long it’s going to be before you get to eat a real tomato again. Sigh.

But every so often, I just can’t take the monotony of winter any longer, and go running off to my co-op for an armload of summer veggies from California and Mexico. This salad is one of my favorite things to make with my purchases – it’s delicious, filling, and makes a complete meal on its own. It can be served warmish or at room-temperature, if you’re not in the mood for a cold salad (though it is also excellent cold). Quinoa is pretty expensive for a grain – the price has been climbing steadily for the past several years, and it currently comes in at $4.89/lb. in the bulk section at my co-op (yikes) – but I like it enough that I splurge on it every so often. (If you’re on a tighter budget than I am currently, you could substitute rice, couscous, or probably even barley, all of which are cheaper options.) Cherry or plum tomatoes are a must, if you don’t have any fresh, picked-ripe regular tomatoes on hand – they’re basically the only types of grocery store tomatoes that are worth a damn at any time of the year, and will come the closest to approximating that peak-of-summer tomato taste that is so hard to find outside of the summer months.

This recipe was roughly adapted from the one here.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (about 1lb.) quinoa
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water + bullion cubes, or whatever
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ bunch parsley, leaves and upper stems, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or, if it's summer, 2 picked-ripe roma tomatoes, chopped)
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • ¼lb. feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly-squeezed is the most flavorful - you'll need one large, squishy lemon)
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste, particularly if your broth isn't salted
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Note

As with all grain and legume salads, you'll need to plan ahead if you want to serve this cold - cook the quinoa at least four hours in advance of serving to give it time to cool off in the refrigerator. (However, this salad tastes great served warmish or at room temperature as well, particularly at times of year when it's not sweltering hot outside.)

Directions

1. Before cooking the quinoa, rinse it in a fine mesh strainer under running water for about a minute; this removes the outer coating that can cause a bitter taste.
2. Combine the quinoa and vegetable/chicken broth in a pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the quinoa rest (and absorb the remaining liquid) for an additional 15 minutes. Move to a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to cool (you'll need at least four hours if you want it to be cold).
3. Shortly before serving, prepare the vegetables - finely chop the red onion and bell pepper, mince the garlic and parsley, and halve the cherry tomatoes. Chop the olives and crumble the feta cheese as well.
4. Combine the cooked quinoa, chopped veggies/herbs, olives, and feta in a bowl. Pour in the vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil, and stir well to combine. Taste for salt, and add as needed, along with round black pepper to taste. Serve.

 

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1 lb. quinoa: ~$4.89 (ugh, so pricey!)
  • 1 small onion: ~$0.80
  • 1 red bell pepper: $2.20 (sadly, the peppers in my freezer won’t do for a raw dish – they’re too floppy and sad when thawed)
  • ½ bunch parsley: $1
  • ½ container cherry tomatoes (the rest will go in a different salad): $2
  • ~¼ lb. feta cheese: $1.61
  • ~⅓ jar of kalamata olives: $2.33
  • 1 large lemon: $0.67

Total cost for 6 servings: $15.50 + the cost of small amounts of vegetable bullion cubes, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

Not Your Mom’s Split Pea Soup

Not Your Mom's Split Pea Soup

See? Looks nothing like the split pea soup of your childhood.

Not that your mom isn’t a good cook or anything, but a lot of us grew up hating her split pea soup. Well, not her split pea soup specifically, but rather that generic split pea soup that all American (and Canadian?) moms seem to make, purely by instinct, in the dead of winter when it’s snowy and blustery and there’s nothing to do but sit around inside with a big pot of soup on the stove.

Some of us have come around to liking split pea soup as adults (how else will we inflict it upon our children?), but not everyone has, which is why this recipe is so brilliant – because it’s nothing like the split pea soup of your childhood…unless your mom originated in Spain, like this soup. Caramelized onions and tomatoes bring a little excitement to an otherwise low key (and awkwardly-colored) soup base, while the split peas do their part by balancing out the strong onion and tomato flavors with an earthy undertone. The end result is entirely different from anything you’ve ever associated with split pea soup. It retains just a hint of the split pea flavor you’ll remember from your childhood, but in a whole new setting.

Like the last recipe, this is adapted from the book  Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon (whose possibly nonexistent son I would like to marry, so I can have her last name). As Ms. Dragonwagon notes, a good stock or broth really makes this recipe, so choose wisely.

Not Your Mom’s Split Pea Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (about 1 lb.) green split peas
  • 8 cups good vegetable or chicken stock, water + bullion stuff, etc.
  • 4 large onions, chopped (you will use 1 at the beginning and 3 later on)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 parsnips (they look like white carrots), if you can find them, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch spinach, de-stemmed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, if you can find them)
  • ¼ bunch parsley, lower stems discarded, mined
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional

  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves

Directions

1. Wash the split peas well to reduce the amount of foam they'll produce once they boil. Combine the split peas, stock, one chopped onion, carrots, parsnips, and bay leaves in a heavy soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for one hour.
2. Add the spinach to the split peas, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes.
3. Once you've added the spinach, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining three chopped onions and sauté until the onions begin to caramelize, about 20-30 minutes.
4. Once the onions have turned a golden brown, add the tomatoes to the onions, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened to an almost paste-like consistency - about 10 minutes or so.
5. Remove the onion-tomato mixture from the heat, then add the minced garlic, basil, parsley, and black pepper to taste. Stir this mixture into the split peas, and serve hot.
[Adapted from Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon]

 

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1 lb. split peas @ $1.29/lb. = $1.29
  • 4 large onions: ~$4.50
  • 2 carrots: ~$1.15
  • 2 parsnips: $1.21
  • 1 bunch spinach: $3.19 (it’s so expensive in the winter!)
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes: $1.99
  • ¼ bunch parsley: $0.50

Total cost for 6 servings: $13.83 + the cost of small amounts of Better than Bullion (in my case), garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup with (optional) Zanzibar-Style Curry Powder

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup (with Brown Rice)

I got a cookbook for Christmas that is quickly becoming my primary go-to for delicious, healthy, inexpensive recipes: Bean by Bean, by a woman named (❤) Crescent Dragonwagon. (I am firmly against ever changing my last name upon marriage, but I would make an exception for this woman’s son, if she has one.)  As previously discussed in a post way back when, I really, REALLY like beans. They are nutritious yet extremely affordable, and come in about a zillion shapes and colors, which makes them kind of exciting. They can also be incorporated into just about any type of cuisine, as this cookbook makes clear. I thought I had a pretty sizable repertoire of bean recipes up my sleeve, but this cookbook has proven otherwise, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks trying out all kinds of new bean recipes. Pass the Beano, ha.

My favorite thus far has been this Tanzanian black-eyed pea soup with coconut milk. It’s FANTASTIC. Assuming you stick with coconut oil or some other kind vegetable-derived oil, it’s vegan, but it’s one of those dishes that’s so rich and delicious, a devoted carnivore would never miss the meat. It calls for a particular Zanzibar-style curry powder blend, which isn’t widely available, so I’ve included a recipe to make it from scratch; however, you likely won’t notice much of a difference with a standard Indian curry powder.

Tip on buying coconut oil: Coconut oil is pretty much the Next Big Thing in cooking oils – it has all the health benefits of olive oil, with a much higher smoke point and a richer, warmer flavor. As a result, it’s SUPER expensive at grocery stores and natural foods markets – $12+ for a 15 oz. jar. It’s much more economical to buy a large tub it on Amazon, such as this one, which is currently $26.59 for 54 oz. Coconut oil is extremely shelf-stable – an unrefined one will keep for upwards of two years – so if you have space for a huge tub in your cupboard, definitely go this route. (And then use it with reckless abandon! It’s friggin’ delicious.)

Zanzibar-Style Curry Powder

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fennugreek seeds (if you can find them)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Note

Zanzibar curry powder has less turmeric and a slightly different spice mixture than Indian curry powder. Store-bought Indian curry powder can generally be used in it's place, with slightly different - though certainly still delicious - results.

Directions

1. Dry-roast the coriander, cumin, mustard, fennel, and fenugreek seeds in a small frying pan over medium-low heat for several minutes, until they become fragrant. Be careful not to overdo it – mustard seeds in particular go from pleasantly toasted to burned very quickly.
2. Immediately transfer the roasted seeds to a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind into a fine powder.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, and set aside to add to the soup when indicated.
[This recipe was adapted for the soup below from the recipe here. ]

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups black-eyed peas, rinsed and soaked for at least four hours
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee, or a neutral oil such as vegetable
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 serrano chile, seeds removed (unless you like things pretty spicy) and chopped
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled (if not organic) and minced or grated
  • 1 recipe Zanzibar curry powder (above), or 1 Tbsp. store-bought curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 15 oz. can unsweetend coconut milk
  • 4-6 cups vegetable broth/water/water + bullion cubes, depending on how much water boiled off when cooking your beans
  • 1 banana and/or banana chips, for garnish (optional – I omitted this, as I have trouble mixing sweet and savory foods)
  • 1lb white or brown rice, for serving (optional – serve with something else if you’d prefer)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Directions

1. Cook the beans: Drain the soaking water. Place the beans in a pot with 2-3″ of water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer, partially covered, for 45-75 minutes, or until the beans are tender.
2. Prepare the Zanzibar curry powder, if using.
3. Get the rice cooking, if you’ll serve the soup with rice, using to the instructions it came with.
4. When the beans are nearing done-ness, heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the bell pepper, serrano, and ginger, and cook for another 4 minutes. Lower the heat, add the curry powder and cloves, and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
5. Add the cooked or mostly-cooked black eyed peas to the onion mixture, along with the canned tomatoes, honey, coconut milk, and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 10-20 minutes. Crank in some black pepper, taste, and adjust for salt and pepper levels.
6. Serve with a scoop of rice in each bowl (again, optional), and sliced banana and/or banana chips on the top (also optional).
[Adapted from Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon]

 

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1½ lbs. black-eyed peas @ $1.99/lb.:~$1.50
  • 1 large onion: ~$1.20
  • 1 red bell pepper: FREE (well, effectively so) from my freezer
  • 1 serrano chile: $0.30
  • 1 piece of ginger: $0.30
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes: $1.59
  • 1 15 oz. can unsweetend coconut milk: $3.19 (oof, pricey…but SO delicious)
  • ~1 lb. brown basmati rice @ $2.59/lb: ~$2.59

Total cost for six servings: $10.67 plus the cost of small amounts of oil, spices, honey, bullion, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

Slow Cooker Cochinita Pibil (Mexican Slow-Roasted Pork)

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Though my seven year stint as a vegetarian ended over a year ago now, I still feel inexperienced and unwise in the ways of cooking meat. So much of cooking is learned through experience (and a fair amount of trial and error), and I just haven’t had enough opportunities to  try different cooking methods for meat to really feel like I have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s a strange feeling, for someone who cooks as often as I do.

However, as I discovered when making this recipe, throwing a hunk of meat in the slow cooker is about as simple as it gets, and at the end, you are richly rewarded for your non-effort with the most tender, delicious stuff imaginable. It kind of feels like cheating. This recipe is extra-great as far as slow cooker recipes go (though my experience up until now has been limited to veg dishes) because the long cooking time gives the dish’s many spices and flavorings a chance to fuse into one seamless, incredible taste. Plus, it will make your house smell amazing! The first time I cooked this, I left it in the slow cooker while I went out to run some errands, and when I came home, I could smell the stuff from my apartment building’s front lobby.

This recipe is adapted from this crazy old Mexican cookbook from 1989 that a friend gave me – Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen. The book is full of hilarious, 80s-style, grandiosely-staged photos of Mexican dishes set on a table alongside elaborate candle holders bigger than a human head, and things like that, but everything I’ve cooked from it has been FANTASTIC. It’s out of print, but I highly recommend picking up a used copy on Amazon, if you’re into Mexican food.

This slow-cooker version of cochinita pibil yields a falling-apart tender meat that’s ideal for shredded pork tacos, though you can also serve it over rice, as shown in the photo. Either way, it’s ridiculously delicious, especially considering how little effort goes into making it!

Slow-Cooker Cochinita Pibil (Mexican Slow-Roasted Pork)

Ingredients

  • 2lb pork shoulder or leg (pork shoulder is also known, for some bizarre reason, as “Boston Butt”)
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced into thin strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 good-sized, juicy orange, juiced, or 1/2 c. OJ from a carton (look for an orange that’s pliable when you squeeze it – it will likely be juicier and have less skin)
  • 1 lime, juiced, or 2 Tbsp. bottled lime juice (same)
  • 2 teaspoons ground annatto (also known as “achiote” – look for this spice in Mexican grocery stores)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • Tortillas, taco shells, or rice, plus taco garnishes, for serving

Directions

1. Remove any bones from the pork, along with any large pieces of fat, and plop it in the slow cooker.
2. Add the onion slices and garlic to the slow cooker.
3. Mix the OJ, lime juice, all spices, vinegar, and water, and pour this mixture over the pork and onions.
4. Slow cook on high for about 4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours. (I recommend checking on it after about 3 hours, or 6 on low, to make sure that the liquid hasn’t all burned off, but if you’re not going to be home, add 1/4 c. water so that the pork doesn’t dry out.)
5. It’s done when you poke the pork with a spoon and it falls apart. Lightly mash the pork to break it up into small pieces, and serve with tortillas or over rice, along with whatever typical taco garnishes you feel like.
 [Adapted from Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen]

Cost of core ingredients: Naturally-raised pork is quite a bit cheaper at my co-op than grass-fed beef and the pricier chicken parts, so this does not make for an especially expensive meat dish.

  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder @ $3.49/lb.: $6.98
  • 1 onion: ~$1
  • 1 large orange: $1.72 (for a single orange, seriously? Yeow)
  • 1 lime: $0.40
  • ~1 lb. brown basmati rice, for serving, @ $2.59/lb.: ~$2.59

Total cost for four servings: $12.69, plus the cost of all spices, vinegar, and garnishes, if you have them. Not too shabby.

Bon Appétit!