Eat Like an Egyptian

For thousands of years, the people who lived along the Mediterranean coastline have been eating one of the healthiest diets on the planet–one rich in plant foods and healthy fats. This includes the ancient Egyptians who feasted on plenty of the same tasty foodstuffs that we eat today–including hummus, a popular dip, both then and now, made from garbanzo beans.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great dip for pita or other breads as well as vegetable crudites such as carrot sticks, cauliflower florets and cucumber chips. It usually comes packaged in small plastic tubs found in the refrigerated section of just about any self-respecting grocery store. But, as with a lot of foods, it’s better homemade.

It’s a lot cheaper too!

A while back I cooked up a big pot of garbanzo beans. We eat a lot of hummus so I portioned these beans into bags slated for the freezer. I like to have them on hand so I can whip up a batch of hummus on a whim (or a request).

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There are tons of recipes out there. You can easily mix it up by adding other ingredients such as roasted red peppers, jalapenos, roasted garlic or olives.

Here’s the basic recipe that we use:

Hummus

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
  • 2 T. tahini
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 clove chopped garlic (or more if you are so inclined)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • paprika

Place all ingredients, except paprika, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add additional water by the tablespoonful if needed until hummus is easy to spread and dip.  Sprinkle paprika generously over the top.

Can’t get much simpler.

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Popular with the kids!

3 other ways to enjoy garbanzo beans:

1.  Add them to salads.

2.  Make soup.  Try this very simple Marcella Hazan recipe for a traditional Italian soup.

3.  Use as a vegetarian sandwich spread.

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Hummus. Fit for a Pharaoh!

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Bean Cookery: One Size Fits All

When it comes to making a pot of beans, nothing could be simpler.  Because even though there are literally hundreds of dried bean varieties, they can all be cooked in the same way.

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Oh, to be sure, there will be a few minor differences in the amount of water added or total cooking time, but the method is the same.  Small beans cook up faster than larger ones for the most part.  Older beans take longer than fresher ones.  Once you gain some experience with a particular bean, you’ll be a better judge of how much time you’ll need to get the job done.

There’s the question of whether one should soak beans before cooking. Soaking will reduce cooking time a bit.  I have always soaked beans, usually overnight, before cooking. But according to Mark Bittman, one of my favorite cookbook authors, it is completely optional.

While I couldn’t quite break myself of this habit cold turkey, I did concede to a partial soak. I covered my beans with water, brought them to a boil and took them off the heat to stand for a measly two hours.

A watched pot never boils.

A watched pot never boils.

I’m not sure what potential calamities I envisioned from this brief bath.  Beans cooking for hours and remaining hard and inedible? Chalky, tasteless beans? My frown lines were definitely showing.

After rinsing and adding fresh water, I put them back on the burner. It took about one and a half hours for the beans to reach my preferred doneness. And guess what?

They were perfection!

Easy Beans

1. Place rinsed beans (soaked, partially soaked or not soaked at all) in a pot and cover with water by an inch or two.  Bring beans to a boil and then lower heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover.

2. When beans finally soften a bit, add salt.  For one pound of beans I use 1 teaspoon of salt. Adding salt too early creates a tougher bean.  

3. Stir occasionally, testing for doneness.  I like my beans a little more firm than what comes out of a can.

My advice? Don’t mess around with only a cup at a time. Prepare at least a whole pound. Eat them, refrigerate them (they’re good for several days), freeze them.  Beans can be enjoyed in many ways.  They’re extremely useful to have on hand.

  • Add to soup and stew
  • Toss with salad
  • Top a bowl of beans with a scrambled egg
  • Roll into a tortilla with cheese
  • Blend into a dip for crackers

And while canned beans are certainly handy to have about for last-minute dinners, nothing can beat basic home cooked beans for texture, flavor and price.

How do you like to eat beans?

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#1 Best Food Buy for Your Money

I ate a lot of beans in college. Money was tight, and beans were cheap.  A big pot went a long way in those days towards filling my belly without emptying my wallet.

I’m not complaining.  I happen to like beans.  My family likes them as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot to like:

Nutrition:  It’s no wonder, since Jim became a vegan, that we are consuming more beans than ever.   According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, 1/4 cup of cooked beans = 1 ounce of animal protein. They’re also a great source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and iron. Did I mention that they’re high in fiber and low in sodium and fat?

Low cost:  Despite how incredibly healthy beans are, somewhere along the way they picked up a reputation for cheapness. As in not fashionable. They seem to conjure up images of dirty-faced, Depression era children in faded, patched overalls scraping them up from tin plates.  But, considering the aforementioned nutritional benefits, they are literally worth their weight in, if not gold, then cold hard cash.

Look for them in the bulk section of your grocery store for even greater savings.

Versatility:  Beans are the Marlon Brandos (or Matt Damons, depending on your age and inclination) of the food world.  Hand them a script and they’ll play their part with academy award winning aplomb.  From main dish to dessert there are literally bazillions of tasty recipes out there.

Here are a few I’ve found online that have made repeat performances at our table:

Stored in tightly sealed glass jars/plastic tubs, they have an almost unlimited shelf life. But make a point to consume them in at least year’s time for best flavor. While the unassuming bean may never be chic, it’s an inexpensive, nutritional powerhouse  that deserves a starring role in your meal plans.

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to....

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to….

Homemade. Dinner. Fast.

Homemade. Dinner. Fast. You don’t often see those three words standing so close together. But with a little preparation, it can be done–and done well.  The trick is to keep what you need in your freezer.

It involves three main ingredients:  pizza dough, grated cheese and sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

In the morning transfer them from freezer to refrigerator.  Keep them all in the fridge for most of the day to thaw slowly.  The dough came out a couple of hours before dinner to sit on the counter and finish thawing. I then removed the plastic wrap, set the dough on a plate and covered it with a clean tea towel to warm up and rise a bit.

The crust:  I’ve been using this particular recipe for the past year.  It makes a thin, extremely crispy crust that is absolutely delicious.  Find the recipe on another really great blog, Dinner a Love Story.  The only difference being that I substitute half the white flour with whole wheat.  Works perfectly.  I also am a fan of prepping the dough in my food processor. It’s quick and easy.  The recipe makes enough for two crusts.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and tuck them into a freezer bag.

Grated cheese:  Freezing grated cheese destined for melting works well.  I cut a pound of mozzarella into three equal pieces that would fit through the intake tube of my food processor.  Freeze the cheese for about 20 to 30 minutes in advance for easier grating. Use the grating blade attachment.

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The food processor will definitely save time, but hand grating works fine, especially if you have lots of eager helpers.  I packed the cheese equally into three pint size freezer bags. One bag works for one lightly cheesy pizza, but use two bags if you like yours rich and gooey.

Ready for bagging!

Ready for bagging!

The sauce:  If all you have is a large can of diced tomatoes (or a freezer full of frozen ones), you can whip up this pizza sauce in minutes with the addition of four more common ingredients.  There is no cooking required! The recipe comes from cookbook author, Amanda Haas.  It’s so easy your kids can make it while you prepare a green salad.  Use some and freeze the rest.  I prefer sturdy jars for freezing this sauce in.

Putting it all together:  Simply spread the dough in a large, very thin rectangle on a heavily oiled (olive oil–it does great things to the crust) cookie sheet.  Cover with sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese.  I brush olive oil on any exposed crust, but I try to take the toppings as close to the edge as possible. I also drizzle some good quality olive oil over the top as well.

Bake at 500 degrees.  Check after ten minutes.  The edges should be brown and the cheese bubbly.

The result?  Gourmet pizza at a fraction of the cost of take-out.

What pizza toppings do you prefer?

With the addition of black olives.

With the addition of black olives.

5 Surprising Foods to Keep in the Freezer

You’ll save money and waste less with the freezer as your friend.  These five foods are handy to have on hand:

1. Tomatoes  When you find a great source for tasty tomatoes (your garden?), and you want to preserve the flavor of summer, it’s a simple matter to pack them clean and whole in a freezer bag.  When needed, simply rinse under warm water, and the skin peels right off.  Core and chop to the desired size while still semi-frozen.  When thawed they will be comparable to canned tomatoes.  Use in soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.

All that's left from last summer's garden.

All that’s left from last summer’s garden.

2.  Avocados  Simply wash, slice in half and peel.  Pop them into a freezer bag just like this.  Alternatively you could mash them up with a little lemon juice and freeze.  The texture of this fruit does change from its fresh state, but previously frozen avocado makes a great guacamole.  I like to use mashed avocado on my sandwich as a replacement for mayo.

Peel and freeze!

Peel and freeze!

3.  Grains  When you have time, make an extra-large batch of your favorite grain.  Let them cool thoroughly, spread out on a baking sheet before freezing.  Then divide grains into small portions in freezer safe bags.  Squeeze out all extra air in bag to avoid ice crystals and freezer burn.  Keeps in freezer for two to three months.  Use as the basis for a quick dinner, an addition to casseroles or soups, or as a breakfast cereal.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

4.  Milk  When I started buying organic milk on a regular basis, it was a shock to the pocketbook.  But then I found out that I could buy it on sale and stick the extra jugs in the deep freeze.  Yes, the texture does change.  It may be slightly “grainier” and needs to be shaken before use to blend the fat back into the milk.  Not great for drinking a glass with cookies but fine for cooking/baking, and I happily use it on my cereal.

5.  Ginger  We love cooking with ginger.  Unfortunately, it always seemed that we didn’t use it up before it went bad.  Then I stumbled on a tip in my Cook’s Illustrated magazine that changed my despair to, well, if not joy, then satisfaction…  Peel and freeze.  Easy.  Frozen ginger makes grating simple.  Also, check out this page from Lunch In A Box for more ideas about freezing ginger.

What do you find that works well coming out of the freezer?

Make or Buy: Yogurt (from scratch)

It’s time to take yogurt to the ultimate level.  I talk a good game, and I’ve written about both frozen and flavored varieties, but lots of people make their own.  Why not me?

I’ve been wanting to make yogurt for quite a while.  It sounds easy enough, but nothing can be that simple, right?

Well, turns out it is!  Here’s how:

First gather all your tools and ingredients.

  • 1/2 gallon of milk (I used whole milk for best flavor but you don’t have to)
  • 1/2 cup “starter” yogurt with live cultures (grocery store yogurt is fine)
  • dutch oven or other heavy pot
  • candy thermometer (great because it clips on side but other type is fine)
  • wooden spoon
  • whisk
  • small bowl

  • Heat milk on medium high, watching thermometer.  Stir pot the whole time to avoid burnt milk on the bottom and take off heat when the temperature reaches around 190 degrees (don’t boil).

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  • Have sink filled with a couple of inches of cold water.
  • Place entire pot into water to cool, stirring continuously, this time to keep temperature even throughout.

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  • When temperature reaches 105 to 115 degrees, remove one cup of milk and whisk it into small bowl with the half cup of yogurt until smooth.

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  • Now whisk this mixture back into the large pot with the rest of the milk.  
  • Fit with lid and wrap the whole ensemble in a thick towel for insulation.

For the incubation period, you want to keep the milk in a warm place.  I used the microwave to heat two cups of water in a large mug to boiling point.  Then I shut my towel wrapped package carefully inside (avoid jostling) along with the heated water–which kept the interior nice and warm.

The cup of heated water is in the back corner.

The cup of heated water is in the back corner.

Check on your yogurt after about 6 hours.  Taste for preferred tartness.  I let mine sit for 7 hours with happy results but you could go longer.

I’m not sure what it was about making yogurt that seemed so daunting initially.  I guess I assumed this was one of those unforgiving processes–where one false move can end in disaster.  But after my success, I’m thinking that, with a few more batches under my belt, I can probably ditch the thermometer and intuit the timing.

I can do this!  And when I do, the whole operation will take less time and trouble than driving to the store to buy it.  Make or buy?  Definitely make!

yogurt parfait with orange segments and chopped almonds

yogurt parfait with orange segments and chopped almonds

Make or Buy: Almond Butter

My friend, Diana, gets the same gift from me every year on her birthday.  Almond butter.  I enjoy making this for her because, besides being simple to whip up, she’s always so happy and grateful to get it.  Like I’m a kitchen diva. I say why mess with a good thing. She loves the stuff. Maybe as much as I do.

You can make it for a fraction of the cost you’ll pay at the store.  And it’s gonna taste, well, fresh–not like store-bought.

Here’s how:

Almond Butter

Ingredients:

1 pound of raw almonds 🙂

(I love these 1 ingredient recipes.)

You can start with previously roasted almonds or, quite simply, you can roast your own in less time than it takes to work a Sudoku puzzle (My current addiction.)

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I use roasted almonds as opposed to raw because they release oil as they grind which makes the process faster (and easier on my food processor) but mainly because of the flavor.  Roasting gives almond butter a rich toastiness that raw almonds don’t.

So preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Pour your almonds into a roasting pan in one layer, and put them in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Let your nose be your guide.  When I begin to smell them, they’re ready.

Roasted almonds.

Let them cool just until you can handle the pan.  Then drop them into the bowl of your food processor.

It will take several minutes.  At first, the almonds will appear crumbly.  Persevere. Eventually these crumbles will transform into smooth nut butter.

It will look crumbly for quite a while.  Patience, Grasshopper...

It will look crumbly for quite a while.  Patience, Grasshopper…

After 5 to 10 minutes, and an occasional scraping of the sides of the bowl, it will be ready.
013Spoon into a clean jar or other container.
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Tip:  I use peanut butter to help clean labels off of really cool previously used jars.  It works better than any other product I’ve tried, along with a good scrubber and some elbow grease, of course. These jars are great for packing almond butter in.  Maybe I could use the almond butter to clean them, but really, why waste it?

Almond butter is so versatile.  From sweet to savory, it’s a staple in our kitchen.

Sweet:

Add to smoothies.  Pairs well with bananas, peaches, and chocolate.

Swoon worthy when you drop a dollop into a bowl of good quality vanilla ice cream.

Slather some on a piece of dark chocolate.

Savory:

I love a good almond butter and cheese sandwich with sprouts.

Almond butter dipping sauce for your spring rolls.  Try the recipe at Iowa Girl Eats.

Spread on a piece of thinly sliced, toasted whole grain sourdough.

What about making other nuts into nut butter?   Peanuts are obvious.   I’m wondering if the pistachios I have will grind up green.  That would be lovely.  Cooking Light has a “nut butter primer” that will give you the scoop on how to turn different nuts into nut butters.

Give it a whirl!