Fava Beans: They’re Worth It!

I have many food weaknesses. Ice cream, gummy bears, white bread with lots of butter. I share this as a form of therapy. My public declaration will give me the strength to keep on the righteous path of wellness. Won’t it?

But not all of my culinary longings involve large amounts of sugar, fat and refined grains. Every spring I get to indulge my nutritionally acceptable desire for….fresh fava beans! And just in time for Mediterranean Diet Month.

Fava beans.

As I understand it, they were brought to this continent thousands of years ago from countries located near and around the Mediterranean. Sadly, they haven’t made great inroads into our eating consciousness. Probably because they’re, er, a little labor intensive. They actually have to be shelled and then peeled. Which is why maybe it’s a good thing that the growing season is a short one. I’m quite happy to do all the work (with help) until, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill.

Here’s what you do:

1.  Shell the beans in the same manner as you would peas. This happens to be a perfect job for the kids. They’ll love it, really.

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2.  Of course, you aren’t done yet. There’s still that second coat that has just got to come off. Some people claim that they’re fine left intact, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Boil a pot of salted water, and toss them in for a minute or less. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

3.  The next job is for adults or older kids with good motor skills. You must delicately pinch a hole in the light outer skin before popping out the fava bean with your fingers. It’s actually not that hard but, again, time-consuming. Better yet, do it with your kids as you talk over their day. Family bonding time.

At this point, they’re ready for anything. I feel about fava beans the same way I do about strawberries. They’re so delicious I only want to eat them plain–without a lot of adornment. This means I usually just saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Just long enough to ensure that they are tender throughout.

Dinner tonight?

I toasted slices of whole wheat sourdough and spread on a thin schmear of olive tapenade. Next came a slightly thicker schmear of hummus (yes, we’re embracing the Mediterranean theme) followed by a generous sprinkling of the pan cooked favas and fresh ground pepper.

first layer, olive tapenade

first layer, olive tapenade

Simple dinner

Simple dinner

If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few good ones.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodle and Fava Bean Salad from Food52.

Fava Bean and Radish Bruschetta from the Kitchn.

Grilled Fava Beans from 101 Cookbooks.

Remember a little hard work never did anybody harm. And since favas are a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorous and folate, they will only do good things for your body. Enjoy some this season!

Family Project: Bagels

Kitchen Disaster.  Yes, capital “D”.  I was attempting to make yogurt—with the last 1/2 cup of starter yogurt when I was distracted by a conversation we were having about lime juice and fish.  Long story.  I had just taken the milk off the burner to cool.  Only I forgot to cool it down.  I immediately poured a nearly boiling cup of milk over the starter yogurt.  It curdled. That was that.

It happens, OK?  I’m not going to cry over spilt or curdled milk.  But it was a disappointment.  Especially because my real interest was making yogurt cream cheese for the bagels we baked today.

Kitchen disasters are a dime a dozen—at least at my house.  I’ve learned that it’s all about improvisation and just plain making do.  So, that’s what we did.  On with the show!

*Note: This recipe uses a food processor that can accommodate 4 cups of flour. Alternatively, it can be made using the traditional method of proofing yeast in water, mixing in flours and kneading by hand.

Bagels

  • 4 cups flour (I use 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda

Step 1:  Add flours, yeast, salt and brown sugar to the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse or stir with spoon to mix dry ingredients.

Step 2:  Put honey and water in a small pitcher.  Heat in microwave (or on stove top) until approximately 115-120 degrees.  Microwaves vary.  Ours takes about 40 seconds.  Mix until honey is incorporated in water.

Step 3:  While processor is running, pour honey/water into intake tube in a slow stream.  Process is complete when dough is balled up into one glob.

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Step 4:  Remove dough from processor.  Briefly hand knead for a few seconds and form round ball.  Place dough in bowl and cover with plastic.  Place in warm location to rise for approximately one hour.  (I heat a cup of water to boiling and shut the bowl in the microwave with it.)

Step 5:  After an hour, check “doneness” by depressing dough with a fingertip.  If it springs back easily, let it rise a bit longer.  If it doesn’t, it’s ready to go.  I wrench the dough into two pieces with a twisting method.  Then I twist those two pieces into two more and so on until there are 16 total.  Don’t worry about weights and measures.  They’ll all be refreshingly different from one another.

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ready to go

Step 6:  Put a large pot of water with the baking soda on to boil while you are forming the bagels.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Step 7:  Form each small piece of dough into a smooth ball, pinching together on the bottom.  Turn over to the smooth side and punch out a hole.  I actually use the top of an old extract bottle but use your finger or whatever else is handy.  These “bagel holes”, as they are affectionately known in our house, are the most sought after and highly coveted bits.

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Step 8:  Add dough bagels to the pot 5 or 6 at a time.  They should sink, then float to the top.  Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side.  Approximate.  Don’t worry too much about exact timing.  Then remove them to a clean smooth kitchen towel to drain.

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Step 9:  Place bagels and bagel holes (don’t forget to boil them too) on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes and check for doneness–golden tops and lightly browned bottoms.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes or more if needed.

Step 10:  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool.  Try not to fight over the bagel holes.  When cool, you’ll probably just gobble them plain, but later on, you’ll definitely want some yogurt cream cheese.

029Kids love this project.  Give them some dough and let ’em go.  They could be any kind of shape after all.  Have fun with it!

Family Project: Yogurt Cream Cheese

In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, you learn that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want some milk.  And when he gets the milk, he’s going to ask for a straw.  And when he’s done, he’ll need a napkin. I’m sure you see where this is going.  And if you have children, you’ve lived it! One thing leads to another until you’re right back  to cookies.

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Well, in my case it started with a realization that we were spending quite a bit of money on organic yogurt.  Sam was going through record amounts and I was *cough* indulging a bit as well.  So I met the challenge head on and made it myself!

Once I made the yogurt though, I discovered that I could make cream cheese out of it.  Imagine that.

Using The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I followed a few very simple steps:

Step 1:  Pour one quart of freshly made yogurt into the center of a length of cheesecloth spread over a bowl.  (Optional: Mix in 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt to yogurt beforehand.)

001Step 2:  Pull the ends together to create a “ball” of yogurt.  I used rubber bands, of which we have plenty, to close off the cloth.  I used the remaining ends to create a loop (again with rubber bands) which I could hang from a yardstick.  Use whatever materials you have on hand to hang the yogurt.

As you can see, the liquid will drain into the bowl.  I had to dump mine periodically so the yogurt wasn’t sitting in it, but you could hang yours differently so that it isn’t quite so low.

006Step 3:  Hang for 6 to 48 hours in a cool airy place (sooner is safer). This ball of yogurt cream cheese was hanging for at least 17 hours in my cold, unheated kitchen—from the afternoon of the previous day and through the night.  Peel off cheesecloth.

It’s ready to eat!  And honestly, it’s tastes better than store bought cream cheese made from cream and just slightly (and deliciously) tangier.  No complaints from the head taster, my 13 year old son.

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And, naturally, if you make some yogurt cream cheese, you’ll have to make some bagels to go with it. 🙂  It’s as simple as that.

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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!

 

 

Where’s the Beef?

Three summers ago our family took on the “Vegan Challenge”.  For one month we vowed to eat no animal flesh or dairy products–for the most part.  And I enjoyed it–mostly.

But in the end, I just got tired.  And on those nights when I was especially tired, all I wanted to do was throw some hamburgers on the grill.  It seemed much simpler than all the chopping and peeling I was literally up to my elbows in.

chop, chop, chop....

When the gig was up, I felt a sense of relief and discovered Meatless Monday.  I could explore this meatless idea under less dramatic circumstances.

It may sound like some hipster fad, but Meatless Monday actually has its roots in American history.  Really!  Its first appearance was during World War I–to reduce consumption and support the war effort.  It was revived again in WWII and again in 2003 with its current incarnation.

So what’s the point you may be asking.  What’s wrong with meat?

The idea is that by eating less meat, we’re eating more of other foods we should be eating. Like fruits and vegetables and whole grains and legumes.  And perhaps lowering our risk for diet related diseases to boot.

Limiting our meat consumption–even one day a week–can also reduce our carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gases that are implicated in climate change.  And did you know that approximately 2000 gallons of water go into producing one pound of beef?  I’m glad I’m not paying that water bill!

Personally, I think it’s a great way to start a conversation with the family about health, both personal and environmental.

Click the link to the website below for great recipes, shocking facts to share at the dinner table, and plenty of moral support.

Join the Madness!

Currently on the home front:

Poor Sam.  Last night Jim, presently a vegan for health reasons, was out of town on business. Sam took it into his own hands to cook some…meat.  We have a freezer full of halibut.  He defrosted it, seasoned it and pan cooked it on the range top.

I’m not a bad mother.  I’m not out to deprive my child of his protein rights–ha!  But after years of not cooking meat, it’s kind of become habit.  Prior to my husband becoming a vegan, Jim and I formed a cooking team.  He prepared the chicken, steaks and fish, and I whipped out sides and vegetables.

Truthfully though, this may be a good thing.  I like seeing Sam willingly participate in the kitchen.  Even if it’s just self-preservation.

How about a tofu burger?

How about a tofu burger?

Family Project: Sushi

I love projects–especially the food kind.  Some of these projects are a family affair.   They offer everyone, no matter the age, something to make or do.  Like the ravioli we made for Christmas a couple of years ago.  Or the pot stickers for Chinese New Year.

Speaking of New Year’s, we needed to think about a special dinner to welcome in 2013.  And with Jim on a vegan diet, there was to be no roast beast on the table.

The choice was made when, while reorganizing kitchen cupboards, I stumbled upon a forgotten treasure behind a jar of red lentils (so much for my housekeeping skills).

I bought a “sushi kit” at a major grocery store chain several years ago that just happened to get lost.  Until now!

Not much to it–a bamboo rolling mat, wooden paddle and instruction booklet

tools of the sushi trade

Turns out, after preparing the sushi rice and prepping the fillings, there’s not much to making sushi either.  It’s about as easy as rolling a burrito.  And since you can customize your fillings, it can be vegan–or not.

Here are the basic ingredients we used.  All can be found at well stocked grocery or natural food stores.  We used tamari instead of the traditional soy sauce and found our pickled ginger (highly addictive) in the refrigerated section although it may be located with ethnic foods.

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The first step involves preparing the rice.  We bought ours at the local grocery store and followed this tutorial to make the traditional fragrant and seasoned sticky rice. This rice was so tasty that some party goers, who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are!), couldn’t stop themselves from plucking up little clumped balls of the savory/sweet rice and eating it straight from the bowl.

To see the whole process done properly check out The Good Food Channel’s great pictorial how-to tutorial for rolling sushi.  Find it here.

spreading on the seasoned rice

Jim takes a turn.

Moistening our hands in a mixture of vinegar and water (in a 1 to 3 ratio) helped keep sticky rice where it belongs and not stuck to our fingers.

moistening fingers so rice doesn't stick to them

Fillings?  We raided the fridge.  I julienned a couple of carrots.  My friend, Diana, steamed baby kale and made a very thin egg omelette which she later cut into thin strips.  Jim chopped up cilantro, and Sam sliced the avocado.

assorted fillings

We used carrots, cilantro, avocado, egg, steamed kale but didn’t put in the sun-dried tomato.

Each individual created their own “signature roll” by combining ingredients of their choice.

ready to roll

Sam is ready to roll.

rolling

Run a vinegar water dampened finger over the exposed nori at the top to help seal the roll.

gently squeeze and form

Rolling and forming. Jim is a master!

According to my sushi kit instruction booklet, the sushi should be served with soy sauce for dipping.  Sliced, pickled ginger and wasabi paste are also traditional.  We didn’t bother making the paste from the dried wasabi powder I’d bought when Jim pulled a jar of Trader Joe’s wasabi mayonnaise out of the refrigerator.  Not very traditional, but it’s our party!

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The first examples. They got better looking after this, but didn’t last long enough to take pictures of…

We had a lot of fun preparing these.  Don’t forget a good bottle of wine for the adults (or Japanese sake if you’re a purist) and sparkling cider for the kids.  And don’t wait for next year either.  Any occasion will do.

What food projects do you do with your family?