It’s the season for deeply flavored stews, braises, roasts and rich bean dishes. This one is not based on any specific recipe but like most cooking I do is more based on a flavor profile, in this case American Southwestern/Mexican. The starting point was the beef shoulder roast. I wanted it more substantial, enter the beans and I wanted some spice and a chile profile. It came out very good and worth documenting for future repeats. Here’s what I did.
I seasoned the beef with a combination of freshly ground Ancho and chipotle (the dried not canned chipotle) chilies, salt, black pepper, ground allspice and dried oregano and panela (more on that panela part a little later). I let that sit for several hour, doing this overnight is not a bad idea but I did not have the time.
Like most any classic braise or stew I first seared the meat in fat, pork fat in this case. Similar to what I did with the Sugo and Polenta dish I posted about recently, I wanted to cook this low and slow in my clay pot. So, once browned the meat would go there until all pieces where browned.
I sauteed a mixture of onions, garlic, peppers and more of the spice mixture in the fat left in the pan, then I deglazed it with beer to get all the good browned bits off. I added that to the pot with the meat, put in some pinto beans that I had soaked in water overnight. I topped it with tomatoes and water. For balance I wanted a very small hint of sweetness so I added a couple of spoons of Panela.
Panela is a type of unrefined sugar used a lot in Latin American cooking. It’s used to make sweet treats, drinks, or in stews. It usually comes in the shape of large disks or pyramid shaped blocks. I use a knife to shave off as much as I need.
It’s a very tasty stew that can be adapted to whatever you might have in the pantry, freezer or fridge. Depending on what part of the world you are in now too it is a lovely comfort food perfect for the cold weather. We enjoyed it just like a bowl of chili with jalapenos, sour cream, cilantro and cheese.
Cool name but really this is a delicious classic combination of pork and beans made all the more refined and nuanced because it’s another recipe from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France. It’s perfect for the cool weather months and simpler to prepare than a Cassoulet or Garbure (It’s been a while since I made a good Cassoulet now that I think about it. I should change that.)
Like almost any bean dish, first we soak the red beans in plenty of water overnight. Next day I put the beans in a clay pot with an onion stuck with a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick. I do love cooking these dishes in clay pot and let them take their sweet time and simmer slowly. To flavor the dish we reach out to Pancetta, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay. I pureed all that in a food processor to a smooth paste. This stuff just smells great.
In a separate pan, I seared pork shoulder chunks in fat. What fat? I’m sure one would wonder. Well, this is southwestern French cooking so traditionally we are using duck or goose fat. As it happens I have duck fat in my freezer….and pork fat…and bacon fat…and chicken fat. Nice fat collection that I use for different dishes. I usually save any fat from the surface of stock and add it to the appropriate jar. This is delicious stuff that lasts forever in the freezer and makes good dishes great.
When the pork, seared in a mixture of duck and pork fat, was well colored I added chopped onions and carrots and sauteed that until they barely got some color on them. The entire contents of the pan then gets added to the beans in the clay pot plus the pancetta/garlic paste. Now we let the whole thing gently simmer and bubble away until the beans are very tender. The aroma as this happens is one of those most memorable comforting smells ever.
This is a beans, pork and carrots dish. So now on to the carrots. Easy task this one. I peeled some nice organic carrots and sliced them crosswise. I then sauteed them in butter with a pinch of sugar until barely done. On another note these are some cool carrot pictures.
I do love a good baguette with these types of French bean dishes. I have upped my game a bit since I last posted about a bean/baguette meal. Using my sourdough starter and a recipe based on the one from the Tartine book I made some delightful baguettes. They were definitely one of the best I’ve made so far. Deeply browned, crispy crackly and with a tender flavorful crumb and perfect for sopping up the awesome juices.
To bring it all together I scraped any solidified fat from the beans and brought them to a gentle simmer again. Then I added the glazed carrots to the clay pot of beans and put them in the oven, uncovered. This melds the flavors together and starts developing a “crust” on the surface. I stirred the crust in and returned them back to the oven. I did this a few times until service time. The last flourish is to sprinkle the dish with a mixture of minced garlic and parsley, a couple of tablespoons of cognac and some sherry vinegar.
Cod is a bit tricky to cook unless one wants to batter it and deep fry it. We love the mild flavor and large tender flakes of a well cooked piece of cod. Cod has very little connective tissue and large meat “flakes”. So it tends to fall apart if you handle it too much trying to flip it a couple of times in a pan. I tried cooking it sous vide a couple of times and was not crazy about the result either. This method of starting it in a pan and finishing it in the oven following a short salt cure is the ideal way to get it done.
I sprinkled the fillets with a good layer of kosher salt and let them cure in the fridge for 20 minutes. This seasons and firms the fish up. I rinsed them in cold water, patted them dry and let them sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dish.
The fish is the star of this plate but I wanted something sharp to offset it and a couple of different textures. I went with vaguely Spanish flavors here. I roasted red peppers, peeled them and sliced them into thin ribbons. I sauteed some diced Pancetta with onions and garlic. Then I tossed in the peppers and cooked white beans. I finished the ragout with sherry vinegar, maple vinegar, olive oil and parsley.
The cabbage was even simpler. Just thinly sliced savoy cabbage sauteed gently in butter with a little salt and pepper. Since this was part of a four-course dinner I wanted the cod’s accompaniments to function as tasty and substantial garnishes and not as filling “sides” as they might’ve been if this was a one plate dinner.
To cook the fish I heated the oven to 375 F and got a pan going on the stove top. I seared the fish in clarified butter in the pan over medium heat for about 8 minutes. I turned it over and transferred it to the oven to finish cooking for another 8-10 minutes. The fish fillets got a very small squeeze of lemon, some thyme leaves on top and went in the center of the plate with the beans and cabbage around it.
Having grown up eating chickpeas (hummus in Arabic) mashed with garlic, lemon juice and the all-important sesame paste (Tahini or Tahina) on a regular basis it was really interesting seeing how this dip took off in the last 10 years or so. It’s everywhere now, on every other restaurant/pub/diner/health food restaurant’s menu. This is both a blessing and a curse. When done well it is so damn delicious and satisfying. More often than not it is garbage. Sold in tubs at the store or from that crappy brand ubiquitous in every grocery store (I’m talking about Sabra) it’s a sad imitation of what it should really taste like.
At best you find it to be edible and at worst it is a crusted over, chalky paste of little flavor besides the citric acid that manufacturers dose it with instead of real lemon juice.
What’s worse (ok, maybe not worse, but still irks me) is how the name became synonymous with almost ANY dip that is not guacamole or sour cream-onion! We have everything from beets to black beans to lentils to peas and even chocolate going into the food processor and emerging as “hummus”. Seriously? What if we go ahead and blend some cauliflower with cilantro and call it “cauliflower guacamole”? Again, the word Hummus does not mean “shitty dip”. It literally means chickpeas. So if your dip -as delicious or crappy it might be- does not have chickpeas it is not hummus.
Now really, what is more annoying is that people go and buy the mediocre to horrible product instead of making it themselves at home. It is probably one of the most simple, easiest fool-proof things you can prepare at home and can be done in 10 minutes if you use canned chickpeas. It is also light years better than anything you can buy. I love my recipe below so start with that. However, some people might like more or less lemon juice. You like a little garlic? Add it a mashed clove and see. My brother includes no garlic (I used to think he was crazy until I omitted as well. I’m with him now!). Hate cumin? Get rid of it. The constants have to be the chickpeas, lemon juice and good tahini.
Tahini used to be a bit trickier to find and you had to go to a middle eastern grocery store for it. Now though, I see it everywhere, from my local grocery chain here in Texas to Whole Foods. I like a Lebanese brand called “Al-Wadi” that I buy locally in Houston. See what brands you can find locally or just get it online. Make sure it only contains sesame in it and it is not made from toasted sesame. The toasted sesame ones will give it a much stronger and overpowering taste. Either way stir the paste in the jar really good before using it because it does settle and separate.
Other than chips, pita chips, celery sticks…what can you serve this lovely creamy dip with? A traditional way is alongside grilled kebabs, especially Kafta kebabs. I’ll be posting a recipe for that soon as well. Feel free to add toppings to it and make a meal out of it. A traditional topping is minced lamb, onions and pine nuts browned in plenty of butter and drizzled on top while still sizzling.
Hummus bil Tahini
1 can chickpeas, 29 – 30 oz.
150 gr Tahini
1 large garlic clove, about 6 gr, minced. (Optional, I do NOT use it)
1 tsp Cumin
¼ Cup water
½ Cup lemon juice, or more
Salt to taste
Blend in in a food processor till very very smooth and creamy. Just when you think it is smooth enough, scrape the sides and process it some more. Total time of processing should be around 8 minutes. Taste and season with salt and more lemon juice if needed. Serve it drizzled with good olive oil and garnished with hot or sweet paprika.
Cotechino with lentils is the classic, but in the American south eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is the tradition. So, here the Hoppin’ John stands in for the lentils and a mighty fine stand-in it is too.
Making Hoppin’ John is not difficult but it does pay to have a solid recipe to follow and a good set of ingredients, namely the peas and rice. Ever since seeing chef Sean Brock on the excellent PBS show “The Mind of A Chef” and then reading through his book, Heritage, I have been ordering various grains and legumes from Anson Mills. The Sea Island Red Peas from them are as delicious as they are beautiful and they are great in Brock’s recipe for Lowcountry Hoppin’ John.
I soaked the peas overnight in water before cooking them in homemade ham stock along with chopped carrots, onions, celery, a jalapeno, thyme and bay leaves. They simmer until tender and really hold on to their shape. A cup or so is removed and blended with butter to make a red pea gravy. This gravy stays separate and gets seasoned with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. At service time the Hoppin’ John is dolled out into bowls with rice and the gravy gets added to each bowl as needed. It’s a very comforting and delicious bowl of food and just feels very nutritious. Yeah, I know, “feels nutritious” is a pretty silly term…but well, not sure how else to describe it. It just does….and I can describe it any damn way I want on my little blog anyways.
Now, onto the rice. It’s Carolina Gold rice also from Anson Mills. It has a lovely nutty flavor and good texture. I followed Brock’s instructions to cook it as well. First I boiled it in plenty of water like pasta until barely cooked. I drained it, spread it in a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 300 F. I dried it for about 10 minutes, dotted it with butter and gave it a stir. After another 5 minutes or so the excess moisture was gone and the rice was perfectly cooked. The grains were cooked through with a slight toothsome texture and separate.
I made the sausages the day before. I rarely make them the exact same way every year. This time I based them on a recipe from the Napa butcher shop called The Fatted Calf and their book, In the Charcuterie. I’ve been cooking them sous vide for a while as well. I did a side by side this year though just to see if anything is gained by cooking the sausage in a pot of water in the oven at a low temp. Well, sous vide wins. The one that went in the oven lost a whole lot more volume and was not as evenly cooked as the sous vide ones. It was not bad by any means but I will be sticking with using my precision cooker for upcoming Cotechino cooks.
Until my mom visited recently and made this dish I had only used mung beans in a couple of simple soups and southeast Asian desserts. I never really thought of the mung beans with their Arabic name, M’ash. The traditional Lebanese way to use it is to cook it with lots of browned onions and cut it with coarse cracked wheat, aka burghul. It’s a delicious, simple and nutritious vegetarian dish.
The method for this dish is very typical of many such Lebanese recipes. The grains or pulses are simmered (based on their various cooking times) until 2/3 of the way cooked. Then a mixture of flavorings are added while everything melds and finishes cooking.
To serve it you have many options such as a tangy crunchy green salad, a mixture of sliced vegetables (cucumbers, radishes, sour pickles,…) or maybe some yogurt. I had a mixture of cauliflower on hand from a local farm. I roasted the purple and orange cauliflower at a pretty high heat and tossed them along with some of their blanched greens with a dressing made from oil, vinegar and a touch of honey along with toasted pine nuts. I also served it with a dollop of salted yogurt garnished with hot ground chile pepper.
Mung Beans with Burghul
1 Cup (200 gr) Mung Beans
1/4 Cup or more olive oil
1 Large (about 350 gr) Onion, chopped
¾ Cup (110 gr) Coarse burghul
Boil the mung beans in enough water to cover by about 2 inches or more. Quickly skim the skins and scum that float to the surface as they boil.
Meanwhile, saute the onion in a good dose of olive oil until dark golden, about 20-30 minutes. Add to mung beans as they cook. Let the mixture simmer for another 15 minutes or until the mung beans are tender.
Add burghul when the beans are still very wet but not covered with a lot of water. Let simmer for 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat. Cover and let sit for another 15 minutes.
Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.
Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.
On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.
I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.
I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.
I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.