Cabbage Creole

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What is Creole anyway? Lots of people confuse Creole and Cajun because they are both Louisiana food traditions. But, they aren’t the same thing. They have similarities, sharing many flavor principles, however.

First, Cajun. The ancestral food tradition is Acadian, from what is now the Maritime Canadian provinces and parts of Quebec. Acadians were French colonists. They were driven out of Acadia by the British in the 18th century and many settled in Spanish Louisiana. Here, they became Cajun, adapting to a totally new pantry of ingredients: crawfish (not unlike the lobsters of their most recent homeland), local fish and game, peppers (both sweet and spicy), and rice. Like Creole, they adapted many culinary traditions from both the French and the local Native Americans. Cajun is the cuisine of the bayous of Louisiana. It’s bold, it’s rich, and like Cajun Zydeco, a lot of fun.

Creole cuisine is the cuisine of New Orleans. If you have never been to New Orleans, you need to go. It’s got a thoroughly unique vibe. The food is exceptional. Creole borrows heavily from the traditions of fine French cuisine. But, in the melting pot known as New Orleans, French is only one of the cuisines adding to the charm of Creole. You have the “Holy Trinty,” Creole’s answer to mirepoix. In Creole, it’s composed of onions, celery, and green peppers, not the traditional French combo of onions, celery, and carrots. Then there’s a healthy dose of garlic, which is called “The Pope,” giving you a sense of how important it is. Garlic? Classic French cuisine doesn’t emphasize garlic. But, the Spanish and the Italians do, both represented in New Orleans. West Indian and African cuisine played a part too, bringing okra and the hearty spiciness (definitely NOT part of classic French cuisine). It’s one big delicious melting pot of food representing the melting pot of cultures in New Orleans.

Cabbage Creole. The dish itself says melting pot. Cabbage is very French. How well loved is cabbage in France? A term of endearment is “mon petit chou” which means “my little cabbage.” The Creole part is the use of their version of mirepoix plus some garlic and a touch of cayenne (or more than a touch, you decide).

Cabbage Creole
(serve 6-8)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 medium green pepper, cored and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium cabbage, cored and chopped
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes)
1  teaspoon salt
a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the fat in a large skillet (cast iron is the material of choice in Creole cooking) over medium-high heat. Add green pepper, onion, and celery. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes until cabbage is tender. Check for salt before serving.

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Lentil Tomato Soup

Whew! My life has been off to crazytown lately. Cooking has not been on the priority list. Actually, that’s not true. It’s just that cooking has become very very simple of late. Here’s hoping that changes soon because I’m a lot happier when I’m trying new recipes and playing in the kitchen.

Which brings me to my soon-to-be “new” kitchen. We recently purchased a townhouse near Boulder and the kitchen is oh so sad. An electric range from the late 90’s!! Horrors! A new induction range is coming (not soon enough for me). Until then, I must soldier on with a poor excuse for a stove.

Thing about soup, it’s easy to cook in one pot and an electric range is good enough. This recipe is adapted from the New York Times. The original is vegetarian. Mine is not, though you could leave out the bacon and it would still be darn good. But, I love bacon as a flavoring in bean soup. This is a very hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup.

Lentil Tomato Soup
(serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as an appetizer)

2 slices thick bacon, chopped
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup brown lentils, washed and drained
5 cups water
leaves from 8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnish

Heat up a soup pot on medium heat. Add bacon and oil. Cook until bacon renders out fat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook for another minute. Add in tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, black pepper, and lentils. Stir to combine. Add in water, thyme leaves, and bay leaf. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover partially and cook for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours until lentils are tender. Remove bay leaf. Stir in red wine vinegar and parsley. Taste; add more salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve garnished with grated cheese.

Even better the next day (as is true with so many soups and stews).

Adapted from Lentil Tomato Soup by Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times.

Black Beans and Rice, InstantPot version

My pantry (and I use this term broadly; it includes my freezer) is full of lots of things that make it easy to throw together a meal in short order. Though I live only 10 minutes from 2 well stocked grocery stores, going out in the dark, when snow is blowing sideways, is not all that attractive. Much easier to figure out dinner with what is on hand. This recipe happened on just such an evening. Look in fridge. Look in pantry. Ah, this will work!

“Beans and rice” are common all over Latin America. Black beans and rice are the rule in Cuban and Cuban-American kitchens. Some recipes include pork of some kind. This recipe does not. In fact, it’s vegan. In this case, I didn’t miss the meat at all.

I cooked the beans in my InstantPot. Though you can cook them from dry without soaking them this way, I prefer to soak them first. The beans hold their shape better, and you can discard the soaking liquid before cooking the beans, which cuts down on the gasiness a little.


Cuban Black Beans and Rice in the InstantPot
(serves 6-8)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 bunch scallions, white part minced and green tops thinly sliced
1 roasted red pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups water (see note)
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 cups cooked black beans (you can use canned)
2-3 teaspoons salt

Select the Sauté setting on the InstantPot. Add the olive oil. Add the onion, white part of scallions, red pepper, and garlic. Stir to combine. Sauté for a minute. Turn off the InstantPot and lock the lid in place. The residual heat in the pot will be enough to soften the onions. Also, we don’t want to burn the garlic. Burned garlic is gross!

Remove the lid. Add oregano, water, rice, beans, and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. Lock the lid in place and select Manual. Cook for 10-15 minutes (10 at sea level, 12 at 5000 feet, 15 at 9000 feet). Let sit on Keep Warm for 10 minutes after cooking has completed. Release pressure. Mix in sliced green onion tops. Taste for salt; add more if needed.

I like to garnish this with a few shakes of red hot sauce, like Crystal, Tabasco, or Cholula.

Note: if you cook the black beans yourself, use the cooking liquid to replace all or some of the water. You can also use the liquid from canned beans for this.

Based on a recipe from Bernard Clayton’s Cooking Across America by Bernard Clayton, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Date, Nut, and Yogurt Scones

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Now that I live at 8600 feet, I approach many baking recipes with some trepidation. In my nearly 30 years living in Boulder (elevation 5400 feet), I’ve gotten pretty good at tweaking sea level recipes (read that as 99.99% of all recipes). But, nearly 9000 feet? That’s a whole new ballgame.

I set aside this recipe, from Gourmet November 1989, months back. It sat and sat while I pondered if they would work. I had a package of dates that were begging to be eaten. Isn’t this a perfect way to use some of them up? Yes, and this week, I finally gave the recipe a try. I did not go in blind. I consulted my favorite high-altitude baking cookbook Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy. Along with information from Colorado Cooperative Extension, this book is my go-to on adjustments for altitude. If you bake in Colorado, Purdy’s book is a must-have. Turns out, the Pie in the Sky scone recipe is nearly identical in proportions to the Gourmet one. Purdy uses buttermilk, but yogurt is close enough.

Below, is the original Gourmet recipe (since I know most readers do not live at 8600 feet) with my adjustments in brackets. Some scone recipes use nearly twice as much butter as this one. So, this isn’t the richest scone recipe out there. It does have a nice tang from the yogurt that balances the intense sweetness of the dates. The walnuts add a delicious crunch.

Date, Nut, and Yogurt Scones
(makes 8)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 [1 1/2] teaspoons baking powder
1/2 [none] teaspoon baking soda
1 [1/2] teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons sugar, divided
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into bits
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
8 oz. plain whole fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 425℉ [400℉].

Butter a small baking sheet.

In the bowl of a food processor, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 Tablespoons sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Pour the dough into a bowl. Mix in dates and walnuts. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. With floured hands, mix until the dough comes together in a loose ball. Mound on baking sheet to form an 8″ diameter disk. Score top to divide into 8 wedges. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. [Reduce temperature to 375℉. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.]

Let cool on a rack. Serve warm.

Instant Pot Braised Rice, Bean, and Kale

Two friends asked me about the Instant Pot in the last 2 days.  Written up in the New York Times, both in Business and Food in the last month, it’s the hottest thing in kitchen appliances.

I have owned one for about 3 years now. I turned my sister and my dad into Instant Pot lovers. Why would you want another small appliance on your kitchen counter? Because it is really good at a lot of things and it takes the pressure out of timing the cooking of many of them. Rice, beans, stew, stock, soup, braises, other grains, will turn out beautifully. Then the InstantPot will keep them warm for up to 10 hours. That’s the part I really like; set the timer and it will turn itself down to Keep Warm until you want to eat it. I can start my rice first thing, before starting the rest of dinner. No need to worry about it overcooking or getting cold. Yes, many rice cookers do the same thing but now you can jettison your rice cooker and just have an InstantPot, which does so much more.

This bean dish is stick-to-your-ribs good for those cold winter days. You can serve it as a meatless entree or as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat.

The time range I give for cooking is for altitude adjustment. Most of you live at sea level. I live at nearly 9000 feet most of the year. Use the shorter time at sea level, somewhere in the middle if you live in Denver/Boulder (about 5300 feet) and the longest time if you live way up at ski resort elevations.


Braised Rice, Cannellini, and Kale
(serves 4-6)

1 cup dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed
about 3 cups water
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10-16 oz. package frozen kale, thawed*
1 cup Arborio or other short-grain rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups stock
2 Tablespoons butter
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and extra-virgin olive oil for garnish

Place the beans, water (should be enough to cover beans), 1 teaspoon salt, and sage in Instant Pot. Lock lid in place. Cook on Manual setting for 35-45 minutes. Let beans sit on Keep Warm for 10 minutes.

While beans are sitting, squeeze out moisture from kale.

After 10 minutes, release pressure. The beans should be tender at this point. This may not be so if your beans are older and have dried out. If they are not done, lock the lid in place, and cook them on Manual for some more time; usually 5 minutes is enough. Drain the beans and set aside. [You can do this step ahead of time. You can even use a can of Great Northern beans. Just mix the sage in with the canned beans and continue below.]

Heat up the Instant Pot on Saute.  Add the olive oil to the Instant Pot (no need to clean it out), then the rice. Cook the rice for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, kale, and stock to the pot. Lock the lid back in place and cook on Manual for 6-8 minutes. Allow the pressure to reduce for 10 minutes on Keep Warm. Release the remaining pressure and remove lid. The risotto should be al dente at this point. Stir in beans, butter, salt to taste (how much will depend on the saltiness of your stock), and black pepper. Once the butter is melted and the beans are hot, it’s done. Garnish with Parmigiano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

*You can use a bunch of fresh kale instead of frozen but you will need to cook it lightly first so you can squeeze out the water. Pull the leafy bits off the stems, then steam or blanch it for 2 minutes. Cool quickly by putting it in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the moisture, chop coarsely, and use in place of the frozen kale.

Adapted from a recipe in Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett, Rodale, 2004.

Lentil and Sauerkraut Soup

IMG_1814It’s winter! Kind of, sort of. There is snow on the ground at 8600 ft. finally. It’s been cold. Finally. This morning, a frigid negative something. Soup is definitely in season now.

This recipe is adapted from one in Gourmet. The original called for a hunk of smoked pork butt. (Reminder: pork butt is not the posterior. The cut known as butt is the shoulder.) I couldn’t find any smoked butt so I used a hunk of smoked ham. You could use smoked ham hocks. The point is, you want something smoked and piggy. I enhanced the porky flavor further by using 1/2 water and 1/2 ham stock.

Lentil and Sauerkraut Soup
(serves 8)

1 1/2 pounds smoked ham or 2 smoked ham hocks
7 cups ham stock (Penzeys sells a very good concentrate soup base)
7 cups water
1 pound lentils, rinsed
3 carrots, thinly sliced
4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup drained sauerkraut, preferably the good deli stuff or homemade
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt

Combine ham, ham stock, water, lentils, carrot, celery, onion, and bay leaves in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and partially cover. Simmer for about 1 hour (an hour and a half at 8600 ft.) until lentils are tender. Remove pork and allow to cool 10 minutes. Cut into bite-sized pieces and return to soup. Add sauerkraut, vinegar, and black pepper. Taste for salt; the pork, stock, and the sauerkraut are salty so you may need very little. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves and serve with a rustic crusty bread.

Mysore Spinach with Dill

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This recipe comes from A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey. Ms. Jaffrey is, along with Julie Sahni, one of the most prolific and accomplished chefs of food of the Indian subcontinent, IMO. Jaffrey was born in Dehli, then moved to London to study theater. She finally landed in New York. And, what an addition of chefs in America, I’d say! A Taste of India is out of print now; I snagged it on a remainder table. Amazon still has it and you should get it because it’s a wonderful cookbook that presents Indian food in all its regional deliciousness. Indian food suffers the same problem that Mexican food suffers: most of us have no idea of the breadth of its flavors because we are exposed to only one version of it. That is, whatever is the already known and popular. You know, tandoori chicken, lamb vindaloo, and saag paneer. Nothing wrong with any of those, mind you, but there is so, so much more to it.

This recipe is a lighter version of what we know as “saag.” Saag refers to any leafy green, not just spinach. My contribution is to use bagged frozen cut-leaf spinach. Yes, these days it’s simple to pick up a bag of perfect baby spinach. (I consider this one of the great advances in food processing/marketing of recent memory. I remember trying to clean fresh spinach – not fun.) You can stash a couple of bags of frozen spinach in the freezer just so you can make this delicious recipe any time you want. You say, but the dill? Oh, you buy a bunch and freeze that too and you’ll always have enough on hand.

Mysore, now called Mysuru, is in the state of Karnataka, in the southwest of India. It was the capital of a great empire from 1399-1947 and there is an opulent palace there. Vegetarian cooking rises of great heights here, according to Ms. Jaffrey. This spinach recipe is surely a delicious introduction to the cuisine.

Mysore Spinach with Dill (Soppu Pallya)
attributed to Rani Vijaya Devi
(serves 4-6)

1 1/2 pounds cut-leaf frozen or fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill leaves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon butter, ghee, or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 whole dried hot red chili

Put the spinach and dill in a large saucepan (about 4 quarts). Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Give it a stir to make sure everything gets cooked. Uncover. Add the salt and cream. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Heat the butter/ghee/oil in a small skillet over medium heat. If you use butter, watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Add the mustard seeds. Cook for a minute. Then add the cumin seeds and chili. Cook for another minute. Scrape it all into the pot with the spinach. Taste for salt and serve.