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.


Red Lentil Dal


This is a fabulous version of dal. The original recipe used yellow split peas but I have red lentils, so that’s what I used. And, I used my pressure cooker, because it makes cooking beans so quick and easy.

I don’t usually chop onions using a food processor, but in this recipe, it works perfectly. You don’t need a nice looking dice. The onions cook long enough that they will melt right into the lentils.

You can serve this as a side dish or as a main dish. It’s great over brown rice. Or white rice- but I love the chewiness of brown rice with the mushy lentils.

Red Lentil Dal
(serves 6-8)

1 cup red lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles (such as Rotel™ brand)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped finely
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro (fresh or frozen)
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2-1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cover the lentils in cold water and soak for an hour. Drain the lentils, rinse again, and place in the pressure cooker. Add 3 cups of water and the diced tomatoes (no need to drain them). Lock the lid in place, bring to pressure, and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. [If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook them on the stove for 45-60 minutes, until they are quite soft.]

While the lentils are cooking, heat up the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook them until they begin to brown, about a minute. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions and garlic. Cook until they are a nice toasty brown. This will take a while, about the amount of time it takes to cook the lentils in a pressure cooker. Add the coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. Stir to combine the spices with the onions. Remove from heat.

When the lentils are done, release the pressure and remove the lid. Add the onions, minced cilantro, butter, and salt. Stir to combine and melt the butter. Serve as a side dish or over rice as a vegetarian main dish.

Adapted from a recipe for “Everyday Yellow Dal” in 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate, Chronicle Books, 2007.

Photo: By Mytinytank (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Eggplant with Mushroom-Yogurt Stuffing

This is a delicious meatless entreé for 4 or a side dish for 8. The mushrooms give it a meaty texture and flavor. It’s very hearty for a vegetarian dish, especially one that doesn’t include any cheese.

I like to spray the bread crumb topping with non-stick cooking spray. It helps the crumbs brown up nicely while adding very little fat. If you want a richer, crispier topping, you can combine the crumbs with 2 Tablespoons melted butter before spreading them onto the eggplant.

You can stuff the eggplants ahead of time and bake them later. You’ll need to bake them a bit longer to make sure the center is piping hot, however.

Eggplant with Mushroom-Yogurt Stuffing
(serves 4 as an entreé or 8 as a side dish)

2 large eggplants, 1 to 1¼ pound each, cut in half lengthwise
4 scallions, white and green tops, chopped
½ pound coarsely chopped mushrooms
1 medium carrot, grated
½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
¾ to 1 cup Greek low-fat or full-fat unflavored yogurt
1½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup panko bread crumbs
non-stick cooking spray

Spray a 9″x5″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a large pot with a steamer basket. Place the eggplant halves in the steamer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the steamer and allow to cool until you can handle them. Remove the pulp, being careful not to tear the skin. Chop the pulp coarsely, season with ¼ teaspoon salt and set aside. Place the eggplant shells in the baking dish and season them with ¼ teaspoon salt.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions, mushrooms, and carrots. Sauté for 5 minutes until carrots are limp and the mushrooms have started to lose their liquid. Lower heat to low. Sprinkle with the flour and cook for another minute. Stir in the yogurt and chopped eggplant. Season with the rest of the salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings and add more salt if needed.

Fill each eggplant half with ¼ of the filling. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons panko crumbs on each eggplant half. Moisten with a generous dose of non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crumbs are browned and filling is very hot.

Adapted from The Good Cook: Vegetables, Time-Life Books, 1979.

Red Lentil and Squash Curry

Meatless Monday again! Today, I’ll give you an important tip for up’ing the flavor in many meatless dishes. It’s a good tip for many dishes, actually. It’s extra-important in vegetarian food.

Brown your onions! It adds such depth of flavor. It’s a common technique in Indian food, meatless or not. Experiment with dishes containing bold spices. I bet they are even better with browned onions.

Red lentils cook up pretty quickly. They turn yellow when cooked and have a smooth texture compared to brown lentils. Red lentils have become easy to find. I found them in all the major supermarkets in town. Usually, they are in the bulk section. You can also get them in Indian markets. Many supermarket produce sections now sell prepped butternut squash. Butternut squash can be a bear to peel and cut up, so this is a boon for squash lovers who find the peeling/cutting up daunting.

Red Lentil and Squash Curry
(serves 4-6)

1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
½ cup – ¾ cup low sodium vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt (less if your stock is salty)

Combine red lentils, water, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to maintain a simmer, and partially cover. Cook until tender and nearly all the water is absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until nicely browned, about 15 minutes. As the onions brown, you may have to reduce the heat to assure they don’t burn. Stir often for even browning.

Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, for about a minute until the spices are fragrant. Add the squash, ½ cup vegetable stock, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender. If the moisture cooks away, add the last ¼ cup stock. When the squash is cooked, add the lentils and any cooking liquid. Stir to combine. Check for salt. Serve over hot rice.

Adapted from a recipe in Kitchen Garden magazine, Dec. 1996/Jan. 1997.

My 2 cents on soaking or not soaking beans and a bean soup recipe

There’s an article up on Food52 that presents both sides of the bean argument. That argument being should you soak your beans before cooking or should you go straight to cooking?

I’ve done it both ways. Sometimes I use the fast soak method. I’ve cooked them from dried too. Now that I have a modern electric pressure cooker, I almost always cook beans from dried under pressure. It is the quickest way to tasty beans. You can cook chickpeas from dried in under an hour.

I do think the soak then cook method does cut down on the gasiness of beans. There are long-chain carbohydrates in beans that dissolve into the soaking water. If you throw away the soaking liquid, you’ve reduced the amount of these indigestible (to us anyway; gut bacteria gobble them up, releasing a number of volatile organic compounds) starches.

The biggest reason beans are blah-tasting, no matter which way you cook them, is you didn’t add enough (or any) salt when you cooked them. You will find many chefs who say “Don’t ever salt your beans before they are nearly completely cooked. They won’t cook if you add salt.” To this I say  “Have you actually tried it?” Because, I have, and I find that salt does not slow down the cooking. I live in a place where beans cook more slowly anyway (water boils here in Boulder at 204°F – about 8°F lower than sea level) so I have no desire to slow down the cooking. It takes a long time already! My experiments show that adding salt at the beginning doesn’t slow down cooking. And it definitely makes your beans taste better than if you wait until the end to season them with salt.

Here’s a bean soup recipe where the salt goes in at the beginning, as well as a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The beans aren’t soaked first, though you could start with soaked beans. [You’ll be able to cut down on the cooking time by about half. You should reduce the cooking water down to 6 cups.] They are cooked with the seasonings until nearly done. The soup is finished with some fresh veggies that need only a short time to cook. It’s a hearty soup with plenty of umami from the Parmigiano-Reggiano. I recommend that you always toss the rinds in the freezer so you can add them to soup, this one or this one with chickpeas.

Tuscan Bean and Swiss Chard Soup
(serves 6)

1 pound (2 cups) Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups water
3″ x 4″ piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cups low-sodium stock (either vegetable or chicken)
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, cored and coarsely chopped
½ pound Swiss chard leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook another minute. Add beans, 8 cups of water, rind, bay leaves, black pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours until beans are tender. The time is variable – depends on your altitude (will cook quicker at sea level) and the age of your beans (old beans can take a very long time to cook). Test at an hour and see how its doing.

Once the beans are tender, add in the stock, fennel, and Swiss chard. Cook until fennel is tender, about 10 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind and chop. Add back to the soup. If the rind fell apart on its own, no worries. The rind is totally edible and it adds great flavor and texture to the soup.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet January 2004.

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Kohlrabi is an uncommon vegetable. My research puts it mostly in the turnip sphere and treats it thusly: saturate in butter and/or cream. That’s a very European view of this vegetable. Kohlrabi is also popular in India and China, though you wouldn’t know it looking through most vegetable cookbooks.

A kohlrabi along with some Kashmiri saag (probably mustard greens)

I’m here to fix that. Kohlrabi does not need to be cooked to death, then puréed, and finally bathed in butter and cream. It’s quite delicious lightly cooked. In texture and flavor, it is similar to broccoli stems, which you could use instead of kohlrabi in this recipe. It has great crunch. It isn’t overly cruciferous in flavor. Perfect for a stir fry.

This is a mild flavored dish with a play of textures: crunchy from the kohlrabi, chewy from the mushrooms, and soft from the tofu.

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
(serves 6)

8-10 large dried black mushrooms (shiitake)
1 ½ pounds kohlrabi
2 scallions
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian roasted sesame oil
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
14-16 oz. tofu, cut into cubes

Soak the black mushrooms in about 2 cups boiling water for at least 30 minutes.

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick julienne, like thin French fries. Cut the scallions into 3″ lengths, then slice thinly lengthwise. Set aside.

Remove the mushrooms from the water, cut off the woody stems, and slice the caps. Pour off ½ cup of the soaking liquid, being careful to leave the bits at the bottom of the bowl in the bowl.  Mix 4 Tablespoons of the soaking liquid with the cornstarch, rice wine, black pepper, ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside. Add ½ teaspoon salt to the remaining ¼ cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.

Heat up oil in a wok or large skillet until nearly smoking. Add the ginger and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the kohlrabi, scallions, and mushrooms. Stir fry for one minute. Stir soaking liquid with just the salt added and add to wok. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered for 4 minutes.

Add the tofu, but do not stir, and sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir the mix of soaking liquid, etc. to redissolve the cornstarch. Pour over everything. Stir lightly. Bring liquid to a boil to thicken sauce; there isn’t a lot of sauce. Serve immediately over rice.

Photo: By Tarunpant (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Meatless Monday: Egg Curry

This recipe comes from a wonderful Indian cookbook called 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. The five spices are cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black mustard seeds. They are the basis for a lot of delicious Indian recipes. This recipe uses four out of the five spices and they are all easy to find in any supermarket.

Onion and Yogurt Egg Curry
(serves 4)

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium to large onion, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne (it will be pretty darn hot with ½ teaspoon)
1 cup low-fat yogurt, whisked to break up lumps
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
non-stick cooking spray
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved the long way

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onions are dark brown. This will take a while, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the onions from burning. Add the coriander, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often to keep the spices from burning. Turn the heat to low. Whisk the yogurt into onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the water, salt, and sugar. Continue simmering the sauce while you fry the eggs.

Spray a large skillet, preferably non-stick, with cooking spray. Fry the egg halves, yolk side down until they start to brown. This helps to seal the yolk to the white so the eggs don’t break apart in the sauce. Carefully place the eggs in the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes. Serve with hot naan or rice.

Recipe adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate, Chronicle Books, 2007.