I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tony's Venezuelan Black Beans

Tony was a friend of mine back in my final years of college. He was an engineer in an agency in which I interned, a funny, creative guy who taught me how to be a passenger on a motorcycle and who smelled chronically of patchouli. He shared his family recipe for black beans, and there was a time when these were a requested feature at every pot luck.

There was a time when I went to a lot of potlucks, before the security of age and career progression brought dinner parties and nice restaurants. Some friends were famous for the potlucks they gave (?), for the scintillating and unique people and food they brought together. If you were a newbie, you were asked to bring dessert. If your dish made an impression, you'd be asked to bring an app or a main, but if you were asked to bring dessert again, unless you were a pastry chef it was a fair bet you didn't impress.

I've lost touch with a lot of those folks over the two intervening decades. I only just rediscovered this recipe a few weeks ago and decided to make it again. I suppose it fell out of favor when I was busy trying my hand at more complex flavors, but like an old friend, it's comforting familiarity is a refreshing change. And the simple hominess of the flavors means MZ is likely to give it a try, too, sometime around the 12th time I offer it. And since this makes a heap-big batch o' black beans, maybe that will happen.

But in the meantime I am happy with my rediscovery. It's lovely the next day, and when you reach the end of the leftovers, it makes wonderful balck beans and rice, just drain and mix with some cooked white rice, chopped fresh cilantro, red pepper and onions, and a few dashes of Tabasco -- you want that vinegary kick in an otherwise plain combination.

I don't know where Tony is anymore, but I'm happy to remember those days.

1 lb. dried black beans, sorted, rinsed and soaked overnight (or not, your preference)
2 medium yellow onions, fine minced
1 red bell pepper, cored and finely diced
1 jalapeno or 1/2 green bell pepper, cored and finely diced
1 T each ground coriander and cumin
1/4 t cayenne pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (add to taste)
Salt to taste

Saute the vegetables through the jalapeno in a heavy pot over medium heat till the onions are translucent. Add the spices and garlic, stir and saute until fragant. Add the beans and enough liquid to cover the mixture by about 2 inches.

Bring beans to a simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, until the beans are soft and a thick broth forms, about 2 hours.

Remove 1-2 cups, puree and add back along with the orange juice and salt. Simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve as part of a big spread that includes a braised or grilled meat and white rice, or solo with some cornbread.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bulgur, I don't even know her!

Okay, that's bad. But I've always thought bulgur was a strange word for something so toothesome. We've been trying to eat more whole grains here at Casa Robmaliam, both because MZ likes them and because they're good for all of us. And bulgur is almost as easy as couscous. It can be prepared the same way, with salt, EVOO or butter and boiled water, left to steam ~10 minutes, but it's even better as a quick pilaf. And our bountiful supply of cherry tomatoes lightened the whole dish up to make it more bearable on this unusually hot weekend. It barely felt like cooking.

This dinner is on the table in 20 minutes, easy. Part of the speed is in using Penzey's dependable, high-quality spice mixes -- a quick way to add complex flavor without a lot of chopping and measuring. The recipe feeds two and a toddler generously with leftover bulgur for toddler meals.

Halibut with Cherry Tomato Salad and Bulgur Pilaf
1 lb halibut fillets
3 t. Penzey's Greek seasoning mix or ~1/2 t. each crumbled dried Mediterranean oregano and marjoram, garlic powder, lemon zest, kosher salt and black pepper
1.5 cups bulgur
1 leek, coarsely chopped
1 stem celery, medium dice
1 t kosher or sea salt
1.5 cups boiling water
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 coarsely chopped green onion
1 t white wine or champagne vinegar

Rub the halibut fillets with 1.5 t. Greek seasoning or your own spice mix, and 1 T EVOO. Set aside.

Heat 1 T EVOO in a saucepan and saute leek and celery till softened, add 1 t salt and the bulgur, stir to combine and add boiling water, stirring again to combine. Turn off heat, cover tightly and allow to steam for 10 minutes.

Combine green onion, remaining Greek seasoning, and vinegar in a non-reactive bowl. Allow to sit while preparing rest of dinner.

Heat nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Pan-grill fish for 2 minutes on each side, then turn heat to low, cover and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, slice cherry tomatoes in half, reserving some if you think your child won't like the seasoned tomatoes, and add to green onion mixture. Add remaining EVOO. Fluff the bulgur.

Lay halibut over a serving of bulgur, then spoon tomato salad over all, this is delightful with a glass of chilled Sancerre or other Loire Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Have I mentioned that this marinade rocks?

That's what I kept saying all through dinner. It's really that good.

This morning we took a multi-generational jaunt to Alemany Market. R. and I were so happy to be back in The Land of Fabulous Produce. We planned to go to Ferry Plaza, craving perfect tomatoes and ceviche tostadas, but Papa & Ma'na suggested Alemany and suddenly that sounded perfect. Halfway through the market, we agreed on a menu for that night: striped bass on the grill, beet salad, fresh black-eyed pea salad and grilled summer squash, and a nectarine and berry tart. What's not to like?

We brought home four bright-eyed striped bass, and Papa gutted them, R. scaled them and Ma'na cleaned them up, while R. cleaned up all the scales in the back yard. Iwas ready to say "Never again!" to gutting/scaling, but when I tried the fish that night, I was converted. So sweet, so firm, so outstanding. And I like to think my marinade helped...

Herb Marinade for a Whole Mess of Whole Fish
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 T chopped fresh marjoram
2 t. chopped fresh rosemary
2 T. minced parsley
2 T capers
1/8 c Meyer lemon-infused EVOO
1/8 cup EVOO

Combine ingredients thoroughly. Place the fish in a zip lock bag. Spoon marinade into the cavity of each fish, then pour remaining mixture into the bag and rub all over the fish. Refrigerate for a few hours.

When you're ready to eat, open a bottle of crisp white wine, pour glasses all around, and heat the grill to medium hot. This might be better grilled over charcoal, but we use gas. So place the fish on a medium-hot grill for four minutes, turn over and grill for another four minutes.

Bone at table and enjoy.

Grilled Squash to Go With
I learned a nice trick from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I roasted some beets, and the folks at Chez Panisse suggest marinating the vegetables in a vinegar-based mixture for at least 30 minutes before adding any oil. It makes for very sprightly flavors, so I decided to try it on the squash, which can be a little bland. I mixed minced garlic with salt, 1 teaspoon of Boulettes Lebanese 7-Spice and a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, added the 1/2"-thick slices (lengthwise) of assorted summer squash and zucchini, and waited a bit before adding 1/4 cup of EVOO. Summer squash is a much more porous vegetable, so 10-15 minutes is sufficient. But try this next time you grill squash.