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Congee and Beans

February 28, 2011

Tags: food, water, herbs, amino acids, Asia, bean salad, botulism, breakfast, butter beans, cabbage – sour, chelating, China, congee – recipe, cilantro, Congee and Beans, cravings, detoxification, dill, easy meal, economical meal, fermented foods, garbanzos, garlic, gluten-free, grape leaves, Greece, Herbes de Provence, herbs – dried, herbs – fresh, herbs – Italian beans, Hippocrates, Japan, Kellogg - John Harvey (1852-1943), Kellogg - Will Keith (1860-1951), legumes, lunch, maple syrup, marjoram, microwave, olive oil, parsley, pressure cooker, refrigeration, resveratrol, rice – brown, rice – short, rice cooker, Russia, tarragon, vegetables, pickles, salt and pepper, sauerkraut, savory, sweet tooth, umeboshi plum paste, Your food be your medicine

Surely, I've been stressing my mantra "Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables" on this blog; without vegetables, no health.

Think of congee and beens as "fast" vegetables. They don't substitute for greens and roots and cabbages. But congee for breakfast and beans for lunch keep me going all day until I arrive at my vegetable-laden dinner table. The amino acids in congee and beans complement each other to a full, nourishing set, and congee and beans have this in common: They are easy to make and very economical – I bet you can’t come up with a healthier meal that’s less expensive.

• Congee: This Asian dish is basically rice cooked with lots and lots of water into a very satisfying thick soup. If you think you know rice, and don’t like it, try congee. To me it always tastes like it was made in heaven by some motherly, nourishing angel. Here is how you make it yourself:

If you have a rice cooker with a congee setting (which I don’t), you have it easy. I use a pressure cooker. One cup of brown rice – preferably the short, sticky variety – to two cups of water. Cook for about ten minutes. After cooling, add three to four cups more water. Cook for another ten minutes or so (I know my recipes are awfully vague; that’s how I cook – you figure out your own way). The pressure cooker method works better if you do it in two steps rather than pouring in all the water in the beginning. If, on the other hand, you have only a simple, big pot, you let the rice simmer on very low heat for several hours. If needed, add more water.

One cup of dry rice, transformed into congee, fills about four big breakfast bowls. You serve it with any kind of fermented pickles – sauerkraut being very good and cheap. (Look up my old blog on fermented foods if you are not familiar with their health benefits). Chinese traditionally have some nice pickles – but it has to be the fermented kind, not the modern processed stuff, and the fermented pickles are not longer found easily. I have used sour cabbage from the Russian store, or Greek marinated grape leaves (high in resveratrol!). Japanese have great fermented things like umeboshi plum paste. You only need a little bit for a whole bowl. Whatever you like. But don’t do sweet stuff like maple syrup – the congee needs fermented foods. Anything sweet will only feed your sweet tooth. And it is not written in stone that a breakfast needs to be sweet – that is the Kellogg brothers' invention, I suspect.

I always add a liberal amount of olive oil because otherwise it won’t last me until lunch. By the way, you may add a pinch of salt to your bowl – but fermented foods usually provide all the saltiness you may want.

This breakfast has one great advantage: Filling without stuffing, it squashes all cravings – and makes you go until lunch without ever thinking of food.

• Beans: I apologize to the purists among you, but I use canned beans. Of course, one can also soak beans overnight and cook them – but I have more interesting things to do. When you buy canned beans, make sure they have no additives – they should be beans and water, nothing else.

You open a can of beans and heat the contents (including the fluid) in a small pot to a boil. Add olive oil (I can’t even think of life without olive oil!), and pinch of salt and pepper. Toss in a handful of fresh or a table spoon full of dried herbs: Dill and parsley turn a boring can of beans a festive and health meal. Tarragon goes beautifully with garbanzos (which, technically are no beans, but belong to the legume family), marjoram or savory are great with butter beans, Italian herbs or Herbes de Provence plus garlic make dark beans a spectacular meal. Cilantro goes with everything – again add some garlic, and you already have a detoxifying, chelating medicine – “Your food be your medicine” as Hippocrates already said. We can now buy so many different kinds of canned beans. Find out what you like – and then rotate, because it is not good to eat the same fare every day.

If you can’t warm up your beans at midday at work on a stove (don’t use a microwave!), you can also make a bean salad (same ingredients, just drain the fluid of, and perhaps cut a small onion into the mix). But keep your beans refrigerated at all times, as they are prone to botulism germs when left at room temperature longer than two hours. And, hopefully you know better than use a bulging can of beans – discard it!

And then, as they say: Enjoy!

P.S. Did you notice that congee and beans are perfectly gluten-free? No-sweat gluten-free!

Summer Fare

July 19, 2010

Tags: food, herbs, order, almonds, apple, asparagus, bread - multigrain, cabbage - red, cherries, chicken, corn on the cob, crab meat, dill, food - seasonal, freshness, fruit, lamb - braised, lentils, lobster, mandarins, mayonnaise, moderation, mushrooms, mussels, nuts, olive oil, onion, pear, pineapple, salt and pepper, shrimp salad, seasons, sesame seeds, strawberries, summer, Summer Fare, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, walnuts, watermelon

In the summer, we don’t like to eat heavy foods. We have a natural tendency, an innate knowledge, to eat lighter in hot weather. Braised lamb red, cabbage and sweet potatoes is a combination I would not serve now; in the fall, with temperatures down, it will be delicious.

Here is a recipe for a light shrimp salad, easy to make:

• About five to ten cooked shrimps per person. Remove tails and slice the shrimp lengthwise. (Instead of shrimp, cooked lobster, chicken, mussels, crab meat, mushrooms would work).
• Add an onion, finely chopped.
• A can of mandarins or pineapples, or fresh apple or pear (or whatever fruit, you fancy).
• Walnuts or almonds or whatever nuts.
• A bit salt and pepper.
• Fresh or dried dill (or any herb).
• And mayonnaise – as little as possible. I prefer a mayonnaise made with olive oil. You can stretch the mayonnaise with juice from the mandarin can, or with a few drops of olive oil; or both.
• Serve the shrimp salad with corn on the cob, broiled (with sunflower or sesame seeds and olive oil) asparagus, and lentils or a multi-grain bread.
• End the meal with fresh fruit – a watermelon or cherries or strawberries from the field.

This is a good example how I cook: I use what I have at hand and what is fresh and in season and therefore cheap. It never tastes the same twice. And never ever ask me: How much? I am a “feeling” cook, not a measuring one.

This is a Sunday dish. Eating mayonnaise every day is not such a good idea for the waist line – even if it is finger-licking good. By the way, if you have a mixer, you can make your own mayonnaise: Separate eggs into yolks and egg white (use the whites for making meringues later). Beat the yolks until they stiffen a bit. Drop by drop add olive oil – never stop beating, slowly first, then faster. The secret is in never to add too much oil at a time so that the mayonnaise does not curdle. Takes five minutes to make.

Summer fare is about freshness and moderation. Thinking about it: It's the same in the winter. Except that in the summer, the heat helps you with the moderation part - it curbs our appetites.

Freshness

July 16, 2010

Tags: food, herbs, basil, beet greens, bratwurst, cabbage - baby, carrots, cauliflower, chana dal, chives, cilantro, coconut oil, dill, dressing, fennel, fish, freezing, freshness, Freshness, garbanzo, garlic, grains, gravy - ready-made, green sauce, kitchen machine, legumes, microwave, mustard, olive oil, onions, parsley, rhubarb, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, split peas, sugar, thyme, vegetables, zucchini

We cannot eat perfectly healthy every single time we sit down to dine. But we should at least have an idea what the ideal of a meal can be.

Surrounded by friends and family, and outdoors – if possible. Even the tiniest of balconies will do; or an open window. A tablecloth would look lovely; at least a few matching plate mats, and always my best china. For whom would I keep it? My children will inherit what is not broken.

Ah, what for food? The answer is easy: vegetables. Tonight, at my home, it will be fennel – probably sautéed with onions, garlic and olive oil. And a baby cabbage, which I will steam whole with caraway. We will finish a leftover from yesterday (beet greens, cauliflower, young zucchini and green garlic). So, technically, we will have three veggies on the table – and I haven’t even mentioned meat or fish (I might do bratwurst today, in coconut oil – we still have some frozen from our May garden party, and we had fish or vegetarian for several days in a row. Served with chana dal (an Indian small garbanzo; they look like split peas, only yellow. One takes a cup of chana dal to two cups of water, brings it to a fast boil with a pinch of salt, and then simmers with a lid until all water is gone. The problem with chana dal (as with split green peas and most grains) is that they need skimming off some froth early on so that they don’t boil over.

For desert I will quick-cook rhubarb with a bit of sugar. Rhubarb is one of the few things that absolutely can’t go without sugar.

If freshness is the standard, then this is what we eat tonight: The warmed-up vegetables came from a friend’s garden– they were tender and delicious. The fennel is organic, from the supermarket; so is the cabbage. The cabbage and the rhubarb are local, the fennel came from far away. The bratwurst is organic.

Yesterday, with the fish, we had some green sauce – from the freezer. I usually make a batch for guests, and freeze the rest. I never use a microwave (not even for thawing) or use ready-made gravy or dressings, but I am not above freezing leftovers. Here is the Green Sauce recipe (you need a strong kitchen machine – a blender will not do):

Chop five cloves of garlic, a small onion and a handful of baby carrots. Add all the herbs you can put your hands on, one by one, and chop. Basil is a staple – and so are parsley, dill and cilantro. A few snippets of sage, chives, rosemary and thyme give fragrance. Add olive oil, a dab of salt and pepper. If it tastes boring (sometimes it does…), add a few teaspoons of mustard. Chop until fairly smooth. Chill and serve to fish and/or vegetables. Freeze leftover in portions.

If you live in the countryside (or if you have friends who bring you their produce) count your blessings. Otherwise make do with what you find in your supermarket. Organic is desired – but better a conventional vegetable than no vegetable at all! Local is super – but can’t always be had. I never go to the store with a recipe to follow: Number one, I am bad in following rules; number two, I go for what is fresh and what is cheap. I throw together what I think will work (olive oil and garlic rescue many of my dishes).

Brown rice or legumes (beans, peas, lentils, garbanzos) are dry. But vegetables should not be old or store-bought frozen or canned. Go for fresh, and strew on a few fresh or dried herbs. Here I say “dried” because fresh herbs can be very expansive – better dried herbs than no herbs.

No complicated cooking – just fresh produce. Enjoy!

Harvesting Little Things

June 24, 2010

Tags: food, burdock leaves, chives, butterfat, comfort foods, cumin, dairy - proteins, dandelions, dill, dinosaur kale, gardening - vegetables, garlic, ghee, greens, harvesting, Harvesting Little Things, kale, lacinato kale, lentils - red, mallows, mints, nettle - stinging, olive oil, peas, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, wormwood

Fall is far away – but I did do my first harvesting yesterday: I got my peas off the vine, just in time before they would have been overripe and hard. Did I mention that this year I started vegetable gardening in pots on the terrace? Because I have crammed the garden so much with flowers and berries that not a speck of free soil was anywhere.

The pods yielded about a cup of peas – just enough for the two of us. I sautéed them very shortly with dill and a tad of ghee (butterfat). As you might have noticed, I usually shun dairy. Most dishes improve when you substitute with olive oil but occasionally a recipe calls for butter, and then I use ghee. In butter fat the proteins are skimmed off the melted butter. Since dairy proteins are the main culprits when it comes to inflammation, of all dairy products, ghee is the safest. I am not a purist – at times, I give in to an emotional need for comfort food. So it was yesterday, with the peas.

From the store, we also had dinosaur kale (also called lacinato kale, Tuscan kale) which is a swell way to introduce kids to greens. The kale has this puckered surface which really looks like dinosaur skin - just don’t tell them yet that researchers now discuss if dinosaurs had feathers. A friend had brought me a first bulb of garlic including greens from her garden, and I threw this, cut, into the kale, and added olive oil, some more garlic, pepper, salt.

Served this with red lentils with cumin, and fish with a bit of left-over green sauce from the freezer.

With it, we drank our garden tea, made from stinging nettles, dandelions, mallow, mints, rosemary, sage, chives, a bit of a young burdock leaf, and just a snippet of wormwood (it is toxic in greater amounts).

A simple, everyday meal – but oh, how sumptuous!

No Time For Cooking?

May 18, 2010

Tags: food, herbs, basil, butter, carrots, cilantro, coconut oil - virgin, cheese, cumin, dill, fish, garlic, ghee, green sauce, herbed salt, honey, kale, meats, No Time For Cooking?, olive oil, onion, parsley, red kale, red lentils, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, thyme, water cress

The argument most often used why people eat take-out food, TV dinners and in restaurants, is that they have no time to cook.

Once you understand that you cannot be healthy on ready-made foods, you will want to cook for yourself and your family. Contrary to popular belief, it does not take much time to cook.

As an example, let’s look at our dinner last night. This is what we had:

Fish filet with green sauce
Red kale in olive oil and garlic
Parisian carrots
Red lentils with cumin.

Sounds like an outlandish dish for you? For us, it is pretty much every-day fare. It did not take me more than half an hour to bring this fresh meal on the table.

Fish filet: We had cod, but any filet would do. – The green sauce is the tricky part; in this case it was a frozen leftover from when we last had guests. Melt some virgin coconut fat in a frying pan (no microwaving!), add frozen green sauce, wait until thawed before adding the fish. Fry on low until done (a few minutes). Instead of green sauce, I could have sprinkled the fish with dried dill, or fresh herbs from the garden.

Red kale: Cut in stripes, wash quickly in cold water. Add dried or fresh garlic (I used dried), olive oil, pepper and salt (I prefer an herbed salt). Sautee in little water until done (about twenty minutes). - Most vegetables taste delicious with just olive oil and garlic - try!

Red lentils: One cup of red lentils to two cups of water (this is the ratio for most grains and lentils). Add salt and ground cumin. Bring to a boil. Simmer until done (about twenty minutes).

Carrots: Wash carrots, cut in bite-sized pieces. Add parsley (dried or fresh; the original recipe asks for parsley; I had run out of it and used dried cilantro instead – you make do with what you have), white pepper, salt and a teaspoon full of honey. Butter or, better, ghee (clarified butter) is optional. Sautee in little water. Takes about twenty minutes.

Serve and, as they say, enjoy!

Green sauce recipe: You need a kitchen machine for this – a blender will not do: Chop a small onion, a few baby carrots and a few cloves of garlic in the machine. Add as many washed and coarsely cut herbs as you can put your hands on: Basil, parsley, cilantro, dill are my staples. Water cress, thyme, sage, rosemary and others are optional. Blend with olive oil, pepper and salt until smooth. Fill up with plenty of olive oil until frothy. Freeze leftovers in small tupperwares.

You might notice that I use a lot of healthy fats (coconut oil for frying, olive oil, ghee). They don’t make your cholesterol go up – cheese and meats will do that. My husband’s cholesterol hovers around 110 – enviably. Good fats lower inflammation in the body. AND you leave the table satisfied.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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