Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and Rice)

moros-y-cristianos


Moros y cristianos: the most delicious dish with the most racist name! Make a cute little tower of arrogance by filling a tiny bowl with rice and overturning it sand-castle style.

I know I sound like a broken record, but a big pot of beans or legumes (snobby voice) is the way to go in weeknight meal prep, paving the way for days of remixed meals at a time in our lives where my biggest complaint is that I have a scant two hour window each evening to come home, cook, play with my angel, feed her, bathe her, read her stories, and tuck her in bed (perhaps two or three times if she’s feeling mischievous) – and depending on the day, she may be tired and crabby and uncooperative during this process, making it all the more grueling. That sentence was very long, but as you can see I am very busy and have little time for full stops.

I know this is one of the most magical times in Zoeya’s little life and I don’t want to miss it by spending all my time over the stove. Pot of beans is easy and reheats well for tasty leftovers (no-cook evenings). Plus it’s vegetarian. Plus it’s cheap!

This lost a couple authenticity points for extra spices (you don’t expect me to cook with my recently refreshed dabba chilling right beside me and not touch it, do you?) and a little extra veg (love veg!), and canned beans (disorganized and pressed for time), but that still puts it at about 87% authentic Cuban.

Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and Rice)

For black beans
2 tbsp olive oil
Semi-finely chopped: 1 red onion, 4 cloves garlic, 1/2 red pepper, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot
Ground spices: 1 tsp ground annatto, big heaping tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp oregano
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 can black beans, rinsed
water
spritz lemon or lime juice

Heat olive oil on medium high. Add all chopped veggies, spices, oregano, bay leaves, and a generous sprinkle salt and pepper – this is your sofrito. Cook, stirring, until veggies are soft and wilty (the carrots might still be a little crunchy, they will cook in the water). Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute, then add can of black beans and one can water. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until veggies are very soft and falling apart. You may need to add more water if the mixture becomes too dry or starts to burn. Adjust seasoning (more salt perhaps?) and finish it with a spritz of lemon or lime juice.

For rice
1 coffee cup jasmine rice
2 coffee cups water
generous pinch salt
dash olive oil

Bring water and rice to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 min. Fluff with a fork.

Serve with the rice in a pile and the beans all around it. I also made some pickled shallots which I love and eat at every opportunity.

Leftovers – for lunch Zoeya is taking the rice and beans mixed together and wrapped in a tortilla. I am topping mine with sliced avocado.

Black Beans and Rice with Roasted Tomato Salsa

beans-tomatoes

The beans didn’t finish cooking in time for dinner, so Zoeya and I took them for lunch!

Two things threatened to ruin this meal, but I am happy to report that I persevered, and it all worked out ok.

The first was that when I bothered to read the label of the chipotles in adobo sauce that I love so much (in things like chili and the eggs I used to eat), I found out they have HFCS in them. Mother expletive! I yelled – in my head of course – in the middle of the grocery store aisle. So obviously I didn’t buy them. I made my own smokey chili flavor with dried California chiles and molasses.

The second was that these beans took forever (forever!) to cook. I mean, I knew they’d take a long time, but this was multiple evenings, including overnight crockpot.

I did not soak them beforehand and I did add salt at the beginning, because Spilled Milk told me it was a myth that these things would make them take longer…but now I’m not so sure, I may have been led astray. As you can see, I am not as expert in dried beans as I am in dried lentils. Next time I’ll do this on a weekend and maybe freeze some to save myself a headache. Or just use a can.

The roasted tomato salsa/tarka came together gorgeously and without hassle, and was so delicious I think it could saved just about anything.

Black Beans and Rice with Roasted Tomato Salsa

For the beans:
1 cup dried black beans – mine were pretty big, it probably wouldn’t have taken as long with the tiny black beans. You can also use canned beans, just don’t cook as long.
2 dried California chiles, stems removed (these are smokey, not spicy)
2 tbsp molasses
4 carrots, diced
juice of half a lime
salt

Add everything to a large pot with water to cover by several inches, and boil, adding water when needed, until the beans are soft. This will take several years hours. You can also do this in a crock pot. Reduce liquid to a stoup. (Oh yes I said it!) Adjust seasoning, beans take a lot of salt.

For the roasted tomato salsa:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
salt & pepper
olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chili powder
small handful cilantro, chopped
juice of half a lime

Toss tomatoes with generous sprinkle of salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, and roast at 400° until blistered. Meanwhile, heat a couple tbsp olive oil and sauté garlic cloves, cumin, and chili powder. Remove from heat and toss together with tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.

To serve:

Serve over rice (I used leftover basmati, but if I were making it fresh I’d use a medium grain), make a layer of beans, and top with tomatoes, sliced avocado, and a spritz of lime juice and hot sauce.

Frenchy Lentils and Roasty Beets

frenchy-lentils

Cute little French lentils have an earthy flavor – perfect for fall! – and take nicely to flavors both sharp (dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar) and sweet (carrots, molasses). They go really nicely with roasted beets, which I just love, mostly because they turn everything they touch an obscene magenta. I learned an ingenious method to cook them, which is just to trim the stalks and roast them whole with a little olive oil. After they cool, the skins will slip right off, and you can avoid staining your fingertips and cutting board.

Frenchy Lentils and Roasty Beets

For lentils:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp molasses
2 carrots, diced
1 1/2 c French lentils
water
dash balsamic vinegar

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook onion, garlic, salt and pepper, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add paprika, stirring for a minute, then tomato paste. Add dijon, molasses, carrots, lentils, and about 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary, until lentils are softened. Adjust seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt), and finish with a dash of balsamic vinegar (and maybe another little drizzle of olive oil).

For beets:
1 bunch beets, trimmed
olive oil

Heat oven to 450°. Arrange beets in a pan lined with foil and drizzle with olive oil. Roast until a fork easily goes through the beet. Allow to cool, remove skins, and slice.

Coconutty Chana Dal

chana-dal

I’ve always made lentils fairly frequently, but lately it seems we are never without a pot in the fridge. This is partly out of laziness, because I can make them with my eyes closed with pantry ingredients that don’t require the foresight of a trip to the store, and they make for days of lunches and side dishes. Usually I whip up the split red lentils that cook in a snap – as in my Weeknight Lentils – but since it was the weekend I decided to get a little crazy and make chana dal.

A weekend warning, apart from the longer cooking time: “lentils” may sound like rabbit food, but with creamy coconut milk and a pat of butter, these are pretty decadent.

Chana dal take longer to cook and than red lentils and they hold their shape instead of dissolving into a starchy mush. They have a very nice nutty flavor. I like just a little sweetness in my lentils (I usually put a drop of honey in my French black lentils) which I got here from carrots. It’s just enough sweetness for me without Shan accusing me of adding sugar. Also, I’ve been getting into cooking with coconut oil lately. I already love the nutty note it gives a dish, and though it’s a saturated fat, I’ve been reading more about its health benefits. So multipurpose, I like to oil my hair with it too.

Dinner was a collaborative effort; we had friends over and enjoyed this with basmati rice, a lovely cucumber raita made by our friend, and my husband’s famous Lahori tilapia.

Coconutty Chana Dal

2 tbsp coconut oil

whole spices:
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods (cracked)
1 cinnamon stick

1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated

ground spices:
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
black pepper

2 tbsp tomato paste
zest of 1 lemon
2 carrots, finely chopped in food processor
1 1/2 c chana dal
several cups water
1/2 c coconut milk
1 tbsp butter
salt

Heat oil in a good-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, and add whole spices. When they smell fragrant, add the onion, stirring until it begins to turn translucent, then add garlic, ginger, and whole spices. Cook, stirring, a few minutes, then add tomato paste, lemon, carrots, dal, and water to cover by an inch or so. Reduce heat to a high simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring fairly frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The dal will begin to absorb the water so add more as necessary. The final consistency should be wet but not watery.

I’m not in the habit of timing things, I just cook them until they’re done. I will say the cooking time is a little lengthy, enough to do the dishes, make the rice, give Zoeya a bath and put her to bed (Shan babysat the pot while I was upstairs so it didn’t burn). Cook until the dal is soft. Stir in coconut milk, butter, and salt to taste.

Pretty when garnished with cilantro, but mine wilted in the thousand degree heat.

Paki Tacos

thumb_paki-taco

I absolutely love Latin culture. I love the language, the food, the music, the dancing. When I met Shan, I was pretty much immersed. I was going salsa dancing every weekend, and I was eating arroz con gandules instead of biryani. After we got married, I started cooking mostly Pakistani and Indian food, but I will never stop cooking Latin food; it’s such a nice reminder of that time in my life and the people that are still dear friends, even though we don’t see each other as much anymore.

Tonight I made a dish that’s a fusion of the foods that Shan and I both love. This dish is my past and my future on one plate.

Instead of pulled pork (we don’t eat pork!) this is made with pulled chicken thighs, with a spicy tomato sauce flavored with both South Asian spices and smoky chipotle pepper, and just a little brown sugar. With gingery basmati rice, a fresh, sweet corn relish, and delicate pickled shallots (I put pickled shallots on everything), this is a delightful mix of flavors and textures.

Shan approved; he ate four and gave them their name – Paki Tacos.

Paki Tacos

For pickled shallots
Combine 2 sliced shallots, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp honey, and a couple pinches of salt in a coffee cup and let pickle while you cook the rest.

For chicken + tomato sauce
4 chicken thighs
salt & pepper
olive oil
1/3 c sherry (white wine, chicken broth, or water also fine)
1 tbsp butter
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, garam masala
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large carrot, chopped
2 chipotle peppers (and a tbsp or so of the adobo sauce)
1 tsp brown sugar

Heat olive oil on high while you salt and pepper chicken thighs. Brown chicken thighs on both sides, covered so they start to cook through. Check for doneness, you may need to add a splash of water and cover so they cook through the rest of the way. When they are cooked, let water evaporate and remove chicken to a plate to cool.

Deglaze pan with sherry, reduce by at least half, then add butter, cinnamon, and cloves and reduce heat to just above medium. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent. Add garlic and ground spices and cook, stirring, for several minutes. Add tomatoes, carrots, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and about a cup of water, cover and crank the heat back up. Cook for 10 minutes or so, uncover and reduce if it’s too liquidy (you want it not too dry, but thick), remove from heat, and stir in brown sugar.

While the sauce cools, shred chicken thighs with two forks. Transfer sauce to a food processor, puree, then combine chicken and sauce in the pot and gently warm through.

For corn relish
2 ears white corn
small handful cilantro
1 lime (zest of all, juice of half)
2 tbsp yogurt
salt & pepper

Boil corn in pot of generously salted water. Drain and cool. Finely chop cilantro and combine with lime zest, lime juice and yogurt. Cut the corn off the cob and gently stir with yogurt mixture.

For gingery basmati rice
Rinse and soak 1 c rice (15 min is fine). Boil and salt 2 c water, grating in 1/2 inch ginger. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to low, cooking until done, about 15 to 20 minutes.

For tacos
Assemble all of the above in warm corn tortillas and enjoy.

Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)

carrot-halwa-thumb

Halwa is a general term for desserts in the Middle East through South Asia. There are many types; some are flour based and more like a sweet, and some, like this, are vegetable based and more like a pudding. I really love using something unexpected (at least in the west) like carrots as a dessert. Well, we do have carrot cake…but cardamom-spiced carrot pudding? That’s a new treat.

Traditionally this is made with sugar, but I like to substitute honey wherever I can. It’s a little healthier and adds a gentle layer to the flavor.

Gajar ka Halwa

2 tbsp ghee or butter
4 cardamom pods, cracked
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup milk
2 tbsp honey
chopped pistachios for garnish

Warm the ghee and cardamom pods over medium heat until the ghee is melted. Add carrots and cook gently, stirring, until they soften (they should already be pretty soft in the first place after being shredded). Add milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture is moist but not soupy. Stir in honey and remove from heat.

Serve garnished with pistachios. You can also use chopped almonds or cashews, but I love how the green nuts look against the sunny carrots. Usually this is served warm, but it’s also good room temp or even straight from the fridge.

Red Thai Curry

Here is a delicious weeknight meal that you can whip up quickly and not mess up even if you are chatting with your sister and drinking lots of wine.

This uses store-bought curry paste. I make my own sometimes (I’ll post a recipe at some point), and encourage you to as well because it’s fun, but the store-bought stuff is tasty and convenient. I used Thai Kitchen brand.

Red Thai Curry

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
light olive oil, salt, pepper
1 onion sliced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
water or chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 spring onions

Heat olive oil. Add onions and salt, and fry until they start to turn translucent. Add garlic and chicken, and fry until chicken is cooked. Add curry paste and stir for a minute or two (just so it has a chance to cook but not so much that it starts to burn). Add a cup or so of water or chicken broth, scraping the pan, then add tomatoes, carrots and coconut milk. If needed, add some more water or chicken broth until the chicken is almost covered, cover and lower heat to a simmer.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and carrots are softened. Depending on how much liquid is left, you can remove the top and cook a little more to thicken your sauce.

Garnish with sliced spring onions and serve with limes and jasmine rice. I love to serve my curries steaming at the table right out of the pot.

Afterthought: what would really take this to the next level is some chopped peanuts, mmmm….next time!

Kofte (Pakistani Meatballs)

So I seem to be featuring quite a few Pakistani recipes. I’m proud to be learning to cook this cuisine as it represents my new family, and it feels like an accomplishment. At the beginning I put my dishes together with uncertainty – I thought they tasted good, but did they taste like Amma used to make? – and waited with trepidation as they were sampled by a tableful of Pakistanis. However, after a few positive responses (and believe me, Shan is not one to be polite – if he doesn’t like it, he’s not going to choke it down for my sake) my confidence is growing, and I feel good enough to put my own spin on dishes.

But I’m an American girl. I can’t hear the name of this dish without thinking about The Metamorphosis, and to tell the truth, although I think Pakistani food is delicious, it’s often just too heavy, especially during these hot summer days. However, I find sometimes you are pleasantly surprised by the fresh elements in an otherwise heavy dish, and these flavors save it from being completely overpowering. I remember when we were in Pakistan, and took a day trip to Murree, a beautiful mountain town. I was feeling ill from days of heavy food and from the winding mountain roads, and when we went to eat at a local restaurant, I dreaded the chicken karahi that was brought to our table. It looked like another oily, stewy dish, but when I tasted it I was thrilled to discover how lemony and light-tasting it was. I try to remember this and recreate that feeling when I’m cooking Pakistani food, and so for these meatballs I make sure to include lots of fresh flavor – ginger, cilantro, parsley – to help counter the deeper flavors of the beef, cinnamon, and other spices.

My meatballs, which I’ve talked about before, are kind of a hybrid between Huma Siddiqi’s recipe in Jasmine in Her Hair and Alton Brown’s Swedish meatballs from the meatball episode of Good Eats. Kind of like Huma’s flavor profiles with Alton’s technique. I add quite a few ingredients to Huma’s recipe, and brown the meatballs for some nice carmelization before adding the sauce.

Sauce and Meatballs

Pureed sauce and meatballs cooking

Kofte

For sauce:
One thinly sliced onion
Three or four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Small knob of ginger, peeled and grated
whole spices: 3 whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 4 small cardamoms crushed, 1 large cardamom, and 2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper, and some cayenne (starting with a tsp, you can add more to taste)
a can of diced tomatoes (you can use fresh, but I’m really picky and they have to be very red and tomatoey, so usually I end up using canned)
a nice spoonful of tomato paste
1 peeled, chopped carrot
2 cups of water

For meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
Salt (plenty) and pepper
A tsp each of tumeric and cayenne
a good size knob of ginger, peeled and grated
handful of chopped parsley
a couple big spoonfuls of diced garlic*
a couple big spoonfuls of coriander chutney**
a couple big spoonfuls of yogurt
2 eggs
Breadcrumbs. About a half cup, and add a little more at a time until your meatballs reach the right consistency

* On the diced garlic that comes in a jar – I would normally never buy this crap, but Shan likes to cook with it, and I must confess it’s convenient for things like this
** I make a good homemade cilantro chutney, but since it doesn’t last long I don’t usually have it on hand. You can get it store-bought at an Indian market. Swad brand is delicious and I could eat it with a spoon, but I accidentally bought Laxmi brand one time and discovered it to be poisonously disgusting.

Saute the onion, garlic, ginger, whole spices, salt, pepper and cayenne in olive oil. After the onion softens, add tomatoes, tomato paste, carrot, and water. Cover and simmer until the carrot softens. In the meatime, prepare your meatballs!

I’ve mixed the meatballs in the food processor before, but really it’s fine to just mix them to death with your hands, not to mention less cleanup. They’ll still come out nice and tender, with kind of a pleasantly spongy texture. Roll into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Miraculously, this time I came up with 24 evenly-sized, evenly-spaced balls. Brilliant.

So now, put the baking sheet with the meatballs in the freezer (this helps them not fall apart when you start to cook them) while you finish your sauce. Fish out the whole spices, and carefully pour it into a blender and puree. You could leave it chunky if you like, but I like the sauce velvety and smooth, plus how else am I going to hide the carrots from my husband? Return to the pot and keep warm.

Now you can brown your meatballs. Do half the meatballs, in a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil. Let them brown for a minute or two (when they are ready, they won’t stick to the bottom), then use 2 spoons to roll them over to brown the other side. Remove the first batch to a plate, and brown the second batch.

When the second batch is browned, add the first batch back to the pot. Adjust the seasoning to your sauce and add a spoonful of yogurt and a spoonful of the cilantro chutney, stir it up, and pour it over your meatballs. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked. Transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro.

Kofta

Serve with warm naan for a Pakistani feast!