Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Sometimes I just don’t want to go to the grocery store.  I especially don’t want to go when there’s about a foot of snow on the ground and it’s starting to melt and get all squishy.  Taking Lani out to do her business is about as  much outdoor time as I want.  This is when I look in the pantry, look in the fridge, look in the freezer, look in the pantry, look in the fridge, look in the freezer……..

I keep hoping for inspiration of some sort and usually I find it.  Today the black beans and a can of pumpkin stood out to me.  I started wondering what the outcome would be if I combined them into a soup.  As usual, I turned to the net to see if anybody else had done so and what kinds of seasonings they might have used.  There were dozens of recipes for pumpkin and black bean soup.  Some had a Mexican flavor. Some were Asian inspired. In fact, just about every cuisine I can think of was represented.  As usual, I read four or five recipes, took another look into the pantry and at my spices then came up with my own version.

Ingredients:

1  fifteen ounce can pumpkin puree

1 and 1/2 cups black beans, drained (You can use canned ones. I didn’t have any so I cooked some first.)

1 can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup onion, roughly chopped

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (Use as much a or as little as you like.)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

2 cups stock or water

2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

olive oil to saute’ onions  and garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Saute’ onions in a stock pot until they just begin to turn translucent.  Add the garlic and cook about another minute.   Add the pumpkin to the pot and top it with the spices.  Pour tomatoes over it and mix.  It doesn’t have mixed thoroughly.  You just want to get everything incorporated.  Add the water or stock  along with the vinegar and bring it to a boil.  Turn the burner down and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the beans and simmer another 10 minutes.  Enjoy the aroma.

This soup is amazing, one of the best recipes I’ve come up with in a very long time.  Garnish it with Honey Cumin Yogurt Sauce. Devine!

I also made this flatbread.  I rolled some onion seeds into the dough. It turned out a little bit like flat biscuits.    I was hoping for something with a little more chew.

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Chalupies….Fake TexMex but Yummy

Years ago, my mom or my aunt, I’m no longer sure which, found this recipe in a newspaper or magazine.  We all loved  it and thought we were eating real Mexican food.  It was Northeast Texas in the 60s.  What did we know?  Not a lot it now seems.  It is a very bastardized version of chalupas which are usually served on a flat, fried corn tortilla.  This uses Fritos.  We have tried tortilla chips of various kinds but they just don’t hold up and become mush in the bottom of the bowl.    Since we always had mulitple family gatherings around each holiday, we eventually got tired of eating turkey and dressing two or three days in a row and began doing this instead.

I’ll make this on Thanksgiving for the two of us this year and think about my mother who left us in September.

Ingredients:

Beans – we always used pintos but that is probably because they were readily available.  I am not about to list an amount here because it needs to be adjusted according to how many people you want to serve.  I will probably use Peruvian beans this year because I have some and they don’t upset my stomach.

Pork – use a piece of meat that will stand up to a long cooking time such as pork butt or shoulder.  I have used a couple of chops or some ribs when I don’t want to make enough to feed an army.

Chili powder to taste

Salt to taste

Fritos

Chopped tomato

Chopped onion (green onions may be used for this)

Shredded lettuce or other salad greens

Avocado (optional)

Shredded Cheddar cheese

Your favorite salsa or picante sauce  (My current favorite is Jardine’s 7 Ranch Chipolte Salsa)

Method:

Soak the beans over night if that is your usual method of cooking.  I use a pressure cooker because of the altitude here so I don’t soak the beans.

Put the beans and the pork in your stock pot  with enough water to cover them and cook them until the beans are done.  At this point, the pork should easily be pulled apart with a couple of forks.  If there was a bone or a lot of fat/gristle in the pork, remove it now.

Add the chili powder and salt.  Then return the mixture to the heat for about 5 minutes.

To serve this we always put the beans and pork in a big, attractive serving bowl. Then we put the other ingredients on the table or buffet in smaller serving dishes.  It is eaten from soup/cereal bowls.  The diners form a line and fill their bowls. The Fritos go into the bowl first followed by the beans and meat.  This is topped with the cheese so that the heat from the beans and meat will melt it a little.  After that people add what they want from the other ingredients.

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Green chili & Hominy Stew with Chicken

One of the pleasures of living in New Mexico was getting acquainted with green chili.  It seemed as though at least half of the items on the menu of every eatery had green chilis in them.  You can order a side of green chili with just about anything.  I learned that if I ordered a side of sour cream with my meals, I could usually eat any green chili they brought me but there were a few exceptions when it was so hot that even the sour cream didn’t cool it down enough for me to enjoy it.  I like spice, but don’t give me anything so hot that it sets my mouth on fire and keeps me from tasting anything.

We’re renting a furnished condo from a woman who is spending the winter in Italy teaching.  Among the things she left in the pantry was a can of hominy.  I’ve always kind of liked it, but I seldom think about buying it.  I decided to try to do something with it and came up with this stew.  Is this chicken posole’?

Ingredients:

1 to 1 and a half pounds chicken, cubed  (I used a breast and 2 legs.  I think dark meat makes better stew so dark or a mix works best.)

1/2 cup onion, coarsely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1  16 ounce can white hominy

1  4 ounce can green chilis

16 ounces of chicken stock

1 cup diced potatoes (I used waxy red ones but russets might make the stew a little thicker.)

1 fresh jalapeño or serrano, diced  (optional)

green chili powder (optional)

oil to cover bottom of stock pot

salt to taste

Chopped cilantro (optional)

Method:

Cover the bottom of the pan with oil and sweat the onions until they turn translucent.

Add the garlic and cook another minute, stirring constantly.

Add cumin.

Add the chicken and let it brown slightly.

Add the stock and the potatoes.

Simmer until the chicken and potatoes are almost done.

Add the hominy, green chilis and the green chili powder. I use the powder because I usually buy mild green chilis and I’m never sure how much flavor they will have.  If you are using a fresh pepper, add it now.

Simmer until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is done.

Garnish with chopped cilantro. If you don’t have cilantro, I’ve found that a sprinkle of freshly ground coriander gives the same flavor.

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Chicken Curry with Dhal

Is there a food category called Indo-Asian?  If so, I guess that’s where this dish should be.

I never thought I liked curry.  Every version I tried had a heavy somewhat cloying taste.  My friend Rob Shaw changed my mind.  Rob’s the head chef at Camp Singkerrnicity where I live when I’m at the Kerrville Folk Festival.  I’ll try just about anything Rob makes so when he made curry, I took a big bite.  Heaven exploded in my mouth!

I don’t even try to compare my curry to Rob’s.  I read Indian cookbooks for months before I tried making it at all.  I was still living in West Texas when I started experimenting so finding ingredients was sometimes challenging.  It wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I came up with the mix I really like.  It was easy to find green peppercorns and other spices in the grocery stores as well as in Indian markets.  In fact, after searching in almost every nursery in town, I happened on to a curry leaf plant in an Indian grocery story on Burnet Road.

You don’t have to make your own spice mix for this dish.  There are plenty of good commercial mixes available.   I like spice, but I like to taste everything else,too and most of the commercial mixes are just to hot for me.

I’ve never written down my recipe for the curry mix because I don’t have the exact measurements of anything in it.  I go really heavy on green peppercorns, cardamom seeds, and coriander.  I use a little less cumin and even less fennugreek and ginger.  I then add a little cinnamon and two or three cloves.   I throw all of that in a spice grinder.  I don’t think I left anything out.  I ‘ve been told that my curry is more of a Thai style than Indian.

Chicken Curry:

Ingredients:

1 TBLS curry mix

2 chicken breasts or 4 thighs or a mixture of both

1/4 cup onion, roughly chopped

1 TLBS fresh ginger, chopped not minced

2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped not minced

6-10 fresh curry leaves (substitute dried ones if you don’t have fresh ones or you can leave them out but your dish won’t have the same rich taste)

1/2 can coconut milk

cooking oil to sweat the onion

water if needed

salt to taste

Method

Put the curry mix in a dry skillet and heat it gently. ( If I haven’t already ground th spices, I do this before I grind them.  Most of the time I mix up more than I can use at one time so I can make curry dishes faster.  I also like to have it around to add to egg salad.)

Once the spices start to smell really strong,  add the cooking oil to the pan and sweat the onions.  Once the onions are translucent,  add the ginger and garlic.  Cook the ginger and garlic for about one minute.

Add the chicken to the pan.  Let it brown slightly being careful not to scorch the spices or over cook the onion or garlic.

Add the coconut milk to the pan and stir to mix. Add a little water if needed but keep in mind that the chicken will release some liquid while it cooks.

Then add the curry leaves if you are using them.

Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the chicken is done.   I sometimes take the lid off the pan for the last 5 minutes or so to let some of the liquid evaporate and make a thicker sauce. Serve over rice or with dhal or both.

Dhal

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils

2 cups liquid (stock,water or combination of both)

1 tsp chopped ginger

1 TLBS coarsely shopped onion

1/4 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

salt to taste

Method:

I use a pressure cooker for all beans, peas, etc. due to the altitude in Boulder.

Put all ingredients except for the salt in the pressure cooker.  Close the lid and let it heat up.  Once the pressure has built up, turn the burner down to medium.  I takes about 9-10 minutes for the lentils to become tender.  Let the pressure off and check for doneness.  You may have to let them boil a few minutes without the lid to reduce the liquid and get the proper consistency.  Add the salt after the lentils are soft.

We like to use an Asian chili paste called Sambal Oelek with this curry.  That way, we can control the heat level.

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Moroccan Chicken with Honey Cumin Yogurt Sauce

We have just moved to Boulder and I’m having a great time exploring the city. I’ve found that the Prana store downtown offers free yoga classes just about all day long every day. It was on my way to a class that I discovered the Savory Spice Shop. I’ve been exploring Moroccan cooking (who hasn’t) lately and have fallen in love with a spice blend called ras el hanout which translates to ‘top of the shop’. The only problem with this is that like curry, everybody has their own blend, making finding the same one twice almost impossible unless you can keep getting it from the same supplier. Lucky for me, the Savory Spice Shop mixes their own blends and their Marrakech Moroccan blend is very close to the blend I used to get at the Spanish Table in Santa Fe. I could hardly wait to use it.

Moroccan Chicken

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts with skin and ribs
1 TLBS ras el hanout (estimate)
3 medium carrots cut into rounds
1 small/medium onion cut into wedges
6 dried apricots (you can cut them into halves or quarters if you like)
Salt to taste
oil to cover bottom of pan
Water or stock to cover veggies

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Rub chicken breasts with ras el hanout on all sides. Use plenty, don’t be shy with it unless you have a particularly pungent blend.
Heat oil and brown the chicken pieces
Add carrots, onion and apricots to pan
Sprinkle salt over entire pan
Add water or stock just to cover the veggies. The chicken will release quite a bit of liquid so you don’t need to over do it.
Cover and bake until the internal temperature of the chicken is 160-165 degrees. The temperature will continue to rise after you take it out of the oven. It usually bakes in about 35 minutes.

Honey Cumin Yogurt Sauce

I didn’t know what to serve with the chicken so I just made this up. It was so yummy.

Ingredients:

1 small container of plain yogurt
1/4-1/3 tsp cumin (How much you use will depend on how much you like cumin and how fresh it is. I grind my own spices unless I’m using a blend like the ras el hanout)
Honey to taste

Mix all ingredients and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. I think it tastes better at room temp than it does cold.

We put the yogurt sauce directly on the chicken which I served over couscous with dried cranberries, onion and saffron. We also had some naan-like flat bread.

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Shrimp Creole

This version of the classic dish is so quick and easy that I have made it on occasions when both of us had worked long days and were to tired to fuss around in the kitchen very much.  The creole is finished by the time the rice cooks.

1 pound shrimp with cleaned and with tails removed

1 can of diced tomatoes

¼ cup diced bell pepper

½ cup diced onion

1 ½ teaspoons file’

Cayenne pepper to taste

Salt and black pepper to taste

Additional water if needed or stock

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

Pour the olive oil into a heavy chef pan and heat it to medium.  Sauté the onions and bell pepper until the onion is transparent.

Add the tomatoes and heat until it starts to simmer, stirring often.  Add the file’ and continue to simmer until the mixture thickens slightly.

Add the salt, pepper and cayenne.  Stir well and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and add the shrimp.  Watch carefully to see that the shrimp does not over cook.   Add additional water or stock if needed.  When all of the shrimps have turned pink, remove the pan from the heat.

Serve immediately over rice.

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Curried Pumpkin Soup

This one is posted by request.

1 container of chicken or veggie broth or 12 to 14 ounces home made

1 can pumpkin purée

1 can coconut milk

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 to 2 teaspoons of your favorite curry mix

(I make my own and that is a different/future post)

6 to 12 curry leaves (optional)*

Olive oil to cover bottom of pot

Salt to taste

Heat the curry powder in the bottom of a heavy stockpot.  I do this after I grind the spices. It helps to release the oils and creates more depth of flavor.  A lot of chefs recommend doing this step before the spices are ground but having tried both ways, I can’t tell any difference in the taste and I’d just as soon not deal with grinding hot spices.

Add enough olive oil to cover the spices then add the onions.  Cook over medium heat minute or two until they are translucent.  Then add the garlic and cook another minute.

Be careful not to let the spices start to burn.

Add the pumpkin purée and mix well before adding the stock.   Stir well to combine.  If it looks, too thick, add a little water. Remember that you will be adding the coconut milk at the end.   Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Open the coconut milk.  You may want to skim off all or part of the cream on top if you are not using lite coconut milk.  Add the coconut milk to the soup and mix well.   Add a little salt.

At this point, you can use the stick blender to smooth the onions or leave them as they are.

I usually serve this with large croutons.    I know people who have added chicken to it and served it over rice for a complete meal.

*  Dried or frozen curry leaves are available at international or Asian markets.  I found a plant at a small Indian market in Austin a few years ago so I use fresh ones.

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