Tag Archives: vegetarian

Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.

Gigantes

Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.


It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…

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Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.
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The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.

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Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.

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I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.

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I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.

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The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.

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The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.

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The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.

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When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.

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While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

The full recipe is here.

I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

Wednesday is Girl’s Night

(Soup by candlelight)

When you get a bit older it gets harder and harder to get together regularly with your friends.

You work really hard during the week, scrape together something for dinner or succumb to the lure of takeout, collapse after a glass of wine, and somehow get all the chores, housekeeping, shopping and laundry done over the weekend in time for Monday, or not! Somewhere in there you fit in hobbies, the children’s events, family time and hopefully there is a smidgen of time left to visit with friends. Or perhaps nap!

My pal A___ and I had the luxury of spending a lot of time together when I was “between engagements” and we found it rather sad that after I found a day job plus an occasional weekend gig that between my now-busy schedule and her insane work/boyfriend/teenager/church schedule we were not seeing too much of each other any more. Well, this was not acceptable so we began trying to set aside one night a week that has become our Girl’s Night In. Somehow, miraculously, it turns out Wednesdays are relatively free for both of us and we generally hang out at the Roost where all we have to contend with is a moderately demanding cat and a seemingly endless supply of wine.

Coincidentally Wednesdays are the day of my bi-monthly produce delivery from Farm Fresh to You. This gives us the perfect excuse to cook a healthy meal using that day’s bounty, which will hopefully offset the weekly wine and bacon consumption, and give me an opportunity to experiment a little with recipes and get some honest feedback.

This week’s produce delivery coincided with my wine club delivery from Casa Rodeña from New Mexico, so I really needed a Sherpa to help me home. Feeling like my arms had been slightly overstretched I slogged home on MUNI and dumped everything on the kitchen table and chatted with A___ on the phone while I began dinner preparations.

Naturally, in my usual post-work daze yesterday while shopping, I forgot several key ingredients necessary to test drive a new soup recipe, so A__ stopped by a store on her third trip across town. Somehow seven miles can feel like a hundred if you transverse it often enough.

The object of our desire was an inventive soup recipe posted by Heidi of 101 Cookbooks blog, and shared with me on Twitter via the fantastic Carina Ost. The soup is a mélange of red lentils and yellow split peas, curry and coconut, tons of herbs and the kicker, yellow raisins plumped in curry broth.

I clattered about with pots and pans, knives and cutting boards and juggled the phone and quickly threw together the soup base. Using legumes and lentils take a bit of time together to simmer gently so I used that time to tidy the kitchen and stow the weekly abundance of veggies. We are still getting summer vegetables and fruits, this transitional time of year is my favorite as we have the best of both worlds.

Despite a rash of days with hot weather, on this night the fog crept in on massive elephant feet, the Roost was cozy with the radiator steaming away in the corner and the kitchen redolent with the scent of toasted cumin and a whiff of coconut.

Eventually A___ arrived bearing bags of cilantro, fresh ginger, Semifreddi’s sourdough and more wine, and in moments our soup supper was almost done.

We had some moody Indy rock on the iPod and sipped the last of a bottle of really excellent wine from Napa, an ’04 Cabernet Sauvignon from Atlas Peak, before opening a bottle of a Sangiovese meritage from New Mexico. Wednesday is Wine Wednesday and it was nice to toast each other with something exceptional, although our usual plonk from Folie á Deux is quite satisfying too.

I heaped bowls with spoonfuls of chewy warm farro and ladled over the creamy rich pale golden soup and then piled handfuls of chopped cilantro and green onion shards over the top.

Pogo lolled on the floor under the Japanese slat bench, peering up hopefully with an occasional white paw appearing between the slats, while we slurped our soup and used slabs of sourdough spread thickly with Irish butter to sop up the streaks of soup left behind.

After dinner, I pulled out a pretty plate with rose filled chocolates and a few liquor chocolates left over from my last Giants game (Go Giants!!), we finished the last of the wine and had our fill of discussing men, work and everything under the sun. We desultorily played with my works-in-progress on the yarn front. The hour grew late and our feet started getting hot, the indicator that bedtime was rapidly approaching.

Another lovely Girl’s Night In was complete, and after hugs goodnight I put the soup away and tumbled onto the bed fully dressed and was out like a light within seconds.

There is no better night than time spent with your best pal, good wine and a great bowl of soup.

Heidi’s Neighbor’s Coconut Red Lentil Soup (with HAL modifications)

1 c yellow split peas
1 c red split lentils (I found both at Whole Foods in the bulk section)
6 c H2O
A small bunch of carrots, diced
A 2″ piece of ginger, peeled & chopped
1 tsp powdered ginger
2 T curry powder, toasted*
2 T butter
A bunch of green onions, sliced
1/3 c golden raisins
1 14 oz jar of whole plum tomatoes, torn into shreds with your hands
2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
Salt to taste
Black pepper
one bunch of cilantro, chopped

cooked farro

Put the dried beans and peas in a mesh colander and rinse well, then dump in a large pot. Add the water, the carrots, tomatoes and the powdered ginger and simmer for 30 minutes.

Toast the curry* in a small skillet for a few minutes then pour off to a plate to let cool. In the coolish pan add the butter and sauté most of the green onions (keeping several handfuls of the green tops for the garnish) and the fresh ginger until everything is soft. Add this to the soup pot after the 30 minutes, along with the curry, the raisins and the coconut milk. Add some salt and simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste for salt again and add the pepper.

Serve over farro and add the cilantro and green onion tops.

Eat slowly with a good friend.

A confession, I used powdered ginger at first because I was out of fresh, until my friend came over with her rescue bag of groceries. I think it is good addition though, it added a warmth and depth that I really enjoyed. I also prefer thinner soups and added more coconut milk that the original recipe called for. However, as the soup stands, or after being chilled down in the fridge, it will thicken up to a stew consistency because of the legumes.

Original recipe is here

A big thank you to Carina and Heidi!

Sustenance

I have been thinking about the word “sustenance”.

In my early training in survival techniques, sustenance means Shelter, Heat, Food, Water, then orientation to find help. When one is poor, the meaning of sustenance is one of basic needs: a place to sleep, food to eat, a place to bathe. When one is wealthy sustenance might mean something on the opposite end of the spectrum: beauty, art, music, all of the things to sustain the soul since the bodily needs are not an issue.

Ideally one doesn’t need to concern one’s self with basic sustenance, but when this is the case one tends to turn to what is on hand for sustenance.  I don’t know about you but to me it can feel quite difficult to be creative  and feel fulfilled while eating down the pantry.  When times are financially flush I tend to overshop and fill my pantry with random things that I like or think I will need “later”.  Then, when times are lean or when I splurged a little too much before the next check comes in, the pantry is not only a source of sustenance but a source of solace as well.

To me though, sustenance concerns a more esoteric definition.  My friends and family offer my sustenance.  Their kind words, thoughtful acts and consideration fill my “life pantry” with the most filling and nutritious things for my soul and heart.  My dearest friends and family have been sending me cards and emails just at the moment when I feel bereft, and this buoys me up like a cork out of a champagne bottle.  When my pantry door was swinging widely showing empty shelves, my phone chirped with an incoming call to say that a friend was “just around the corner” and had leftover homemade pad thai and sticky mango coconut rice for me, just in case I was feeling peckish. Or a call early in the morning saying that she had just made steel cut oatmeal with cream and Demerara sugar on top, would I like some? Or a dear friend who offers a safe haven and refuge, over and over, including dinner and lots of wine and bourbon. Years ago, I would come home from a harrowing day of work and find a packet of Twinkies in my mailbox, an offering from a friend’s son who seemed psychically to know when I needed a dose of sugar and fat and whatever else is in a Twinkie that makes one feel somehow better. To me, this is the definition of sustenance, just knowing that people are out there who really care and seem to know when you feel a little down.  It’s awfully lovely to be on the giving end of this kind of sustenance too, sending a note for no reason in particular, making an extra loaf of bread and hanging it on the door of a friend’s home or bringing along extra cookies for an impromptu visit.

Recently, I have been feeling more in need of sustenance than usual.  It is really disheartening to be looking for a job along with the masses of other talented and slightly (mostly) desperate people. The constant rejection and straining of ones ears hoping the phone will ring wears on the cheeriest of dispositions.  Materially, being a person with a culinary bent it is especially hard not to be able to run down to the good butcher and buy a fat chicken to roast whenever I feel like it, and to contemplate the dwindling supplies in the crisper bin knowing it’s another week plus before I can shop again.

It was my distinct pleasure the other day to be perusing the pantry, which I had fortuitously refilled with some nice things, and to discover a flat of potato gnocci, a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes and a can of artichoke hearts packed in water.  I had a good two inches left on a hunk of Pecorino cheese and half of an onion in the fridge, and a gift bottle of Viogner chilled down as well.

I set to work.  Ringing up my best friend on the phone for an extended chat while I cooked, I chopped the onion and sauteed it a little with a pinch of dried chile flakes.  Naturally, the wine was opened and a glass poured for general purposes, not the least for sipping while I cooked, and a little found its way into the saute pan.  The tomatoes were opened and I broke them into little pieces with my fingers.  There is a great satisfaction in life to smell onions and wine cooking away while squeezing and tearing spurting scarlet tomatoes into shreds with ones fingers, I highly recommend you try this and soon. The artichokes were next, I drained them into a colander and gave them a good rinse of cool water and shook them dry.  Then, into the onions they went along with the juice from the tomatoes, a bay leaf and a good grind of pepper from my Turkish coffee grinder.  The impromptu sauce simmered slowly on the back burner while I preheated my little convection oven.   I put a dab of butter and a slosh of olive oil in a small pottery casserole pan and added the gnocci, and grated a goodly amount of Pecorino cheese on top and tossed them in the oven while I relaxed with the remaining glass of wine and laughed and chatted away while tickling the cat’s fat belly with my toes while he lolled at my feet.

When the oven’s timer dinged, I dislodged the cat from around my ankles, refilled the wineglass, pulled the golden and cheesy melted gnocci out of the oven and poured the fragrant and chunky artichoke sauce over the top.  A little more cheese was grated on top and my supper was ready.  It felt healthy and tasted delicious and not at all like “rations”.  My fun chat with my friend continued while I dined, making “nummy” noises over the phone, and even though she lives far away I felt as if we had just cooked and eaten dinner together.  Sustenance achieved on all fronts.

Quick Artichoke Marinara with Gnocci

1 packet of potato gnocci
1 T butter
2 T olive oil, divided
1/2 c grated Pecorino cheese, divided
1/2 onion, diced
29 oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes
14.5 oz can artichoke hearts in water, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp dried chile flakes
1/2 c dry white wine
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, saute onions in 1 T olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until softened, ~ 10 minutes.  Add the wine and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juice, breaking tomatoes apart with your fingers or scissors, and the artichoke hearts and chile flakes.  Add more salt to taste and a few grinds of pepper.  Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, butter a small casserole dish and add the gnocci, drizzle 1 T olive oil on top and sprinkle with 1/4 c of cheese.  Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the gnocci are golden brown but not dry and the cheese is melted.

Remove from oven, top with sauce and the remaining cheese and dish out into pasta plates for serving.

Serves 2.

(Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of this, my hands were full from cooking and from holding the phone!)