Monthly Archives: August 2012

Rice/Lentils

Rice. Many people only know it as gooey lumps scooped out at cafeterias, the instant kind, with sauce or pasta or sometimes dry with Chinese food, often getting a bad opinion. Rice is known the world over and there are many varieties. I  can in  no way of claim to be an expert. What I do know is that I love rice.

When an aunt died, my sister inherited everything. My aunt was a woman who never net a gadget she didn’t like or buy at least one of anything. Among the cookery collection was a rice cooker….just one. I never would have bought one myself  but I  took it to try it and then  I fell in love.  Don’t think they are a good idea? I heard that nearly  every household in Japan has one…enough said. At this time, they can be found for about $10.00 and up. Be forewarned, however, you get what you pay for. My current inexpensive one is nowhere near the quality of the one  my aunt  paid for,(she always bought the best; I wore hers out!), but mine is acceptable. Depending on the quality, size and density of your rice ,you may have to experiment .The standard 2-1 ratio of water to rice  probably will  not work in  your  rice cooker.( I did not have the instruction booklet to my aunt’s and using that ratio, I ended up with a pot of paste). Until you know your rice maker and your favorite rice texture, better to underestimate the amount of water, as you can add a very small amount after it is cooked,(all rice cookers automatically set to ‘Warm’), fold the water in gently and let it steam  a short time before serving. Unless you want to add the rice to soups , stews, side dishes , to use in desserts,(rice pudding or custard rice),or  as  a breakfast cereal, as they do in the South,  served with  milk,(cow, almond, rice or soy), and sweetened,( with sugar, honey or syrups), then leave it slightly undercooked.
Always use long-grain rice in a rice cooker, unless you really want to play around testing various sizes and textures.

 Brown rice has additional nutrients, so many that most people who know their nutrition won’t touch white, but some of us have reactions to brown rice, so we get by with white. Brown rice will always be firmer with a nuttier flavor.

I strongly suggest adding salt to your water to cook into the rice.

Stovetop  standard rice cooking amounts are two parts water to one  part rice. Rinse the rice. I have found  that it works best to put the rice in cold water and bring to a boil; simmer until nearly all the water is absorbed, then cover and remove from heat. Brown rice should be added to boiling water, then allowed to soak for 20 minutes before cooking as white rice.

An even better way I found is to bake  rice. Use the same ratio and technique,  place the water and rice  in a covered glass or ceramic cooking vessel with a lid, (a casserole dish or bean pot is good), and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes.  In using this method, you can use vegetable , beef or chicken broth as all or part of your liquid.

Wild rice is not actually a rice,  but resembles and acts much like rice. It is native to the United States. It is very firm and nut-like, and is  also much more expensive. I like to add it to rice in the cooker or oven in the ratio of approximately 1 part wild rice to 4 parts regular rice.

I have not been very adventuresome but am looking forward to experimenting with various types of rice available at international markets, along with some less common grains and beans…none of which are in my town, and may not be readily available to you. I will add observations when I discover new flavors and uses, but I absolutely have no intention of giving impractical advice or recipes.  That would be contrary to every intention of this blog, which is to help people and make life easier, not to stress them out .

 

Lentils are legumes, related to the pea family. Today I share the recipe most enjoyed by people new to legumes or who need a quick vegan or celiac dish. It is always a huge hit and if you find an easier homemade recipe, I’d like to know:

Substitute Green Lentils or Split Peas of any color if you prefer. It is a matter of personal taste.( Split peas can come in  original green but also in types of red and yellow).Experiment. I prefer Brown Lentils  to any other. Always choose any legume by the depth of their color.

Lentil Soup:

1 pound brown lentils

2 teaspoons salt(of your choice)

2 Tablespoons minced onion

2 Tablespoons minced (or very thinly sliced) celery

1-2 Tablespoons

Soak lentils overnight, [in boiling water taken off the heat at high altitudes], and drain. Replace with 2 quarts of fresh cold water and add  the salt, onion, celery and oil, (if using)…OR combine all ingredients at one time with 1 1/2 quarts of water in a slow-cooker. Cook 2-3 hours on stovetop until lentils are tender or 6-8 hours by slow-cooker. You want the lentils to be quite soft and the soup thick.

Some people add thinly sliced or chopped carrots to this soup. I prefer the subtleties of the lentil flavor, but I do when using split peas. You can also add precooked, frozen or canned corn.

Serve with cooked rice, barley, pasta or any grain you prefer; it’s good, fun and the kids love it with a handful of popcorn tossed on top.

More on lentils with vegetables next time.

 As I go on experimenting, I will add what I find in future posts.  I am anxious to get back into my Autumnal /Winter cooking mode. It has been a very hot summer here, as in most of the US.

I hope this finds your part of the world finding relief.

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You Know Beans

 I have been asked to post recipes before I go any farther, which is probably where I should have started in the first place. Bear with me, while I get a feel for where this blog should go; I’m open for suggestions and questions.

I should have explained that this all started as a letter to answer a call from an alumna of my husband’s college begging for ideas for ‘meatless Fridays’, as her kids were tired of tuna sandwiches and mac & cheese. I later had the idea to put out a pamphlet when I saw people struggling with meatless or less-meat entrees. Then I started a book when I found that people were intimidated by the idea of  entertaining. I wanted to help put people’s minds at ease. So here I am pulling pieces out of the middle of what supposed to be my book, and kind of making hash of it all! This blog is not about meatless eating. It is about eating and entertaining.

But here are the first recipes, most suitable for Lenten Fridays, Ash Wednesdays, vegetarian, some vegan, some cutting back on cholesterol, and of just plain good food.

I will give recipes with as many optional shortcuts as I can .

 

There will be plenty of meat recipes and tips in upcoming postings.

 

Let’s start with beans and legumes.

A slow-cooker, (Crock Pot), is a blessing when it comes to cooking dried beans and legumes. I will go so far as to say it is almost essential when living at high altitudes.(I had a neighbor who confided that although we lived about 25 feet above sea level, as a young bride she used the ‘high-altitude’ directions on cake mix boxes  when she lived in a nearby  high-rise apartment).

Without a slow-cooker, overnight soaking is required, and at high altitudes, bringing the beans to a boil, soaking, rinsing and repeating is required,(and even  then I could not get them soft enough when I lived in Denver.) A basic slow-cooker can be found at the time of this posting from ten –fifteen dollars; well worth the investment. Cooking times may need to be adjusted because of varying temperatures of brands and the size of the cooker.

 

There are quite usable pre-cooked , bottled white beans available in local supermarkets. Canned beans are too soft and not as suitable for these soups.

Note about oils: Extra Virgin (first pressing) olive oil has the taste of olive; regular,(later pressings), olive oils have a more neutral taste, which is actually more suitable for most recipes. Olive oils burns easily. Peanut oil  is good with beans and is better for frying than other oils as it does not easily burn and never smokes.(It is the only oil used in submarines for that reason).. These are the three oils used in my kitchen; Extra V olive oil, regular olive oil, and peanut oil. A little oil not only adds body but aids in the softening of  beans. It can be omitted. I know some people are against any and all oils.

The Country-boy in my father liked black-eyed peas and they were a ‘must-have’ on New Year’s Day, as they are considered to bring good luck.(Why it was continued throughout the years, I’ll never know, as we never had a lot of luck).  Mom liked to add a little vegetable oil to them and to any bean she cooked. My father once caught her and told her never to do it again. If my father was anywhere near the kitchen, she didn’t, but if she knew he’d be out, the oil would go in. Every time he would ask her which brand of peas or beans she had fixed. If she had added oil, they were a good brand; if she hadn’t, well, let’s remember not to buy that brand again, even though he was sure that was the ‘good’ brand he’d eaten the last time.  And Mom would snicker either way, every time.

Nothing could be simpler than these quick, tasty soups. If you have a vegetarian or vegan guest or in the family, they will love you for these:

 

Basic White Bean Soup: (slow-cooker, or shortcut below)

One pound of dried white beans( Navy or Great Northern)

One Tablespoon Salt

¼ cup minced onion

1/8th cup minced celery

two Tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon white pepper (optional)

one Tablespoon dried parsley (optional)

 

Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker with 1 1/2-2 quarts of cold water. Cook on ‘high’ setting for 8-10 hours, checking and stirring every couple of after the first six. You want the beans fairly soft.

(to cook beans suitable for other dishes, omit celery and onion; cook only for 6-8 hours.

SHORTCUT: Sauté onion and celery in two Tablespoons oil. Add to a pot with  bottled, precooked beans, salt, pepper and one quart of water. Simmer for at least one hour.

Mediterranean White Bean Soup-Greek style

 One pound white beans

One cup of thinly sliced carrots

¼ cup thinly sliced celery

one cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons crushed/chopped garlic,(or 1 teaspoon of dried)

one 16 ounce can of tomatoes or 2 cups fresh, pealed and chopped

½ cup vegetable oil (preferably regular olive oil

one bay leaf

1 Tablespoon salt; 1 teaspoon pepper

(Mediterranean White Bean Soup-Macedonian style:

Omit celery, add 1teaspoon dried thyme)

Add all ingredients to slow-cooker with 1-1 ½ quarts water; cook for 6-8 hours.

SHORTCUT: Cook vegetables with oil, herbs and spices for one hour in 1 quart of water; add bottled , cooked beans. Cook for at least one half hour.

OPTIONS: Serve with open-faced grilled cheese,(cheese on bread under broiler for a few minutes.) Experiment with cheddars, Swiss, Provolone, Muenster, Edam, Gouda and Mozzarella with Parmesan.

Adding a little extra water and quick-cook barley to the soups will make a vegan one-dish complete protein meal, as will adding pre-cooked rice.

More about Rice and rice cookers next time.