Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

I’m anticipating sharing another recipe soon, but in true delayed blogger fashion, I’m insisting I post this older one before I can move on to other exciting topics.

I’m currently living in a tight budget state, where I am imposing upon myself unachievable standards of limited spending, in attempt to save money to buy a home in the nearish future. I accounted for all of the forms of my significant and menial expenses (and in the process, realized there are many of both), and I assigned semi-arbitrary, somewhat-educated values to each budget. Groceries were the first to whittle down, as I know I’m equally capable of living on $50 a week at Trader Joe’s… or dropping $100 at Whole Foods on two recipes I want to try. As someone who enjoys cooking, insisting on the former can be difficult. But, with coupons and really serious, actually-follow-this planning, it’s been going ok. I’m not totally succeeding, but not all is lost in trying. In any case, foods that are cheap and delicious have been inclusive of the following: anything from a bulk bin, mostly; international foods of international and off-brand origin; vegetables in season; fruits that are truly American and not at all fun; greens by the bucketload; and, for protein, yogurt and eggs. I am trying to bulk up meals with greens, as variety is the cost of life, it seems. I’ve probably out-kaled myself on this blog (not really actually in real life), so in attempt to try new things, I’ve expanded my palate into traditional Southern fare, like collard greens.

I’ve always imagined collard greens to be wiltingly acidic and laden with some sort of pseudo-umami, greasy bacon flavor. The pile of leaves at every barbecue restaurant is at best forlorn and at worst, gray and molted. To say I had low expectations is an understatement. But, as is probably true of all vegetables, it turns out that if you don’t cook collard greens to their bitter death, they’re actually very palatable and quite achievably delicious. They are subtly bitter but enjoyably verdant, not very unlike kale. (And yes, verdant is a descriptor of color, but it seems even words are on a limited budget for me currently). What the collard greens do best, I’d say, is contrast an otherwise mushy plate of carbohydrates, that, although delicious, leaves much texturally to be desired.

Red beans and rice is a classic creole recipe that I frankly had given no time to prior to this point. It seemed, as per everything above, as though it could be distinctly underwhelming. When I’m being cheap for lunch, I’ll often throw together a mix of black beans, rice, and avocado, which tastes definitely no more than the sum of its parts, and serves only as a whispy attempt at indulgent Mexican food during an otherwise lackluster workday. I ascribed the same hope to red beans and rice, and yet somehow, this dish truly transcends.

Maybe it’s that I used dried beans to start, simmering them for hours with spices and vegetables, allowing for flavors to deeply develop. Maybe it’s some magic pairing that those of creole heritage revolutionized to the disinterest of other colonies. Maybe it’s just better when you’re hungry, and you’ve decided you’re not eating meat that week. Regardless of rationale, this recipe (while not entirely following tradition) is vegetarian, easily made vegan, absurdly simple, primarily hands off, and probably a total of $3 all around. I had to freeze half after portioning out 4 servings, so as far as economy goes, this is a good choice.

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Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

Serves 8

Red beans:

  • 1 lb. bag dried red beans
  • 2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. barbecue sauce of choice (I used Trader Joe’s garlic sriracha)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Collard greens:

  • 2 large bunches collard greens, sliced into strips
  • 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice, cooked, as much as you want considering how many you’re serving (6-8 cups)

Starting about 8 hours prior to cooking, rinse the dried beans in a colander, and, supposedly, check for rocks (which seems absurd). Add the beans to a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of water. Leave the beans soaking overnight/ during the day prior to preparing this recipe.

After 8 hours or overnight, drain the beans. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced vegetables and sauté until lightly browning, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the spices, salt, and barbecue sauce and stir. Add the red beans to the pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, mashing up some beans as you’re able. Taste and season.

In a separate fairly large pan, melt the butter for the collard greens. Add the collard greens to the butter and sauté until wilting, about 10-15 minutes, over medium-low heat. Season sparingly as the greens will wilt down to a smaller volume.

Prepare the brown rice according to preference and/ or package directions. Season to taste.

In a bowl, layer the brown rice, collard greens, and red beans. Enjoy, probably all week!

I’m Sorry; I Made You Tostadas

Oh, blog. I’m trying. I promise. It’s not you; it really is me. The thing is, it’s getting awfully close to the time when I have to asterisk “From a Chicago Kitchen” to “From a Chicago* Kitchen… *actually Evanston.” The blog change is the least of my worries in this regard. I am excited to be in a new place, with my own (probably thrifted) things, and I definitely am excited for more grass. But nonetheless, moving, the literal act of moving, is the worst. The worst thing ever. Maybe worse than car accidents and flat tires and speeding tickets in snowstorms. Maybe. Moving has a chance in the battle against February. So, naturally, I’m very busy not packing and planning wedding activities and trying to enjoy the outdoors and (potentially) trying to train for a triathlon. I keep regretfully eating a sad dinner and consequently not blogging about it. I do have a small collection of things I’ve eaten and enjoyed, and they’re all queued up to be mentioned. I’m just doing a pretty shoddy job of mentioning them. So, again, to apologize, I’m sharing this recipe for tostadas.

Taco Bell gets a bad rap for pretty much serving the same thing via different mediums and in different combinations, but here I am telling you about mexican food and pretending these are at all distinct from tacos. But, guys; they are. Tostadas are crunchy and incredibly messy and fresh and hot all at the same time. It’s like if nachos and tacos had this really delicious baby, and then told you it was totally fine if you ate their baby and enjoyed it. (I’m sorry also that I’m tired and probably absurd). As a bonus, it takes approximately 10 minutes to make these, and about 2 minutes to prepare leftovers. The biggest advice I can give to make tostadas maximum delicious is: go fresh. Fresh corn tortillas, fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce. These things matter. These things make your tostadas way better than Taco Bell, and more definitely worth the huge mess it makes to eat them. The kind of down your chin, all over your plate, who cares I’ll use my hands mess that we love. I think I’ve talked this up enough. Just try it.

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Vegetarian Tostadas

Serves 3 (6 tostadas)

6 corn tortillas

1 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 can refried beans, vegetarian (I bought mine from trader joe’s)

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1/4- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese

1/4 cup salsa (freshly made or store-bought)

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup lettuce, shredded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the refried beans, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the yellow onion and bell pepper in the olive oil. Once translucent (about 5 minutes), add salt, pepper, and spices to the vegetables and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the refried beans and lime juice and mix to incorporate. Continue to cook until the beans are heated through, about 2-5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Using about 1 tsp. of olive oil, lightly coat each side of the corn tortillas and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the oven has heated, cook the tortillas until just browning (watch carefully), about 3-5 minutes, then flip. Cook the remaining side until the tortilla is crisp, about another 3-5 minutes.

To prepare the tostada, top the corn tortillas with the refried beans and add shredded cheese, salsa, halved tomatoes, and lettuce. Eat and enjoy immensely.

If I had a margarita for you right now, I bet all would be forgiven. I can only hope these tostadas suffice.

“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

In a world without many Chick-fil-A restaurants, Chipotle is my go-to fast-food of choice. Besides the fact that you can almost achieve a “healthy” order if selective at the toppings bar, you can get your food topped with a mountain of guacamole. I nearly always order the vegetarian salad bowl, simply because it comes standard with a mountain of guacamole instead of requiring a surcharge. I appreciate that Chipotle does seem to research the sources of their meat and dairy, but I tend to order vegetarian at restaurants unless I know it’s from a good source. Recently, however, I noticed Chipotle had upped their vegetarian offerings: sofritas tofu as a flavorful “meat” option. I never had heard of sofritas previously, but I love tofu, and it looked enticingly spicy and delicious. The downside: guacamole was now an extra again. But no matter: I’m a gainfully employed member of society; I can spring for the extra topping. I ordered my usual bowl- lettuce, black beans, fajita vegetables, medium salsa, pico de gallo, little bit of cheese, huge glob of guacamole- but added the sofritas as well. The verdict was: delicious! The sofritas really imitates classic taco meat in texture and flavor, with just a hint of extra spice. I knew within a few bites I’d be recreating it at home.

The first time I made sofritas from a block of tofu, I topped it on a salad with a few toppings and called it a day. It was delicious, but I wanted to really imitate the Chipotle bowl, just to compare. So I set off to make it again… and it only took 3 months! But really, there are a lot of components to a Chipotle bowl, and to the point of not spending tons on groceries, I’ll admit I skipped over a few of my standard bowl toppings, knowing I wouldn’t miss it much. And, at the end of it all, I think the sofritas tofu is really spot on, the toppings a perfect combination, and… this is the kicker… no guacamole required. This was a definite mistake, as I for some reason didn’t buy enough limes, or have cilantro, or have enough garlic, to make my favorite guacamole. After pondering lame versions, I decided sliced avocado would have to do. Not the same, but certainly nothing to be mad about. Avocado in its truest form is pretty darn delicious as well. In total, this is totally something to check out, either at home or at your neighborhood speedy Mexican joint; it really would please vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

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“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

Serves 2-3

Sofritas

  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed for 30 minutes
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • pinch of dried red chili flake

1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly

1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly into half-moons

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

1 cup black beans, tossed with 1/4 tsp. cumin and salt and pepper

1 avocado, sliced

1/2 cup shredded cheddar and/or monterey jack cheese

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2-2 romaine hearts)

Dressing of choice, if desired (I went without; strong considerations- chipotle ranch or spicy lime vinaigrette)

To prepare the sofritas, first press your block of tofu for at least 20-30 minutes. Once pressed, whisk together the juice, oil, garlic, and spices to create a marinade. Break up and crumble the tofu with your fingers into a small mixing bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and toss the tofu until evenly covered. Allow to marinade for 30 minutes to an hour (or until you want to make dinner). When ready to cook, heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil. Add the sofritas to the sauté pan and distribute evenly, allowing to cook without stirring for at least 5 minutes or so; this is to facilitate browning the tofu. Once beginning to brown, stir the sofritas and continue to cook until browned to your liking, about another 5-10 minutes. Taste and season as desired, and set aside to cool slightly.

In another sauté pan, heat 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In the same sauté pan, heat the black beans until warm. Remove from heat and set aside.

To prepare the salad, plate the romaine. If using dressing, toss the romaine lightly with dressing before plating. Next, add the peppers and onions, then a pile of sofritas, then the black beans. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the salad, then add the sliced avocado on top. Then take a fork to it and mess it all up so everything is evenly distributed. Dig in and enjoy!

This makes a pretty big salad- definitely a dinner salad. But it’s intention is to compete heartily with the Chipotle burrito, quesadillas, and tacos! It’s very satisfying, and you won’t miss out on the extra cheese, meat, and tortillas at all. (Of course, if you wanted to be really indulgent, you could add some tortilla crisps to the salad and just go all out).

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How people actually eat salads… a mess of delicious ingredients, available at every bite.

 

 

Buffalo Quinoa Burgers

So this is a new experienxe, blogging on my phone from a coffee shop (my favorite- Ipsento in Bucktown). I forgot my iPad, so it’s especially inconvenient. But I have this Nutella Mocha here, and I’m not thinking it’s so bad. I made these burgers for the first time a few weeks ago, and actually made them as “bites,” which was directed according to the recipe I was following. They were absolutely delicious, served atop a bed of butter lettuce and other salad accoutrements (Is that possibly spelled correctly? Will spell check function appropriately on my phone?). However, these quinoa bites were kind of unproportionately inconvenient to prepare and make, requiring three rounds of pan sautéing and individual dips into buffalo sauce. I thought to myself: hey, this would be way easier as a patty, still served with ranch and crispy greens, but also with a delicious toasted bun!?! And it was so. I tweaked the general recipe some, adjusted the buffalo sauce proportions, and improvised my own “ranch” dressing (quotes because I’m not sure if it’s real ranch without mayonnaise or buttermilk). These burgers turned out phenomenal- perfectly crisped edges, wonderfully buffalo-sauced, and cooled just a touch by the ranch on top. To be honest, while I ate these all week simply with sauce and arugula, my favorite serving style was with a buttered, toasted bun and a runny egg on top. But, in all fairness, that’s always the best way to serve anything.

These are a great spin on a classic weeknight meal, and, I think, tastier than buffalo chicken. The quinoa just absorbs the flavor better. Top as you like, always with a fresh roll (toasted).

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Buffalo Quinoa Burgers

Based off of this recipe

Serves 6

Homemade buffalo sauce

  • 1/3 cup hot sauce of choice (I’ve used Frank’s and Cholula)
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • Dash of red chili flake

Quinoa burgers

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup cannellini (or other white) beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup homemade buffalo sauce

Homemade ranch dressing

  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon, squeezed)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried thyme, oregano, and parsley)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

Soft, fluffy buns

Arugula or other greens to serve

To prepare the ranch dressing, add all ingredients to a blender, mason jar, or bowl. Blend, shake, or whisk accordingly until all ingredients are combined. Place in the refrigerator to cool until ready to use.

To prepare the buffalo sauce, melt butter in a large bowl. Whisk together with extra virgin olive oil. Whisk in the hot sauce and spices. Set aside for later use.

To prepare the buffalo quinoa burgers, first prepare 2 cups of cooked quinoa. To make approximately 2 cups of cooked quinoa, heat 1 cup of water to boiling in a medium pot. Add 1/2 cup of dried quinoa to the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer. Simmer quinoa for 10-15 minutes until opened and soft.

In a large bowl, mix the two cups of quinoa with 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs. In a food processor, blend the cannellini beans to a puree. Add the pureed beans to the bowl with the bread crumbs and quinoa. Add the egg, whisked, and 1/4 cup of the prepared buffalo sauce. Stir thoroughly to combine until the mixture is wet but firms into clumps in your hand (think hamburger patty consistency). Add more bread crumbs or buffalo sauce as needed to get it right.

In order to make the 6 patties, I try to level the quinoa mixture in the bowl with a spoon. Score the mixture with the spoon down the middle, then score 3 lines perpendicular to the first. Grab the scored area to form the patties.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the buffalo quinoa patties and cook for 5 minutes per side, covering the pan (except to flip). Remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Drizzle the remaining prepared buffalo sauce over the patties. The buffalo quinoa patties will easily keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. Alternatively, you could cool the patties then freeze.

To prepare your burger, toast the buns in butter on a sauté pan (or toast then butter). Add your buffalo quinoa patty and top with a good spoonful of ranch dressing and your greens. If you want to throw a fried, over-easy egg on there, I’ll applaud you for your good taste.

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Look at that egg, the yolk begging to drip all over the burger, the plate, and your face. If you like buffalo-style anything, I promise you’ll love these. And better, you can enjoy them all week… or anytime, really.

 

Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Can we call Chicago “Chiberia” again? Anyways, it’s cold. And I really want soup. And I’ve never made beans from scratch before. And I had all these sad vegetables begging for a purpose. All of these thoughts were equating a challenge: hadn’t I seen a beautiful pasta e fagioli soup recipe somewhere once before? Couldn’t I make a huge pot to eat for weeks, allowing myself to satiate my never-ending soup desire? Yes, yes I had. And, more importantly, yes I could! This soup is up for interpretation. Just mentioning to coworkers, friends, other people (who seemed oddly too interested in what I was eating) that I made pasta e fagioli opened up a series of remarks and interpretations. “Oh, doesn’t that soup have tomatoes?” “Isn’t that soup made with meat?” “What is that green stuff in there?” There was a lot of inquisition for a simple bowl of soup. Especially since pasta e fagioli means simply pasta with beans. That’s it. This soup must have pasta, and it must have beans. It doesn’t need tomatoes (I decidedly chose to have a tomato-less broth), and it doesn’t need meat. I added some vegetables, because I can’t imagine soup without them, and I love the heartiness that greens impart. But one thing I did intend was for this to be a Tuscan inspired soup. In glorious memory of Tuscany- a dreamy 2 days in Florence, Italy on vacation too many years ago- I imagined a hearty, simple, and, most importantly, flavorful soup. This soup is not an immediate thirty-minute-meal. It also isn’t as complex as a bolognese, requiring simmering for days. It is in fact relatively simple, although some prep work is required, as well as a bit of patience. But the reward for such virtues! It seems to me the best food is made this way. Give anything time to blend together, and something exponential is created. This soup is quite literally the definition of “greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 8-12

Prepared cannellini beans

  • 1 lb. dried cannellini beans
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind

8 oz. dried pasta (I used miniature shells)

4 cups Tuscan kale, cut into 3 in. strips

Salt & pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

To prepare the cannellini beans, combine dried beans, water, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Allow beans to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

The night of cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the olive oil into a large (LARGE) Dutch oven over medium heat. To the olive oil, add onions and sauté until softened and caramelizing, about 15 minutes (if the onions are browning too quickly, reduce heat to low). To the onions, once caramelized, add diced celery and carrots. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables together until the celery and carrots are just softened, about 5 minutes further. Add the spices and minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, no more than 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of vegetable stock, using a rubber spatula to loosen any browned bits from the pan.

Drain and rinse the dried beans that have been softening (they will still be quite firm). Add the beans to the vegetable and stock mixture and mix. Pour several cups of water into the pot until covering the beans by about 1 inch. Add the Parmesan rind to the mixture. Cover the Dutch oven with its lid and slide it into the oven, which should be heated to 375 degrees F. Set a timer for 1 hour.

After an hour, check the soup to determine the doneness of the beans. You’re looking for a softened texture with just a hint of a bite. I tasted a bean each time I checked until I determined doneness. If the beans are not fully cooked, cover the pot and return to the oven. Check the beans every 15-20 minutes until they are the desired texture. I found an hour and a half to be an appropriate cooking time; it will take more or less time depending on your pot, your oven, your beans, etc.

Once the beans are cooked fully, remove the pot from the oven and return it to the stovetop. Heat the soup over medium heat until simmering, which should happen very quickly. Add pasta to the simmering broth, adding water if the soup seems too thick. Cook the pasta for the recommended time. At about 1 minute until the pasta is considered “done,” add the kale ribbons and stir until wilted. Remove the Parmesan rind from the pot. Taste and season, being careful not to over-salt (the Parmesan will impart a salty flavor).

Serve in a soup bowl with an ample grating of fresh Parmesan. Inhale the comforting fumes, warm your hands on the sides of the bowl, and imagine that just for a second you don’t live in the freezing-cold Midwest. Then, eat your soup and decide you don’t care. Soup solves life’s problems.

Although this soup is somewhat labor intensive, a much easier version could be accomplished with using canned cannellini beans. This would require simply adding about 2-3 cans (rinsed) cannellini beans to the vegetables after deglazing, and adding several cups of vegetable stock until the appropriate bean-to-stock ratio is achieved. A Parmesan rind can be added, although it won’t have as much time to release its flavor. This soup could be simmered for 15-20 minutes until adding the pasta and resuming the original recipe, meaning the start-to-finish time would probably be more like 45 minutes, rather than 2+ (26+) hours. However, it will be missing that slow-simmered quality, which is really what makes this simple soup delicious pasta e fagioli. But, some weeknights call for speed. This recipe can also be halved, quartered, etc. much more simply with canned beans, or, alternatively, using only 1/2 the bag of dried beans at the onset. In total, it’s a very adaptable recipe; although, you’ll be glad to have the leftovers in your freezer come Polar Vortex 3.

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What’s better than warm soup in a large mug?