Lamb and White Bean Chili

Lamb and white bean chili

Frances and Matthew arrived Sunday for the  Thanksgiving holiday. The weather was chilly and damp and I wanted to serve some comfort food that wouldn’t take me forever to make and also would not suffer if their flight were delayed. I came across this recipe on the New York Times website and it sounded perfect. Initially I was going to use a good canned cannellini bean, but I remembered I had some wonderful Rancho Gordo Heirloom dried beans that I could use instead. They were the giant Royal Corona Beans, an enormous, thick-skinned runner bean that cooks up to a creamy center. I had to soak them overnight and then cook them in my slow cooker for several hours, but frankly, it was worth it. However, if you are in a hurry, this recipe would still give you a good result using a quality canned bean. It might not be the prettiest dish you will ever come across, but it is the ultimate in comfort food.

Lamb and White Bean Chili by Melissa Clark and slightly modified by me

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons EVOO

2 pounds ground lamb

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

3 large Poblano peppers, seeded and diced

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped

1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped, including the stems

8 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped (If you want this to have more heat, do not remove the seeds.)

4 Tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 Tablespoons double-strength tomato paste

1 pound of dried beans, soaked and cooked or 4 cans of cannellini beans (If you are using homemade cooked beans, reserve the liquid to use in the recipe. If you are using canned beans, rinse the beans.)

For Serving

Plain whole milk yogurt, preferably sheep’s milk

Chopped cilantro

Sev (An Indian snack made from chickpea flour. It is a very, very fine cooked noodle-like food that adds protein and also can be used as a thickener. It can be found in Indian markets or online.) Optional

Directions

  1. If you are cooking your own beans, then soak them overnight and cook them until tender.
  2. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the EVOO in a Dutch Oven or large soup pot. Add the lamb and brown it, breaking up the pieces with a fork. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Transfer the cooked meat, using a slotted spoon, to a colander. Wipe out the pan.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 Tablespoon of EVOO and add the onions and Poblano peppers. Cook until the vegetables have softened – about 5-7 minutes. Add 4 Tablespoons of the chopped cilantro stems and stir. Add the chopped garlic and jalapeno peppers and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the chili powder, cumin and coriander an cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until everything is very fragrant.
  4. Return the lamb to the pot. Add 5 cups of water (or reserved bean liquid, if you cooked the beans yourself) and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add more water if the chili becomes too thick. You want this to have an almost soup-like consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. (I did not need to make any adjustments.) Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt. Garnish with the chopped cilantro leaves and the Sev, if using. I served this with a crusty bread, my Sunshine Kale Salad and a rich Zinfandel.

Moroccan Style Sweet Potato Stew

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I came up with this recipe about 20+ years ago when my son went through a period of not eating any meat. I was looking for something that screamed “autumn” to me so I could serve it for the holiday of Sukkot, which we recently celebrated. If you do a lot of North African/Mediterranean and Indian cooking, as I do, then you will always have these seasonings on hand. The main ingredients can be varied to taste, substituting cauliflower for the eggplant for example. Just keep in mind textures, colors and cooking times for the different vegetables that you may use. And, of course, this can be doubled or tripled if desired. Left-overs are delicious but keep in mind that after a time some of the vegetables will get mushy with aggressive reheating. I usually serve this over cooked millet, couscous or rice but you can use any grain or bread that you prefer. My husband is not a big fan of very hot/spicy foods and neither was my son when he was little; however, if you do wish to add some heat to this otherwise well-seasoned dish, you have a few options. You can serve harissa on the side for diners to add their own level of heat individually or if you know that your crowd likes it hot, you can add some hot peppers along with the sweet bell pepper and/or add some cayenne pepper to the spice mix. There are no strict rules here.

Lisa’s Moroccan Style Sweet Potato Stew

Yield: 4-6 servings     IMG_3683

Ingredients

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 Tablespoons EVOO or Canola oil

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large dice

1 large red bell pepper, cut into large dice

1 long Japanese eggplant, cut into large dice

15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained (save the liquid for aquafaba!)

1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, cut into large dice (no need to peel it)

14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with liquid

1/2 cup of raisins

15 ounce can of pumpkin puree

About 1.25 cups of vegetable broth

About 3 Tablespoons apple juice or cider

1 teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each of curry powder, ground cumin, salt and either freshly cracked black pepper or Aleppo pepper (my preference)

1/4 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and ground sumac

2 teaspoons of tamarind paste

Optional Garnishes

Chopped cilantro

Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, cashews, pine nuts or almonds

Greek Yogurt

Harissa (red or green)

Directions

  1. In a 4 quart heavy saucepan or Dutch Oven, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until softened. Stir in the spices and add enough of the apple juice to keep the spices from sticking and burning. Stir for about 3 minutes or until the spices become fragrant.
  2. Add all of the vegetables except for the eggplant. Add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, apple, pumpkin puree, broth and raisins and stir through. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. After 20 minutes, add the eggplant, re-cover the pan and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender and cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over a cooked grain of your choice and with one or more of the optional garnishes.

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Creole Black Bean Soup

Creole Black Bean1

Autumn is truly a transitional season in Chicago. One day it is summer temperatures and humid and the next may be crisp and bright or chilly and damp. I enjoy soup at any time of the year, but this season requires a little more thought when deciding just what soup to make. I clearly don’t want a cold soup if the next time I go to serve left-overs it is now in the 50’s and raining and I don’t want a super hearty soup if the temperatures are climbing into the upper 70’s. This black bean soup seems the perfect compromise. It is rich and satisfying yet not overly heavy. I found the recipe in an older cookbook of mine and with a few adjustments, it was a delicious make-ahead Sunday meal accompanied by a salad and crisp bread. After a long walk along our beautiful lakefront, it was good to come home to this simple and homey meal.

Creole Black Bean Soup from The Peasant Kitchen by Perla Meyers

Yield: 6-8 servings  Creole Black Bean2

Ingredients

1 pound of dried black beans (2 cups)

1 pound of thick-cut or slab bacon (you can use any kind – turkey, duck, lamb, beef or pork; it is the smoked flavor that you want) cut into 2-inch pieces

About 1 pound of smoked meat (I like smoked turkey legs but ham hocks or any other good smoked meat will work)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 large onions, peeled and chopped in small dice

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 large leeks, well-washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (include some of the lighter green)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup dark rum OR 1 cup of Madeira (I used the rum) (This is NOT optional!)

2-3 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

  1. Soak the beans overnight. Drain them the next day.
  2. In a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven large enough to hold everything, add your bacon and brown the pieces until almost crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon to a strainer or plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Wipe out the pot leaving just a shimmer of fat. Add the EVOO and heat on medium high heat. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and cook the mixture until it has softened and just begun to brown. Add the herbs, beans and smoked meats. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil, skimming any of the scum that may rise to the top. Once you have removed most of the scum (a little bit left won’t matter), reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot tightly. Simmer at a very low heat for 4 hours.
  4. At the end of the four hours and after the soup has cooled enough to easily handle it, remove the turkey leg or other smoked meat and pick out the meat, discarding the skin, bones and any other detritus. Using an immersion blender, coarsely blend the soup in the pot. You don’t want a perfectly smooth end product; you just want to puree some of the soup, leaving chunky bits of bacon, vegetables and beans. Add the meat back to the mixture and taste. Add your salt, pepper, rum and lemon juice.
  5. To serve, gently reheat the soup. DO NOT allow it to come to a full boil! It can be served with cooked rice, but I preferred a fresh, warm country-style bread with a good crust.  IMG_3667

 

Another Brisket

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Brisket is my go-to dish when I am feeding a crowd, especially for the holidays. I usually buy a whole brisket weighing in at between 8 and 9 pounds since left-overs are always welcome. The beauty is that it can (and actually should) be made ahead, freezes and reheats wonderfully. It makes great sandwiches and I even grind up the bits and pieces to stuff into dumplings or mix with eggs. I’ve even used the meat mixed in with ground meat for burgers or meatloaf and half placed some meat on top of pizza. My favorite recipe uses onion soup mix, Bennett’s Chili Sauce and Coca Cola. I know that sounds awful but it is actually incredibly delicious. You do have to buy the real Coca Cola – preferably made with sugar instead of corn syrup – none of this diet stuff. It is the sugar that caramelizes the meat as it cooks and no one would ever guess the ingredient. But as much of a crowd-pleaser as that version is, I get bored making it. I can do it in my sleep. So this past weekend I bought a first-cut piece of brisket weighing a little over 4 pounds and decided to experiment since it is only my husband and me at home right now. Here’s what I came up with. It might not replace my holiday brisket, but sometimes it’s nice for a change.

Another Brisket

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

4-5 pound first-cut brisket

1 Tablespoon unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa

1 packet Onion Soup mix (8 Tablespoons)

15 ounce can, dark, sweet pitted cherries in syrup

6 ounces dark porter (I used a chocolate porter. Drink the remainder – you probably deserve it! A nice stout should work as well.)

1/2 cup strong, black coffee

1 Tablespoon tamarind paste

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1/2 Tablespoon chili powder

2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a baking dish that is large enough to hold the brisket laid out flat with room for the other ingredients, place the brisket fat-side up. Add all of the other ingredients and smush them over and under the brisket. Cover the pan with parchment and a tight-fitting lid or foil.
  3. Place on a baking sheet in the oven and bake for 3.25 hours. No peaking.
  4. At the end of the baking time, allow the brisket to cool enough until it is easy to handle. Remove the brisket (I use my hands!) allowing the liquid to drip into the pan and place on a large cutting board. Pour the liquid into a large saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and boil the sauce until it is reduced by about half. It should nicely coat a spoon at this point. Remove the sauce from the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, using a long, sharp knife, slice the brisket against the grain into slices that are about 3/8 inch thick. At this point, either place the slices in containers to use later or in a baking dish if you plan on serving it that day. Cover the meat with sauce. You will have plenty!
  6. When you are ready to eat the brisket, it can be re-warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 30 minutes or can even be microwaved. Serve it with a favorite starch – polenta, noodles or potatoes for example – and a salad or veg.

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

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I really love meals that I can prep a day ahead – especially when everything is cooked on one pan that I cover with foil, making clean-up a breeze. Sheet pan meals are all the rage now and I have been trying a few of them out, including a Honey-Sesame Tofu with Green Beans that I now have my husband making. I came across this chicken recipe in the Parade Magazine that accompanies my Sunday newspaper. Its provenance is from a new cookbook by New York Times Columnist Melissa Clark called Dinner: Changing the Game. I made a couple of small changes but the biggest change came because my husband ended up having to work late last night so everything was prepped yesterday and marinated in the fridge for a day. I can only believe that it improved the wonderful flavors and made tonight’s dinner a snap.

Harissa is a North African-style chili paste that is now available in many supermarkets and online. There is both red harissa and green harissa. Either would work here, but I used the red. How much you use will be a matter of personal taste as well as the heat of the particular brand of harissa that you are using. I like a lot of flavor, but I don’t like my food so hot that all I am tasting is heat and nothing else. The 2 Tablespoons of harissa that I used produced an intensely flavorful dish with just a little heat. You could easily increase the amounts to make this for a crowd. You must use fresh herbs here and a good Greek yogurt. This recipe is definitely a keeper and one that will appear on our rotation many times. I only added a simple salad to complete the meal.  IMG_3047

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt IMG_3044

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4-6 chicken thighs (depending on size – about 2 pounds) on the bone and with the skin

1.5 pounds of fingerling potatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (You can use cracked black but I really encourage you to buy the flavorful, citrusy Aleppo pepper)

3 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons harissa or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (Grind your own if you can!)

2 leeks (white and light green parts only) washed, trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced

Grated zest of one lemon

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1.5 Tablespoons EVOO

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 garlic clove

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac (optional but really good)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup chopped fresh herbs, divided in 2 (I used a combination of dill, mint and parsley)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

  1. Place the first seven (7) ingredients in a one gallon freezer bag along. Seal the bag well and gently smush everything around to distribute the seasonings. If you are anxious (I was) place the bag inside of a second freezer bag and put it in the fridge for at least 4 hours and as much as one day.
  2.  Place the next 4 ingredients in a one quart freezer bag and seal it well. Gently smush the leeks around to distribute the zest, salt and EVOO. Refrigerate along side the chicken.
  3. When you are ready to cook, cover a sheet pan with 2-inch sides with heavy duty aluminum foil. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  4. Place the chicken and potatoes on the pan in a single layer along with any liquid. Roast for about 20 minutes. Then scatter the leeks over the chicken and potatoes and roast for an additional 20 minutes or until everything is golden and slightly crispy.
  5. In a small bowl combine the yogurt and all ingredients (Only half of the fresh herbs) keeping the final 1/2 lemon and the other half of the herbs for garnish. Stir with a small whisk or fork.

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

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It probably wasn’t my brightest idea to make this dish when I had no one available to help me and I’m still recovering from hand surgery. However, the fact that I could proves that it is not too difficult. This recipe is based on one from the Extra Virgin Cookbook by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Mazar. It is actually pretty flexible and could even be made as a vegetarian entree if you preferred. The presentation has that wow factor that turns relatively mundane ingredients into a dish that you could be proud to serve to company. Just add crusty bread, a green salad and a good bottle of red wine. Please consider the ingredients as a jumping off point for your own creativity. And one real advantage of this dish is that you can prepare the elements separately as befits your schedule and then assemble them when you are ready.

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

Softened butter for greasing the pan

2-3 eggplants (about 3 pounds total weight)

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dried seasoned breadcrumbs (I used crumbs that had Italian seasonings, but you could use plain and add your own oregano and basil)

4 Tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano, Asiago or Parmigiano cheese plus more for topping

1 pound fresh, uncooked Italian sausage (sweet or “hot”), removed from its casing

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup full-bodied red wine (use whatever you will be drinking for dinner)

About 4 cups of Red Sauce (Either a good quality bought sauce or make the Butter Roasted Tomato Sauce). You do not want the pasta to be drowning in sauce or it will never hold together.

1 pound ziti or penne, cooked al dente according to package instructions

1 pound of fontina or fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded, plus more for the topping

EVOO or Grapeseed Oil

Aquafaba (optional – see note below under frying eggplant)

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt since the cheese is very salty.)

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Direction

  1. Generously grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with the softened butter. In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup of the dried breadcrumbs with 2 Tablespoons of the grated Pecorino Romano. Scatter the mixture evenly over the sides and bottom of the pan, discarding any crumbs that do not adhere to the butter. I only ended up using about half of this mixture but used the rest after I added the eggplant.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the sausage, breaking it up so that you end up with crumbled meat rather than big chunks. There should be enough fat in the meat that it doesn’t require any additional oil, but if you are concerned about it sticking or burning, add a little EVOO. When it begins to brown but is not completely cooked through, add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the garlic is fragrant. (If you seem to have a lot of excess fat in the pan, carefully drain most of it off before the next step.) Now add the red wine and cook until the wine has become almost syrupy. Add the red sauce, simmering for about 5 minutes, while mixing everything through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Mix the sauce and the shredded cheese through the cooked pasta and then set the mixture aside. This part even be made a day ahead.
  4. Trim the ends off of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks. Generously salt the eggplant pieces and allow them to sit for 30 minutes. This will remove any bitterness that you might get from the seeds of bigger eggplants. After 30 minutes, rinse the pieces very well under cold water and dry each piece with paper towels.
  5. In a large skillet, heat 3-4 Tablespoons of EVOO or Grapeseed Oil. (NOTE: I found that if I brushed each piece of eggplant with a bit of aquafaba that I had lightly whisked with a fork until frothy, that the eggplant used much less oil.) Place the eggplant slices into the hot oil and cook until browned, turning once so both sides are done. Transfer the cooked slices to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. You can lightly salt and pepper the eggplant slices to taste if you wish.
  6. When you are ready to assemble the eggplant “cake” take one slice of eggplant and place the wider end in the middle of the prepared pan. Carefully bring the piece of eggplant up the side of the pan so that the narrowest part of the eggplant overhangs the top of the pan. Continue doing this with all of the eggplant pieces, slightly overlapping where necessary so you have total coverage. You might need to place a smaller piece over the bottom of the pan to cover any gaps and excess pieces will be used on the top once you have added the filling. Sprinkle any excess bread crumb mixture over the eggplants on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Carefully pour the pasta into the pan, mounding it slightly. If you have any excess, it can be baked separately for another dinner or frozen for a later use.
  8. Gently fold the overhanging strips of eggplant over the top of the pasta. Use and extra eggplant slices to fill in any gaps. You want total coverage. IMG_2970
  9. Cover the top with plastic wrap and place a large plate on top with a weight. I used 2 bricks that I keep for this purpose but you could use canned vegetables. The plate should be sitting on the pasta. Keep this weighted for at least 4 hours but I did it overnight in the fridge. (Okay, to be honest, it was cold enough outside that I actually placed it on my terrace. We are high enough up that I don’t have to worry about any critters.)
  10. When you are ready to bake the “cake” preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the weights and the plastic wrap. Sprinkle the top with any additional grated Pecorino Romano, shredded fontina and 2 Tablespoons of seasoned breadcrumbs. Drizzle lightly with EVOO. Cover the “cake” loosely with foil and place on a baking sheet. You might want to cover the baking sheet with foil since there likely will be some oil seepage. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes Carefully open the latch on the pan and remove the outer ring of the spring-form. Slice wedges as you would a cake and serve. But first allow your guests to ooh and ahhh! IMG_2983

Beef Stew

img_2350My sister has been after me to make my beef stew and since the weather has turned autumnal, I’m happy to comply. I’ve made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and frankly, I like this better and it is much less fuss. There is also a lot of built-in flexibility with my version. I happen to like really big chunks of meat and LOTS of vegetables. Sometimes I actually run out of room in my cocotte and I have to leave out the mushrooms. It still is wonderful. I always use wine in my stew but you could use only beef stock and it would still be delicious. The one thing I am adamant about, however, is that the meat you use should be a well-marbled chuck roast. This is cooked “low and slow” and something that is leaner will end up like shoe leather. I buy my chuck roast whole and trim and cut it myself. It really only takes about 15 minutes to cut up yourself and is well-worth the time. Other than peeling the potatoes, there isn’t that much active time with this dish, so take the time and cut the meat yourself. This way you can have lovely large, meaty, moist chunks of beef and who wouldn’t want that?! I have made this in a slow cooker but prefer the results when I make it in the oven. This dish can – and should – be made ahead. The flavors only improve with age and reheating. Purely for aesthetics, I would, therefore, only add my peas just before serving when I am heating the stew through or I add them straight from the freezer into the hot stew after I have turned off the heat when I know that I will be only reheating this once. You can of course, make this and eat it in the same day. It just is even better when made a day in advance.

Lisa’s Beef Stew

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4.25 pounds of untrimmed chuck roast (This will yield about 3.75 pounds trimmed)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste (don’t be too stingy)

2 cups beef stock

2 cups red wine (Use what you will be drinking – a cabernet or malbec or zinfandel)

28 ounces canned tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

5 Tablespoons Minute Tapioca

1 Tablespoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons sugar (brown or white)

1 pound baby carrots

1.5 pounds small red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled but left whole

10 ounces pearl onions (Use frozen – it is NOT worth the effort to peel fresh ones. Trust me, I’ve done it!)

10 ounces frozen peas (If you prefer, you could use green beans, cut into thirds, but I always use peas…)

8 ounces of brown mushrooms like a Cremini or Baby Bellas, halved or quartered (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Trim the roast and cut into large chunks (2 x 2 inches)img_2344img_2345
  3. Toss the meat with salt and pepper
  4. Brown on all sides in a heavy Dutch Oven or Cocotte in the heated EVOO. I did this in two batches. When your last batch has browned, add back all of the meat along with the bay leaves and canned tomatoes.
  5. Sprinkle the Tapioca, sugar and thyme over the meat and mix through. Add the wine and beef stock. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Cook for 1.5 hours.
  6. After 1.5 hours, add in the carrots, onions and potatoes and gently stir through. Re-cover the pot and place it back in the oven for another hour. If you are using the mushrooms, add them now and cook for another 30 minutes. Otherwise just cook the stew for the additional 30 minutes for a total of 3 hours. Turn off the heat and add in the frozen peas, gently mixing through. Allow the stew to cool, covered. I don’t bother refrigerating it if I am using it the next day but feel free. When you are ready to eat the stew, place it in a 300 degree oven for about 30 – 45 minutes until heated through. Adjust your seasonings if necessary.

Note: Because you are using the Minute Tapioca, there is no need to thicken the sauce or to add a roux. I told you this was easy! Serve this with a crusty bread and a green salad.