Sunday, April 18, 2010

Golden Beets and Their Glorious Greens

Finding a fresh bunch of organic, gold beets for two dollars at the market was my find of the weekend. The bulbs were caked with remnants of the rich soil they grew in and the crisp big green leafy tops needed three changes of water to come clean.

I'm overjoyed when I find 'dirty' produce, particularly if the soil is fresh and moist and better yet if it bears evidence that it still supports life. An occasional live lady bug is a surefire indication that this is freshly picked, not something that has been stored for months in a warehouse.

I'd rather wash my food with a familiar water source—my kitchen faucet, finishing the cleaning with a final rinse in filtered water. I've read too many tales of produce becoming contaminated from the bacteria infested water it's often washed in commercially.

The greens cook up quickly. Simply wilt them down over medium hot heat. I started these off with a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and a sliced sweet onion. The water that lingers on the leaves from the final rinse should be enough moisture to quickly wilt them. If not, a splash of stock, white wine or water will do the trick. Or, if you prefer, a splash of apple cider vinegar leaves a nice finish.

I washed the bulbs, wrapped them in a foil packet and popped them in a 350° oven for about 35 - 40 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting the tip of a paring knife. Once cooled, the skins wipe off with a paper towel and they're ready to be used in salads, sandwiches or as a side dish.

One of those golden beauties diced, and tossed into a cup of cooked quinoa along with a couple of sliced green onions, and a generous handful of toasted pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds, made a great one bowl meal.
For an Asian twist, I whisked together a little sauce: 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, 2 TBS tamari, 2 tsp mirin, 1 tsp fish sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.
Give it all a quick toss and you've a great quick lunch or supper.

The two dollars worth of beets (3 medium beets with a hefty head of greens) were divided into two meals. The greens were a side dish for supper one night, and the next night, this tasty bowl of quinoa showed off the diced beets like little jewels. But served together they'd certainly make a colorful, nutritional feast!
I've still two more golden globes in the fridge. One is headed for a beet, tomato, avocado and sprouts wrap for lunch tomorrow.
What will I do with the third one? I'll just have to wait and see what inspires me.
Cooking for one is an adventure and making the most of a frugal find makes it even more fun!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Green Beans - the Budget Lunch
Don't you just love the ads for the .99 meals at those drive-thru places? Well, today I had a .99 meal.

Green beans were .99/lb this week at the supermarket. Mixed with some sautéed pearl onions, this plateful of savory greens was a winner. Granted, I added half a pita bread to round out the meal, but it was homemade, not only superior in flavor to store bought, but only pennies out of pocket, too.

I know that not everyone is into mono meals, or can 'fill up' on a plate of green beans. But if you eat the whole pound, it will hold you for hours. Lots of fiber, great vitamins (a lot cooked away) but it still beats anything from a drive-thru any day.
Wash and tip the green beans. Quickly blanch them in a large pot of salted water. Drain and chill down with ice and water to stop the cooking and keep them bright green. This can be done ahead (store the beans in a plastic bag in the fridge until ready to use).
Sauté a generous handful of frozen pearl onions in a tablespoon of coconut oil. Let them brown a bit, 5 - 6 minutes. Then toss in the green beans, season to taste with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of cayenne. Heat through and enjoy.
This makes a great side dish, of course, but a plate full with sliced tomato or a tossed salad is a filling lunch. Take advantage of the vegetables that are on sale each week. It's easy on the budget and offers great versatility on the plate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Economy of Fresh Foods
Yesterday, I popped into my local produce market to pick up some Florida grown beefsteak tomatoes and these ruby red radishes caught my eye. The greens were so fresh and crisp and the soil clinging to the bulbs was dark and moist. . .radishes unlike those dried up specimens neatly packaged in plastic we so often see at the supermarket.

How could I resist their cry of, 'take me home'?

While radishes are often used as an embellishment to a salad — not something taken too seriously, today I chose to let these beauties star as the main event.

Inspired by an anecdote related by Patricia Wells in Vegetable Harvest, I washed and thinly sliced a few radishes. Using a mandolin would produce more uniform slices, and I would have pulled out my fancy slicer had I been preparing more. But for 3 or 4, I used my faithful chef's knife to achieve fairly thin slices.

With fresh whole wheat pita bread on hand, I sliced a loaf in half making two thin rounds, spreading each with an even coating of softened organic, cultured, sweet cream butter. Then I distributed the sliced radishes in somewhat concentric circles until the entire piece of bread was covered. A sprinkling of sea salt finished it off.

These were quite filling as well as delicious. Accompanied by a welcome glass of light, fruity Cabernet, Sunday lunch was perfect.

Simple fare, to be sure. But with flavors to savor. Inexpensive? You betcha!

The lovely bunch of radishes was only .99!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tabbouleh and Hummus

Middle Eastern favorites, both dishes offer great nutrition, super taste treats and assemble easily with a minimum of preparation time, providing great versatility at the table.

There are many variations of both dishes. The basic ingredient in hummus are chickpeas and the basic ingredient in tabbouleh is bulgur. Both deliver super protein. The addition of so many fresh herbs and vegetables in the tabbouleh makes it a nutritional powerhouse.

Hummus is often served as a dip for pita bread, crackers or crudités, or slathered in a pita pocket along with a generous helping of tabbouleh, leaf lettuce and/or sprouts. Leafy greens make a handy vehicle for getting the salads from plate to mouth, limiting the calories.
However you eat these Mideastern staples, they're sure to please.

I love having both on hand for quick snacks and great lunches.

1/2 cup fine bulgur
1 TBS olive oil
1 cup boiling water
2 cups finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 med tomatoes, diced
1/2 European cucumber, peeled and diced
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
Place bulgur and olive oil in heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water other, stir, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15-20 minutes until most of the water is absorbed. Drain, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid.
Add bulgur to serving bowl with remainder of ingredients and combine well. An additional tablespoon of olive oil may be added if desired.

Basic Hummus
2 cups cooked chickpeas or one 19 oz can (drain & reserve liquid)
1/2 cup tahini
1-2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
salt to taste
cayenne or crushed dried chili (to taste)
Puree all ingredients until completely smooth, adding reserved liquid if necessary.
These are easy dishes to make and great to have on hand. When hunger strikes; strike back with a fridge filled with pleasurable possibilities.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Joys of a Spiral Slicer
How about making a little go a long way? Trying to lose weight? Fill your plate with colorful, tasty, high water content foods. A little goes a long way when you use the Spiral Slicer, a novel gadget that lets you defy that old admonition "don't play with your food".
I think using the slicer is such fun!

Imagine filling a bowl using one zucchini, two red radishes and a two inch piece of daikon radish. Adding a bit of zip is a diced green onion. Dressing it? Why not try a very slight drizzle of sesame oil, a few drops of Umeboshi vinegar and a generous sprinkle of black sesame seeds. But there are so many options! Use your imagination and slice up a bowl soon!

The total effect is pleasing to the eye, takes but moments to prepare, and provides a satisfying, low calorie, high fiber lunch.

The radishes remind me of ribbon candy...