Archive for the ‘Side’ Category

Kale: Irish Colcannon Mashed Potatoes & Halloween

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

One of the best things about having this blog is discovering how other cultures use ingredients. I was thrilled to learn about another use for kale in Irish colcannon – mashed potatoes. Coincidentally, colcannon is a favorite this time of year for Halloween.

Colcannon (“cal ceann fhionn” or “cal ceannann”) is an Irish version of mashed potatoes with extra goodies like kale and cabbage added. It is one of Ireland’s national dishes. Early recipes of colcannon date back to the early 1700s. Later the dish was introduced to the English who then modified it to create their version called “bubble and squeek.”

Colcannon potatoes are typically served year-round by home-cooks and restaurants, but colcannon’s more interesting tale is its association with Hallow’s Eve.

In some parts of Ireland, various objects with symbolic meaning were folded into the mashed potatoes. Finding a ring in your spuds meant you were sure to marry in the next year, a coin a sign of wealth, a thimble meant you’d be a spinster, and a button a bachelor.

In other parts, young unmarried ladies  were also purported to fill their socks with spoonfuls of colcannon and tie them to their front doors. Apparently, the first available man to walk through the door would be a suitor.

I don’t know about colcannon’s powers for divination, but these mashed potatoes are a welcome alternative to regular ones.

Although colcannon was originally considered peasant food, these creamy mashed potatoes made with lots of butter and sautéed kale, cabbage, garlic and nutmeg are not skimp on flavor. I’d much rather fill up my belly than some socks with this version. But, then again, I already have my husband.

Tidbits on Kale:

  1. Kale has been cultivated for more than 2000 years.
  2. Northern Europeans were fond of kale because of its high vitamin content – it has ample amounts of vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and iron.
  3. Choose kale that is rich in color; leave should not be limp or yellowing. Store it the coldest section of the refrigerator. Eat within 3 days or before the leaves start to turn limp.

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Brazilian Orange Raw Kale Salad

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

citrus kale salad, Brazilian Greens, easy kale salad

The first time I ate feijoada, it was served with an excellent collard green salad. It was the perfect compliment to the rich and thick black bean stew.

After doing a little research, I learned kale is also used to make Brazilian greens. Since I grow kale in my garden and I know that many of you are looking for additional ways to use this healthy leafy green (kale is a rich source of vitamins and minerals and is touted by health advocates as having anti-inflamatory benefits), I created this super easy Brazilian kale salad with oranges.

Kale was introduced to Brazil during Portuguese colonization along with other food stuff like: figs, citrus fruits, coconuts, rice, watermelon, Guinea pumpkin, mustard, cabbage, lettuce, coriander, cucumbers, watercress, eggplant, carrots, according to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.

Since Brazilian greens and feijoada are served with orange wedges, it was obvious to me to combine the greens and oranges into a more-modern version.

Nearly all the recipes for Brazilian green salad that I could find in cookbooks and online called for cooking the kale or collards – either boiling, blanching, or sautéing them. In our house we prefer to eat our kale raw, so this salad is one of the raw kale versions in our rotation. If you haven’t eaten raw kale, don’t be alarmed.  The citrus in the dressing tenderizes the greens and also removes the bitterness – much like the ever-popular lemon-parmesean-based one that populates the internet.  If you like or if you’re greens are super bitter, give them a quick saute before adding them to the salad.

You could also use collards or swiss chard as a substitute. As far as all things kale, I prefer the lacinato variety over others. Lacinato kale can also be found under the names cavolo nero, black cabbage, Tuscan cabbage, Tuscan kale, and dinosaur kale.

Whether you make feijoada or not, you’ll want to try this salad. By the way, it’s one of those salads that’s better the next day or two after the flavors have melded and the greens have fully softened.

Best Latina Food Blog – Please Vote

I’m one of the finalists up for Best Latina Food Blog sponsored by Blogs By Latinas. I appreciate every single vote of support nominating Fork Fingers Chopsticks to get me this far. Would you vote for FFC in the final round?

  • Vote at Blogs by Latinas before midnight Tuesday, July 26, 2011.
  • When you go to the site, you’ll need to fill in a vote in the other categories (I’m obviously in the FOOD category)
  • To submit, scroll down near the blue “quit” box, then use your right arrow button to find the “finished” button to submit.

For almost two years, this blog has been the space where I combine my creative talents and passion food. Thank you, not only to those who voted or who will vote, but to all of you who follow my kitchen escapades as I explore ingredients and culture.

Happy eating!

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Black Beans: Molletes – Mexican Refried Bean Open Sandwich

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Black Beans Healthy Snack Easy

If you haven’t made that big pot of black beans, you’ll want to soon. They are the base for the refried beans in molletes (a Mexican antojito/snack) and other recipes coming up.

Nearly two decades ago I made my first trip to Mexico – I lived with a family in Cuernavaca and traveled around central and southern Mexico. Some of the places I visited were  D.F. (Districto Federal aka Mexico City), Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Puebla, Taxco and so many pueblitos I can’t remember their names.

This trip has a very special place in my heart since it was the first time I packed my bags to venture alone in a new country. But, more significant was that it was my first trip to my Motherland and an amazing personal journey – with much familiarity and even more that was new.

I have vivid food memories from this first extended stay, like the tacos de flor de callabaza I bought trail-side after finishing a hike near some steep ruins where the locals frequented; the just-caught, fried fish served with nopales on a remote beach near Puerto Escondido; the mole in Puebla; and the amazing mercado in Oaxaca. Also on this list are molletes (pronounced mo -YEY -tes). Refried black beans and melted cheese on crusty bread, topped with fresh pico de gallo.

This open sandwich quickly became a favorite. At the time, I was on a budget and molletes were a great anytime meal that was both good and cheap. I think I paid the equivalent of 50 cents or a dollar for two halfs when eating out. Two pieces is a full meal for this chica.

Nearly every time I’ve had them in Mexico, they’ve been served with black beans, although pinto beans are also used. Most of my travels so far have been to central and southern Mexico, and the Yucatan – places where black beans are preferred

To make molletes, you can use my Cuban black bean recipe (no, it’s not sacrilege) or your favorite home-made black or pinto beans. You can also use canned beans; but, if you do, buy the beans whole and make your own refried beans, they’ll taste much better.

Molletes are not fancy food but you’ll be glad to have this recipe in your arsenal of quick to make meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. As I write this, I’m thinking one of these topped with bacon would be a Mexican BLT.

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Black Beans: Cuban Frijoles Negros

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Life happens. I know you’ve been there. There’s more on your plate than you can chew on – whether it’s work, family, unexpected twists and turns, or simply keeping up with the day to day.

I’m not complaining. Just keeping it real.

At times like these, I turn to some staples. Near the top of my list of go to foods are frijoles. In most Latino homes, you’ll find some beans ready to eat. My kitchen is no different. I’ve got an assortment of dried beans and cans in the pantry. Yet, It’s the black beans in the freezer and the fridge that are prized and a necessity.

That wasn’t always the case. Growing up, pinto beans were king. That is, until I fell in love with their black cousin.

Frijoles negros, “turtle beans,” “caraota,” and “habichuela negra,” are just a few of the names for this small, shiny, sweet legume that is predominantly used in the Carribean, central Mexico, the Yucatan, and African cooking.

Despite the fact that I’ve yet to visit Cuba, I’ve been making this recipe with slight variations for nearly two decades. It’s my go to recipe for a big pot of beans – some to eat and the rest to stash in the freezer in quart containers.

Cuban black beans are spiced with bay leaves plus a freshly-made and cooked sofrito of olive oil, peppers, onions, cumin, and lots of garlic. If you’re hip to Cuban food, you probably know that black beans are typically more common to the western region of Cuba, while red beans are more popular in the eastern region’s cuisine.

Regardless, these beans are a must try. Half it if you don’t want to make such a large amount. You can also modify this recipe to make other cultural variations of frijoles negros. Make a Puerto Rican version with my sofrito with culantro and cilantro or a Mexican version using epazote.

We’ll be using these beans for more recipes. Stay tuned.

Salud!

Tidbits on Black Beans:

  1. Black Beans and other “common” beans originated in parts of Central and South America.
  2. Beans were introduced into Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World and subsequently spread to Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders.
  3. Purchasing black beans:  buy newer beans when possible since they cook more quickly than “old” beans.  Store in a sealed container in a cold, dry place. If you have leftover black beans and you purchase more beans, do not mix old and new beans since they have different cooking rates.
  4. Cooking black beans:  add salt during the last hour of cooking. I add a tiny pinch of baking soda to my black beans to deter discoloration; this, according to some, is also a method to aide digestion and reduce the incidence of flatulence.

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Zucchini Balsamella – Zucchini Bechamel

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

My garden runneth over with zucchini. I know. I’m not alone.

About this time of year the excitement in finding one or several zucchini beneath a canopy of green begins to wear thin. If you’re like some of my gardening friends you take the easy way out and give most of them to friends and neighbors.

Yes, it’s nice to share. But, don’t do it because you’re uninspired.  When I first started this blog I posted two excellent recipes for zucchini:

- Calabacitas con elote – a Mexican zucchini and corn succotash
- Kabak mucveri – Turkish zucchini fritters

And, because I’m a zucchini aficionado, I have a few more recipes coming your way, including this one for zucchini béchamel.

If you’re unfamiliar, not to worry, béchamel is a white sauce made out of a simple roux of butter, flour and milk. It is considered one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. So, when I came upon a recipe for Tortino di Zucchini, a crustless zucchini tart with béchamel sauce in the famed Italian cookbook, The Art of Eating Well by Pelligrino Artusi, I was curious.

Artusi explains that the Italian “balsamella,” is the “. . . equivalent to the béchamel sauce of the French, except theirs is more complicated.” His version omits the French step of cooking the sauce with onion and cloves.

According to many, The Art of Eating Well is the grandfather of Italian cookbooks, treasured by home cooks like the Joy of Cooking is to American audiences – except it dates back more than a century. . . In 1891, Artusi a retired Florentine silk merchant, self-published La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). It is a collection of recipes from all the different regions of Italy – although it is heavily Tuscan-influenced. The cookbook has been in continuous print since 1894 and was finally translated into English in 1996.

The recipes sometimes have obscure ingredient measurements and scant instructions, which I think adds to its charm. Since most of these recipes were collected from home cooks, it makes sense – a pinch of this or a handful of that.

Since the first time I made the zucchini tart last summer, I’ve modified it significantly for the modern cook. And, I think it has more in common with a casserole than a tart. And, technically my version is a Mornay sauce (since it has cheese). It’s not a quick dish to make, but it is worth the effort. To make it easier, make up the béchamel a day or two in advance and reheat.

The final result is semi-crisp zucchini baked in a creamy cheese sauce that hints of nutmeg. It’s a perfect dish to take to a potluck or for those occassions you’re hankering for macaroni and cheese – but, this one is vegetable based.

Buon appetito!

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Purslane: Raw Purslane Weed Salad

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Purslane Verdolaga Weed - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Call it a weed if you want. Purslane is still good eating.

Every summer growing up, my family planted a backyard garden with tomatoes, calabacitas (zucchini), chiles, cilantro, onions and a few other standards found in most Mexican family gardens. Yet, part of the bounty we enjoyed was something we didn’t plant . . .  weeds.

We would chow down on verdolagas. You might know the weed as “purslane.”

Purslane is a long, red-stemmed succulent with fleshy oval flowers.  It grows all over the world and is eaten in many cultures – in Egypt and Sudan it is used as a medicine and as a vegetable, in France it is served with fish, in Holland it is used in winter salads, and in Mexico, it is frequently eaten with pork.

Despite this, it has a bad rap with most gardeners, who consider it an invasive weed.

Purslane is also known by some unattractive names like pigweed, Little Hogweed and pussley. Not too enticing, eh? After reading this post and its nutritional value (see Tidbits below), I hope you’ll be persuaded to try the little succulent. Know that some folks consider it a superfood.

Purslane has a mild flavor and is slightly lemony. It reminds me of nopales (cactus), without as much mucilage.

This summer as purslane grows in my garden and in the cracks of my sidewalk, I’ve allowed some areas to grow. I prefer to pick it when the stems are about 5 inches in length – the longer the stems, the tangier. On the occasions when it is longer, I discard the thick stems or at least make sure they are cut into small bite size pieces.

The recipe below is for a quick, raw salad I’ve been making this summer. It’s been a hit at several potlucks including my community garden workday. Fellow gardeners were thrilled to find a use for the “edible weed” pervading their gardens.

Hip me up to your favorite uses for purslane.

Tidbits on Purslane:

  1. Purslane has been a go to food during hot weather since before Christ. It is believed to sooth the head and cool the body.
  2. Pigs, apparently, go mad for purslane. I suspect the reason for calling it “pigweed.”
  3. Nutrition:  it’s one of the best vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids and some suggest it should be considered a super food. “It is a good source of Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Folate, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.”

Source:  Hints & Pinches by Eugene Walter, a mini-reference book about herbs and spices; GourmetFood.Suite101.com.

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Cornmeal: Green Chile Cheese Grits

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Green Chile Cheese Grits-ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Do you call ground, dried corn “grits” or “polenta?”  You’d be right if you said either one. Yes, polenta, the haute cuisine of the last two decades, is equivalent to good ol’ grits.

Grits v. Polenta

If you’re scratching your head, it’s completely understandable. The labeling is inconsistent and I suspect regional – in the South, I’d reckon you’d find “grits” on store shelves but in northern Italy, you’d see “polenta.”  Here in Denver, I just bought a bag of coarsely-ground, dried yellow cornmeal labeled “polenta (corn grits)” at the natural food store. What gives?

For intellectual purposes, know that one of the primary differences between the two is that grits are usually made with white corn, while polenta is made of yellow.

Some polenta authorities also distinguish the two by the size of the grind, polenta being larger with a nuttier taste. However, both grits and polenta are available in fine, medium and coarse grinds.

To add even more confusion, there’s also the lighter colored “hominy grits.” Early on, the word “hominy” reflected the lye soak process used to loosen the husk and germ, which made for a softer and creamier final dish. Today, “hominy grits” has become a generic term for “corn grits.”

Ugghh. To me it’s all “mush,” like my brain when I try to figure out all this nomenclature.

Green Chile Cheese Grits

Grits are an institution in the South – served with butter and salt, sweetened with milk and sugar, or topped with red-eye gravy, ham, bacon or shrimp.

This recipe for green chile grits is a bit Southern/Soul Food and Mexican – a reflection of my household and history. Corn (maize) was originally domesticated in central Mexico and eventually became a favored crop among Southerners.

These green chile cheese grits are easy to make and much tastier than regular mush. They are delicious for breakfast with eggs or for lunch or dinner as a substitute for potatoes or rice. Enjoy! Leave a comment about your favorite way to eat cornmeal mush, and if you have a preference for “grits” or “polenta.”

Tidbits on Cornmeal:

  1. Southerners hailing from the Charleston area use the word “hominy” to refer to cooked grits and the term “grist” for its uncooked state.
  2. Early Southern pioneers cultivated more corn than cotton.
  3. The smaller the grind of corn, the faster it will cook. Larger grinds (and most polenta recipes) can take up to an hour to cook. The grits/polenta is ready when it’s no longer crunchy.
  4. Stone ground and whole grain cornmeal has more nutrients because it still contains the germ.

Sources:  The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America, Good Old Grits Cookbook by Bill Neal & David Perry.

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Rice: Mexican Brown Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana con Arroz Integral

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Mexican Brown Rice - ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Since my recent post of Mexican rice, arroz a la Mexicana, using long grain white rice (read about the traditional version and its history), several of you have sent me requests for a brown rice version.

I like many of you enjoy brown rice – both for its taste and nutritional benefits. So, I’ve just upped my game by making a Mexican brown rice version.

First though, I have to admit, I’ve attempted this in the past. But, I was less than satisfied with the results – generally involving tripling the simmer time, and the final product lacking texture and flavor. I looked for outside guidance but it fell short – generally, because brown rice is not too common to Mexican cookery.

Yesterday, however, because of your insistence, I finally created a recipe I am very pleased with and glad to share.

I’ve pulled out a few tricks:  the rice is pre-soaked to soften the grain; saute the rice for about 10 minutes versus 5 for the white version; and, the rice is boiled for 5 minutes before simmering for 40 minutes (longer boil time and simmer time).

One more thing. I am very familiar with the process of Mexican rice in this pilaf style, so I generally know how to make adjustments such as removing/adding a little liquid; changing the pot to make a larger quantity and using less water for the same. However, if you’re new to it and depending on where you are – sea level or the top of the Rocky Mountains, you may have to adjust slightly.

Let the first attempt be just that. Print this recipe, follow it as is and gauge how it comes out for you. Make notes on how you should adjust next go around.

Happy cooking!

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Rice: Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Mexican Rice-ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Mexican rice, also called arroz a la Mexicana or arroz rojo, is a requisite when it comes to Mexican food.

In the States, it is a standard side served along with beans. In Mexico, it is one of the most popular sopas secas (dry soups), in a multi-course meal, typically served before the main course.

In case you’re confused, Mexican rice is different than Spanish rice, although some people use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version gets its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice generally uses saffron.

Mexican rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook that required a little skill in the kitchen – sautéing, boiling and steaming. Sounds tricky, but it really just requires keeping a watchful eye on the pot during the sauté.

I’ve been making rice for eons and only recently realized that the technique I learned from my momma, and she from her abuela, was considered a pilaf. In pilafs, the rice/grain is browned in fat before it is simmered in a flavored broth. This cooking process creates fluffy, flavorful rice that’s moist. It also gives it a faint smoky taste from browning.

As you’ll see from the ingredient list and the photos, I add vegetables to my rice. It’s the way my family does it and it’s also the way many in Mexico make it – cocineros add carrots, peas, zucchini and/or fresh whole chiles for flavor. However, if you add peas, promise not to use the canned stuff! Ewww.

Most of the time, I eat this rice with black beans, lots of fresh pico de gallo, and slices of avocado atop. (The pre-cursor to Chipotle’s® bowl.) Others usually eat it as a side dish. Try it with rajas and grilled chicken, caldo de res, mole poblano, and Mexican zucchini – calabacitas con elote.

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice was introduced to Mexico via the Spanish during colonization via the Spanish trade route from Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico. In Mexico, the route is referred to as the Nao de China.
  2. The length of rice grains should be considered for your desired end result. Long grain rice is fluffy and has separate individual grains after cooking, while medium grain rice clings together a bit more but remains a bit more tender and moist. Short grain rice tends to stick together and is best for things like rice puddings.

Sources:  Encyclopedia of Food & Culture; The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

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