Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

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.


Black Beans: Feijoada – Brazil’s National Dish

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Black Bean Stew - Feijoada - History Brazil - Brazil National Dish

I fell in love with feijoada at first bite.  Feijoada (pronounced “faysh-ju-ada”) is known as Brazil’s national dish. Literally it means “big bean” stew. I’m not sure how it was officially declared the honor, but from all the Brazilians I’ve met, they’ve never disagreed.

My introduction to this black bean dish came at Emporio de Brasil, a very small but cherished Brazilian market/restaurant in north Denver. On Saturdays, they serve up a limited number of items – the best of which is Denver’s finest feijoada.

Feijoada is said to have originated during slave times, concocted from unwanted cuts of meat from the master’s table – including the non-choice parts of the pig including ears, snout and tail. Most of the feijoada recipes today still include plenty of pork – generally pork belly, chorizo, ribs, and other kinds of meat like carne seca (a Brazilian dried beef)

As you know, I’m not a huge meat eater and consider myself more of a flexitarian. But, I smack my lips when it comes to feijoada. All that slowly simmered pork makes for a tasty pot of creamy black beans and, to my surmise, is the reason feijoada continues to be a Brazilian favorite.

A feijoada completa or “complete feijoada” is served with rice, chopped greens (usually collards or kale), fresh orange slices, farofa or farinha, and a side dish of peppery sauce. The stew is generally served year-round in restaurants on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and on the weekends when made at home. It is also a requisite dish for a Brazilian feast and other holidays.

Since my first bowl-full, I vowed to make some at home. In keeping with tradition, I made this Brazilian staple on a weekend and made a huge pot to share using three kinds of pork – pork ribs, pork stew and chorizo.  Oink! By the way, the ribs were the prized piece of meat.

Now, you have a recipe to host at your next Brazilian party. If you’re a person who appreciates beans and you can also get down on some pork, then you must try this dish!

Tidbits on Beans:

  1. Brazil was the largest black bean producing country. In 2006, the Food Guide for the Brazilian Population recommended that beans be consumed at least once every day.
  2. 1 pound of dried black beans = about 6  cups of cooked beans.
  3. Black beans are a strong source of phytonutrient, which is generally derived from fruits and vegetables.

Sources:  The World’s Healthiest Foods, Beans: A History, “Brazil” in the Encyclopedia Food and Culture.


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.


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.


Chicken Soup: Peruvian Chicken Quinoa Soup – Caldo de Gallina con Quinoa

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

2010 went out with a bang. A big one:  I ended the year with a nasty cold (that has just finally run its course) and then injured my foot, which will take longer to recover.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been feeling a bit blue inside and out. So, what better a remedy than chicken soup? It’s not poshy. It’s real food – food you eat when you need something nutritional and comforting.

Caldo de gallina con quinoa (chicken soup with quinoa) was the first meal I ate in Cuzco, Peru. The city is the primary entry point for all the folks like me who set out to visit Machu Picchu and sits at about 11,000 feet in altitude, which means it gets chilly at night. The chicken soup was memorable, however, the alpaca that I also ordered was not.

This Peruvian chicken soup is a brothy fix that will take away the chill, clear the head and sinuses, and soothe your soul. It’s also packed with protein since it has chicken and the “Mother Grain” – quinoa. Read more about the history of quinoa and its nutritional benefits in my previous post.

It’s the perfect time of year for chicken soup. Have a happy and healthy 2011!

Also, if you love the outdoors or if you appreciate architecture, Machu Picchu is a must see. If you’re up for it, I’d also recommend hiking the Inca Trail to get there. It makes the journey to this sacred place – even more spectacular. My husband and I, along with two friends, made this journey in 2006 – with some unexpected adventure (but, that’s another story).


Apple: Moroccan Chicken Apple Stew

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

savory chicken apple stew tajine

Are you like the majority of Americans who only eat apples as a raw snack or in sweet dishes? If yes, you’re not alone – only a few years ago, I was the same.

More recently, I’ve taken cue from other cultures that use apples in savory dishes, much like one would use a potato – apples add a tart and sweet dimension to soups, stews and salads.

Last fall, I wrote about the Moroccan and North African cookery and how they use fruit such as apples, pears, quinces, apricots and raisins for savory dishes. This chicken and apple tagine is a twist of the Moroccan Lamb and Pear Tagine I posted. Of course, you could easily substitute pears or use both.

Although I still haven’t bought a tagine (the cooking vessel), this dish is a tagine – a reference to the rich Moroccan stew. The chicken version has more veggies (carrots, zucchini, and potatoes) and garbanzo beans. This is pure comfort food, especially when paired with couscous.

October is national apple month – so try apples in a savory dish. What’s your favorite non-sweet apple dish?

Tidbits on Apples:

  1. In 2004, U.S. per capita total apple consumption was 50.4 pounds per person, according to the U.S. Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. For fresh fruit, Americans eat 18.6 pounds of apples per person, second to bananas.
  2. The high pectin and malic acid in raw apples are good for digestion and elimination. Leave the skin on for extra nutritional benefits. The flavonoids found in apples are believed to help prevent cancer.
  3. The acid content of apples makes them a natural breath freshener.


Rice: Puerto Rican Rice with Chicken – Arroz con Pollo

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Puerto Rican - Arroz con Pollo - Rice with Chicken -

A couple of months ago my amiga Kitty and I spent an afternoon cooking. She offered to show me how to make Puerto Rican arroz con pollo, rice with chicken.

I happily assumed the role of sous chef – peeling heads of garlic, chopping veggies, and stirring this and that. Meanwhile, Nivia was my window into the cultural and personal nuances of Puerto Rican cookery .  .  .

For starters, Puerto Rican cuisine employs a spectrum of cooking techniques and ingredients that reflect the island’s diverse inhabitants: the Caribbean native Tainos, Africans, Spanish, and other Europeans.

Three items are signature to the cuisine:  adobo, sofrito and achiote.  Arroz con pollo employs all three. No wonder it’s touted as the most popular chicken dish on the island.

Adobo: In Puerto Rican parlance, adobo is a seasoned salt. A wet adobo made of garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, oregano and citrus juice is rubbed on the chicken in this dish and marinated overnight. It’s the secret to moist and flavorful chicken, and it also infuses a layer of flavor to the rice.  Sofrito: The rice is bursting with flavor because of the sofrito, a fresh bouillon of peppers, onions, garlic and herbs. (Read about sofrito and view recipe.) Achiote: Achiote is derived from annato seeds and is used for its subtle flavor and to give the dish a reddish hue. No saffron here, the less expensive achiote is a long-time tradition in Puerto Rican cooking. Achiote can be purchased as a paste, ground or in seed form. It is readily available in Latino markets and spice stores.

After cooking with Kitty, I did some research. The majority of recipes out there are more intuitive rather than specific. For a Puerto Rican arroz con pollo novice, that’s not helpful. I know, I made this dish three times in the last several weeks.

Here’s my final recipe, with a bit more detail – I’ve borrowed techniques I learned from Kitty, other Puerto Rican friends and research. Remember it’s the process that matters, so make certain to read the instructions thoroughly before you begin.

It serves six. You’ll be glad to have leftovers!

One more thing, don’t forget the little bits of crispy, cooked rice at the bottom of the pan are called “pegao.” It’s considered the best part of arroz con pollo by some aficionados.

Tidbits on Rice

  1. Rice was introduced to Puerto Rico by Columbus in his second trip to America in 1493 and has since become a primary food source.
  2. Long grain rice is said to be favored in Puerto Rico, according to some sources. However, medium and short grain rice are heavily favored in dishes like arroz con pollo and arroz con gandules.
  3. Arroz con pollo dates back to the eighth century to Andalusia, when the Moors occupied Spain. It has become a popular rice dish in nearly all of Latin America and the Caribbean, with regional variations, of course.

Sources:  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America; Puerto Rican Dishes by Berta Cabanillas and Carmen Ginorio.


Lentils: Lentil & Plantain Salad – Ensalada de Lentejas Y Platanos

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Ensalada Lentejas con Platanos - Lentil

Apparently, lentils and bananas are combined more commonly than we think.

I came upon a Banana-Lentil Salad recipe while browsing Nuevo Latino: Recipes that Celebrate the New Latin-American Cuisine by Douglas Rodriguez, a James Beard award-winning chef. His salad trails back to the Spanish Canary Islands.

In Mexico, as well as in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, lentejas y platanos (lentils and plantains) are frequently eaten as a soup usually stewed with pork. And, in places like Puebla, Mexico, pineapple is also added to the mix, according to The Art of Mexican Cooking by renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy, who links the savory/sweet combo to Moorish Spain. The combination can also be traced to some African recipes.

This salad recipe, however, is my version of lentejas and platanos. It’s loosely inspired by Rodriguez and traditional lentejas recipes.

If you’re leary about the lentil/plantain combo – have the salad without the plantains, it’s still plenty flavorful and healthy. However, you’re on notice that it’s those platanos fritos (fried plantains) that makes this salad special.

The caramelized plantains have sweet, tender insides that are also a tad bit tangy and a perfect contrast to the crunchiness of peppers, onion and celery, and the nuttiness of wild rice and lentils.

It’s an unusual twist that’s not so unusual.

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Before cooking lentils, be sure to sort the legumes to remove any debris such as dirt and stones. Then rinse well in a colander and drain. It is not necessary to pre-soak lentils before cooking.
  2. Store unused lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry location for up to one year.
  3. Lentils are high in soluble fiber and recommended for people with diabetes and cholestoral problems.


Lentils: Comforting Red Lentil Soup

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Red Lentil

This red lentil soup is comfort food.

It takes the edge off a cold, winter day and satiates my panza (belly).

It’s a souped-up tomato soup – made hearty with red lentils and flavorful with my favorite warming spices:  ginger, cumin and chile.  Several Ethiopian red lentil dishes are similar; this one is more simple.

Last month, I made a jumbo batch for a New Year’s snowshoe group outing. It was a crowd pleaser. After trekking steep hills in gusty winds at 11,000 ft., we huddled near a fire pit warming cold fingers and toes. And, we grubbed! Hot chocolate, hot ginger tea, home-made sweets, grilled spicy sausage on sticks and, yes, red lentil soup. It was a wonderful way to start the New Year – outdoors, warm and belly full.

Red lentils cook faster than other lentils because they are hulled. Although they are referred to as red, they are actually a salmon pink hue. When cooked, the discs turn golden and are delicate, which makes them well-suited for purées or soups.

This lentil soup is a filling main course especially when served with crusty bread. It’s also a nutritious side dish with a sandwich (or sausage on a stick).

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Lentils’ botanical name Lens culinaris means cooking lens, a reference to its convex shape.
  2. Up until the later part of the last century, lentils and other beans were generally stigmatized as peasant food – they were staples to those who could not afford meat. However, in places like Egypt, there were aficionados who were particularly fond of red lentils. In India, where vegetarianism was prominent, lentils were also integral to diet.

Source:  Beans: A History by Ken Albala


Cabbage: Beef & Cabbage Soup – Caldo de Res

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Caldo de

There are certain dishes that make me nostalgic for childhood.

You know what I’m talking about. A smell or taste that conjures vivid memories of comfort – when life was more simple and childhood dramas were easily soothed by your momma or daddy’s home-made goodies. Like, a bandage and a kiss or hug, but you could eat it. For me, these cabbage recipes have been just that:  the yeasty smell of my mom’s cabbage burgers baking, warming the house and our tummies on a cold day; and, this beef and cabbage soup from my abuela Juarez.

Grandma Juarez is no longer with us. And, I’m sure, I’m not the only one of the 37 grandkids and 46 great-grandchildren who thinks of her when I eat this soup. I remember several a Sunday afternoon visit and her never-empty pot of soup simmering in her little kitchen. Somehow it managed to feed whomever stopped by that day. That, and tortillas de harina (flour tortillas), but that’s another recipe and story.

Caldo de res is comfort soup, perfect for a dreary day or cool night. Tender bites of roast simmered in a beefy broth with winter vegetables – onion, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. It’s a standard in Mexican households and restaurants, although the ingredients may vary slightly – some adding chayote or zucchini.

The recipe below is adapted from my abuela’s recipe (I use a whole head of cabbage and more veggies, and brown the roast first). It also contains her rumoured “secret” ingredient (which, now, is no longer secret), hierba buena, spearmint used in Mexican teas and cooking. It adds a special, fresh dimension to this soothing broth.

For those who’ve never tried caldo de res, if you like Vietnamese pho, which also has a tasty beef broth, you’ll want to try this soup.

Tidbits on Cabbage:

  1. When shopping for cabbage, look for one with a shiny, crisp exterior. It should also feel solid and compact. Avoid buying those that look wilted, brown or dried-out.
  2. Don’t wash cabbage until you are ready to use it. Cabbage can be rinsed after cutting or chopping, drain well.
  3. Boiling cabbage tenderizes the leaves, causing it to release sugar and the characteristic cabbage aroma.