Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Sweet Potato or a Yam?/Sweet Potato Black Bean Wraps

Since the question came up in the comments yesterday and I had sweet potato (or a yam?) in my dinner last night, I thought I'd tackle this topic today. While the sweet potato and yam are technically different vegetables, in the United States the terms are used interchangeably. So, if you buy a yam, you are most likely buying a sweet potato. And if you buy a sweet potato, you are, in fact, buying a sweet potato. I'm guessing that there are probably some places where you could actually buy a yam if you wanted to, but most mainstream grocery stores carry only sweet potatoes. Here is a link that explains the history of this name-calling, and illustrates the differences of the two:

Whatever you choose to call them, they are delicious and very good for you. I think there are many people who have only experienced sweet potatoes baked into a casserole with some goopy marshmallow topping served at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I feel very sorry for these people. Here's a recipe I use when I want to make a quick dinner on a week night. I was skeptical the first time I sauteed a sweet potato in a similar mixture. I thought it would take really long time to cook, but it really doesn't.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Wraps
2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 large red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 medium sized sweet potato, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 oz cans black beans ( kidney beans would be o.k. too)
1 cup frozen corn kernels (optional)
2 cups kale or spinach, chopped (also optional, but a good way to sneak in some greens)
2 tspns cider vinegar (optional - gives a nice tang)
1 tblsp cumin
1 teaspoon cilantro
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
feta or cheddar cheese (optional)
white or brown basmati rice
Whole wheat tortilla wraps

1. Put the rice on. White will take 15-20 minutes and brown 40ish minutes
2. Sautee onion, garlic and red or yellow pepper in olive oil for about 5 minutes.
3. Add sweet potato, cumin, cilantro and cayenne pepper. Cook until potatoes are tender. You will probably need to add splashes of water or veggie broth to keep the pan moist and help the potatoes to cook faster.
4. Add black beans, corn (if using), spinach or kale (if using), cider vinegar (if using), salt and pepper and cook another 5-10 minutes until beans are heated through and the spinach or kale has cooked down. You can put a lid on the pan if you're using the spinach or kale as this will help to wilt it more quickly.
5. Lay out wraps on individual plates. Place some rice in the bottom and then spoon sweet potato mixture on top. Sprinkle cheese on top, if using. You could also use salsa if you'd like.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

I sometimes find myself compartmentalizing objects into some weird filing system in my head, therefore limiting their possible uses outside of my head. For example, I may buy a sweater to go with a particular pair of pants for work, and it doesn't occur to me that I could wear that sweater with anything other than those pants. Then, one day I might be out and about, and spot someone wearing a similar sweater with a pair of jeans and a scarf, making a great casual ensemble, and I think "hey, that looks good". So, I try it myself, and from that moment forward, my sweater has multiple uses. But, if not for spotting the sweater used in that context, I may never have worn it with anything but the designated work pants. Now, I realize this is not in any way profound, but I catch myself doing it here and there, and when I do, I think, "that was so silly of me because this 'insert object' clearly has many other obvious uses". I do this with food sometimes too.

A few summers ago, I went through a smoothie phase. I was mixing up all sorts of things into smoothies, every day. I was making nice thick ones for a hearty breakfast, and light refreshing ones to drink after a run in the heat. Then, summer was over, and my smoothies were as scarce as the geese who had migrated south. It wasn't until the next summer that I pulled out my blender for some smoothie action. This past summer, I kind of forgot about smoothies altogether. When I realized this at some point in the Fall, I felt really disappointed that I missed out on the opportunity. "Oh well", I thought, "there's always next summer". Then, one day in January, I was talking with one of my co-workers, Kriste, who was telling me about the delicious smoothie she'd had for breakfast that morning. A smoothie in January?! Of course! Two mornings later I was whipping one up for myself! Thank you, Kriste, for the inspiration. Here is my favorite breakfast smoothie (By the way, it did not occur to me until this very moment that this post also begins with a "P". That was not intentional!):

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
1 frozen banana ( You need to put it in the freezer the night before. You also need to peel it and cut it before you freeze it. I learned this the hard way. Have you ever tried to peel a frozen banana?)
2 tblsp peanut butter
6 or 8 oz of soy, almond or rice milk, sweetened or unsweetened
Some toasted wheat germ or ground flax seed
1/4 cup or so plain or vanilla yogurt (optional, depending on how thick you want your smoothie)
Agave nectar or honey to taste (this may not be necessary if you've used vanilla flavored milk or yogurt)
1. Toss everything into a blender and press a button.


This blog has been brought to you by the letter "P"...Since I started with Potatoes and Pumpkin, I thought I could stay on this theme for just one more day. Unless, of course, I am really in the mood to write about parsnips next. If it was summer, I'd be taking this space to talk with you about sugar snap peas. And, while on the subject, I really do wish it was summer, and I was wandering about a flourishing organic farm in the sunshine picking sugar snap peas right off the vine and popping them into my mouth. But, it's not. It's the dead of winter, with not a farm stand to be had for some time. So, instead I will be writing today about frozen peas.

Yes, you read that right - frozen, from a bag in my freezer. While I do prefer most of my veggies to be fresh, there are a couple of things I don't mind using frozen: peas and corn. Even in the summer when corn is in abundance, I have to admit, I still use frozen corn. While I do like chopping and find it to be meditative, cooking ears of corn and cutting hundreds of kernels off the cob is not something I have the time for! As for frozen peas, I actually find them to be quite adorable. I also find they are versatile. Throw them into macaroni and cheese to add some color and texture. Put them into a simple red sauce to pour over a fun curvy shape pasta for an inexpensive, easy and tasty dish that's easy to throw together from contents in your pantry. For a cool party trick, you can tilt your head back, blow into the air and levitate a single green pea over your mouth (my father taught me this). Or you can try the following dish I recently found and has become one of my new favorites.

Moroccan Chickpeas with Couscous
1 tblsp olive oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 jalapeno chile, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tspn dried marjoram
1/2 tspn allspice
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups apple juice
2 14 oz cans of chickpeas
1 12 oz package frozen vegetarian burger crumbles (my favorite is Quorn brand)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt to taste
4 to 5 cups cooked couscous
2 tblsp minced scallions

1. Heat the oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, jalapeno, and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
2.Add the marjoram and allspice. Stir in the tomatoes and apple juice. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the chickpeas, vegetarian burger crumbles, peas and salt and simmer 10 minutes longer, or until the desired consistency in reached.
4. Serve over couscous and garnish with scallions.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pumpkin Corn Chowder

Pumpkin is under utilized, in my opinion. In New England, anyways, is pretty much limited to the Thanksgiving/ Christmas season, and mostly utilized in a standard pumpkin pie. My friend, Lauri, while traveling in New Zealand, reported that baked pumpkin was sold cut up in chunks ready to be steamed and was one of her favorite things to eat while there. I remember feeling envious when she told me. Here, in many conventional grocery stores, you might find it difficult to even find a can of pureed pumpkin after January 1 when the holiday season has officially come to an end. This is why I've become something of a pumpkin hoarder. In my very small pantry, located in the very small kitchen of my very small apartment, you can currently find many cans of organic pumpkin. I just don't want to be caught without it. I haven't actually done the calculations, but I estimate that pumpkin probably takes up about 7% of the total space in my studio apartment.

I am pleased to report, however, that I have seen pumpkin making an appearance more often, especially in the form of a pumpkin curry soup. I haven't found a recipe for it that I am in love with yet, so instead I will share with you a Pumpkin Corn Chowder soup that I've made quite often. I find that people with all different culinary stances seem to like this soup, so it's been a good one to use when cooking for friends and family. Plus, it's packed with lots of Vitamins A and C.

Edit 10/2016: In the last few years there has been a pumpkin explosion and pumpkin has become a massive food trend. There is pumpkin spice flavored everything - beer, chips, oatmeal, pop tarts, ice cream, baked goods, coffee  - you name it. It's pervasive during October and November. I saw a billboard yesterday telling me to get my flannel ready because pumpkin spice coffee is back. I still maintain, however, that pumpkin in it's pure form probably has more opportunity to be showcased as a main ingredient in savory meals, not just as a flavor to make people feel compelled to get into the Autumn spirit.

Important note when making this soup. Although this is called a chowder, don't let the name fool you. It's not thick and creamy like a clam chowder. It's actually a pretty thin consistency. This is not so good as a "meal soup" on its own, but it's great with a hearty salad with some cheese in it and bread. If you want a thicker consistency, add less than six cup of broth, try five, then add milk or cream at the end. Obviously the type of milk you choose will affect the thickness. I also add more corn if I want more texture and thickness.

Pumpkin Corn Chowder
3 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1 small-ish sweet potato, well scrubbed, not peeled, and diced
1 14 oz. can of pumpkin puree
6 c. veggie broth
1 c. corn (I sometimes add more for a thicker texture)
1 tspn. dried thyme
1/2 tspn. dried sage
1/2 cup milk of some sort (rice or soy can be used) - optional

1. Heat oil over med. high heat in pot. Add onion, garlic and sweet potato. Sautee a few minutes until onions are transluscent.
2. Add broth, bring to a boil, then simmer until swt potatoes are tender (30 minutes or so)
3. Add pumpkin corn and herbs. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes. If using milk, stir it it and then remove from heat.
4. Puree 1/2 of the soup, and then return to pot, add salt and pepper.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Potatoes/ Lentil Soup Recipe

The white potato has gotten a bad rap. Maybe I am biased because I was raised on an Irish influenced meat and potatoes diet. And by potatoes, I mean russet potatoes. I didn't experience Sweet, Red Bliss or Yukon Gold until college or later. But russet potatoes baked, mashed, boiled, or folded into potato salad - I experienced a lot. They were on my plate most every night from the time I started eating solid food. I ate a looooooot of mashed potatoes. But, instant mashed potatoes? Never! I was led to believe this was something evil, like lying to your parents or chewing gum in church. I have a vivid memory of leaving Thanksgiving Dinner at a relatives house where instant mashed potatoes were served (a relative from my father's French side of the family, of course) and my mother acted as though she had been directly insulted.

You'd think I might be sick of these root vegetables most commonly known as products from Idaho or Maine. But, that is just not the case. While I gave up the meat part of my meat and potatoes diet almost 20 years ago, russet potatoes have never been far from my plate. To this day, I find it difficult to eat a sandwich without some potato chips on the side. I recently discovered at my high school reunion that I passed this same affliction onto my best childhood friend. Today, the potato chips are organic, accented with sea salt, void of trans-fats and sometimes even made with blue potatoes, but they are still keeping my sandwich company. My mashed potatoes are made with Yukon Gold and potato salad with Red Bliss, but Russet still have their place. They are in the lentil soup simmering on my stove this very minute (see below).

I realize white things, as a general rule, are not as good for you as non-white things. Brown rice is better than white, whole grain bread better than spongy Wonder bread, flax pasta better than traditional Prince spaghetti, and hence, lovely orange sweet potatoes better than white. But, I am here to take a stand for the white potato! Are they not a good source of Vitamin C and Potassium? While eating them every night next to your pork chop may not be the way to go, please don't turn your nose up at the Russet for good. It is a lovely addition to many comfort foods.

Lentil Stew
1 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 large RUSSET potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of green lentils
6 cups of vegetable broth broth
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups (or more) of kale or fresh spinach, chopped into small bits
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme (or oregano)
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautee onion, garlic, carrot and celery in olive oil for a few minutes until onions are transluscent.
2. Add vegetable broth, lentils, potato, tomatoes, and spices. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until potatoes and lentils are tender (30ish minutes). Add some hot water if necessary.
3. Add spinach or kale, salt, pepper and vinegar. Let simmer another 10 minutes.