Saturday, 13 April 2013

Day 27: Vegan Harvard Beets - April 13, 2013

During an unfortunate stay in the hospital, we were introduced to Harvard Beets.  Now, beets are something we eat at home, but we typically eat them the same two ways -- roasted in the oven or served with oil, vinegar, and onions.  We were not familiar with Harvard Beets at all.  But, after tasting them in the hospital, we really liked them, and went searching for a little history of the dish and a good recipe.  We found one!  And, so many people comment on how hospital food is not good, but these were quite nice.  So, here we go ...

For this recipe, you will need the following:

For the beets:

2 beets
3 cups water

For the sauce:

1/2 TBSP cornstarch
1/2 TBSP sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 TBSP vinegar

Boil the beets.   They take a while to boil whole, but they are easier to peel if you do it this way.  Trim off the top and the bottom of the beet, and drop it in the pot.  You don't even have to wash the beets!  Fill the pot with water, then put it on the stove on high heat to boil.  Beets take about 30 minutes to fully cook through the center.  To check for doneness, stab through the thickest part with a knife or a fork.  If the beet slides off the knife or fork easily, then the center is cooked.  That's what you want and need for this recipe.  If the beets are at all undercooked, they will interfere with the final product's velvety mouth feel.

Now, it is time to peel the beets.  Typically, we will dump the entire contents of the pot (water and beets) into the sink with the cold water running over the beets.  In fact, we find that the easiest way to peel beets is under the cold (or cool) running water.  This does a few things -- first, it cools the hot beet so you can handle the temperature; second, the skins are so soft that the water pressure helps pull the skin off for you; third, the running water helps to wash away the red beet juice that typically stains your hands, so the stain that does remain is minimal.  Just rub your fingers over the beet, and the skin gets peeled away.  The water will do the rest.  Once all the beets are peeled, set them aside so they are completely cool enough to handle so you can cut them.  In the meantime, make the sauce.

To make the sauce, you are going to put all the ingredients into a pot and mix well.  The mixture will look very milky white and thin, but you have to remember that cornstarch needs to boil to "work" and thicken.  And, the colour will clear as the sauce cooks, so put it all in the pot and bring it to a boil.  Cook this for about 3 minutes, stirring continuously to avoid lumps from the cornstarch.  Turn off the heat and let the sauce set for five minutes while you cut the beets.

Cut the beets and put them into a large mixing bowl.  It should be large enough to mix the beets and the sauce without spilling over the sides.  We cut our beets a little bigger than the traditional small dice, not realizing that part of the thrill of this dish was having the beets cut into little cubes.  Cut them how you like, but remember that the small dice is the traditional method of this dish.

Now, pour the sauce into the mixing bowl with the beets and mix it all around.  Make sure that all the beets get coated with this sauce.  It will seem like you don't have quite enough sauce to cover the amount of beets in the bowl, but as you mix, you will see that it is just right.  So, mix well!  You will see the beets shine and look glossy when mixed right.

Allow this to fully cool to room temperature, or put it in the refrigerator for 3 hours to allow the sauce to gel around the beets.  Serve cool, but not cold.

We  were very happy that we did not have to be in the hospital to enjoy Harvard Beets this time.  And, with the simplicity of this dish we can enjoy them whenever we want (yes, preparing beets may be time consuming but very rewarding).  Somewhere we read that using canned beets for this recipe works very well, so we may try that some time.  Many of the beets in a jar, however, have a lot of sugar added to the brine -- and when we tried this recipe with such beets the dish did not feel right.  But, for our kitchen, usually fresh is better for most dishes.  You choose what is best for you, so please let us know how it turns out.

"Good words are a honeycomb,
And their sweetness is a healing of the soul"

Book of Proverbs: Chapter 16:22

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Day 26: Vegan Kale Hummus with Peanut Butter and Frozen Peas - April 12, 2013

Kale is the new superfood. In our household, kale has been a staple for several years because it is tasty, versatile, highly nutritious and very affordable. Also, it looked so beautiful and fresh in the grocery store, that we knew we had to make something with kale.  So, we bought it, returned home, and started to read all the kale recipes that we could.  As we were reading through a book titled, "The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood, 80+ Recipes" we ran across several interesting recipes that we knew we could make in a short period of time without too many fancy ingredients.  Hummus is one of those foods -- quick and easy to make.  Well, here we are with a version that has kale added to it.  It seemed to have some different ingredients for hummus, but delicious ones none the less.

The directions in this cookbook were pretty detailed.  We understood the process of the recipe the entire way, because they did not leave us much room for questioning.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 1/2 cups kale
2 cloves garlic, with skin
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/6 cup almonds
2 TBSP peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 cup chickpeas
1/8 cup oil

First, you have to cook the kale,  You are just blanching it (cook in boiling water for a couple of minutes) enough to take the hard crunchiness out of it and make it wilt.  You don't want to cook it more than 4 minutes, though, because then you may lose the bold green colour.  Use a slotted spoon or spider or tongs to take the kale out of the boiling water, and then, put it in a colander to chill (shock) it.  So, when the kale is done cooking, rinse it under cold water, but DO NOT discard the hot cooking liquid!  You need it for the next step!

Now, in that same liquid where you had the kale cooking, drop in the garlic cloves.  They are still in their skins, and that may seem weird, but it is like roasting garlic.  You boil the garlic cloves whole; the clove itself does not get saturated with water, but it is surrounded with a layer of its own garlic juice.  Let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes and then add the peas to the pot.  When cooking the frozen peas, you must follow the same rule of cooking them long enough to be hot in the centre; just make sure they still have that beautiful pea-green colour shown in the photo below.

At this point, you may notice that the cooking liquid is taking on a colour all its own.  That's okay, because we are going to use some of this liquid in the hummus.  The reassuring point is that this cooking liquid now has some of the nutrients from the kale, the flavour from the garlic, and the benefits from the peas, so it is a good liquid to have.  When you are draining the peas and garlic, pull the garlic cloves out first, then, drain the peas while reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  You can discard the rest.

Now, using a dry pan, toast the almonds.  Put the burner on high heat, get the pan nice and hot, then toss the almonds around a bit until they get some colour.  It is difficult to see the colour change until they are almost burnt; the goal is to add a little colour to the almonds and make them warm.

Peel the garlic cloves.  You can just squeeze the clove at the base and the clove will ooze right out of the skin.  If only that worked for raw garlic...

Put all your cooked ingredients into the food processor.  That is, put the kale, the peas, the almonds, and the garlic into the food processor and run the pulse function until everything is blended really well.

Now, add the chickpeas, peanut butter, salt, sugar, and lemon juice, and pulse some more.  Get the mixture nice and smooth and well combined.

Next, slowly add the oil.  We poured ours through the feed tube of the food processor, and rapidly and repeatedly pressed the pulse button.

Once the oil is fully mixed into the hummus, pour in the reserved cooking liquid.  You may not need all of it, or you may need a little more of it.  But, you should pour slowly through the feed tube again to help you determine how much you need.  If you have discarded the rest of the liquid, then just use water.  Add enough to get the consistency you want.

Let the hummus sit for about 30 minutes in the fridge before serving.  Hummus does taste better when it is between cold and room temperature instead of hot from the cooked ingredients!

For us, we thought the garlic was mild.  And even though garlic will get a stronger flavour when hummus sits for a while, this was still very mild for us.  We ended up adding more garlic and a little more lemon at the end.  Even without the additions, it was still nice tasting.  Surprisingly, the book stated that "Hummus is just calling out to have kale added to it..." and we now understand and agree with that.

The most interesting part about this hummus, besides the colour, was the texture of the almonds.  They really left us with a good mouth feel.  Perhaps crunchy peanut butter would have contributed here, too.  The cookbook claimed that we could use other nut butters, and in the future we might.  We could clearly taste the peanut butter, and that was a little unusual at first, but then we realized that is was similar to being able to taste the tahini in a traditional hummus.  Really, after the second or third taste, the shock of the peanut butter disappeared, and just seemed to work quite well in this recipe.

We enjoyed out kale hummus adventure.  We know that we will make this again, and we will definitely serve it to guests.  It is an interesting conversation piece and an interesting dish.

"It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man
Than for a man to hear the song of senseless men."

Book of Ecclesiastes: Chapter 7:5