Bean Fest, Episode 4: Frijoles Refritos

Refritos are not photogenic, so I decided to show the more tempting end use. Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I can’t believe I’ve never made frijoles refritos--refried beans–before. All these years of scooping that suspicious stuff out of the can–what was I thinking??? Now I see refritos as the natural destiny of any leftover beans.

Refried beans (that name is a mistranslation–refrito means well cooked, not re-fried, but the name stuck) are simply cooked beans that are mashed in a frying pan along with some seasonings and fat. What makes them a little shady to the health conscious and vegetarian set is that they are traditionally fried in lard. But vegetable oil can be used just as well, and I’d add for the sake of fairness, that real, home cooked lard from well-raised pigs is not such a bad fat. For what it’s worth.

To make refried beans you just need to have some cooked beans on hand, the classic choice being pintos.  In Tex-Mex cooking the pintos meant for refritos are first cooked with onion, garlic and a pork rind. Considering that refritos are fried in a bath in oil, garlic and onion, you could theoretically start with very plain boiled beans. But on the other hand, if the beans are tasty at the start, they’ll just be all that more tasty after frying with yet more onion and garlic. Which brings us back to the idea of them being the perfect use for leftover beans. I think this would work well with any leftover beans, whatever the type.

I cooked up my pintos for dual purpose eating. Half were to go over rice, and half reserved for this experiment, so I my beans weren’t plain. Because I liked John’s Bastardized Puerto Rican beans from last week so much, I followed that technique and did a long saute of onion, garlic and parsley in the bottom of the bean pot, then added the drained, pre-soaked pintos and enough stock to cover the beans by about an inch. These I simmered uncovered for a little more than an hour until everything was tender, then I added lots of salt and pepper.

The leftovers from that batch were put in the fridge overnight to become frijoles refritos.

If you read a refried bean recipe, it will ask you to drain your cooked beans and reserve the bean stock. So if you have a pot of beans with lots of liquid, do that: drain and reserve the liquid. My cooked beans were cold, and whatever liquid they still had around them had congealed into a sort of bean gravy.  Don’t worry if that’s true for you–don’t worry about any of it. Refritos are so easy to make its impossible to go wrong. Keep reading.

Just get yourself a big frying pan. Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil or fat of your choice in the bottom. Add a good quantity of minced onion. (I used 1/2 an onion for 3 cups of beans). Saute until the onion turns translucent. Then add in a clove or two of minced garlic, if you like, and cook that for another minute or so. If you like spicy beans, at this point you could also add some chopped fresh hot peppers or some red pepper flakes.

Once this flavor base is established, add a couple of cups of cooked beans to the pan and mash them with a potato masher or back of a spatula, stirring as you go to mix in all the fat and flavor. Here’s a little hint: if you’re making a big batch, don’t put all your beans in the pan at once, because smashing them will become a nightmare. Start with a couple of cups, mash those, then add more bit by bit.

Your goal is to make the beans into a paste, so you have take them to the correct level of dryness–and that is going to be dictated by your own personal preference. So if you’re smashing up well drained beans, you’d add the reserved liquid back in 1/4 cup at a time, until the beans had reached the consistency you like. In my case, I couldn’t separate the beans and liquid in my leftovers. As it turned out, they mashed up a little too wet, but the excess moisture quickly cooked off. If they’d seemed too dry, I would have just added a little water–or stock, if I had some.

That’s really all there is to it. It only takes a few minutes. Taste the beans as you go and adjust the seasoning. More salt is always a good call. It’s up to you whether you want a chunky or smooth texture. Make the beans richer, almost silky, by adding a little more oil or fat as you’re mashing and cooking.

Once they’re done, they’re ready for all the classic applications: burritos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, dips. They’re also good eaten with a spoon, hot out of a bowl with a little cheese and maybe some diced tomatoes or avocado on top.

***

Bean Fest continues next Friday! If you have a favorite recipe, send it in.

Behold the Squash Baby

He’d lay down his life for his squash baby

Mrs. Homegrown here:

It’s 36 inches long as of today, and mystifying passers-by. I think I underestimated its size in the first post, where I claimed it was 20 inches. It was probably closer to 30″ at that point. The curvature makes it hard to judge. (I love the way it arches out of the raised bed–see the pic below). The thing is actually inching into the driveway now. Every time I pull the car into the garage I worry that I’ll clip it.  How would I ever face Erik again?

(For backstory on this, click here.)

I wanted to remove the nasturtium and other leaves blocking the view of the squash for this photo, but Erik cried, “No, you’ll ruin the camouflage!”

Thank you, everyone

Photo: Pénélope Fortier, from an article about us at Cyberpresse.ca
Mrs. Homegrown here:
We just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences this week via the blog, Facebook, or email–as well of those of you who just sent positive thoughts. We could feel the good energy. It’s been a hard week, but your good wishes really helped. 

We’re resuming regular posting. There’s squash baby updates to be made!

Spike 1998-2010

Our much loved 12 year old Doberman passed tonight. It’s been a horrible day spent going back and forth to the emergency vet, but he went fast, which was a blessing. Right now we’re blindsided. The house feels like it has a crater in the middle of it. He’s been with us since he was a puppy, so we really don’t know how to get along without him anymore.

His name was Spike, unless it was Deiter, which was also his name. He was intelligent, intense, and as fiercely attached to us as we were to him. He was also gorgeous. We never tired of looking at him.

He was very healthy all his life, and only began to slow down in his last year. We attribute his longevity to the vast quantities of avocados and heirloom tomatoes he pilfered from our garden. He might have died of pancreatitis, but we’re not sure, and probably will never know. 12 is quite old for a big Doberman male, so intellectually we know we had a good run with him. But right now all we want is to have our dog back.

Homegrown Evolution will be on hiatus for a couple of days.

***

ETA: Our friend Doug has posted a photo tribute to Spike at his website.

Can’t sleep so had come back to eulogize a bit. Just sending this out into the ether. It has to go somewhere.

Spike loved people, more so in the second half of his life when he gave up on his innate, guard dog aloofness. Any visitor to our house was greeted by a 95 lb, pointy eared demon dog, barking deep chested from the porch. I’d have to shout over the barks that this was simply him saying “Pet me! Pet me now!” to the terrified visitors. And sure enough, as soon as they came in he’d stop barking and demand admiration.

He loved little dogs and puppies more than anything, more than people perhaps. He was good with all dogs, never aggressive, but he’d get particularly excited whenever he saw a puppy. With puppies and little dogs he’d lay down on his belly so he could be eye to eye with them, and so they would not be as afraid of him.

He was terrified of cords. Phone cords, computer cables, etc. Wouldn’t cross them. Treated them like snakes. When he wanted to cross over a cord, or needed something on the other side of the cord, he’d bark this particular high pitched bark at it until we came and took it away.  Similarly, he would not nose or paw open doors, so would also bark at any door not open sufficiently wide for him.

His greatest love was perhaps the sofa. His sofa. When I think of him, one of the predominant images is of him sprawled across the sofa on his back, front paws in the air, back legs spread obscenely wide.

He purred. Especially when you rubbed his ears. It sounded like a soft growl. In fact, the first time I heard him do it (the habit started later in life) I thought he was growling at me, and scolded him for it. But we figured it out and made up. 

They call Dobermans “velcro dogs” because they have to be by your side. Where ever I was in the house, he was next to me. He’d wake out of a deep nap to follow me. Even in his last days when it was hard for him to move around, he’d heave himself up and follow. Lately I started trying to stay in the same place as much as possible to save him steps. This velcro nature had a darker side. He was deeply unhappy when Erik and I were away from home. He couldn’t stand to be separated from us. So of course we were always uneasy when we had to leave him. Which is one of many reasons why it is so painful to be separated from him tonight. I think it was hard for him to leave us.

Spike was driven to learn and work. He went to many dog classes in his time, and if we weren’t so lazy, could doubtlessly have been trained to do anything: work calculus problems, drive a cab–anything.  The last thing he learned was a sport called “fun nose work” wherein dogs search for targets of scented oil. He loved sniffing for treats, and got his sniffing title (NW1) at age 11.

He never harassed our chickens, or even looked at them sideways. He seemed to get that they were not food from the very beginning, and we could let them all wander around our yard together. Often I’d see big old leggy Spike standing in the middle of the yard, slightly befuddled, while hens pecked at the ground between his legs.

Sometimes I’d find him sniffing around the beehive, which always made my heart stop, but the bees seemed to understand that he meant no harm. I certainly couldn’t have come that close to them with impunity. Creatures are smart that way.

Spike slept on the floor (well, on his own bed) next to my side of the bed. Every night he needed petting before he’d lay down and go to sleep. If I tried to ignore him and play possum, he’d nudge his nose under my arm. I called this ritual “night time reassurances.” If I was gone, Erik would substitute. It started when he was a puppy, when I’d have to lean out and down from the edge of the bed to stroke his little head. It continued all his life, though when he was an adult, he loomed over me when I was laying in bed, so I had to reach up slightly for the mandatory chin scratching and ear stroking.

He became hard of hearing in his last year or so, and that was difficult for all of us, because prior to that he’d been so word-oriented. I’d never met a dog who listened so intently, or knew so many words. What was extra amazing was that he eavesdropped. He knew the name of our friends and their dogs. If we mentioned any of them in conversation he’d coming wagging up to us, all excited, because he thought if we mentioned them, they must be on their way over.

Our regular, somewhat cruel, language game with him was to start the sentence: “Do you want to go…?”  He knew the correct ending was “…for a walk?” But instead of ending it with “walk”, we’d tease him by ending it with things like “…to the bank?” “….to the Netherlands?” And he’d go from thrilled to consternated when the sentence didn’t end right. Doberman consternation is a sight to see. The brow wrinkles. The pointy ears spin and twitch. You can almost hear him saying, “Whaa??” After teasing him a couple times with false endings, we’d finally say the magic word–walk– and then he’d bound around for joy.

For the last year of his life he was on steroids, and those made him hungry all the time. He became a consummate food thief. What was so stunning about his thievery was the timing of it. He watched and waited for the perfect moment, and then struck with the speed of a shark. And I don’t mean he waited til we left the room. He’d wait until all human attention was well focused elsewhere–a distraction or some such. It’s hard to explain unless you saw it, but his timing was breathtakingly clever. I couldn’t even be mad because it was so brilliant.

Spike had a third name, Dorr’s Braveheart. This is the name on his registry papers. He was the last in a line of a superb family of Dobermans.  Within moments of meeting his parents, they were curled up on the breeder’s couch with me. I knew I had to have one of their babies.

We have one small car, a hatchback. On car trips, Spike had to make due with the narrow back seat. Mostly he insisted on balancing his front paws on the arm rest between the two front seats, while his hind end was on the back seat. Positioned this way, he’d car surf. The goal, I think, was to have his nose line up with ours, because a car ride was like running with the pack. The last time we took a ride with him (other than the rush to the vet today) his balance was not so good, so he leaned against me as we drove. Shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek.

While I hope one day to know another dog as special as Spike, I know such gifts don’t come frequently. I’ve met few dogs so sensitive and intelligent and sweet. We were blessed to spend 12 years with him at our side.

Back on the Yogurt Train: How to Make Yogurt

This is how I want my yogurt.
Dadiah, traditional West Sumatran water buffalo yogurt, fermented in bamboo segments. Courtesy of Wikimedia. Photo by Meutia Chaeran.
Mrs. Homegrown here:
One reason I make a lot of my own stuff is because I’m trying to avoid plastic packaging. And as I’m sure you know, that’s pretty much impossible these days–but I do what I can. Lately I’ve realized that one consistent source of waste plastic in our kitchen comes in the form of yogurt tubs. This is a little silly, because we know how to make yogurt. In fact, I do believe we covered it in our book.
Thing is, back in the day when we made yogurt, it was Erik’s job. When he slacked on it, I didn’t even consider picking it up. Chalk it up to the mysteries of division of labor in a household.
Anyway, we went to see Mark Frauenfelder talk about his great new book, Made by Hand, and one of things he mentioned was how much he and his family are digging making their own yogurt–and how cost effective it’s been for them. He inspired me to get back on the yogurt train.
It’s so darn easy, we should all be on the yogurt train. One great thing about it is that it not only saves money, but it saves packaging, and gives you more bang for your milk buck. We only use milk for coffee around here, so sometimes our milk goes bad. Now we make most of it into yogurt and there’s no waste, no excess packaging. And if we make some of that yogurt into yogurt cheese or use it instead of sour cream, that saves more packaging.
How to Make Yogurt:
Here’s how I’m making yogurt these days–it might vary a little from Erik’s methodologies in our book, but all yogurt making is basically the same. You’ll need a cooler for this.
Gather together:
  1. A cooler to keep the yogurt warm while it ferments. I’m sure there are many ways to keep yogurt warm, but I find the cooler straightforward, and that’s what I’m going to describe here. We make two quarts at a time in a little six pack cooler.
  2. Very clean canning-type jars
  3. Hot water bottle (optional)
  4. Towel(s) for insulation
  5. Your last store bought container of yogurt. You need live yogurt to start the culture, only a few spoonfuls. The label should say something about containing live, active cultures. You’ll need 1 Tablespoon of live yogurt for every quart of milk you’re transforming.
  6. Milk, of course. Make sure your milk doesn’t say “Ultra Pasturized” or UP on the label. That stuff is just nasty. Otherwise, you can use whole, 2%, 1% — and even skim, I presume, though I’ve never tried it. How much milk? As much as you want. But it seems to me that for the trouble, a quart would be the minimum it would be worthwhile making. After all, it keeps a long time. 
The procedure:
  • Heat milk gently to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’ve got a thermometer, great. If you don’t, 180F is where the milk starts to simmer. Just watch for those first tiny bubbles to start rising. When they do, turn off the heat. (Heating the milk makes for thicker yogurt. You could skip this step if you like. I would skip it if I got my hands on some nice raw milk.)
  • Let the milk cool down to about 110F. This is the only hard part–waiting for it to cool. 110F is about as hot as a hot bath. You can put your finger in it and keep it there.
  • While you’re waiting, boil water to heat your jars. I like to fill my jars with boiling water, cap them, and let them sit until it’s time to use them, at which point I pour the water out. I know it’s not really sterilization, but it’s something, and it pre-heats the jars, which is important. You could also pull the jars straight from a hot dishwasher, or actually boil them. Also, you’ll want to pre-heat your cooler. Pour hot water in it as well and let it sit until the last moment. And fill up your hot water bottle, if you have one.
  • Stir in 1 Tablespoon of yogurt for every quart of milk in your pot. Use no more than that. Stir until dissolved.
  • Transfer the inoculated milk into warm jars, cap them, and stuff them into the warm cooler (which you’ve emptied of water). Do all this fast so you don’t lose much heat. Your mission is to fill the cooler up, so there’s no empty space, with some combination of jars of yogurt, towels and heating devices like hot water bottles or lacking one of those, just more jars filled with hot water. My routine is to put 2 quart jars in a six pack cooler, slide a hot water bottle between them, and pack the top of the cooler with an old towel, so that I can just barely manage to lock the lid in place.
  • The goal is to keep the yogurt very warm for about 8-12 hours. You might not be able to keep it at 110F the whole time, but it should be in that neighborhood. Certainly above body temperature. My set up described above seems to do that well enough. I’ve never checked the temp. inside, fearing to lose the heat. It just works.
  • After 8-12 hours the milk in the jars should look yogurty and taste yogurty. It might not appear thick enough, but remember that it is quite warm. It will thicken some after it goes in the fridge.
  • If it doesn’t look yogurty at all, add a smidge more starter, rewarm the cooler and everything, and try it again for another 8 hours. Consider that your starter–your store bought yogurt–may not be alive. Either that or the cooler wasn’t warm enough.

Bean Fest, Episode 3: Bastardized Puerto Rican Beans


Mrs. Homegrown here:

It’s been a tough week here on the bean front. I had two beanfail incidents trying to come up with a recipe for this week. The first, an Armenian recipe for white beans, failed through no fault of its own but because the beans were hopelessly old. No matter how long I cooked them, they stayed crunchy, yet somehow also tasted overcooked. Shudder.

Meanwhile, I’d been obsessing on Cuban-style black beans, but fell into a deep well of confusion–as so commonly happens when trying to find practical info. on the interwebs. Vinegar, sherry or wine? Sugar–really? How much? When does the sofrito go in? Is pork truly optional?

Last night I set aside my Cuban plans in frustration and opened up Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian–a generally solid cooking resource. He had a recipe for black beans and rice cooked together in a pot in the oven. Intrigued, I gave it a try. I won’t disect the recipe here, but suffice it to say the results were perilously close to hippie slop. Erik thought it was not a bad recipe, just not one that can stand on its own. It was sort of like an extra hearty rice pilaf that perhaps wanted something big and savory to accompany it. We threw lots of Bulgarian feta on it and called it a night.

This morning I decided to try one more recipe for lunch, so I’d have something to post today. I’m glad I did, because it was super tasty. Hallelujah!!

It was sent in by one of our readers, John of Yome Sweet Yome. I’m glad he wrote in, because that way I discovered his blog. He and his partner I doing what I’ve always wanted to do: building their own house on a nice chunk of land in the beautiful Northwest. Go check it out. I think I might be doing some vicarious living via the blog reader for the next few months.

I like his voice, so I’m going to post the recipe as he sent it, rather than reshaping it into a more traditional recipe form, but I’ll add some of my own notes, and hope they’re more helpful than confusing.

John’s Bastardized Puerto Rican Beans

One of my favorite recipes is a bastardized version on a traditional Puerto Rican dish. It goes like so…

Start them nice and early in the day and invite friends over for dinner. Slow is the only way…. Everything tastes better with a heavy dose of expectation….

The bean does not humor any shortcuts. Soak (at least) overnight.
Start cooking pre-soaked beans in lightly salted water (or broth, if you’ve got it lying around and feel decadent). Give them a bit of a head start before you start the rest of the dish.

• I made this with black beans (though later he says he usually uses pintos or reds). My beans measured 1 cup unsoaked, and after overnight soaking, 2 cups. You’d probably want to use more beans than that, but this was all I had pre-soaked. I put them in a saucepan, covered them with water, about an inch over the top of the beans, brought them to a boil and then reduced them to a simmer. I didn’t salt the water, because I’m of the “salt toughens the skins” school. Do what thou wilt.

Finely chop up equal parts cilantro and parsley, stems and all. More than you think you’ll need. A good handful of each.
• He doesn’t mean a handful of chopped herbs–he means you should start with a big fat handful of stems. I used a full bunch of each, and it was not too much. See, you’re going to cook the beejezus out of them, so they’ll reduce. You need to start with lots. I really don’t think you can use too much.

Saute diced yellow onion in oil, or rendered bacon fat, should you be of the persuasion. When they get translucent, toss in a generous amount of chopped garlic and your parsley and cilantro.
• I used one big onion and 3 or 4 large cloves of garlic. And I’d keep that 1 onion to 1 cup of dried beans proportion if I made a bigger batch. I did all of my chopping in the food processor. I usually chop onions and stuff with a knife, but I was in a hurry. In retrospect, I think it was good that everything was chopped very fine. So if you’re knife chopping, put in that extra effort.

Cook until it turns somewhere between a hunter green and brown in color. Deglaze with white wine or stock.

• This made me laugh. Hunter green? I like that he was color specific because I am afraid of overcooking, so I tend to undercook. The herbs looked gorgeous when they hit the heat and turned bright green. That’s where I would stop cooking if left to my own devices. But I understood that deglazing means scraping yummy brown bits off the bottom of a pan, and that meant that the herbs had to cook toward brown. Or at least hunter green. What this all means is that you will have to attend your onion/garlic/herb mix over medium heat, stirring pretty frequently, as you watch the pretty herbs turn from bright green to dull green. The onions will become more golden, and the volume will shrink down. I didn’t take it to brown, but it was definitely drab by the time I called it quits. Sort of army green. I splashed white wine around the edges of the pan and stirred everything up to collect any caramelized bits. He says you can use stock to deglaze instead, but the wine really zings up the flavors. And the smell was heavenly.
Add some pureed tomato and mix until you have an applesauce-y consistency. Strain your beans and add them to the pan, adding just enough liquid keep them covered. Put the fire on low and let the whole shebang cook for a good long time, stirring it occasionally.


• Pureed tomato? hmmm… I wondered if he meant tomato paste. But I decided to throw some canned plum tomatoes in the food processor, since it was out anyway. I added about 1 cup of the resulting puree to the pan and mixed well. The result didn’t scream applesauce, but it was a festive red and green. And it was thick.

Then I strained the cooking water off the beans, combined them with the puree, add added enough veg stock to cover all of it, and returned it to a simmer.

My black beans must have been extra fresh, because after a half hour of cooking by themselves while I did the other stuff, they were already tender enough to eat. But I understood that this was supposed to be a long cooking recipe, that long simmering would allow the combined flavors to marry, so I let them cook on for about 30 or 35 minutes more, adding stock and stirring to make sure they didn’t burn. But I was starving and Erik was nosing around, so that was all the time they got. Still, it was gooooood. But there’s more instructions to come–salt and pepper make an appearance, as does sour cream….

This is usually where I throw a jalapeno or bell pepper on the fire and roast them for later.
• Oh yes–I scorched whole jalapenos in a cast iron pan while I cooked down the onions and stuff.
When the beans are cooked through, season with salt, pepper and cumin. Add your chopped up roasted peppers and serve over rice with a dollop of sour cream and call it Sofrito! Unless you’re serving it to a Puerto Rican, in which case don’t call it anything, and you didn’t get the recipe from me!

• Sorry John. Now the whole internet knows you’ve taken liberties with Puerto Rican cuisine. Good thing you live in some undisclosed woodland location!

So yes, toward the end I added plenty of salt and pepper and cumin, and for thrills another splash of white wine. I was cooking black beans, and I think they can taste kind of dull without the help of some acid. But other beans might not want all this wine.

I usually use red or pintos. For a twist, use chickpeas and add some diced potatoes and turmeric for a more middle eastern taste.
Hoorah!

• Hoorah is right. These are the kind of beans I love. Savory. Luscious with sour cream or yogurt. And they really weren’t hard to make at all. The long cooking of the onion, garlic and herbs at the beginning gives it a deep flavor underpinning that just doesn’t happen when you just sort of throw onions, beans and spices together and hope for the best. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

I only wish I’d made two or three times as much. 2 cups of soaked beans makes about enough to feed two hungry people. I wish I had leftovers, because I suspect it would have been better the next day.


It’s Official: Erik is Insane

Our parkway garden

It’s true. Erik has gone insane trying to protect his baby. His squash baby.

A little background:

We’ve long gardened in two raised beds in the parkway in front our house (the parkway being the space between the sidewalk and the street). This is officially city property, though we are responsible for maintaining it. It gets great morning light, so it’s a valuable growing space. It’s also fun to garden out in public, so we can talk to our neighbors and get all the fresh gossip, and show little kids what food looks when its growing.

The drawback to a public garden, of course, is that it is defenseless. This means that dogs and cats and sometimes people tromp through the beds, scattering freshly planted seeds and smashing delicate seedlings. If the plants survive, then they become subject to theft. Now, we don’t mind sharing food. The parkway isn’t really ours, after all, so we figure what grows down there is fair game. Generally we either grow things down there that are easy to share–like beans or cherry tomatoes–or things people aren’t likely to pilfer–like greens.

This all changed this year, because Erik decided to plant squash down there. Not just any squash, but this fantastical Italian winter squash called Lunga di Napoli. It’s a green skinned squash, rather like a butternut in shape and texture, except it can reach a meter in length.

At the time of planting, I did the wifely, “Honey, are you sure that’s a good idea?” thing. It’s just not a good idea to plant high-investment crops in the parkway. He assured me he knew it was a risk, but he wanted to try, and we didn’t have space to plant it anywhere else. “No big deal,” he said. Back then he was reasonable.

Since then, our parkway has turned into a dense jungle. *** Note: We love our tolerant neighbors!!!! *** There’s not only squash growing in those two small beds, there’s also scarlet runner beans, strangely hairy cucumbers, volunteer tomatoes and giant lamb’s quarters going to seed. The giant squash tendrils are spreading across our driveway and walk. Sure, it’s better to be lush than bare, but it looks crazy. Grey Gardens type crazy. In my more optimistic moments I think of it as a “food forest.” I tried to take pics, but it’s hard to capture the wildness of the space.

Very like the jungle swallowed the ruins of Palenque on the Yucatan peninsula, our Scarlet Runner bean long ago swamped its trellis.
Hairy cucumber and tiny tomatoes growing together. The beds have their moments of beauty.

Back to the squash. It only bore two fruits. Erik began to obsess over them as soon as they appeared. How would they ever live to maturity? He just knew a thief would take them at zucchini size, and then they’d never reach their potential. Suddenly, it was of utmost importance to him that these squash reach their full one meter length. I trembled with dread and ill foreboding.

The remaining Squash Baby, currently measuring 20 inches or so.

One morning the inevitable happened. Erik stomped into the house, crying, “The %$#$!*s took my squash! They took my squash!” The smaller of the two squashes was gone, picked long before its time. After a brief period of depression, which he spent either cursing the unjust nature of the universe or reiterating his desire to chop down all the trees in our backyard, so as to maximize secure growing space (which is not going to happen as long as I’m around!), Erik began to scheme.

And now, we are the proud proprietors of Garden Guantanamo. The remaining squash baby –and it really is baby sized, and growing fast–soon I will have to refer to it as the squash toddler–is wrapped in layers of chicken wire and spiked deep in the earth. But that was not enough. He’s also surrounded the entire parkway with a cordon of bright yellow rope (invoking police tape?) and most alarming of all, fashioned little signs that say “Warning: Experimental/Not For Human Consumption/No Es Comida” and staked them at 3 foot intervals on all sides.

Lousy pic of one of the signs, obscured by windblown lamb’s quarters.

I’ll admit I’ve put up my share of signs in my time (Keep Door Closed, Turn Off Lights, Don’t Eat the Cake in the Fridge, etc.). But age brings wisdom, and I’ve learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who read signs and those who don’t. And the great irony is that those who read signs don’t need the signs in the first place. And those who need the signs never, ever read them.

In other words, I don’t think the signs are going to work. And I’m dreading my neighbors asking me what’s experimental about our food.

In the meanwhile people, pray for Erik and his squash baby. And I’ll keep you updated.

Blue Garlic A-OK


Mrs. Homegrown here:

Note the lovely blue tinge of the garlic in my latest pickling adventure. Turns out that there’s a few reasons garlic might turn blue or green when prepared, but whatever the case, the coloring is harmless. What most likely happened here is that the garlic I used wasn’t fully dried, so it reacted with the vinegar in the pickling mix. I remember noting how moist the garlic cloves were as I worked with them that day.

If you want to read up more on this topic, and learn some of the science behind it (I’m too lazy to retype all the big words), check out this garlic fact sheet from What’s Cooking America. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

By the way, the pickles I’m making are tourshi–Armenian pickles. If they work out, I’ll share the recipe.

Bean Fest, Episode 2: Falafel and Babaganoush Recipes

Welcome back to Bean Fest 2010, our ongoing celebration of the humble dried bean.

Last week we got a lot of great tips and hints in the comments. If you haven’t read those, I’d encourage you to take a peek. We also got a couple of recipes via email that we’re going to test out. Thanks, ya’ll! Again, if anyone has a favorite bean recipe, please send it this way ([email protected]).

One lesson to take away from last week is that beans do quite well in solar ovens, crockpots and the newer pressure cookers, and that if you eat a lot of beans, one of these devices would be a useful investment. I really wish I had any one of those items! We have a light, homemade solar cooker–as opposed to a more sturdy, enclosed solar oven–which is handy for grains, but really doesn’t have enough ooomph for consistent bean cooking. And we’re lacking in both space and money for new kitchen gadgets. So around here we’re stuck cooking beans on the stovetop. Seems everyone has their own bean cooking methodologies. This is mine, for what its worth:

  • Pre-soak beans for about 8 hours. Oversoaking can lead to mushy beans.
  • Rinse soaked beans and place in a heavy pot with 2 inches of water covering them. Simmer until done–however long that takes. Sometimes the bean gods are merciful, sometimes they are not. Never cook beans on a deadline. Cook them when you have plenty of time and other things to do around the kitchen.
  • Don’t salt ’til they’re almost done, because salt toughens the skins.

There seems to be a split in camps between people who a) cook the beans first, unseasoned, then incorporate them into a dish, b) throw onions & etc. into the water with the beans and let it all boil together, and c) people who do a saute of the onions & etc. at the bottom of the pan before adding the beans. I don’t know if any of these methods are better than the others, and admit to doing all three.

This Week’s Recipe: Falafel

The first lesson in food photography is not to consume your subject before you even get around to taking the picture. These few falafels were all we had left when we realized we needed to take a pic for this post.

I was thinking that a lot of people are just plain intimidated by cooking dried beans, so perhaps it would be fun to start out with a bean recipe that allows you to just skip all that trauma. Back in the day, Erik and I would sometimes make falafel out of that powdery stuff you buy in bulk bins. It tended to be salty and dry, but it was quick food. We were amazed to discover how easy it is to make real falafel–and how good the result is. Unlike bulk bin stuff, this falafel is moist and light and tender.

The secret is that it is made with raw chickpeas. They are soaked and ground up–but not cooked. This gives the falafel great texture and fresh flavor. You should not substitute canned or cooked beans in this recipe. If you do, the balls won’t hold together very well. If you must use canned beans, you’ll need to add some bread or cracker crumbs, and possibly even an egg, to create a dough which will hold together.

The other thing about this recipe is that it is very, very flexible. I’d encourage you to adapt this any way you think best.

We make this in our food processor. If you don’t have one, I’d suspect it could be done in batches in a mortar. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, then you’d have to come up with some way to squish the beans. Perhaps in a bag with a rolling pin? The greens and the rest could be minced and stirred into the bean mash.

You’ll need:

(This quantity will make wraps for 4)

  • Dried chickpeas (aka garbanzos), 1 cup
  • Chopped greens/herbs: about 3 generous fistfuls. We usually use 2 handfuls of parsley and 1 handful of mint. But if we don’t have that, we improvise. Any flavorful green would work: mint, parsley, cilantro, chives, basil, flavorful wild potherbs, etc. Arugula works too, and even less flavorful greens, like spinach, will do in pinch.
  • Garlic, 2 or more cloves
  • Onion, about 1/2 of a reasonably sized onion, chopped (optional, could also be replaced with green onion)
  • Salt, about a teaspoon
  • Spices to taste. Here things get really individual. Spice as you please. We usually add about a teaspoon of cumin and a couple of big pinches of cayenne pepper.

Soak the beans for about 8 hours. You can put them out to soak at breakfast to make falafel for dinner. The one cup of beans will expand to 2 cups when soaked.

Toss the beans, garlic, onion, salt and spices into the food processor, along with a glug of olive oil. Whirl until you can’t see whole beans anymore. Add another glug of olive oil and all the greens. Let it whirl until the greens are cut down to speck size. The mix should be a pleasant spring green. Taste and add more salt or whatever you think necessary. Don’t mix it until it turns to smooth paste. Stop while it still has a little texture. Add olive oil to smooth it out, as necessary. When its done, it will be wet and light, but you should be able to easily roll the mix into balls.

At this point it would be fantastic if you could let the mix rest in the fridge for an hour or two for the flavors to blend and the mix to stiffen up, but you don’t have to.

Roll up a bunch of balls, or small patties, if you’re a patty person. We make balls that are smaller than golf balls. More like big gum balls. Or mountain state hail.

At this point you can deep fry or pan fry the balls. You could probably bake them, too, if you want to be righteously healthy, but we can’t advise you on time and temp.

We usually cook them via a method I call “half-assed deep frying.” Being somewhat too guilty minded (and cheap) to actually cook up a whole vat of hot oil and fry the falafel like a good falafel should be fried, I pour about a half inch of oil (I use grapeseed) into my littlest cast iron frying pan and heat that till it sizzles when I drop a bit of falafel mix into it. Then I put the balls in, about 5 or 6 at a time. The oil covers them about half way. When the bottoms are golden, I flip them and cook the other side. It doesn’t cost much oil. And while it doesn’t give that perfect crispness of true submersion deep frying, it tastes pretty darn good.

Serve your falafels wrapped in some sort of flat bread along with salad fixins, especially chopped tomatoes and onions. Good toppings include yogurt, tahini, hummus and baba ganoush.

Do you know how to make baba ganoush? Baba ganoush is eggplant spread, a close cousin to hummus, but lighter, and to my mind, better.

A Quick Baba Ganoush Recipe

All you need is eggplant, garlic, tahini , olive oil and lemon.

Take one huge eggplant or a few smaller ones, prick a few holes in them so they don’t explode and put them in a 400-450 degree oven on a baking sheet for about 45 minutes, or until they wrinkle and go flat on the bottom. Then cut them down the middle and scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. The skins could go to chickens, worms or compost.

From here, you could mix everything in a food processor or blender, or just use a fork if you don’t mind a more stringy texture. Even if I use power tools, I try to keep the baba ganoush a little lumpy. Stir in tahini to taste. To me, that means that if I have 2 cups of eggplant goop, I’d probably add 1/4 cup of tahini.

Mince up your garlic fine and stir that in next. How much garlic depends on how much bite you want the baba to have. 1 clove minimum, much more theoretically. Add salt to taste, and pepper, or hot pepper, if you like. Add a swirl of olive oil to give it some richness. The finishing touch is fresh lemon juice, and it’s an absolute must. Try adding about half a lemon’s worth of juice, see how that tastes, and go from there.

Baba ganoush tastes best if its allowed to chill for a couple of hours before serving. It’s pretty easy to whip up a batch of falafel mix and baba ganoush at the same time, and then put it all in the fridge until dinner time. Then it only takes a few minutes to fry up the falafel, and you’re good to go.

Figgy Rebuttal

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I had to register my disagreement with Mr. Homegrown’s Mission Fig vs. Kadota Fig post. Seems Erik decided to hold a taste test and invite only himself. The Kadota figs are certainly very good. But much of that goodness comes from their sweetness. They are sweet as honey, but not cloying. I respect that, but I don’t crave it. Unlike Erik, I don’t have a sweet tooth. Therefore, of the two I prefer the less sweet Black Mission figs–they’re figgier, for lack of a better word. So don’t go to bed thinking that you’re really missing out by not having one of them fancy Janice Kadota trees in your yard. They’re very good figs, but they’re not all that.