Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

In the early fall, when for a few weeks tomatoes, potatoes, and green beans overlap at our farm, I always make this recipe.  It contains nothing but those vegetables, plus an onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  It makes a stand-alone dinner that is stew-like and hearty (thanks to all that olive oil, see recipe below). It can be served warm on a cold day and cold on a warm day. And when you make it, you will definitely want some bread on hand to sop up the last remaining juices in your bowl.

I learned this recipe from my aunt, whose husband is Greek, but my online research yielded Turkish versions of it.  And, while discussing my dinner plans with a neighbor of Lebanese descent, the neighbor said she grew up eating this meal as well, and she thought of it as Lebanese.  The recipe seems to be a tradition in countries surrounding the western Mediterranean sea.  The variations are minor, such as adding lamb or chicken, adding spices, with the basic recipe remaining the same across the region.

Interestingly, both the potato and tomato are of South and Central American descent where they have been cultivated for at least 2500 years (in the case of potatoes, 8000 years; McGee, Smith).  They did not spread to other areas of the world until after the 1500’s, when the Spanish colonized the Americas.  Once they started being cultivated in Western Europe, tomatoes took to the climate around the Mediterranean so well that they became a staple in many cuisines.

 

vegetables

green beans

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Print Recipe
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
This recipe takes an hour from start to finish. However, active working time is about 20 minutes. The rest of the time is cooking time, and with the anticipation of a cozy meal boiling away at the stove on everyone’s mind, I find it to be a great time to sit with the kids and do homework or relax.
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped
  • 1 lb green beans ends removed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • ¾ cup olive oil that’s not a typo!
  • 1 lb potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lb tomatoes diced
  • A handful fresh parsley chopped (optional)
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped
  • 1 lb green beans ends removed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • ¾ cup olive oil that’s not a typo!
  • 1 lb potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lb tomatoes diced
  • A handful fresh parsley chopped (optional)
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
Instructions
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, lightly brown the onions. Add the remaining ingredients and stir.
  2. Bring everything to a boil. Then cover and simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are done.
  3. Serve either hot or cold, with bread on the side.


Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad with Chickpeas

Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes.  An Israeli salad seems so obvious, it shouldn’t require a recipe.  And yet, it was a revelation to me when I first encountered it in my mid-twenties.  I learned it about from an Israeli friend while we were attending a conference.  Each night for three nights, she made this salad to go along with dinner, each night a little different, but always wonderfully fresh and delicious.  After returning from that trip, the salad became an instant summer staple, and it has changed little over the years.  Eventually (i.e. after the kids came along) I started adding chickpeas, as a convenience, really.  It meant that now I could put a big bowl of salad on the table and call it dinner.  A mother’s dream.

Whatever else you have planned for the weekend, give this salad a try, while the ingredients are still abundant and the evenings are still warm enough to serve salad as dinner without too many explanations.  It travels great, so bring it along to a picnic or barbeque.

Israeli Salad

lemon

chickpeas

Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

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Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg

Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg

During the peak of the vegetable harvest, a simple vegetable roast with an egg on top is enough to satisfy the whole family for dinner.  Sometimes cheese is thrown on top (feta, fresh mozzarella, goat, manchego, fontina, it all works!), sometimes it’s served with pita bread, and sometimes it’s served with tacos.  What remains constant is that I use whatever is most abundant, and I include an egg or two per person, thrown on in the last 7 minutes of roasting, for protein.  And that is it, dinner in a pan with less than 15 minutes of active work.

This dish also works great with something from the allium family, be it shallots, leeks, onions – anything really.  My daughter, who is the choosiest eater in our family, loves the roasted alliums and potatoes best of all.  She loves the alliums for their sweetness, and the potatoes because she likes all things potato (aiming to pleases, I will be giving this recipe a try come the fall.)

Members of the allium family store energy in the form of fructose, rather than the more typical starch molecules used by plants for energy storage. The characteristic sweetness of roasted onions results from the breaking down, with heat, of chains of fructose sugars. The extent to which they are broken down depends on the amount of heat and time.   The longer onions cook at low heat, the sweeter they become (It will come as no surprise that my source is McGee)

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Print Recipe
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
The quantities of vegetables are flexible, and you can adjust them to taste. This is a great basic recipe to use up vegetables and be creative. I never make it exactly the same way twice.
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb new potatoes halved
  • 1 lb tomatoes chopped
  • 1 lb eggplant chopped and salted, if needed to remove bitterness
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper optional
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4-8 eggs I calculate 2 eggs per adult, 1 per child
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb new potatoes halved
  • 1 lb tomatoes chopped
  • 1 lb eggplant chopped and salted, if needed to remove bitterness
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper optional
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4-8 eggs I calculate 2 eggs per adult, 1 per child
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Toss the halved potatoes with 1/3 of the oil, salt and pepper and place them in a roasting pan.
  3. Roast for 10 minutes.
  4. While the potatoes are roasting, chop and season the remaining vegetables with the oil, salt pepper and spices.
  5. Add the remaining vegetables to the roasting pan with the potatoes and continue to roast for 15 minutes.
  6. Break the eggs over the roasted vegetables and continue to roast for another 7 minutes (yolks will be runny) 2-4 minutes longer if you prefer firm yolks.

 

french lentil and kale salad

French Lentil and Kale Salad

July weather has arrived and with it summer cooking.  Now summer cooking means no cooking or baking on the stove or in the oven between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.  We have a single window unit AC for the whole house and it is not powerful enough to overcome the heat generated by the stove.  So for a few days in June, and August, and for most of July we end up eating salads.  Lots and lots of salads, with the occasional grilled meal thrown in.  Most salads contain a starch or grain cooked either early in the morning or after the kids have gone to bed, and then mixed into the salads after they have cooled.

In late January and February, when the days are still short and cold, and it seems like winter will never end, and summer never return, I look forward to summer cooking.  Because summer cooking is really all about the vegetables.  It is as fresh as it gets, with vegetables picked only hours or days before they end up on our plates.  It really is a good time of year for cooking!

Kale originates in the Mediterranean region and is a cultivar of the Brassica oleracea species, which among others includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.  While growing, kale leaves do not form a tight head (think cabbage and Brussel sprouts) and kale is thought to be more closely related to wild cabbage than some of the other cultivars in the Brassica oleracea species.  Kale is thought to be the first cultivar of the wild cabbage to have originated.  Kale originated sometime in the 5th century BC, following many generations of selective breeding of for ever larger leaves on the ancestral wild cabbage.  For a fascinating read on the history of the entire cabbage family, check out the University of Saskatchewan website.

kale

kale

kale stems veins

french lentil and kale salad

french lentil and kale salad

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Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu and Chard in Coconut-Lime Sauce

My CSA farm share has started and it is nice to see those deep, dark greens in the farm shed once again, fresh from the fields and ready to take home and cook!  This week we received chard, arugula, bok choy, kale, and radishes.  Opening the refrigerator and contemplating the possibilities brings great joy to my daily “what are we having for dinner?” decision.

It’s fun to share this recipe with you, which has been part of my repertoire since 2003, when I first made it with friends.  Minor modifications have crept in over the years.  The original recipe was for a soup, but for us it works much better as sauce served over rice or millet.  Here I add chard, but any hardy, mild green would work well with the coconut and lime, the dominant flavors in the sauce.

Chard is a subspecies of the common garden beet, Beta vularis and its wild ancestor, the sea beet. Sea beets are native to much of the Mediterranean region and southern Asia.  Unlike beets, which have been selected to produce flavorful roots, chard is selected to produce large tender leaves and thick, meaty stalks.  Some heirloom varieties available today go back to the 16th century (Harold McGee). I find that the more colorful the chard stalks, the more the flavor resembles that of beets.

chard

ingredients

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

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Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili, Garlic, and Sesame Pasta with Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas

Only recently was I introduced to this five ingredient sauce, but I already know this sauce and I will be together forever.  Why you ask?

  1. It is versatile.  The first time I was introduced to it, it was being served with scallion pancakes as the dipping sauce.  Here I pour it over pasta.  And of course I look forward to marinating some chicken with it one of these afternoons to throw on the grill.
  2. It is so simple to make and if you frequently cook with Asian flavors, it is likely you already have all the ingredients on hand.
  3. The flavor combination is just perfect! The garlic, chili, and sesame work wonderfully together.

What gives chili its characteristic pungency or burning sensation in the mouth is a lipohilic chemical called capsaicin.  There are two theories on why capsaicin may have evolved in chilies: 1) as a defense from mammals, and 2) as a defense against fungi.   When mammals eat the chili fruit, the seeds are ground up by molars, and after passing through the digestive tract the seeds are no longer able to germinate.  Birds do not have the necessary proteins to respond to capsaicin and generally swallow the seeds whole, which are then still able to germinate after passing through the avian digestive tract.  In this manner, birds are a mechanism through which the plant disperses its seeds.  With respect to the second theory, there is a fungus, Fusarium, which can infect chili plants, resulting in wilting of the plant, which in turn affects fruit production and reduces viability of the seeds.  This fungus is deterred by capsaicin.

Chili plants were domesticated over 5000 years ago in South America (Harold McGee).  After Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the plants quickly spread throughout the world, and today are common in traditional cuisines all over the world.  Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum and there are 5 species within this genus which have been domesticated, although most chilies that one can find at the supermarket are derived from only a single species, Capsicum annuum.  Through breeding, the pungency of chilies can be altered, and some have been bread to be mild enough to eat as vegetables.  All unripe chilies are green, and during the ripening process they obtain their characteristic colors from yellow to red, orange, and purple.

 

ingredients

tofu

scallions

sugar snap peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

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black beans fried egg vegetables

Black Beans and Fried Eggs

Among the many things that complement rice and beans, few things are as satisfying to me as a fried egg on top.  The crispiness of the egg white edges adds a pleasing crunch to the otherwise soft meal and the richness of the yolk makes it satisfying and filling.

When you first crack the egg open and let it run into the skillet, the egg white is transparent and runny.  Then, as it cooks, the egg whites turn opaque and solidify.  This occurs because of a change in the structure of the proteins during the cooking process.    According it Harold McGee, egg whites contain roughly 1 protein for every 1000 molecules of water (but each protein can contain as many atoms as 1000 water molecules or more).   Initially the proteins are folded up on themselves, independently floating in the water.  In fact, their sticky parts are hidden inside holding on to other sticky parts within the same protein.  Heat opens the proteins up, exposing their sticky parts, and they start holding on to other nearby proteins.  This occurs throughout the egg white creating a solid mesh that reflects light.  The water is now trapped within that mesh and is responsible for the gelatinous quality of cooked egg white.

ingredients

vegetables

black beans rice fried egg vegetables

black beans fried egg vegetables

An interesting note since we are talking about eggs:  have you heard of aquafabaThis NY Times article is the first time I have run across it.  I am very intrigued.

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french lentil salad lemon vinaigrette

French Lentil Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

According to Harold McGee, a vinaigrette is a water-in-oil emulsion, which means that tiny vinegar droplets are dispersed within the oil, while the oil is the continuous phase, meaning it coats each droplet and fills the empty space between the vinegar droplets. Compare this to, for example, mayonnaise, which is an oil-in-water emulsion with oil droplets suspended in water.

A vinaigrette is usually made by first adding the salt and vinegar to a bowl and allowing the salt to dissolve. Next, the oil is added.  According to Michael Ruhlman in the book Ratio, the manner in which the oil is added determines the texture and longevity of the emulsion.  If oil is added all at once and briefly whisked with a fork, the vinegar droplets in the oil remain relatively large and only temporarily combine.  Adding the oil in a thin stream while the vinegar is being blended continuously with an immersion blender results in droplets of vinegar that may be as small as 3 thousandth of a millimeter across (Harold McGee) forming a thick and stable emulsion with a consistency similar to mayonnaise (depending on the water content).

lemon peel

lemon vinaigrette

vegetables

vegetables

vegetables

The ideal ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or other acid such as citrus (Michael Ruhlman).  3:1 is roughly the ratio I use in this lemon vinaigrette, which also has the lemon peel added for additional flavor.  I use a fork to briefly blend the lemon juice and olive oil, creating only a temporary emulsion.  Alternatively, an immersion blender could be used to whisk the lemon juice while slowly incorporating the oil.  When I make this vinaigrette with an immersion blender, I often add the herbs to the vinegar and salt mixture, creating a lovely pale green (and delicious) dressing.

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fried rice resistant starch retrogradation

Fried Rice and Retrogradation

The key to making great fried rice, with individual kernels of rice intermingled with eggs and vegetables is to use cold, leftover rice. This is because of the molecular changes that happen to the starch molecules during the cooking and subsequent cooling process.

According to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Starches, which are mainly made up of glucose (sugar) molecules strung together, are a plants way of storing extra energy. The two main starch molecules used by plants to store energy are amylose and amylopectin. The difference between amylose and amylopectin is that amylose is mostly a linear molecule (imagine a chain) while amylopectin is highly branched. A typical amylose molecules in made up of about 1,000 glucose molecules, while a typical amylopectin molecules is made up of about 5,000 – 20,000 glucose molecules.

red pepper zucchini carrots and scallion

shredded vegetables

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butternutsquash1

Butternut Squash and Spinach Orzo

Butternut squash? Yes, yes please!  There is nothing like a little burst of orange to brighten your meal on a wintry day – or any day, really.  Butternut squash is a cultivated member of the genus Cucurbita.  Members of this genus were domesticated in the Americas beginning around 5,000 B.C. and were brought to the Old World after Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1492.  Today, members of the Curcurbita genus can be found worldwide and include squashes, gourds, and pumpkins.

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, “the word “squash” is believed to derive from the Algonquian word “askoot asquash,” meaning “eaten green.”” Butternut squash is a variety of the species Cucurbita moschata, which also includes the crookneck group of squashes and the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin. In fact, Libby canned pumpkin is made from Select Dickinson Pumpkin, a member of this species.

The most commonly grown butternut squash is called the Waltham Butternut squash.  There is some disagreement as to the origins of this squash, with it originating either in Waltham, Massachusetts at the Waltham Experiment Station or in Stowe, Vermont cultivated by Charles Leggett.  In one version of the story, as told by Dorothy Leggett, the wife of Charles, Leggett developed the butternut squash in the early 1940s at his farm in Stowe by crossing the gooseneck squash with other varieties. He then took his new squash to Waltham Fields Station, to share his excitement about what he had developed.  From there, it was commercialized without Leggett receiving any credit or financial compensation, which according to Mrs. Leggett, would not have been unusual at the time.

Alternatively, the Waltham Butternut Squash was developed by Robert E. Young a professor at the Massachusetts College of Agriculture working at the Waltham Field Station.  According to his obituary in the Campus Chronicle, Young is also credited with developing “more nutritious varieties of broccoli, carrots, squash and tomatoes”.

The Waltham Field Station is now home to a CSA, Waltham Fields Community Farm.  This happens to be the farm where I have been a long time CSA share holder.  I was unaware of the connection between the farm and the butternut squash prior to researching the background for this post.  In retrospect, it is fun to think that my research brought me full circle back to my own farm!

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spinach

squashandspinach

butternutsquashmeal5

 

Print Recipe
Butternut Squash and Spinach Orzo
This recipe comes together in the time it takes to boil pasta if you have roasted butternut squash on hand.  Note that if you are shredding the cheese on a microplane grater, increase the amount of cheese to 1 cup. Adapted from TheKitchen.com
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups roasted butternut squash*
  • 1 lb orzo
  • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups roasted butternut squash*
  • 1 lb orzo
  • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to instructions and drain, reserving ½ cup of cooking liquid.  While pasta is cooking, sauté garlic in a large skillet in olive oil on medium heat.  Before garlic browns add spinach and cook until just wilted adding butternut squash and salt and pepper to taste.  Add reserved cooking liquid, pasta and cheese, reserving some for garnish, to the skillet and stir.  Garnish with remaining cheese and serve.
  2. *to roast squash, peel squash and cut into ½ inch cubes, removing seeds.  Season with salt and lightly coat with oil.  Roast in a 425 oven for approximately 40 minutes.

References

Andrew F. Smith (1st edition) (2004). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press.

“A Familiar Squash with Surprising Origins”. Apple Country Living. 5 January 2009.

“Obituaries: Robert E. Young”. The Campus Chronicle. 21 September 2001.