This isn't a recipe so much as a general methodology for getting more fibre, leafy green vegetables and whole grains into your diet (something that my diet can certainly use!). The shorter days and colder nights of fall and winter conspire to make me crave comfort foods which is fine and generally nutritious and all, but they tend to be heavy on the carbs and a bit lacking in fibre and greens.
I recently watched an episode of The Nature of Things on CBC concerning the importance of fibre to our diets, specifically the microbes in our gut. Fascinating and very informative. You can watch it here. It certainly made me rethink things and decide to get serious about it.
The thing about comfort foods is they're usually pretty easy to prepare and you know and love exactly what you're getting: something yummy and satisfying to eat. So, in order to incorporate more fibre, more leafy green vegetables and more whole grains into my diet and make it a habit, I need to create new comfort foods out of them.
Beans and legumes are a terrific source of fibre and I do eat them fairly regularly already, but usually for lunch only. I wanted to start incorporating them more into dinners as well. Leafy greens are more a part of my diet in the summer when I tend to eat more salads and in the fall and winter my consumption of them tends to drop dramatically. So, I wanted to bring that back up, too. I'm not too bad with the whole grains, but more at breakfast and lunch than at dinnertime, so incorporating them more into dinners would be good thing.
So, what to do? Well, within weeks of each other I came across two different books that have inspired me. The first one is small and paper-bound -- almost a booklet -- called Kill the Recipe (love that title!) by Mark Andrew Gravel, a Brooklyn-based cook. It's all about cooking with beans and to quote the book:
"The book shows you, through a series of how-to's, all the ways you can repurpose a simple pot of beans into other convenient and inexpensive meals throughout the week. It guides you through making a heady soup or stew, an earthy casserole, a velvety puree, a quick saute or a flavorful side, a cool salad, easy bean patties and crunchy roasted beans."
You can actually read the entire book online through the above link and/or show your gratitude to Mark and purchase the book from there or from Amazon (which is where I stumbled across it while looking for other cookbooks). Me, I like having an actual paper book I can hold in my hands, flip through and write notes in. There's just something about the tactility of it all!
I found the second book, Whole Grains for a New Generation, via a link on Marisa's Food In Jars blog to a post she put up on the Table Matters blog. It's a veritable treasure trove of information on many different types of whole grains and how to prepare them as well as being a great cookbook.
What I love most about this is that it is totally freeform -- you can make whatever strikes your fancy by following a few guidelines. Using Kill the Recipe as a reference, in my methodology ingredients are divided into five groups: the "aromatics" (onions, garlic, fennel, celery, ginger, carrots etc.), the "beans" (dried or canned black, navy, kidney, romano, chickpeas etc.), the "greens" (kale, chard, spinach, bok choy etc.), the "seasonings" (salt, pepper, any number of spices) and the "grains" (rice, barley, quinoa, freekeh, millet, etc.). Pick as many as you like from each of the five groups. Prepare the beans (soaking and draining, rinsing etc.), sauté the aromatics in some olive oil until tender-crisp then add the beans and their cooking liquid as well as the seasonings and simmer until the beans are cooked. Sauté or steam the greens and add to the beans or keep separate. Meanwhile, prepare your chosen grain(s), pile in large serving bowls and top with the bean mixture and the greens. Dig in!
This is very similar to what Isa Chandra Moskowitz calls a "Hoppin' John" bowl on her website, the Post Punk Kitchen. I love the idea of topping the bowl with tahini and hot sauce and the diced tomato and parsley salad!
You can find an outline of my "methodology" here.
For this post, I am going to use:
- onions, garlic, fennel, celery and carrots as my aromatics
- canned mixed beans as my beans
- red swiss chard as my greens
- brown long-grain rice as my grain
- something vaguely "Italian-ish" for the seasonings
See how loosey-goosey it can be? So, let's pop on a cool jazz playlist, pour a glass of wine and get cookin'!
I'm starting with cooking the brown rice as it takes a while. I used about 1½ cups of rice, 1 cup of beef stock and 2 cups of water, keeping to my tried-and-true ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part rice. I brought it to a full rolling boil, then I turned the heat down to the lowest setting (actually, I moved the pot over to my smallest hob and turned it on to the lowest setting), covered the pot and let it sit undisturbed while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
Next, I opened the 2 cans of beans, drained them in a colander, rinsed them well in cool water and let them drip drain while I continued on.
I chopped all my "aromatics" -- the carrots, onions, garlic, celery and (new for me) fennel into smallish (½-inch) pieces. I've eaten fennel in dishes before, but I've never actually cooked with it. I quite like it!
I coated the bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil, added all the chopped "aromatics" along with some sliced mushrooms and gently sautéed them until the onions were translucent and the whole thing smelled wonderful! I then added a 750ml jar of my diced tomatoes, juice and all, along with the rinsed and drained beans and brought it up to a boil before turning down the heat to about medium, covering the pot and letting it simmer until the carrots and mushrooms were tender, about 15 minutes or so. See, nothing is definite or specific about this (not a) recipe -- you just play around with it, constantly checking and doing taste tests and just generally having fun!
So, while the vegetables were simmering and after a quick peek at the rice, I prepared another new-to-me vegetable: Swiss Chard. When I was at Loblaws earlier in the week, they had both the green and the red chards and in the true spirit of experimentation, I went for the red. Having now had Swiss Chard, I can't wait to find some Rainbow Swiss Chard -- the colours are amazing! Hmmm... maybe next year I'll get some seed and grow some! I must admit, part of the fun of all this is having an excuse to be adventurous (not that any of us should need an excuse!) and try new foods.
Since the center vein of the chard leaf is so large and pronounced, it's really easy to cut it out by running the tip of a sharp knife down each side of the vein. I set the leaves aside for a moment while I chopped the veins into small pieces, rather like celery, and added them to the pot of simmering vegetables. I then left it to simmer away on low heat until the beans were tender and everything was heated through, about 15 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, I rolled up each chard leaf width-wise into a cigar shape and then cut cross-wise into thin ribbons (chiffonade). I then added the chiffonaded leaves to the pot of vegetables along with my seasonings: oregano, basil, parsley, fennel seed, winter savoury, a couple of bay leaves and a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Again, no measuring -- I just went by sight, smell and taste until I was happy with it. Covering the pot, I let it simmer another 5 minutes or so to wilt the chard leaves then gave it all a good stir before dishing everything up.
Although I was happy with my tastings along the way, nothing really rocked my boat. Everything tasted fine, but it was all sort of "meh". BUT! When I put it all together and drizzled some tahini with hot sauce over it (I mixed about a cup of tahini with about 1 tblsp of Frank's Red Hot and used about half of that on the bowl), what can I say but WOW! This is one of those dishes whose whole is way more than the sum of its parts. I pretty much inhaled the bowl you see above while watching the news on TV last night. Hearty, tasty, filling and oh-so-satisfying. Not to mention healthy and nutritious. I think I've found the ultimate comfort food!
UPDATE: November 19, 2015 -- I had some more of this for dinner again last night and like a good chili or stew it was even better as leftovers! There is still a bit left and I am going to try freezing it to see how it reheats after thawing. Will let you know in a future update.
UPDATE: November 24, 2015 -- I thawed and re-heated the leftovers in the microwave and they were every bit as good as first made! This recipe/methodology/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is definitely a keeper!