Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006
Dear Diary:

It rained all day Sunday, so I decided to continue BeanStock 2006, aka My Life as an Improvised Explosive Device.

Ingredients dictated my next choices.

I had that poor denuded lime left over from Caribbean Bean Chili brooding about woman's inhumanity to lime in my fridge. It's stressful to open your fridge and be confronted by brooding fruit. Beside it, a huge bunch of fresh coriander was doing its best to become compost. With brooding decay greeting me every time I poked my head into the fridge, I made a double batch of

Bob E.'s Easy Peasy Black Bean Soup

(Quantities below make a single batch)
2 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
1 cup water
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, diced
1 large red pepper, diced
19 oz. cooked black beans (you can start with 1 cup dry beans)
2 tsp. groun cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ lime, juiced
¼ cup minced cilantro

In a medium pot, combine the stock, water, garlic, onion and red pepper. Bring to the boil.

Stir in the cooked beans, cumin and coriander

Cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until the onion and red pepper are soft

Purée the soup

Stir in the lime juice thoroughly

Serve garnished with cilantro.

I was a bit suspicious of a recipe that didn't call for the onions, peppers, garlic and spices to be sautéed, but it was fine, which is fabulous because that makes this an insanely low fat recipe.

I gave my blender to my daughter this spring because it had been eons since I used it, AND THE UNIVERSE WANTED TO MAKE SURE I WOULDN'T HAVE IT WHEN I NEEDED IT. Thus, I couldn't purée this soup. I used my egg beaters on it and it ended up semi creamy with tiny little chunks of black bean and red pepper floating in it. When I sprinkled the cilantro on top and put in a big spoonful of plain, active, non fat yogurt, it was actually very pretty to look at.

I ate it with whole wheat crackers and sharp cheddar and gotta tell you, I liked it a lot. Simple, fast, tasty, visually appealing. It's a keeper.

Next I tried the recipe Bob E. sent for

Marrakech Chicken and Lentils

2 tbsp. vegetable oil, preferably canola
2 ½ lbs chicken thighs (about 8-10) skin removed and fat trimmed
flour for dredging
1 cup green lentils, rinsed and picked over (common green ones, not the French variety)
6 large scallions, chopped
¼ cup minced cilantro (1 oz. by weight) plus 2 tbsp. minced as garnish
12 whole dried apricots (3 oz. by weight) quartered
2/3 cups golden raisins
¼ cup minced parsley
1 ½ tsp. minced fresh ginger
½ tsp. salt, or to taste
¼ tsp. EACH ground allspice, cinnamon, cumin and chili powder, plus a pinch of cayenne
1 can (13 ¾ fluid oz.) low sodium chicken broth, fat skimmed off
¼ cup water

Heat oven to 350F. Have ready a large deep oven proof pot or skillet with a lid. (If skillet handle is plastic or wood, wrap it in a double layer of foil to protect it from scorching.)

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.

Dredge chicken with flour, shaking off excess. Add to skillet in batches and cook until browned, about five minutes per batch. Remove to a plate.

Drain fat from skillet.

Add lentils, scallions, 4 tbsp. cilantro, the apricots, raisins, parsley, ginger, salt and spices to skillet

Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Place chicken and juices from plate on lentil mixture.

Add broth and water and bring to a boil.

Cover skillet and place in oven. Bake 30 minutes covered, then

Uncover, top up the liquid with boiling water if necessary, and bake 20 minutes longer or until chicken and lentils are tender

Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

Okay, here are the things that caused me grief. First off, I couldn't get golden raisins here because I live in the boonies. They're normally only available here during the Christmas season because people use them in fruitcakes. I had to substitute black Thompson raisins.

I don't have a kitchen scale. I quartered 12 apricots, but I suspect they were on the puny side and I probably fell short of 3 oz. because I couldn't taste them at all. Next time, I would put in more.

I don't have a cast iron skillet and I didn't want to put my non-stick skillet in the oven, so I transferred the recipe to a baking dish. That, my friends, was a mistake because during dumpage from the skillet to the dish a lot of the lentils were left out of the liquid, resting on top of the chicken. They didn't cook in the first half hour.

By the time I figured out why the lentils were having issues (and trust me, there is nothing quite as testy as a dry lentil) I had baked this dish over an hour covered. I had to scrape the lentils off the chicken chunks and kind of smush them down into the liquid. Tedious, and totally my fault.

Next time what I would do is boil all the lentil stuff separately until the lentils were semi-cooked, pour that into my baking dish, and press in the chicken into the lentil mixture. The steam from everything baking will grab the flour-y goodness from the chicken and make the sauce.

It is important to check from time to time and top it up with boiling water. Lentils are big on hydration.

The texture of this dish is fabulous. The lentils are kind of nutty and chewy and add a lot to the chicken. The spousal unit and I found it too bland, though. In fairness to the recipe, that could well be because I messed up on two key ingredients, the raisins and apricots.

Scallions don't have a lot of firepower, and lentils and chicken are shockingly bland by themselves. To give this dish more zing, I chopped up two medium onions and sautéed them until they were caramelized, that light brown stage where they become extremely sweet. This is a somewhat sweet dish, I figured that would compliment it. When the onions were almost caramelized, I dumped in a clove of garlic and a teaspoon of cumin and sautéed them for about a minute. In my world, there is no such thing as too much cumin.

I threw all this in the pot, mixed it in, and let the whole shebang sit in the fridge overnight.

When I served it for supper last night, I decided to play on the nutty taste of the lentils and chopped up a couple of tablespoons of dry roasted cashews and sprinkled about a tablespoon on top of each of our servings. Yum.

This recipe makes a lot. It filled my 9 x 12 pyrex dish to the very brim, which means there's lots left over to freeze into containers for those nights when I'm just too tired to think about cooking. Oh, but I love that.

I'm also thinking that it's a good dinner party recipe.

We both like this recipe, and I want to take another run at it. I will up the apricots and see if I can track down yellow raisins in the larger town that's about 45 minutes from where I live. Because I like my food somewhat spicy, I've pencilled in the two medium onions, caramelized, the clove of garlic and the extra cumin, but if your palate does not like the spicy, the original version might be right up your alley.

Another keeper.

Man, but I wish I'd thrown myself on the mercy of my three loyal readers earlier. When I think about some of the web concoctions we have choked down ...

Best not to look back, eh?

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 518.25 miles. 10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck
Oh, man, but I am having a hard time building back stamina. Ouch.


Goal for 2006: 1,250 miles - 2000 kilometers



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