Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean-Style

Pot ‘O Beans, Mediterranean Style

We left you hanging in October, due to a swarm of continuous activity gearing up for Discretion Brewing’s opening in January. Our apologies. Now here we find ourselves in early December. We hope you had a warm, festive, delicious Thanksgiving with the people who are dearest to you. Are your holiday decorations up? Have you checked any gifts off your list? The temperatures are dropping, the rain is coming, and it’s the perfect weather for a big pot o’ beans.

Beans are a versatile protein that can be thrown in a pot with any cuisine’s flavor profile. Think of them as a blank canvas. As they cook, your house will smell fantastic and make you feel good about yourself. It’s true.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

The beans
– If you’re going to make beans the star of the meal, you’ll want to use dried beans. Quality is key –  I love using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. Soak them the night before you want to cook them.

The flavor base – Heat olive oil in deep pot. Add diced onion, garlic, and whatever cubed veggies fit with your theme, along with the spices that you think might compliment them – think fennel, carrots, oregano, rosemary, thyme. Or Jalapeño peppers, cumin, coriander, chile powder.

The cooking liquid – Nothing beats home-made stock. We roasted a chicken a couple days ago in anticipation of this dish, using spices and ingredients that we thought might compliment it. Don’t have time to roast a chicken? Store-bought chicken stock will do. Or beer (good beer) is a wonderful cooking liquid (says the girl who’s involved in opening a brewery).

The finish – A squeeze of lemon; a squeeze of lime; a splash of vinegar. A little acid adds a bright finish to your pot o’ beans.

The accompaniments – Did your beans take a turn towards Mexico? Serve with warmed tortillas and cubed avocado on the side. Did curry make its way into the pot? Try store-bought naan (Stonefire naan is a great brand) warmed in the oven and brushed with melted butter. Did you go the Mediterranean route like we did? Serve with crostini.

By all means, use this recipe as a guideline. Feel free to experiment with ingredients. Serves 4-6.

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

(This is a recipe we’ve made several times without measuring anything, but this time I referred to this recipe from Martha Stewart, in order to give you some correct ratios. Enjoy!)

1/2 lb. dried heirloom beans (such as pinto or cranberry)
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 a fennel bulb, diced
1 large carrot, diced
rosemary (about 2 sprigs, chopped)
dried oregano
dried thyme
salt & pepper
4 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1/2 a large lemon (we used a Meyer lemon from our tree in the front yard), zest and juice.

  • The night before you want to make your pot o’ beans, don’t forget to soak them! Place the dried beans in a bowl and cover with cold water (by 2 inches or so). The next morning, drain and set aside. Oh crap! You forgot? It’s ok – for a quick soak, cover beans in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain. Phew.
  • Heat 2 TBS. of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot. Cook onion, garlic, fennel, carrot, 1/2 tsp. salt, freshly ground pepper, and any other add-ins until onion and garlic are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Add beans, 4 cups broth, and another 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, until tender, 1 to 2.5 hours, depending on type of bean (our cranberry beans took 2.5 hours). Add more liquid during the cooking process, if necessary.
  • Add the zest of half a lemon (we used a vegetable peeler and added several big pieces of  zest that we removed before serving). Taste and add more salt to taste. Add the lemon juice if you desire. Serve with crostini on the side – we rubbed slices of sweet baguette with garlic, brushed them with olive oil, and threw them in a 350 degree oven until crispy and golden (turning once), about 12 minutes.

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

When the December issue of Bon Appetit introduced me to shakshuka, a popular dish in Israel, it screamed comfort to me. You crack eggs over a simmering aromatic tomato sauce, seasoned with paprika, cumin, jalapeño, and garlic, and then transfer the skillet to the oven for them to poach. Chickpeas add substance, crumbled feta adds creaminess, and chopped cilantro adds brightness. Place the hot skillet (carefully) in the middle of the table and dig in with pita bread for dipping. If you succeed in poaching the eggs just right, the whites will be set and the yolks will be nice and runny. I was not so successful. After the suggested 5-8 minutes of cooking time, my whites were still clear, so I let them go a little longer and then they overcooked. Alas. It was still delicious, however, and I’ve been blogging long enough to feel comfortable admitting my screw-up. The next morning I redeemed myself. I fried two eggs (perfectly over easy, I might add – I’m more comfortable cooking eggs in a pan than in the oven) and placed them over the leftover tomato sauce/chickpea/feta mixture. Amazing. There are not many meals that I’d gladly eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but this is one of them.

The holidays can be a time of stress, whether it’s menu planning for your first Christmas dinner, braving the crowds downtown to find the perfect sweater for uncle so-and-so, or entertaining last minute out-of-town guests. Or in my case, maybe you have a 20 month old who can go from being the sweetest boy in the world to screaming at the top of his lungs when Mommy decides it’s time to leave the children’s section of the bookstore to pay for our books. In the midst of this kind of week, may I suggest this meal as a quick (and more importantly, comforting) weeknight dinner. In 30 minutes it can be on your table, and as soon as you tear off that first piece of pita and dip it into the bubbling sauce, you’ll be reminded of what matters. There is good food to be had. And look at the people sitting around your dinner table – you’re truly lucky to have them. Looking at my own (grown-up) baby reminds me of that baby in a manger, oh so long ago, who embodied love and grace for the world; I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some of that right about now.

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

(From the December 2011 issue of Bon Appetit)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta
8 large eggs**
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Warm pita bread

*I used one 15 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, and one 15 oz. can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (had to make use of what was in my pantry).

**For the 3 of us (yes, Levi actually counts as a whole person now when it comes to serving sizes), I used 5 eggs. I kept the amount of tomato sauce the same, even though the original recipes says it serves 4-6. It makes wonderful leftovers, and you can always fry an egg (or 2) the next morning and place it on top of the sauce.

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Heat oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeños; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add chickpeas, paprika, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  • Add crushed tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle feta evenly over sauce. Crack eggs one at a time and place over sauce, spacing evenly apart. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 5–8 minutes. Garnish with parsley and cilantro. Serve with pita for dipping..

Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa

As I’m writing this it’s drizzling, and since we can’t play outside, Levi is entertaining himself with a drawer filled with various kid-friendly kitchen implements (the “decoy drawer,” as I call it, because it keeps him away from the dangerous stuff and buys me a few minutes here and there to write blog posts, fold laundry, or answer the phone). I swear that just yesterday we were enjoying the warmth of the early evening sun, grilling chicken in the backyard, and sipping icy pints of IPA. Levi was playing in his shark sprinkler — the perfect summer scene. How the weather changes on the central coast! And how we as mothers adapt as far as activities go for our kids.

Speaking of adaptation, meals take even more planning-ahead these days. Not only is Levi walking; he’s running and climbing — onto couches, chairs, boxes, whatever he can. You have no idea how many distractions I had to have in place in order to make this cherry tomato-black bean-corn salsa. It’s hard when every 20 seconds you have to look up from whatever you’re doing to make sure your son hasn’t scaled the bookshelf. But somehow I made it work and we ended up with this beautiful salad for dinner, which was perfect for a warm evening, but also sounds delicious now as I hear the pitter-patter of rain against the window.

The chicken is seasoned with a delicious spice mixture of chile powder, brown sugar, cumin, and coriander before being grilled to perfection. Then it’s sliced and set on top of crunchy romaine lettuce, along with a spoonful of the salsa, and sliced avocado, and dressed with  a slightly sweet/slightly tart lime-cilantro vinaigrette. My slight adaptation to this Fine Cooking recipe is that we decided to grill some corn on the cob and add the kernels to the salsa, which added a nice sweet flavor and seemed to fit in with the southwestern theme. We also used romaine instead of Bibb lettuce, omitted the pine nuts (because we didn’t have any) and substituted chicken thighs for the chicken breasts. Our changes are reflected below. We hope you enjoy this dinner salad this summer. Its bold flavors will not disappoint.

Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa

(Slightly adapted from the Aug/Sept 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 TBS. chili powder
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt
1 large ear of corn, husked and lightly oiled
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBS. +  2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 TBS. + 2 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
2 tsp. honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco (optional)
1/2 of a 14-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (save other 1/2 for another use)
4 oz. small cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered or halved (about 3/4 cup)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1  head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 medium firm-ripe avocado

  • Prepare a medium-high gas or charcoal grill fire.
  • In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, brown sugar, coriander, cumin, and 3/4 tsp. salt. Rub the spice mixture over both sides of the chicken thighs (you’ll have some left over, but it’s a great spice blend for another use). Let chicken sit at room temp while the grill heats.
  • Grill the corn until tender and the kernels are charred in spots, about 6 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Grill the chicken thighs until done, about 6 minutes, flipping once. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Using a knife, carefully cut the kernels off the cob (this is easier when done in a large bowl so the kernels don’t go flying everywhere) and transfer to a small bowl.
  • In a small jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, lime juice, 1 TBS. of the chopped cilantro, the honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a few shakes of Tabasco (if using). Shake well to combine.
  • To make the salsa, add the beans, tomatoes, garlic, remaining 2 tsp. cilantro, and a pinch of salt to the small bowl with the grilled corn kernels. Add 2 TBS. of the dressing and toss gently.
  • Put the lettuce in a bowl, season with a little salt, and toss with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat. (Reserve a little to drizzle on the chicken.) Arrange the lettuce on a platter or two dinner plates. Slice the chicken thighs. Pit and slice the avocado. Arrange the chicken slices, avocado, and salsa on the lettuce. Drizzle a little of the remaining dressing over the top. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Feta Baked in Olive Oil with Marinara, Red Onions & Oregano and a Simple Chickpea Salad

It’s the end of a long day, and you want a simple meal that brings you back to a happy time and place; Something like softened feta cheese bathing in bubbling-hot olive oil, accompanied by crusty bread. When we first made this baked feta, we were re-creating an appetizer that we enjoyed in a dimly-lit taverna on the first night of our honeymoon in Santorini. You place a block of feta in a baking dish, pour olive oil over it, scatter some chopped onions, peppers, and tomatoes (when in season), season with salt, pepper, and oregano, and let it bake until the oil is bubbling and the cheese is softened. So simple. Then you spoon the hot cheese, olive oil, and vegetables over your slices of bread and try not to burn your mouth as all those simple ingredients come together in one delicious bite after another.

On this night we had some jarred marinara sauce to use up, so we decided to spoon it around the feta before baking. It ended up being a great addition, and a good substitution for the fresh tomatoes we used in the original version. We also added some fresh chopped oregano and red pepper flakes on the top, which added beautiful color and bright flavor.

I wanted something cool to accompany this hot appetizer and turn it into a more substantial meal, so I tossed together some canned chickpeas, baby spinach, sliced red onion, grated carrot, fresh oregano, and crumbled feta (to echo the flavors in the main dish), and then dressed it with a simple lemon vinaigrette. The baked feta and the salad were a great combination and a comforting dinner. Bring a little piece of the Greek Islands into your home with this dish and allow it to comfort you. What comforts you at the end of a long day?

Feta Baked in Olive Oil with Marinara, Red Onions & Oregano

(Serves 2)

1 block of feta
extra virgin olive oil
jarred marinara sauce
red onion, diced
fresh oregano, chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the feta in a shallow baking dish. Pour olive oil on and around the feta so that it almost covers the feta, but leaves the top of it exposed. Add spoonfuls of marinara sauce around the feta, on top of the oil. Scatter the onion and fresh oregano on top. Season with a little salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Bake until the oil is bubbling and cheese is softened, about 20 minutes. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

Simple Chickpea Salad

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
a couple handfuls of baby spinach
a couple handfuls of grated carrot
some crumbled feta
chopped fresh oregano
juice of 1 small lemon
olive oil
agave nectar
salt & freshly ground black pepper

  • Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, a few good drizzles of olive oil, a drizzle of agave nectar (or honey) for sweetness, and salt & pepper to taste. Toss everything together. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Better yet, make the salad as the feta is baking so the flavors can really meld.

Black Bean Tostadas

First order of business: I need to share these pictures of Levi in the snow. Last month we went to Utah for a weekend to celebrate Dustin’s Great-Aunt’s 90th birthday. It was a quick trip, but we still had time to visit several micro-breweries, (the highlights were the Elephino Double IPA from Red Rock Brewing in Salt Lake City, and the Winterfest from Wasatch Brewery in Park City), as well as stick Levi in his snowsuit and plop him down in the snow to see his reaction. It was a mixture of confusion and delight. Then he tasted it 🙂

You know, traveling to other places, whether it’s a few states over or all the way to Japan, really makes us appreciate the abundance of Mexican food that we have here in California. Especially Japan. I think that’s why we used to make quesadillas every day for lunch (with our extremely expensive imported cheese and tortillas), in an attempt to fill that Mexican food void. Now that we’re back at home, any Mexican-inspired dinner feels like comfort food to us. This meal was both comforting and light (aka it didn’t give us that “OMG I just ate 3 chili rellenos and a side of rice & beans; I’m going to die” feeling). Our version of a tostada is a crispy corn tortilla, a thin layer of beans, a thin layer of guacamole, some shredded cheese (next time we’ll use queso fresco, but we didn’t have that on hand this time), and a lightly dressed salad of mixed greens, cilantro, and carrot.

Black Bean Tostadas

(Makes 4 tostadas)

1 TBS. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
a couple splashes of medium-bodied beer (no Coors here, people)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
ground cumin
1 lime, zested + the juice (divided)
1 avocado
a spoonful of your favorite spicy salsa (here is ours)
2 small handfuls of grated cheese (we used colby jack)
2 handfuls of mixed greens
1 handful of grated carrot
1 handful fresh cilantro
your favorite vinaigrette (we just used olive oil, red wine vinegar, a little agave nectar for sweetness, and salt & pepper)
4 corn tortillas
canola oil for frying

  • Begin by making preparing your “refried” black beans. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 the garlic and cook over the low heat so that it can really infuse the oil with flavor, rather than browning too quickly, about 4 minutes. When it starts turning golden, add the black beans and stir to combine. Turn up heat to medium and add a few splashes of whatever (good) beer you’re enjoying while you cook (come on, I’m not the only one who does that), and season with salt, pepper, and cumin to taste. Allow beans to cook for 5-10 minutes. Add the lime zest and stir to combine. Start to mash the beans with a wooden spoon (a “rustic mash” – some of the beans will remain whole-ish, but that’s ok) and continue stirring. Add a little more beer if the skillet becomes dry. When the beans are mashed the way you like them and are seasoned to your liking, turn off the heat and stir in the juice of 1/2 the lime (reserve the other 1/2 for your guacamole). Set aside.
  • Prepare your guacamole. In a small bowl, mash the avocado together with the remaining minced garlic and a spoonful of salsa. Season with salt & pepper. Nice and simple. Set aside.
  • Now, prepare the salad: Combine the mixed greens, grated carrot, and cilantro. Lightly dress with olive oil, red wine vinegar, a little agave nectar (or honey), salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • Heat enough canola oil in a small frying pan so that it reaches a depth of a 1/4 inch. When hot, fry the corn tortillas one at a time, using 2 forks to hold then below the surface of the oil. After a couple minutes, carefully flip the tortilla and continue frying for 1-2 more minutes or until crispy. Let drain on paper towels.
  • Assemble your tostadas: Place a crispy tortilla on your plate, spread a thin layer of black beans, followed by guacamole, a little handful of shredded cheese, and a handful of the salad. Sprinkle with a little more salsa on top of the whole thing if you want a little more heat.

And here was Levi’s version. He had some of the black beans, some guacamole (before I put the salsa in) some corn tortillas (not fried, just heated on the burner), and some carrots that I simmered in a little water with cumin and black pepper until soft. Bon Appetit, little boy!

Some sliced oranges were the perfect accompaniment for our tostadas.

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole (and Thanksgiving ’10 Recap)

Bring on the Turkey leftovers!  Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? We did too, but we didn’t get around to photographing all the food this year between taking turns holding a teething baby (both his top teeth are coming in right now and he’s less than thrilled about it) and cooking two of the vegetable side dishes. So regardless of the lack of pictures, here is a Thanksgiving recap:

My dad made his usual smoked turkeys like last year, and we snacked on spiced nuts and two varieties of cheese (an aged goat cheese and a cheddar). Once again, my brother provided some awesome beer to wash everything down. We had stuffing two ways – one with cornbread, and one with roasted lemon. There was the usual cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, beets, and butterflake rolls from Gayle’s Bakery, and we contributed roasted brussels with chanterelles and cream, and a sweet potato gratin. My mom made a fresh kale salad with pomegranate seeds and sliced persimmon. Lastly, my uncle Rick made four amazing pies for dessert: pumpkin, pecan, coconut cream, and “crack pie” — a recipe from Momofuku in New York. It’s an oat cookie crust with a filling mainly consisting of butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk. Here is the recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit. Yum.

Despite teething-fussiness, Levi enjoyed his first Thanksgiving! He even added beets to his food repertoire (delicata squash, butternut squash, yellow zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, apples, bananas, rice cereal, and oatmeal cereal. He has also tried cinnamon and nutmeg). I can’t believe he’s 7 months old already!

My favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the leftovers. When there’s so much on your plate, it’s hard to truly appreciate the turkey, but later in the week it can take center stage! We enjoyed our annual turkey sandwiches at the Christmas tree farm last Friday (we found the perfect little picnic spot in between the trees), then last night we thought that the smokiness of the turkey would pair well with black beans, so we decided to make turkey-black bean quesadillas with spicy guacamole.

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole

  • Combine 1 ripe avocado, 1 small clove of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a small lime (reserve the other half), and 1/2 a minced serrano chile in a small bowl. Mash and combine. Taste and season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • In a small sauce pan add 1 can of black beans, drained. Then jazz them up a bit — add whatever spices you want.  We added some cumin, chile powder, coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Add a splash of water, too. Heat, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until beans are hot. Turn off the heat. Squeeze in the other half of your lime.
  • Assemble your quesadillas with flour tortillas, grated Monterey jack cheese, a few spoonfuls of black beans, and some leftover sliced Thanksgiving turkey. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat. When one side is nicely browned, flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Serve with spicy guacamole and a salad.

Black Bean Tortilla Soup

Even though it postponed our trip to the pumpkin patch, the rain last Sunday was refreshing, and it put us in the mood for soup! We have so many dried beans in the pantry, I finally decided it was time to make a conscious effort to remember to soak them. I was envisioning a black bean soup that was brothy and had whole beans (because a pureed soup sounded like a pain in the butt because I don’t have one of those hand-held immersion blenders). Pleased with the aroma from adding some chopped chipotle chiles in adobo, I decided that some crispy fried tortilla strips and cool avocado would be the perfect topping – transforming my soup from plain black bean soup to a Mexican-inspired black bean tortilla soup. It’s definitely not a quick dinner, but with some planning ahead, it’s definitely worth the comfort that it brings! Levi loved “helping” me stir the soup occasionally throughout its 2 1/2 hours of cooking time. It serves 3-4.

Black Bean Tortilla Soup

(Adapted from this recipe on Epicurious, originally from the Dec. 2004 issue of Gourmet Magazine)

3/4 cup dried black beans (5 oz), picked over and rinsed
2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 small leeks, trimmed, and white and light green parts chopped
3 small carrots, diced
1/2 a large red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
a California bay leaf
dried oregano
ground cumin
ground coriander
freshly ground black pepper
6 cups broth (1 1/2 quarts)
3 small tomatoes, diced
(skip this unless you can still find good, sweet, end-of-summer tomatoes)
1/3 cup dry pasta (small shapes work best; we used small shells)
2 corn torillas
vegetable oil for frying
1 avocado, cubed

  • Cover beans with cold water by 3 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature  for at least 8 hours or overnight. (You can also use this quick-soak method: Cover the dried beans with 3 inches of cold water in a large saucepan, bring it to a boil and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat and cover pan. Soak beans, covered, 1 hour).
  • Cook bacon in a large pot over medium high heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Remove some of the bacon fat from the pot, but leave enough (about 1/2 a Tablespoon) so the bottom of the pot is lightly coated.
  • Return pan to medium-high heat. Add the bacon back to the pot. Add the leeks, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, chipotle chiles, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, coriander, paprika, and pepper, and saute, stirring frequently, until leek is softened, about 5 minutes. Add a little olive oil if the bottom of the pan begins to look a little dry.
  • Add beans, broth, and tomatoes. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. In the last 6 minutes of cooking time, add the pasta (if using), as well as 1 cup of water. Bring soup back up to a simmer and cook until pasta is done.
  • Cut the corn tortillas into strips and fry in vegetable oil over medium heat until crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with a little salt.
  • Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with the fried tortilla strips and cubed avocado.

Tabbouleh Salad with Lemon, Mint & Chickpeas

“Hot Hot Hot! The Elephants are hot!” — the opening of one of Levi’s (Mommy’s) favorite books. These words popped into my head this morning, not just because I have the entire book memorized and often get it stuck in my head, but because the news informed me that there is a heat advisory in effect today from noon until 8pm. It’s not uncommon for Santa Cruz to see several chilly weeks in August and then experience a heatwave just as kids are starting school again.

There aren’t any elephants around here, but Mommy is hot; Levi is hot; the kitties are hot! That’s why last night we wanted a no-cook dinner and something Tabbouleh-ish was our inspiration. We’ve never cooked with bulgur before. It’s a delicious, quick-cooking grain with a nutty flavor. Adding fresh herbs, fresh seasonable vegetables, and some chickpeas for extra protein made it the perfect meal for a hot evening. The recipe below made enough for the two of us, with enough leftovers for 1 lucky person’s lunch.

Tabbouleh Salad with Lemon, Mint & Chickpeas

(Adapted from the recipe from Bon Appetit, as seen on Epicurious)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 large green onions, chopped
2 TBS. chopped fresh mint
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the bulgur with the boiling water. Cover and let stand until bulgur is tender and water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.  (Alternatively you can add the bulgur to 2 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 12-15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl).
  • Add the tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, green onions, mint, and chickpeas to the bowl of bulgur.  Add the olive oil/lemon juice mixture and gently mix with a wooden spoon.  Taste and season with salt & pepper to your liking.
  • Let sit for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors can blend. Serve with a simple green salad.

Levi is 4 months old!

Black-Eyed Pea & Ham Salad

These days feel so strange. The weather is warming up.  It’s spring break so the Boardwalk is open and we can hear roller coaster screams wafting up the hill into our backyard. Our little cherry tree is blossoming and has many tender green leaves, and the weeds in the front yard are out of control. All these things feel so familiar, but this isn’t going to be a typical spring season! Every time I post a recipe, I wonder if this will be the last time I post before the baby comes. Probably not, but we’ll see! If he/she takes after Dustin and I, it will be very prompt. Let’s hope that’s the case! 😉

This is a colorful and healthy salad that’s packed with fiber and protein and uses up leftover Easter ham — score! I turned to an old friend for this recipe, Gourmet Magazine (*insert collective “awww” here*). We used dried black eyed peas instead of canned, so I’ve included the directions for how to prepare those. Use canned if you’re in a hurry. Since this salad sits at room temperature for an hour before serving, it’s perfect for bringing to a potluck, picnic, or spring gathering. Enjoy! This recipe serves 4.

Black-Eyed Pea & Ham Salad

(From the April 2009 issue of Gourmet)

1 cup dried black eyed peas
1 cup chopped, cooked ham
1 rib of celery, chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh jalapeño (we used a fresh serrano pepper for more heat!)
2 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • Rinse and sort peas. Put 1 cup peas and 4 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and let cool.
  • Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the peas and gently stir together. Season with salt & pepper (I also ended up adding a bit more vinegar than the recipe calls for).
  • Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving,

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo, Spinach & Breadcrumbs

Chickpeas aren’t just for hummus anymore! Have you ever eaten them after they’ve been fried in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper? Oh my gosh. They are crunchy and addicting and you must try them! In this recipe, the crispy golden chickpeas are cooked alongside of chorizo, which adds a lovely orange coloring and imparts its distinct Spanish flavor. Then you add spinach that’s been wilted with sherry, top with bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil, and stick under the broiler to brown the top before serving. It’s a good weeknight meal, along with a salad and some crusty bread. This recipe serves 4. Not a fan of chorizo? Try this similar recipe that we made a few years ago in Japan, Spanish Chickpeas with Spinach & Eggs.

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo, Spinach & Breadcrumbs

(a recipe by Mark Bittman recipe, as seen in this newspaper)

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible
salt & black pepper
4 oz. Spanish chorizo, diced
1/2 lb. spinach, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
1/4 cup sherry
1 to 2 cups breadcrumbs

  • Heat the broiler.
  • Put 3 TBS. of olive oil in a skillet that’s big enough to fit the chickpeas in a single layer. Heat over medium high heat. When hot, add the chickpeas and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the diced chorizo.
  • Continue cooking for another 5-8 minutes or until the chickpeas are crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chickpeas and the chorizo from the pan and set aside.
  • Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan. When hot, add the spinach and sherry and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the spinach is very soft and the liquid has evaporated.
  • Add the chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan with the spinach and toss to combine. Top with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Put under the broiler briefly to lightly brown the top.
  • Serve hot or at room temperature.

Grilled Lamb Gyros with Tzatziki & Summer Chickpea Salad

We’ve been thinking about gyros ever since we went to a Greek Food Festival with our friends last month. I think my favorite part of a gyro is the tzatziki. The cucumber, lemon and yogurt make for a refreshing sauce that goes perfectly with grilled meat, tomatoes and onions. Last night we made our own version of a gyro by wrapping pita bread around grilled lamb that was marinated in olive oil, herbs, and garlic, some homemade tzatziki, and a summery salad of chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and herbs that I found in one of my favorite Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Some grilled summer squash rounded out what we deemed the perfect summer BBQ meal.

Last night was a wonderful night to eat outside. Not only are we approaching the longest day of the year so it stays light long enough to finish both dinner and dessert (and a bottle of wine or two), but it’s been staying warm until the sun goes down. Also, we planted a little vegetable garden today and wanted to be near it! Some sugar snap peas will soon be growing up bamboo sticks. Grow, peas, grow!

We also planted two varieties of tomatoes (Early Girl and another that I’ll have to get back to you on, but it’s an heirloom variety), an artichoke, a zucchini, and basil! Look how cute this little sugar snap pea plant is! I haven’t gotten around to photographing the other plants yet, sorry!

Unrelated to vegetables, the hydrangeas are gorgeous right now! Don’t they make you want to be outside? My cats love to jump around and try to catch the bees that hover over their flowers. Sometimes they do little back-flips in the process and it’s very entertaining to watch. Cats really do always land on their feet! Ok, now let’s get to some recipes …

Summer Chickpea Salad
(Slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver)

1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced

2 fresh red chilies, de-seeded and sliced

2 handfuls of yellow pear tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), halved

2 limes

extra virgin olive oil

salt & freshly ground black pepper

chili flakes

1 14 oz. jar of chickpeas, drained

a handful of fresh mint, chopped

a handful of fresh basil, finely ripped

7 oz. feta cheese

  • In a bowl, combine the sliced onion, garlic, chilies, and tomatoes. Dress with the juice of 1 1/2 limes and about 3 times as much olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili flakes (or whatever combination of spices you desire).
  • Heat the chickpeas in a pan. Add 90% of them to the bowl. Mush up the remaining 10% and add these to the bowl as well (Jamie says they give a nice, creamy consistency. They sure did).
  • Allow salad to marinate for a little while and serve at room temperature. Just before serving, add the fresh mint & basil. Taste one more time and adjust the seasoning. You can also add the juice from the remaining lime half if you think it needs it. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad and gently mix. Serves 4.


1 english cucumber
1 cup yogurt

2 garlic cloves, minced
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 of a small red onion, minced (optional – we had some leftover from the salad)
a handful of fresh oregano, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Grate the cucumber onto a kitchen towel or heavy duty paper towel. Pick up the towel and squeeze the excess moisture out of the cucumber. Do this several times until no more water is coming out of the towel.
  • In a small bowl, combine the grated cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, red onion, minced garlic, oregano, and salt & pepper. Mix well. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for a little while so the flavors can mingle. Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Grilled Boneless Leg of Lamb Gyros
(We explained to our butcher that we wanted to grill lamb to slice to make gyros. He was very helpful and offered to sell us the boneless legs that they usually use to make the marinated lamb cubes. The moral of the story is – don’t be afraid to ask your butcher if you don’t know exactly what kind of cut of meat to get! They are there to help you out!)

2 lbs boneless leg of lamb

salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
several cloves of garlic, minced
fresh rosemary, chopped
fresh oregano, chopped
about 1 TBS red wine vinegar

  • Make a dry rub out of enough paprika, cumin, salt and pepper to cover every surface of your lamb. Place in a baking dish or pie pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine enough oil, minced garlic, chopped herbs, and vinegar to create a pesto-like consistency. Rub this mixture all over the lamb. Allow to marinate for at least an hour. Two is even better. Prepare a charcoal grill (we used mesquite charcoal for a delicious, smoky taste). Let lamb come to room temp before grilling.
  • Remove the lamb from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally until the meat reaches an internal temperature of about 145 degrees for medium-rare. Let rest 10-12 minutes before thinly slicing.
  • Assemble the gyros by heating up some whole wheat (and/or regular) pitas on the grill. Top with a few slices of lamb, a spoonful of chickpea salad, and some tzatziki. Alternatively, you can enjoy “de-constructed gyros” by placing all these components on your plate and enjoying in whatever order/combination you like!

Fava Bean & Green Garlic Hummus on Crostini

Fava beans and green garlic make hummus especially “springy” and an even more fabulous spread for crunchy crostini! (Special thanks to our friends Tony & Miriam for sharing their veggies from Live Earth Farm!)

Fava Bean & Green Garlic Hummus:

1/4 cup + 2 TBS. olive oil
1 stock green garlic, washed, tough outer layer of stock removed, and sliced
a few handfuls of fava beans, shelled
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 spoonful of tahini
juice from 1 lime
a handful of chopped, fresh oregano
paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste

  • Saute the green garlic in some olive oil (about 2 TBS.) until tender. Add the shelled fava beans and saute for a minute more. Remove from heat.
  • In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, green garlic-fava bean mixture, tahini, lime juice, oregano, and other seasonings. Process until smooth. While processor is running, add the olive oil (about 1/4 cup) in a light steady stream until it becomes a nice consistency.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with homemade crostini. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

And this is the beautiful and delicious stir fry that Tony made for our main dish, using the other veggies from the farm – carrots, baby tatsoi, mizuna greens, oyster mushrooms, and broccoli. The sauce involved soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, chili paste, and fish sauce. Oishii! It was served over an exciting (well, exciting to me) green rice, made green from bamboo extract.

Spicy Turkey & Chickpea Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries and Kale Chips

We loved these burgers! First you make a hummus-like concoction in the food processor, then mix it into the ground turkey, creating a very moist and flavorful burger that’s reminiscent of falafel. It’s served on a soft french roll with baby spinach leaves, red onion, Dijon mustard, and a little mayo. The idea came from the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Clean Eating, but we made some changes (as we usually do): To the chickpea mixture we added a large clove of chopped garlic, some chili powder to spice them up, and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. We opted for the chewy french roll over the whole wheat bun they recommend, but use whatever buns you have on hand! We served our burgers with some baked sweet potato fries seasoned with salt, pepper, brown sugar, and chili powder, and some kale chips — crunchy, nutty in flavor, and definitely the coolest new way to eat this veggie!

Spicy Turkey & Chickpea Burgers
(Adapted from Clean Eating)
Serves 4 (or 2 with leftover patties)

1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 TBS. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 lb. ground turkey
2 TBS. olive oil
2 sweet french rolls
a large handful of baby spinach leaves, washed
1/2 a red onion, sliced
mayo & Dijon mustard

  • In a food processor, combine the first 9 ingredients (through Worcestershire sauce). Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • Transfer chickpea mixture to a large bowl and add the ground turkey. Mix together until well combined, then form patties (we made a total of 7 patties, about 3 inches wide and 1-1/2 inch thick).
  • Add some olive oil to a frying pan (a few times around the pan). Heat over medium high heat. When hot, fry the patties, about 4-6 minutes on each side depending on thickness of patties. You may have to cook them in 2 batches.
  • While patties are cooking, toast your rolls.
  • Assemble burgers on rolls with the spinach leaves, red onion, mayo and/or mustard. Add tomato if in season!

Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 2

1 large sweet potato (we used the ones with the white flesh)
1 TBS. olive oil
chili powder
brown sugar

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Wash sweet potato and pat dry. Cut in half, then place cut side down on the cutting board. Cut each half into slices. Cut those slices in half. Repeat until fries are the shape you want!
  • Toss fries in a bowl with about 1 TBS. of olive oil, and salt, pepper, chili powder, and brown sugar (no need to measure — just sprinkle and feel it out).
  • Spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes. Flip fries over with tongs, then continue baking for another 10-15 minutes. When they start to look golden and caramelized on the ends, they’re ready!

Kale Chips

1 bunch of red kale, washed, and stems and center ribs removed (we used red curly kale)
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil (1 TBS. coats about 12 leaves – if you have more kale, increase olive oil as needed)
kosher salt

  • Toss the kale in a large bowl with the olive oil, making sure all the leaves are lightly coated. Sprinkle with salt.
  • Spread kale leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sometimes I need to use 2 baking sheets, depending on how big my bunch of kale is.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place baking sheets in the oven. After about 7 minutes, gently toss the kale on the baking sheet with tongs (and rotate the pans, if using 2). Then bake for another 7 minutes or until crisp. In the last couple minutes, really keep an eye of them. The kale leaves will wilt and feel slightly crisp when you toss them with the tongs. Also, the edges of the leaves will turn a little brown. Like popcorn, kale chips are done when they smell kind of sweet and toasty.

( You can also bake at a low temp (250 degrees) for about 30 minutes, like this version in Bon Appetit, but we use the above method to save time!)

Somehow Arius always finds a way to make it into my pictures … coincidence?

Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

I’m excited to share this family recipe that goes back to my Mom’s great-aunt Doris. It’s also the lentil soup that I grew up eating. The ingredients are so simple and adaptable (we added some chard; sometimes my mom has added sausage), it uses water instead of broth, making it very economical, and it’s a link to the past, making it timeless. Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table so that people can make it spicy if they desire. The best part is the aroma that permeates the house as this soup is simmering on the stove top. Make a huge pot tonight and freeze the rest for a meal another night.

Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

(Serves 4 with leftovers)

2 cups lentils, washed
2 quarts (8 cups) water

2 slices chopped uncooked bacon
1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped

fresh parsley and oregano, chopped (together, about a handful)
2 tsp. salt

freshly ground pepper
to taste
1 large (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes

1 bunch of red chard, washed and roughly chopped

2 TBS. vinegar
(we used red wine vinegar)

  • Place all ingredients (except tomatoes, chard, and vinegar) in a large soup pot.
  • Cover and simmer 1 and 1/2 hours.
  • Add canned tomatoes, chard and vinegar.
  • Cover and simmer another 30 min.
  • Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table.

Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

‘Tis the season for quick, simple, and thrifty meals. Potatoes are a great (and cheap) canvas on which to get creative with toppings–pesto; roasted garlic; blue cheese; smoked salmon; wasabi; chili. On this night we thought some chili and pepper-jack would be a satisfying combo. If you have a can of chili in the back of your pantry, this recipe is even quicker, but if you want to make your own famous chili, by all means do so! We like to rub our potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking. It makes the skin much tastier to eat later on (which you should eat, because it’s a great source of fiber).

Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

2 Russet Potatoes, washed and patted dried
Olive Oil
Coarse Salt
1 Can Chili (we used Dennison’s)
1 Heaping handful of grated Pepper-Jack cheese
1 Tomato, diced
3 Green Onions (white and green parts), sliced
Sour Cream (if you have it; we didn’t)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Place the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Rub them with olive oil, covering every surface. Sprinkle with salt. Poke a few holes in the potatoes with a fork. Bake until done, about 1 hour (test by inserting a fork).
  • Meanwhile, heat the chili in a small saucepan over low heat.
  • Place each potato on a plate, make a slit on the top and squeeze the sides to open slightly.
  • Spoon hot chili onto the potato. Top with grated cheese, followed by the tomato, green onion, and sour cream (if using).

    High Hopes 🙂

    Halibut & Cannellini Beans In Tomato-Rosemary Broth

    Halibut!? Why did we have that? Just for the Halibut!! Haha. Sorry. Bad joke but a delicious fish! This meal was lighter than we were expecting, but it was warm and comforting on a cold night. It definitely needs to be accompanied by lots of sliced bread to soak up the extra broth and a dry white wine. I flagged this recipe last year in Cooking Light and just now got around to trying it. The recipe below is for 2 servings.

    2 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    salt & pepper
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes (or canned tomatoes)
    3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1/4 cup dry white wine
    1 (14oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
    1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

    • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
    • Sprinkle fish evenly with salt freshly ground pepper.
    • Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.
    • Remove fish from pan; cover with foil to keep warm (or place in low oven).
    • Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
    • Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt & pepper, if desired.
    • Remove from heat; stir in rosemary. Serve immediately along with sliced bread.

      Me-ki-shi-kan Tamago

      That title means “Mexican Eggs.” If we were Japanese this is probably what we’d call this dish, because it’s inspired by everyone’s favorite Mexican breakfast Huevos Rancheros, and it involves eggs (tamago). But anyway, it only takes a few simple ingredients to create a healthy dinner or breakfast.

      If using dry black beans: Soak 8 oz of beans overnight. Place beans in a dutch oven or large pot and add 3 cups water or broth — enough to cover the beans — and simmer for about an hour. When tender, season with salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin to taste. Refrigerate for later or proceed below!

      2 cups cooked black beans, seasoned
      1 TBS. olive oil
      1 bunch of spinach, washed and roughly chopped
      salt & pepper to taste
      chili powder to taste
      1 tsp. fresh lime juice
      vegetable oil for frying
      2 corn tortillas
      2 eggs
      Habanero Salsa to taste

      • Add a swig of olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper, chili powder, and a squeeze of lime juice. Divide the spinach between two plates.
      • In a different pan, add vegetable oil to a depth of a 1/4 inch. Heat over medium high heat. When hot, fry the tortillas on both sides until crispy, turning once. Drain on paper towels.
      • Bring the pan that had spinach in it to medium high heat. Add a little more oil if necessary. Crack two eggs into the pan and season the tops with salt and pepper. Cook to your liking. It’s best if the yolk is a little runny.
      • Place a fried corn tortilla on each plate next to the pile of spinach. Top with a few spoonfuls of black beans, followed by the egg, and a sprinkling of your favorite salsa. Enjoy!

        Impromptu Baked Beans for 4th of July

        Gaijin means “foreign person.” It’s not the most respectful term in Japanese, but it’s not degrading either. It simply means you are not Japanese, but for some reason you are here in Japan. So what do gaijin do on 4th of July? Well, we don’t have BBQs because people only do that during cherry blossom season. And we don’t go to parades or wear red, white, and blue (because we stand out enough already), but we do gather everything we can to make a meal that resembles the one that we share with friends and family back home. And we do light sparklers and other kinds of firecrackers (called hanabi) because unlike some counties in California, they’re perfectly legal and available everywhere.

        Playing with fire – what Japanese children (and gaijin) do during the summertime.

        Our main dish was hotdogs. Sounds easy enough. But Japanese hotdogs are usually cocktail sized, or taste more like breakfast sausages. The closest thing to an Oscar Meyer or a Ballpark are sold with sticks in them (this is how they’re sold at Japanese festivals with really spicy mustard). So we removed the sticks, heated them in a hot pan, and devoured them with lots of mustard, chopped onions, and tomatoes.

        I wanted to make some sweet, smoky baked beans to go with our hotdogs, so this is the recipe that I came up (minus the bacon, because for some reason they discontinued it in our supermarket recently, along with butter. There seems to be a shortage going on. WTF!?)

        Baked Beans

        1 can white cannellini beans, drained
        1 tsp. olive oil
        1 clove garlic, minced

        1/4 of a white onion, diced

        BBQ sauce (twice around the pan, if you’re Rachael Ray)

        Worcestershire sauce (once around the pan)

        2 TBS. molassas

        2 TBS. brown sugar

        2 squeezes of ketchup

        1 tsp. Dijon mustard

        salt & pepper to taste

        • Drain the beans and set aside.
        • Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until color just begins to change.
        • Add the beans, followed by all the other ingredients. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjusting seasonings if necessary.

          We also ate chips and habanero salsa, cornbread and watermelon! Usually we can’t find cornmeal here, but last week one of my students brought me a package of cornbread mix from Costco, so I happily accepted it!

          So that’s what these gaijin did on Independence Day! God Bless America, but God Bless Japan too!! 🙂

          Spanish Chickpeas with Spinach and Eggs

          Still cooking my way through the 12 Best Foods Cookbook, I was particularly looking forward to this Mediterranean combination of spinach, garlic, and chickpeas with crunchy breadcrumbs. And it’s full of fiber, protein and other goodness too. It’s a light meal, so we served it with slices of bread, rubbed with garlic, brushed with olive oil, and broiled for a few minutes. Muy bueno!

          2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
          1 bunch of spinach, washed, and roughly chopped
          1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
          1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
          1 can (14-19-ounce) chickpeas, drained
          1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
          1/4 tsp. ground cumin
          salt & pepper to taste
          2 tsp. sherry vinegar

          • Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the spinach until it wilts, about 2 minutes.
          • Mix in the chopped garlic and cook until spinach is soft. Add the breadcrumbs, chickpeas, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper, cooking until beans are heated through, about 4 minutes.
          • Stir in the vinegar.
          • Spoon into a serving dish and top with the sliced eggs.

            Tuna & White Bean Salad with Pesto Crostini

            I spent a few hours on Christmas day sitting in front of the fireplace with my new 12 Best Foods Cookbook. Now that we’re back in Japan, it’s been a fun challenge to think of new recipes that use these foods. Of course before we got the book we used tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, onions, walnuts, sweet potatoes, soy, oatmeal, black beans, salmon, spinach, and chocolate (some more than others), but now we have some extra motivation to eat healthier in 2008. Since onions are most beneficial eaten raw, I wanted to incorporate them into a vinaigrettey tuna salad. Adapted from the nest.com.

            1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
            1/2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
            2 cans of tuna, drained (in Japan, they’re only 80 grams each)
            1/2 a red onion, sliced
            a handful of chopped fresh basil
            1 TBS. fresh lemon juice
            salt & pepper to taste

            • Combine the beans and olive oil in a large bowl and mix well.
            • Add the tuna, onions, basil, lemon juice and salt and pepper; mix to combine.
            • Serve with toasted baguette slices with a dollop of pesto. Serves 2.