Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat -- Halloween Pumpkin Recipe -- Moroccan Chicken, Chickpeas and Pumpkin over Couscous

Every Halloween, I like to present a recipe or two that uses pumpkin as my special holiday treat. To read a wrap up of previous pumpkin links including how to select and prepare pumpkins for cooking as well as recipes for pumpkin tarlets and pumpkin chili, click here. Since that wrap up appeared, I posted a recipe for a sweet-and-sour squash and cabbage soup that could easily be made with pumpkin and would be perfect for the season. I hope you'll try some of these oldies and goodies as well as try this new pumpkin treat. (Another treat is how economical this meal is, I estimate it at about $2 a serving.)

Moroccan Chicken, Chickpeas and Pumpkin over Couscous
Makes 4 – 6 Servings

You can replace the one pound of raw pumpkin cubes with acorn or butternut squash, sweet potatoes, turnips or some combination of the above.

To cut the onions and carrots into half moons, slice in half horizontally and then slice into thin half rounds.

If you'd like a spicer stew, use more red pepper flakes. To learn more about the Moroccan seasoning known as raz el hanout, click here.

2 tablespoons olive, grape seed or other vegetable oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into strips about 2” long and ½ inch wide
1 cup thinly sliced onion into half moons (see note)
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 carrots, thinly sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into large dice
1 lb of uncooked, peeled pumpkin, cut into ¾’ or so cubes OR any of the other choices mentioned in the note above
½ tsp raz el hanout OR a mixture of ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp dried ground ginger and 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
4 cups (about 2 cans, drained and rinsed) cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
2 cups chicken OR vegetable broth OR water
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
4 cups of cooked couscous

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, deep sauté pan or other pot. Brown the chicken strips (working in batches if need be). Remove to a plate and set aside.

Saute the onions until lightly brown and beginning to soften. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until garlic begins to brown. Add in carrots and red bell pepper pieces, stir and let cook until the carrots have begun to soften a bit. Add the pumpkin and raz el hanout or spice mixture. Saute a few minutes, then add the cooked chickpeas and broth. Stir well. Lower heat to medium low, cover and cook (stirring occasionally) until pumpkin cubes are almost softened. Add in reserved, browned chicken strips and any accumulated juices. Stir well. Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid has reduced down to a thick sauce and chicken is cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired. Serve atop couscous.

Part of Sweetnick's $7 Dinner Challenge Roundup

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Aside about Braless Liberation and 10-Minute Side Dishes

Yesterday I went to that weight watching place I go to and at weigh in the "weigher" handed me a sample package of a new branded, 10 minute side dish (something with chicken and rice and vegetables). I looked at this over processed, over packaged and probably overly salted convenience food and said "no thanks."

Now, I rarely turn down a sample. I'll walk the aisles of Costco and actively seek out those little samples of foods I never buy. At Trader Joe's, I head right for the sample area in back for a little cup of whatever they are dishing up and a free cup of coffee. I know which local stores have free coffee and or cookies. (And the one that gives you a free chocolate truffle if you buy a cup of coffee.) You probably get the picture and also understand why I need to go to that weight watching place.

But somehow, having just done the Hunger Challenge and having been a member of the weight watching place for so long with its tenets on fresh, whole and unprocessed foods (despite the side of the company that hawks frozen and processed goodies), something in me just said "no."

It was a private protest of sorts until the free samples and the glories of quickies on the side became part of the meeting. One father of young children said he did all the cooking and he had a closet full of such shortcuts.

The cook, the food activist, the parent and the weight watcher in me was aghast. I raised my hand, acknowledged that for some products like this were important, but stressed that this was a commercial product, with all kinds of additives, with extra costs for packaging and processing and that there were lots of other options for 10-minute side dishes.

I was polite, but resistant. It reminded me of the one time I decided to demonstrate my feminist views in my high school in the 70s. That day I didn't wear a bra, but did wear a work shirt with pockets on both sides of my chest and a zipped up sweatshirt. I'm not sure, but I think I also wore a sweater vest. I was liberated, but covered and my gesture didn't really mean anything to anyone but me.

The weight watching meeting went on. In my usual way I hoped I hadn't hurt the man's feelings or anyone else's. I began to think I should have just kept quiet. What did it matter to anyone but me anyway?

On my way out, a woman stopped me.

"I want to talk to you about what you said," she said.

"Oh, no," I thought.

"I'm so glad you said that. I was thinking the same thing. I'm glad someone spoke up."

I relaxed and smiled.

"I'm glad I did, too."

Maybe it did matter what I wore (or didn't wear) that day back in high school so long ago. Even if the only person that is affected is you, your voice is still important. And you might have an impact on someone else. You never know.

Some Ideas for 10-Minute Sides

Some of these might actually take more than 10 minutes, but are still convenient.

Make extra rice, pasta, potatoes, grains, or beans and reheat in the microwave or saute with add ins. Try cooking them in chicken, beef or vegetable stock for extra taste.
Chop extra garlic, onions and vegetables store in plastic bags and add in to left overs when reheating
If fresh vegetables are problematic, buy a big bag of chopped frozen vegetables (without added sauces) and a cup or two of those as an add in
Try couscous (cooks in five minutes once the water has boiled) or orzo pasta (small rice shaped pasta that also cooks quickly). Both are available in whole grains, too.

I'll be adding more ideas as I think of them in the next few days.

If you have ones to add, please leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cottage Cheese Sighs and a French Country Cheese Pie or the Quiche Pretender

I like cottage cheese – the slight pop and squeak when you bite into the curds, the tang of the whey, the ease of opening up a carton and just plopping a healthy snack into a bowl.

I might mix it with jam, I might sprinkle it with chopped green onions and herbs, I might make it into pancakes or blintzes, or I might gussy it up some and turn it into French Country Cheese Pie. If you have some cottage cheese in the house (non-fat, low-fat or regular), I recommend you give this quiche pretender a try. I’ve made this forever for lunches, brunches and light dinners, but took another look at it because of my work with Hunger Challenge. San Francisco Food Bank recipients often receive donations of cottage cheese and I wanted to develop a recipe for their use.

My version below is true to its “French” roots, however it is open to interpretation. Try it with grated cheddar instead of parmesan, substitute the seasonings, add in a cup or two of cooked diced vegetables and/or meat and make it your own.

I use low-fat cottage cheese and make it without a crust, but if you would like it more “pie”-like, see the pie shell variation below.

French Country Cheese Pie

Serves 3-4 as brunch, lunch or light dinner
Serves 8 as appetizer

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Carol Cutler which appeared in the Six Minute Soufflé. (You can read more about that cookbook here.) If the coriander and nutmeg are unavailable, substitute a half teaspoon of dried basil or Italian seasoning or just leave them out.

1 pound cottage cheese
6 tablespoons yogurt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 whole green onion, trimmed and minced (whites and greens)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, divided
3 eggs, beaten
Paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the cheese, yogurt, coriander, nutmeg, minced green onion and sugar. Mix until fairly smooth. Taste and then add salt and pepper. Add in half of the cheese and the eggs. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9-10” pie plate or baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Sprinkle paprika on top if using. Bake until the top is browned and puffy and the egg mixture has set. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.


In a Pie Shell: Partially bake a pie shell, pour mixture in that and bake as directed.

Mexican Country Cheese Pie: Substitute cheddar cheese for the parmesan cheese. Leave out the coriander and nutmeg. Add in one 4 ounce can of drained, chopped Mexican green chile peppers when you add in the green onion.

Microwave: To be honest I haven't tried this but it should work. Use the crustless version and a microwave safe dish. Use the optional paprika. Cook on medium heat until eggs are set and the mixture has puffed up a bit. (I'll do it this way next time and update the post with more specifics.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hunger Challenge -- Not Quite a Wrap Up

I'm still not quite finished with my Hunger Challenge posts but I thought I would start to try to wrap up and bring some closure. Yet to come is a post with recipe about the uses of cottage cheese (which the organizer of the challenge asked we tackle since so often cottage cheese is available to San Francisco Food Bank clients) and perhaps some more cabbage recipes (ditto).

Also, Gayle Keck, the Hunger Challenge participant and SFFB organizer of the event), is holding an information sharing meeting with the challenge bloggers and food bank staff, and I'm likely to report back on that.

I'll be sharing some of my experiences and some of my conclusions about the experience. I'll also be including the thoughts of those who left comments on the various Hunger Challenge posts. If you would like to make sure the San Francisco Food Bank gets your thoughts about the challenge, about what's needed locally to help combat hunger or to help food bank clients, please leave a comment on this post (or email me through my profile) and I'll be sure to pass your thoughts along.

If you would like to volunteer at or donate to the SFFB or your local food bank, you can find info here. If you would like to see what else I've written about my experience -- including menus, recipes, shopping lists, etc., please click here.

The key to the Hunger Challenge was to eat for a week and/or create menus and recipes for a week as if all you had to eat was what a food stamp recipient had: $1 a meal a person. I planned and cooked meals for a family of 4 so I had $84 available to me. I spent $83.98.

Here are my concerns and suggestions/ideas based on my experience.


What worked well for me was planning a menu based on what I saw in the stores and advertised and even online at a supermarket chain that delivered. That really helped me know my prices and choices. Would a food stamp client have access to this info? Well, I used for research and that is certainly available if someone has internet access, but that is hardly a given. Libraries do have free internet access, but I don't know if that is doable for most.

Since I cook, plan menus, create recipes and sometimes cater, I have a good sense of quantities and amounts and the like. Someone without that experience may have had a harder time putting together a menu and being so flexible with choices and using up leftovers. It was also time consuming since I was continually reworking it and it was mentally tiring.

I ended up shopping in three or four types of store to get the best deals. I don't know if others have the time or means to do this.

While I wanted to keep meals healthy, I also wanted to make them filling. I found there was a huge trade off between quantity and other concerns. I could not afford as much fresh fruit, whole grains and other such items as I liked. I tried to make my week's recipes varied and remake familiar foods to make them appealing to a family's tastes and interest. Since I tried to focus on avoiding pre-prepared foods and overly packaged foods, I did save money (and sodium, sugar, chemicals, etc.) there, but even with my menu planning calling for cooking once and eating the results for two or three meals, I really don't know if most food bank clients have time, expertise or equipment to do so. (On a another Hunger Challenge site, one commenter pointed out about the expense of plastic storage containers, for example.) Accordingly, my recipes were designed for kitchen with two stove top burners, a microwave, and four pots and pans -- a large and small fry pan and a sauce pan and a large pot big enough to boil spaghetti.


Explore ways to reach and educate food bank end-use clients since usually it's the agencies that serve those folks who deal with the food banks directly. Ideas include flyers in weekly grocery boxes with education, preparation and other tips, materials to go to schools to go home with children receiving free or reduced costs breakfasts and lunches, outreach through the agencies as well as outreach through cultural, religious and other associations and groups that would come in contact with end use client. Ultimately I like to see workshops offered on cooking skills, recipe alternatives, menu making, nutrition and even political activism.

Perform a cooking skills and cooking equipment survey with end-use clients (I have a number of thoughts on ways to do this). Based on this survey, reach out to retailers and manufacturers and create programs to decrease the reliance on less-than-healthy food options. I'd love to be able to have a program to provide basic cooking equipment to those who need it at no charge. To be honest, I'm not sure how many folks have access to a real kitchen at all. Just like groups sponsor community gardens, I'd love to see community kitchens with a paid staff (jobs could go to participants) to clean up and manage them. In my Utopian ideal, recipes and basics (such as flour, oil and spices) would be available and participants could come in a cook up a big batch of chili or soup or whatever and then package it up in (free) reusable containers they can take home and put in their fridges for healthy, low-cost meals during the week.

Make food shopping easier and "level out the playing field." -- Some ideas -- increase internet access to online resources, distribute info on weekly specials (supplied by supermarkets ahead of time, highlights of which to be put in weekly outreach flyers mentioned above), taxi vouchers to enable larger or farther afield shopping trips, agency-centered van shopping trips). I'm not sure if food stamps are accepted at farmers' markets so I don't know how to work that in, but if it could that would be a good addition. I know of at least one Whole Foods that has a tour of its store focused on "budget" cooking. Perhaps similar tours could be developed for other, more mainstream and/or accessible markets.

Develop a system for the clients themselves to share information, challenges and successes. In the end, I lived the Hunger Challenge for just a week. These are the people that must do it day in and day out. What works for them, what doesn't. What would they like to learn or have access to? How would they like to be communicated to? What would they like to say to others also facing the same challenges and to those of us who want to help? In the end, they are the experts. I am humbled by their hard-won expertise and their daily experience on the frontlines of hunger.

About the photo: Boxes waiting to be filled with food donations for clients of the Alameda Food Bank. You can read about my experience here.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes or a Promise Kept

The title of this post should be promises kept, since I'm always promising my son I'll make this dish as well I've promised the recipe as part of my Hunger Challenge menu. Sorry, no photo and no exact directions, it's more of a concept than a recipe. Next time I make it I'll try to codify it and update the post.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

4 medium size baking potatoes, about 1.5 lbs. Use an Idaho or Russet or similar potato.
1/2 pound chopped vegetables such as broccoli, spinach (cooked or frozen)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk (any kind will work, but fat free will take longer to thicken.)
4 to 8 ounces of chopped or grated cheese, divided in half. (quantity depends on how cheesy you'd like the sauce. For the Hunger Challenge I made it with a sharp cheddar and the lesser amount. Almost any kind of cheese will work well from Swiss to jack to blue, but generally the stronger flavored the cheese the less you can use and still have a good punch of cheese flavor.)
Salt, pepper
Optional seasonings (such as 1/4 tsp of nutmeg and/or a pinch of red pepper flakes OR a tablespoon of curry powder)

Wash and bake the potatoes in a microwave or conventional oven.

If using frozen vegetables, cook them now and drain well. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked, let cool a bit until they can be handled (you may want to hold them in a dish towel). Cut each in half horizontally so you have two long "boats" from each potato. Scoop out flesh, mash it with a fork and set aside.

In a dry saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat and then stir the flour with a fork or whisk. Stir continuously until the flour and butter are fully incorporated and somewhat smooth. Add the milk to the flour and butter mixture slowly, stirring with the fork or whisk continuously, trying to get the mixture as smooth as possible. Once all the milk has been added, raise the heat to medium and cook the flour-butter-milk sauce stirring continuously until the mixture thickens (it should coat the back of a tablespoon instead of dripping off immediately at this put it will be about half of its original volume). The sauce should have reached a bubbling, gentle boil, but be careful it doesn't burn. The constant stirring will help this. Add half of the cheese, the set aside mashed potatoes and the vegetables. Mix well. Taste and add salt and pepper and optional seasonings if using. Stir well. Take off pan in the heat.

Spoon mixture equally in the eight potato halves. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Reheat in microwave before serving if desired. Makes 4 servings, 2 halves each.

Variation: Double-Baked Stuffed Potatoes -- If using a conventional (not microwave oven), sprinkle the tops of the potatoes with paprika (optional) and put the potatoes in hot oven until the potatoes have reheated, the stuffing top is a bit crusty and the cheese on top has melted.

Note: You have just made a basic white sauce. You can use this technique to make your own cheese sauce for homemade mac and cheese, nachos, etc. Also, the stuffed potato recipe can be varied almost infinitely to suit available ingredients and your family tastes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Click to Feed the Hungry

Thanks to all of you who left a comment on the Tyson site -- the company received more than enough comments and will be donating 200,000 lbs of chicken to Bay area food banks.

Uncle Ben's Rice is donating money to programs that feed hungry children. They are pledging up to $250,000, or a $1 for each signature in their "journal." For more info click here.

If you know of other such promotions, let me know by emailing me through my profile or leaving a comment and I'll update this post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Asian Sauté and Food Bank Fried Rice -- Part of the Hunger Challenge

As part of my participation in the Hunger Challenge I tried to add variety and convenience into a budget that only allowed for $1 a day per meal per person.

I’m told some of the basics San Francisco Food Bank customers often receive are onions, carrots, rice and cabbage. I’ve put them to work in this recipe, however, even if you had to pay for those ingredients, the recipes still cost out at a $1 per serving or less. You can see my shopping list, my other recipes, how this fits into my week’s menu, how to donate to your local food bank, and more by clicking here.

First up, make the sauté and rice. Leftover rice and sauté will be used with some other basic ingredients to make the Food Bank Fried Rice.

This is family dinner fare with an Asian flare; the techniques and seasonings are simplified to keep costs and prep time down a bit. If you have some Chinese or Japanese chili or sesame oil handy, you could mix in a teaspoon or to taste a minute or so before the sauté finishes cooking. Another nice addition would be a sprinkle of freshly minced cilantro or green onions on top the finished sauté and fried rice dishes. A good add-on to the stir fried veggies would be a chopped red bell pepper. I couldn’t “afford” any of these additions on my Hunger Challenge “budget” however. Even without the extras my 17-year-old son couldn’t believe these dishes were part of the Hunger Challenge because, according to him, they looked and tasted like something I would “normally” serve.

Some other suggestions: You could substitute a few packs of the soy sauce that comes with takeout Chinese food (if you have some) and save buying the soy sauce. For the lowest cost soy sauce, look in Asian grocery stores. These grocery stores often have very reasonably priced produce and meats. If you have access to one it might be a way to save a bit on food costs when you shop.

Asian Sauté

Note: Use whatever green vegetable you have on hand. My menu had a half pound of frozen chopped broccoli left so I would use that. I’ve also made it with snap peas and green beans. Use what is cost effective and tasty for you.

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes,
½ cup chopped onion,
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 small hot red jalapeno or Serrano chili peppers (seeded if you prefer milder), chopped
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons peeled, minced ginger (you’ll need a piece of ginger approx. 1” long and 2 inches wide)
2 medium carrots, shredded or chopped into small pieces (larger ones will take too long to cook)
About a third of a pound of green cabbage, shredded or chopped
½ pound green vegetables, fresh or frozen, chopped. If using frozen, do not defrost (see note)
1 package (14 to 16 ounces) firm or extra firm tofu, rinsed, drained and cut into 1” cubes
16 ounces of chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or more to taste

Heat the oil in a large fry or sauté pan or a wok until a bit of onion sizzles when it is dropped in. Working in batches if necessary so as not to overcrowd the pan, brown the chicken pieces. When browned on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.

Add in onion and sauté or stir fry until it begins to turn golden brown and soften. Add the garlic, peppers and ginger and fry, stirring often, until garlic begins to color. Add carrots and cook, stirring often for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add cabbage and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften and wilt. Add the chopped green vegetable, and mix well to combine, stirring often as the mixture cooks.

Add in tofu and the browned chicken with any juices the chicken may have exuded. Cook for a minute or two, stirring often so tofu doesn’t stick but picks up a little color. (Add some of the broth or water if you need to prevent the tofu from sticking.) Add chicken broth and the soy sauce, cook, stirring often, until chicken is cooked through and the liquid has cooked down to make a sauce that just covers the bottom of the pan. Taste and add more soy sauce if needed.

The recipe makes about six cups. Reserve two cups of the sauté mixture for the fried rice recipe. Makes 4 servings, 1 cup each of the sauté. Serve on top of rice. (Note: you’ll need at least four cups of leftover rice for the fried rice recipe, so make plenty. Generally 1 ½ cups of raw rice will make about 4 cups of cooked rice, but check your package for specific quantities.)

Next, make the Food Bank Fried Rice. (One tip -- I made it the same night after dinner. The rice had cooled and the pan was dirty already, anyway. The fried rice reheated just fine in the microwave the next night. Or you can reheat in a large fry pan with a bit of oil or water.)

Food Bank Fried Rice

Note: To prep the leftover rice for this recipe, spread it out on plates or in a baking dish so the grains don’t stick together as much as it cools. Once it has cooled to room temperature you can go ahead and make the fried rice or store the rice in a container or storage bag in the refrigerator. Let the chilled rice come to room temperature before using.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red jalapeno or serrano chili pepper, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 eggs
2 cups leftover Asian Sauté
4-5 cups, leftover cooled rice
3 tablespoons of soy sauce or more to taste

Heat the oil in a large fry or sauté pan or a wok until a bit of onion sizzles when it is dropped in. Add in onion and sauté or stir fry until it begins to turn golden brown and soften. Add the garlic and peppers and fry, stirring often, until garlic begins to color. Add celery and cook, stirring often for a few minutes until they begin to soften.

Break the eggs into a small bowl or cup and beat well. Drizzle the beaten egg slowly into the vegetable mixture, letting the eggs rest about 20 seconds until they just begin to set, then quickly stirring hard and thoroughly until the eggs resemble strands of cooked scrambled eggs mixed throughout.

Add leftover sauté and cook, stirring often, until chicken is beginning to warm through. Add a few tablespoons of water if need to prevent the mixture from sticking. Stir in the rice, breaking up any clumps and incorporating into chicken and vegetables. Stir in the soy sauce, mix well. Heat until dish is heated through. Makes 4 servings about 1 ½ cups each (using 4 cups of leftover rice).

Three Years Old - My Blogoversary

This past Monday Blog Appetit hit three years old.
The first post put my aims and aspirations so eloquently.
It read simply "testing testing."

That's what having a blog is in the end for me -- testing my limits, my knowledge and my skills. From the testing I have grown as a writer, photographer, cook, public citizen and more. (Not to mention the testing I've received from the technological end from the occassional frustrations of using Blogger.)

Thanks for making this all possible by reading and using Blog Appetit.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

How to Make Cabbage Soup

Note: The below started as a letter to a friend who wanted to know my cabbage soup recipe. It became a two-page dissertation. I offer it here in it's original format for the education of others.

Faith’s Cabbage Soup -- The Opus

I don’t have a set recipe for my cabbage soup. It is generally sweet and sour. One common theme in my soup is what looks good in the store or what is beginning to look a bit past its prime in the fridge.

The key to my soups is the layers of flavors I get by mixing cooking techniques and how I add ingredients. This is very important since the flavor of the soup is dependent on the vegetables and not fat.

Start with your aromatics. I generally use chopped onions (usually a whole small yellow onion), leeks (if available) and garlic (at least two cloves). I spray the bottom of my soup pot with an olive oil spray or drizzle a little olive or grape seed oil on the bottom, swirling the warmed pan around so it coats the bottom.

Add onions and leeks and sauté a few minutes to soften, then add the garlic. If I am using a little chopped fresh ginger I’ll add it now as well as red pepper flakes. If I am going with a smoky hot flavor, I’ll add some chopped chipolte pepper and bit of the sauce they are packed in.

Continue sautéing until lightly browned. If the vegetables begin to stick add a bit of water, stock or wine. Stirring often will help prevent sticking and burning.

Now add your harder vegetables cut into a smallish dice or thin rounds. Here is where I’ll add my carrots (the more you add the sweeter the soup), celery or fennel bulb, potato, turnip (adds a nice peppery taste to the pot), kohlrabi or whatever I have in the house. (Again add a bit of water or stock if it sticks or starts to burn. Periodically scrape up all the little brown bits on the bottom of the pan. It is those bits and the browned vegetables that help give this virtually fat-free soup its deep taste.)

After that has browned and softened a bit I add bell peppers, again cut into a soup spoon friendly size. I like to use red and yellow. I find the taste of the green ones a bit grassy, but they’ll work, too. Cut-up green beans go into the pot now, too. If I’m using eggplant, that goes in now as well. I don’t bother peeling or salting the eggplant; I just cut it into small cubes and toss in. Also good are chopped mushrooms. I like the cremini (small brown) ones. Portobello are good, too, but I slice off the dark gills before I cut them up. Those gills will turn any broth very dark brown and muddy looking and your soup will lose a lot of its visual appeal. Try shitake mushrooms for Asian-influenced soups. Add zucchini after the other vegetables have softened since it needs less time to cook.

I brown that a bit then add in any spices I might be using. Some suggested mixtures:

• French provencal seasoning (my favorite all purpose mix with dried basil, rosemary, lavender and fennel)
• Cumin seed, caraway seed, fennel seed, ground ginger
• Curry seasoning, ground ginger, ground cumin, cumin seed

Italian seasoning mixes also work well.
I can’t really tell you quantities. Be bold, the soup will dilute the intensity as you add stock. You’ll get a chance to correct the seasonings later when you taste your creation.

Let the spices heat up a bit to release the maximum flavor. Next add your tomatoes (if using – pretty typical for sweet and sour style). I usually use a large can of diced tomatoes. I’ve also used dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes softened in hot water and chopped. It adds a complex note to the tomato taste.

Now comes the stock. For stock you can use plain water, water with a bouillon cube (I like the expensive European veggie ones best), vegetable, chicken or beef stock. How much to put in? I can’t say, it should be about double the amount of the veggies you use in total, but you can always cook down or add more later.

I recommend you don’t use plain water. Any form of broth will add to your depth of flavor. Look for low sodium and fat free boullion cubes or stock.

Next come the cabbage and other greens. I usually use about half-to-a-whole of a medium head of green cabbage. You could use more or less or try some of the other types of cabbage (Napa, Savoy, etc.) Especially if I am making the curry variation, I’ll use spinach or Swiss chard instead or in addition. Try some of the exotic Asian greens or perhaps escarole or frisee.

Chop or chiffonade the greens into bite size pieces or silvers and add to the pot.

After those have softened a bit you could add cooked beans. White beans are nice with the more European seasonings; chickpeas are nice with the more Asian. You could also add cooked barley, rice, small pasta or bite-sized bits of smoked sausage, cooked chicken or meat at this stage. (Because I try to keep my soups low in fat and calories, I will often keep these additions on the side and add them to the soup bowl as wanted/needed rather than the pot.) If you want to use raw meat products, you'll need to make sure they are cooked through.

Keep cooking until vegetables are cooked through and it tastes like soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as need be (salt, pepper, hot sauce, curry powder, ground ginger, soy sauce, etc.) If you used a prepared broth or bouillon cube, taste carefully since these ingredients add a lot of salt to begin with.

Now is the time to adjust the seasonings you put in earlier. If you’ve over seasoned, add a bit more stock. If you’ve under seasoned add a bit more of your earlier spice mixture. (If the soup is too salty it can be remedied by putting half of a peeled potato in the soup and cooking it. Remove it before serving. It will have absorbed the excess salt.) If the soup is a bit thin or you’d like more of a tomato taste, add in some tomato paste.

If you intend to make a sweet and sour soup, add about a quarter cup of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar (my favorite) or Chinese rice vinegar. (I like the Chinese black rice vinegar for the Asian soups.) Taste. Want more punch? Add more and taste again. Need to soften the acidity? Add a teaspoon of brown sugar. Taste and adjust to your palette.

If you are going for a smoky flavor instead of sweet and sour, besides the chipolte pepper, you could sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika in when you correct the seasonings toward the end or you could add a bit of liquid smoke or even a tablespoon or two of a smoky barbecue sauce. Smoked sausage, tempeh or tofu would make nice add ins to complement this flavor. Again, taste and adjust to your palette.

Add your minced fresh herbs --- such as basil, Italian parsley, fennel leaves, cilantro (only if not using basil and fennel!) and green onions (especially good for Asian variations).

To really add punch to the soup, just before finishing and serving, swirl in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (for the Asian variation, try sesame oil and for a curry soup try Indian mustard oil.)

I know this is a lot of information. It really is easy to make this soup as simple or complex as you like. I hope this inspires you to create your own cabbage soup tradition. To see my recipes for cabbage and other types of soup, click here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hunger Challenge Chili

More Budget Cuisine.

Here's the recipe I created for the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge. It features a pound of dried pinto beans, two pounds of ground meat and 12 servings.

For more about the Hunger Challenge, my participation, and how to donate, click here.
To see how the chili fits into the overall menu for the week, click here.

The recipe can, of course, be halved, if you don't need 12 servings. Feel free to substitute other types of beans and ground turkey or chicken for the beef. Up the jalapenos, garlic cloves and/or chili powder for more of a bite.

12-Serving Chili

This makes a mild, flavorful chili that reheats beautifully. Look for low-cost chili powder in ethnic food sections of supermarkets, at grocery discount outlets and dollar stores, or buy just as much spice as you need by the ounce at stores that carry bulk spices.

1 pound of dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, water drained and then cooked with fresh water. (Approximately six cups of cooked beans)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 jalapenos (I used red ones), seeded for milder kick if desired, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 can (28-32 ounces) of diced, peeled tomatoes with juices
2 plus cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the pinto beans. Set aside.

In a large pot, add the oil and heat over medium high heat. Saute the beef, using spoon or spatula to break up any clumps. Cook until browned but not cooked through. (Work in batches if all the meat doesn't fit or if it doesn't seem to be browning. If the pan is too crowded the meat will steam rather than brown.) Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of drippings out of pan. Heat on medium high, when a bit of onion sizzles immediately on contact with the oil, add the chopped onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion are beginning to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and the jalapenos, cook, stirring often, until the garlic is beginning to turn golden. Add the carrots and celery pieces, cook for a minute or two, stirring often. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add diced tomato with juices and 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cover and let come to simmer (not quite boiling). Add meat with any liquids it may have exuded, stir well. Cover and return to simmer. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes until meat is cooked through and flavors well combined. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste and additional chili powder if desired. Add additional water if needed. With cover off, return to simmer and let cook a few more minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

I served the chili with rice, with a bit of grated cheese on top. I also used it as a topping for baked potatoes. It would also be good with tortillas or pasta. Or use a half portion and scramble with eggs and tortilla chips for a kind of chilaquiles. Or try it with cornmeal to make a tamale casserole.

The chili reheats well, but will probably thicken a bit, so add some water to it when reheating. For the sake of the photo, I sprinkled some chopped cilantro on top of the chili. It adds a nice flavor and if I had had room in my weekly food budget under the Hunger Challenge I would have made it part of the recipe.