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Refried Black Beans

19 Dec

refried black beans

Beans might not be particularly glamorous (or easy to photograph), but they’re one of my favorite ingredients. Filling and flavorful, they’re a great base for a meal, especially if you don’t eat meat or, like me, only eat meat occasionally. (Of course, they can also be great when served with meat, too.) I’ve always been a fan of refried beans, but for some reason figured they would be time-consuming to prepare or else require vastly unhealthy quantities of fat. Not the case, though, as these refried black beans (you can use pinto beans instead, if you like) come together in about half an hour, and the fat quantity can be adjusted to your liking (from two tablespoons to keep things healthy to four tablespoons to get the most flavor). These are great for adding to wraps (burritos included, of course) or eating with some rice or quinoa. I also thought they went especially well with a side of roasted corn salsa as the sweetness and texture of the corn was great alongside the creamy richness of the beans.

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Roasted Corn Salsa

17 Dec

roasted corn salsa

Did you know the best way to keep sweet corn sweet is to store it in the refrigerator? This helps slow down the conversion of the sugars to starches. I only have a small refrigerator here (think slightly larger than one in a dorm room), so I don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to storing corn. But I can’t resisting buying some when it shows up fresh at the market (currently in season here, of course), so I had to think up a quick easy use for the cobs sitting on my refrigerator shelf. I opted for this take on a basic corn salsa, roasting the corn for extra depth of flavor. The rest of the flavors here are pretty traditional (green onion, cilantro, hot pepper, lime), though I did toast the garlic, which I find mellows it perfectly for things like this. This salsa is great as a dip, on tacos, to add a pop of color and flavor to a plate of beans, or as a side for grilled fish or meat.

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Sun-dried Tomato Polenta

14 Dec

sun-dried tomato polenta

I’ve never cooked polenta before, but recently I found myself browsing recipes for it and wondering more and more why I hadn’t yet given it a shot. I especially loved the idea of the solidified form with a still creamy interior. Despite being my first attempt, I found it quite easy to throw together (though I’ve heard it can be made even easier by cooking it in the oven – which is probably what I’ll try next time). I’ve been really into sun-dried tomatoes lately so I tossed some in. Not only do they look gorgeous studded through the polenta, but they add great bits of texture and concentrated flavor. I also, on a whim, added a little dried mint – just enough to add a subtle unusual twist (that you wouldn’t even necessarily guess was mint) without being overpowering. The result is polenta that works great as a snack on its own and can also be served with various stews, topped with a fried egg and grated parmesan, or cut into smaller pieces and used on top of a salad.

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Honey Cinnamon Almonds

12 Dec

honey cinnamon almonds 2

I’m a big fan of candied nuts – which probably isn’t too surprising coming from someone who loves any combination of salty and sweet. They make a great snack and a great gift (when I can manage not to eat them all myself). I love the ease of this particular preparation where there’s no separating out and beating egg whites, just a simple whisking together of honey with spices. The resulting nuts are a bit stickier than many candied nuts, but I found I didn’t mind at all and still found them addictively tasty. I used almonds here since they’re one of my favorite nuts (and one of the healthiest too!). Cinnamon provides the spicing, and I also added a little ancho chile powder for some heat and smokiness – you can omit this if you’re not a fan of spice or use smoked salt to get the smokiness without the heat.

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Roasted Broccoli and Sun-dried Tomato Salad

10 Dec

roasted broccoli and sun-dried tomato salad 1

I’ve long been a proponent of roasting vegetables – it’s an easy way to enhance their flavor without even needing to add anything (other than a little olive oil and a pinch of salt). But I don’t think I’ve posted any recipes before with roasted broccoli. It’s a great focal point for a salad like this, where the concentrated flavors are well-complemented by the intense umami of sun-dried tomatoes. A simple balsamic honey reduction adds sweetness. Hard-boiled eggs add a great additional texture and help to balance the other strong flavors (although I think this salad would still be quite good as a vegan version without them). I can never resist putting nuts, seeds, and dried fruit on my salads, and this is no exception, with almonds, sesame seeds, and raisins rounding things out here. All together, the ingredients make for a sophisticated and delicious salad, with more than enough components to make it a satisfying meal.

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Black Bean and Corn Salad

3 Dec

black bean and corn salad

On some days, it feels like a burden to cook something, especially something healthy. I want to be creative, to dedicate time to an elaborate recipe, but can’t stand the idea of actually doing so – there are lots of other more important (or just more exciting!) things to do. But we all need to eat, and a tasty dish can be easy as this salad. A fresh mix of black beans, corn, and diced vegetables, pulled together by lime juice and Mexican spices. Even with the chopping, it only takes fifteen minutes or so to throw together. And this recipe is incredibly versatile – serve it as a salad over lettuce (as pictured here), mix it with rice or quinoa for a twist on a burrito bowl, or use it as a side to accompany fish, meat, or grilled vegetables. Make this, and then you can quickly get back to everything else you have to do, with a delicious and healthy meal fueling you!

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Roasted Strawberry Quinoa Salad

30 Nov

roasted strawberry quinoa salad

Ever since I first heard of roasting strawberries, I’ve been waiting for a chance to try it out. Since strawberries are starting to show up around here, I tossed a pound of them with balsamic vinegar and threw them in the oven. The result is wonderfully concentrated flavor, perfect for savory or sweet applications. I chose to use them in this savory salad with quinoa. The quinoa is a great foil to the strawberries, absorbing their juices and providing a good base for the salad, along with spinach. Walnuts on top for crunch and blue cheese to balance the sweetness of the strawberries make this salad a winner. It comes together quickly, with the quinoa cooking while the strawberries roast, and I liked it best served at room temperature – perfect for packing for lunch. I think this would also be a great unique addition to a brunch spread.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Olive Vinaigrette

28 Nov

roasted cauliflower with olive vinaigrette

When I cook, I turn into a bit of a mad scientist. I can’t help but tweak nearly every recipe I come across, adding or subtracting ingredients, adapting the technique, and mumbling to myself about what the perfect end dish will taste like. Inevitably this makes the whole process take at least twice as long as it should. But this recipe was different – the combination of flavors and basic techniques used intrigued me. I love roasted cauliflower, but I’d never tried roasting thick slices before, and the Mediterranean feel of the olive vinaigrette seemed an interesting match. The recipe came together quickly, and I’m glad I restrained myself on making changes because the result was outstanding. The strong flavors of the olive, lemon, and garlic in the vinaigrette are well-balanced with the crispy caramelized cauliflower. And since this can be prepared in half an hour (with plenty of downtime), it’s great for a quick snack or side that wouldn’t feel out of place on a tapas menu.

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Ginger Butternut Squash Soup

23 Nov

ginger butternut squash soup

I love bright, colorful food. Not only does it evoke a much better visual response to a dish, making me excited to delve in, but colorful foods are also usually the healthiest ones – win, win! So here’s a nice colorful soup, using bright orange butternut squash as the base. Carrots and red lentils add to the delightful orange hue, and ginger provides the main flavoring (you can add even more than the recipe calls for, if you’d like, or stir in ginger juice (from grated ginger, wrapped in cheesecloth and squeezed) at the end). A squeeze of lemon or lime juice (either will work just fine – or even a splash of vinegar, in a pinch) helps contrast the sweetness of the squash. You can also stir in a little plain yogurt, which the original recipe called for, but I didn’t find necessary. Instead, I topped my soup with pepitas for a pop of contrast in color and texture.

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Homemade Kimchi

19 Nov

homemade kimchi

One of my best friends in middle school was Korean, and I remember fondly much of our time spent together after school. We would take the school bus to her house, and there was always perfectly cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker, sheets of seaweed to wrap it in, and delicious homemade kimchi. At the time, I wasn’t even a fan of standard pickles, and kimchi, with its fermented odor and strangely bright red, nearly unrecognizable vegetables, seemed quite intimidating when my friend first offered it to me. But I knew it was rude to refuse, so I tried it. And somehow I was quickly taken in by the bold flavors, a mix of sour, spicy, and even a little sweet that made plain rice into a treat.

I’ve eaten a lot of kimchi since then, and these days, it’s hard for me to resist, whether it’s a side to Korean barbecue, flavoring ramen, or in an omelet. I tried my hand at making my own before, but the flavor wasn’t quite right. Now that I’m in Buenos Aires, where there seems to be a dearth of good Asian food (and certainly a dearth of spicy food), I figured it was worth another shot. I compared several recipes and techniques and tried to keep things simple but authentic with my take. The only specialty ingredients here are the Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) (which I actually carted along with me from the U.S.) and fish sauce; both shouldn’t be hard to find in an Asian market (and the gochugaru can be replaced, if necessary). As I was chopping the cabbage (feeling pleasantly surprised at having been able to find Napa cabbage at my neighborhood verduleria), I started to worry that this would make too much kimchi. And even after it reduced dramatically from the initial salting, I was still concerned. But as I packed the ready-to-ferment kimchi into its large jar, I tasted a piece, and suddenly I wondered if maybe I hadn’t made enough. The fermentation only adds more complexity and the characteristic tang to the kimchi (oh, and some great health benefits, too), and I can easily say now that I’m quite happy with this recipe. I’ve been snacking on it plain, drizzled with a little sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and loving it.

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