sushi bowls

I’m so proud of this recipe. I actually came up with the idea on my own. Whoa. Not that sushi ingredients mixed up in a bowl is a groundbreaking idea, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I didn’t know there was already a recipe out there when I came up with it. I was creative! That never happens!

The inspiration behind my big idea was that Dave and I love sushi, but making it is a pain in the ass and going out to eat all the time isn’t feasible. So I figured, why bother making cute little sushi rolls – it’s the ingredients that we like, not their shape. I decided to mix up the ingredients in a bowl and call it a day.

And that makes this a pretty darn easy meal. Sushi rice takes only a little more effort than basic long-grain rice does, and that’s the only ingredient in this recipe that needs to be cooked.

I’ve made this a few times now, and once I used smoked salmon instead of raw tuna. I used smoked salmon twice when I made sushi rolls, and I thought it was good. It’s convenient, and I thought it might be a good option for people who aren’t comfortable eating raw fish. But when I used it in the sushi bowls, it was so salty that it kind of ruined the whole dish. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between brands or if all smoked salmon is so salty. I bought the cheapest brand, because that stuff always surprises me by how expensive it is.

But, every other time I’ve made this, it’s been just so good. And healthy! Look at all that green stuff. There’s no added fat in the recipe; the only fat involved is what’s naturally in avocado, sesame seeds, and the fish. That makes this a super tasty, easy, healthy, balanced meal on its own. It’s perfect.

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Sushi Bowls

I’ve used raw tuna, smoked salmon, and imitation crab in this, all with very good results.  If you’re using salty smoked salmon, reduce the salt in the rice mixture slightly.

4 servings

1⅓ cups rice, rinsed well
1⅓ cups water
¼ cup soy sauce
wasabi to taste, probably at least 2 teaspoons
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 (8 by 7-inch) sheets nori, cut into strips 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
1 avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and cut into chunks 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
2 green onions, halved lengthwise and cut into strips 1 inch long
8 ounces sushi-grade fish
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. Rinse the rice. Place the rice and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce and wasabi in a small bowl. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a separate small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. (If you use an electric fan, this will only take about a minute.) Do not refrigerate.

3. Combine rice, wasabi mixture, and remaining ingredients. Serve.

tuscan-style couscous salad

Food generally tastes better outside. Even more so after you’ve hiked eight miles while carrying a 25-pound pack. Since Dave and I almost always eat this couscous salad while we’re backpacking, it’s no wonder we like it so much. But last time we went camping, we got driven home early by, um, we’ll just say fear of Lyme disease and spare you the creepy details. We ate this salad when we got home that night, and it tasted just as good while sitting on the couch watching a movie as it does when we’re eating it out of zip-top bags in the woods.

What’s so great about this salad is that it’s a perfectly balanced complete meal – a couscous base, both beans and nuts, and plenty of tomatoes, onions, and basil. There’s no real cooking involved and not much chopping.

I have tweaked the original recipe slightly – while it’s basically the same list of ingredients, I’ve doubled the amount of pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, and onion. I’ve also reduced to the olive oil in the dressing, which I do with most vinaigrettes recipes.

One final change I make to the original recipe is to toast the unpeeled garlic cloves before adding them to the dressing. Lately I’ve been unhappy with the sharpness of raw garlic, and toasting it mellows its flavor a bit. It’s still garlicky and good, but it won’t burn your tongue. And since the pine nuts are already being toasted, it’s no problem to add the garlic cloves to the skillet as well.

Between the vivid colors of this dish, its healthfulness, the ease with which it comes together, and of course, its flavorful mix of ingredients, this salad is well worth eating at home and in the woods.

Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Classics, by Jeanne Lemlin)

Serves 4 as a main course

1½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered

The dressing:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.

2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.

3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

summer rolls

I am not a collector of cookbooks. I do have one full shelf of about twenty or so, but I’m not one to idly buy any book I get excited about. Unless I’m interested in a very good proportion of the recipes in the book, I won’t buy it.

Unless it’s only three dollars, and every recipe has several pictures, and a surprising number of those recipes look good. I recently found a Thai Cooking Step-by-Step book in the bargain aisle and couldn’t pass it up.

The first recipe, and probably the one I was the most excited about, is for summer rolls, rice paper wrappers rolled around vegetables, rice vermicelli, and shrimp. I checked out a few recipes before making them, but most were similar, so I only slightly adapted the one in the book.

Every recipe included shrimp, rice vermicelli, cilantro and carrots. A few also included cucumber and Boston lettuce, both of which I wanted to include. One added mint, one Thai basil, and one preferred Thai basil but offered mint as an alternative. I haven’t been able to find Thai basil (although I haven’t looked very hard), so I used mint the first time I made these. Dave and I both hated the mint. I skipped the extra herbs entirely the second time, just using cilantro, and we much preferred it that way.

I struggled with what to do with the lettuce. I really wanted it inside the roll, similar to spider rolls. I tried it, but it was so bulky that I couldn’t get the summer rolls to make a tight wrap. Leaving the lettuce on the outside was preferable.

I thought the dipping sauce made from the recipe included in the step-by-step book was too pungent. The second time I made these, I used a recipe from another recently-acquired Asian cookbook (but I thought I didn’t buy many cookbooks?), and it was very good.

Admittedly, this isn’t the quickest recipe to put together. I kept thinking it would be pretty fast, since there’s very little cooking. Of course whenever you have to individually prepare fillings and wrappers, there will be a significant time investment. But for such a healthy and delicious meal, it’s worth it to me.

As per Joelen’s suggestion, I am submitting this entry to her Asian Appetizers event.

Update 9.21.08: I made this again and decided the recipe I originally had here needed a few tweaks.  I reduced the vermicelli from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces and cut all of the dip ingredients in half.  Also, it only took me 45 minutes to make these, so it’s not quite the “significant time investment” that I originally thought.

Summer Rolls (adapted from Fresh Spring Rolls in Thai Cooking Step-by-Step, from the Confident Cooking Series)

Makes 8 rolls

16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1.5 ounces rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wrappers
½ medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
16 Thai basil leaves (optional)
½ cup (0.5 ounces) loosely packed cilantro leaves
8 small leaves Boston lettuce (or 4 large leaves, torn in half)

1. Fill a medium skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the shrimp from the pan using a slotted spoon. Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Add the vermicelli to the hot liquid and let set until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vermicelli from the pan.

2. Place a rice paper wrapper in the hot liquid and leave until softened, about one minute. Remove it from the water and place it on a work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves side-by-side in center of wrapper and top with 2 basil leaves, 1 tablespoon cilantro, a few carrot and cucumber strips, and a small amount of rice noodles.

3. Fold up bottom 2-inch border of wrapper over filling. Fold left, then right edge of wrapper over filling. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form tight cylinder.  Lay each roll in a leaf of lettuce and place on a serving platter.  Serve with dipping sauce.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce (adapted from Nouc Cham in Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine)

1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

soba salad with feta and peas

Apparently I can’t always predict when a dish is going to be good. The only reason I made this was to use up some soba noodles and scallions. Then I found two opened bags of peas in the freezer and half a lemon in the refrigerator, so the meal seemed worth making even if it ended up being no better than edible.

There are some unusual ingredient combinations in this recipe. Soba noodles and feta? Soy sauce and lemon juice? This is why I had my doubts.

I was really surprised when the meal wasn’t just edible, but I loved it. Between the lemon juice and the feta, I was expecting it to be too sour, but the tartness was nicely balanced by the soy sauce and sugar.

Not only was this delicious, it’s one of the easiest meals I’ve made recently. Only one ingredient needs to be chopped, which is a such a welcome change from the meals I normally cook. It’s nutritionally balanced on its own, requiring no side dishes to be a full meal. It can be served warm or cold. I had it ready as soon as Dave got home from work, but when he decided to work out and shower before eating, it was no problem to set the salad aside until we were ready.

Really, this might be the perfect dish – tasty, healthy and easy. I’m already looking for the next opportunity to make it.

Soba Salad with Feta and Peas (adapted from Gourmet July 2006)

Makes 4 servings

1 (10- to 12-ounce) package soba noodles*
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
6 oz feta, crumbled (¾ cup)
4 scallions, finely chopped

1. Cook noodles and peas together in a 6- to 8-quart pot of lightly salted boiling water until noodles are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

2. While noodles cook, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Drain noodles and peas well in a colander, then rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain well again, then add to dressing along with feta and scallions. Grind more black pepper to taste over salad.

salmon clubs with avocado butter

I subscribed to Real Simple for years, but only one issue had any recipes I was interested in. It was an article on sandwiches, and I’ve made and enjoyed almost every recipe from that particular article. Some have become seasonal staples for me, but this is only the second time I’ve made this recipe, because the first time was a flop.

It was about 5 years ago, and I didn’t have the cooking experience then that I have now. The recipe calls for kosher salt, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that kosher salt is coarser grained than regular table salt, and a direct substitute can’t be made. I remember the sandwiches being almost inedibly salty, which makes sense because the 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt that the original recipe calls for is equivalent to only about ¾ teaspoon of table salt. I used 1¼ teaspoons table salt.

With that straightened out, these sandwiches were delicious. I had no idea that I liked pumpernickel bread so much. I reduced the butter in the avocado butter to one tablespoon, which seemed to work fine. I skipped the oregano because I didn’t have it, and I don’t really think it would match the other flavors in this anyway. With those changes, this makes for an easy, tasty, and pretty healthy meal.

Salmon Club with Avocado Butter (adapted from Real Simple magazine, August 2004)

Update 3/20/09: The salmon really needs to be sliced into 1/4 or 1/2-inch pieces.  Also, I’ve decided that double-decker sandwiches, while visually impressive, are impractical (and messy!).  I’ll have to stick to single-deckers from now on.

Makes 2 sandwiches

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
Juice from half a lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8-ounce salmon fillet, sliced into ¾-inch pieces
6 slices pumpernickel bread, toasted
1½ cups arugula leaves, loosely packed

Place the avocado, lemon juice, butter, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt (⅓ teaspoon table salt) in a food processor. Pulse until nearly smooth, about 30 seconds. Set aside. (Or just mash with a fork, if getting out your food processor is a pain in the butt, like it is for me.)

Place a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat with vegetable cooking spray. Sprinkle the salmon liberally with salt. Place in heated skillet. Cook until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Assemble 2 sandwiches, alternating pumpernickel, avocado butter, salmon, and arugula. Secure with toothpicks before serving.

kung pao shrimp

I almost always ask Dave if he wants any input on our meals for the upcoming week, looking either for new ideas or for a way to limit all the ideas already swimming around in my head. Sometimes I ask just to be polite, even though I already have a nice plan forming, betting on the good chance that he won’t care. That’s what happened this time, and even though Dave wouldn’t mind one bit if I totally ignored his suggestion, I feel like a jerk for asking and then dismissing his opinion.

Not enough like a jerk to not tweak his response though. Dave simply answered “Sichuan” to my request for dinner ideas, and while I’m pretty sure he had something specific in mind, I chose to take his answer literally, opening my options up to anything Sichuan. A quick search on the Cooks Illustrated website turned up the perfect compromise – Kung Pao Shrimp, a classic Sichuan dish that also used up the red pepper I had and satisfied my craving for shrimp.

And satisfy it did. I wasn’t surprised, because it contains a lot of my favorite ingredients for Asian cooking – shrimp, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, peanuts, chiles…I’m sorry, I’m naming every single ingredient. But each is something that I love, and they worked wonderfully together in this dish.

Kung Pao Shrimp (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

You can substitute plain rice vinegar for the black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets), but we prefer the latter for its fruity, salty complexity. If you prefer roasted unsalted cashews over peanuts, substitute an equal amount. Do not eat the whole chiles in the finished dish.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
6 small whole dried red chiles (each about 1¾ to 2 inches long), 3 chiles roughly crumbled, or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

1. Toss shrimp with sherry and soy sauce in medium bowl; marinate until shrimp have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl; set aside. Combine peanuts and chiles in small bowl; set aside. Mix chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster-flavored sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and cook, stirring about once every 10 seconds, until barely opaque, 30 to 40 seconds; add peanuts and chiles, stir into shrimp, and continue cooking until shrimp are almost completely opaque and peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp, peanuts, and chiles to bowl; set aside. Return skillet to burner and reheat briefly, 15 to 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirl to coat pan, and add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 45 seconds. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet along with reserved shrimp, peanuts, and chiles; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened to syrupy consistency, about 45 seconds. Stir in scallions; transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

poached eggs with arugula and polenta fingers

This is the weirdest thing I’ve made in a long time. I think I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit and caught that I liked each component – arugula salad, poached eggs, polenta – but didn’t stop to consider that those items might not belong on the same plate.

I’m not really that close-minded. Someone obviously enjoyed this, so there must be something good about it. I just needed to focus on that good.

There were moments of doubt. The coconut milk in the polenta is unusual, not to mention fattening, but then tasted surprisingly good. The original recipe recommends frying the polenta fingers on high in extra virgin olive oil, which is silly. I used a mixture of olive oil (not virgin) and canola oil, and it still smoked on medium-high heat. I did find that the heat must be turned up pretty high to brown the polenta.

I doubled the amount of dressing and greatly increased (quadrupled maybe) the amount of arugula. It was all going fine until I was actually putting the egg on the salad, and then I realized that egg on salad actually might not be my thing.

But, never mind, I guess it is my thing, and maybe Dave’s too. The egg was quite a nice topping for the salad, and the polenta fingers were a great accompaniment, especially when they were used to sop up extra vinaigrette. So if poached egg on salad is your thing, or if you’re willing to try something new, this recipe is worth your effort.

Poached Eggs with Arugula and Polenta Fingers (adapted from Bon Appetit May 2008 )

Makes 4 servings

Bridget note: I’ve made the recipe a bit more detailed than it is in the magazine, as well as changing the polenta and poached egg method to those of Cooks Illustrated.

For the polenta:
1 13.5- to 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon canola oil

For the salad:
8 cups arugula
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch salt
pinch black pepper

For the poached eggs:
4 eggs, each cracked into a small handled cup
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

1. For the polenta: Pour coconut milk into 2-cup measuring cup and add enough water to make 2 cups liquid. Bring liquid to boil in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, add salt, and pour the cornmeal into the water in a very slow stream from a measuring cup, all the while whisking in a circular motion to prevent lumps.

2. Cover and cook, vigorously stirring the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 10 seconds once every 5 minutes and making sure to scrape clean the bottom and corners of the pot, until the polenta has lost its raw cornmeal taste and becomes soft and smooth, about 30 minutes. Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour polenta into pan and spread to corners. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of polenta and chill until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.)

4. Turn polenta out onto cutting board. Cut into 4×1-inch rectangles. Heat oils in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, add polenta fingers; cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side.

5. For the salad: While first batch of polenta cooks, whisk oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in small bowl until combined. In large bowl, toss arugula with dressing and divide among salad plates.

6. For the poached eggs: While last batch of polenta cooks, fill an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet nearly to the rim with water, add the salt and vinegar, and bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Lower the lips of each cup just into water at once; tip eggs into boiling water, cover, and remove from heat. Poach until yolks are medium-firm, exactly 4 minutes. For firmer yolks (or for extra large or jumbo eggs), poach 4 ½ minutes; for looser yolks (or for medium eggs), poach 3 minutes.

7. Top each salad with a poached egg. Break yolks with tip of knife. Sprinkle with black pepper. Serve with polenta.

hash browns with sauteed vegetables and poached eggs

I’ve become enamored with poached eggs lately. They’re such a great topping for so many breakfast ideas. Besides eggs benedict, I like to serve them on toast with a bit of cheddar cheese sprinkled over. Hash browns and a bed of sautéed vegetables is my favorite poached eggs base.

The trick to great hash browns is to use starchy potatoes like russets, but to rinse some of the outside starch off of the shreds, then thoroughly dry them before starting to cook. Because I consider this breakfast one of my healthier options, I use olive oil for cooking both the vegetables and the potatoes, although vegetable oil and butter are also good choices. How often you stir the potatoes depends on how you like your hash browns. If you want a crispy base and a tender interior within a bed of potatoes, pack the shreds into a medium-size pan and leave them alone until the bottom browns, 5-6 minutes. Then flip the whole mound over and brown the second side. I tend to put the potatoes in a large skillet and stir every few minutes. After 10-15 minutes, they’re pretty evenly split between crispy browned and tender.

The vegetables you use are completely adaptable. My favorite combination is red onion, red peppers, and mushrooms. This time I used spinach instead of the red peppers, and I loved it. I like the vegetables chopped so that I can get some of each in one bite, so pretty small. (I’m particular about how vegetables are chopped anyway.)

Mound some cooked potatoes on a plate, spread the sautéed vegetables over it, and top with a poached egg – it’s a perfect combination of flavors and nutrition. Once the egg is cut into, warm yolk drips down and blends with the potatoes, and your morning is off to a terrific start.

Hash Browns, Sautéed Vegetables, and Poached Eggs (Poached Egg recipe from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 2

1½ tablespoons olive oil
6-8 cremini or button mushrooms, halved if large and sliced thin
½ small red onion, halved and sliced thin
1½ ounces spinach, cleaned and chopped very coarse
ground black pepper
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and washed
2-4 eggs, each cracked into a small handled cup
2 tablespoons white vinegar

1. Heat oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off. Place 2 large plates in warm oven.

2. Heat ½ tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When shimmering but not smoking, add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid released by mushrooms has evaporated. Add onion and cook until browned at edges. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a bowl. Put bowl in warmed oven.

3. While vegetables cook, shred potatoes in food processor with shredding blade or on large holes of box grater. Rinse thoroughly in a strainer, then move to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze and pat dry.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same skillet (no need to wash) over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add potatoes and ¼ teaspoon salt and mix thoroughly. Cook potatoes, stirring every 2-3 minutes, until slightly browned and cooked throughout, a total of 15-20 minutes.

5. While potatoes cook, fill an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet nearly to the rim with water, add 1 teaspoon salt and the vinegar, and bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Lower the lips of each cup just into water at once; tip eggs into boiling water, cover, and remove from heat. Poach until yolks are medium-firm, exactly 4 minutes. For firmer yolks (or for extra large or jumbo eggs), poach 4 ½ minutes; for looser yolks (or for medium eggs), poach 3 minutes.

6. While eggs are cooking, divide potatoes between warmed plates. Top with sautéed vegetables. With a slotted spoon, carefully lift and drain each egg over skillet, then lay each over vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

rice and beans

I love beans. This is a recent revelation, as the only beans I remember eating as a kid were refried or mixed with hot dogs. (And just like that, pork and beans has been added to my “To Cook” list.) I’m not sure if it’s the beans that are so good, or the type of recipes that beans tend to be in – mishmashes of various flavors and textures blended together so each bite is just a little bit different from the last, but equally delicious.

Rice and beans is beans at their simplest. I have a Puerto Rican friend who makes fantastic rice and beans, and I’m kicking myself for not getting the recipe from him before I moved away. However, I’m finding that rice and beans is completely adaptable to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The first time I made it, I used a recipe, but I don’t find myself following it very closely these days.

The original recipe uses sausage, onions, garlic, beans, chicken broth, and some seasoning. It’s a great recipe, but the beauty of rice and beans is that you can ignore the recipe and still get something fantastic. This time I used a bit of celery, a chipotle chile, and as many tomatoes as beans. Last time I used red pepper and less tomatoes. Any number of additions would be great – green pepper, squash, maybe even sweet potatoes. The only requirement is beans, although I admit that I wouldn’t make it without onions, and now I’m loving the tomatoes. I also love the sausage, even though I prefer not to use meat in my staple weeknight meals. If you can think of a great substitute, let me know!

I’ve linked to the original recipe above, and I’ll provide a recipe for what the pictures show, but keep in mind that this is a fun meal to adapt to your own preferences.

Rice and Beans

Serves 4

8 ounces cooked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used salami this time)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, minced (red pepper would be great too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin (I’ve also used Old Bay)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used 2 cans, but it was admittedly very tomatoey)
1 cup chicken broth (I didn’t use this, but I should have)

6 cups cooked long-grain white rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and fat begins to render. Add the onions and celery/pepper/whatever and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spice(s) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the flavors have blended, about 45 minutes (or as long as you want actually – I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it for the full 45 minutes). Serve over rice.

sichuan green beans

I’m not very good at mise en place. I know that isn’t a sign of a particularly good cook, but I must be getting better lately because the kitchen isn’t so messy when I’m done cooking. I didn’t do a good job with this recipe though. I read “cook beans for 5-8 minutes” and I think Perfect! I’ll have just enough time to mince garlic, chop ginger, get the pork out of the fridge, measure out 3 liquids and 5 powders for the sauce, and slice the scallions! While stirring frequently. Dork.

Sichuan green beans was one of my favorite meals to make when I lived alone, and I still make it fairly often for me and Dave. It’s a quick, easy, balanced, healthy one pot meal. The recipe (according the Cooks Illustrated article) is based on a traditional Chinese meal involving deep-fried green beans. This recipe gets the same effect with just a couple tablespoons of oil over very high heat. The beans are cooked until they’re shriveled and blackened. It sounds like they’d be overcooked and soggy, but I swear they’re not. They’re crisp and sweet. It’s similar to what you get when you roast vegetables.

I did a quick scan on the internet of similar recipes, but I can see immediately that they’re not going to get the same sweet crunchiness out of the green beans. One steams the beans separately, one adds water to the pan to steam/boil them in the pan, one sautés them for a few minutes over medium heat. Bland (and extra work and dishes), boring, raw. No good. The high heat searing is necessary to get the most flavor out of the beans. I tried using Chinese long beans for this recipe once, but I actually didn’t like it as much. Besides costing far more than regular green beans, they weren’t as sweet.

The rest of the recipe is no problem. Cook some ground pork, add garlic and ginger, stir in some sauce ingredients, serve over white rice. You can leave the pork out and add shiitakes instead. This would make a nice side dish, but doesn’t have any protein source for a full meal. Either way, just make sure you do your chopping and measuring before you do your cooking. Otherwise you’ll be scrambling around like a dork, like I was.

Stir-Fried Sichuan Green Beans (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

CI note: To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced, for the pork. If using mushrooms, you will need to add a teaspoon of oil to the pan in step 3 before adding the mushrooms. The cooking of this dish goes very quickly, so be sure to have all of the ingredients prepped before you start. Serve this dish with steamed white rice.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ pound ground pork
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. In small bowl, stir together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, pepper flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5 to 8 minutes (reduce heat to medium-high if beans darken too quickly). Transfer beans to large plate.

3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add pork to now-empty skillet. Cook, breaking pork into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir sauce to recombine and return beans to pan with sauce. Toss and cook until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Per Serving:
Cal 200; Fat 14 g; Sat fat 3 g; Chol 20 mg; Carb 12 g; Protein 8 g; Fiber 4 g; Sodium 680 mg