technique

Stove-top Popcorn

Back in college, my electric air popper was the highlight of my dorm floor, along with the beer die table residing at one end of the hall and the large screen TV at the other. I attracted my neighbors for study breaks (and post-beer die game drumunchies) with the aroma of freshly popping corn. I’ve graduated to not popping popcorn as a means of making new friends, and to using a regular old stove top and lidded pot to make the classic snack. Since my Stove-top Popcorn has impressed and puzzled many guests for Saturday afternoon snacks or movie night at our place, I thought I’d share how you too can make some, followed by a few ideas for yummy toppings.

Since I’ve been making popcorn this way, I have never had an un-popped kernel or burnt popcorn in a batch. I do, however, have occasional overflow of popped corn. But that is only a problem for…no one.

 We get our popping corn dried on the cob from Farmer Ted at Windflower Farm, but any bagged popping corn will do.

We get our popping corn dried on the cob from Farmer Ted at Windflower Farm, but any bagged popping corn will do.

What you need:

  • average sized stainless steel pot with a well-fitting lid (I use a 3.5QT pot)

  • cooking oil (canola & olive work best, but you can try others so long as they have a high smoke point)

  • popcorn kernels

  • salt

  • seasoning and flavorings (more on that below)

What you do:

Some seasoning ideas:

Of course you can go with the classic butter and salt topping, but I encourage you to try these variations and use your own creativity.

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  • Herb Butter: melt butter and mince up any herbs you have on hand, such as thyme, rosemary and parsley. Better yet, if you have some of my herb garlic butter in your freezer, just melt that and toss with your popcorn. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

  • Hot Honey Kettle Corn: Transfer the popped popcorn to a bowl and set aside. In the same pot, over low heat, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add Mike’s hot honey (or any honey plus a couple teaspoons of dried chili flakes). Add the popcorn back to the pot and toss to coat. Transfer to a bowl. It will harden and get stickier as it cools.

  • Truffle Parmesan: Use olive oil or a combination of olive oil and truffle oil to pop the popcorn. Toss the popped popcorn in melted butter, then sprinkle with truffle salt, grated Parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper.

  • Salt and Pepper: ‘nuff said. Why does salt get all the attention when it comes to popcorn? Don’t leave out the black pepper.

  • Coconut Curry: Use coconut oil to pop the popcorn. Toss popped corn with a curry powder, madras curry or garam masala spice blend you enjoy.

  • Any spice mix plus salt and/or butter is a great addition to popped corn.

Cooking Beans from Scratch

Okay, so I’ll admit it, this post is not at all sexy, or even trendy and it might elicit some juvenile jokes about gas. But, I promise that if you learn how to cook beans properly and commit to making your own from scratch, you will actually keep that flatulence at bay…

Of course I use canned beans. They’re a fantastic convenience and as far as health is concerned, they are just as good for you as homemade, with the one distinction being sodium content. But scratch made beans — meaning cooked beans that started as dried — taste better and have superior texture. Cup for cup, they also cost less, and as an added bonus for us city-dwelling schleppers, dried beans are not as heavy to lug home from the grocery store. You can subtract the weight of the can and the cooking liquid. I know, but these are factors Brooklynites consider when it comes to making foods like beans and stock.

And since making beans from scratch is so simple and only requires a little advanced planning, water and a pot, why not? Go ahead, give your can opener a rest.

Steps to Cooking Beans from Scratch

Tips to cooking beans:

  • Soaking beans is essential. You will reduce cooking time, help them cook more evenly, and make them more digestible, eliminating the gassy effects many people experience with beans. Soak most beans for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight. If you’ll be soaking them longer than that (whoops, no time to cook them!), then give them fresh water, transfer to the fridge if they were out, and use within 2 days max. The idea is to get them to double in size after soaking. See image below.

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red kidney beans in 3 stages

1. The beans on the left are dried.

2. The beans in the middle were soaked overnight.

3. The beans on the right were pressure cooked for 5 minutes.

  • Adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process will make them more flavorful and more tender and will reduce the amount of salt you use in the dish later. Use 1/4 teaspoon to 1 cup DRIED beans (before soaking). There is much debate about salting beans during cooking. If you’re interested, read up here and here. So long as beans soaked before hand (and do not salt the soaking liquid), they will be soft enough to absorb salt from the cooking liquid and cook evenly from the beginning of the cooking process.

  • Use spices in bean dishes to help counteract flatulence. I told you that if you cook beans correctly, starting with soaking and finishing with seasoning, you can control how they are digested. Some spices that relieve flatulence include: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, black pepper, cloves, allspice, and fennel.

  • Bay leaf helps to tenderize the beans and also aids digestion.

  • Water should just cover the beans in a pressure cooker or go twice as high as beans in a conventional pot. In the latter, add more liquid as needed while beans are cooking.

  • Pressure cookers (or those instant pots everyone has now) are great for cooking beans in a fraction of the time. See chart below. To use: seal lid, turn burner on high and bring to pressure (when pin pops up and hisses), reduce heat to low and set timer for lower end of estimated cooking time. At time, remove pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to release on its own (pin pops down). Check beans, taste and repeat in 1-2 minute increments as needed. In a conventional pot, bring water to a boil with beans, bay leaf and salt. Reduce heat to medium and gently cook until beans are tender.

  • Cooking times will vary. Below is a very loose guideline for how long it takes to cook some common dried beans in both a pressure cooker (first number) and a typical pot with loosely fitting lid (second number), but there are so many factors that will affect how long it will take your beans to cook. And so, really, they are done when, well…they are done. You must taste to find out. Some of those factors include:

    • if/how long beans were soaked and at what temperature

    • age of the beans, which determines how “dry” they really are, and how “strong” their skins

    • variations on stove top heat

    • your personal preference and intended use of the bean: Do you like it softer or with a little firmness or chew? Do you want the beans to be creamy for a puree or stew or firm for use in a salad or pasta dish?

    Estimated cooking times (bean: pressure cooker time or conventional pot cooking time)

    • chickpeas and adzuki beans: 4-5 minutes or 3 hours

    • black beans and red kidney beans: 6-8 minutes or 90 minutes

    • black eyed peas and pidgeon peas: not recommended or 1 hour

    • navy beans and cannellini beans: 5-7 minutes or 90 minutes

    • green or french lentils, green split peas, & yellow split peas: 5 minutes or 45 minutes

    • red lentils: not recommended or 20 minutes

Bengali Red Lentil Dhal

Do you need an "I've been out of town all weekend and have nothing in my fridge but want to put a healthy meal on the table pronto and have lunch for the week" kind of dish? For me, that dish is my 100% plant-based and pantry-sourced dhal and rice. It also get cheers from every single eater in my family. We make different variations of dhal, changing up the lentils, spices, aromatics and even the oil, but this Bengali Red Lentil Dhal cooks up quickest and uses the fewest ingredients. If you have them handy, you can brighten it up with chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro leaves and slices of serrano or jalapeno peppers, luckily all things available from the garden this time of year. But those additions are not even necessary.

I have my Bengali-American friend, Ritu, to thank for this recipe. She taught it to me years ago before [tear] moving West. This dish comes closest to replicating the staple meal I ate daily while studying abroad in Nepal, half a lifetime ago. My quest for mastering dhal-bhat ended when Ritu showed me the ropes and her mom's recipe. While I'm at it, I guess I should also thank Ritu for providing fierce competition in office cooking challenges, forcing me to step up my game, and ultimately propelling me to culinary school.

What is dhal exactly? The word dhal comes from Sanskrit meaning "to split" and refers to a wide array of lentils, peas and beans (or pulses) that can be used to make dhal. But what distinguishes dhal from any other lentil soup or stewed pot of legumes is the tarka or tadka. This hot aromatic oil seasoned with onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, and toasted and ground spices is added to the cooked lentils toward the end of the cooking and adds dramatic flavor, color, digestive fire, and healing properties to the dish.

BENGALI RED LENTIL DAL

Yield: ~5 cups

What you need:

 Panch Proon translates to "five spice" and includes equal parts fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole fenugreek, black mustard sees and nigella (onion or black carraway) seeds. My panch proon blend is featured here with coriander seeds also used in this dhal.

Panch Proon translates to "five spice" and includes equal parts fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole fenugreek, black mustard sees and nigella (onion or black carraway) seeds. My panch proon blend is featured here with coriander seeds also used in this dhal.

The dhal:

  • 2 cups red lentils

  • 4 - 5 cups water

  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

The tadka:

  • 2 tablespoons panch proon (see left)

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil

  • 1 onion, small dice

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 tablespoons ginger, julienned

  • 1 dried kashmiri chili, chopped, optional

  • 1 tomato, chopped, optional

  • Sea salt to taste

The garnish:

  • Cilantro leaves

  • 1 jalapeno or serrano chili, minced

  • 1 tablespoon ginger, thinly sliced

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What you do:

Soak the lentils in a large pot of cool water for a minimum of 20 minutes (optional). Rinse thoroughly until water runs clear (not optional). Return the lentils to the pot and cover with 4-5 cups water.

Bring the water to a rolling bowl, add the salt, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender.

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In a separate sauté pan, toast the spices until fragrant and lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Allow to cool and then grind coarsely in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

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Make the tadka. In the same sauté pan, heat ghee or coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. When onions are soft, add the garlic, ginger, chili and ground spices. Sauté about 1 minute longer.

Pour tadka into dal. Add the diced tomato, if using. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or up to 2 hours. Thin dal with additional water if needed.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and jalapeno. Serve with spiced brown basmati rice.

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Fish En Papillote

Fish en papillote or "fish steamed in a packet" is the perfect healthy weeknight-dinner-in-a-flash or prepare-ahead-presentation to amaze your fancy friends dish. I also love it because, like most of my techniques and formulas, it is versatile and can be completed with various types of fish and whatever vegetables, citrus and seasonings I have on hand or feel like using. It works in all seasons - just vary the contents. Spices and fats are optional. So versatile, in fact, everyone in the family can make a personalized version suited to his or her exact tastes and preferences. Last but definitely not least, it conveniently uses up that opened bottle of white wine hanging out in the fridge that no one is ever going to drink.

The amounts listed are for 1 serving or 1 papillote pouch. You can easily multiply to provide as many servings as you need, plus an extra for tomorrow's lunch. This provides a meal unto itself, but also pairs well with additional roasted, steamed or sautéed vegetables, roasted potatoes or steamed rice.

What you need:

  • 3-5 oz fish fillet (cod, arctic char, salmon, monkfish, trout are all good choices)*

  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil or melted butter, optional

  • 2-3 pinches sea salt or kosher salt

  • ground spices, such as black pepper, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, optional

  • 1-2 tablespoons liquid. I prefer a dry white wine, but beer, broth and even water do the trick.

  • 1/4 cup finely sliced or diced vegetables. Use what you have on hand. Carrot, zucchini, bell pepper, cabbage, jalapeño, brussel sprout, and sweet potato are all great.

  • 1 slice of lemon, orange or lime

  • parchment paper cut into large "hearts"

How to prepare the parchment for papillote:

*Note on fish selection: Where you live will determine the best fish choices for you, for freshness and sustainability. Check out this resource by Oceana and Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch for a guide on selecting fish. You can choose printable pocket guides that are specific to your region or download their nifty phone app.

What you do:

Note that fish cooked en papillote will cook faster than if you are roasting fish outside of parchment. The steam trapped inside the papillotte is hotter than your oven and will cook fish faster.

Perfect Soft Boiled Eggs

There's no mistake. Poached eggs are heavenly. Who doesn't love lazily rolling out of bed on a Sunday and strolling to brunch for a hash or hollandaise-smothered dish with a perfectly runny, bright yellow poached egg on top? But soft boiled eggs are so much more... practical. And I appreciate the practical. While poached eggs are cooked one at time in a carefully watched barely simmering pot of water, soft boiled eggs can be made by the dozen, left bubbling away on the stove, monitored by a timer, cooled, and stored for a week's worth of breakfasts on the go. If you're hosting brunch, this is a smarter option for advanced preparation. And those soft boiled eggs are easily transported as compared to their delicate poached cousins.

What you do:

For soft boiled perfection every time, follow these 6 simple steps. All you need to remember is 6 minutes. Do this just once a week for daily enjoyment.

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Peel and enjoy soft boiled eggs immediately on your favorite benedict, with a toasted bagel or over a hash like my Spicy Root Vegetable and Sausage Hash (pictured below). Store any remaining soft boiled eggs in their shells in the fridge (this makes them sturdier and prevents breaking when transporting in your lunch box). Make at least a half dozen at once so you have soft boiled eggs to add to kale salad, caesar dressing, roasted veggies, and avocado toast throughout the week.

All Hail the Stale

Make your own Breadcrumbs

When life gives you stale bread, you take that brick and turn it into breadcrumbs. Did you know that a canister of store-bought breadcrumbs contains approximately 40 different ingredients, many unpronounceable? And those sawdust particles are rarely ever made from whole grains. Compare that to just 5 or 6 ingredients found in breadcrumbs made from a loaf of your favorite local bakery or home-baked bread. Why? It's all about the shelf life - how long can that canister sit in a warehouse, 18-wheeler, grocery store, and your pantry? With those ingredients, likely through the next nuclear winter. You don't need that, though. Do you?

So make your own. They won't survive nuclear winter, but they will last at least a month or more in an airtight glass jar. It's so simple and you will feel so satisfied knowing you spared a dried out loaf from the garbage chute and now have a wholesome ingredient on hand. And your friends might refer to you as Martha Stewart. Wait, don't let that be the reason you don't try this at home. Please try this at home.

 


How to use them:

There are so many uses for homemade breadcrumbs. Here's just a few. Please share yours and I'll add to this list.

  • veggie burgers (black bean, lentil walnut, kasha potato, the list goes on and on)

  • stuffed mushrooms

  • breading or coating for croquettes

  • meatballs of all varieties (note that if you are mimicking the "Italian style" breadcrumbs used in classic meatballs, you will want to add a little dried parsley, oregano, basil and a pinch or two of salt)

  • crunchy topping for a casserole like my pasta, cauliflower and cheese bake (recipe coming soon) or my vegan green been casserole

  • to add texture to a salad or grain bowl

  • as an alternative to croutons in caesar salad or this roasted romanesco with lemony anchovy dressing


2 notes for the gluten free crowd:

1. The above procedure might be a lifesaver for you. Now you can make your own gluten free bread crumbs with your favorite gluten free bread or crackers and save yourself the trouble and expense of finding rare packaged gluten free breadcrumbs.

2. There are gluten free substitutes for the uses of breadcrumbs I listed here. Stay tuned for some recipes and techniques coming soon. First up: my gluten free alteration of a family classic stuffed mushroom recipe.

What you do:

Possibilities for Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Don't get me wrong. I love pumpkin puree in any form I can get it any time I can get it, including the canned stuff. However, American supermarkets have it all wrong. Those aluminum pyramids of mashed orange pulp should be displayed in March, not November. Why, at the height of harvest, would I eat last year’s (at best) pumpkin packed into a can when I can eat this week’s pumpkin fresh from the oven? Furthermore, what else are we going to do with the pumpkins we bought at Halloween and had every intention of turning into jack-o-lanterns? This works for those actually turned into jack-o-lanterns, but please don't smash your beautiful untouched mounds of flavor that could be transformed into good eats.

Making homemade pumpkin puree is so simple. Here's what you do:

Note: This method works for all types of pumpkin and squash. I find sugar or pie pumpkins are as their names suggest and work best for breads and pies, but try other squashes, such as kabocha, acorn, buttercup, butternut, and delicata for all of these recipe suggestions. For baked goods, I recommend putting the scooped and mashed pumpkin flesh in a food processor and pureeing until smooth, but you can also add the cooked mash to most dishes without processing. You can freeze any unused portion.

Now, what to do with all that pumpkin puree?

The possibilities are endless. But for now, here are 13 ideas and one fabulous recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Flax Bread. It is my every intention to gradually fill in the remainder of these pumpkin recipes over the life of this blog, as well as add another 13 uses for fresh pumpkin puree.

  • Bread or Cake

  • Pie

  • Soup

  • Cream cheese

  • Ravioli or manicotti filling or layered into lasagna

  • Pureed side dish with spices

  • Blended with other fruits and vegetables for baby food

  • Oatmeal, porridge or overnight oats

  • Whoopie Pies or cookies

  • Baked custards

  • Bread pudding

  • Hummus

  • Risotto

  • Ragu sauce for a pasta dish or baked casserole

Banner photo by The Copper Spoon Collective