Stewed Garbanzos and The Art of Meal Planning

With the summer abundance finished it’s time to shift gears and plan meals for cold, busy weeks. Summer is easier, with lots of fresh produce, garden offerings and the punishing heat that suggests lighter meals, lots of rosé and mint water, preferably in the backyard under tree shade. Fall and winter are a different game, I’m extra hungry as the weather cools and the days shorten, and fuller meals are in demand.

easygarbanzostew

Meal planning is key to my budget, and my sanity. It helps me prepare quick meals as my life runs faster than I can, and it keeps me from wasting food. In a country where 40-50% of the food produced goes to waste it’s difficult to take food waste serious, until it has a personal impact. After all, part of what I teach is meal planning and mindfulness around food, which makes me more aware of my own shortcomings.

mealplanningprep

Every Saturday, I fill bowls with beans, lentils and grains, of any color and shape, cover them with water and soak them overnight. On Sunday, I cook them all, as I mosey around sipping my morning coffee and reading The New York Times. At home, we are not vegetarians, but we use pulses, grains, and many vegetables to stretch animal proteins. Luckily, I’m a trained Colombian who grew up on beans and rice, so diversifying using lentils, beans and vegetables is familiar, if not comforting.

Once cooked, pulses and grains are an easy and reliable base for many meals through the week, with or without meat. Sometimes I’ll make bigger batches and freeze finished meals for the following week, if I know I’ll be extra busy. This weekend we worked on a batch of lentil-oat bars for Mr. Thomas, as he’s always bouncing around town and in need of nutritious snacks. We also worked on black bean and farro tacos for a lazy Sunday lunch; garbanzos to stew with tomatoes and fennel, to make hummus, and for falafel patties; and white beans for Cassoulet and Minestrone soupwhich I froze in two-portion containers, and are perfect for a snowy night, like tonight, when traffic is horrid and stressful, and I can relax knowing that a hearty dinner is ready to heat up.

stewedgarbanzoswithpesto

This weekly ritual acts as a way to inventory what is in our fridge, pantry and freezer, and to find recipes for produce, or other perishables. I’m mortified anytime a lonely turnip or carrot, forgotten underneath a pile of mushrooms or lettuce, gets soft and moldy and I have to dispose of the dead evidence. How much did I pay for that turnip?

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Lentil-Oat Bars and Holiday Lentil Gifts

***Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post!

For as long as I can remember, lentils have been a part of my life. My mother’s favorite meal is lentil soup, and if I had to choose a food to live on forever it would be lentils and rice, preferably basmati rice. 

Last month, I went to a conference in Austin, TX, where I learned about an organization promoting lentils, Canadian Lentils. I normally don’t write about specific products {except for books or interesting websites}, but this got my attention. They displayed lentils in burlap bags next to mason jars, in front of two tall shelves full of spices. From turmeric, ginger, garam masala, cumin, dried herbs, and different kinds of peppers, they encouraged visitors to take a jar fill it with lentils and add spices, either following one of their recipes or each person’s own mix. They elevated this humble pulse and made it the star of the conference, their booth was packed at all times with people interested on the endless possibilities provided by the spices. 

lentilsoupinajar

Lentils are miracle food. Let’s deconstruct this statement:

  • Lentils contain high amounts of protein. 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein
  • Lentils are high in heart-healthy fiber that also helps level blood sugar
  • Lentils provide high levels of iron 
  • Lentils, like other pulses or legumes, fix nitrogen into the soil where they are planted, creating a better growing environment for other plants, and reducing the carbon footprint of our food by using less chemical fertilizers per kilo-calorie
  • Lentils are delicious and versatile, and we can find recipes from all over the globe that feature them. They adapt to any spices and flavors we may dream of using. Italian lentil soup with tomatoes, thyme or oregano, for example, or Indian Dahl – orange split lentil – soup with curry, my mothers lentil soup with cumin, paprika and turmeric, or endless salad combinations, like Bulgur and black lentil salad with carrot green pesto.

homemadeholidaygifts

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Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Even with its unbearable heat waves, summer is a luxurious time of year. I wish I could grab it by its tail, harness it and slow it down. I love the flowers in every yard, walkway and park. The plants bearing fruits and vegetables, and the farmers bringing their best to the market.

With July gone, we are down to August and September, and then is winter. Unless we get a long enough fall to drown our sorrows before the snow stars to pile. I shouldn’t be thinking about winter and should just enjoy the present, the hot weather, and the abundance from the land.

My new weekly ritual includes a trip to the Union Station Farmers Market, which is proving educational. We’ve had markets in Denver on previous years, but none that accumulated the quantity and quality of locally grown produce that this, new to the city, market is bringing.

For years, I envied the Boulder and Longmont markets, and traveled at last once a month during the summer to indulge on buying produce grown just a few miles away; now they travel every Saturday to bring their produce to us in Denver.

union station farmers market denver

Many meals and cooking ideas spring every week based on what’s available, a concept I didn’t follow particularly close before I challenged myself to cook the majority of our meals using only seasonal produce. By seasonal, I mean whatever is in season around me, or at least in the United States especially during the winter months, not including Hawaii, I haven’t bought a pineapple in years, and not including snow and sticks from our Colorado winter harvest.

Some meals are simple variations using, for example, different types of cucumbers {which just this year, after 15 years in the U.S. and 13 of those in the kitchen I found they are nicknamed “cukes”} like lemon cucumbers in a cucumber-tomato salad dressed with carrot greens pesto.

lemon cucumbers

Other meals, like this Bulgur and Lentil Salad, are born out of the necessity for an easy to take lunch that’s nutritious and simple to make, all while providing a punch of flavor to keep me from stopping at the burrito place nearby for a second snack. Continue reading Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Curried-Yellow Pea “Hummus”

For 25 years I have cooked pulses {dried beans, peas and lentils} and yet, I still find road blocks from time to time, this time it was of the yellow pea kind.

After soaking the peas for a few hours, I proceeded to cook them as always. They cooked, and they cooked, and hours past, and they kept on cooking, never getting beyond “al dente”.

“What happened to the peas?” asked my husband,
“They toughened up and formed a conspiracy against me,” I replied.

Left with a pot of yellow peas, with a personality disorder that gave them the texture of a raw jicama, posed two possible outcomes:

1- Compost them and forget the incident ever happened, after all I have to protect my reputation

2- Puree them into a hummus-like spread and pretend it was intentional

And so, Curried-Yellow Pea hummus was born.

peahummus

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Vegetarian French Cassoulet à la Julia Child

It’s been a year. One year since I started writing this blog. A year full of growth, surprises and amazing adventures.

white beans and mushroom cassoulet

whitebeansandmushroomcassoulet

A year ago, when I started sweet almond, the first recipe I published was French Cassoulet following the lead of Mrs. Julia Child and her masterful book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The first time I opened the book , years ago, it scared me. I thought, I could never successfully make a recipe from it, let alone the cassoulet. That recipe evoked my food life, the uphill hike to learn everything from a Reuben sandwich to a tiramisu at the tender age of 25.

Growing up in Colombia meant that I knew Colombian food and not much more, especially growing up in a family with deep cultural food roots. The move to the States to work at a mountain resort proved enlightening with questions like “what is a French onion soup? and what about a crème brûlée?

It didn’t come as an obvious choice to go into culinary arts, it was more of a passion for gaining food knowledge than actually knowing about food that took me there.

ingredients for vegetarian french cassoulet

So when the time came to write my first recipe for this blog I chose the four-page-long, multiple step, no pictures or illustrations, from the one lady who could understand what it was to move to a different country and get an inside scoop of its culture by learning about the food that influenced its people. Granted, she learned French cooking in France, and I learned the importance of cooking, and food, as a cultural background for a widely diverse country.

In this past year many things have happened. I graduated {finally} with a bachelors of arts in journalism for food and wine. I turned the age page to the big 4-0, and found myself jobless, confused and with a job identity crises. I figured I’d try to make it into PR or some sort of communications job that offered me passionless security. Learning a whole new arsenal of skills, interning for free to gain any kind of experience, and honestly desire, to find the next step in my new search away from the kitchen.

cooking with french thyme

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Black Beans and Farro Tacos, to celebrate The International Year of Pulses

The United Nations declared 2016 “The International Year of Pulses“, and I learned that dried beans, peas and lentils are called pulses.

Beans, peas and lentils are the back bone of a Colombian diet. Each of my aunts and my mother have claimed fame to one of them as the best lentil maker, or the best pinto bean maker, in the family. I learned to make lentil soup from my mother, as she was crowned queen of lentils long before I could walk.

So, it was only fair that I carried that with me into my married life, something my anglo-saxon husband hesitated to accept the first time I cooked lentils. “Lentils? why?” was his reaction, all I could think was “who doesn’t like lentils?” A similar question when I bought our first pressure cooker, “What for?” he asked, “For beans to cook quicker?” For me, it was incomprehensible a kitchen without one, a pressure cooker that is.

The choo choo of a pressure cooker meant a kitchen in action. Yes, I did eventually break my cooker and used canned beans for years. To my defense, I was trying not to be “too Colombian” on my poor boy. Unfortunately, some things never change and the pressure cooker is back in the kitchen. A new version {a bit fancy, I must admit} I’m still trying to figure out.

The vast variety of pulses found at the food store is more than I’d ever seen, even my mother was astounded when I took her there and showed her mung beans, adzuki beans, black “caviar” lentils, and more, much more.

vegetarian bean and farro tacos

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Sprouted Bean and Farro Chili, To Warm Up my Colombian Bones

Winter is when the tag “Made in Colombia” sticks up from my back, even after 15 years living in Colorado, the frigid temperatures make me wheeze, my bones ache, and all I want to do is eat.

vegetarian chili high protein

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Vegetarian Lentil Soup and Lentil Salad

Lentils are, and have been, one of my favorite foods since I was a little girl. The smell of lentils cooking brings back many memories of home and family gatherings, and the same recipe has been part of my family for generations, a way to teach the young their first cooking lessons. Lentils have an invaluable nutritional make up: high in protein, fiber and iron, and low in sugars and fat.lentils

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Black-eyed Pea and Swiss Chard Vegan Minestrone

Paging the latest issue of Food and Wine magazine I stumbled upon a recipe for minestrone, which reminded me how much I love this hearty bean soup. Many variations use some sort of meat like sausage, bacon, pancetta or ham, but I wanted a vegetarian {vegan actually} version of it.

Since I have been trying my luck with black eyed peas lately, it seemed like a great recipe to use them. I didn’t grow up eating this dalmatian looking legume and didn’t know what to expect the first few times I cooked it, but they are easy to manage, hold their shape well while cooking and have a subtle earthy flavor. It’s said that this cowpea – as it’s also known- originated in North Africa and was introduced to the Americas by the Spanish settlers becoming a favorite in the south.

Black eyed peas cook fast if they have been soaked over night, and cook even faster in a pressure cooker. I grew up cooking with a pressure cooker and was one of my first acquisitions in my married life here in the states, but after working my inexpensively made cooker to death I fell into the hands of convenience and began using canned beans {which are good to have for on the fly meals, but don’t taste as good and cost more than the dried counter parts.}

vegetables for vegan minestrone

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Yellow Peas with Wild Rice Pilaf

“Looking at the world from other species point of view is a cure for the disease of human self-importance.”
Michael Pollan

The rain has fallen for days on end. The chewy moisture in the air tastes of minerals and earth, and it smells like a morning on a camping trip to the mountains. 

The grass is taller than the hungry bunnies frolicking around it, and the garden blossoms one sprout at the time. mr bunnyPea plants stretch their skinny fingers in search of new legs to lean on. Arugula with its spicy personality grows an inch a day, keeping up with my clippers and my winter-tired appetite. Reddish buttons peek from the dirt announcing the soon to come radishes, and the chives are ready to welcome the bees with their lavender-colored puff of hair.

Spring has held its promise of wild change. From snow, to hail, to endless rain.

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