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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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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