Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sweet Potato, Bean, and Cilantro Stew
(vegan and gluten-free)

This week I really loved my job. Sunday’s pre-game Quick Weeknight Meals class was wonderful. Then I taught a Simple Vegan Dinners class on Thursday night; it ended up being gluten-free as well so as to accommodate the needs of all class participants. We had a full class – 14 people, some vegan, some not, most vegetarian. We had couples, friends, a high school PBJ-loving vegan and her grandmother; they ranged in age from 14 to (I’m guessing) mid-60s and their cooking abilities and “food journey” statuses were comparably varied. Every single one of them was awesome. They were chatty, open, inquisitive, fun, and collaborative. They all loved food. They all loved what we ate that night. They asked such great questions and had so much to share with one another (and me! I learn too!) from their own kitchen experiences. It was great. Talk about the community-building power of food! Thanks, lovelies!

This week was a rough one in our household. Health has not befriended us much in 2013, and on Tuesday its standoffishness resulted in trips first to the pediatric clinic and then, a few hours later, notwithstanding our proactivity and best efforts to get non-hospital care, to the ER. It was our first time at the ER with a child and turned out to be just what we’d expected. We were blessed to learn that there was nothing life-threatening going on in our little 3.5-year-old’s clearly compromised system, but it was still hard on everyone involved. Seasonal illness and associated complications aside, there is also food stuff going on, but it’s not interesting or resolved enough to bother talking about here. Suffice it to say: we are tired.

This week I found comfort spending time in the kitchen - both in my own kitchen and in my Local D'Lish kitchen. My children were recovering largely with the help and companionship of Alec Baldwin, qua Thomas the Train narrator. They cuddled on the couch together while I soaked beans, slow-cooked vegetable stock, juiced a giant bag of lemons, made and froze some soup (recipe below) and veggie burgers (recipe here), whizzed together some banana-chocolate shakes (anything to hydrate my children!), experimented with a Beckett-safe variation of one of our favorite one-pot dinners (they liked it), and prepared a meal for a family facing far more devastating health issues than our own. (Doing something for someone else in need sure takes you out of your self-absorbed, wallowing head for a bit.)

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So on Thursday, breaking the proverbial bread (quite literally proverbial, as there was no actual bread at class) with fourteen people as eager to talk about food and health as I am proved to be an extension of the food therapy I’d undertaken in my home earlier in the week. Someone asked what my favorite thing to make was and I mentioned the soup below – specifically with home soaked and cooked beans (see recipe and ramblings below) – which I’ve made I think three times in the last month and dozens of times over the last few years, never exactly the same twice. I’d already mentioned my attempt at flax-cornmeal biscuits earlier in class and referred to the batch of veggie burgers I’d made to experiment with freezing and reheating. So it totally made sense when someone asked if I just cook all day long. It probably sounded like I do. And when everything around me was sort of out of control this week, I did. I could nourish my family with food even if I couldn’t protect them from every infection that’s hit the Twin Cities this winter. I could mix up Sadie’s sick days by having her help measure, pour, and stir (after washing her hands of course). I could eat a veggie burger and be grateful that my son isn’t allergic to cilantro or pinto beans.

Do I cook all day long? Sometimes! But mostly heck no at all. On the heck-no-at-all days, I try to at least do something though. I’ll have beans soaking, the crockpot going, grains ground and mixed, vegetables chopped, citrus juiced. I do little things all the time so that big projects are more manageable. I have spicy bean cooking liquid on hand in case I want to eat this delicious soup. I have “flax eggs” in the fridge. I have 1-tablespoon portions of tomato paste, lemon juice, and chipotle chilies and adobo sauce bagged in the freezer. Good kitchen habits. They come with time and practice, and they are super rewarding. They make it easier to nourish a sick family.

That’s the more thorough answer to Janae’s (sp?) question on Thursday night. Thank you again wonderful class participants – whether you came Sunday, Thursday, or previously, I just totally love your guts and have so much fun with you. Hope to see you again soon. But in the meantime, you should make this soup. (Vegan and gluten free! Unless you use bacon fat to sauté your mire poix… which maybe I sometimes do.)

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P.S. Please read the notes at the end.

Sweet Potato, Bean, and Cilantro Stew
Yield: at least 8 servings

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons cumin (seeds or ground)
2 teaspoons coriander (ground)
1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne or red pepper flakes or chili powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
3-4 cups broth, water, or spicy bean cooking liquid*
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice
3-4 cups cooked pinto, black, kidney, or similar bean (about 1 lb dried)*
Zest and juice of 1 lime
One large bunch cilantro, minced

Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots, and a pinch of salt into the pot - throw in a minced jalapeño if you'd like more spice* - and sauté until vegetables start to soften and even maybe brown a little (5-8 minutes). Add garlic, cumin, coriander, pepper, lime zest, and another pinch of salt. Stir for a minute or two. Add tomatoes and their juices, whatever liquid you have on hand to use, and sweet potatoes. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes or so. Add beans and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and cilantro; set aside for 5 minutes. Stir, taste, and add some salt and pepper if necessary. This soup gets better over time, so if you can afford to leave it on your stove for an hour or two before eating it, you definitely should. Freezes well too!

*Notes
1. This is a family/Minnesotan-friendly soup, i.e. not spicy. If you'd like to add some spice, add a minced jalapeño with the onion, celery and carrots, or use more cayenne or chili powder. A minced chipotle chili + 1-2 tablespoons adobo sauce would also be nice.

2. Making your own beans makes this soup better for two reasons: (1) beans are sturdier and creamier (as opposed to mushy); (2) bean liquid can be used as base! You can make the bean liquid more flavorful by adding some dried chilies and peeled, whole garlic cloves. (I use 2-4 chilies and 4 cloves garlic for every pound of dried beans.) You will want to drink the bean liquid once the beans are cooked because it is so flavorful - not spicy because you remove the chilies at the end, but smoky and rich. So good! Easiest way is crockpot. Maybe I will do a post just about crockpot beans soon. Would you like that?

3. This recipe is heavy on cilantro because I love cilantro. If you don't love cilantro, or you find an obscene amount of cilantro overpowering, start with less and add more if you'd like.

4. Anything goes. As I said in my ramblings above, I've never made it the same way twice. Sometimes I use a potato as well as a sweet potato. In the summer, I use fresh chopped tomatoes instead of a jar (throw them in with the onions to break them down a bit) and I'll throw in whatever CSA vegetables I have to use up. It always ends up perfect.

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