Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

Low in fat and high in protein and fiber, beans, legumes and pulses are a healthy, high-fiber, affordable choice for both vegetarian and meat-based dishes. You’ll find dishes from many cultures which include these nutritionally dense “heroes”. These recipes may seem exotic to us, however they are the mainstay of ethnic cuisine as most cultures don’t eat the large amount of meat that we consume here in the US.

The Huevos are an all-time favorite and the recipe below uses black refried beans which add a nice change over pinto beans. The tagine of chicken, eggplant and beans is a stew hailing from Morocco. It’s a good idea to serve for company or a special occasion when you’re in the  mood for the aroma of a robust stew simmering on the stove. Lentils are some of the most nutritious, and at the same time economical, foods in the world. They are considered a super food-also containing protein. The lentil cakes were inspired by a Washington Post recipe 

 Huevos Rancheros 

Serves 4

 The flavor profile of Huevos Rancheros is a favorite no mater what part of the country you may live. This traditional large mid-morning fare of a rural Mexican farms always includes a fiesty tomato sauce along with the eggs. It can be a vibrantly healthy dish if the creamy stuff (cheese and sour cream) is kept to a minimum and only a smidgen fat is used for the tortillas and refried beans.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 eggs 
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) refried black beans*, thinned with water if needed and warmed
  • 1 (10 ounce) can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 cup coarsely shredded jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup pickled sliced jalapeno
  • 1 ripe avocado, fruit sliced crosswise into thin “half-moons” 
  • Very crisp tortilla chips
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 

 Put 4 heavy dinner plates into a 200° preheated oven. Heat tomatoes in a small saucepan over low heat, covered. Heat refried beans.

 Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high. Cook 4 eggs,  to over easy and hold in pan momentarily.

 To Assemble: Spoon about 1/4 warm beans onto each plate and make a well in the  middle. Using a spatula place an egg in each well.   Spoon tomatoes over beans and eggs and then top with cheese, jalapenos and equal avocado slices.

 Tuck tortilla chips around the perimeter and garnish with herbs. Serve immediately as tortilla chips can get soggy. 

Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant

Serves 8-10

Don't be daunted by this long list of ingredients as many items are spices. Now if you really need to shorten the list, a good teaspoon or two of garam masala (instead of individual spices) will yield a fine stew, even if it's not pure in the sense of spices.

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound peeled pearl onions (I used frozen)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes (from 28-ounce can)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 8 chicken thighs with bones, skinned
  • 8 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
  • 1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups fresh sweet potatoes or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can cannelini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

 Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large wide pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cover and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add salt, turmeric, coriander, fennel, pepper, cumin, and ginger; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and 3 tablespoons lemon juice; bring to boil. Arrange all chicken in single layer in pot; spoon some sauce over. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes longer.

 Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Brush large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Place eggplant, sweet potatoes and remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in large bowl; toss to coat. Spread vegetables on prepared baking sheet and bake until soft and brown, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. (Chicken, eggplant and sweet potatoes can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate separately until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated.)

 Stir eggplant, sweet potato and beans into chicken mixture. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes to heat through and blend flavors. Season stew to taste with more lemon juice, salt and pepper.

To Serve:Transfer stew to large shallow bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro. 

Hara Kebab (Lentil and Spinach Cakes)with Fruit-Onion Chutney

Makes 8 to 10 2 1/2-inch-wide cakes

 These are crisped yellow lentil and spinach cakes from cuisine of India. Hara means "green;" the bright color of the greens is maintained by blanching the spinach first. Rather than make a uniform texture, I found I like to leave the spinach a bit chunky. The cakes cry out for some kind of chutney and the fruity mint recipe below complements beautifully.

 The mixture for the cakes can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated. 

  • 2 pounds spinach (not baby spinach), stems removed and cleaned
  • 10 ounces yellow lentils (Bengal gram), picked through for debris and rinsed in cold water
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green Thai chili pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet.

 In a large pot of boiling salted water, wilt the spinach; it will take only about 30 seconds. Drain the spinach, rinse it with cold water until it has cooled, and squeeze out as much water as possible. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until it forms a dense, pesto-like paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Clean the processor bowl and blade.

 In a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, cook the yellow lentils for about 25 minutes, until they have softened. Drain and rinse with cold water until the lentils have cooled. Transfer to a food processor and pulse to form a paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, toast the cumin seeds for about 30 seconds. Let them cool slightly, then transfer to a grinder and grind the seeds into a fine powder.

 In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it is smoking. Add the yellow lentil paste and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly, until it becomes dry. Add the spinach paste and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, until the mixture appears dry. Add the ginger, green chili pepper, garam masala, ground cumin seeds and salt. Spread the mixture onto the baking sheet to cool completely. (At this point, the mixture can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)

When ready to cook, line a plate with paper towels. Divide the mixture into equal portions and form into patties no larger than 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil on a griddle or in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, until the oil is just smoking. Brown the patties for 2 minutes on each side, until golden. Drain on the paper towels; serve immediately, with chutney on the side.

 Fruit-Onion Chutney

Makes 2 cups

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

 Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, mustard and cumin seeds; cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Let cool completely. Chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

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