White Bean & Rosemary Dip

Let’s take the pulse on pulses. I’m talking dried legumes that grow inside pods, be it beans, peas or lentils. 

So much value in every bite.  Full of protein. Packed with fibre. What kitchen can survive without these yummy little packages?

Open my pantry and you’ll find shelf upon shelf of peas – like chickpeas, green peas and black-eyed peas. 

Then there are beans. Kidney-shaped in black, red and white. Black ones, often called turtle and fermented into a salty Chinese condiment. Italian variations like cannellini (white kidney) beans or ceci (chickpeas) beans, borlotti, butterbeans, lupini beans and fava. 

We haven’t even mentioned lentils! Small red ones (also called Egyptian) are one of the quickest you can cook, while green and brown lentils take a few more minutes. But those French babies dubbed Le Puy are my favourite. 

Indian cuisine revels in pulses and you’ll find the largest selection with the most confusing appellations in ethnic food aisles and Indian grocery stores.

Many turn to canned beans instead of dried, for convenience sake. I like to soak and dry pulses in bulk. Once cooked, I freeze and label in two cup containers.  

No matter which pulse moves you the most, your health (and the earth) will thank you if you eat them regularly. 

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

This easy dip needs a food processor to become sublime.  Yes, you can hand-mash canned beans into a delicious affair but I like to use cooked dried beans, which provide more flavour and texture but call out for strong maceration. Do NOT use a blender. Dried beans you hydrate and cook yourself are not only cheaper than canned, but contain zero sodium compared to the oodles found in canned.

1 garlic clove

2 cups cooked white beans such as kidney, navy or cannelinni

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (aprox 5-inch sprig)

1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-1 tsp kosher salt

1-2 tbsp water * optional

Freshly ground black pepper

With the food processor blade running, drop garlic clove down the tube to mince. Add beans, lemon juice, rosemary and paprika and mix until well combined.  Pour oil through feeding tube while the blade is running.  Add water, if needed, to make the puree the right consistency.  Season with salt and black pepper. Serve in a bowl, garnished with a whole sprig of rosemary, a light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of Vancouver Island flaky salt.

Corn Salsa Salad

Corn Salsa Salad

This colourful summer salad is full of spunk thanks to key salsa notes: lime juice, garlic, chilli flakes and a big handful of cilantro. For the best optics, chop all your veggies the same size. This salsa/salad holds well in the fridge for 2-3 days if you have any leftovers.

2 cobs fresh corn

1/2 large red onion, chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

10 grape tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped honeydew or cantaloupe

1 Tbsp olive oil

Juice of one lime

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2-1 tsp chili flakes 

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Bring a medium pot of unsalted water to boil and cook corn 8 minutes. (Salt toughens the kernels). Remove corn and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the kernels and place in a large bowl, mixing with cucumbers, red bell pepper, tomatoes and melon. Toss with oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, chilli flakes and cilantro.

rhubarb Rhubarb

I first set eyes on rhubarb in my Toronto childhood backyard. I didn’t know it was edible but did notice its big, fat, leafy presence.   

My mom, an avid gardener, ignored it. Her passions skewed to flowers. We often shared a loving look at her peonies or roses together, but chives were as far as she’d go in the green department.  

Writing about and researching fruits and veggies most of my life, I’ve always been a little dubious of the childhood rhubarb recollections relayed to me by friends. They always shake their greying heads with revelatory passion, recounting how they had dipped freshly grown rhubarb into a jar of sugar.  All this, standing alone in the middle of a vegetable patch at the age of five or six.  Uh, huh? I tried this sugar dip trick recently and couldn’t spit the rhubarb out fast enough. 

Let’s be real folks, rhubarb is one sour mofo. Don’t get me wrong. I can embrace sour but with rhubarb, it’s always begs for more sugar than the rest of the gang.

On the plus side, I adore growing this so-called fruit that’s actually a vegetable. A perennial, rhubarb really grows itself.  It’s the first to poke through the soil in early spring, starting with little red bumps and furled, neon green leaves that stretch out dramatically into a monster of a bush in a few weeks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is usually pinker (and deceptively sweeter-looking)  than my garden’s red-green, tannic stalks. 

Alas, the colour of a rhubarb stalk has nothing to do with ripeness.   

This veggie calls out in its pretend, fruit voice for our sweetest of attentions.  It loves to be buffeted in a blanket of sugar, butter and carbs. That’s all it wants.  Maybe you’ll want it too if you give in to the sweetness rhubarb demands.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Crisps are a simple, easy dessert for fruit-filled success that are just as good — if not better — for breakfast the following day. Einkorn and oats are a match made in whole grain heaven.  There’s a reason strawberries and rhubarb pair so well. They are seasonal sisters in the garden and sugary strawberries help abate all that rhubarb pucker.

2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

2 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp corn starch 

2 tbsp blanched almond slivers, toasted

3/4 cup whole einkorn 

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp salt 

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

1 cup oatmeal

In a round 8-cup ceramic or glass dish, toss strawberries and rhubarb chunks with white sugar and corn starch.

In a food processor bowl, blitz toasted almonds, einkorn, brown sugar, cardamom and salt with a few pulses in the food processor.  Add butter cubes and pulse until they are pea-sized morsels. Combine with oatmeal and layer over the fruit. 

Bake in 375 F oven for 40-45 min or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath.

 

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Nettle quiche

My first bite of nettle quiche was a take-out slice from Duncan’s Garage Bakery and Cafe. Every mouthful was a culinary revelation. Dark chunks of earthy greenness couched among creamy eggs, mushrooms, salty feta and buttery, flaky pastry –  this quiche bewitched. 

It did something else.  It tapped into my brain’s ever-pulsing cooking lobes, prompting synapses to pop like corn. I had to make this. 

The next day, my beleaguered husband is inevitably involved. We’re on Stony Hill Trail and I’ve sniffed out some nettles. Stinging nettles. David is holding a large plastic bag open as widely as he can, while I clip and clip, wearing gloves and laughing. These wild plants are the kind I’ve seen posted on Instagram inside rich, green, layered cakes slathered with icing. The kind that can leave a prickly sensation on your skin for hours, if not days. David is leaning as far away from me as he can,  knowing the sting from this nettle too well. Years ago, he’d picked an innocent bunch of leaves to vigorously wipe bicycle grease from his hands only to inflict a painful 48-hour reaction. I notice a sideways grimace from him as I stuff each bright green bundle perilously close to his bare hands and arms. 

IMG_9836Once home, I carry my two bulging forest bags into the kitchen. I climb a step stool and reach for the tallest pasta pot I can safely lift down without breaking my neck. Once boiling and salted, the water is ready for my nettles to take the plunge.  I put my muddy garden gloves back on. I’d wear clean oven gloves were it not for the dexterity the tongs required.  

In and out. Quickly. Each plunge was a messy affair, stems and leaves flying left and right as I pushed them into the water (not unlike squirming live crabs or lobsters who have seen the same fate.) But nettles die instantly. Each thorn is annulled in a nano-second ready to be pulled out limp from the black-grey water, as I inhale the rich, vegetal aroma. 

“Like spinach, but better,” opines my fellow spinach-lover as we dine.   

That’s after we pick up four dozen eggs at our favourite farm stand on Richard’s Trail.  Promise Valley always has their red cooler out, usually packed high with egg cartons and a big, blue freezer block wedged inside. Only once have we found the cooler empty,  our disappointment dashed by the appearance of the farm’s two pet goats pressing up against the fence their long, silky ears and wet noses begging for a scratch.

Just a week before that fateful nettle-filled bite at Duncan’s Garage, I was invited by dairy farmer Caroline Nagtegaal into Promise Valley’s hen house to witness “afternoon chores.”

“Want it?” asked this tiny blond woman in very tall boots as she smiled and giggled, offering me the handles of a large, wired egg basket.  We were standing with the hens, the air a cackling, bawk-ing din, intermingled with saw dust and chicken shit.  

IMG_0224“I’ve been doing this since I was five, but I still yelp when they nip me.”

Her hand was tucked under the rump of a Highline Brown, sitting proud and unruffled in one of a long line of boxes. Some boxes were empty, others occupied. All were lined with straw, tamped down into a nest-like well. Not all of Promise Valley’s 190 hens were inside that afternoon, but Rocky the Rescue Rooster was standing among a particularly talkative clutch collected around my ankles.   

IMG_0227I chickened-out and made a tentative reach into an unoccupied box to find five or six abandoned eggs.  Brown and beige, these eggs were room-temperature to touch except one that radiated such warmth, it must have been freshly laid. 

Of course, that wasn’t my first instinct, holding that egg.  It felt like eggs I have cooled after hard-boiling, warm but ready to shell. Seeing the hen house, helping Caroline collect the eggs as she does every afternoon every single day, was a privilege for this city girl who is always thinking about food, its whereabouts and how it can be transformed into something delicious. 

Like quiche and nettles. 

I reach into the freezer and pull a small bag of dark, green frozen nettles, the product of my nettle forage with David. Each bulging bag’s forest-fresh contents had been flash-boiled, transferred tong-by-tongfull into a large ice bath and drained. I had removed all the stems, squeezed handfuls over the sink to remove excess liquid and bagged up my nettle cache for the freezer. 

Asparagus was roasting in the oven while chopped onions sizzled in butter on the stove-top.  I grated a chunk of white cheddar and beat half a dozen of Caroline’s eggs.  I dumped the eggs into a four-cup glass measure containing milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg. 

I defrosted half a nettle bag’s contents in a bowl of cold water, then dispersed little mounds  along the bottom of my Einkorn and Red Fife pastry covered with soft, fragrant onions, followed by a showering of cooled roasted asparagus and grated cheddar. 

Once the quiche was safely tucked inside the oven, sitting on a rimmed baking sheet in case of  any run-off, I could relax and dream. Promise Valley is making the transition to organic and will soon be offering Guernsey milk and cream-top yogurt at their farm stand. When they open their doors I will be first in line, conjuring up more tasty recipes to share here at Mado Food.

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Nettle and Asparagus Quiche

If you don’t have stinging nettles substitute with spinach and pretend. 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 large cooking onion, chopped 

1 cup defrosted frozen nettles

6 spears cooked asparagus, sliced into 1- inch pieces

1 cup grated old cheddar

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk or cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cayenne

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat butter in a frying pan and sauté onions until soft and fragrant. Set aside and cool. 

Arrange onions, nettles, asparagus and 3/4 cup of the grated cheddar on the bottom of the pie pastry crust that you have made (see recipe below) or bought frozen.

In a medium bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, eggs, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and freshly ground pepper.  Pour into the pie crust and top with remaining cheese.  

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 50-60 min or until the centre of the quiche is golden brown, set and the middle won’t jiggle when gently shook.  Remove from the oven and wait 10-20  minutes before serving (to further set and slice up well).

 

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Einkorn and Red Fife Pastry

This flavour-forward pastry dough is adapted from Flourist and will taste best if you use freshly ground, local grain. If you are stuck with supermarket-only options, use whole wheat pastry flour instead of Red Fife and white pastry flour instead of Einkorn and cut down the ice cold water to 1/4-1/2 cup. Yields 1 double crust pie pastry. Freeze the leftover single crust for your next quiche adventure.

1 2⁄3 (230g) cup True Grain Sifted Red Fife Flour

1 cup (138g) cup True Grain Whole Einkorn Flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (227g) butter, cold and cut into cubes 

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

3/4-1 cup ice cold water, or as needed

Pulse flour and salt In a food processor bowl once or twice to combine. Sprinkle over with cubed butter and process on high for 30 seconds or more, until butter is the size of small peas. Pour vinegar and ice cold water through the tube with the motor running, adding water by the tablespoon until it adheres into a mass. 

Transfer to a large sheet of waxed paper and press the crumbly mess into a round disc. Wrap well and refrigerate two hours or until firm. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the disc and arrange in a deep (5-cup/1.25L) pie dish.

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sourdough crackers

Sourdough Crackers

A great place to begin sourdough baking is with crackers or lavash. Every baker who keeps a starter alive has discard. Most of us hate to waste. Instead of tossing your discard away, simply add oil, salt and enough flour to create a soft dough. Most sourdough bread bakers obsess over getting a good rise, but you want crackers to be flat and these will be! Besides, SD discard makes these flatbreads much more flavourful.

Basic Dough

3.5 oz/100 g 100% hydration sourdough discard (SD) 

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

2-4 heaping Tbsp flour

Dough add-ins

1/4 cup Blue Cheese or goat cheese, crumbled

2 Tbsp Sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, pecans, sunflowers or sesame  seeds

1 Tbsp toasted cumin, coriander, ajwain, fennel or nigella

Chili flakes

Dried rosemary, thyme, sage or oregano

Roasted or finely chopped garlic

Top-ons

Flaky Vancouver Island or Maldon salt

Chili flakes

Once you have fed your starter, get ready to work with the discard or simply cover and leave in the fridge (up to 24 hrs) until you are ready to create cracker dough. Add olive oil, salt and two tablespoons of flour to the discard. Mix.  Add more flour, little by little, until a dough forms and you can knead it in the bowl a few times. 

Add-ins are all optional.  Any add-in ingredients high in moisture, such as soft cheese or roasted garlic may require that more than 4 tablespoons of flour are added to make a dough. 

Flour types will also affect dough formation. In general, cracker dough can take more processed white flour than it can whole or sifted grains, like rye, buckwheat, wheat, barley, cornmeal and spelt.  The more you experiment with different flours and add-ins, the more you will learn about your dough and what you like in a cracker. 

I like to add flaky salt and chill flakes as top-ons (even though the dough may contain both) for instant cracker-bite-appeal. 

Rolling out cracker dough is easy.  Lay out a piece of parchment paper on your counter and dust it and rolling pin with flour.  Roll dough out as thinly as possible. Sprinkle over with top-ons if desired. Prick with a  fork to create a regular pattern. 

Bake on a baking sheet at 325 F for 15-30 minutes.  A very thin cracker will cook faster than a thick one. 

Your cracker is ready to take out of the oven when it is browning around the edges. Remove parchment and using oven gloves, pick it up and see if it bends and is pliable in the middle of a cracker sheet.   If so, it needs more oven time. Sometimes I turn off the oven and leave the cracker sheet inside for an hour or so to really dry out. It’s a good sign if your sheet of dough has cracked in a few places and that may get you thinking about this product’s name.

Finally, how do you cut your crackers? I go with a rustic approach, breaking the baked cracker sheet or lavash into shards, serving in a tall glass. But you may want to use a pizza or ravioli cutter to cut the dough into triangles, rectangles or squares before baking. Ensure even baking by cutting all the shapes into similar shapes. Individually cut crackers will bake in 15-20 minutes.

 

Stir-Fry Success

The key to a great stir-fry lies in a few ground rules.

Number One: Don’t even think of turning on the heat and pulling out your wok if all your veggies and proteins aren’t prepped.

Number Two: Rely on a quick marinade to make proteins sing.

Number Three: Stir-fry pork, beef, chicken, seafood or tofu after you have stir-fried your perfectly chopped veggies. Keep the two separately stir-fried and mix it all together at the finale.

What makes stir-fried veggies so deliciously tender-crisp? Even size. Chop each carrot into a match-stick or uber-thin slice, preferably on a slant. Cut every broccoli or cauliflower floret as if identical. Shave off slices of Napa, green or purple cabbage.

If cutting veg isn’t your thing, you can go for bigger pieces, just make sure they are all the same size to ensure even cooking. Onions, bell peppers and bok choy stems stir-fry effortlessly if cut into equal-sized quarters or eighths. Green onions taste great cut into two-inch pieces. So do leeks. Green beans, snow and snap peas simply need stems removed.

Whether it is tofu, ground pork or sliced beef, all will taste better if they are marinated in soy and sherry for at least 10 minutes. I keep half pound portions of pork tenderloin, flank steak or boneless chicken thighs tucked away in my freezer. All are easier to slice thinly when partially frozen and can defrost fully while marinating.

A tablespoon of corn starch in a marinade will help thicken a stir-fry’s essential sauce. Nobody likes an oily stir-fry yet many stir-fry beginners add too much oil to the equation. The trick is to heat a dry wok on high heat (preferably gas) add oil (preferably a neutral organic one) and swirl it around to cover the wok’s sides, then start tossing in ingredients, very quickly.

Said ingredients must be ready within reach from the stovetop, including water or stock, essential for steaming vegetables once the wok gets dry, a phenom that happens within the first few minutes of your average stir-fry. Splash in half a cup of water or stock, put the lid on and let your stir-fry cook itself, gradually adding veggies starting with the longest-to-cook ones.

Seasoning is essential to taste and rare is the stir-fry in my kitchen that doesn’t contain freshly grated ginger and garlic. Because they are grated and cook in an instant, these seasonings can be added into the protein’s marinade or tossed in at the very beginning, stir-fried for just a few seconds before adding longer-cooking, bigger pieces of veggies such as onion, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy stems, Gai lan stems, chayote or kohlrabi.

The last thing I might throw into a stir-fry is sliced leaves, bean sprouts, snow peas or freshly chopped herbs. In the case of this recipe, I tossed in whole basil leaves just before sliding the entire event on to a big white platter.

Stir-Fried Pork with Peppers and Black Bean Sauce

Serve this on steamed rice or noodles.

1/2 lb/200g pork tenderloin, thinly sliced against the grain (or firm tofu)

1 Tbsp corn starch

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp cooking sherry or wine

1/2 tsp sambal oelek *optional

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup neutral oil, divided in half

1-inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated

2 cloves garlic, finely grated

1/4 cup fermented black beans or 1 tbsp Lee Kum Kee black bean and garlic sauce

4 green onions, sliced into 2 inch pieces

1 small red onion, cut into eighths

2 bell peppers, thinly sliced

2 cups green beans, topped and tailed

1/2 cup water

8 leaves fresh basil or mint

In a medium bowl, combine sliced pork and corn starch. Add soy, sherry, sambal oelek, sesame oil, sugar, black pepper and set aside to marinate at least 10 minutes.

Heat wok on high. Add 2 tbsp oil and swirl around the sides. With a large Chinese spatula/shovel stir-fry ginger and garlic for 30 seconds, add black beans, green onions, red onion, bell peppers and green beans. Stir and cook until wok gets dry, add water, drizzling around the sides of the hot wok, stir until combined. Put the wok lid on. Wait until veggies are tender crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to platter.

Return the same wok to high heat, add remaining 2 tbsp of oil, swirl around sides. Add marinated pork or tofu, stir fry until golden brown, adding a tablespoon or more of water or stock if wok gets dry. Add reserved vegetables and fresh basil or mint. Stir to combine. Transfer to platter and serve immediately.