Archives for posts with tag: New Year’s

Heirloom beans are romantic, beautiful, and actually good for the soil and your body. So what’s not to like?

So says Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo, a farm based in Napa, California that grows heirloom beans and produce. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, even the names are romantic: Good Mother Stallard Beans, Jacob’s Cattle Beans, Eye of the Tiger Beans, European Soldiers, Red Nightfall, Yellow Indian Woman, Scarlet Runners, Rio Zape, and Black Valentines. Rancho Gordo is the big pinto in town. One of his most ardent fans is Thomas Keller, who uses the beans in all of his kitchens, from the French Laundry to Per Se.

Last week, with New Year’s Eve on the horizon, I decided to pull out the Rancho Gordo cookbook, Heirloom Beans, and see what Sando had to say about making a big pot of warm, hearty soup. Traditonally, in the southeastern United Stations anyway, it’s good luck to eat beans on New Year’s day, particularly black-eyed peas. For New Year’s Eve company, I settled on a spicy-sounding Caribbean black bean soup with roasted garlic and tomatoes. Just the thing to ring in the new year and warm up a cold night.

2012 is gonna be an excellent year, don’t you think?

Caribbean Black Bean Soup with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes
Serves 4

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 whole fresh or canned plum tomatoes, with juice
salt
1/2 lb black valentine or black beans, cooked, with reserved broth*
1/2 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 c chicken or vegetable broth**
freshly ground black pepper
sour cream, for garnish
1 avocado, pitted and sliced, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

*I’d recommend cooking your beans by first soaking them for a minimum of 2 hours and maximum of overnight, covered with about 2 inches of water. (Actually first make sure you rinse them thoroughly and pick out any pebbles.) After soaking, pour the beans with their soaking water into a large pot, covered by about 1 inch of water (or stock). For flavor you can add a carrot, celery stalk, fennel bulb, onion, leeks, whole garlic cloves, black peppercorns, bay leaf, juniper berries, mustard seeds. You can also keep it simple and not add much. Just don’t add salt until after they’re cooked. Bring the beans and water to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer, with a partial lid, and cook until done, which can take as little as 1 hour or as much as 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the garlic cloves on a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil. Put the tomatoes in a baking dish, and if using fresh tomatoes, cut them in half and put them cut side down in the dish. Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the garlic and tomatoes until soft, fragrant, and brown, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the beans and their broth in a soup pot and warm over low heat.

**I recommend making your own broth. For a quick vegetable broth I brought about 1 quart of water to a boil in a stock pot with 1 carrot, cut in half, 1 onion, also halved, 1 fennel bulb, halved, 1 celery stalk, halved, 1 clove of garlic, smashed, and a little satchel of spices: black peppercorns, mustard seeds, juniper berries, and cumin seeds.

In a medium, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, jalapeño, and carrot and sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize, about 10-12 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and broth to the beans.

Peel the roasted garlic cloves; chop the garlic and tomatoes coarsely and add to the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft and the flavors are blended, about 15 minutes.

Let the soup cool slightly, then transfer about half to a blender and blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir to combine. Season to taste. Serve the soup garnished with sour cream, avocado, and cilantro. Corn bread would make a nice side dish.

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Full disclosure: I love mochi. I love rice. Glutinous rice? Even better. Does anyone ever ask you, “if you could only ever have rice or pasta for the rest of your life, which would you choose?” It’s a cruel game. I think I used to say “pasta, duh,” but I changed my mind: rice. Duh.

Brown, white, red, black, long, short, fragrant, I love it all. Well except Uncle Ben’s or the kind that comes in ready-to-boil bags which I remember my dad making for a spell when I was in high school. (He was a busy social worker/single dad at the time.)

So when I went to Japan for the first time four years ago for New Year’s I was delighted to discover that mochi is a traditional holiday food. In fact, I woke up, and Yuji’s parents served us zoni for breakfast. Zoni is a clear soup typically eaten on New Year’s – made with a dashi or miso broth – containing the glutinous rice cakes known as mochi, as well as vegetables and fish. The mochi was cut into medium-sized rectangles and was chewy and hearty and satisfying. I was warned by Yuji’s parents not to choke, since the sticky rice squares can easily catch in your throat if you’re not careful.

That mochi was not sweet. Nor did it taste like the weird brown stuff labeled mochi sold in health food stores here in the U.S. that we served as “dessert” for the gluten-free kids at the farm camp where I worked. No, this mochi was smooth with the subtlest texture on the outside and tasted just like the thing you’d want to eat if it was cold outside and you were sipping green tea. It’s Japanese comfort food at its finest. And good mochi stretches like taffy or mozzarella cheese when you bite onto it and pull your chopsticks away.

Mochi is eaten year round in Japan and other parts of Asia, but this time of year it’s common to buy and give as gifts. I’ve also been invited to take part in my Japanese language school’s annual mochitsuki, which means rice pounding. When you’re in NYC and have mochi on the brain you can go straight to the source. Not Tokyo, but the next best thing: Minamoto Kitchoan, a Japanese confectionary shop near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

Minamoto Kitchoan is a shop based in Tokyo, but with outposts in New York, London, Singapore, San Fran, and Shanghai. Their speciality is wagashi, little sweets like mochi typically eaten during a Japanese tea ceremony. I took a trip there this week (they’re on 5th Ave. and 49th St.) and took shelter from the rain and delighted in the beautiful confections wrapped in perfect little packages.

Some are made with green tea, some are filled with sweet red bean. One of my favorites is sakuramochi which looks in fact like a beautiful little cherry blossom. You can see from the price tags that sweets from this shop don’t come cheap. But it’s a once-a-year special treat kind of thing. Unless you form an addiction, which I’m not ruling out. The individual mochi pieces are only about $3 a piece.

In the U.S. we say there’s a man on the moon right; in Japan they say there’s a rabbit on the moon. Not only that, the rabbit is pounding rice on the moon, making mochi.

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