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So I was at my happy place yesterday afternoon (the PSFC, which you should know by now is the Park Slope Food Cult), slicing a wheel of Humboldt Fog, bantering with my fellow workers about topics ranging from: if the quality of red meat continues to improve with grass-fed beef and small farmers, will overall meat consumption rise? How to make french toast with tofu instead of bread (tell ya later). And using Tuesday’s general meeting on the Israeli boycott as a venue for one’s performance art. In other words, we were a parody of ourselves, what Samantha Bee called “a diverse group of NPR listeners.” (If you haven’t seen the Daily Show clip on the co-op, click here.)

My little crew of Week-A Friday food processing workers is a delightful bunch of folks including the NYC Bikram Yoga champion; a journalist exposing a cover-up at Fukushima; an event planner organizing a 1,500-person NYC Easter egg hunt next weekend; a midwife; writing professor; and metal-worker jewelry designer. We come together once every four weeks to wrap cheese, package dried mango, and debate things like the Pfizer birth control recall and the best new burger joint in the Slope, for precisely 2 hours and 45 minutes.

We started talking about almond milk and one woman mentioned making her own. I’ve been wanting to try this since I go through about a quart a week and, well, generally prefer making to buying. She told me her method, I committed it to memory, and after our shift I bought about one pound of raw, unsalted almonds, the only ingredient you really need. This is the easiest thing I’ve made for this blog yet (except maybe for one of my first posts, last April, on Vermont Iced Coffee.)

The benefits of homemade almond milk are more about flavor than cost effectiveness. In fact it may even cost more to make it yourself, even when buying from the co-op’s bulk bins, but not much. The price I paid was $4.21 per pound (for organic), and you need about 1 pound of almonds to yield one quart of almond milk, whereas buying a pre-made quart is usually $2 to $3. But the flavor is incomparable. This homemade stuff is rich, creamy, not watery, with a very distinct almond flavor. Buy your almonds from a place with high turnover. Nuts go rancid rather quickly; they should be as fresh as possible, I wouldn’t really bother with stale almonds. The resulting flavor is so good, and texture so smooth, I will definitely finish this quart before next week.

One more thing, in order to do this, you need a powerful blender, preferably one with at least 1,000 watts of power. A VitaMix is ideal, although expensive I know (but such a good investment); I use the Ninja blender I got a few months ago, which makes amazing green smoothies and blends everything from ice to vegetables in seconds.

You can adjust the amount of water in the recipe below depending on how thick you’d like the results. These proportions will give you a creamy-ish milk but not all that thick. Get blending!

Homemade Almond Milk

1 pound (about 3 cups) raw, unsalted almonds
3 cups water (for soaking) plus 2 more cups
a few drops of vanilla extract
tiny pinch of salt (optional)

Place the almonds in a bowl or pot and add the 3 cups of water. Cover with a lid, and let soak for at least 12 hours.

Place the almonds and their soaking liquid in a blender and blend until creamy. Halfway through blending, add the vanilla and about 2 more cups of water, gradually. This will take anywhere between, say, one and two minutes depending on your blender.

Line a large bowl with cheesecloth (or, I used a reusable cloth produce bag) and place the contents of the blender (liquid, almond pulp, and all) into the cheesecloth or bag, over the bowl. Strain the mixture into the bowl, squeezing all the liquid out. You’ll be left with quite a bit of almond pulp – I’m taking suggestions on what to do with this since it seems like a shame to just throw out.

Ode to Milk Thistle Farm – paying tribute by using their old glass bottle to store my almond milk. (I mention here how they sadly went out of business recently.)

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Beans (like Molly Ringwald) can be a thing of beauty. And I don’t think that’s just because I like Joni Mitchell, spent formative years in Vermont, or went to college a lentil’s throw from the Moosewood Restaurant. I’ve written here about chili, here about black beans, here about enchiladas, and here about my all-time favorite white beans from Union Square Cafe. My love for the legume, is, I feel, well documented.

I had some red kidney beans from Cayuga Pure Organics kicking around my cupboard and felt like taking them out for a spin. So I soaked them overnight without having a particular plan in mind, but knowing you can’t go wrong with having soaked beans around. They’re just too versatile. Today, after they’d bathed for close to twenty-four hours, I drained their soaking liquid, filled the pot with fresh water, threw in half an onion, three big cloves of garlic, and cranked up the heat. I cooked them for one hour until the beans were soft enough to squish in between my fingers.

I still didn’t quite know what I was going to do when my Ninja blender caught my attention on the other end of the counter. When in doubt: puree. I decided I’d make a bean dip. I let the beans cool a little, then mostly drained them, threw them in the Ninja with the cooked onion and garlic, and poked around for what else could smooth out the dip. I settled on homemade sesame tahini that was already made, and lots of salt and pepper. But it needed a little something for body. I had leftover cooked rice so I threw in 1/4 cup of that. One ninja minute later, I had a very pretty, pink dip. In the spring or summertime I would definitely add some fresh herbs to the mix.

I can’t really think of a type of bean this recipe wouldn’t work well for, so if you have black, pinto, navy, or other kinds of beans in the larder, give it a whirl. And I mean that literally.

Pretty in Pink Bean Dip

1 c dried red kidney beans (or your favorite type of bean)
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c tahini
1/4 c cooked rice (white or brown, short or long)
salt
pepper

Soak your beans overnight, covered by 3 inches of water. The next day, when you’re ready to roll, drain the soaking liquid, and refill the pot with water, covering the beans by about 2 inches of water. Throw in the onion, halved, and garlic cloves. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook on low-medium heat with a slightly ajar lid until the beans are thoroughly cooked through, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Turn the heat off and let the beans come to room temperature. Now you can drain the cooking liquid completely or preserve to use later (I made extra beans—2 c dried—and preserved the liquid to make a soup with the other half of cooked beans tomorrow). Remove any skins that may have been left on the onions and garlic and discard. Transfer the beans to a blender or food processor with about 1/2 of the cooked onion and all of the garlic cloves. Add the tahini, rice, and a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Puree until smooth.

Delicious served with your favorite cracker (I love Late July classic saltines), spread on bread, or served with raw veggies. I also admit to eating it by itself, by the spoonful. Think of it as hummus 2.0.

Postscript for my sister Hope – the onion and garlic will kill you, but try this with cooked leeks, celery, and carrots instead, and/or add 1/2 veggie bouillon.

How gorgeous is this tahini? Looks like raw honey.

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