Sunday, April 24, 2011

Salad of Roasted Beets, Fragrant Pear, Arugula, Labneh and Indian Millet

I am tempted to eat the last container of Greek yogurt in the chiller but I have to bring it to Cebu in good condition along with the buttermilk and some fresh cheese. How could I resist a yogurt that is so thick and creamy? I was also enticed to use it to make labneh but decided to use regular yogurt instead. Labneh, is simply yogurt which has been strained through a cheesecloth to remove the whey. This Arab yogurt cheese is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is a great alternative to cream cheese with a slight tangy taste. After the straining the yogurt overnight, you will have a very thick (the longer it drains the thicker it will be) and almost dry consistency. You can shape them into balls and preserve them olive oil with some aromatics or you can coat them in chopped nuts, seeds or spices and use as part of a mezze. 

Indian Millet and Labneh

Beets are one of those underestimated vegetables because for many people, they could sense the earthy aftertaste in between the sweetness of the beets. Just like dirt but in a good way. But really, they are that good. I bought a few organic smooth skinned beets at Salcedo Market and they are firm and plump. They are not sold by the bunch so the beets greens are not attached to it anymore. I love roasting beets to intensify their sweetness and robust flavor. But they are not roasted per se; they are actually steaming inside the foil while “roasting” in the oven. When I tasted the cooked beets, I was expecting that they would they the same way I had them before (even with the same size). But they tasted slightly different. It didn’t have that earthy hint that most people would complain about. Instead, they have a sweet, vibrant flavor that explodes inside your mouth (it’s the same feeling when eating the ripest and sweetest mango). I miss those beets that come in different colors and patterns when you slice it open. The appealing kaleidoscope of these root vegetables are a feast to the senses that we usually take for granted in other fresh produce. But for now, I would appreciate the strikingly crimson red beets that I paired with other ingredients – sweet and crunchy fragrant pears, some yogurt cheese called labneh, spicy arugula, creamy pine nuts and nutty Indian Millet. 

I bought the Indian Millet in a Korean store but nobody could answer what to do with them in Korean cooking. So, I just cooked the millet the way I used to cook pseudo-grains. This type of millet adds a bit of texture and more nutrition to the salad. Millet is best cooked with other ingredients. This is not a standalone grain like rice that can be eaten on its own or with just steamed vegetables or pan fried fish. It really needs something more than that. But millet is topnotch in nutrition because these soothing and easy to digest grain are packed with vitamins and minerals. If you know how to cook rice, you definitely know how to cook grains but if you really want to expand your repertoire in cooking grains, Rouxbe Online Cooking School has great instructional videos.

If I want to serve this as a light lunch or dinner, I just add more millet but this may not be approved by the Filipino palate. However, this dish is I what need whenever I require something light yet nourishing. 

Roasted Beets and Fragrant Pear Salad 
            with Arugula, Labneh and Indian Millet

Makes 4-6 servings: 

500 g plain yogurt
Unrefined sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Dressing: (approximates)
2 tbsp grainy mustard
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
3-4 tbsp honey
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
Unrefined sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

300 g medium beets (about 5 pcs)
½ cup Indian millet
¼ cup pine nuts
2-3 handfuls arugula
2 pcs fragrant pears

To prepare the labneh, line a sieve/strainer with fine muslin or cheesecloth over a deep bowl. You don’t want the strainer touching the whey as it drips on the bowl. Place the yogurt on the sieve and cover. Place it inside the chiller and allow to drain overnight, about 12-16 hours. Sometimes even days. After straining the mixture, transfer the yogurt cheese into a bowl, season with salt to taste and add the oil to make a smooth consistency. Form into ½ inch balls. Place on a plate, cover and chill until ready to use.

Preheat you oven to 200⁰Celcius (or 400⁰ Fahrenheit).

To make the dressing, combine the grainy mustard, sherry vinegar and honey. Whisk in the oils and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To roast the beets, wash and scrub the beets very well to remove the dirt. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Place the beets onto a sheet of foil, add oil and salt. Roast for approximately 40-45 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel using a paring knife. Then, cut the beets into ½ inch wedge.

To cook the Indian millet, toast the millet in a dry pot over low-medium heat until slightly brown and fragrant. Slowly add the water and the salt. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. If the millet is still slightly crunchy, add a bit more water. The millet should be chewy.

To prepare the rest of the mise en place, toast the pine nuts on a pan over low-medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent it from burning. Then, transfer to a plate to cool. Wash and spin the arugula dry, and then cut the pears, cores removed, into ¼ inch slices.

To assemble the salad into layers, arrange the roasted beets, arugula, sliced pears onto a plate. Add a bit of the pine nuts and the Indian millet. Then, drizzle the dressing all over the ingredients. Repeat the assembly for another layer of roasted beets, arugula, sliced pears, pine nuts, Indian millet and the dressing. Top with 4 or 5 pcs of the labneh balls, depending on the size. (Reserve the leftover labneh for other use). Then, drizzle with a bit more dressing.

  • The labneh, roasted beets, millet and the dressing can be made one day ahead.
  • The measurements for the dressing are generally approximates.
  • Choose beets that are relatively small in size as bigger ones have a bitter and woody taste.
Happy Easter!!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sauteed Lima Beans

Visiting Salcedo Market is a breath of fresh air but going there every week is also expensive. There’s a propensity to buy almost everything at the market, from raw fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, native delicacies, cooked foods, breads, potted plants, healthy stuff and many other things. One of those rare things that I found was lima beans. 

My stay here is more on visiting food shops instead of shopping for a whole new wardrobe. But this planned trip is more on family matters than a vacation. But instead of doing the things that I needed to do such as revising my lesson for nutrition class or trying a recipe on my list, I ended up doing something else. I felt that productivity is not kicking in and time has been wasted. But I didn’t. I’ve been wanting to blog for a long time. I know I can blog even in school but I felt I could concentrate more if I do it here at home. I was also able to clean out my drawers for all the things I haven’t touched for more than a year and that means they have to go. But there are also things left untouched. It felt like spring cleaning not only on the materials things, but also the body, mind and soul. While most people are spending their Lenten Season somewhere, I’m just staying at home. This is probably a good time to be still and do nothing, to breathe new life and words into everything and to cast away the negative emotions and words that I’ve inhaled and internalized from myself and other people these past few days and weeks. Maybe even condition my mind that I have to go back to work next Tuesday.

When I found these light mint green and black-speckled lima beans (aka patani) at the market, I just want to serve it just the way it is. Blanch until they’re tender (without overcooking them) and cool down in ice, remove the skin and eat it. They’re good on its own even without the salt. But I would also like to lightly cook them with zucchini, asparagus and cherry tomatoes and simply season with fresh herbs, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. It’s a very spring-like dish that is clean and refreshing. It’s a good way to retrain your palate to taste fresh produce just the way it is. You may like to cook them longer if you like to blend all the flavors but I like the texture of each ingredient still intact.

The experience of eating lima beans is more desirable when I remove the skin and eat them one at a time instead of removing all of the skin and making a dish out of it. But since I was too lazy to chew the rest of the dish and my mandibular joint starts to wear out, I decided to make a soup. I sweat some chopped onions and add more fresh tomatoes and cook to release their juice, and then I add the warm lima beans with the cooked zucchini and asparagus, and some stock. I brought them to a simmer before pureeing and straining.

Sautéed Lima Beans 
            With Asparagus, Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 4-6 servings (as a side dish)

450 g fresh lima beans

3 large cloves garlic
250 g cherry tomatoes

1 medium slender zucchini
5 stalks asparagus

extra virgin olive oil
¼ to ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup basil leaves or cilantro leaves
lemon juice
unrefined sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the lima beans, bring a pot of water to a boil. Then, prepare an ice bath. When the water is boiling , add the salt and stir to dissolve. Add the lima beans and blanch for 7 to 10 minutes until the skin is moist and pliable. Try a piece to check if the beans are tender but not mushy. Drain the beans through a colander and transfer to an ice bath. When the beans have cooled, take them out from the water and remove the outer skin.

To prepare the other mise en place, peel and emince the garlic, cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters, then cut the zucchini in 1/2 inch pieces, snap the asparagus to remove the end stalk and cut them diagonally into 1-inch piece. Set aside.

To cook the dish, heat the olive oil in medium heat followed by the garlic and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes starts to release some juice. Add the lima beans and a little bit of the stock and cook for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes. Then add the asparagus and cook until they’re crisp tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve the dish, remove from the pan from the heat. Roughly chop the herbs and add to the pan. Add the lemon juice to taste and finish with extra drizzle of olive oi.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet Potatoes with Greek Yogurt

There are a few things that I always look forward to when I come home: family, the help I get from house hold helpers, my bed and the cool bedroom, a short visit to Salcedo Market and side trips to my favorite boulangerie. Sometimes it’s nice to leave home and explore. Explore not only where you’re going or what you’re going to do but discover and find out who you really are without being pulled down by negative words and circumstances surrounding you. It takes courage and grace to live out your life but at the same time honor and respect the people around you. Life is full of choices and whatever I choose, I cannot please everyone. The good news is I wasn’t born to please everyone. I used to be like that in one area of my life. I cook because I want to please the people around me. And if that is my goal, I will truly be upset if someone doesn’t like the food that I have prepared for them. But my late father has been a testimony for me. He cooks for the family because he wants to not because he wants to please us. He doesn’t wait for compliments but we do let him know how great his cooking was.

The world is full of comments and criticisms. Whether good or bad, I better get used to it because I’m not used to it yet. But I’m getting there, I think. We all have insecurities and for me, cooking is one of them. How ironic that I’ve been cooking since I was 17 and been trained in Switzerland and Canada and still feel insecure about cooking. And I teach in a culinary school!! Now, that is transparency. I know deep in heart that I am a great cook, that I can truly cook and that I am professional cook. I do believe that I am. But when negative thoughts attack my mind and I don’t guard it, that’s the time I start to believe that I don’t deserve it, that I’m not good enough and that I’m not worthy enough and when I establish to believe that, it shows through my actions and my work. And when that starts to happen, I fail and embarrass myself and in front of other people. But my thought life has improved. It was worst when I was in elementary and high school and if facebook is your life, you will truly experienced unworthiness and low self-esteem. That happened to me while I’m taking care of my late father for years and even when I started working. You see your friend’s pictures and how successful they are with their lives and their career and here I was staring through the computer screen asking myself, what am I supposed to do with my life when I don’t even know (or have forgotten) what I’m good at. And I thought everyone’s into cooking and photography. Is there something that I can do that people cannot do? Here’s my thought life again…  But then I remembered my sister-in-law's encouraging words - “You will be someone someday.”

My life is still in a process and so does yours. Change is hard but it is good. But accepting change requires leaving my comfort zone and embracing courage and uncertainty in front of me. I think I did that and still doing it one day at time. 

And when it comes to other simpler things such as eating healthier, it does require courage and guts to eat foods that are good for you. Changing people’s eating habits is none of my business. I guess I have to do it differently and positively for change to happen. I honestly didn’t eat healthy enough while staying in school. I had my fair share of eating bacon everyday for a week until I felt horrible. Being at home right now helps me to eat healthier foods. And for me, simple foods are always the best. Another thing I was looking forward to is Greek yogurt that I bought at Salcedo Market. Greek yogurt is higher in fat and just to remind you and in case you still don’t know, I’m not an advocate of low fat foods. Life is boring without fats. I used to eat this Greek yogurt by itself, sometimes with a mélange of fruits, but today I’m eating it with sweet potatoes. If you want your sweet potatoes sweeter, bake them in the oven at a lower heat. The enzyme in sweet potatoes starts to break down tasteless starch into maltose beginning at around 135 F and stops at 170F. The sweet potatoes will have more time to break down the starch when you bake them low and slow and will have a sweeter result compared to cooking them faster (steaming, boiling, microwaving). Slow baking gives the enzyme a longer time to work than does rapid cooking. 

This is what I had for breakfast and I served it with honey, raw sunflower seeds and hemp hearts.

Sweet Potatoes with Greek Yogurt

Serves 2

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
Greek yogurt (absolutely not non- or low-fat)
nuts such as walnuts or pine nuts OR 
seeds such as sunflowers seeds or hemp hearts
honey or agave nectar
unrefined sea salt

To cook the sweet potatoes,  preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Place them in a foil, add 2 tsp of water and wrap tightly. Place in a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until tender.

To assemble the dish, unwrap the foil place the sweet potatoes on a plate, add a dollop of Greek yogurt, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and hemp hearts. Drizzle with honey and season with a bit of salt. Serve immediately while still warm and enjoy! 

How do you like to serve your sweet potatoes?
Love and light,