Mujadara

One of my favorite things is a combination of rice and beans–or lentils. The top of my list of comfort food (even higher than mac ‘n’ cheese) is mujadara–rice and lentils, and onions. (I discovered that if you want to find this in a Lebanese cookbook you should look for m’jadara, but then, I was not even sure what the dish was called so I didn’t even get close.) Now that I know what I’m looking for, it’s much easier to look in the index!

I’ve found lots of recipes online:

I’m sure that this is one of the dishes that every cook has their own recipe, so I was looking at how it was seasoned. There was an amazing range: from salt, pepper, and onions to versions including cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne. Some included lemon juice or zest.

Since I’ve become the proud owner of an Instant Pot (IP for short), I have been experimenting with things like dried beans, rice, and all sorts of meat dishes. I’m convinced that the IP is going to be a good replacement for my Krups multifunction pot.

I had been exposed to pressure cooking ages ago, and by a cooking style that produced everything drab olive green, and by first-generation pressure cookers. So I never really bothered. Now I’m convinced that I have been missing a good thing. So, enter the IP.

I started with the simplest version of mujadara that I could find. My perusal of recipes led me to the conclusion that rice and lentils were used in almost equal quantities. Since I’m a single-serving cook, I want smaller quantities than any recipe that I’ve seen.

For my first test, I didn’t do the crispy onions–I just put some chopped onions in with the rice and lentils. Since I’ve been reading The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook by Coco Morante, and everything I’ve followed her instructions for has worked so well, I decided to follow my “gut” about how much water to use to cook this in the IP, and knowing that onions would release a bunch of water, I used just slightly less than the volume of the rice and the lentils.

My Mujadara

For two servings:

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup lentils de Puy
  • a good three-fingered pinch of kosher (Morten) salt.
  • black pepper
  • a dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • scant 1/2 cup water

Preparation

  • All ingredients into the Instant Pot
  • Add water
  • Multigrain setting

Yes, all of it all at once into the IP, without rinsing the rice, in a 7-cup Pyrex bowl for the pot-in-pot cooking method.

From what I learned from the cookbook, I used the “multigrain” setting–for the programmed time–40 minutes. I should have reduced the time just a bit to leave

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I should have reduced the time just a bit to leave a bit more “tooth” to the rice and to the lentils–I suspect 30 minutes will work fine. Even though all the recipes I’ve found say NOT to use the French lentils, I like them–and they were what I have in the house for general use. So, that’s my version.

For a first run, I’m was a happy camper. The second time around,  the multigrain time set for  30 minutes.   I added the seasonings in from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, except that I was out of coriander. To try to pick up something of the same flavor, I added sumac. However, without any extra seasonings, it was a good side to go with my rotisserie chicken (brought home from the grocery store because I’m eyeball-deep in indexing) and not spending a lot of time cooking.

The second batch, with shorter cook time and more seasonings, was better consistency, but I really like the very plain dish for flavor although I’m sure it will depend on what’s being served with it.

A son gôut!

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Beans & Rice

This was a kitchen happening–not really a recipe with given quantities of anything–just because I wanted rice and beans. Everything is flexible, depending on your taste and how many servings you need. (I wanted to have some extra to put in the freezer for quick side to grilled meat.)

It’s SO hot here that cooking just isn’t very appealing even with air conditioning on. One of my solutions is to eat things can be prepared without turning on the stove. I did this in the Krups multi-function pot that I love and use in so many different ways. (Tomorrow I’ll be using it to make tuna confit since my supermarket had lovely tuna medallions on a really special sale. That will keep me in tuna for my summer salads for a bit.)

Black Beans & Rice with Chorizo

Ingredients

  • rice (about 1 cup)
  • olive oil (healthy dollop)
  • onions, chopped (lots)
  • black beans
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • canned diced tomatoes with green chilis
  • red pepper flakes (dash)
  • pimenton (dash)
  • Mexican oregano (good healthy pinch)
  • pork chorizo (about 1/2- to 3/4-pound fresh)
  • water or extra tomato juice/V8 juice as needed for the rice

Preparation

  • Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent and starting to soften
  • Add red pepper flakes, pimenton, oregano, salt and pepper and sauté until the spices are aromatic
  • Add chorizo and sauté until it starts to turn opaque
  • Add canned tomatoes
  • Add rice and black beans (canned or frozen)
  • cook until rice is tender

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It’s hot and humid here, and I was being particularly lazy, despite my desire for food so I did this in the multifunction pot. I did make this as easy as possible–frozen chopped onions, canned tomatoes, and frozen black beans (these from 13 Foods) but Stahlbush Island Farms also has black beans and brown rice that make a good starting place for this. The result with frozen legumes is much better than with canned, though those will work as well.

A note on the oregano–it was Mexican oregano which is definitely not the same as Greek or Turkish oregano. If you don’t have Mexican oregano, then I would substitute thyme or cilantro. I can’t get my head around the Greek or Italian with this mix of flavors.  The pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) adds a bit of smoky flavor.

I first measured my rice so that I’d know how much liquid needed to be added to have it cook to proper doneness. Everything else was added (as indicated) by the dash, dollop, or pinch.

The chorizo that I used was fresh, made in-store from my Harris-Teeter supermarket, and not in casings so all I had to do was break it up into the pot to sauté.  Couldn’t get any easier. If you can’t find “loose” then just remove from the casing, or put the whole sausages in to make this a meat-centric dish.

Everything was sautéed using the rice cooker setting with the lid open. Quite quick and easy although it does require a little attention. Once the tomatoes (with juice) and beans were added, with just a bit of spicy V8 juice to give enough liquid to cook the rice, the lid was closed, and I went away to do something else–until my meal was done. The caveat here is that you do need to be sure that the amount of liquid is appropriate for cooking the rice–too much and you’ll have “blown out”, mushy rice; too little and it will still be crunchy–you’ll need to add more liquid and continue to cook until tender.

Quantities and totally flexible–maybe you like more rice than beans–or the other way round. I love lots of onions, but if you don’t, then just don’t use many.  The proportion of chorizo depends on how meat hungry you are–it can vary too, from almost a seasoning to a lot. Next time I make this I will add just a bit more than I used this time, although it was quite good this way.

A son gôut!

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4 Ways to protect ourselves from arsenic in rice — YayYay’s Kitchen

Arsenic in rice–Four ways to protect ourselves and our families

via 4 Ways to protect ourselves from arsenic in rice — YayYay’s Kitchen

Risotto for one

A traditional risotto, scaled for one.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

It’s no secret that I love risotto (Exhibit A, Exhibit B). It can be a time-intensive dish, so my tendency has always been to make risotto in bulk.

But after a few delicious risotto meals recently, I realized I didn’t have enough ingredients left to make any of my favorite risotto recipes without buying more supplies. The idea of risotto for one was born.

I scoured several risotto recipes for larger groups and tweaked them to fit my ingredient supply. This risotto is deliciously simple and just the right size for one. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • A few tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • A few tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
Directions:
  • Warm the stock in a pot over medium heat.
  • In a separate pot, melt the butter. Cook…

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Risotto: making a single serving

An earlier post dealt with one way to have single servings of risotto, but in case you’ve eaten all of that and want a quick batch, here is a recipe adapted from Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet  (pp.114-115) to serve one as a first course or two as a side dish.

Basic Risotto

  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup arborio rice
  • 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Make this is a large soup plate or pie plate.
  2. Heat butter and oil at 100% for 2 minutes.
  3. Add onions and rice, stirring to coat with the oil and butter and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in broth and cook uncovered at full power for 6 minutes; stir well and cook for an additional 6 minutes (12 minutes total).
  5. Remove from oven and let stand 3 minutes, stirring several times allowing rice to absorb remaining liquid.
  6. Stir in salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
(I don’t think that this is quite as creamy and luscious as risotto made the traditional way, but it’s certainly very good when you need a quick main or first course–or just some comfort food.)

Risotto–even for one

Risotto is a favorite food–sometimes it’s comfort food and sometimes it’s a treat for a special occasion.  I am addicted to that luscious, sensual, creamy texture.  Depending on the additions it’s an all-season dish–veggies or shellfish in warm weather, or sausage and meat for cold-weather, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food.

There was a time when risotto was a special-occasion, dinner-with-friends dish for me. I’d invite friends for a meal and make risotto.   One day while making spinach risotto to go with pan-seared tuna, supervised by the cat, stirring and adding liquid, stirring…and thinking…I decided that there must be a way to have risotto in single-serving quantities.  Thinking of restaurants, I was sure that there was some “trick” that would allow finishing off one serving at a time;  I needed to figure out what that was.

I’ve tried the recipe given by Barbara Kafka in Microwave Gourmet (p.  114)  and that’s good for quick risotto but, to me, not quite as luxurious as the long slow kind.  The advantage there is that she does give quantities for serving one or two.  I kept going back to restaurant line cooking, and wondering how I would do risotto in that situation–I certainly would not be making it totally “to order”–I’d be finishing it off as ordered.  As much as I like risotto, it seemed worthwhile to try to find a way to have it more often.

I was using one of the recipes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 242-245) as usual–still stirring, thinking, and stirring….   Maybe I could take some of the risotto out while slightly undercooked, before adding the cheese and butter and any final ingredients and freeze it for later use. (Can you see the light bulb appear above my head with this though?)

Judging that there was  more than enough for two of us in the batch that I was working on, I grabbed a small container and took out a single serving (fairly large single-serving), sealed it carefully so that there was no air space, and put it in the freezer.

A couple of weeks later, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  Now to see if I had something edible.  I’d taken it out of the original batch when I though I had about ten minutes of cooking time left.  Now, back into a pan, add some broth, and more stirring.  It took a bit of effort to get it mixed with the liquid as it was stiff, but after that it seemed to be a good consistency.   As soon as the rice had that bit of “bite” –tender outside, but still firm at the center, I added the parmigiano-reggiano, and a bit of butter and it was ready to eat.

I have not done a side-by-side tasting with this method and the microwave risotto or with risotto freshly made with the classic technique, but I felt that this was a bit creamier than the microwave method, and it took about the same amount of time.

Rice for risotto needs to do two things:  to have soluble starch to dissolve in the liquid to give the creamy texture of risotto, and to have enough insoluble starch to have that “tooth” or “bite” at the center of the grain that makes risotto such a sensual (and sensuous) delight.  I’ve most often used Arborio rice for risotto, and that’s what I used for this, and for the microwave trial, and from the same batch of rice.   Two other varieties of rice used for risotto are Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.   These three varieties offer a bit of difference in the consistency of the risotto due to differences in the kinds of starch that predominate.   The Vialone Nano has enough e “bite” while having enough soluble starch to have the creamy texture of risotto, albeit looser, and maybe a bit less creamy.  The Carnaroli  has an even firmer “bite” with the creaminess, with the Arborio being sort of in between, and the most readily available (and the least expensive) of the three.  I have not tried this technique with either the Vialone Nano or with the Carnaroli–maybe that’s a future experiment, but with the Arborio I was pleased with the result.

There are so many variations that make risotto a meal in itself:  you can add meat, vegetables, fish, or shellfish easily as you finish the thawed risotto and vary the seasoning easily.   Quick-cooking vegetables could be added as you start the finishing step; harder vegetables can be sautéed  or partially cooked before you add the risotto to finish it.

One surprisingly good addition to risotto (from Marcella Hazan’s recipes) is celery!  I’m always looking for things to do with the celery that’s left after I use the one or two ribs called for in recipes; when I saw her recipe for “Risotto with Celery” I just had to try that variation on risotto. Her recipe (p. 249 in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) calls for 2 cups finely diced celery for six serving of risotto.  It’s added in two different stages (if you’re making risotto in the classic way):  half at the beginning  when the rice is added, and the remainder  when the rice is about half-cooked  so there is some texture variation.  This is a great side for grilled meat or fish.  I really liked it to accompany a grilled lamb shoulder chop.   (I’m starting to feel that celery may be an under-appreciated vegetable and not just an aromatic seasoning.)

For finishing liquid, if the original batch of risotto was made using broth, you could finish it with water, though I find I usually have some broth in the refrigerator.   I’ll concede that you may not have the melding of flavors that you would have were the veggies or meats cooked with the risotto for the entire cooking time, but the result is good enough when you consider the shorter time, and the fact that you can have this in single-serving quantities.

Another lovely “comfort” food with Arborio rice that is a favorite of mine is “Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil” (again from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 258-259).  Here is a summary of the recipe:

Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil

Servings: 4, but halving the recipe works well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons or butter
  • 6 ounces of mozzarella (fresh)
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves (shredded)
  • salt

Preparation:

  1. Cut room-temperature butter into small pieces and cut the mozzarella in  small pieces (grate on the largest holes of a box grater if it’s not too soft–mine usually is too soft). You want small pieces so that the heat of the rice will melt it.
  2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring back to a boil.
  3. Add rice, stir immediately for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Cover the pan. Keep at a constant, but moderate boil, until the rice is tender but still has the central “bite”.  Stir occasionally while cooking, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. When tender but al dente, drain the rice and add the mozzarella, then the Parmesan cheese, then the butter; stir well after each is added.  Finally, add the shredded basil leaves and stir in and serve immediately.

It’s not risotto, but then you don’t have the constant stirring that goes with classic risotto,  while you do get a great texture given the soluble starch of the Arborio and the cheese melted into the hot rice.

I’ve yet to try the Cook’s Illustrated baked risotto, but that looks like another possible alternative and perhaps adaptable to smaller quantities.  As well as I like rice and risotto, I have a lot of exploring to do to find out what works best for single-serving cooking.

A son goût!

“Convenience” foods for cooking for one

Time frequently seems to be of the essence when cooking–for one or for many.  There are some things that I discovered that save me lots of time–and that means that I’m much more likely to cook a meal, rather than do carry-in, or reach for the peanut butter jar!

When you see “convenience” food, I dare say your first thought is processed, open-heat-and-eat food.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m thinking of things you prepare yourself with choice ingredients, and freeze, or otherwise “put by” for later uses that can shave time off of recipes.

How many recipes do you have that start with  a “flavor base” like  sofrito (Spanish), soffrito (Italian), mirepoix or mirepois (French)?    Lots, probably.  How many times have you passed on that recipe because you don’t have those, you did not want to spend the time mincing, dicing, or you pulled that bag of celery out of the crisper, and–yuck–it’s no longer fit to use!   Cooking for one, I find celery a particularly frustrating ingredient.  I like celery–but it always seems to go bad in the crisper.

Many flavor bases to start soups, stews, et cetera begin with carrots, celery, onion, diced or minced and sautéed  in olive oil (or maybe butter).  True it’s only a few minutes work to do this–if you have the ingredients.  My solution to this has been to take celery, carrots, onions, and use the food processor to chop a large batch of this useful mixture, sauté in a mild olive oil with just a touch of salt, and then pack it into small containers in lots of a couple tablespoons (or freeze in ice-cube trays and transfer to zipper-lock bag), and put it in the freezer so that when I need it, I have the basic prepared carrots, celery and onions, to which I can add garlic and herbs as needed for a particular recipe, and I’m off to a running start.

I do keep canned beans around as a “convenience” food, but I much prefer to cook my own dried legumes (pulses).  Since that is a time consuming thing, I have found a way to make those into “convenience” ingredients:  cook a large batch until almost fully cooked, and then freeze with some of the liquid in small quantities–a cup or so, whatever you would most likely use.  I’ve found that they hold well in the freezer, and can finish cooking quickly, so that you have the advantage of home-cooked quality, without the time investment.  I’ve done this with lentils (my favorites being the French LePuy) of all sorts.  True, lentils cook quickly and do not require soaking, but I can still save time with these.   I particularly like to do this “precook” with beans since that means that I can have lots of variety and have the convenience of canned, with specialty beans that are very tasty.

Grains can also be done this way too.  That left-over serving of rice that I’m sure I’m not going to use this week gets labeled, dated, and put into the freezer for a quick serving when I don’t want to take the time of cook rice from scratch.

Risotto is another favorite main dish for me–right in my category of comfort food with mac ‘n’ cheese, and tomato soup; I don’t find cooking it to be difficult–in fact it’s rather relaxing, but time consuming.  I’ve tried some of the “quick” recipes (see Risotto post) and have not been too dissatisfied with them, but I’ve also found that I can make a big batch of risotto to the point where it’s ready for the addition of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then freeze it is serving-size batches.   It will thaw quickly, and lets me have risotto fairly frequently.   It’s easy to add vegetables or seafood or other quick-cooking things as you finish this preparation.

Another “convenience” ingredient is homemade broth or stock.  While I will admit to keeping canned/boxed broth/stock on hand, I much prefer to have the real homemade thing, and that is not hard to do:  make a large batch on a cold rainy day when it’s good to be indoors; freeze it in small quantities for future use.   I’ve found a very quick way to make chicken broth too.  More about that later.

All these little conveniences can add up to much better small-time cooking with big-time flavor even when cooking just for one.