Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fava Bean Spread with Crostini

Yes, it’s that time of year. Late spring, early summer marks the short, but sweet fava bean season around here. Fava bean plants are sometimes used solely as a cover crop because their roots fix nitrogen, and are often tilled into the ground before they flower and produce pods. But if they are allowed to set fruit, they form these huge bean pods that house a bright green bean about the size of a lima bean. You can find them at farmer’s markets and they’re usually the cheapest thing on the stands…which seems like a great deal until you start shelling them! Not only are the pods fat and padded, but there’s also a second casing around the beans that has to be removed. By the time you finish shelling and skinning the beans your huge pile of dirt cheap fava beans has turned into a small mound of not-so-dirt cheap edible beans. That’s not to say it’s not worth it though, and the cost is actually still pretty reasonable compared to a lot of other organic produce. And besides, it’s kinda fun to sit on the porch, shelling beans on a warm spring day like a little old lady in the country!

This bright green, garlicky spread goes great on freshly toasted crostini, and if you have any ripe cherry tomatoes around, they’re a tasty addition to this easy little appetizer. The spread is also good tossed with some warm pasta and sun-dried tomatoes for a light dinner. Preparing the beans takes a little bit of time, but once that step is done the spread can be whipped up pretty quickly.

Fava Bean Spread:
Makes about 2 ½-3 cups.
2 ½ - 3 lbs Fava Beans, unshelled
1 Scant Tbl Garlic, finely minced
4 Tbl Fresh Lemon Juice
¾ tsp Sea Salt
2 Tbl Fresh Chives, chopped
2/3 Cup Olive Oil
Fresh Ground Pepper

1 long, Sweet French Baguette
Olive Oil

Preparing the Beans;
Shell the beans, removing them from the thick pods. Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil and add the shelled fava beans. Return to a low boil and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately shock in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. At this point, the outer skin covering the beans should look pale and slightly wrinkled. With your thumb nail, pierce the skin and then pop the bean out of the casing into a bowl. Discard the skins and repeat with the remaining beans. What you’re left with is the edible part of fava beans.

The fava pods, skins, and edible bean.

The Crostini;
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the baguette into 1/3-1/2 inch rounds. With a pastry brush, coat each side of the baguette slices lightly with olive oil. Lay out on a baking sheep in a single layer.

Bake the crostini for about 8 minutes, until they just begin to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately transfer the crostini to a plate to stop any further cooking.

The Spread;
In a food processor, add the shelled beans, minced garlic, salt, and about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Process until a coarse spread begins to form. Slowly add the remaining 1/3 cup of olive oil, pulsing the food processor until incorporated. Add the chopped chives, fresh ground pepper to taste, and remaining olive oil and process until a smooth, even paste is formed.

The spread can be served in a bowl with the crostini and other fresh vegetables on the side to dip, or as a more formal appetizer with the crostini topped with fava bean spread, a few cherry tomato halves and some more freshly chopped chives, served on a platter.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Apricot Almond Tart with Sweet Cherries

As I mentioned in my last post, I found some great cherries and apricots at the farmers market and decided to make a tart. I also found some locally grows almonds at the market and since almonds are known to pair well with both apricots and cherries, I decided to use them as well. This tart has a sweet, crumbly almond crust topped with almond infused apricots and cherries. There's just enough sugar to sweeten the fruit while still allowing their tartness to come through. It's fairly simple to make and goes great served warm or cold with a big scoop of vanilla 'ice cream.'

Apricot Almond Tart with Sweet Cherries
Makes one 12" tart
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Almond Tart Crust
2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 Cup Slivered Almonds (not salted)
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Tsp Salt
8 Tbs Chilled Vegan Margarine
4 Tbs Ice Water

Apricot Cherry Filling
About 1 1/2 lbs Ripe Apricots
About 1/2 lb Sweet Cherries
3/4-1 Cup Granulated Sugar (more may be needed for extra tart fruit)
1 1/2 Tbs Prepared Almond Paste, mixed with 1 Tbs water to make a slurry
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tbs All Purpose Flour

For the crust:
In a food processor, grind the almonds until they form a coarse meal. In a bowl, mix the almonds with the flour, sugar, and salt until well combined.

Cut the chilled margarine into the flour-almond mixture with a pastry blender until a crumbly consistency is achieved. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time and mix with a fork until the dough is evenly moist.

With you hands, press the dough into the bottom and sides of a 12" tart pan.

For the filling:
Cut the apricots into quarters, removing the pit, and place in a large bowl. Pit and halve the cherries and add to the apricots. Combine the sugar, vanilla, salt, almond extract, and almond slurry then add to the fruit and mix well with your hands. Sprinkle with the flour and mix again. The filling should be getting juicy at this point.

Add the fruit mixture to the tart pan and smooth into an even layer.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees until the juices bubble and thicken and the crust is set. Let cool for 30 minutes before serving. Serve alone or with Vanilla 'Ice Cream.'

Fresh From The Market


I finally went to the Farmers Market today for the first time since moving to San Jose. And while I must admit it's no Santa Cruz Farmers Market, it was still pretty exciting to get a bunch of fresh local produce. Among the things I got were cherries, apricots, almonds, peaches, nectarines, oyster mushrooms, fava beans, Jerusalem Artichokes, Little Gem Lettuce, and strawberries. As I'm typing this, I can smell the Apricot Almond Tart with Sweet Cherries I made baking in the oven. I had full intentions of coming home with Strawberry Shortcake ingredients, but when I saw the apricots, I knew I had to make something with them. Later today I'm going to make a Fava Bean Spread to serve on toasted crostini. I also really want to make something with the Jerusamel Artichokes, but I've never used them before, so I might have to do some research before I dive in. If anyone has any good recipes, let me know!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hot Tamales!

A few weeks ago we had a band from Texas play a show in our basement and spend the night at our house. Whenever bands come play, my boyfriend and I always make them a bunch of food. Usually it's a big pot of vegan chili or crispy fried tacos filled with beans or a soyrizo-potato mixture. This time we thought it would be cool to make tamales instead. I love tamales and can never find vegan ones, so I was all for it. We bought a tamalera, masa, and corn husks, and for the next 3 hours I prepared the tamales to be cooked. And then it all went downhill. Tamales should take 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook, but after 3 hours, mine were still a soggy mess. There I was with a house full of hungry people and tamales that looked like crap. There's nothing I hate more than my food not turning out right, especially when I'm cooking for a bunch of people. Finally, in a last ditch effort to save the tamales, I took them all out of the steamer and put them in the oven to try and dry them out. Eventually it seemed to work and everyone told me they tasted great, but I knew I had to redeem myself. That's why, only a week later at my birthday potluck, I made them again. This time they turned out great! See, I knew I could do it!

Now, there's a reason why a lot of families only make tamales a few times a year, and when they do, it's in huge batches. This is because tamales take FOREVER to make! Don't attempt this recipe unless you have a large chunk of time to devote to it. If you do, though, it's totally worth it and everyone will be very impressed. I am by no means an expert tamal maker so I spent a lot of time looking up different masa recipes. They all seemed a little different but the one I finally came up with with was an adaptation of this recipe, which I tweaked a bit to fit my needs. There's a lot of variation out there, so I encourage you to experiment a bit. Have fun!

Vegetable Tamales
makes about 30-40 tamales

Corn Husks (soaked in water for at least 3 hours)

Masa (cornmeal dough)

9 Cups Warm Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Non-Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
12 Cups Dry Masa Flour (I used El Mexicano brand Masa Casera)
1-2 Tbs Salt (more of less depending on saltiness of veg. stock)
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Cumin Powder

2 Large Yellow Onions, chopped
4 Medium Green Bell Peppers
5 Medium Carrots, grated
5 Medium Zucchini
4-6 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 Jalepeno Peppers, finely chopped, seeds removed
2 tsp Cumin Powder
3 tsp Salt
4 Tbs Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Fresh Ground Pepper

2 15 oz Cans Black Beans (or the home cooked equivalent)
2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1 tsp Cumin
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil

For the Masa:
Heat the stock until warm, but not hot. In a large bowl, mix the Masa flour, 1 Tbs salt, baking powder, and cumin until well combined. Add the vegetable stock 1 cup at a time, and with your hands (this is the fun part) mix it together until a soft dough is formed. It should be about the consistency of cookie dough. If the dough seems too dry, add more stock, too wet, more masa flour. Taste and add the remaining 1 Tbs salt if needed. In an electric mixer* fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the masa mixture to the shortening 1 cup at a time, beating and once it is all added, beat for about 5 minutes more until a soft paste is formed. The first time I made the tamales, the masa was too wet, which is probably why they didn't work right. If the dough seems too wet, add more dry masa flour. *If you don't have a really large mixing bowl, the masa can be made in 2 batches.

For the Filling:
Quarter the bell peppers, remove the seeds and membrane and cut into 1/4" slices. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then into 1/4" half circles. Chop the onions, first 4-6 garlic cloves, and jalepenos, grate the carrots, and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and then add all the chopped vegetables, garlic, and jalepenos.

Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the cumin, salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Continue cooking for about 10 more minutes, stirring, until all the vegetables are cooked thoroughly. Add the fresh chopped cilantro, stir, and then remove from the heat.

In a hot pan, sautée the remaining garlic until just beginning to brown. Drain the beans, reserving some of the liquid in case the beans get too dry. Add the beans to the garlic, and mash with a potato masher while continuing to cook. Leave the beans a little bit chunky. Add 1 tsp of cumin and salt and pepper to taste (don't be shy with the salt!). Cook about 3 minutes longer, stirring. If the beans are to thick, add a bit of reserved liquid. Mix the beans in with the sautéed vegetables.The Assembly:
Remove the husks from the soaking water and squeeze out any excess.

With the back of a spoon or rubber spatula, spread a 1/4" layer of masa over the upper half to 2/3rds of a corn husk. Repeat with the remaining husks and dough until all the masa is used up, stacking the masa filled husks on a cookie sheet.

Next, add a couple spoonfuls of filling to the center of the masa. Fold the sides of the husks around the filling and then fold the bottom of the husk w/o masa on it up towards the top. At this point you can tie a narrow strip of husk around the tamal or leave it how it is. Fill the remaining hulks, fold, and set aside.

Fill the bottom of the tamalera or other large pot with water until just below the steaming tray. Carefully stack the tamales upright in the steamer, with the open end pointing up and the folded end on the bottom until all the tamales are in the pot. If you have a lot, it's ok to stack the tamales on top of each other. If you have additional corn husks that didn't get filled, you can line the edges of the pot with them, and cover the top of the tamales with a few layers. I totally forgot to do this, but apparently it improves the flavor of the tamales and allows you to pour extra water in the steamer during cooking without getting the tamales wet. (see here for further info)

Put the tamalera on the stove and cover with a lid. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to medium. Steam the tamales for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, making sure that the water doesn't evaporate completely. Add more hot water as needed. After about 1 1/2 hour, take one tamal out of the pot with tongs and set aside for about 5 minutes. Open the tamal to see if the masa is cooked. When ready, the masa should peel away cleanly from the husk and not be wet of sticky anymore. If it's not ready, continue cooking and test another tamal 10-15 minutes later. Once the tamales are cooked, turn off the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes before eating. Tamales can be served with Salsa Verde and soy sour cream.

Tamales store well in the freezer if you have leftovers. Wrap the cooled tamales tightly in plastic wrap then in foil.