Friday, March 19, 2010

Start Simple with Black Beans

Untold numbers of great recipes start with sauteeing vegetables. This provides a flavor base that the rest of the dish is built on. The vegetables used in this process are called "aromatics" and can include onions, shallots, bell peppers, carrots, celery and garlic. It is unusual to use all of them in the same dish, but certain combinations are used all the time, such as onions, peppers and garlic in Italian cooking. Shallot substitutions work well in these combinations.

Take a quick look at my recipe for black beans. This is a great dish to practice with. Even if you screw it up beyond repair, which is unlikely, you haven't wasted much money.

The first few steps are the key:

# Cover bottom of hot sauce pan with olive oil
# Add onion and pepper to sauce pan, season lightly with salt, and saute over medium to medium high heat
# When onion and pepper are nearly cooked, add garlic

When covering the bottom of the pan with oil, it just needs a thin coating. The purpose here is to 1) avoid burning or sticking vegetables; 2) add some flavor to the mix; and 3) bring the flavors together "as one". Vegetables are added to HOT oil so that they do not soak up more oil than necessary while cooking. In this dish, crunch is not desirable, so they vegetables are cooked until soft and the shallots are clear. The peppers will lose some of the bright color they have earlier in the cooking. Garlic is added late in the process because it can burn if cooked too long.

When the other ingredients are added, the extra olive oil serves a different purpose. Here, it smooths the texture of canned beans, which can be a bit sandy otherwise. I use any cheap olive oil, favoring milder flavored varieties, but I definitely use olive oil. The texture is "just right" and the flavor is subtle enough that no one will really notice it.

Chicken stock deserves its own article. Suffice it to say for now that Kitchen Basics is my favorite.

The bringing of a semi-liquid mixture to a boil, followed by a long simmer is another process used to bring flavors together. It also give you precise control over the thickness of the final product with your cooking time. For any cooking down of a semi-liquid mixture, I tend to favor stock over water. However, some dishes are so rich that anything but water is overkill. For the super patient, one can cook down a mixture, add more liquid and cook it down again to REALLY bring the flavors together. However, keep in mind that longer cooking and more stirring breaks down the food, much like a slow cooker. Some vegetables can turn to "mush" if cooked for too long, so don't cook the beans all day unless you plan to puree them into soup.

Between sauteeing aromatic vegetables, and cooking down semi-liquid mixtures, you have now acquired important skills to make delicious meals for your migraine patient.

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