Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring Breakfast with Arugula

Farfalle with arugula, sugar snap peas and Parmesan cheese.

I searched this website for arugula and found I’ve written about farfalle with arugula several times. It is my go-to spring dish, and now that one of us is vegan, I moved it to the breakfast rotation instead of supper. Properly made it is a taste sensation.

I haven’t written about the dish the same way over the years. That is, the “recipe” keeps changing. This iteration was pretty good, so at the risk of being repetitive, here goes:

Put water on the stove to boil. Measure one and a half cups dried farfalle and put it in the water once it is at a rolling boil. Set the timer for 12 minutes.

On the cutting board, tear up a good handful of arugula and remove the thick stems. De-vein 10-12 sugar snap peas and cut them in half across the length. Measure half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

Put a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl. Add a teaspoon of ground, black pepper and a couple of grinds of sea salt.

When the timer goes off, add the sugar snap peas to the boiling pasta and let it go for another 60 seconds or so. Collect a quarter cup of pasta water and drain the pasta and peas.

Pour the pasta and peas into the mixing bowl and begin gently mixing. Add the pasta water and continue to mix. Finally, add the arugula and mix until incorporated. While I used the word “mix” a couple of times in a row, don’t mix it to death. You want the arugula leaves to look like what they are.

Serve immediately. If a person is going to garden, they have to have recipes to use up the produce. This is one of my ever-changing favorites and a Spring classic.

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Kitchen Garden

Spring Vegetable Broth

Mirepoix, bay leaves and water. The beginning of vegetable broth. Celery and onions are from the freezer.

We use a lot of vegetable broth in our household. Making and canning it ourselves is inexpensive and we control what goes into it.

It began years ago, when I planted a big patch of turnips. There were literal bushels of turnip greens too good to compost. I made a simple broth which proved to be tasty. Making and canning vegetable broth has become a spring tradition. We used everything I made last season, so I’m at it again.

Simple is better when making broth for the pantry. A mirepoix, bay leaves, and water form the base of it. I use frozen celery and onions when I have them.

Next I search for leafy green vegetables, usually in the ice box. Today’s batch has turnip greens picked while weeding, collards from trimming seedlings in the greenhouse, Swiss chard that was getting old, and a bag of greens from last week’s share from the farm (Koji and bok choy). I washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped them and soon there were enough to fill the Dutch oven.

That’s it. Put everything in the pot, fill with water, bring to a boil, and then turn it down to simmer all day. After a few hours it will be broth.

I don’t add salt. Broth can be used as an ingredient in many dishes and I do not want an established salinity. It creates flexibility and works out well.

After straining the broth, I fill quart Mason jars in the ice box to be used, or to wait until I have seven jars for water bath canning.

So easy and delicious.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Quick Red Beans and Rice

Quick red beans and rice.

When there is leftover rice I seek a quick meal to use it up. Add some canned red beans and a sofrito and off we go: Quick red beans and rice.

The sofrito begins with the trinity: sautee bell pepper, onion and celery in extra virgin olive oil. Salt to taste and put a pinch of red pepper flakes in the mix. Purists say sautee the red pepper flakes in the oil before adding vegetables to bring out the flavor.

Next add diced spring garlic and the diced stems of whatever leafy green vegetable you have from the garden. Add a medium-sized tomato (canned or fresh) and a cup of frozen okra. If there’s not enough liquid, add a tablespoon or two of water.

Once the vegetables are soft, slice and add the leafy greens from which you took the stems. Mix and sautee until everything is cooked.

Add a can of drained and washed red beans and a cup of leftover rice. Stir constantly until everything is thoroughly heated. Garnish with coarsely chopped cilantro, sliced spring onions, and a dash of Louisiana-style hot sauce.

Makes two servings for diners that enjoy spicy food. If the other diner doesn’t, save the second portion for yourself to reheat later.

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Kitchen Garden

Cuban-style Black Beans

Organic Beans

Canned beans are a time-saver in the kitchen, especially for weekday meals. I made this recipe from both dried and canned black beans. Flavor-wise, the canned bean preparation was better. There are three parts to the recipe: beans, sofrito and rice.

Drain and wash two 15-ounce cans of organic, prepared black beans and put them into a cooking pan. Add a half cup diced bell pepper, half cup diced onions, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a bay leaf. Cover the beans with broth, tomato juice or water and bring to a simmer.

In a frying pan sautee one large, diced onion, one bell pepper, and three or four cloves of minced garlic. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and dried spices: cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Also add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sautee until the onions are translucent, stirring constantly.

In a blender, puree half of the sofrito and one cup of the beans. Use enough bean liquid to cover the beans and sofrito in the blender. At this point if there is more than enough liquid to barely cover the beans remaining in the pan, spoon it off.

Pour the puree back into the bean pot along with the remaining sofrito. Add two tablespoons brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to taste (about two tablespoons). Stir constantly on medium heat for about ten minutes.

Serve on cooked brown rice. Makes 4-5 servings.

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Kitchen Garden

Pantry Enchiladas

Woods along the state park trail, April 6, 2021.

Evening meals are our main ones, especially during the pandemic. I wrote a list of simple meals to get us through this time of contagion. Last night I spent a couple of hours preparing enchiladas for the first time.

Based on the amount of prep work, enchiladas are less than simple. Tortillas need cooking, a sauce must accommodate differing tastes, and issues of fillings and side dishes remain to be resolved. Enchiladas are a from the pantry meal this time of year.

I buy uncooked flour tortillas at the wholesale club. Cook them first and store on the counter in a tortilla warmer.

Next, I opened a 15-ounce can of prepared organic tomato sauce. Emptying the can into a sauce pan, I mixed a couple tablespoons of water with a tablespoon of arrowroot in the can. Once thoroughly mixed, I added it to the tomato sauce and incorporated. Seasoning: chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and dried cilantro leaves. I brought the mixture to just boiling and turned it down to a slow simmer. There are two glass bread pans in the cupboard to separate plain from spicy. This base sauce will make both.

A filling is easy. We buy prepared vegetarian refried beans in 16-ounce cans at the grocery store. They come with onion powder, chili pepper and garlic powder already mixed in. They can be used as is, or with added seasoning. I added salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried cilantro leaves. Once seasoned, mix thoroughly.

Prepare the baking dishes with a light coating of cooking spray or lecithin. I prepared the less spicy batch first. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Roll the bean mixture in tortillas and place them in the sauce, seam side down. Our dishes hold three. Cover with additional tomato sauce, then wrap the pan with aluminum foil to retain moisture while cooking.

For my batch, I added prepared hot sauce to the remaining tomato sauce and lined the bottom of the baking dish with it. I used the bean mixture as a base filling and added prepared peppers from the ice box and a Mexican-style cheese. Once three enchiladas were lined up, I covered them with the remaining sauce, sprinkled some cheese on top and wrapped with foil. Both dishes went on a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. At that point, remove the aluminum foil and cook another ten minutes. If you want the cheese to brown, put that one under the broiler.

It is important to pay attention to how much tomato sauce is used. This recipe makes enough for two bread-pan sized baking dishes and no more. Don’t run out!

I made a batch of Spanish rice to go along with the enchiladas. Enchiladas will be a nice addition to our pandemic rotation of evening meals.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Toward a Kitchen Garden

Garden viewed from the roof, May 18, 2019.

Forgetting to turn off the grow light before retiring to bed is a new bad habit. Seedlings need a daily rest from light, at least for 4-5 hours. I end up turning the light off around 3:30 a.m. when I return to my writing space for the day.

Learning to garden is a never ending process if one is any good at it.

This year the garden is in for big changes. The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho blew over the Locust tree and tilted one of the three Bur Oaks enough it should be taken down. I plan to cut two of the Bur Oaks to provide space for the remaining one to grow normally.

The derecho damaged a lot of fencing I use to discourage deer from jumping into the plots. There will be new stakes and new chicken wire fencing. If we had the resources, I’d install an eight-foot fence all around the garden with a locking gate. There are other projects begging for the money, so that plan is deferred.

The garlic patch is in, but the other plots are an open book. I will rotate cruciferous vegetables and beans. I need a whole plot for tomatoes and a small one for leafy greens. I ran out of garden onions this month, so I want to grow more this year and that will require a bigger space. No final decisions to be made until I plant Belgian lettuce on March 2, two weeks from now, if the snow melts.

The goal of having a kitchen garden is to produce food aligned with our culinary habits that helps meet a basic human need. We have to eat, no matter where, no matter how. It may as well be enjoyable. We’ve all eaten our share of food that doesn’t please our palate. A kitchen garden should address that.

There are inputs to address, other than the garden part of a kitchen garden. Perhaps the most significant is intellectual. Most people don’t frame such a construct although they should.

A kitchen garden is a reaction to the culture of consumerism. An important distinction is reaction, not rejection. I will continue to buy black peppercorns, nutmeg, vanilla bean extract, refined sugar, and all-purpose flour milled elsewhere. How else will we get such necessary ingredients?

For the time being, I’m ovo-lacto-vegetarian (most of the time), which means consumption of dairy products and the good and bad that goes with them. I’m not of one mind on this. For example, I’ll buy a gallon of skim milk from the local dairy 6.2 miles from my house, yet I’ll also stock up at the wholesale club for half the price. I take local eggs from the farm when offered, yet I also buy them at the club. Maybe it’s best to become vegan and eschew dairy altogether. I’m not there yet.

While I am a local foods enthusiast, and my diet centers around being that, I am not doctrinaire. Other people have to consume the results of my kitchen work, although during the pandemic that’s only one other person who I’ve known for going on 40 years. Despite several issues with his behavior and written output — including bigotry, racism and patriarchy — I like the Joel Salatin idea of a food shed. That is, secure everything one can that is produced within a four hour drive of home. I am also not doctrinaire about “food miles.” I’ve written often on the topic and if we work at it, we can secure most of our food produced within less than an hour drive from home.

During the pandemic we haven’t eaten restaurant food even once. If we get out of this thing alive, I see a return to restaurants as a social endeavor. I like our cooking better than any restaurant fare I’ve had the past many years. I expect the habit of cooking and eating at home will persist. How would restaurant dining fit into a kitchen garden? It would be an infrequent adventure in expanding our menu and spending time with good friends.

Another part of a kitchen garden is providing proper nutrition. That means research to understand nutrition enough to combat common diseases — diabetes and cardiovascular disease particularly. Portion control is also part of nutrition, related to maintaining a healthy weight. My research into nutrition was mostly a reaction to medical clinic visits. I sought to change the results of my blood tests regarding cholesterol and glucose through dietary adjustment. The approach has been to discover techniques and processes, then adopt them by habit to weekly meal preparation. Every so often I will consider nutrition in my diet. Mostly, once a new pattern is set, I follow it.

The influence of television and so-called celebrity chefs is part of the intellectual development I bring to the kitchen garden. Before I left my home town for university I spent almost no time in the kitchen learning how to cook. The first meals I prepared for guests were tuna and noodle casseroles made with condensed cream of mushroom soup from a can, once for Mother before leaving for military service, and once for friends at my apartment in Mainz, Germany. My early cooking years — in the 1970s — were trial and error and a lot of marginal, home-prepared meals. I recall at least one loaf of “bread” I used as a doorstop. It was baked while I was an undergraduate, interested in macrobiotic cooking, and didn’t understand how yeast worked.

I learned cooking mostly from television. In 2014 I wrote this about my experience on a work assignment in Georgia during the 1990s:

TV Food Network, as it was known, occupied my non-working time, and I developed an insatiable curiosity about food and its preparation. Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Julia Child and others prepared food on screen, and I was captivated, watching episode after episode on Georgia weekends. Food is a common denominator for humanity, and I couldn’t get enough. My involvement in the local food movement today has its origins in the contrast between that uninviting place in South Georgia and my food escape.

There is a broader point to be made than one person’s transient addiction to a television network while away from home. It is that American food pursuits, and the economy around them, continue to be based partly upon curiosity.

Curiosity About Food, Blog Post, April 17, 2014.

Over time, Food Network became more formulaic and less interesting. It also moved to a form of cookery competition that diverged from recipe preparation. I don’t tune in today. It opened my mind to the possibilities of food preparation and for that I am grateful.

The last part of intellectual development affecting the kitchen garden has to do with studying recipes. In my ongoing document mining I expect to purge my collection of hundreds of cookbooks. Partly because there are too many for reasonable use, and partly because I have learned the lessons from many of them. Which cookbooks have mattered most?

Like it is for many people, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker is a go-to book when I’m learning to cook a specific dish or vegetable. I continue to use it a lot. I frequently use Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. I keep copies of other reference books, but those are my main two.

For variety, I have cookbooks by Mario Batali, Giada De Lautentiis, Rick Bayless, Jeff Smith, and Anthony Bourdain, all of whom appeared on television during the period I watched cooking shows. These recipes produce food we like. I also use a few baking cook books, Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, and The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. I’m currently working my way through some cook books used by local chef, the late Kurt Michael Friese.

I studied church and organizational cook books extensively. I adopted very few recipes from them so most are going to go. I’ll keep those that have some sentimental value, ones in which recipes by friends appear, and a set of a dozen or so from my old neighborhood in Northwest Davenport. The purpose of acquiring these cookbooks has been to understand the development of kitchen cookery beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. People used a lot of gelatin and lard back in the day, that’s for sure.

Whatever I learned from studying cookery reduces itself into repeatable main dishes made using understandable preparation techniques. A family only needs so many recipes. As I progress, the kitchen garden becomes more related to cuisine, one recognizable and uniquely our own. It is a cuisine tied to soil I made, the flavors that emerge from it, and the methods used to make it into dishes. The garden has already changed to better match what is going on in the nearby kitchen. That relationship will continue to evolve.

The journey home begins with an understanding of where we’ve been and ends, if we are lucky, with a pleasant reunion with family and friends. A kitchen garden works toward that end.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Tofu Stir Fry

Tofu stir fry.

A version of tofu stir fry is basic to a vegetarian cuisine. I checked my archives and haven’t previously posted about this classic dish.

First, put on a pot of organic brown rice, or your favorite variety. I use home made, canned vegetable broth for this recipe. The ratio is two liquid to one rice. Always rinse the rice under cold water before cooking. Cook it low and slow.

I’ve taken to short-form videos and there is a teenager who posts about vegan cooking. I noticed how she cooks tofu. After cubing firm tofu, she coats it with corn starch, then seasons and bakes it. We avoid corn starch, so used arrowroot powder instead. It’s not the same, but it worked. When we made the dish in our early married life, we seasoned the tofu with Vegesal, which is no longer readily available. Today, I use onion powder, garlic powder and celery salt. The technique is to place the cubed tofu in a stainless steel bowl and gently toss it, first with the arrowroot powder and then with the seasonings. Do so until it is well coated. Spread it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven until the outside is browned.

We’ve been cutting the amount of added fat in our diet, and have taken to frying vegetables in some liquid, either water, broth, or tomato juice. Using extra virgin olive oil works too.

I’ve learned to limit the number of varieties of vegetables used in stir fry. Which ones is a new choice each time the dish is made. In the classic preparation I used the combination of onion, carrot and celery, along with bell peppers, snow peas, garlic, and a quarter cup of pine nuts. This is basic and what I was going for last night. For seasoning, I used salt and pepper to taste and a scant tablespoon of marjoram.

Almost any fresh or frozen vegetable would work in this preparation. I especially like broccoli and a leafy green vegetable. If fresh garden tomatoes are available, they are an excellent addition. If I were making it for myself, I’d begin with red pepper flakes in the cooking liquid. The main thing is to resist the temptation to put the whole ice box in the dish. Let the individual vegetables stand on their own. Let them be recognized. Do what makes sense. Be simple and elegant.

When the vegetables are done, toss in the baked tofu and mix gently. Serve on the brown rice and store the rest in the refrigerator for leftovers. We make extra brown rice to use in other dishes during the week.

Another variation would be to make some type of sauce to mix with the tofu and vegetables. The possibilities are endless, yet we usually keep it plain.

In Big Grove Township we have access to a local tofu maker and theirs is among the firmest I’ve found. For this dish one wants firm tofu. We tried the type sold by Trader Joe’s, which also works in this preparation.

So there you have it. A classic American vegetarian stir fry.

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Kitchen Garden

Vegan Cream Sauce

Raw Cashews

We have been experimenting with vegan dishes during the coronavirus pandemic. A basic recipe is “Vegan Cheese Sauce.” It’s a horrible name since it mentions the dreaded dairy product even though there are none in the dish. It’s a work in progress.

Our household began to move away from animal products when it was established in 1982. We became ovo-lacto vegetarians at home. That means we ate dairy products, including those made from cow and goat milk, along with chicken eggs. We have an interest in reducing reliance on those as well.

I am not doctrinaire about diet and maintain a semi-omnivore status. I hardly choose to eat meat, though. The pandemic has us avoiding restaurant dining completely and that was the source of what little meat I ate. For the past year the amount of dietary meat has been zero. I like my omnivore status and remain flexible when socializing outside home when food is involved. Usually, but not always, buffets and snack trays have plenty of vegetarian options. I don’t understand the American idea of eating constantly though, even if it is socially acceptable to serve food at a two-hour reception.

I know how to prepare a chicken and have done so. It was part of my survival training in French Commando School. Other cooking with meat is not complicated. In the unlikely event inadequate plant-based nutrition is available, I can return to survival mode. For the time being, the squirrels, rabbits, deer and raccoons traveling through our yard needn’t worry.

Why do vegan chefs compare their dishes to what omnivores eat? For example, this recipe for vegan cream sauce is intended for a version of vegan “macaroni and cheese.” There is a proselytizing aspect to such nomenclature and the resulting dishes. The vegan chef is recruiting us to join the culture. This dish tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese made with sharp cheddar and that should be okay without the cultural context. There is a whole business of imitation or fake meats and cheeses. As we navigate these waters I’m not sure why chefs don’t just go for dishes that taste good on their own merit.

Raw cashews don’t immediately come to mind as the base for a sauce. They are abundantly available, and easy to work with in the kitchen. The prepared sauce serves in pasta dishes, and more experimentation is needed. Ideas to be considered are using it on a pizza crust instead of tomato sauce and dairy cheese, on tacos, and in dips. The cuisine developed in our household has little emphasis on sauces, so the most likely use is with macaroni noodles. It is a once every four to six weeks dish.

I made vegan cream sauce three times and settled on a recipe. I enjoy spicy food and others does not, so most spicy seasoning is added after serving rather than cooking it into the sauce. If we had them, the dish could be topped with diced raw vegetables like Serrano or Jalapeno peppers, onions, shallots or scallions. Here is what I came up with.

Vegan Cream Sauce

Soak three quarters of a cup of raw cashews overnight in water. The amount easily fits in a quart-sized canning jar. Rinse in the morning, refresh the water, and soak until ready to use.

To a blender bowl, add one cup plant milk, one quarter cup nutritional yeast, one clove garlic, one teaspoon onion powder, one teaspoon Dijon mustard, and salt to taste. (Optional spices to consider include turmeric, paprika, black pepper, red chili flakes, to taste). Blend the mixture until smooth, then add the drained cashews. Blend until it is a smooth consistency. Thin the sauce as needed using additional plant milk. It’s ready to go.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this recipe is to remember it is not cheese sauce. While it may be used the same way, the sooner we embrace the culture, the better we’ll adapt to new dishes in our cuisine.

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Kitchen Garden

Butternut Squash and Pasta

Butternut squash.

It is easy to grow butternut squash. By the end of the gardening season, our kitchen counter accumulates half dozen or more. They keep for a long time at room temperature, so no need to be in a hurry to eat them all.

Mostly we halve them, remove the seeds, and roast them to use the flesh as a side dish. We’ve been exploring new recipes that reduce the amount of dairy products and oils in our meals. Roasted squash fits right into the menu.

We found a way to make a main dish out of butternut squash and tried a new recipe last night. It is called “butternut squash mac and cheese with broccoli.” It tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese and there is no cheese in it. The name is pretty lame. However, we normally stock the ingredients in our kitchen, and I commonly use the required cooking techniques already. I believe we will try this again. Below is how I would prepare it next time.

Butternut Squash with Pasta and Broccoli

  • medium butternut squash (~1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces dried penne pasta
  • 3 cups small broccoli florets

Peel, seed, cube and steam the butternut squash until the flesh yields easily with a knife.

Cook the onion, garlic and seasonings in a saucepan with a quarter cup of broth or water. Keep adding broth to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Start eight ounces of pasta in a large pan with plenty of water. Set the timer for five minutes before reaching al dente stage. May have to SWAG this.

Put the almond milk, vinegar, onion-garlic mixture, nutritional yeast, in a blender and stir briefly to incorporate. Add the squash and run at the puree setting until the big pieces are smoothed out. Because there was so much liquid and squash, I did this in two batches. Place the mixture in a large wok or saucepan.

When the timer goes off, add the broccoli to the pasta and cook together for the remaining five minutes. Drain the pasta-broccoli mixture and add it to the sauce pan with the squash mixture. Stir everything together over medium heat until it comes to temperature.

Makes four generous servings.

Tips: I cut the almond milk in half from the original recipe. The amount will require some tweaking. Use pasta made with chick peas or lentils to increase the amount of protein in the dish. I used frozen broccoli which had been parboiled before freezing. I’d try fresh if we had it. I’d also try Brussels sprouts instead of broccoli but cook them completely before adding to the final dish.

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Kitchen Garden

Deconstructing Tacos

Breakfast Taco July 26, 2020.

We own certain culinary dishes.

Learned from a recipe or experience, we repeat the cooking process and evolve it into something we enjoy. Such dishes become our signature home cuisine.

Grandmother had a signature dish: lemon chicken. I watched her make it several times in her apartment and saw how she added the lemon. She wrote the recipe on the back of an envelope for me and later I discovered the lemon went missing. It goes to show the importance of memory and experience in home cooking.

I love a delicious taco. In our household tacos vary from meal to meal. My favorite fillings are either similar to what Mother made, or greens and black beans in chili sauce. Tacos are easy to make yet the origins of the dish are complex. Taco ingredients adjust well to seasonal variation in a kitchen garden.

In 2018 I found a video by Rick Bayless in his Taco Tuesday series. I viewed the video multiple times then repeated every element of the process until learning it. Once learned, improvisations based upon on-hand ingredients and the imagination became possible. This is what cooking a personal cuisine is about. Black beans, kale, chili sauce, a cooking liquid, and toppings on a tortilla are foundational elements to making a delicious taco.

Tortillas

Almost everyone gets help with tortillas. By that I mean we don’t grow our own corn and grind it into masa. I make my own corn tortillas from masa and get uncooked flour tortillas from the wholesale club. There is nothing like a freshly made tortilla.

Black Beans

At some point I hope to grow enough black beans to use my own. In the meanwhile, I buy eight-packs of 15 ounce cans of USDA organic black beans from the wholesale club.

Kale

A person could use any type of greens in a taco: chard, collards, spinach, mustard greens, lambs quarters, arugula, broccoli leaves, beet leaves, kohlrabi leaves or turnip greens. I grow an abundance of kale, preferring Winterbor and Redbor, seeds which I get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. Kale really makes the dish so that’s my go-to ingredient. Fresh is great yet frozen leaves serve equally well. Tacos provide another outlet for the bushels of kale I produce each year.

Chili Sauce

I’m new to making my own chili sauce. I’ve been using Guajillo and New Mexican dried chilies and have been happy with both. I’ve been growing my own Guajillo chilies yet haven’t mastered the agriculture to produce a dried chili with the consistency of what can be purchased. I hope to master the skill although I’m only in my second year. I made a batch of Guajillo chili sauce on Wednesday with the last of the chilies purchased from Mexico, fresh garlic from the garden, Mexican oregano, black pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar. This sauce holds the dish together.

Cooking Liquid

Our kitchen produces a number of culinary liquids as a byproduct of making something else. I don’t just dump it down the drain. Every time I open a jar of canned tomatoes I strain them to give a head start in preparing tomato sauce. When I make salsa, I also strain excess liquid to prevent it from being too watery. These liquids get mixed into a one liter bottle in the ice box. During preparation, chili sauce is diluted with enough liquid to cook the kale. In the cooking process most of the moisture evaporates leaving another layer of flavor by using my culinary liquids instead of water.

Toppings

I use Mexican-style cheese from the wholesale club to finish making a taco. Tacos get topped with freshly made salsa, green onions, fresh onions, fresh tomatoes, pickled jalapeno peppers, prepared chilies, pickled garlic, finely sliced lettuce, shredded radishes or Hakurei turnips. The tomatillo harvest is coming in so salsa using them is in season. Fresh cilantro is also a go-to ingredient.

Preparation

Beans and greens taco filling is easy to make. Heat a cup of chili sauce in a large frying pan (Recipe for mine is here). Add a cup of water or other cooking liquid that goes with Mexican cuisine and incorporate. Add a bunch of kale that has been de-stemmed and torn into small bits. When the kale wilts, add a drained 15 ounce can of black beans. (Optional: Use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to break up some of the beans and give the taco filling a smooth consistency and texture). Once the kale is thoroughly cooked and incorporated it’s time to assemble tacos!

I’ll make these suggestions: begin with a hot tortilla on a heated serving plate. Put some salsa or hot sauce down first. Add the filling, generous but not too much. We want to be able to hold and eat the taco without everything spilling out. Cheese goes next so it will melt. Add toppings according to what’s in season or available and serve.

Cooking is an experience more than an explanation. We relish choices we make producing each plate of food yet it is not about consumption and the process that created ingredients on hand. Cooking, as much as anything we do, is about living in those moments. When the pandemic is over and we return to our new lives it is important to know who we are. Part of me is making these signature tacos.