batch cooking for H. & J.

playing tetris with frozen portions of batch cooking in the freezer

My friends H. and J. are having a baby this month, and I offered to make a few meals to ease a bit of the strain of the first few days of brand-new parenting.  Neither of them are vegans but they're both adventurous eaters and I've made dinner for them a few times before. I cooked up a few things and then - thanks to the folks over at the PPK forums - learned a few things about the things I should be cooking, too!

frozen dal makhani

I wanted to make them things that would freeze, keep and reheat easily and be warm and nourishing. They both really like dals and curries, so I made up a batch of dal makhani - I use coconut milk instead of ghee, yoghurt and cream - and aloo saag with beet greens, spinach and kale.

frozen NOLA red beans in a thick gravy

I also cooked up a batch of NOLA red beans in a thick gravy. I froze everything in 1 cup portions in storage containers and unmolded them by placing the containers in a bowl of cold water until the contents just released from the sides. Once all the different dishes were unmolded, I put the 1 cup portions in individual bags labelled with all the ingredients (in case of looking out for baby allergies) and with reheating instructions (for easy reference).   

molasses cornbread, cooling

I made some molasses cornbread as well, a house favorite, let it cool and then cut into single servings to freeze.

What hadn't occurred to me was this: things that can be eaten with one hand are a serious boon for new parents. So thank you, PPKers, I'll be baking off some empanadas later this week as well. Hopefully this will at least be a small help for H. and J. and their new little person - I can't wait to see what they look like as a bigger family!

Old New World: tortillas, a love story

tortillas, folded in a clean kitchen towel to steam

I've made an awful lot of tortillas this month for Vegan MoFo, but when I was a novice tortilla maker a few years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I'd eaten my fair share, but that's a different matter.

Tortillas in the pre-contact Americas were always made of corn, so that's what I've been making as wheat did not make it's way to the New World until the early 16th century when the Spanish brought it over. The Maya sometimes added in pumpkin or squash seeds to the masa, but most common was a plain tortilla, called wah and its thicker relative, pim. Tortillas came in many forms for the Aztecs; there are passages in the Florentine Codex that refer to tortillas made of a "white flour" or "white and hot tortillas" but these were made of corn, not wheat. Finely ground corn is much paler than coarsely ground, and there were many colors of maize - including white. According to the Franciscan friar Bernardo de Sahagún: 

"The tortillas which the lords ate every day were called tononqui tlaxcali tlacuelpacholli, meaning white and hot tortillas...ueitlaxcalli, meaning large tortillas; these are very white and very thin, and wide, and very soft...other tortillas called quauhtlaqualli; they are very white, and thick, and large and rough. They also ate some buns that were not round, but long, which they called tlaxcalmimilli...Another kind of tortillas they ate were called tlacepoalli tlaxcalli, which were in layers, and they were dainty food...there were also many kinds of tortillas for the commoners."

I feel like it's a pretty huge omission to not detail the "tortillas for the commoners," but I'm glad that Sahagún was so enthusiastic and mostly encyclopedic. I haven't made most of the kinds he describes, but I get by. If you're nervous about making tortillas, there are a few things I've picked up along the way; to start, here's the basic recipe I use for reference - you've seen it a few times this month.

tortillas 

makes 12

  • 2 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water plus more if necessary

Place the masa harina in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add water and knead until the dough is firm but pliable. Form 12 balls of dough and cover them in the bowl with a damp  towel for 1 hour. 

Heat a flat pan over medium heat until drops of water dance and evaporate when flicked. Press between wax paper on a tortilla press or roll out into circles, then cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Fold stack of tortillas in a clean towel to steam for about 10 minutes.

homemade tortillas, imperfect and bumpy and tasty

notes 

If your dough is too crumbly, add water. If it's too sticky, add more masa. Do both a tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that is pliant, only slightly tacky, and does not crack. 

Make sure you form spheres, not ovals and not the somewhat "spinning top" shape used to make dumplings with thicker bellies. Your tortillas will roll out more evenly.

If your tortillas crack when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more water. Remove the cracked tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more water to the entire batch. 

If your tortillas stick and pull apart on the wax paper when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more masa. Remove the sticky tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more masa to the entire batch. 

I use a well-seasoned flat cast iron pan to cook tortillas. You can use a well-seasoned larger cast iron griddle if you have one to cook more than one at a time.

Patience is important; if you flip the tortilla too soon, bits of masa will stick to the pan and will eventually burn if you don't gently scrape them up quickly. 

Try, if you can without too much calamity, to burn the heck out of at least one tortilla so you get a feel for how hot is too hot, and how long is too long. You'll also learn when to turn the heat up or down with experience - I usually turn the heat down a bit for the last few tortillas as the pan gets very hot. I habitually undercooked my tortillas so they were still raw in the center before I accidentally burned one.

Cooked tortillas aren't perfectly smooth; in fact, you can tell when the first side is done by the small bumps that form. 

You'll soon get a sense for when to flip the tortilla, by the way it smells and the way the color changes. I tend to flip it the first time when the edges just start to curl up and remove it from the heat to steam after it has puffed up a bit, slightly inflated with air.  The tortilla will deflate when it is removed from heat. If you flip the tortilla too early, it's okay to flip it back.

Make sure you leave some time before serving to steam the tortillas in a clean kitchen towel. This helps the tortillas become flexible and soft. I do at least 10 minutes. I also turn the stack upside down when I finish the last one so that the hottest tortilla is on the bottom, steaming upward.

There's really nothing like a fresh, warm, homemade tortilla - and, once you get the hang of it, you can make more than a dozen in less time than it takes to pick up takeout!

a stack of tortillas

Old New World: Inca chuchuqa

fresh shucked corn

There is not as large a library of food of the Inca as there is of food of the Aztec or Maya, at least not as has been translated into English that I could find - so I wound up getting a book in Spanish so I could read more about Inca foodways. My Spanish is unfortunately very rusty, so that means doing a quick scan through recipes is out of the question. That also means that by the time I have finished reading through a passage, it turns out I am trying to figure out how to make dried ground corn - which is much more of a project than a recipe! If you have a little bit of free time on your hands, perhaps you are up to it. I have typed out the instructions in both Spanish and my shaky English translation below. I won't tell you how long it took me to translate as it would just embarrass us all.

preparación para chuchuqa

  • maíz tierno o maíz seco

Desgranar el choclo (maíz tierno) o el maíz seco. Hervir los granos durante corto tiempo hasta que estén medio crudos. Algunos hierven el choclo en mazorca.

Extender los granos sobre que espacios cubiertos con paja o ichu durante varios días hasta que el grano se seque, se "chupe" hasta que llegue la mitad de su tamaño original.

Una vez seco, el maíz se muele no muy fino y se cierne para que elimine el afrecho.

 

dried corn; I did not dry this myself

how to prepare chuchuqa

  • sweet corn or dried corn

De-grain the sweet corn or dry corn. Boil the grains for a short time until they are medium raw. Some boil the corn on the cob. 

Spread the grains over areas covered with straw or bunches of grass for several days until the grain is dry and has "sucked" to half its original size.

Once dry the corn is ground very fine and any hanging bran is removed.

 notes

The quantities are up to you!

I assumed that "de-graining" the corn meant to simply remove it from the cob. This is incorrect! Desgranar is actually much more specific than I had thought, which makes sense. It refers to lifting out the kernels of corn from the cob by wiggling at the individual roots, one camino, or row, at a time.

I don't really know what the difference between maíz tierno o maíz seco or sweet corn and dry corn is - or why there would be the same instructions for both. Perhaps they are just synonyms?

I am also not sure why this particular kind of dried ground corn is not nixtamalized; when I look up chuchuqa or chochoca online most of the results I get refer to a kind of potato bread. However, it seems like some corn was simply secado al Sol: dried in the sun.

 

dried ground corn; I did not dry or grind this myself

quick note: storing squash blossoms

Inspired by this post by Gayla Trail and stocking up on squash blossoms while they're cheap at the farmers market, I decided to do a quick-and-dirty experiment. I kept one bunch in the refrigerator in a sealed glass jar with no water and another bunch in a jar on the counter with the stems in some water overnight.

squash blossoms: cold stored and countertop

It's kind of a terrible picture since it's taken at night in my kitchen but I think you can tell that the refrigerated blossoms were in much better shape! The countertop blossoms are shriveled and dry - and one has even fallen off its stem while the ones from the refrigerator are still fresh and pliant.  I'll be storing my squash blossoms in the refrigerator from now on.

fresh favas with sugar snap peas and green garlic

fava beans in various stages of prep; it takes about a pound of unshelled beans to make a cup!

Every summer I wait for fava beans. I am nuts for them. Now that I know that my sweetheart isn't allergic to them - how I worried! - we get them every single week when they show up at the farmers market.  They're a bit of work - you have to shell them, boil them, shock them and skin them - and all this before you make a meal of them! On the other hand, once you've done all that, letting the fresh beans shine is pretty easy. I love pairing them with fat English peas, but when the English peas aren't yet fat enough, sugar snap peas are lovely, too. As a bonus, you don't have to shell sugar snaps.

Never prepped fresh favas before? It's not a big deal, but it is time consuming, so don't think of this as a last minute dinner unless you've already done the fava prep ahead of time, and don't do it if your back hurts! I like to do this the morning I'm planning on making a dinner with favas, but you can do them the night before. Do you want music while you shuck and peel? Yes, you do.

 

fresh favas with sugar snap peas and green garlic

makes 4 servings

  • 1½ cups shelled and peeled fava beans (prepped ahead of time from 1½ pounds of unshelled beans)
  • cold water
  • 3 stalks green garlic (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 tbsp toasted and ground almonds
  • ¼ cup olive oil + splash for pan
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups sugar snap peas, topped and tailed (a couple of big handfuls)
  • pasta (I used two big handfuls of quinoa-corn fusilli)

prepping fava beans

Set a pot of water to boil while you rinse your beans, then shuck them. You can "unzip" them if you are careful; pull on the stems and split them down the seam, then pop the beans, still in their jackets, off. Don't worry about the little caps where they connect to the inner fuzzy pod, you'll take them off after they boil if they don't pop off on their own.

Once the water is boiling, pop the beans in the boiling water and boil for one minute, two if your beans are very large. While the beans are boiling, pour cold water into a large bowl (or make an ice bath), then drain and plunge into the cold water (or ice bath). I chill a bowl of water in the refrigerator because I don't have ice cube trays and it works just fine. Let the beans chill in the cold water for about 5 minutes, then drain.

Set up your peeling station: I like to put a scraps bowl on my left and a mug for the peeled beans on my right, but you can set it up however you like. You'll mess up quite a few the first couple of times and wind up with a bunch of split or mashed favas. With your thumbnail, cut through the proximal end, or the hilium  - where the scar from the little caps where the beans connect is. Break just through, then peel over the radicle (the little sprouting point) and under the curve of the bean. At that point, they'll just pop out, or you can give them a little squeeze at the closed end, just not too hard. Do this about a zillion times! Take breaks if you need them.

green garlic sauce 

Zest your lemon, then juice it. Slice the green garlic into one inch segments, white and light green parts only and discard the very root and the darker tips. Blend, chop or pound the green garlic, ground almonds, cracked black pepper, olive oil, water, sea salt, lemon zest and juice. Set aside in a large bowl.

Set some more water on to boil for your pasta, and prepare it as you like; I like it al dente at about 7 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, rinse, top and tail your sugar snap peas. Heat your pan and splash some olive oil in it. Sauté the sugar snap peas and favas briefly; they should both be bright, bright green. Drain your pasta then toss in the large bowl with the green garlic sauce. Add in the sautéed favas and peas and toss again. Eat and welcome spring!

notes

This green garlic sauce, only slightly adapted from thekitchn, also makes a lovely, bright replacement for tomato sauce on pizza - just leave out the water and add a little more garlic, one or two stalks, depending on your taste.