Monday, March 30, 2009

Sad News

Thank you to the many readers who sent emails asking about my dad. Yesterday, he died peacefully. His long months of suffering are over. I'm now with my mother and we're planning the funeral.

For the many contributors to MLLA9, I'll still be able to do the round-up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recipes: Pan-Fried Salmon with Curly Endive and Christmas Lima Beans & Christmas Lima Bean Salad

Christmas lima beans, with their speckled, swirled coats of maroon and cream, are one of the world’s most beautiful dried beans. When properly cooked, their texture is firm and their taste nutty.

Christmas limas are a perfect foil for strong, spicy flavors and are robust enough to serve on their own as a salad, spread, side dish, or main course. They go particularly well with wild mushrooms, bitter greens, and strong-flavored fish like salmon or mackerel.

Christmas Lima BeansThe

Ark of Taste is a list of endangered food plants and animals that the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity seeks to protect and defend. Christmas limas (Phaseolus lunatus), also known as chestnut limas, are now on the Ark of Taste list for the United States.

According to the
Ark of Taste website, “gastronomic accounts date the Christmas Lima Bean to the 1840s when it was especially popular in the southwestern region of the US. … It is used in both its mature green state as a shelled Lima for eating fresh, freezing or canning as well as used dried, and cooked into stews and casseroles. The Christmas Lima is very successful in the high desert environments of the southwest. They are hardy, heat tolerant and very productive—a bean known for its yield and versatility.”

A couple days ago, I found myself with time to kill at
Natural Pantry, an Anchorage store that started as a health food/vitamin store. Over the years, without my noticing it, Natural Pantry has added an extensive line of gourmet and specialty food products. Each aisle brought new surprises. I left with two full bags of hard-to-find-in-Anchorage ingredients, including a package of Christmas Lima Beans. I’ll definitely return to Natural Pantry, sooner rather than later.

One final, but important, note: Dried Christmas lima beans are delicious. Other than genes, they have nothing in common with the nasty green limas I remember from childhood.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Curly Endive and Christmas Lima Beans
Serves 4
Christmas Lima Bean Salad may be made well-ahead. If it is, this dish makes a quick weekday meal. Before serving refrigerated bean salad, remove it from the refrigerator at least 1 hour, or put it in the microwave on medium for approximately 2 minutes.

1 pound wild-caught salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head curly endive
(approximately 8 cups cleaned and chopped)
1/4 cup
chiffonade-cut fresh mint
1 recipe Christmas Lima Bean Salad (see recipe below)

Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the fillet as possible. Skin the fish, if necessary, and cut it into 4 even pieces. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the seasoned fish rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before cooking.

While the fish is resting, wash the curly endive, dry it well, and roughly chop it into bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl, toss the curly endive with the mint and Christmas Lima Bean Salad. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Divide the endive and bean mix between 4 plates.Heat the olive oil in a pan until it is hot, but not smoking. Turn the heat to medium high, and add the salmon. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the pan side of the salmon is lightly browned. Turn over and cook for 1 - 3 minutes, or until the salmon is done to your taste. The exact cooking time depends on the fillets’ thickness; keep in mind that salmon tastes better slightly underdone than it does when it's overdone.

Place the hot salmon fillets on top of the endive and bean beds. Serve immediately.

Christmas Lima Bean SaladChristmas Lima Bean Salad
Serves 4-6

The amount of jalapeño in the dressing, and whether you include the jalapeños’ seeds (which add heat), depends on how spicy you like your food. I last made this with 2 jalapeños including the seeds, and it was pleasantly spicy. My husband would’ve preferred it with 3 whole jalapeños. If you don’t like spicy food, remove the seeds before adding the jalapeños. Keep in mind that jalapeños are not uniformly hot. If your jalapeños are too mild, add a little
sambal oelek or crushed red pepper flakes to make a spicier dressing. I prefer the taste of capers preserved in salt to those preserved in brine (although either works here), and usually rinse and soak the capers to remove excess salt. However, for this dressing, I used the capers salt and all, and didn’t separately add salt to the dressing.

1 cup dried Christmas lima beans (6 ounces dried or 2 1/2 cups cooked)
5 bay leaves

2-3 red or green jalapeño peppers
4 tsp. capers, preferably salted
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup
chiffonade-cut fresh mint

Cook the Beans: Place the beans in a large pot, cover them with lots of water, and let soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Return them to the pot; add the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and simmer the beans for 60-90 minutes, just until the flesh is tender (be careful not to cook the beans until they are mushy). Drain the beans, reserving the bean cooking water (see Note below).

Make the Dressing: While the beans are cooking, purée the jalapeños, capers, garlic, and red wine vinegar in a blender. Add the oil to the other ingredients slowly, while the blender is running. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Make the Salad: Mix the cooked Christmas lima beans with the dressing, red onions, and fresh mint. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note on Bean Cooking Water: If I’m not using it right away, I freeze bags of bean cooking water and use it instead of stock in soup and stew recipes. The cooking water from Christmas lima beans tastes particularly good, and is definitely worth saving.


This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair – 9th Edition (MLLA9) which I am hosting this month and which was created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recipes: Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks & Garlic Yogurt

As many of you know, my 88-year-old father is nearing the end of his happy and fortunate life. For the past couple months, as his health has gone downhill, I’ve been spending lots of time with my parents in the Pacific Northwest, hence my lack of blog posting.

I’m heading back down to Washington again on Wednesday. At home in Alaska, I’ve been making lots of freezer food so my husband can have quick and easy meals while I’m gone. This weekend, I spent a lazy Saturday afternoon making a giant pot of Split Pea Soup, comfort food at its most basic.

I started making Split Pea Soup 35 years ago as a college student living on work study wages. In those days, I ate it because it was cheap, filling, and very tasty. Now, I eat Split Pea Soup just because it tastes good. As it has evolved over the years, my Split Pea Soup recipe is one of my favorites.

Ham HocksThere are two keys to making wonderful split pea soup: the soup must cook at low temperature for a long time and the ham hock (or leftover ham-bone) must be meaty and of best quality. Low and slow cooking allows the flavors to meld seamlessly into one another, and the cartilage in the hock to dissolve and give the soup a silky mouth feel.

In Anchorage, Mr. Prime Beef on the Old Seward Highway sells beautifully meaty smoked ham hocks; make sure to have the butcher cut them into thirds for ease of cooking and better tasting soup. The other day, I also say nice-looking whole ham hocks at Natural Pantry; sadly, this store doesn't have an in-store butcher to cut them up.

Split Pea Soup with Ham HocksSplit Pea Soup with Ham Hocks
Serves 12
Finish Split Pea Soup with a dollop of Garlic Yogurt (see recipe below) or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Whether to purée split pea soup is a personal decision, and isn’t necessary. I’ve served and enjoyed the soup both ways. Lately, I’m liking the more refined puréed version; its flavors seem to be better balanced. Split Pea Soup freezes really well and a quart freezer bag easily holds enough Split Pea Soup for two. Of course, you can always cut the recipe in half if you aren’t serving a crowd or stocking your freezer or don’t have a large enough pot (a Dutch oven is only big enough to make half a recipe). I use a mortar and pestle for crushing the peppercorns, but you can also crush them with the bottom of a saucepan.

2 pounds dried green split peas
4 cups diced onion, 1/4” dice (about 2 large)
2 cups diced garnet yams (sweet potatoes), 1/4” dice (about 3 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced celery, 1/4” dice (about 3 stalks)
1 cup diced carrots, 1/4” dice (about 3 medium)
1 Tbsp. freshly crushed black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. freshly crushed dried thyme
2 cups white wine
5 bay leaves
2 - 2 1/2 pounds smoked ham hock, cut in thirds
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Spread out the split peas on a tray or flat pan and inspect carefully, removing any pebbles or debris. Rinse and drain the split peas.

Put the split peas, onions, garnet yams, celery, carrots, crushed peppercorns, crushed thyme, white wine, bay leaves, and ham hocks in a very large stock pot. Add water to cover the ingredients by 6 inches (3 inches if you cut the recipe in half). Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 2 hours. Remove the cover and simmer for 1-3 more hours until the split peas are very soft, the meat is falling off the bone, and the liquid is reduced to your liking.

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the bay leaves and the ham hocks, including all the bones and chunks of fat. If you are puréeing the soup, process it with a
stick blender (or in a blender or food processor) until it is very smooth.

Remove and discard all the fat and bones from the ham hocks. Dice the meat into bite sized pieces and add it back to the soup. If the soup is too thin, simmer it longer. If it is too thick, thin it with water and simmer for 15 minutes before serving.

Garlic Yogurt
When I’m in a hurry,
or have strained Greek yogurt on hand, I don’t bother with straining the yogurt. It tastes fine if you just mix all the ingredients and serve immediately, though the texture is better if you strain the yogurt. This recipe makes enough for about 6 servings of soup, so double the recipe if you’re serving Split Pea Soup to a crowd.

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. Kosher or coarse-grained salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Line a colander with paper towels. Dump the yogurt into the lined colander and let the liquid drain out of the yogurt for 30 – 60 minutes. Puree the garlic by mashing it into the salt. Mix together the drained yogurt, mashed salted garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding garlic, salt, or pepper, as needed.


This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair – 9th Edition (MLLA9) which I am hosting this month and which was created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.