Culture + Food
Every year my mom would have each of my brothers and sisters eat at least one black-eyed pea on New Year’s Day. She said it was supposed to bring you good luck for the coming year. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s is a tradition I’m now passing along to my kids.
I’m not sure exactly where my mom picked up this tradition, but many different cultures hail this humble bean (quizically called a “pea”) as a bringer of prosperity. During Rosh Hashanah, black-eyed peas are thought to bear good fortune, the idea dating back to mentions in ancient text.
In the South, the story goes that black-eyed peas became a symbol of survival and good luck because of their Civil War connection. Union troops took everything they could from the land as they left the South, leaving behind what they thought was a somewhat inedible field green, black-eyed peas.
Today a favorite Southern dish, especially for New Year’s, is Hoppin’ John, which includes pork, rice, and of course, black-eyed peas. I like to think that the unusual appearance of black-eyed peas–with one black “eye” nestled in the middle of each one–may also be a reason it’s become associated with good fortune. Eyes equal wisdom, something like that…
We infused flavor into the mild beans by using a Mexican cooking style for frijoles rancheros, then used French seasonings. I wasn’t quite sure what to call our concoction that blended a world of cuisines into one cast iron, the best I could come up with was French Ranchero Black-Eyed Peas.
1 large shallot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cups cooked, drained black-eyed peas (I used dried ones that I’d cooked in the crockpot during the day)
1/2 cup chicken broth
5 slices bacon, cut into small slivers (the kitchen scissors are perfect for this!)
Handful of parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste
- Bring 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
- Cook the bacon in the olive oil until just barely beginning to crisp. Add in the shallots and the garlic and cook until the shallots become translucent and the bacon crisped.
- Add the beans to the pan all at once along with the chicken broth.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir in thyme, white pepper, and parsley. Season with salt. (If you’re feeling crazy add in a little smoked paprika and rosemary, too.)
Happy St. Andrew’s Day! November 30th is a national holiday in Scotland, St. Andrew’s Day. I wasn’t quite ready to tackle haggis so we went for a traditional Fruit and Nut Bread instead.
Servings: 2 mini loaves or 1 regular loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped (like apricots or apples)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil two 5.5″ x 3″ mini-bread loaf pans.
- In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add in pecans, raisins, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
- In another bowl whisk together egg, oil, and buttermilk.
- Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
- Pour batter into bread pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through.
*Tweaked from a recipe for Fruit & Nut Bread from Seamus McInnes
Maybe it’s the dip in temperatures but this year we decided on a Caribbean theme for Thanksgiving. Each year we try a new spin on Thanksgiving, last year it was all Mexican fare but today it was plantain time!
Here’s what we had on the menu…
Grilled turkey breast marinated with jerk seasoning.
Ropa vieja, a Cuban style shredded beef dish
Mofongo, a traditional Caribbean dish made with fried plantains, bacon, and heaps of garlic
Jerk-spiked rice with anise, cinnamon, cumin, and red beans
Dinner rolls with pineapple juice in the mix
And yes, I’m headed to the gym tomorrow.
Pumpkin loves garbanzo beans–the proof is in the hummus. Add pureed pumpkin into your hummus for a subtle, earthy underlying flavor.
The basic recipe is fast and easy to put together:
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
4 tbsp. tahini
4 tbsp. pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt
- Drain beans (reserving liquid) and place them into a food processor along with the pumpkin.
- With the blade running add in the olive oil and half of the reserved bean liquid.
- Remove the top of the food processor, scrap down the sides and add salt and tahini.
- Adjust the texture and flavor of the hummus using seasoning and more pumpkin, bean liquid, and/or spices.
For pumpkin pie hummus:
Add 1/2-1 tsp. pumpkin pie seasoning (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) and more pureed pumpkin
For Lebanese pumpkin hummus:
Add 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika, and the juice from one lemon
For the finishing touch on tostadas, I like to add a little bit of sour cream swirls. They’re easy to make and the perfect job for kids.
Here’s how to make sour cream swirls for Mexican dishes:
- Place 1/3 cup sour cream into the corner part of a plastic baggy.
- Use kitchen scissors to cut a small hole in the corner of the bag with the sour cream. You’ve just created a DIY sour cream pastry bag!
- Make designs on your tostados, tacos, nachos, or flautas with the sour cream.
“Holidays” are a great excuse to introduce your kids to new foods. Yes, I’m using air quotes as I type. Cinco de Mayo–literally, the 5th of May–is an American invention (granted, there was a battle in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862 where the much smaller Mexican army defeated a large French force). But you won’t find any big celebrations in Mexico, outside of Puebla, to honor Cinco de Mayo. Nope, as a couple of writers recently put it: “Cinco is as American as apple pie. So is the U.S. Hispanic melting pot.”
Whew, with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the good stuff–getting your would-be picky eaters to sample something new.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swap the cheese
Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese (I know, that’s pretty much a direct translation, but it’s true), tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella with a hint of ricotta thrown in. The cheese usually comes in a solid circle that you crumble up to put on enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tostadas…you get the idea.
Picky eater tip: We call this ‘crumble cheese’ at our house for good reason–you have to crumble it before you use it. Perfect. Kid. Job. Ask your child to be the official crumbler and when she wants to sample what’s all over her fingers, say, Yes!
Bag the regular tortilla chips
My all-time favorite tortilla chips are El Milagro tortilla chips. No Tostitos. No Santitas. Not even Xochitl come close. Ahem, yes, I get a bit particular about my tortilla chips. Get this, there are all of four ingredients in El Milagro tortilla chips–stone ground corn, corn oil, sea salt, calcium hydroxide (it helps glue the corn together according to the all-knowing folks at Wikipedia). And the chips are thicker, heartier than your standard “restaurant-style” chip. Admittedly, El Milagro can be hard to find–I see them most often in Mexican grocers, but they’re starting to pop up in larger grocery chains too. Look for them!
Picky eater tip: Dip it! Give your kids some salsa for their chips and let them dip away.
Use corn tortillas
Toast them! Please. Corn tortillas are bland and caulk-like until you toast them and then something magical happens–they become entirely different in flavor, texture, aroma. It only takes a few minutes to toast up a stack of corn tortillas. Then try out your favorite taco fixins’ in the toasted corn tortillas instead of the stale, hard-shelled kind.
Picky eater tip: Break out the cookie cutters. You can make small shapes in the corn tortillas (before or after toasting). Granted, your filling may fall out of the tortillas with too many openings, so you might want to keep the cookie cutting to a few conveniently placed shapes. I use my linzer cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour.
Make your salsa
Homemade salsa is simple to make, really. You can keep it basic and just chop up tomatoes, onions, fresh jalapeno chiles, and cilantro for a pico de gallo. If you want more of a authentic salsa consistency, put all of the pico de gallo fixins’ into a blender with a little lime juice for a thinner salsa.
Picky eater tip: Have your kids help you make the salsa. When my kids have friends over, we often whip up salsa together. I let them cut up the ingredients and adjust the seasonings.
Bring on the cumin
Add something new to your standard Tex-Mex recipes–ground cumin. You can find cumin in pretty much any grocery store. Sprinkle in cumin with your taco fillings, guacamole, salsa.
Picky eater tip: Your kids aren’t likely to notice this subtle seasoning added in. But it will give your Mexican dishes and added depth and more authentic flavor.
Your turn: Are you planning a special meal for Cinco de Mayo?
Burgers get boring, fast. So I’m always up for experimenting with new burger ideas. And now’s the time: It’s National Hamburger Month. But don’t you think calling it National Burger Month, would inspire far more creativity. Let’s just leave the ground beef out it entirely, shall we?
This recipe goes sans ground beef. Instead, Mr. Squid picked up Italian sausage for the patties for half our crew and ground turkey for me and my teen (we like lite burgers). You could also use portobello mushrooms.
3 things make this burger a stand-out:
- Baste it with marinara at the very end of the grill time.
- Broil cheese on the burger after grilling.
- Add a caprese-inspired topping
1 pound Italian sausage or ground turkey
Salt and pepper
4 slices of mozzarella or provolone cheese
1/4 cup marinara, divided
4 burger buns
1 Tbsp. chopped pepperoncinis (opt. but oh so tasty)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or Asiago (preferred)
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup basil, chopped into thin strips
- Shape meat into four patties. Sprinkle liberally with Italian seasoning, garlic and onion powders, and salt and pepper.
- Grill at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. During the final minutes of grilling, baste with 1/8 cup of the marinara.
- Place the patties onto a baking sheet. Add 1 tablespoon marinara onto each patty along with a slice of cheese.
- Broil the patties for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
- Meanwhile mix together the caprese toppings and add a heaping tablespoon (or more!) to each burger.
- Serve on lightly toasted buns.
Kids’ reactions: My teen added extras of the caprese topping to her burger. My younger two kids tried the caprese topping but didn’t want it on their burgers. Ah well, the pepperoncinis can get a little spicy.
I’m intrigued by this aluminum pot that’s the perfect size for my youngest to hold in her arms. And yet, it’s not big enough for sauting or small enough for sauces. My aunt tells me this was my great grandmother’s prized pot for boiling potatoes.
Recently, my aunt has been sending me care packages of cookware from my grandmother’s kitchens. Included among the boxes was this pot. It looks to me like it was made to fit onto another part.
So I’m wondering, does anyone know what exactly this pot might have been used for–besides boiling potatoes? Right now, I’m just enjoying having something of my great grandmother’s to use in my own kitchen.
My kids know that I like to “fancify” meals. I’m sure there’s some sort of French word for our made up one. The idea: to present your food in a fun way. Make it a little fancy. Our fancifying comes from different places: sometimes we try making something we ate at restaurant, sometimes it’s a creative way to get my kids to try something new. But this time, it was all about using up an ingredient I didn’t want to go bad in the fridge.
I made Asian Mex avocado egg rolls earlier this week so I still have a few wrappers on hand. So when I was making a stir fry the other day, I wanted a cool way to put the rice on the plate–enter the egg roll bowl. I found a recipe for mini morning quiches from Nasoya, which I still want to try, but I thought I could use the same technique. These bowls were so simple and fun to make my kids kept brainstorming during dinner other ways we could fill them. I’m thinking a dessert egg roll bowl would be good–wouldn’t it? Maybe a bananas foster egg roll bowl…
Servings: As many as you want!
Prep time: 10 minutes + baking for 10
Large egg roll wrappers (Nasoya wonton wrappers work well)
Fillings–let your kids decide
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Spray the underside of your muffin pan with cooking oil.
- Working with one wrapper at a time, drape the egg roll over the inverted muffin cup to form a cup. For folds, I brushed a little water on the wrapper to help them stick together when baking.
- Bake for 5-8 minutes. Watch carefully! These bowls will burn easily.
- Gently pop the bowls off of the muffin pan.
My tween has been on a pistachio kick lately. And I’ve been encouraging it. She shuns peanuts and peanut butter–a childhood staple for me. So if pistachios are the closest thing I can get her to like besides peanuts, I’ll take it. With all the extra pistachios around, I’ve been putting them in just about everything, spinach pesto last week and salsa now.
Servings: 2- 2 1/2 cups
Prep time: 20 minutes
7 guajillo chiles (dried)
1 small onion, cut into wedges
1/2 serrano pepper
1/2 clove garlic (or throw in the whole thing if you’re a garlic lover)
1/4 cup pistachios (roasted, shelled)
1 26-oz can whole tomatillos, drained (or 6-8 fresh tomatillos)
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice or white vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Salt to taste
- Cut the ends off of the guajillo chiles and remove as many of the seeds as possible.
- Bring a non-stick or cast-iron pan to medium-high heat. Place the chiles and onion wedges on the pan just until fragrant, about 2 minutes. You’ll notice that the chile skin becomes softer as it’s toasted. Watch the chiles carefully; they burn easily.
- Fill a large mixing bowl with hot water. Put the chiles and onion into the water while preparing the other ingredients (about 5 minutes).
- Cut the top off of the serrano chile and then cut it lengthwise. Carefully remove the seeds and ribs (you might want to wear gloves).
- In a blender, process the tomatillos, chiles, onion, cumin, lime juice, serrano, garlic, pistachios, and salt until smooth.
Plenty of uses beyond chip dipping:
- Saute chicken with the salsa
- Mix salsa and ranch dressing for salad
- Make quesadillas with cheese and salsa tucked inside the flour tortillas