Posts tagged ‘tomatoes’

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous

The end of the season is here. Sad to say, but after a beautiful 75º day Wednesday, I’ve conceded that fall is here and by the time Saturday night arrives, we’ll have a hard frost. Sigh.

That said, we’ve had an amazing growing season and I feel abundantly blessed to be harvesting tomatoes the first week of October. Lots of tomatoes. Which brings me to last night’s dinner: Moroccan Vegetable Couscous. I found this recipe through our local co-op publication called Mix, which is always a good source of tasty seasonal dishes.

As I mentioned, I’ve got a lot of tomatoes. And given how many are on my counter starting to soften and get beyond the point where they are very usable in raw form, I’m on the lookout for new recipes that require cooked or canned tomatoes. Though I appreciate canned tomatoes in January (usually ones I’ve put up myself), I find no reason to use them now, when I can simply boil some water, quick blanch, slip the skins and voilà, better than canned. So, I took those on the counter most needing to be used and did just that.

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous by Beth Dooley

  • 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15.5-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup canned or boxed chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2–4 teaspoons jarred curry paste, or more to taste
  • 1 10-ounce bag frozen vegetables, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice or more to taste
  • 2 cups couscous
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ½ cups boiling water
  • 1 cup Greek-style whole-milk yogurt or feta cheese

Combine the tomatoes, beans, stock, curry and vegetables in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are warmed through.

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous

Into a large bowl, mix the couscous with a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir in the olive oil with a fork to coat evenly. Stir in the boiling water, cover and let stand for about 3 minutes; remove the cover and break up any clumps.

Serve the vegetables over the couscous and top with the yogurt or crumbled cheese.

MY NOTES: First, as mentioned, no canned tomatoes. Since the tomatoes I used included some heirlooms, they had a decent amount of moisture, which worked well in this recipe for creating a perfect sauce.

I also didn’t have or want to buy frozen veggies, given all the things I need to use in my fridge, so here’s what I came up with (all grown in my garden):

  • Eggplant – 4 very small ones, sliced and steamed
  • Beet stems and greens – stems steamed, greens added at the very end
  • Pepper – half a yellow bell, raw; whole Melrose Italian pepper, slightly steamed
  • Onion – half a small one, raw

Continuing the list of substitutions, I didn’t have any chicken stock and my frozen veggie stock was in quart sized volumes, so I opted for some of the turkey stock I made and froze last winter, since it obviously needs to be used up too. I had frozen it in muffin tins, which generally are about a half cup, and then stored them in plastic containers – works pretty well and is much healthier than most store-bought stocks which are often chock-full of sodium.

For the garbanzo beans (aka chick peas), I soaked dry beans all day (about 12 hours, though you only need to do 6-8). I then put them right in the pot with the tomatoes, realizing later I should have boiled them for a bit to soften them. I actually decided to separate them all out and cook them, a rather tedious but worthwhile process, because I didn’t like the texture. Post cooking was definitely better.

The directions on this never really say when to add the lime juice, so I put it in the tomato-garbanzo bean mix, near the end of cooking.

Last, I cut the amount of couscous in half, as I knew we wouldn’t need the suggested amount, which really does seem like a massive amount of couscous.

Overall this dish has great flavor. I like it a lot better than another Moroccan Veggie Couscous recipe I’d gotten off a couscous box a few years ago. I love curry and being new to the world of curry paste, it was great to learn another way to use it, since this isn’t something I would normally have thought of. I also liked finding a way to use whole garbanzo beans, since I feel seriously “legume illiterate” and these beans are super healthy for you, high in protein and fiber. So, if you’re like me and enjoying the last bits of the harvest, try this recipe out with fresh ingredients, or save it until winter for a good warm-me-up meal on a cold day.

October 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm 1 comment

Taste the rainbow

Homegrown Rainbow – just add water

After harvesting veggies from our gardening earlier this week, I peeked in my bag and thought, wow, it’s like a picture perfect rainbow – bet it tastes just as good. 

This thought then led me to think, it’s like you can “Taste the rainbow”… mmmm. 

Sure, maybe I borrowed the tagline from a famous candy, but similar to the original Skittles® pack, the only color missing from my bag was blue, which is pretty impressive considering we’re talking Mother Nature’s coloring au naturel versus something made in a chem lab by the folks at Wrigley.

I think one of the most rewarding things about growing your own food is the immense variety you quickly discover exists out there compared with the minimal choices we actually have in the grocery store. I suppose if you walk down the processed food aisles at your average big box grocer, the appearance of variety and choice is impressive (never mind there are just a few huge companies that make all that “food” and most list high fructose corn syrup among the top three ingredients – that’s a discussion for another day). But when you really examine the options for fresh fruits and veggies, what we get in the store is pretty pathetic.

If you want to talk variety, just open a seed catalog from the great growers at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (I’ve mentioned them before when discussing heirloom beet seeds). Their catalog boasts over 1,300 varieties of  heirloom veggies, fruits and flowers. That’s right, THIRTEEN HUNDRED.

In my own garden this year I’m proud to boast green eggplant, as well as several orange and yellow tomato varieties. One cherry tomato (Helsing Junction Blues) starts out green and blue and ripens to red and an almost blackish purple. In the past, I grew Gretel eggplant, which are a dazzling white. And have you ever seen Purple Dragon Carrots? It almost sounds like a fairytale.

This time of year especially, as the harvest peeks, it’s an unbelievable treat each time I enter the garden and know I am part of something bigger. An effort to remember and actualize the diversity of flavor, hardiness and beauty in our food system. A way of life that recognizes the importance of saving seed and making it available to all, not just those who reach the patent office first. And something that reminds us you don’t have to be perfectly round and red to be called a tomato.

September 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

Plant sale extravaganza!

Here in Minnesota, where Spring first peeked out two months ago, then retracted in to cold, rainy April, we are very ready to get our garden on. This past weekend, we were given the gift of two warms days on which to do our major plant shopping. Fortunately, it also happened to be a BIG weekend for plant sales.

I started my weekend with the annual Spring Plant Sale and Open House at Minnesota Food Association (MFA), which I have also volunteered at for the last three years. An organically certified farm, MFA’s plants are grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. I spent the day helping others decide what to take home for their gardens, and then filled my own boxes full of tomatoes, peppers and our family favorite – Brussel sprouts! I’d like to take a moment to put in a plug for my favorite sweet pepper, the Gypsy pepper, which I discovered through the MFA sale last year. They start out light yellow and progress to bright red (see picture), and become the most magnificently sweet delights you could imagine.

The next day, my friend who runs Norsejenta’s Seedlings, had her annual batch of tomatoes and peppers ready for pickup. For tomatoes, I went home with wonders like Anna Banana Russian, Isis Candy and Mortgage Lifter! And of course, I couldn’t leave without a KBX, my favorite I discovered at this sale last year.

Next I headed across the river to the Friends School Plant Sale for their final day when everything is 30% off. I love going on this day because I am usually not looking for anything in particular, which is good because its pretty picked over, but I always find some fun (or funny) treasure. Last year it was “Gretel” eggplant (I didn’t get there in time to get the matching “Hansel” plants). This year I picked up a Thai Green eggplant and two varieties of kohlrabi.

If you missed out on any of these (or you’re in another part of the country), don’t fret, there are sure to be more in the coming weeks. Wherever you are, be sure to check them out and this year, consider getting something fun and new to try!

May 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm Leave a comment

You say tomato, I say tomato soup please!

For the record, I hated tomatoes as a kid. Except for ketchup and pizza sauce, this plant with the serious fruit-veggie split personality issue never touched my taste buds (at least not that I can remember). I think my disgust with them may have been at least partially caused by an experience as a young kid at a daycare where I was forced to eat tomato soup. But I can’t say for sure.

So, I successfully avoided Solanum lycopersicum for much of the first two decades of my life. Then came college. My junior year, I spent a semester in Denmark. Unlike most Danes, my two host sisters were vegetarians, so my host mom cooked with a wide variety of veggies I had formerly despised. Among them: bell peppers, onions, zucchini and, of course, tomatoes. It was “eat veggies” or “go hungry.” Amazingly, I was smitten. My palate was thoroughly pleased with the variety of tastes I had long been ignoring.

But my new found love for the plant kingdom is not the reason for this post. This is about tomatoes. Specifically (and maybe ironically) tomato soup. Done well, tomato soup is one of the best comfort foods around. Paired with a toasted cheese sandwich and a pickle, it’s a meal made in heaven.

The best tomato soup I’ve found has a twist I would have never expected. Balsamic vinegar – another of God’s great gifts to humanity. I was introduced to the recipe for Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup just over a year ago by a co-worker.

MY NOTES: In making this soup, the big difference for me is no beef broth. I made the soup this week using some of the turkey broth I made and froze at Thanksgiving, and previously I’ve used homemade veggie broth. Additionally, you will find no cooking spray in my kitchen, so I use butter to grease the pan. Lastly, the only other difference in the way I make this recipe is to skip the straining step at the end. No reason to take out the best part!

One of the main reasons I like this soup in January is I get to use some of my own tomatoes. This week I used some of the heirlooms I canned in the late season when they were out of control.

In addition to the vinegar, this soup is unique in that you bake the ingredients (except the half and half) instead of cooking them in a pot. This really brings the flavors together in a way I don’t think you can achieve on the stove top. Not to mention the lovely aroma!

So, as winter (finally) sets in here in Minnesota, turn on the oven, pop open some tomatoes and bake. Soup that is.

Did I mention this is the best tomato soup ever?

January 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm 2 comments

Pickle, pickle, pickle starts with “P”!

This is a time of year about which I feel very mixed. The weather is really quite lovely, most of the “work” in the garden is done and the harvest is abundant. But that’s the thing, the harvest is here. As in, it’s the end of summer folks.

However, with the end of summer comes one of my favorite summer activities. Canning. The preservation of the harvest for colder and darker times. A bit of winter “sunshine.”

Growing  up, my mom did quite a bit of canning. There were always quarts of peaches and pears which we devoured with dinner. I never liked pickled beets until I was an adult (I know, crazy, right?), but my mom canned oodles of them. In the winter she pressure canned freshwater salmon. Yum. I remember watching this happen, but can’t say I have any recollection of really helping. But kids do tend to learn by osmosis and I seem to have a part of my brain which retained at least some of the information, or interest, in any case.

I started canning as an “adult” in 2007. I can’t say exactly what inspired it, but the idea called to me loud and clear – now is the time to learn this. With my own mom over 1,500 miles away, I turned to two other mom’s here in the Midwest. With my husband’s mom I learned to can applesauce, pickles, salsa, and tomatoes, and with a friend and her mom I learned to pickle beets (yes, I LOVE them now). This inter-generational learning is of such value and with many of my generation’s grandmothers now gone, much of the passing on will fall on the shoulders of those women – now in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – who were lucky to learn these skills. Some of them may be mothers, others may be working for their local extension service and others still volunteering in community centers. However it is being passed on, there seems to be a whole new wave of interest among young people eager to learn.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve only mentioned mothers, but I want you men out there to know you are more than welcome into the kitchen to test your hand at the water bath. To be fair, it was pretty much just womens work for a very long time.  However, canning is an incredible way for everyone to learn about buying from farmers or picking your own, realizing the realities of how long fresh fruits and veggies really last and how to safely handle and prepare foods for a longer shelf life.

The canning I have learned thus far has been hot water bath canning, which can only be used for acidic foods, such as tomatoes, jams and pickles. Vegetables and anything with meat must be pressure canned, which gets the food to a high enough temperature to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. Canning is a lot of fun, but food safety is to be taken seriously, as the results can be fatal if it is not done properly. Most of the time, if you follow recipes which have been tested for safety, this is easy to avoid. Unfortunately, this means that, while many of the techniques we learned from grandma are still be applicable, some of her recipes may not be. If you’re not sure what kind of canning you need to do, this webpage offers some basics on how to decide.

For the last three summers, I have been doing almost all my canning with a good friend and we continue to expand our repertoire and skills each season. First on the agenda this year – dill pickles, of the cucumber kind to be exact (the term “pickle” can refer to any number of things which are made with a brine, often involving vinegar). We tried our hand at pickles last year, but weren’t quite satisfied with the “crunch factor” so this year we did a few things different including fresher, smaller cukes and a larger ice bath. Crossing our fingers.

After pickles, we did salsa (37 pints to be exact)! It’s a great recipe we’ve been using for three years now and it never fails to please. Next week, when my mom is in town, we’ll try our hand at peaches. And somewhere in the next month we’ll squeeze in beets, applesauce and hopefully some pepper jam.

In case you’re looking to do some canning yourself, here is the salsa recipe we use, courtesy of Ana Micka:

Ingredients

  • 10 cups tomatoes (peeled, cored and chopped)
  • 1 cup green pepper
  • 2 cups onions
  • ½ cup hot peppers (mixture of banana and jalapeno peppers with seeds removed)
  • ½ cup celery
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Start boiling water in the canner.
  2. Sterilize mason-type jars and lids (pint sized best for salsa)
  3. Add tomatoes to large, stainless steel pot and cook for 30 minutes, until tomatoes are very soft and the large chunks are gone.
  4. Remove excess liquid from the pot, then add additional ingredients.
  5. Continue to cook at a low boil for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Fill sterilized canning jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Add 2 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar and process in a hot water bath for 35 minutes.

Makes 5 pints

MY NOTES: Great flavor, excellent texture too. The big thing I will say is more about safely canning salsa than this recipe. When you are using a recipe you know has been tested, DO NOT change the ratios of the ingredients. Basically, its tomatoes to everything else. You can increase the overall amount, but the volumes need to remain the same ratio to keep the pH at a safe level. And don’t forget the lemon juice!!

August 24, 2011 at 12:07 am 3 comments


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