Tag Archives: red

Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard (Bietina)

10 Mar

You’ve vowed to eat more leafy greens, and you’re doing a great job adding more collard, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and other leafy greens to your diet. In Italy, where I live, those other greens would also include borage, broccoli rabe, chicory, escarole, watercress, and wild greens. But as you munch your way through one high-fiber, high-mineral, high-vitamin leafy green after another, there comes a day when you realize that, much as you love them all, one sautéed leafy green looks much like another. You have fallen into a green rut. That’s when Swiss Chard comes to the rescue. With Swiss Chard, you can have your leafy greens and ruby-red stems, too (if you get the right kind; chard stems can be white, yellow, or red).

Swiss Chard, or bietina/bietola in Italian, is widely eaten in Italy and around the Mediterranean. Why, you may ask, is it called Swiss Chard? No one knows. It’s not Swiss. But the plant may have first been described by a Swiss botanist, so that could be the answer–though it’s possible a German botanist actually did the describing first. It is one of those common plant-name oddities, like Jerusalem Artichoke.

This recipe uses tender, baby red Swiss Chard. If the chard you have is bigger/older, you may need to cut the leaves off the stalks, and add the chopped stalks to the skillet first, to give them more cooking time.

Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard
2-3 servings

1 1/2 lb. (3/4 kg.) baby red Swiss Chard
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
chili flakes/crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Preparation

1. Trim the stalks by cutting them off the root end of the bunch of chard. Most stalks should be thin and tender. With larger stalks, take a knife and carefully remove the stringy part by peeling down the center of the stalk.

2. Wash the greens in plenty of cold water, swishing and swirling to remove any dirt or grit. Drain in a colander.

3. Drizzle some olive oil around the bottom of a heavy skillet; add the garlic, chili, and salt; grind some pepper over; and cook the garlic and chili over medium-high heat for about a minute. Add the chard, stirring occasionally to make that sure none of the leaves get stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and that all leaves get cooked. As with all greens, what looks like a huge amount will soon cook down to a fraction of its former volume. If the pan seems too dry, add a bit more olive oil.

4. Check the seasonings, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Recipe: Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

29 Jan

There are probably as many versions of this soup as there are Bolivian families, and all of them likely to be delicious, but this is the version that has evolved at our house over the years. I love the bright-red color that comes from the tomato and chili pastes; it brightens even the coldest, most dreary day. I also love the soup’s many layers of flavor, each one contributing to the overall symphony. It’s even better the next day, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. And it’s very adaptable: make a vegetarian version by eliminating the beef/lamb, adding more veggies, and using vegetable broth/bouillon. Or substitute quinoa for the wheat if gluten is an issue.

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Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

Wheat/Hominy:
1/3-1/2 c. dry wheat berries/trigo pelado
1 can (14 0z./400 gr.) cooked hominy/mote blanco, undrained
–OR 1/2 c. dried cracked hominy (maiz blanco trillado)–see photo below

½ c. freeze-dried potato/black chuño (optional)

Soup broth:
12 c./3 liters beef broth
1 lb./500 gr. meaty, bone-in beef or lamb
1 large onion, halved
1 large tomato, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
beef bouillon cubes (optional)

Soup Vegetables:
3/4 c. petite peas
2 large carrots, julienned
3 large potatoes, julienned (it’s traditional to julienne both the carrots and the potatoes, but I have been know to dice both instead…)

Sofrito:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1-2 tbsp. red aji (chili) paste (aji colorado/aji panca)–see photo below
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings:
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 tsbp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. finely chopped  fresh mint

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Dried cracked hominy

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Red aji (chili) paste

Preparation:

  1. Note: If using  the optional freeze-dried potato/chuño, soak it in warm water overnight prior to making the soup. Before adding it to the soup in step #5, drain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. If necessary, chop into small pieces.
  2. Place the wheat berries (and, if using, the dried hominy) in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60-90 minutes or until both wheat and hominy are soft. Drain and set aside. If using canned hominy, pre-cook only the wheat, and add the undrained canned hominy to the soup in step #5.
  3. Meanwhile, add the broth and meat/bones to a large pot and bring to a low simmer, skimming periodically until no more foam is produced. Add the halved onion, quartered tomato, halved carrots, and the bay leaves and continue simmering slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings and add beef bouillon cubes to taste, if needed.
  4. Remove the beef/lamb to a dish and let cool. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl, mashing the tomato pieces to extract any remaining liquid. Return the broth to the pot and discard the vegetables.
  5. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and any fat, and add the shredded meat to the pot along with 1 c. of the cooked wheat, the hominy, the freeze-dried potato/chuño (if using), and the peas, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil  in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to make a fragrant paste. Add the paste to the soup pot, stir to mix, and continue simmering the soup, covered, for 15 minutes or more to develop the flavors and ensure all vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick, add more water. If it needs more salt, add another bouillon cube.
  7. Serve with the sliced green onions and herbs sprinkled on top, and with plenty of crusty bread.

Red, White, and Blue 2014

4 Jul

A few photos for US Independence Day. Red: Costus woodsonii (Indian Head Ginger) and Hibiscus. White: Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood). Blue: Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira) and Iris reticulata (Dwarf Dutch Iris).

  

   

Bearded Iris: ‘Spartan’

26 May

In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow; the flower’s name pays homage to the many colors of irises that exist. In the language of flowers, an iris is viewed as the bearer of good tidings–a reflection of the goddess Iris’ other role as messenger to the gods. I was swayed to include irises in the garden solely because of their beautiful display–but if they also bring good luck, even better.

This year, I added a maroon-colored bearded Iris: ‘Spartan.’ Its name is a nod to ancient Greek history, though their enemies would probably not have equated Spartan warriors with good tidings. I at least hope the name means the three plants I now have in my garden will be hardy.

They are the first bearded irises I have had the pleasure to observe at close range, and though they are now at the end of their brief blooming season, I kept an eager eye on them from the moment they were first in bud:

  
Bud and emerging bloom.


Three upward-facing petals (standards); three downward-facing petals (falls), with the beards resting atop the falls.

  
Close-up of a beard, which helps to guides pollinators (bees) into the flower. With the standard removed and this section of the plant opened up a bit (right), it is easier to see how the beard–and the color pattern–point the way to the nectar at the inner base of the flower. The stamen (male reproductive organ) with its pollen-covered anther is visible at the back, just in front of another petal-like structure that is called the style arm. The style arm is a highly modified pistil (female reproductive organ). Normally it’s a tight squeeze for a bee to get to the nectar; as it heads downward, it will brush up against the anther and get dusted with pollen. When the bee visits another iris, the pollen on its back rubs off and attaches to the sticky stigmatic lip (the arched line toward the top of the style arm, below the upper crest), allowing pollination to begin.

The Circle of Life: An Avian Point of View

30 Apr

I broke my ankle last Wednesday, but am on the mend. I was quite housebound the first couple days, and by the weekend had had enough. I slung my camera around my neck, picked up my crutches, and made it as far as the backyard. I had ordered Jon Young’s book What the Robin Knows and though it had not yet arrived, I was inspired to go outside, sit, prop my leg up, and observe the birds in our yard. Better than observing them from the sofa….

Of course, my hobbling around on crutches, dropping them, and banging them and my camera case against the picnic table greatly limited the avian activity at first, but after I settled down, the birds very slowly ventured back to inspect the bird feeders. The male cardinal was easy to spot, as was his mate; they maintained constant communication via “chip” calls, which made it easy to find them. Here is the male:

Male cardinal
Male and female cardinals remain paired for the entire season (and possibly for several seasons, or longer) and keep tabs on one another at all times. I have not yet seen our male cardinal feed his mate, which is common during the breeding season and is meant to show the male can be a good partner and father, but am hoping to have the chance. Does the female crave a certain kind of food during this time? I don’t know–but good on the male if he goes and gets it for her.

While I was outside, another flash of red caught my eye: a male House Finch. This photo isn’t the best, but that Finch was quite speedy:

Male House Finch
Like the Cardinal, the (male) House Finch gets its red coloring from the food it eats during the molting period (specifically from carotenoid pigments, mostly in fruits). In fact, males gravitate toward redder foods during this time. Why? Because the redder their feathers, the better–as far as the ladies are concerned. For female House Finches, there is a clear link between coloration and the male’s health and nutrition. Bright red plumage signals a male who can reproduce well, defend his territory, and be a good parent.  The male House Finch in the photo looks cut out for the job.

The last bird I saw before I went back in (ok, the last bird I saw that I was able to actually take a relatively non-blurry photo of) was a Robin, the subject of the aforementioned book.

Robin
I just started reading the book last night, and will undoubtedly learn a great deal about this copper-chested visitor to our yard. But already, I know that the Robin knows far more than I do when I’m outside. It can tell the difference between dogs, cats, and lunatics on crutches who aren’t fooling anyone with their cameras. And it can communicate with the other birds. When a song- and chatter-filled interlude abruptly transitions into instant and total silence by mutual agreement of all avian parties, something is up.

As it was earlier this evening. It has been raining torrentially, but even so, there was a lot of bird activity each time the rain let up. During one of those moments, all bird sound ceased and was immediately followed by several odd but alarming squeaks that had me wondering what possible kind of bird could be making them. I looked out an upstairs window and saw a large crow in the garden, pecking at a small, young rabbit laying prostrate on the wet earth. The rabbit had made the noise. The crow saw me at the window and flew away; but as I watched, the little rabbit shuddered several times and then was absolutely still. I grabbed a crutch, hobbled down the stairs, and went outside in a futile attempt to see if there was anything I could do, but in that short (-ish) amount of time, the crow had returned and claimed its prize. I think the heavy rain had forced the rabbit out of its burrow, with tragic results.

I was sorry for the rabbit and wanted to be mad at the crow, but it was doing what it had to do. At this time of year, it, too, has mouths to feed–big  and hungry ones–and so it will catch whatever it can to ensure the survival of the one brood it produces per season. Its booty can include the eggs and young of other birds– hence the total silence in our yard at the arrival of the crow. The alarm system worked well for the birds, but not for the rabbit. But that’s the circle of life.

 

Flowers Above

27 Mar

Recently, when walking to and from work or through my garden or around my neighborhood, I have tended to keep my eyes at ground level, on the alert for early blooms and signs of spring. But this evening, in the magical hour before sunset, I looked up… and was immediately rewarded by the sight of emerging flowers on local trees, a glorious sight indeed–and a reminder that good things also come from above.


Red Maple flowers


Emerging Cornelian Cherry Dogwood flower cluster


Red Maple flower cluster, photographed on black table

Recipe: Red Lentils with Coriander and Cumin (Masoor Dal)

27 Feb

The first time I ever cooked red lentils, they promptly turned yellow and fell apart–which is what they are meant to do, only I didn’t know it then. Red lentils are lentils with the hulls removed; in addition, they are also usually split in half, so they cook (and disintegrate) fairly quickly. I look forward to this transformation, because the resulting golden, buttery, and aromatic stew-like dish is the ultimate comfort food served on top of rice, or even eaten on its own.

Most dal recipes call for spices cooked in oil (a tadka) to be added to the lentils at the end of the cooking time. This recipe also calls for cooked onions, garlic, and spices to be added at the beginning, too. Mmm good. And even better because my husband made the version shown below (pictured with brown rice). This dal is great the second day because it thickens slightly and the flavors deepen, so it’s an excellent make-ahead dish.

Red Lentils with Coriander and Cumin (Masoor Dal)

1 c. red split lentils (masoor dal)
4 c. water
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. butter (optional)
finely chopped cilantro (optional)
fried onions (optional)

Preparation
1.  Pick over the lentils, rinse thoroughly in a fine-meshed colander, and place in a heavy-bottomed pot along with the 4 c. water. Bring to a boil over high heat and remove any foam that rises to the surface.
2. Heat the 2 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the coriander seeds, ginger, and turmeric, and cook for 1 more minute. Add this mixture to the lentils; set the skillet to one side for later use.
3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. The lentils will turn yellow as they cook and will disintegrate.
4. Toward the end of the lentils’ cooking time, heat the other 2 tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Let sizzle for a few seconds, then add the ground coriander and salt. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spices and oil to the lentils, along with the butter (if using). Stir to mix well.
5. Before serving, garnish with chopped cilantro and/or fried onions  if desired.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.

What’s in a Name? Robin Redbreast

6 Feb

It’s February, which in the Northern hemisphere qualifies as being just about half way between Christmas and spring. So it’s appropriate to talk about robins right now. In some places, they are symbols of Christmas, and in others they are a sign of spring. Either way, the copper-chested birds are a cheery site to behold. Despite their burnt orange coloring, the birds were originally known as Robin Redbreasts–because 500 or so years ago in Europe, there was no name for the color orange. “Yellow-red” was as close as people got to describing that happy blend of the two primary colors. But when a certain citrus fruit became more widely eaten, the color found a new name: orange. The first recorded use of that word as a color was in 1512.

But back to robins. The color is named after the fruit, and the American Robin is named after the European one. Except that it is now clear they are not closely related. European robins are chats, while American Robins are members of the thrush family. One is smaller and rounder, while the other is longer and leaner looking. The only thing they share is  a spot of orange on the breast, and even then, one bird has a small copper patch high up while the other has a longer one most of the way down. And the rest of their markings are not very similar. But early Europeans encountering these birds in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries thought they looked like robins, and named them accordingly. 

blame these early settlers for the noteworthy bout of avian befuddlement I recently experienced. I repeatedly came across a very friendly little bird during the few days we were in Ireland at Christmas and took several photos of it, all the while wondering what it was and chiding myself for not knowing. It looked almost like a little sparrow, except for that orange coloring (and the beak… and probably a number of other things). What could that bird be? Imagine my chagrin when I discovered it was a robin–how is it possible to not recognize a robin when staring straight at one? I can only say that the robin I have always known is the American one, and I was unprepared to identify the European version. I offer up these photos as evidence: first a European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), then its American counterpart (Turdus migratorius).  And then I rest my case. (Not sure how much of a case it is, but I rest it anyway).

Recipe: Citrus-Spiced Braised Red Cabbage

24 Jan

I love cabbage, that most humble of vegetables. Humble it may be, but versatile, too–and good for you, especially the red kind. With its lovely jewel tones (from a type of pigment also found in flower petals and fruits), red cabbage adds a beautiful touch of color to any meal.

This braised red cabbage is tangy and slightly sweet, featuring fresh orange juice, red wine, and  balsamic vinegar, as well as cinnamon, cloves, and caraway seed. It is a very nice accompaniment to pork or sausages, or a Thanksgiving meal–and also adds bit of zing to sandwiches. And if you are like me, you may also find yourself eating it cold, just because.


Citrus-Spiced Braised Red Cabbage

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, cut in half through the ends, then sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 lb. red cabbage, any bruised outer leaves removed, cored, and sliced into strips (about 10 c.)
ground black pepper
1 c. vegetable broth
juice of one orange
3 tbsp. red wine
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Preparation
1. Heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. When hot, add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add the cabbage and mix well to coat with garlic and spices. Continue cooking until the cabbage has wilted, then sprinkle with black pepper to taste, and add the broth and orange juice. With the heat on medium high, cook the cabbage for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by at least half.
3. Add the wine and vinegar, and cook another 15 minutes. There should be some liquid at the bottom of the pot–but the cabbage should not be soupy. Turn up the heat if needed to allow any excess liquid to evaporate.
4. Serve immediately with a slotted spoon.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

27 Nov

This photo is of something I was not expecting. During my recent trip to Rwanda, this gorgeous leaf formation caught my eye. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was a striking burst of color on an otherwise fairly bare branch. When I asked someone what it was, I was surprised to discover that it was a poinsettia, and that poinsettias can grow into small trees up to about 10 feet in height. I had no idea, because to my untrained eye this looks nothing like the potted poinsettias that abound at Christmastime (except perhaps for the red leaves). I’ll take the tree!

So an unexpected encounter led to an unexpected discovery — and I couldn’t be more delighted. The red leaves are called brachts; the actual poinsettia flowers are tiny and yellow.