Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WIAW #64:Portuguese Chickpea Stew

I’ll be the first to admit that books often inspire my next culinary pursuit.  A good book can transport to the coasts of Spain or the rivers of India. Currently two books have made me yearn for experiences not so easy to come by in West Texas.

Peter Mayle, the prolific English ex-pat who lives and writes about Provence once again makes me want to return to France. In The Vintage Caper, set in Marseille, Rose wine is practically a requirement of conversation. I must admit I tend to stereotype the pink-hued wine as here in the States, “White Zin” and Arbor Mist have crowded the market making the readily available options on shelves and at restaurants to be one step above fruit juice. But despite the stereotype, I am on the hunt for a light, crisp, hardly sweet rose. I think I found one for Easter supper thanks to the local wine boutique down the street. They let you sample if you’re buying…

The second book is A Year in the World, by Frances Mayes, famous for her previous book, Under the Tuscan Sun. In this travel-autobiography, Mayes and her husband travel the world for a year in order to have new experiences and fulfill life long travel goals. She first takes us to Spain, then to Portugal. I’m quite familiar with Spanish cuisine and the tapas tradition. But like most Americans, Portuguese food is an unknown to my eating, and cooking experience.

I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal, known for its seafood and vibrant ingredients and bakeries. For some reason it is the one European cuisine that is not prolific in America. I’ve never been to a Portuguese restaurant, or known of one. In Mayes’ book, you can almost taste the fresh clams, the paprika, and the lemon. After reading this part of the book I long to travel to Lisbon and the neighboring towns. 

I’ve always heard the bread, pao, is incredible. I cannot wait to taste it one day.  Inspire as I was, I decided to take to the book quite literally and use as many of the ingredients as possible to make a Portuguese chickpea stew, as described in the book. Mayes talks about chickpeas, squash, and above all fresh coriander (cilantro,) being common and important ingredients in the cuisine. Fresh bread of course goes without saying. I love how hearty this dish is with just enough broth to soak up with bread, but not too much making this a soup. And what a lovely hued broth it is.

After looking over some recipes, I made my own version. I encourage you to mix and match depending on what you have around the house. I only included sausage in my stew, but beef, pork, and especially chorizo are all worthy ingredients. Make sure to use a good quality smoked paprika. This is a great dish to use up any vegetables you may have lying around such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, spinach, or any other type of hearty greens. It's even better the next for leftovers so bring on the veggies!

This is easily doubled or then some for a large crowd. The simplest one-pot version relies on a Dutch oven that you can sauté the vegetables in, and then transfer to the oven. You can even serve it tableside if you have a pretty one! If you don’t have a Dutch oven simply sauté vegetables in a pan then transfer to a baking dish. Or better yet, use a stovetop safe baking dish.

I've been happily eating this all week so it's my WIAW. And considering I sprained my ankle yesterday at work, I'm happy to have something to eat!

Portuguese Chickpea Stew
(Adapted from Rachel Ray and Saveur Magazine)
Makes 5-6 dinner sized portions

1 lb. of your favorite sausage (smoked or chorizo goes well, even turkey sausage), sliced 1-inch thickness
3 cups loosely packed kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into medium size pieces
1 can (14.5oz.) diced tomatoes and liquid
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups prepared chickpeas or 1(14.5 oz.) can
2 cups sweet potatoes or butternut squash, cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 tbsp. butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. smoked sweet paprika
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pinch cayenne pepper or ¼ tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
black pepper and salt to taste
½-3/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
olive oil
Bread for serving

Variations: Try spinach in place of the kale (stirring in near the end of cooking,) add a pound or two of cubed Yukon gold potatoes for a larger crowd. 6oz. of Pork, lamb, or beef shoulder is also works. You could even stir in peeled shrimp at the last minute of cooking. If you aren’t a huge tomato fan, this would also be just as good if you supplement two cups additional broth for the tomatoes and add a few more carrots and celery.
Of course, this is very easy to make vegan simply by swapping the butter for olive oil, as well omitting the meat, Worcestershire, and using vegetable broth.

For gluten-free: Omit the bread and serve over quinoa or rice.


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large Dutch oven, begin to brown onions over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Once onions are soft and translucent, add butter, garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook for additional minute. Sprinkle with salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Stir the spices, including the bay leaves and Worcestershire.

Turn heat off and toss in sweet potatoes (or squash), kale, chickpeas, and broth. Pour tomatoes on top of the mixture and arrange sausage slices on top.

Cover with lid or aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove lid and continue to bake for 15 minutes until sausage looks browned and crispy. Fish out bay leaves and discard.

Either serve stew in the Dutch oven tableside or dish portions into shallow bowls and top with lots of cilantro. Serve with bread.


Have you ever been inspired by a book to try a cuisine? Have you tried Portuguese food?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Thai Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu and Mago

Volunteering at a library bookstore does has its perks. Most importantly, I get them half off. Secondly, I get first pick of some beautiful cookbooks (and other books) for gifts and personal use. At two different library bookstores I’ve found editions of Food & Wine Magazine’s series, Best of the Best. I love the series because it is literally a collection of the best recipes from the top cookbooks of the year. That means you get an incredible variety of recipes from some of the best chefs and writers around. This one from the simply titled Recipes by Susan Spugen is no exception. 

Peanut Noodles with Mango is a simple Asian inspired dish that is easy to recreate at home. The recipe as is really good as a side dish but I wanted to make an entree for two hungry people. So crispy fried tofu seemed like a good fit. Chicken, or shrimp would also be delicious in place of the tofu. I like how crispy thinly sliced tofu gets in a shallow oil bath inside a dutch oven. That baby makes frying TOO easy. You can also pan fry the tofu in a skillet with just a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

I was afraid this recipe would be a little out of our normal dinner comfort zone as it is served cold. To my delight and surprise, Aaron loved this unconventional dish and promptly scarfed it down in about a minute. He also called dibbs on the leftovers. That’s how I know I have a hit on my hands.

I just happened to have a lovely soften mango and sugar peas on hand, so luckily this dish came together quite easily. I often keep toasted sesame oil on hand because it adds so much flavor. Try to get if you can. I also recommend a couple dashes of Thai fish sauce if you want to add a little umami to a dish, which is slighlty the sweeter side.

Another adaption I made to the original recipe was the use of PB2 instead of peanut butter. You can definitely use regular smooth peanut butter if you have yet to discover PB2. One reason that I recommend the former is the addition of flavor with only a ¼ of the calories of regular fatty peanut butter. The addition of 45 calories per tablespoon versus 200 calories of the traditional condiment makes this a little lighter for a weeknight meal. If you are serving this as a side dish at a barbeque, go ahead and use the regular stuff. I don’t believe in reduced fat peanut butter. There, I said it.

This is a crowd pleaser and perfect for when the weather gets a little warmer and the produce gets fresher. For kids, the mango and tofu are optional. They’ll love the peanut sauce! I’m sure you will too.

Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu 
and Mango
(Adapted from Recipes by Susan Spugen featured in 
Food & Wine’s Best of the Best, Volume 9)
For 2-3 entrée sized portions

For the Peanut Sauce

½ cup PB2 peanut butter prepared with ¼ cup water, or ½ cup regular smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp. warm water
1 ½ tbsp. rice vinegar
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. grated or finely chopped fresh ginger root
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. vegan sugar
¼ tsp. black pepper

For the Noodles
½ lb. spaghetti noodles (thicker, not thin noodles are best)
1 cup sugar snap peas or snow peas, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 lime, juiced
1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1-2 green onions, chopped
optional: ¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish
sriracha and sesame oil for serving

For the Tofu
½ block extra-firm tofu, sliced into ½ inch strips, then cut in half
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
water and salt for soaking
Vegetable oil

Gluten-free version: Simply replace tamari sauce for soy sauce, don’t flour the tofu, and use your favorite gluten free spaghetti noodles.


Add all ingredients for the sauce to a small food processer or blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. (you can make this 2-3 days ahead of time)

In a small bowl, mix chopped mango with lime juice and a pinch of salt. Chill until ready to serve.

For the noodles, bring a pot of salted (2 tsp.) water to a rolling boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package instructions. You don’t want soft noodles, so cook just a little more than al dente since you will chill noodles until allow them to rest to doneness.

At the last minute of cooking time, stir in snap peas to pasta water, cooking for no more than 1 minute until bright green and softened. Once pasta and peas and cooked transfer to a large colander and rinsed well with cold water at least twice so noodles do not get gummy with the chilled toppings and peas do not get over cooked.

Toss noodles and peas in the peanut sauce until well coated.

For the tofu, add slices to a shallow baking dish with warm water and 2 tsp. salt. Soak tofu for at least 15 minutes. Pull slices out and place on a plate or cutting board lined with paper towels. Cover slices with more paper towels and gently press down to press out water. Repeat one to two times until tofu is no longer soaking wet, only slightly damp.

In a shallow bowl, combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and peppers.

If deep-frying, heat a large dutch oven or cast iron pot over medium heat with enough vegetable oil to cover bottom by about two inches. Test by dropping a piece of green onion into the oil. It is ready if the onion begins to sizzle on impact.

Once oil is hot, bread tofu slices in the flour mixture on both sides. Working in batches, carefully place slices in the hot oil and fry for 3 minutes, then flip for an additional minute, until both sides are lightly brown and crispy. Carefully take pieces out of the oil and place on paper towels. Sprinkle slices with the salt.

Serve dish as soon as the tofu is cooked. Spoon noodles and peas on plates, top with chopped cilantro, green onions, mango and tofu slices. Drizzle plates with additional sesame oil and top with chopped peanuts. Serve with sriracha.