Local Comfort Foods

Here are some basic staple foods that can be made in your kitchen using crops grown in the garden patch. Easy to grow and process by hand if you are willing to put in a little effort. The recipes themselves are quite simple and easy to make. Uncommon, but not impractical crops like rice, dry beans and “hulless seed” pumpkins can be grown, stored and used to make these wonderful “comfort-foods” right from your own garden here in Northern Indiana.

 

MAYAN PUMPKINSEED CHIP DIP

Mayan Dip

Mayan Dip

I toast 1 cup of Styrian hulless pumpkin seeds in a skillet until lightly browned. These are then ground to make a paste. To this paste, I then add 3 chopped plum tomatoes (I used reconstituted dried Paquebot plum tomatoes from last summers harvest).  Add ½ cup chopped red onion (any onion will work. I happened to use Yellow Potato Onions because it was all I had left stored in the basement). To this add a hand full of fresh chopped cilantro, lime juice from one freshly squeezed lime and a pinch of salt. Finally, to make authentic Mayan dip you would add 1 finely chopped Habanero chile with the seeds removed. I used dry Aji Dulce chile peppers from last seasons harvest. They have the distinct flavor of a Habanero but only a scant amount of heat. Reconstitute and chop finely. Mix all this together and grab a fresh, hot homemade nacho chip (that one is still in the works and would require making fresh masa from whole dry corn). This is nothing like any dip you have ever had before. The roasted pumpkin seeds have a unique, rich and smoky taste which melds superbly with the Habanero chile flavor. Sublime!

 

SOYBEANS and more SOYBEANS

I was sampling some soybean products the other day with some friends. We started out with whole Shininome dry soy beans that had been soaked for 6

Soaking Shinonome soy beans

Soaking Shinonome soy beans

hours. The idea was to explore how versatile soybeans can be when processed into their various, staple-food forms. Using ½ cup of dried beans and 1 quart of water, we produced 1 quart of fresh soy milk in about 20 min. I usually like to use traditional low-tek methods but in this case I used my Soybella soy milk machine. If you grow a lot of beans and like soy products, it is well worth investing in one of these remarkable kitchen tools, although soy milk can be easily made with a blender, stock pot and cheese cloth. The hot soy milk can be consumed straight or can be flavored. I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt, a little vanilla and a spoon-full of  homemade sorghum syrup. Delicious!

Fresh Okara

Fresh Okara

From that ½ cup of beans, you are also provided with about 1 cup of Okara (the leftover bean residue) which I used to make Okara pancakes. Okara has many other uses and it is very nutritious and protein rich. I mixed up a quick batter using the 1 cup of okara, 1 cup of flour (I used sorghum flour, but you can use any flour), a little less than 1 cup of water and 1 egg. This I fried up on a griddle and serve with butter (Preferably butter from a local dairy offering grass fed, unpasteurized whole milk! Whoops, did I just recommend breaking the law?) or serve with a little honey, maple syrup or sorghum syrup.

I had made a double batch of soy milk for my friends. The first batch was for      

A Fresh block of Tofu

A Fresh block of Tofu

sampling soy milk, the second batch was to whip up some fresh tofu. The second quart of hot soy milk was poured into a pot and cooled to 170-180 degrees. I then added 12.5 ml of Nigari as a coagulant. Nigari is the natural byproduct of extracting salt from sea water. You can also use lemon juice.

 

Okara batter

Okara batter

The Nigari is slowly stirred into the hot soy milk and immediately begins to separate into bean curds and whey. After stirring a bit, cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes. After this, the curds and whey are poured into a cheesecloth-lined, tofu press (mine cost fifteen bucks) and a weight is placed on top to help press out all of the whey. In 15 more minutes we had a ¼ lb block of firm tofu ready to be used for numerous recipes from stir-fry’s, soups, dips, dessert, etc. This process also yields the 1 cup of okara as well a pint or so of whey which can be drank as a hot beverage, used in baked goods or added to soups and stews.

Okara-Sorghum cakes

Okara-Sorghum cakes

My friends and I remarked how we felt we had witnessed a miracle of sorts. A tiny amount of beans had been transformed into so many, and much, nutritious food staples. Of course, the “slight of hand” trick is in the addition of water to make the initial soy milk. Who cares, a full belly would never know the difference!

 

RICE and BEANS INDIANA-STYLE

Millions of folks worldwide will dine on this traditional dish tomorrow for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Here in Indiana, we have to settle for rice grown a thousand or so miles away and beans from a can or bagged, and sold in our local

Northern Indiana Rice

Northern Indiana Rice

grocery stores, in order to recreate this classic dish. I want to burst the bubble on that thinking. My Black Turtle beans were grown in a 500 square foot plot outside my kitchen window, adjacent to a 800 square foot plot of Duborskian rice this last summer. Both were easy to grow, harvest and thresh. But, in all honesty, the dehulling of rice, while not hard, is a bit time consuming, when done without the aid of a mechanical dehuller. I use the thousands of years old method of pounding the grain in a mortar and pestle type set up. In one hour I can dehull and clean close to 1 lb of Duborskian rice. Some would say “too much work” and others “a waste of time”, but I would call it “sufficency growing”, from field to plate, without skipping a beat in between.

The beans are rinsed and soaked for about 6 hrs. Your own fresh beans will require a lot less time soaking and cooking than their store-bought counterparts. The Black Turtle beans are then cooked for a couple of hours until tender and the liquid reduced but not thrown out. The possibilities for seasoning are too numerous to mention. In this case, I added half a chopped onion, a little cumin, oregano and salt to the cooking beans.

Rice and Beans Indiana style

Rice and Beans
“Indiana style”

The Duborskian Rice I used, is a short grained, brown rice with a rich, creamy texture. Cooking time is slight longer than white rice. Once cooked I mix the rice in with the beans and reduced liquid.  Serve up a hot tasty plate full of Black Beans and Rice, Indiana-style.

In writing this I am not attempting to point to myself as some kind of culinary expert. My cooking tends to be quite spartan at best. I am riding on the coat-tails of a few thousand years worth of natural plant breeders/farmers and generations of  families sitting around the fire waiting for a delicious, hot meal. The hope is to stimulate gardeners and farmers in our local region to entertain something more than just boring old GMO soybeans and field corn or the usual garden mixture of green beans, tomatoes and sweetcorn. The real possibility of staples, like pinto beans, rice, amaranth, quinoa, barley, teff, sunflower seeds, and so forth should excite us to look towards a far more diverse palette of local crops than we have settled for.

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