season-ing (aka the green wonders of early summer)

So I made it through the first week of 3rd year but I have to report that my real achievement of the week was snagging the last box of green beans at the farmers’ market. In my mind, green beans are the earliest true summer vegetable to hit the markets, so their presence signifies not only immediately deliciousness but also that we have arrived at my seasonal culinary wheelhouse.

“Are these beans good?” I asked the lady at the bean stand

“Oh you can’t beat fresh green beans,” she told me, “except snapping them is one of my least favorite jobs.”

She had no way of knowing that I happen to be a bean snapping professional, a skill honed every summer up to age 18 on the usually impressive green bean haul from my grandma’s garden. I should have told her that I don’t mind the snapping because while it’s a tedious job, it’s at least potentially an air-conditioned one. The real pain is the picking, when whoever planted the rows of beans knew he wouldn’t be the harvester or he never would have made the rows so long. Just thinking about it makes my back hurt, probably a phantom pain from the time my 14-year-old self decided it would be a good idea to tackle the job under the noon sun, in a swimsuit top and shorts, without sunscreen.

Here’s a picture from my early days as a garden-hand. I swear this photo was taken in the mid 90s and I am not a contemporary of Laura Ingalls Wilder despite appearances to the contrary. 

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The bean lady had no way of knowing the kind of face my grandma would make if she could see me paying $3 for a small box of beans. Back home the harvest was usually measured in the unit of bushels, the majority to be snapped, washed, packed, canned, and put up for use throughout the year. Enough beans were always set aside to make a big mess for immediate eating, always prepared in the same way- slow-simmered with garden potatoes, onions, and bacon (usually with a little batch sans bacon set aside for brat-child me).

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While I’ve remained a green bean fiend since leaving home, I usually prep them by quicker methods and today was my first attempt at fixing them Iowa-style. I hesitate to even call this a recipe since nothing is measured and there are only a few ingredients. But because my past as a gardener and canner plays such a huge part in my current culinary leanings, I thought I would share this simple little method. A few notes: fresh beans are key. The more recently they came off the plant, the better. it’s best to use potatoes fresh from the garden, but I used small yellow potatoes from the store with good success. Tone the onion flavor down to your liking. I’m used to eating this dish prepared by my grandma who, when I asked her just last week, said that onion is her very favorite food. You might have to add more salt than you expect to. Lastly, low and slow heat is key. The beans should be very soft and the onions and potatoes almost disintegrating. 

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Green Beans a la Iowa

About 4 cups of the freshest green beans you can get your hands on, snapped (ends removed and broken in half)

4-5 small yellow potatoes, cut into thick wedges

1 medium white or yellow onion, sliced

3 T butter or 3-4 slices bacon

Salt and pepper, to taste

 Put the beans, potatoes, and onions in a large, heavy saucepan and heartily salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add butter or bacon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and taste to adjust salt and pepper. They’re done when the beans are very tender and the onions are disintegrating. Remove most of the excess liquid and the bacon, if you used it. Keeps very well in the fridge.

 

nested

I have been jokingly saying that for the past few weeks, I have been nesting. Like an expectant mother awaiting the chaos and loss of leisurely times that a new baby brings, I’ve been bracing myself for starting third year, where, as we were told during orientation, we should expect to have none of our ducks in a row.

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And now, the night before my Medicine rotation starts, I sit here with my laundry folded, pants hemmed, bathtub scrubbed, and most importantly, my fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked with food. I’ve realized over the years that knowing that I have healthy, delicious food on hand is a form of security for me—a way of knowing that no matter how crazy a day I have, a fresh, nutritious meal will await me at the finish line. So in preparation for busier times ahead, I’ve been embracing the freezer: mushroom barley soup, lentil stew, Cuban black beans, Spanish garbanzos, ratatouille, veggie chili and mushroom walnut burgers from Kate, and and embarrassingly lot more are neatly tucked away into plastic containers, awaiting a day in the near future when they’ll be lovingly reheated and put to a very noble and nourishing use.

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But today was a final day of leisure. And for me, a leisurely day always incorporates some time in the kitchen. A fresh mango salsa and vanilla almond granola arose from the day’s culinary adventures, as well as a bountiful slaw with miso dressing. Inspired by a carton of plump sugar snap peas from the farmers’ market and a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I concocted a salad of Napa cabbage, snap peas, carrots, red pepper, scallions, and proteinaceous doses of quinoa and edamame. The mountain of vegetables and grains was tossed in a creamy miso, ginger, and tahini dressing, and sprinkled with some fresh cilantro and basil for brightness. This was the ideal recipe to tackle during an afternoon where I was looking for an activity to draw out the hours and listen to some music, as lots of slicing, blanching, julienning, blending, and tossing were involved. But the result is a huge batch of a fresh, protein-packed slaw bursting with sweet peas of summer that will serve as a hearty yet light lunch for the week.

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So, maybe my ducks will be all out of order this year, but at the very least, I’ve tried to make them the best nest I could.

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Sugar Snap Pea, Edamame, and Quinoa Slaw with Sesame Miso Dressing

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup quinoa

1/2 lb sugar snap peas

1 cup edamame, cooked and shelled

1/2 pound Napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup)

3 large scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly on a bias

3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Sesame-Miso Dressing

1 tbsp fresh ginger

1 large garlic clove

2 tbsp mild yellow or white miso

2 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp honey

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

To cook quinoa: bring 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn heat down to medium and allow quinoa to cook for 15-20 minutes, until water is gone and quinoa is soft to your taste. Fluff with a fork.

To blanch snap peas: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the sugar snap peas and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and drain. Pat the snap peas dry, and then remove the stems and slice them thinly on a bias.

In a very large bowl (this makes a ton!) combine snap peas with cooked edamame, sliced cabbage, red pepper, and scallions, grated carrot, and sesame seeds.

For dressing: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blender and whir until smooth.

Pour dressing over vegetable and quinoa mixture and toss many times to coat completely. Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

onward

The last few weeks have been truly blissful. From spending leisurely time with friends, to exploring new sites in Chicago, to having six-hour long cooking marathons in our kitchens, and most recently, to enjoying being with each of our families for a wonderful Father’s Day weekend—we feel sated on many levels. We are so fortunate to have these wonderful experiences spent with the people and places we love to carry us through the coming year, in which free time may be a hot commodity.

Orientation to third year begins at 8am tomorrow. While a tiny part of us would love stop time and savor this vacation period just a little longer, we are ready, excited, and a healthy bit nervous about the year ahead. After these free-flowing weeks of minisummer, it’s high time to adhere to a schedule and morph checking off items on our summer bucket list to checking off lists of things to do for our patients’ wellbeing. The privilege to take care of people is what drew us to this profession in the first place, and now we will be granted the opportunity to do so.

As it has for the past year, we hope that in the year ahead, Sugar Cured will remain an outlet for sharing our culinary creativity with you all. Posts may be less prolific, and the theme of recipes may shift from fanciful experimentation to freezer-, budget-, and time-friendly recipes, but we’re excited to continue sharing our experiences, in the kitchen and in our lives, with you.

And with that, onward to third year!

thaimmus

I have a new creation to share, and I’m pretty excited about it. It was born out of an experiment to create a budget-friendly hummus for my cookbook project. I had read some success stories in swapping out the more pricey tahini for peanut butter, and so I gave it a whir, pairing it with the traditional lemon, garlic, cumin, and olive oil. The result was a really tasty dip, pretty similar to the traditional tahini version, but with a deep roasted peanut undertone that you would probably only be able to identify if you knew there was peanut butter in it.

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Although the original intent of this experiment was to make peanut butter a mere background ingredient, I decided that I really liked the distinct flavor it imparted. And then the wheels in my brain started turning… Why not set out to make a peanut flavored hummus? Better yet, why not make a Thai-inspired peanut hummus? Best yet, why not call it Thaimmus (rhyming with thymus—after all, this is a med students’ blog, and I’m a sucker for corny names)?

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The next day, I got to work. I laid out all of the ingredients I use to make peanut sauce: fresh ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and garlic, and whirred it together with a can of chickpeas, two big spoonfuls of peanut butter, a handful of scallions, and some olive oil.

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It was love at first bite. All the sweet and spicy joys of peanut sauce + the substantialness and relative healthfulness of hummus = what might be one of my new favorite foods. Those I’ve shared it with have given it a thumbs up as well, a happy relief when creating something a bit out of the ordinary. Thus far I’ve eaten it on rice crackers, cucumbers, carrots, apple slices, straight from a spoon, and today for lunch on toast with avocado, grated carrot and cucumber (<– front-runner for the best rendition). There’s not much remaining, but I’m already looking forward to finding a new way to enjoy the last bits tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy this Thai twist on hummus!

Thaimmus (aka Thai Peanut Hummus)

1 15 oz can chickpeas

1 tsp sriracha

2 tsp minced ginger

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tbsp scallions

2 tbsp peanut butter

3 tbsp olive oil

2 limes, juiced

1 ½ tsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

Blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth, adding extra lime juice or olive oil until it reaches your desired texture (the measurements above make a pretty thick dip). Serve with crackers, cucumber slices, carrots, or whatever your heart desires. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

minisummer

Right now we’re in the midst of a strange but wonderful time of med school. Post-boards and pre-third year clinical rotations, we have a month-long research block to work on independent projects and also to recharge and refresh ourselves for what is touted to be the most rewarding, yet most grueling year of med school. During this time, I’m working on a project on healthy cooking and nutrition and having a great time doing it. I’m also embracing the weekends and evenings to enjoy exploring the city and spending time with friends before the marathon that is the third year of med school begins.

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In the spirit of this mini summer, last night we pretended the rain and wind weren’t whipping around us and enjoyed a very summery meal. My friend Camil expertly whipped up a batch of these amazing strawberry basil drinks and cooked up a delicious meal of carnitas tacos with all of the fixings. I was on dessert duty and thought that something citrusy and berry-filled would be fun and festive.

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The combo of blackberry and lime struck me as a good one, and I came upon a recipe for blackberry lime bars. A buttery graham cracker crust is topped with a simple filling of sweetened condensed milk and eggs spiked with fresh lime juice and zest and folded around big juicy blackberries. It took less than an hour to put together and was incredibly good, complete with all the components of a decadent key lime pie, but lighter in size and bursting with a healthy dose of fresh fruit, which was perfect after our delicious Mexican feast. I can definitely imagine many other berry and citrus combos working beautifully here, like blueberry & lemon or grapefruit & raspberry. Add this to your summer dessert repertoire immediately!

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Blackberry Lime Bars

adapted from Sweet Basil

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

6 tbsp butter, melted

¼ cup sugar

dash of salt

14 oz sweetened condensed milk

2 egg yolks

zest of 2 limes

½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 pint fresh blackberries

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a square baking pan (9×9 or 8×8). Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt and press into the bottom of the pan, distributing the mixture evenly. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together condensed milk and egg yolks in a large bowl. Add lime zest and juice. Fold in fresh blackberries. Pour filling mixture over crust and bake for another 12-15 minutes, until set. Allow to cool in the pan on a rack to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.