market day

Greetings from my first Saturday off since third year began! It’s a beautiful, hot, and sunshiney summer day here—one that lent itself perfectly to spending the morning at the 61st Street Farmers Market.

This wonderful farmers market is a short walk from home and boasts a bounty of ripe fruits and vegetables from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as delectable homemade pastries, breads, jams, and more. I hadn’t been able to go the market since the beginning of June, and it was just incredible to see how the slim pickings of early summer have given way to a plethora of berries, zucchini, peaches, apricots, and cherries.

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Today, I came to the market as more than an eager shopper. I had the great opportunity to be the chef behind the market’s weekly cooking demo. In May, while working on my project about healthy cooking in the community, I learned about the chef demos at the farmers market and thought it would be a neat way to build further connections with community members through cooking. I was unsure whether they’d allow an amateur chef like myself to lead a demo, but I was always taught that it never hurts to ask, and lo and behold, they gave me a slot.

IMG_2014I thought long and hard about what the ideal recipe for the demo would be. I anticipated that by mid-July the weather would be sweltering, people (including myself) would want as little to do with a hot stove or oven as possible, and most importantly, that peaches would just be beginning to ripen. With that in mind, I settled on making Peach and Black Bean Salsa, a take on my family’s beloved mango salsa recipe that embraces the sweet peaches that grace the Midwest in the summer.

photo (2)I had an absolute blast cooking for an audience of people, young and old, expert cooks and cooking novices, who each brought great conversation, energy, and most importantly, willing palates to the demo tent. After spending my last few weekends in the hospital, it was a refreshing change of pace to be out in the community, cooking for people and with people, and celebrating health and wellness in a delicious way.

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Peach and Black Bean Salsa

4 peaches, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

½ medium red onion, finely diced

2 scallions, finely sliced (green parts only)

1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Juice of 4 limes

2 tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp ground cumin

Salt to taste (about 1-2 tsp)

Mix all ingredients together. Allow salsa to sit covered in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld.

It’s great served alongside grilled chicken or fish, or scooped up with vegetable sticks or chips.

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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.

deconstructed dolmades

Almost every week this winter, I’ve make some sort of dinner dish that includes a combination of beans, greens, and grains. It’s a hearty, healthy, and student budget-friendly meal. But after making one too many iterations of stewed beans in tomato or curry-based sauces, I was feeling in a rut. Thus, a new dish was born. Inspired by a technique of pan-frying beans that I had recently read about and a steadfast love for Middle Eastern flavors, I paired together garbanzos, caramelized onions, spinach, lemon, za’atar, and brown rice.
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It was love at first bite. I gobbled up a bowl for dinner, reveling in the zing of the lemon, the earthiness of the za’atar, and way that the garbanzos had a crispy bite, yet a soft and creamy interior. The caramelized onions added a rich sweetness, the rice a bit of heft, and the spinach a healthy dose of vitamins.
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I was going to clumsily dub this “Lemony Greens & Beans Rice with Za’atar” until Kate had an aha moment while eating some of this dish tonight. “In the best of ways,” she said, “this tastes just like deconstructed dolmades.” She was precisely on point. The spinach had wilted down in such a way that it resembled the texture of a grape leaf, and the ingredients were pretty much identical to what one might stuff inside of grape leaves, or dolmades. For a non-vegetarian version, you could add in some sauteed ground beef, lamb, or turkey. And for an extra special touch, a drizzle of tahini made this delicious dish even better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken free from my greens and beans rut. I’m looking forward to seeking out more de- and re-constructions of dishes in the future.
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Deconstructed Dolmades

1 medium onion
4 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz can garbanzos, drained
10 oz spinach leaves, torn or chopped into smaller pieces
2 generous tbsp za’atar
2 lemons
1-1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Slice onion thinly and add to olive oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes, until golden and caramelized. Remove onions from pan. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan over high heat. Add drained garbanzo beans to pan and arrange in a single layer. Allow beans to cook undisturbed for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on bottom. Toss the pan or give them a good stir to rearrange them and allow them to cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes. Add spinach, onions, za’atar, and zest and juice of two lemons and allow to cook until spinach wilts down, about 5 minutes. Toss in cooked rice and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

you get what you get

As I watched thousands of disgruntled Braves fans hurl trash at the umpires l during the crazy wild card play-in game on Friday night, I couldn’t help but think, “Sheesh, I kinda understand how that ump feels.” This week the universe has leveled a few souvenir pop cups and hot dog wrappers right at my head. I’ve been cramming nonstop to memorize an impossibly long list of pharmaceuticals and brain structures, I can’t reliably see out of my right eye, and I have discovered (over the course of three trips to the pharmacy in the last 36 hours) that the employees of the 55th Street Walgreens have made it their mission to make me as miserable and disgruntled as possible. I don’t want to scare you away with my whining, but I like to think that all of this would be enough to make anybody crabby.

As I try to dodge this debris and keep my whining to a relative minimum, I think about a favorite response to this kind of self-pity in my family’s vernacular:”you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

Pretty much every time I get an unfair call from whoever/whatever is calling the cosmic balls and strikes of life, my instinct is to throw the kind of fit that would get me a 3-game suspension and an unflattering clip on SportsCenter.  Step two: remind myself that you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Step three: throw a tiny fit but make it short and then start planning what kind of comfort food you’re going to make for dinner.

This mujadarra calmed me down from the verge of fit-throwing on more than one occasion this week. How could copious amounts of caramelized onions AND carbs not be anti-anxiety? It manages to be incredibly simple but not at all boring and its only ingredients are things that always have in my pantry: onions, lentils, and rice. It also allows me to burn things on purpose, a well documented source of joy for me and a damn good stress relieving technique. I highly suggest adding it to your comfort food repertoire. Or your “it’s Wednesday night and I have nothing in my fridge and I really shouldn’t order takeout again” repertoire. A few bites of mujadarra and you’ll be feeling like life pitched you a hanging curveball instead of a beer can doubling as a projectile missile.

Mujadarra

2 T butter

2 T olive oil

6 c onions (don’t skimp!), halved and thinly sliced

1 c jasmine rice

1 c green lentils or French lentils, rinsed and picked over

1 t salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put lentils, 1/2 t salt, and 4 c water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile*, cook the rice. Add rice, 1/2 t salt, and 1 1/2 c water to a heavy, oven-proof pot. Bring to a boil. When rice begins to boil, cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for exactly 17 minutes. Yep, I doubted this technique too, but it worked like a charm for me. And I’m sort of inept at cooking rice, so I’ll take any zanily successful techniques I can find.

Meanwhile, cook the onions. Melt butter with 1 T olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and toss to coat. Cook over medium low- slow and steady is important here – for about 5 minutes or until the onions start releasing juices. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and a deep golden brown. This took about 20 minutes for me. Add the last tablespoon of olive oil and turn the heat to high. Cook 3-4 more minutes until the bottom layer of onions starts to get very crispy/burnt. Try not to stir too much or they won’t get crisp.

Combine rice, lentils, and onions and let sit for at least 15 minutes to marry the flavors. It gets better the longer it sits (mmmmm leftovers for lunch!) Yes, it’s really that simple. Serve with greek yogurt, and chopped onions and tomatoes.

*A note on the “meanwhiles”…if “multitask” is your middle name then 1) hey, we share a middle name! That’s cool! and 2) you can cook the lentils, rice, and onions pretty much simultaneously. If you prefer to cook at a more leisurely pace or are terrified of having 3 burners plus the oven going at once, feel free to take one step at a time.

grocery store gushing

I have had a lifelong love affair with grocery stores. Proof:
– I cried when I had to leave my preschool field trip to the grocery store early because I missed the part where the bakery was going to make frosting rosettes for each of us.
– I thought still think it would be awesome to have a sleepover in a grocery store.
– I thought that “Publix” (our grocery store in Florida) and “public” were synonymous until I was about five. In my mind, there was no more important public/x forum.
– One of my favorite parts of the newspaper to read in high school were the grocery store circulars.
– I have been known to use a spare half hour or hour to wander aimlessly—and often sample my way—through grocery stores.
– I wrote my college Writing I course research paper on controversies surrounding Whole Foods.
– The day I moved to Chicago, after a full day of flying and acquiring furniture, I made it a priority to visit all three grocery stores in my neighborhood.
– Kate and I made a grocery store tour video for the first year medical students.
I find grocery stores to be a fascinating representation of the neighborhood in which they reside. Each reveals something about the people who shop there and about the culture of the area. In food deserts, the paucity of fruits and vegetables and predominance of packaged chips and cookies highlights health disparities. In contrast, the glistening array of all manners of produce that shine brightly in higher-end stores speaks to the access its shoppers have to bountiful, healthy food choices. In Latin grocery stores in Miami, the pastry counter teems with croquetas, pastelitos, and empanadas, greeting its shoppers with familiar flavors of home.
One of my most recent grocery escapades was to Patel Brothers, a South Asian grocery store in Chicago’s Devon neighborhood. The shelves were stacked from floor to ceiling with every type of spice, sugar, dried fruit, flour, bean, and grain imaginable. There were fruits and vegetables I had never seen before (banana flowers!?). It was amazingly overwhelming. Although time constraints didn’t allow me the luxury of being there for hours (trust me, I could have spent all day there), I did manage to score some great items. I used two of my purchases—mango ginger chutney and garam masala—in this sweet and spicy chickpea concoction. Like the greens and beans recipe Kate recently posted, this one is similarly fast to put together, but the leftovers made for three days of comforting meals after busy schooldays when galavanting around grocery stores is just a distant dream.
 
Curried Chutney Chickpeas 
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1/3 cup mango ginger chutney (could also use another flavor of chutney or preserves you have on hand, such as apricot)
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Generous squirt of sriracha or other hot sauce
1 bunch of kale, chopped (or other leafy green)
Salt to taste
Roasted cashews or sliced toasted almonds, for serving (optional)
Heat olive oil on medium high hit in a large skillet. Saute onion for 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add orange zest, curry powder, garam masala, and chutney and stir until combined. Allow mixture to cook for another minute for the spices to incorporate. Add tomato sauce and sriracha and stir to incorporate. Add kale and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes, until kale is wilted but still slightly tender. Add salt to taste. Serve atop grains (rice, couscous, quinoa) or with a sweet potato (my favorite!) and sprinkle with cashews or almonds.

mirepoix magnificent

I love good words almost as I love good food. Almost. The best thing is when delicious things have delicious names and that is exactly the case with mirepoix. In the Official English Dictionary of Kate-isms (the good old OEDK), “mirepoix” is what you say when you cast a little spell over a pan of wholly mundane ingredients and turn them into something scrumptious. I think it was the favorite spell of Hermione’s foodie roommate (oh you don’t remember her? I think she’s in the eighth book…)Image

The real life definition of mirepoix isn’t that far from the OEDK definition. You take some humble carrots, celery, and onions, you chop the bejeezus out of them, and you have a mirepoix. Saute in butter, deglaze with white whine, et mirepoix! … you’re on your way to all things bright and beautiful.

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Specifically – if you’re cooking with me – you’re most likely on your way to this stew. Its heart and soul is mirepoix, its substance is white beans and greens, and it is a heavy hitter in my line-up of satisfying cold-weather meals. To the surprise of no one who cooks or eats with me often, I usually double or triple the amount of tomatoes in the recipe. The solid base of flavors contributed by the mirepoix withstands tinkering with the ratios of the other ingredients. I’m partial to the slight crunch of kale in this dish, but I sometimes use chard or spinach in its stead.

White Bean Stew

1 large bunch of kale- cleaned, removed from stems, and chopped into large pieces (substitute spinach or chard if desired)

2 T olive oil

1 c chopped carrots

1 c chopped celery

1 c chopped shallots (substitute onions if desired)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup dry white wine (I use cheap vermouth)

2 15 oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 c water and a square of veggie bullion)

1 c crushed tomatoes (I often double or triple this)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Several sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 t dried thyme

Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. Add the kale or chard (if using spinach, skip this step) and cook for just one minute. Drain and squeeze the water out of the greens. Set aside.

Dry out the pot, add oil, and heat over a medium-high flame. Add the mirepoix and garlic and cook for several minutes until everything is soft and the shallots are beginning to brown. Add the wine and cook until liquid is reduced by 3/4. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. You can simmer on low as long as you want- the flavors will only improve. Add the greens and cook 5 more minutes. Add more broth if you like a thinner stew. Serve with crusty bread and parmesan cheese.

drunken & smokey

Who knew black beans could be so scandalous?

I feel kinda blasphemous for concocting this recipe. Amongst my family, black beans are a sacred food, and Abuela Miriam’s Cuban beans sit atop the highest altar. Every Christmas Eve for our Nochebuena celebration, she spends the entire day making three enormous pressure-cooked pots of them. They are a tad bit tangy, slightly tweet, and utterly addictive. Unfailingly, it’s soupy pools of Abuela’s famous beans that dominate everyone’s plates and palates, out-competing a whole roasted pig, mountains of fried plantains, and mojo-laden yuca. I’ve had the privilege of learning the secrets of Abuela’s black beans while cooking alongside her. I really should try my hand at making them myself, but I just know that they will not have the same je ne sais quoi if made without her, so I’ve sheepishly strayed from any attempts at recreation.

Instead, I’ve gone rogue on my black bean roots and tried my hand at something wildly different from Abuela’s recipe. These black beans are doused in a bottle of beer, brightened with the zest of a whole orange, and infused with the sultry flavor of smoked paprika. Rather than serve them with rice, I piled them high into a sweet potato, which made the perfect vehicle for the spicy, citrusy beans. While nothing can compare to Abuela’s recipe, these beans were pretty darn tasty. I can only hope that I won’t be banished from my family for the bastardization of our beloved black beans.

Drunken & Smokey Black Beans (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp cumin

zest of an orange

2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed

8 oz. beer

1/4 cup tomato sauce

2 tsp sriracha

salt and pepper

lime wedges, for serving

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add smoked paprika, cumin, and orange zest and cook for another minute. Add black beans, beer, tomato sauce, sriracha, and a generous dose of salt and pepper. Allow beans to simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often.

They were delicious served atop a sweet potato with a squeeze of lime, but I’d imagine they would be great with rice or corn tortillas and with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.