Eat Good Food

Recipe: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

This soup has an irresistible, slightly smoky quality; the flavors are deep and earthy with some sweetness from the potatoes.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups peeled and diced sweet potato, 1/4 inch diced
3 cups cooked black beans
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 cups vegetable stock, depending on how thick you want your soup

Heat olive oil in a large clay bean pot (or heavy dutch oven) over medium heat. Add onions, a pinch of salt and stir for 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add sweet potato, black beans, and all the spices. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

Add stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are cooked through.

Let soup cool and then blend the remaining soup together using an immersion blender. Heat soup when ready to serve with your favorite garnishes: cilantro, red onion, avocado, tortilla strips, salsa, etc.

Grow Your Own

Planting Citrus Trees

Planting citrus is a favorite for backyard farmers, particularly in California where growing conditions produce flavorful fruit – and lots of it. With glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant spring flowers, citrus trees are a handsome addition to any edible landscape.

March and April are ideal months for planting citrus. Here are some tips on establishing and caring for new citrus trees.

Preparing 

  • Choose a sunny, frost and wind-free site – southern exposure is best. Warm microclimates are created by reflected heat from walkways or houses. Avoid planting in lawns that get frequent shallow watering.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is in and one-and-a-half times its depth. To check drainage, flood the hole with water. The following day, refill the hole with water. Drainage is OK if water drops two inches in two hours. If drainage is poor, plant in a raised bed or container.

Planting

  • To plant your tree, tap the side of the citrus tree’s pot to loosen the roots. Gently remove it from the pot and stand it in a bucket of water. It’s best to do this about an hour before you plant it to allow the roots to get a thorough soaking.
  • Begin filling the hole with native soil until you are about the depth of the pot minus 2 inches.
  • Premix the remaining native soil with about one-third organic matter such as compost (and sand if your soil is heavy clay) in a pile or wheelbarrow. You can also add a small amount of manure or blood and bone meal but not too much as there is a risk of burning the roots.
  • Remove the tree from the bucket, tease out its roots with your fingers, and place it in the hole so that the top section sits about 2 inches above the level of the ground, planting the root ball high for future settling.
  • Fill the rest of the hole with the soil/compost/sand mixture to ground level.
  • Use the remaining soil mix to build a several inch-high, circular irrigation berm around the root ball. Make this watering berm or basin no larger than the root ball, or irrigations may wet the soil around the plant but not the root ball. Expand the area as the tree grows.
  • Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of each citrus tree to help hold in moisture, regulate the soil temperature, and prevent weed germination and growth. To lessen the threat of root rot, spread the organic mulch at least 6 to 12 inches away from the citrus tree’s trunk. This prevents excessive moisture retention around the roots and allows for proper air circulation.

Watering

  • Citrus don’t like “wet feet,” but it’s important for the first 12 to 18 months to keep new citrus watered. Don’t drown them, but water as often as necessary to keep the root ball moist. This may mean watering every three or four days at first.
  • As the tree grows, explore the soil with a screwdriver or soil probe to make sure the whole root ball is getting watered. Lengthen the time between irrigations after about nine months to every seven to 14 days. After 18 months, deeply water tree every 10 to 12 days, or as seldom as once or twice a month.
  • Begin fertilizing right away with compost tea or applications of liquid manure or fish emulsion. Citrus trees are shallow rooted, so try not to cultivate the ground under the tree and don’t plant any ground cover near it. Maintain your mulch.
  • More prolific with age, producing better-tasting fruit with maturity, citrus trees reward careful planting, watering, and fertilizing.

Here’s to a great start for your trees!

Eat Good Food

Stocking the Winter Pantry

As the seasons change, so does our hunger — and so does our cooking. During the colder months, we like to stock our pantry with items that help to create the comforting dishes that winter harkens: warming spice blends to enhance winter stews and soups; freshly milled polenta to pair with roasted root vegetables, hearty beans, or braised greens; new extra virgin olive oil, “olio nuovo”, perfect for dressing winter salads; and other ingredients and flavorings to enhance your winter cooking.

Read on for ideas on getting the most out of your winter cooking.

BEVERAGES
Cozy up with these delicious cold-weather beverages.            

Hot chocolate: One of the great pleasures in winter is warming up with a cup of rich hot chocolate. David Lebowitz’s recipe for Parisian chocolate is just perfect!

Parisian Hot Chocolate

2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar                                                                                     

Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot. For a thick hot chocolate, cook at a very low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Be careful and keep an eye on the mixture, as it may boil up a bit during the first moments. Taste, and add brown sugar if desired.   Serve warm in small demitasse or coffee cups.

Chai: Originating in India, masala chai with its blend of spices and hot milk is a delicious and warming beverage for winter. Traditional recipes vary, but chai starts out with a base of strong black tea simmered together with milk, sugar, and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and cloves.

Turmeric spice tea: A delicious turmeric blend that captures the anti-inflammatory health benefits of turmeric as well as the delicious and complex qualities of ginger and citrus. Perfect for soothing frayed nerves and warming your belly.

CANNED FOODS
In winter when you want to put together a good meal, even a great one, there are a couple of canned staples to have on hand.

  • Canned fish: 
Oil-packed tuna, sardines, and anchovies
 are packed with omega-3s and add protein and depth of flavor to pasta, salads, marinades, and sauteed vegetables.
  • Canned tomatoes: Whether you “put up” your own garden tomatoes or stock up on good quality commercially canned tomatoes, this pantry staple can be the basis of many a good meal.
  • Tomato paste: Try it in a tube, not a can, for better quality and quantity control as most recipes call for just a tablespoon or two.

GRAINS
Grains are an important part of our diet and a vital food source. In the New Year, when many of us resolve to eat more healthily, adding a few whole grains — good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner — will aid in your aspirations.

  • Barley is a versatile, easy-to-cook grain. It is commonly available in two versions: pearl or whole grain. As with most grains, barley often undergoes a milling process that strips the grain of various layers, altering the nutrition content. The softer, more processed of the two styles, pearl barley releases its starch into water as it cooks, which makes it a wonderful ingredient to add to soups and stews to thicken. Boiled in plenty of water, pearl barley can cook in 15-25 minutes. Whole grain or “pot” barley leaves the outer husk intact, resulting in a healthier grain, with a more wholesome flavor and toothsome texture. Cooked, it retains its shape much better than pearl, and can be used as an alternative to wheat grains or spelt. Boiled in plenty of water, pot barley will cook in approximately 40 minutes.
  • Brown rice is one of the most delicious and versatile staples of our pantry. It is sweet, nutty, and can be cooked al dente. To make a large batch, you first rinse the rice in cold water, then simply cook it as you would dried pasta, until it reaches the desired level of tenderness, somewhere between 25-40 minutes. Once cooked and drained in a colander, spread the rice on a large tray, allowing it to cool. Prepared this way, cooked rice will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, ready to use in a variety of ways for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Polenta is cornmeal simmered in water or broth to create a thick, porridge-like mixture. A healthful alternative to other side dishes, polenta is incredibly versatile as it can be baked, grilled, fried, or served creamy. To get the most nutritious polenta, consider buying cornmeal that is stone ground. The stone ground process allows more of the nutrients to be retained. At SHED we offer Red Flint stoneground polenta, an exceptionally tasty heirloom variety. Here’s how to make it.

LEGUMES                                                                                                                                                                                                      As winter beckons, we hanker for earthy, comforting, and filling legumes such as peas, lentils, and beans. From vegetarian dal to a Southern classic with a bit of ham hock, here are some legumes that will keep you warm and satisfied.

  • Black-eyed peas: In the Southern United States, eating black-eyed peas or Hoppin’ John (a traditional soul food) on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity in the new year. Here’s how we like to cook it.
  • Lentils: In Indian cuisine, flavorful and comforting dal (lentil stew) is an absolute basic and one of the most complete, nutrient-rich meals around. For more on making dals, here’s a useful guide from Saveur.
  • Split peas: What beats a thick split pea soup, redolent of smoked ham and caramelized onions, on a bleak winter day?
  • White beans: Whether cannellini or great northerns, white bean stews and soups are the ultimate coziness in a bowl, and pair well with winter produce (such as kale, spinach, squash, and wild mushrooms), Italian sausage, and even stale bread (ribolitta).

OILS
We keep a variety of oils, including a good everyday extra virgin olive oil, as well as others in our pantry. Here are a few special oils that complement the foods and flavors of winter.

  • Ghee: In India, clarified butter, called ghee, is essential to everyday cooking; Indians enrich stews and braised dishes with it, spread it on flat breads, and even use it as a healing salve and in religious ceremonies. You can buy jars of ghee, though it’s easy to make at home. Either way, store ghee in the refrigerator and use it as you would butter for omelettes, sautéed onions, and roast chicken. You’ll find your food browns more evenly, and that clarified butter gives off a splendid caramel aroma.
  • Olio Nuovo: A seasonal treat, olio nuovo is an unfiltered “new oil” that goes straight from the mill to the bottle, and is available for just a few months each year — typically from December through February. Its ephemeral charms are best showcased when used as a finishing oil — drizzled over sautéed greens, winter salads, soups, pastas, or polenta.
  • Walnut oil: Rich and fragrant, walnut oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and a delicious treat, perfect for drizzling on bitter salads, creamy risottos, and roasted root vegetables. Like all nut oils, buy it in small quantities and keep refrigerated.

PRESERVES AND PICKLES
Winter is a perfect time to bring out some of your own homegrown and preserved foods from warmer days. If not your own, jams, pickles, and candied fruit from artisan producers all have a place at the winter table. Some of our favorites from the SHED kitchen include Meyer lemon marmelade pomegranate jampickled shiitake mushrooms,

DRIED FRUITS AND NUTS

  • Dried fruits can elevate a simple dish by adding natural sweetness and a pleasant bite when fresh seasonal fruits are scarce. Try apricots, prunes, and cranberries in savory dishes such as wild rice, pilafs, stuffings, stews and tagines. Dates, raisins, candied citrus, and cherries are delicious incorporated into porridge, puddings, breads, and cakes. Membrillo, the Spanish quince paste, or hoshigaki, Japanese dried persimmons, are gorgeous for a cheese course as are dried cherries, figs, and dates.
  • Nuts: Nuts are a versatile ingredient that add flavor and texture to dishes both savory and sweet.
    • Pecans are prevalent in Southern cooking, most popularly in sticky-sweet pecan pies, but pecans are great for dishes besides dessert — you can mix them with roasted vegetables, top a sweet potato gratin, or put some crunch in a green salad. Spiced pecans (we like vadouvan) can be served with ice cream, with fruit desserts, or on a cheese plate.
    • Walnuts turn rancid quickly, so shell them only as you use them. Walnuts are delicious freshly cracked after dinner with cheese, pears, apples, and a glass of port.
    • Hazelnuts (also called filberts) are delicious ground in pastries, tortes, tarts, and ice cream. Add chopped hazelnuts to kale salads, pastas, roasted brussel sprouts with bacon, and wintery pestos. To remove hazelnut skins, roast them, put them in a towel, and then vigorously rub them together. The loosened skin will shake right off.

Because of their naturally high fat content, nuts and seeds can quickly go rancid. For this reason, store them in a dark cool place, or the refrigerator, and buy in small amounts.

SAVORY CONDIMENTS     

  • Dried mushrooms
: The fresh season for wild mushrooms is brief, but dried mushrooms are a convenient way to enjoy them whenever you please! Dried chanterelles are ideal for infusing flavor into soups, stews, stocks, and sauces. A small amount of dried morels rehydrated, sautéed, and incorporated into a sauce brings intense flavor to steaks, chops, or pasta. Rich in flavor, dried porcinis are ready to be added to everything, from endless pasta sauces to broths and risottos.           
  • Truffle salt: Sprinkle a dash of this black truffle-infused sea salt over any dish to add the robust, earthy flavor of black truffles. Great on everything from eggs to roasted vegetables, french fries to steak.  
  • Pine cone bud syrup: Made from pine cone buds macerated in water and sugar, this syrup is cooked over low fire until thick and golden brown. Drizzle over a pork roast or grilled chicken or very ripe cheeses. It is also wonderful on gelato, panna cotta, yogurt and roasted fruit, or as a substitute for maple syrup for a new flavor. You might even like to add a dash to a martini.

SPICES
Here are some spice blends that play well with winter foods such as roasted meats, stews, and soups; and a variety of spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves, that offer cold- and flu-fighting properties as well as warming flavor.

Recipe: Garam masala
If you make yours this way, starting with whole seeds which you toast and grind yourself, your garam masala will be much more fragrant and flavorful than anything you buy in a jar at the store.

3 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp cardamom seeds
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 whole cinnamon stick

Place everything but the nutmeg in a dry skillet and toast for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time to keep everything cooking evenly. When the ingredients have darkened slightly and give off a rich, toasty aroma, remove them from the pan and let them cool.

  • Quatre Spices: A classic French spice blend popular in charcuterie and one-pot slow-cooked stews and casseroles. Allspice, a gorgeous combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, is key here, with nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
  • Ras el Hanout: From North Africa, Ras el Hanout is a medley of many spices — paprika, cumin, ginger, ceylon, cinnamon, cassia, turmeric, grains of paradise, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and cayenne. Commonly associated with Moroccan cuisine, the name in Arabic translates to “head of the shop,” and literally refers to the best spices the store has to offer. Complex and aromatic, this spice blend is traditionally used as a seasoning in meat and vegetable tagines and couscous dishes. Here are a few other ideas to inspire your cooking:
    • Sprinkle on roasted carrots or squash sweetened with honey or dates
    • Mix with softened butter or sour cream as a topping for fish
    • Use as spice rub for beef, lamb, and chicken
    • Flavor lentil and chickpea soups and stews
    • Toss with fresh popcorn for a savory snack

Spices’ flavors come from their volatile oils, which dissipate in time as they are exposed to air. All spices should be stored in airtight containers away from extremes of light, heat, and humidity.

Whenever possible, buy small quantities and grind your own whole spices to ensure fresh flavor.

Happy cooking this winter! With a well-stocked pantry, dinner becomes easier and more interesting.

Grow Your Own

Protecting Citrus Trees from Frost

protecting citrus trees from frost

Protecting citrus trees from frost helps to guarantee your annual crop. It doesn’t take long and is so worth the effort!

Here is our shortlist of important things to keep in mind:

  • New citrus trees should be planted in the early spring to allow for root development before summer heat.
  • Plants exposed in open areas to winds, especially in low areas of the garden, are most likely to suffer frost damage first, as cold air accumulates in such pockets. For protection, consider planting citrus trees near walls and fences, which trap and radiate heat.
  • Before an expected frost, water trees well, but don’t get the leaves or trunk wet as they are most vulnerable. Keep the ground as clear as possible of weeds or mulch to allow for more heat to be retained from daylight sun.
  • Protect young tree trunks with cardboard, wrapped tightly around the trunk just before nightfall, from the lowermost branches to the soil. Also consider covering trees with breathable, water permeable frost blankets for the night, and remove during the day.
  • When frost hits, ice crystals form inside the plant cells, disrupting the flow of fluids, causing cells to break down.

Overall, when temperatures fall to 29°F for 30 minutes or longer, some frost damage to tender citrus plants will occur. Certain citrus  – citron, lemon, lime, and Satsuma mandarins among them — are more sensitive than others.

  • As applicable, remove frost-damaged fruit with cracked skin immediately to prevent fungus and mold spreading throughout the tree. (Yellowing leaves in winter are common, and may be a sign of over- or under-watering.)
  • Wait to prune damaged branches until spring, to allow for further analysis and recovery in warmer weather. Remember to clean pruning tools to avoid the spread of disease.

Want more? Here’s our guide to California winter citrus.

Eat Good Food

Bitter the Better: Winter Greens

bitter winter greens

Bitter winter greens are abundant right now, and — rich in vitamins and deep with taste — they are a delicious way to keep eating fresh salads through the long winter months. While bitterness can signal potentially dangerous chemicals in unfamiliar foods, it also brings complexity and balance to dishes when produced by plants we know are safe to eat.

Some of our favorite bitter lettuces are in the chicory family, a wide and varied group that varies in color, shape, and taste from mild to intensely bitter.

As a cool weather crop, chicories are a great choice for fall and winter salads, and combine well with rich ingredients such as sharp cheeses, nuts, and fruits. Their bite and texture stand up well to a strong dressing, such as the traditional Italian preparation that pairs them with with anchovies, garlic, and lemon juice. Adding vinegar or lemon juice helps cut the bitterness of harsh chicories.

Chicories are also delicious roasted, grilled, or seared.

Cichorium endivia, or endive, includes both curly and broad-leafed varieties. Curly endive can be aggressively bitter, which can be mellowed by cooking and mixing in a salad with other greens like frisée.

The blanched heart of curly endive is known as frisée. It’s softer and best eaten raw in a salad, dressed with a warm vinaigrette. Once washed and spun dry, the leaves will last for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Escarole has flat, broad, green leaves with firm, white stems. The inner leaves are less bitter while the outer leaves can be shredded to add a hint of bitterness to soups or stews. Seared or wilted escarole is a perfect base for a fried egg.

Perhaps due to its red color, radicchio is the most easily recognized of the chicory family. A handful of types of radicchio have protected geographic indication (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or IGP) of where they are grown in Italy, to guarantee their origin of production.

Of the four varieties of radicchio, Chioggia is the most commonly known in the U.S., round in shape and resembling a red cabbage. While it can keep well for days in the refrigerator, it begs to be served fresh from the garden in salads with apple or fennel. You can also grill radicchio with olive oil, salt, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a tasty side dish.

Puntarella, also known as asparagus chicory, are the inner stalks of the Catalonian chicory. Not widely available in the U.S., it is a staple in Roman cuisine during the winter months. For a substitute closer to home, try Belgian endive with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and anchovies.

Eat Good Food

Northern California Winter Citrus Guide

California winter citrus

Wet and muddy, iced-over and slushy, even California’s grayest winters are bejeweled with citrus.

From blood oranges to Buddha’s hand, winter in California brings an abundance to our tables.

Before the advent of human migration and trade, citrus was originally a genus made up only of three plants: the mandarin, the pomelo, and the citron. These three trees cross-pollinated over time to bring us hybrids such as grapefruits, lemons, and oranges.

A few notes on cultivating citrus: While frost is not likely to kill a healthy, mature citrus tree, it can damage trees when temperatures drop below 29°F for longer than 30 minutes.

To care for your trees against frost, wrap the trunks in several layers of cardboard and leave until the last frost in your region, leaving pruning until early spring.

In the meantime, here is a guide to some citrus that grow closer to home here in Northern California.

Buddha’s Hand
The Buddha’s hand is an aromatic citrus fruit that is all peel and pith. Considered a symbol of good fortune, it is a popular New Year’s gift in China and Japan. When shopping for Buddha’s hand, look for bright, firm fruits with smooth skin and avoid any with bruises. Store at room temperature, in a single layer on a plate, for three to four days.

For a savory, aromatic snack, Michelle McKenzie’s Dandelion & Quince offers a recipe for marinating olives with olive oil, cracked fennel seed, shaved Buddha’s hand, and chile de arbol. For something sweet, try candying the rind in sugar syrup and dipping in dark chocolate.

Buddha’s hand can also be used to infuse spirits. Kevin West’s Saving the Season suggests cutting the “fingers” away from the base of Buddha’s hand, splitting them lengthwise, and then pushing the citron pieces into a bottle of vodka, allowing to sit for one week before adding to a martini or other cocktail.

Meyer Lemon
Introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the early 1900s, the Meyer lemon is a hybrid between a lemon and an orange, most likely of the mandarin variety. As a result of the hybridization, they have lower acidity and thinner skin than lemons.

Satsuma Mandarins
Available early in the citrus season, Satsuma mandarins are sweet, seedless, and easy to peel. As the growing season continues, colder nights trigger natural color production in the fruit, so fruit later in the season is darker.

Navel Orange
The quintessential orange, navel oranges grown in California tend to produce thicker-skinned, more brightly colored fruit. As they are grown by grafting, navel oranges are all direct descendants of the same tree.

Cara Cara Navel
Cara Cara is a variety of navel orange with pink flesh that is sweet and juicy like the navel, but less acidic.

Blood Orange
Similar to red cabbages and red grapes, the color in blood oranges come from anthocyanins in the flesh of the fruit. Italy and California are the top producers of blood oranges, as the color develops with cooler temperatures at night.

Palestine Lime (Sweet Lime)

Easily mistaken for lemons because of their yellow color, sweet limes are commonly used in India to sooth sore throats. With less acid than regular limes, Palestine limes can also be sliced and added to water instead of lemon, or just eaten as is.

Yuzu
A cross between a mandarin and a papeda (a subgenus of Citrus), with a flavor somewhere between a lemon and a grapefruit, yuzus are about the size of mandarins but with yellowish-green dimpled skin and large inedible seeds. This Japanese fruit is the basis of ponzu sauce, and it’s mild sourness adds a bright note to marinades and salad dressings.