21 Jun 2012
This is a bit of an odd post. It’s really less of a recipe and more of a template. It’s also what I eat for lunch nine days out of ten. These three foods make me so happy and give me so much energy. And they are delicious! I choose different variations every week (which reminds me of those tree diagrams from grade school–endless permutations!) and tote a healthy bowl full of bold flavors to work every day. The fact that eating healthfully makes you feel good, physically, is undisputed, but I relearned that lesson last week when, horror or horrors, I left my lunch at home and ended up scrounging whatever snack foods I could find. Man, was I dragging that day! I will never forget my lunch again!
I usually start this dish by deciding which grain to use. Lately I am in love with wheat berries. They have such a delightful almost crunchy texture, and I can’t get enough of it. My other favorites are farro, brown rice, red rice, and quinoa, but here again the possibilities are almost limitless. I cook the grains separately, using a Bittman type of approach. Boil 2 cups of water and then add 1 cup of grains and simmer until done. Sometimes I add a bit more water to be on the safe side (and you can always do this throughout the cooking process if needed); it’s easy to drain any excess water when the grains are done. Better that than scorching them!
Then I choose my beans. I keep a pretty wide variety of dried beans on hand–they are inexpensive and are the building blocks of many a vegetarian meal around here! This time I used white beans, which I love, but I also like trying new ones from time to time. Chickpeas would also work very well, if you like those. I cook all of my beans in my beloved Fagor Duo pressure cooker, which takes them from dried to done in about 25 minutes. Amazing! You could also soak dried beans overnight or use canned, if you have them on hand.
Once the beans and grains are cooking, I start sauteing the veggies in a skillet. A bit of olive oil and a chopped onion or shallot gets me started, and then I clip and toss in some herbs from our little garden–just a few springs of each. I have been using a lot of thyme and rosemary lately, mostly because the way they smell when they cook reminds of the way my grandmother’s house smelled when we went over for dinner: richly savory and almost smoked. Then I grab whatever veggies I have in the fridge–this week it was just carrots (time to go to the farmer’s market!), but I usually also include radishes and celery, if not red peppers too.
When things are coming along nicely, I throw in a generous handful of chopped parsley for an extra kick. I will tell you my thyme secret too: I don’t take the leaves off the stems before I throw them in the skillet: too much work! As the dish cooks, the leaves detach from the stems, and then you can easily pull the stems out when you’re done cooking.
When the veggies are softened, I throw in my chopped greens. This week I used kale (it was on sale!), but lately I have really been loving the subtle bitterness of mustard greens. Chard is another favorite, and I think dandelion greens would also be good here.
Finally, I add the beans and grains and leave the skillet on the heat just long enough to warm them through. You can season it with salt and pepper to taste, but my favorite thing is to top it with a respectable shaving of parmesan cheese. The cheese is actually salty enough that I don’t need to add anything more, and that’s just the way I like it. So, there is my lunch, at least one version of it! It took me such a long time to feel comfortable experimenting in the kitchen without using a recipe, and I’m so happy that this is one dish that I always feel comfortable tweaking. No matter what I do, it’s always good, and so very satisfying in the middle of a busy day. I would love to hear what your trusty templates or go-to lunch solutions are too!