Jamaica (Hibiscus Flower Tea)

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer: the past three weekends spent out of town, first with family, then with friends, then with strangers who became friends; two big work events that had me commuting to Malibu more times a week than should be legally allowed; and a new-ish bi-weekly recipe slot on The Kitchn, which is both a lot of fun and a lot of work.

That pretty much sums up this summer: both a lot of fun and a lot of work. But jamaica — jamaica is a lot of fun and almost no work, which is what I think summer should be.

Made with dried hibiscus flowers, jamaica is tart, refreshing and beautifully pink. It’s my go-to drink at taco stands, where it is usually ladled from giant jars into big styrofoam cups. The truth is, when I try a new taco stand I am usually hoping for two things, neither of them taco related: 1) that their pickled carrots and jalapenos are made in the style I like, and 2) that the jamaica is good.

There is one way to make bad jamaica and that is to add too much sugar.

This is just my opinion, of course, totally biased because I love tartness and can’t stand too-sweet drinks. Feel free to disagree; I just won’t be ordering any jamaica from your taco stand, sorry. (I’ll still try your pickled carrots though.)

The good news is that in addition to being a lot of fun and almost no work, jamaica is very easy to make as sweet or as tart as you like. It’s also high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, and may help lower blood pressure.

Plus it tastes good in a margarita or mixed with rum. I’m just saying.

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Vegetarian New Orleans-Style Red Beans & Rice

What, more beans?

Look, I warned you. I’m a bean girl. And to be fair, this bean dish was not chosen by me. It was chosen by a committee, an eight-member group better known as The Crawfish Boil Committee, who spend countless hours every year putting together a bang-up party and food-fest better known as The Annual Crawfish Boil. This year they needed a red beans and rice upgrade and I, being a bean girl, volunteered to tackle the project.

The mission: vegetarian red beans and rice for at least 150 people. The problem: I have never eaten authentic, New Orleans-style red beans and rice. The other problem: my kitchen is sized for 2-4 people, not 150 people. The final problem: it’s hard to make beans exciting when two feet away there is some guy in overalls dumping a giant vat of steaming-hot crawfish down a newspaper-covered table. It just is.

More exciting than beans.

But despite all the problems, I was happy with my final beans, which were based on a Gourmet recipe that had encouraging reviews. The cloves and allspice add an almost Middle-Eastern undertone, while the Tabasco and chipotle provide a little heat. The chipotle also adds some smokiness, my addition along with smoked paprika, to make up for the lack of smoked sausage. If you were making it for a smaller group, a little vegetarian sausage would probably be a nice addition. It wasn’t in the budget for my giant pot o’ beans, but the crowd still ate them up.

A special thanks goes to committee member Todd, who as far as I know has zero to less-than-zero interest in cooking, but had some strong recommendations for making vegetarian red beans better, namely green bell peppers and Worcestershire sauce. He was right.

Looking for more healthy vegetarian bean recipes? Here are a few favorites:

Middle Eastern Spiced Lentils & Kale with Caramelized Onions (Mujadarah)
Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanuts & Lime
Garlicky Chickpea & Arugula Salad

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Yield: 10 side servings

{ Ingredients }

1 pound dried small red beans, washed and picked over
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks (with leaves), chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups water
4 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (Annie's Naturals or other anchovy-free brand)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon Tabasco

{ Directions }

The night before, put the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water.

Preheat the oven to 225 °F and arrange the racks to accommodate the pot you'll be cooking the beans in.

Drain the soaked beans. In a 5-quart dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid, place the beans and all remaining ingredients except the salt and the Tabasco. Bring to a boil over high heat on the stove. Cover and place on the middle rack in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bake for another 30 minutes and add the second teaspoon of salt. Bite into a bean to test for doneness; if they are still hard, return the pot to the oven for another 30 minutes or more. (Depending on the freshness of the beans, they make take longer to cook.) When the beans are cooked through, add the Tabasco and more salt if needed. Remove the bay leaves and thyme and oregano stalks. Serve over plain rice.

Additional Notes:
• If making this recipe for 150 people, 12 pounds of beans is about right.
• This recipe can also be made in the slow cooker.* Cook the beans on HIGH for 3-4 hours. (Time again depends on the freshness of the beans.)
• The Tabasco is added at the end because acidity slows the softening of beans and I have a feeling my first couple batches took longer because I was adding it at the beginning.

*But not more than two pounds of beans at a time. Trust me.

Adapted from Gourmet

Friday Links: June 8, 2012

Lunch when I don’t feel like making lunch: smoked trout salad with Ak-Mak and celery. (Follow me on Instagram: anjaliruth.)


What I’ve been reading:

The Mulberry’s the Worst Berry There Ever Was! – Gilt Taste
The End of “Ethnic” Food - CHOW
Teeny Tiny Pig Overcomes His Fear of Stairs to Get to a Bowl of Delicious Oatmeal – Jezebel
Isn’t It Always About the Dress? – Skinny By Monday (My pal Jen just started this blog about her amazing weight loss journey with Weight Watchers, told with lots of humor and sass.)


What I’ve been cooking:

Or not cooking: a lot of simple salads made with sliced heirloom tomatoes and the first summer peaches, drizzled with California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil. Simple and good.

…and thinking about cooking:
Nobu’s Fried Asparagus with Miso Dressing – Food52
Socca & Leek “Tart” with Herbed Almond Spread – Love & Lemons

3 Ways Your Local Froyo Joint Is Trying to Fool You

I missed the whole Pinkberry thing. I was living in Japan when the popularity of frozen yogurt exploded, so by the time I moved back to LA, the backlash had already begun and everyone I knew hated it. When I finally got around to trying Pinkberry, I thought it was just…fine.

All of this is to say: I don’t go out for frozen yogurt very much.

I suspect it is because I see frozen yogurt for what it is — an occasional dessert — rather than what many people hope it is: a healthy habit. On the Master Dessert Spreadsheet I keep constantly updated in my brain, frozen yogurt ranks far below ice cream or sorbetto or milkshakes or many other frozen treats, no matter how many probiotics there are. I’ll get my Lactobacillus from kimchi or plain Greek yogurt, thanks.

So my ever-cynical eyes were open when I stopped by a local frozen yogurt spot with some friends last week. The place was packed, and all I could think besides Yum, coconut frozen yogurt was This is such a scam. Here’s why:

The Nutrition Information: At the Froyo Life shop I visited, each self-serve yogurt flavor had a nutritional information card next to it. At first glance, all the yogurts look remarkably low-calorie, clocking in around 22-25 calories per serving. Until you look at the serving size — one ounce. Five quarters weigh one ounce. A slice of bread weighs about one ounce. Would you ever serve yourself just one ounce of frozen yogurt? (And could you? Those machines spit the stuff out fast.) It would look ridiculous, especially in the big cups they give you, which brings me to…

The Cups: They are abnormally large. Rob filled up the smallest available cup to the brim with yogurt (I’m still not sure if this was an error in judgement or just his poor yogurt machine operating skills) and we calculated it to be about a pound of frozen yogurt. A pound of frozen yogurt.

Pinkberry’s cup sizes are similarly skewed. The nutrition info PDF on their website has slightly more realistic serving sizes, around 3.5 ounces or ½ cup per serving, but the only cup size that actually holds the equivalent of one serving is the Mini. The Small cup holds 1.4 servings and the Medium holds 2.3. If you get a Large, you are consuming 3.7 servings of frozen yogurt, or between 370-444 calories and 56-104 grams of sugar. That’s a lot of quarters and bread slices.

The Toppings: Frozen yogurt is not King Midas. Crumbled up Butterfingers and Oreo cookies do not transform into low-calorie, nutritious foods because they are touching yogurt. They make a fantastic DESSERT topping to your DESSERT of frozen yogurt, but they are not part of a healthy snack.

Sorry to the the Grinch of Froyo, but the veil of nutritiousness needs to be lifted. Frozen yogurt is a dessert — a low-fat, high-sugar dessert that tastes really good with a bunch of crumbled up candy bars and cookies on top of it. But then, what doesn’t?


(Image: ajcreencia/Flickr)

Garlicky Chickpea and Arugula Salad

Rob is out of town for the week, back in Massachusetts visiting his mom for her birthday (happy birthday, Moe!), which means it’s just me and the pets. Which means lots of funny little meals made up of things I just feel like eating, okay? And chickpea salads. Because I’m crazy about chickpeas and Rob is not.

So my solo week started with soaking a cup of dry chickpeas overnight and cooking them in the slow-cooker for a few hours. (WOOO! PARTY!) In the end they were soft but not mushy and ready to soak up a garlicky lemon vinaigrette.

This week I also joined a super-local CSA, Silver Lake Farms, so I mixed the chickpeas with a few handfuls of arugula leaves from my box, but this salad actually works with any type of green, cooked or uncooked. I’ve made it with spinach, kale, chard and even purple mustard leaves.

The original recipe was published a couple years ago in the excellent Recipes for Health column in The New York Times. I made it after a marathon baking session I did for a friend, and after a weekend of tasting cookies, brownies and caramel corn, it was just what I needed: nourishing, garlicky and bright with lemon and herbs.

The important takeaway from that first time making it was that chickpeas were made for a garlicky lemon vinaigrette. From there, you’re free to go in any direction you like, mixing it with whatever herbs and cheese you like. Or don’t use cheese and make it vegan. It’s your solo chickpea party*, go crazy!

* You don’t actually have to eat this alone; it makes at least two servings. But I actually preferred eating it as a dinner for one because there was enough left over to eat the next day over brown rice with a fried egg on top. (WOOO! TWO-DAY PARTY!)


Garlicky Chickpea and Arugula Salad

Yield: 2 large servings

{ Ingredients }

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mint
1/4 cup parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
2 large handfuls arugula
2 tablespoons feta cheese (optional)

{ Directions }

Place the lemon juice, garlic clove and salt in the bowl of a mini food processor or chopper. Pulse a few times to combine and dissolve the salt. Add the mint and parsley. While the processor is running, drizzle in the olive oil. Continue processing until the herbs and garlic are finely minced and the dressing is thoroughly combined.

(If you don't have a mini food processor or chopper, finely mince the garlic and herbs. Combine them with the lemon juice and salt in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil.)

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl. Pour in the dressing and stir, coating the chickpeas evenly. Add the arugula and a few grinds of fresh pepper and mix thoroughly. Crumble the optional feta on top before serving.

Additional Notes:
• Almost any green leafy vegetable can be used in place of the arugula. Tough or bitter greens can be steamed, blanched or sauteed before being mixed in.

• This salad is good warm or cold, and tastes even better the next day, after the chickpeas have had time to soak up the dressing.

Inspired by The New York Times