Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: beans

The temporary kitchen

Salad, steak, potatoes

A throw-together salad for moving day

We’re in the midst of moving right now, caught in “stuff” purgatory.

The movers came earlier this month, blew in with rolls of corrugated, laminated cardboard and heavy-duty packing-tape contraptions. They wrapped and boxed and piled and disassembled. They erected a lift, a sort of open-air amusement park ride, on the sidewalk in front of our apartment, and our furniture rode slowly in shifts down to the moving van.

I watched, helpless. It is nearly time to go, and our things need a two-month head-start to voyage across the ocean.

And so, there went my kitchen. My beloved pots, my Dutch oven, my good knives, my baking gear. Bye, spatulas! Tschüss, pepper grinder! See you later, pasta maker!

(The fridge, stove, and oven stayed put – thankfully. In Germany, appliances and even cabinets typically accompany a resident from apartment to apartment. The entire kitchen is considered part of your furniture. But we have an unusual American-style built-in kitchen, ready for the next expat.)

Now we’re down to loaner furniture until move-out day.

And a little loaner “kitchen kit” that’s been a god-send.

We’ve got four dinner plates, four glasses, four bowls, utensils, a cutting board, three pots with lids, a can opener, a vegetable peeler, and – my favorite; I nearly gasped when I saw it in the big black locker – a Pyrex casserole dish. A magic wand in the kitchen. You can do nearly anything with a big, rectangular glass dish. Brownies. Roasted chicken. Baked potatoes. Lasagne.

The apartment feels sparse now. Vast white walls. Blank corners that stare back at me, unblinking. Expanses of open floor dotted with loaner furniture.

We joke that we live in a dorm room. It’s college for the third time.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but the void is oddly pleasant. The freedom of life with less things. The illusion of starting over.

It feels almost like camping. We’ve been creating make-shift, disposable substitutes to replace useful items that have left us. Glass jars salvaged from our recycling bin became toothbrush holders. A liter plastic water bottle cut in half turned into a vase. A plastic lid is now a soap dish.

It feels more like an adventure than deprivation.

Last night, we made dinner in our new minimalist apartment. I roasted potatoes in the Pyrex dish and created a hodge-podge bean salad out of our cabinet leftovers. My quest now is to get through all our pantry staples before we leave. Today’s victory was finishing a soy sauce bottle, a balsamic vinegar bottle, and a jar of cocktail onions:

The Residents 3, The Pantry 40.

The bean salad came out better than I expected, so I’ll share it here. I liked the bitter notes of the arugula against the savory beans, the acidic, sweet onions, and the creamy feta.

It’s barely a recipe, and completely subject to whatever is in your pantry.

I wanted to use diced red onions, for instance, but we had none. The jar of cocktail onions was begging to be used up, and they ended up adding a lovely sweetness to the salad. I wouldn’t buy pricey cocktail onions just for a salad, though. I’d be inclined to omit them or sub caramelized onions, diced red onion, spring onions, etc.

Do you have a throw-together salad you love?

Salad close-up

Bitter, bright, acidic, creamy – this arugula-bean-feta salad hits all the notes.

Bean, Feta, Arugula Salad

  • A 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2-ounces feta, crumbled, or to taste
  • Handful of arugula
  • One yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup cocktail onions
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil

In a bowl, toss the beans with crumbled feta, diced bell pepper, onions, arugula.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, to taste.

White bean, spinach, tofu, leek soup

This winter has been Germany’s darkest in recorded history, with the fewest hours of sunshine ever. The sky is a perpetual stretch of muted gray, as blank and listless as concrete. A drifting of clouds is cause for celebration, and any sighting of the golden orb leaves me blinking like a maulwurf.

And just a few days into spring, it snowed.

So I’d like to be writing about grilling. About the first bundles of Italian white spargel (aparagus) and baskets of shiny strawberries at the market. About picnicking in a new-found park, a blanket on prickly new grass under the young sun’s rays.

But instead, I’m still in soup season.

Bean soup

Bean soup with leeks, spinach and tofu

This soup is a quick and easy version I made up with the spinach and leeks I bought at the market. It feels enormously comforting, both because of its savory, pick-you-up taste and the plethora of good-for-you vegetables.

White bean, spinach, leek, tofu soup

  • olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 leek
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3-4 cups of broth (I used chicken broth)
  • 1 can white Northern beans, or another kind of your liking, drained and washed
  • 1 box firm or extra-firm tofu, chopped into bite-sized cubes
  • dried herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, basil (Herbes de Provence works nicely)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • 2-3 cups of washed, chopped fresh spinach
  • sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Trim the leek. I cut off the bottom tangled root bit, and the tough green leaves, although you could use them, too. That leaves a cane of white and pale green, which I wash, then slice once lengthwise, then into lots of half-moons. I wash them again in a colander, separating the curls and making sure any grit is gone. (Sometimes leeks are a tiny bit dirt-happy, sometimes they are pristine.)

Trimming the leek

Here’s where I cut off the darker, tougher leaves. You can use eat them, certainly, but you’ll need to cook them rather voraciously, I think, to mellow out their strength. Any ideas how to use them? And is this about where you trim your leeks?

Leek, trimmed

Almost a bit of art

Chopped up leek curls

Chopped up leek curls, ready to be cooked.

In a dutch oven or other pot, cook the leek curls on medium heat in a swirl (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil and/or butter. Don’t abandon them, as they’ll need a stir every so often to prevent scalding. If the leeks are beginning to develop brown spots, the stove is too hot; turn it down to medium-low or low.

Wait until the leeks have softened, maybe 10 minutes. Try one to see if its lusciously soft enough for you. While the leeks are cooking, I made a batch of cornbread (recipe to come), but rice would have been nice, too. If you’d like a side, now’s a good time to tackle that, assuming it’s fairly simple.

Once the leeks are softened to your wishes, add the sliced garlic. Let it cook a minute or two.

Then add the beans, the tofu, and the broth. Let it come to a simmer.

Add a good sprinkle of dried herbs and pepper. Taste and adjust. It may need more herbs; it may need salt; it may need a sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce to jazz it up. A lot will depend on the intensity of the broth.

Let it simmer for a little while, maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, depending on what else you need to do in the kitchen. Let it take its time.

You may want to sample it one more time. (One of the lovely perks of being the cook.) If you are feeling like the broth is too subtle, try red chili flakes for a kick or a bit of grated cheese on top, once you spoon the soup into bowls.

Spinach, washed and drying

Spinach, washed and drying

When all other parts of the meal are ready, add the spinach. Give it a good stir, and let the spinach cook for a minute or two. If you like the spinach simply wilted, then don’t even wait that long – you are ready to slurp the soup and warm up.

Bean soup, close up

Bean soup, close up