As we move closer to the holidays, we look forward to the side dishes that come with our favorite entrees. They are no less popular for many of us than the entrees themselves. Some of my favorites include oyster stuffing; tomato pudding; cranberry salsa; poblano or jalapeno cornbread; roasted Brussels sprouts; honey and carrots; mashed potatoes, parsnips and turnips with roasted garlic and buttermilk with, oh yes, Turkey as well. Personally, I love preparing an array of side dishes which invariably fill me up in extraordinarily satisfying ways — often leaving little room for the bird.
Peas and beans are among these side dishes and we have learned that as members of the legume family, peas and beans are among the third largest family in the vegetable kingdom behind the vanilla bean and the sunflower family. Further we have learned that legumes contain many extraordinary attributes such as being high in nutrition as an anti-oxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and as a cardiovascular benefit. Green beans in particular may also be a helpful food for providing us with the mineral silicon which is very important for bone health and for healthy formation of connective tissue. In fact, beans are noteworthy for being among the oldest cultivated plants that have replaced meat and nurtured people throughout history. Further they contain low to moderate GLI numbers (Glycemic Indices) while containing a lot of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
There are many different methods to cooking such as roasting, grilling, sautéing, boiling, frying, braising, poaching, steaming and even microwaving, which I must admit is not a technique I recommend. Today our focus is poaching.
Many people just get Asian takeout when it comes to poaching or steaming. Whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai, poaching is a common Pacific Rim cooking technique. In contrast, most Western-style cuisine is more frequently fried, grilled, roasted or braised. French cuisine is an exception as a journey through any Julia Child recipe will attest.
Many of us sell ourselves short not to give other methods a try. Poaching is one of the easiest, quickest most satisfying cooking methods available. Further, poaching is among the most nutritious and healthiest methods ever devised in that it does not use any fat in the cooking process to carry heat to the food. And it is as flexible as the flavoring you add to the liquid.
Recently I overheard a man on the street say “Of course I can cook, I am Italian!” Was this overly confident? Not necessarily. One’s roots are significant and Italian heritage by definition brings with it a culinary sophistication and expertise. Further, the joy and love of Italy’s culinary traditions are wrapped in family life and the 21 regions of Italy itself--each of which are tied to distinct agricultural products. So while Italy is one nation, it has many distinct food traditions tied to the regional cuisine and wine of their ancestors.
Grandma loved her beets. She loved growing them. Boiling them. And, making borscht soup with them. We enjoyed them as well. But beets are not everyone’s favorite. Some say it’s too red, or too bland in soup by itself or too earthy. All maybe true. Nonetheless the vegetable became one of our household favorites, even though we didn’t always prepare the beets Grandma’s style. Like many “family favorites”, it seems as though you grow up with them or know them best through friends. Eggplant for example, was a vegetable I first tasted at the home of Italian friends when they served eggplant Parmigiana; but I never ate one at my own home. Beets were the same for my friends. Red beet Borscht was a soup only available at my home, I was told.
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