Recession Food: Recipe Bonanza, and Greek Bean Soup

Check out Shapely Prose for a great collection of readers’ favorite low-cost recipes for hard times.

This soup recipe from commenter Lisa sounds particularly tasty.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to whip up a pot this week in honor of Greece, where people know how to register their anger with failed economic policies.

Fasolatha (Greek bean soup)

3 Medium Carrots Sliced
3 Celery ribs Chopped
1 lb Navy Beans, soaked overnight
1 Cup Olive Oil
3 cups water
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 Pinch Pepper To taste
1 Pinch Salt To taste
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1 Cup Diced Tomatoes
Directions:

* Soak the beans in water overnight.
* Strain the water and place the beans in a pot with new water.
* Boil for 2 minutes; strain. Repeat once more. This prevents the beans from causing gas.
* After boiling and straining the 2nd time, return beans to pot, add 3 cups water, and simmer.
*While the beans simmer, saute carrots, celery, and onion in a small amount of olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to beans, stir and continue to simmer until beans are tender, approx. 1 hour.
*Once beans are cooked, add tomatoes and olive oil. Simmer again. Add seasonings to taste.

At this point, the soup is ready. I often puree about 1/3 of the soup for a thicker consistency. This is an old Greek recipe; inexpensive, healthy, and very tasty.

I’m guessing you could probably used canned beans in a pinch.  This is vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free, and could easily be vegan if you use vegetable stock.

Recession Food: Matzo Brei

Yes, folks, now that the financial sector is in total collapse and we’re staring down the very real possibility of a new Great Depression, it’s time for another installment of what will clearly be our ongoing series, Recession* Food!  Those of us who didn’t make millions running banks into the ground are tightening our belts, cashing in our change jars and wondering about that seven hundred billion dollars (!!) we’re being told we’ll hand over to the rich, so I’m afraid I won’t be reviewing many fancy restaurants on this blog anytime soon.  Seriously, a loaf of bread, a block of store-brand cheddar and a bag of Lay’s chips just cost me eight bucks.  It’s going to be a rough winter.  I will, however, be creative at finding ways to make tasty, nutritious food as cheaply as possible.  After all, that’s what most of the six billion people on this planet try to do every day.  Which brings us to matzo brei (or matzah brei), a Jewish favorite with Ashkenazi origins.

I’m not Jewish, and it’s been only recently (thanks largely to the lovely folks at the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) that I’ve been introduced to the joys of Jewish culinary traditions.  So my introduction to matzo brei came from a book: the delightful Garlic and Sapphires, former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her adventures in dining.  In one chapter toward the end of the book, Reichl is describing a period when the backbiting and snobbery of the food world began to get under her skin.  She reacts one night by cancelling her reservation to a lofty temple of haute cuisine and staying home with her two-year-old son making matzo brei, his favorite.

This matzo-and-egg dish is incredibly simple, quick and cheap.  (It’s also vegetarian and very Crohn’s-friendly, with its high protein and easily digested matzo.**)  I used Manichewitz ‘everything’ matzo, which, like the ‘everything’ bagel, has bits of onion, garlic and poppy seed for some added flavor.   There are lots of versions out there, including one that’s closer to a fritatta; there are also sweet versions with fruit and sour cream.

This recipe is meant for two, but Joe and I found that it took three crackers and four eggs to satisfy us.  Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  This takes five minutes to make.  Really.

Matzo Brei (recipe by Ruth Reichl)

2 matzo crackers

2 eggs

Salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Set a colander inside a bowl (to catch the crumbs) and break the matzos into little pieces, dropping them into the colander.  Remove the colander from the bowl and hold it beneath running water until the matzos are damp.  Allow them to drain; then put the damp matzos into a bowl.

Break the eggs into the bowl and stir with a fork just until mixed.  Add salt to taste.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add the matzo-egg mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and there are a few crispy little bits.

Put on plates and serve at once.

(Note: This might be blasphemy, but the spice lovers in my household ate this with a generous dollop of Sriracha hot sauce.)

*Stay tuned, I may have to rename it “Depression Food” and start offering recipes for roadkill and bathtub gin if this keeps up.

**Celiacs, you can buy gluten-free oat matzo, or try this recipe.  I haven’t tried these, so I can’t comment on their quality.  For those with wheat allergies who can tolerate spelt, though, I have eaten spelt matzo and it is freaking delicious.  Both are available from MatzahOnline.com.

Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

Leek Mashed Potatoes, with a bonus leftover recipe

There are some beautiful leeks coming out at the farmers’ market right now.  I love the flavor of leeks, but the only recipe I really know is potato-leek soup.  Joe and I put our heads together and came up with this easy, tasty fried leek mashed potato dish.  We had it with a roast chicken and Jennie’s excellent and easy roasted green beans.

Leek Mashed Potatoes

3 leeks, with green parts cut off, split down the middle

1 1/2 lbs potatoes (we used Yukon Golds), skin on

3 tbsp light cream

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste

Dice the potatoes, leaving the skin on, and boil them until they are tender enough to poke with a fork.  Soak the leeks in water for about 20 minutes to wash out any dirt.  Remove from water; drain.  Slice the leeks into 1/2-inch strips.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the leeks.  Let them cook down until they are soft.  Remove them from the oil and put them into a food processor.  Pulse the processor just once or twice– you don’t want to puree the leeks, you just want to chop them into smaller pieces.  Return to pan with 1/2 tbsp butter and sautee until the butter is incorporated.

Mash the potatoes in a large bowl.  Add cream, remaining butter and leeks and fold in until they are incorporated.  Serve hot.

This recipe is gluten free and vegetarian.

Got leftovers?

Leftover Leek Potato Pancakes

Leek Mashed Potatoes

1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs

1 egg

olive oil

plain yogurt or sour cream

Form leftover mashed potatoes into balls and flatten.  You should have a pancake about the size of your palm and half an inch thick.  Beat the egg in a bowl and dip pancakes in egg to coat them.  Roll them in bread crumbs.  Heat the oil in a pan and fry until golden brown and delicious.  Serve with yogurt or sour cream.

This recipe is vegetarian.

Recession Food: Emergency Recipes

So the economy is crashing and burning, and with oil pushing $150 a barrel, it’s unlikely that food prices will drop, or even plateau, anytime soon.  Most people are struggling to get by (link via What to Eat), and food banks are struggling to keep up with demand as hunger increases among the working poor.

As you might expect, the food media is following suit by publishing lots of money-saving tips.  We’re encouraged to pack our lunches, stop buying prepared foods, eat legumes instead of meat and use coupons wisely– good ideas all.  Our grandparents survived the Depression, and our generation has a lot to learn from them.

But what do you eat when you’re really, really broke?  When you’re down to the change in your couch cushions, what’s for dinner?  Is Taco Bell the only option?

Well, readers, my dear husband and I are card-carrying members of the Working Poor, and we faced this question very regularly in college and then during some lean years trying to survive in New York City.  Since Joe in particular is a master at making something from nothing, we’ve amassed some lovely food-emergency recipes to share with you.  Well… lovely might be pushing it, but they’ll get you through the day.   Here are our top five day-before-payday meals. Read the rest of this entry »

Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

It’s true, I admit it: I’m obsessed with spinach salads. I can’t get enough. I’m forever thinking of delicious things to do to a bowl of baby spinach. I realize this obsession is a little strange, but since most of my food obsessions tend to involve things like duck fat or pork belly or ghee, a spinach obsession is probably a healthy thing!

I whipped this little salad up last night to accompany the tasty Whole Foods mushroom ravioli Joe was making. I just grabbed some things we had in the house, but it turned out to be marvelously tasty. It was so good I had another one later, while watching Jericho (excellent show, by the way), and packed one for lunch today. It’s that good. And it’s very simple to whip up.

Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

Large handful of baby spinach, rinsed

Handful of pine nuts

A few tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese

Extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get)

Lemon juice

Pieces of leftover roast chicken (optional– use whatever you’ve got lying around)

Put the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast over medium heat until they are dark golden brown, but not burnt. They’ll be crunchy and release their oil, which is full of flavor. Crumble the feta over the spinach. Add the pine nuts, chicken, and olive oil and toss. Give it a few squirts of lemon juice and dig in. Repeat.

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Simple Dal for Winter Nights

It’s February, and you just spent an hour driving home from work in a treacherous ice storm. You’re cold and tired, and there’s not much food in the house. What do you do?

Here’s what we did: ad libbed from an already-easy dal recipe. This requires a bit of time but very little effort, and the results are warming, comforting and satisfying (not to mention gluten-free and vegetarian). This is our version, but you can throw in some vegetables or whatever you’ve got around the house. This serves 2, with some leftovers.

Simple Dal

Throw into a pot:

1/2 lb lentils (use your favorite kind)

1 1/4 pint water

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, broken up a bit but not chopped

about 1 tbsp chopped ginger

1 cinnamon stick

large pinch of turmeric

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Then add:

Juice of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of cayenne

Simmer for 5 more minutes.

In a small pan, heat about 3 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil. Add:

pinch of black cumin

pinch of regular cumin seeds

pinch of asafetida

Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then stir into the dal.

Serve with rice. That’s all there is to it. By the way, this process will leave your dal studded with tender, sweet pieces of garlic.

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