Monday, August 8, 2011

Reminiscing Culinary School

One of the classes in my culinary program was Garde Manger, which we were taught loosely translates to “cold kitchen”.  The content of the class focused primarily on salads, soups, sandwiches, sauces/dips and appetizer/hors d’oeuvres.  It was a class ordinarily taken by second year students.  Ordinarily.  I ended up in this class in my first year.  There were 20 students (in the beginning) and only about four of us were first years.  We were grouped into teams of four.  Of the four on our team, three of us were first years.  The class was incredibly fast-paced as we only had 2 hours and 50 minutes, and some of that time had to be devoted to lecture, demonstration and evaluation. 

The particular class day I was remembering on Friday was devoted to sauces and dips.  In the brief time span of our class, we were to make hummus, guacamole, tapenade and salsa.  With four people, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The problem was that only two of our four were there:  me and another first year.  My lone partner for that day had never tried hummus, professed not to like “green food”, and hated olives of any color.  I was not feeling optimistic.  Somehow we managed to eke out all four sauces and an A. 

Why was I remembering that particularly hellacious day on Friday?  Because I made hummus and salsa on Friday. 

In the last month or so, I’ve had a near addiction to hummus.  There have been very few days pass that hummus in some form or another hasn’t occupied space in our overcrowded refrigerator.  I’ve made hummus from garbanzo bean flour (besan), from canned beans and from dry beans I’ve cooked.  I’ve made it with garbanzo beans, butter beans and black beans.  I’ve yet to find hummus that I just flat out do not like.

A cool lunch on a hot day for the Hubs and me.

This odyssey really began Tuesday when I started soaking the beans.  I had a pound of dry garbanzos and half of a pound of Roman beans that were long abandoned from some other recipe.  Given the heat wave we’ve been experiencing, I was not looking forward to the 1-1/2 to 2 hour cook time for tender beans.  That’s why I decided re-employ the slow cooker.  The beans had to be cooked in two batches (one Wednesday and one Thursday) given the size of the crock, but it was a small price to pay for not heating up the kitchen any more than necessary.  I covered each batch of beans with fresh water, added a bay leaf, half of a teaspoon of coriander seeds and half of a teaspoon of mixed peppercorns.  Two hours on high, five on low and viola!  Perfectly cooked beans. 

 A pound of dry beans makes about six cups of cooked beans.  There are always more than I need for the recipe, but that works out well since I can never resist scooping out some of the still warm beans, giving them a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and enjoying them blissfully on their own.  Truly one of the reasons why I go to the trouble of cooking dry beans instead of buying canned.  The downside of using dry beans is that it’s difficult to get a really smooth texture to the hummus.  But I’m okay with that. 

The salsa I made tasted nothing like what we made in school, which, to me, was a very good thing.  The recipe we were given to follow is not one I’ll ever use again.  It led me to discover that I am not a fan of oregano in my salsa.  What I made was actually closer to what restaurants here call pico de gallo – tomatoes, chiles, cilantro and garlic.  Not accurately, however.  I learned from the Food Lover’s Companion that pico de gallo (Spanish for rooster’s beak) is actually “a relish made of finely chopped ingredients like jicama, oranges, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and cucumbers, along with various seasonings.”  Now I know.

Hummus with Cilantro & Jalapeno
Makes about 1-1/2 quarts

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves and stems, washed well and spun dry
4 cups cooked garbanzo beans (reserve some of the cooking liquid)
1 – 2 jalapenos, seeded if desired, coarsely chopped
4 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Zest and juice of half of a large lime
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup sesame paste (tahini)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, water or stock

Add the cilantro, beans, jalapenos, garlic, lime zest and juice, turmeric, salt, cumin and ground pepper to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the tahini and process to a paste.  With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube.  Slowly add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to achieve the desired consistency.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

(And a personal note here:  when tasting, do NOT use the same spoon that was previously used to seed the jalapenos!)

So. Ill. Pico de Gallo
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 lime, juiced
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Combine all ingredients but the salt in a glass or other non-reactive bowl.  Taste and add salt as desired.  Cover and chill.  Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Refrigerate for up to three days. 

Makes about 3 cups.

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