Last night I came home, totally unwillingly did aerobics (I’m sure the sweat I worked up wasn’t nearly as much as usual; my kicks were definitely halfhearted), and made dinner. I had planned to make broiled tilapia with a side of a bean dish in Heidi (of 101 Cookbooks) Swanson’s book Super Natural Cooking. I received this book as a gift for my birthday a couple of years ago. I looked through it once and promptly put it on the shelf, never to be retrieved until about a week and a half ago. It is totally unrealistic to the way most people in America live and shop for groceries. I couldn’t find a single recipe in the book that was both appealing and for which I could find all the ingredients without going to Whole Foods and spending a fortune – if I could even find them at any Whole Foods on this coast. (Her recipes on the website are much simpler and use far more substitute-able ingredients than those in the book – and there are also a whole lot more of them.)
I took the book off the shelf again recently to look at what was there. I still thought it was largely unrealistic, but my local supermarket made a huge expansion a few months ago to their hippie organic and natural foods section, and more of the things Heidi is nattering on about are available to me, even if they do cost a pretty penny. (Still no luck on the California farmer’s market kind of shopping that she has access to, but hey, maybe someday.) I like to give the expensive stuff at least one try and then attempt to do it cheaper. Brown rice syrup is a good example; a peanut-butter-jar-sized container of the stuff was eight dollars, and one of her recipes calls for a cup of it, which adds up to about three dollars. Would I rather use honey, a cup of which can be used for less than $1.50? Yes, of course. But maybe the brown rice syrup is better, for some reason, and I won’t know until I try it both ways.
I’m really getting sidetracked here. The point is, I found a bean recipe in Super Natural Cooking that I wanted to try this week. It called for stir-frying a large amount of white beans in a good deal of oil until they were crispy and brown, and adding chopped chard. There were other basic ingredients – onions, garlic, parmesan at the end, etc. – but I was doing this as a side dish for just myself, so I skipped all that and just fried the beans and chard. Heidi had a note in the recipe saying that using canned beans for this purpose has never worked for her, and that they’ve turned all mushy instead of frying up and keeping their shape. I have never had much success at the dried-bean thing as of yet, and besides it takes forever, and besides besides I had some leftover canned cannellini beans, so I decided to take my chances.
I fried the beans in olive oil for a significant period of time before adding the chard, and while they did indeed turn into mush as Heidi had foretold, I had left them on high heat for long enough that there were pieces of bean that had gotten that fried/browned flavor from being in the oil. The whole thing seemed kind of uninteresting to me by the time the chard was mostly wilted, so I poured a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in the pan, a flavor that’s wonderful with cooked greens. After the cilia in my nose recovered from the boiled-off vinegar, I retrieved my tilapia from the oven (more on that method another time) and dumped the beans and chard on my plate.
I poked at it. As I told BF when he got home, it looked like something you’d get in an orphanage in London in 1840. It was hideous: dingy white and dingy green, with big brown patches from the vinegar, mostly denatured and sludgy. But I knew that it had all kinds of protein and vitamins. Nutritious mush.
I took a bite, and it was surprisingly delicious, with tang from the vinegar and yummy browned flavor from the fried-up beans. The perfect addition for texture would have been some breadcrumbs sauteed in butter until golden, but that was way too much trouble just for me. Nevertheless, it was all gone before it even got cold.
So, ultimately, a happy ending. I even rewarded myself with some ice cream, because I knew it was a pretty low-cal meal and I could afford a decent dessert. I’ll have to stay on the aerobics bandwagon, of course, but it’s worth it for a good bowl of vanilla to top of a dinner of nutritious mush.