Monday, July 22, 2013

Green Bean Plenty

Mid-July brings a harvest of green beans (some call them "string beans") that moves rapidly into the "embarrassment of riches" period.  After the first several meals of simply prepared beans (I usually just cook them until fully tender and add butter, salt and pepper), it begins to be time to think of something else.
One popular idea I haven't tried yet is to pickle them (dilly beans).  Another winner is Maan's Green Beans, a recipe that has been passed around the Michigan food blog circuit.  (If you like garlic, you'll love Maan's.)

But my first impulse is to make up a bunch of Ted's Syrian Rice.  This is a meat stew with green beans that freezes quite well.  Like every treasured recipe, it has a history.

Middle Eastern food was essentially unknown in Oklahoma during the 1950s (unless you count Jamil's, where I first tasted tabbouleh and cabbage rolls).  So a dish titled "Syrian" was immediately exotic.  It was the specialty of one of my parents' dear friends, who would occasionally bring a dish of it to our table.  I don't know how he obtained the recipe, but it wasn't from traveling in Syria. It would be interesting to know how it came to include Worcestershire sauce.

Ted used canned green beans (what we mostly had in those days).  I simply cook my fresh beans well before adding them, and I use a lot of beans.  I've also added a pinch of cinnamon to make the dish taste just a little Middle Eastern.

Syrian Rice
modified from Ted Walstrum

1 pound lean ground beef
3 medium onions, chopped
1/4 green pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked tomatoes with juice (or 14.5 oz can)
2 cups - 1 quart cooked green beans, drained
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt, pepper (note canned tomatoes are already salty)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon  (optional)

Cook the onions in butter (Ted's choice) or olive oil until they are translucent.  Remove and brown the ground beef.  Add back the onions and the chopped green pepper.  Mix in the green beans, tomatoes and seasonings.

Cook in a covered casserole at 325° for one hour.  Serve with rice.  (Ted made a hearty brown rice pilaf, but plain white rice or any other similar grain, like bulgur wheat, works just fine.)

This reheats well after freezing (the beans are not supposed to be crisp anyway).  Freeze without the rice.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Beet Soup (Borscht)

Beets were the bane of my childhood.  They were one of those "no redeeming virtue" foods and I hated the smell of them cooking.  Whether simply boiled or with sickening sauce ("Harvard Beets" were a particular horror), I avoided them.  Then one day, I bravely tasted pickled beets.  That was a revelation.  Turns out that beets are transformed when made into a sweet-sour dish.

I've made pickled beets that stay in the refrigerator and canned pickled beets.  All good.  But another way to use this happy marriage of beets and sour is to make borscht.  Beet borscht apparently originated in the Ukraine.  (Sorrel soup is sometimes called "green borscht", though it is entirely different.)  There are many variations on it, though they all use beets and vinegar or lemon for the sour touch.  Some include big pieces of stew beef, and I've seen recipes calling for potatoes, celeriac, green peppers, tomatoes, parsnips, and turnips.

Probably some of those thick meaty versions make a great winter soup.  But for summer, a cold light borscht can be really refreshing.  Midsummer brings a bounty of beets and summer cabbage, also an important component of the dish. This can be vegetarian.  I like to use a homemade beef broth in making it, but water can be substituted.  Interestingly, the vegetables and the tomato paste are the only sweetening agents; no additional sugar is added.


1 bunch red beets (3-5, depending on size, about 1 1/2 lb)
3 carrots
1 medium onion

Peel the beets and carrots and julienne.  Chop the onion.
Simmer these vegetables for 20 minutes with 1 bay leaf in water to cover.  

1 small cabbage or 1/2 larger one
1 T butter
1 T red wine vinegar
2 T concentrated tomato paste (the kind from a tube is best)
3 cups - 1 qt homemade beef broth or water
Black pepper

Slice the cabbage very thinly and add to the other vegetables, along with the other ingredients except the salt and pepper.  Simmer until all is tender (about 30 minutes more).  Add salt and pepper to taste (check).

This could be eaten as is but I prefer to blend it and serve as a puree. (For summer, serve cold.)

Garnish with sour cream or yogurt, plus a little chopped dill.

Note: homemade beef broth may be made with a soup bone or trimmings from a bone-in roast.  Cook for 2-3 hours in a couple of quarts of water with 1-2 carrots, a parsnip, an onion, and a stalk of celery. Strain and cool; remove fat.  This freezes well and can be used for soups like borscht.

Additional note: Borscht freezes well and can be reheated.