March 29, 2009

Gluten-Free Cranberry Crisp

Cranberries are one of those foods that seem to be limited to Thanksgiving (see also sweet potatoes). But cranberries are really good for you, and can be quite tasty if the sourness is properly offset. There is no reason why they shouldn't be a part of your regular diet.

Although this recipe uses cranberries, you could also use sour cherries, or any kind of fruit really. Realize that the amount of sugar present in the filling and the topping is to offset the bitterness, so if you use a sweet fruit, you might want to cut back on the sugar.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Crisp


3 T  tapioca flour
5 c fresh cranberries, or defrosted frozen cranberries  
2 t  fresh lemon juice
½ t vanilla extract
7/8 c granulated sugar
¼ t ground allspice
¼ t ground nutmeg
Pinch salt

2 c  gluten-free flour blend of your choice
¾ c  dark-brown sugar
½ t cinnamon
½ t salt
1 c unsalted raw walnuts
1½ sticks butter


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a 13x9-inch baking dish.

2. To make the filling, stir together tapioca flour, cranberries, lemon juice, vanilla extract, sugar, allspice, nutmeg and salt in prepared baking dish until well combined. Let filling rest to release fruit juice while making the topping.

3. To make the topping, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and mix until well combined. Add walnuts and pulse. Add butter and pulse until mixture begins to form large clumps.

4. Crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake until fruit is bubbling and topping begins to brown, approximately 50 to 60 minutes.

March 28, 2009

Gluten-Free Flatbreads

We eat a lot of flatbread. They are perfect for dips and we take them backpacking instead of the ubiquitous tortilla, which are too fragile for the rigors of the pack. Flatbread is also incredibly easy to make, and as this recipe shows, can be done as a gluten-free option.

We recently made a batch of these to go with our Muhammara dip. See the recipe and flatbread picture here. I like to make them on a charcoal grill, which gives them that smokey, rustic taste. You can certainly cook on a hot griddle inside, but I think you will agree that the grill is the way to go. Some will tend to puff up like pita Bread as they cook.

If you have made gluten-free Bread before, you will likely have all these ingredients already on hand. I've also replaced the tapioca flour with oat flour before and achieved good results.

Gluten-Free Flatbread

Makes 10-12 flatbreads


2½ t yeast
½ c warm water
1 t sugar
1½ c brown rice flour
½ c tapioca flour
1 c sorgham flour
2 t xantham gum
1¼ t salt
1 c lukewarm water
1 egg or flax seed "egg"


1. Dissolve the yeast in the ½ cup of warm water. Add the sugar. Allow this to sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.

2. Combine flours, xantham gum, and salt in the bowl of your mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture and the egg. Mix on medium speed using the paddle attachment.

3. Slowly add ½ - 1 cup of lukewarm water. Add enough water to get a soft and tacky dough. It shouldn't be liquid. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed.

4. Spray a large bowl with oil. Turn out the dough into this bowl, cover with a wet towel, and let sit in a warm spot for about an hour.

5. Start your coals.

6. Pinch off 10-12 pieces and roll into a ball. On a floured surface, flatten ball into a ¼-inch disc, using your hands or a rolling pin. These will be sticky and fragile, so be careful when stacking them up.

7. Cook on the hot grill for about a minute on each side until brown and toasted.


Muhammara is a dip from Turkey and other areas of the Middle East. If you're tired of hummus and baba ganoush, this is an excellent change of pace. It is a simple dish that derives its flavor from walnuts, roasted red peppers, and pomegranate. Other variations add spices like cumin, but I have kept this one simple. This makes a great bread dip or can be spread on toast. Some also use it as a sauce for meat dishes. We used it as a dip for our gluten-free flatbread (see this recipe).

You can often find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern groceries, or you can purchase at Amazon here: Pomegranate Molasses 10fl.oz This stuff is delicious and is useful for other Middle Eastern dishes.


Makes about 1½ cups.


1 c walnuts
2 small red bell peppers
2 T olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 t salt
1 T pomegranate syrup or molasses


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread walnuts on baking sheet, and toast 5 - 10 minutes until light brown and fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. Roast red bell peppers on a grill until the skins are black all over. When they are cool, rub off the blackened skin, remove the seeds, and coarsely chop.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat, and allow garlic and oil to cool.

4. Purée bell peppers, walnuts, garlic, remaining olive oil, salt, and pomegranate molasses in a food processor until smooth. Season with pepper. Transfer to small serving bowl.

March 20, 2009


Not only are oothapams fun to say, but they are a wonderful treat from Southern India. They are sometimes referred to as Indian pizza or pancakes. In my research, I found there are many varieties. Some have a wheat-based batter, and the vegetable toppings can be as varied as they are in American pizza toppings.

For this version, though, I have stuck with the traditional gluten-free batter made with rice and urad dal. Urad dal is also called black gram or black matpe beans. Ironically, these beans are white, as the black skin is typically removed. These things have an awful smell when soaking. The smell does not transfer over to its taste so much, so don't let it fool you.

You can get urad dal in any Indian grocery, or you can get it through Amazon: Spicy World Urad Dal (Split Matpe or Beluga Beans)Washed 2 Pounds

This recipe requires some planning, as the rice and urad dal needs to be soaked over night, then the batter should ferment all day long. I wonder whether this fermentation period is really necessary, but I will present the traditional method here.

Flipping these pancakes requires some delicate skill. The dough is rather fragile and tends to stick to the pan. You need to use enough oil and flip with some dexterity. I botched numerous oothapams before I got one that was photo-worthy. They all taste the same anyway.



1½ c white basmati rice, rinsed and drained
½ c urad dal, rinsed and drained
1 t salt
¼ c plain yogurt
¼ t baking soda
1 c fresh or frozen peas
1 small red onion, minced
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and minced
½ c cilantro or parsley


1. Mix rice and urad dal in a large glass or metal bowl. Cover with water and add 3 additional inches. Let this soak overnight.

2. The next morning, drain and transfer to a food processor. Add the salt and 1 cup of water. Blend until a thin, smooth batter is formed. Transfer this back to the bowl and place a towel over it. Let it sit at room temperature for 8-12 hours.

3. Stir in yogurt, baking soda, and ½ cup water.

4. Combine the peas, onion, jalapeños , and cilantro in a separate bowl.

5. Grease a small non-stick frying pan with oil. Heat pan to medium-high heat. Pour ½ cup of batter onto the pan. Drizzle some more oil along the edges to keep it from sticking.

6. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the topping onto the pancake. Cook 3 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully flip it over and cook an additional 1 minute.

7. Carefully remove pancake to a baking sheet and keep in a warm oven until all are done. Repeat process for remaining batter. Serve warm.

Makes 8 pancakes.

March 18, 2009

Do You Like Cowboy Leg?

There is this fellow named Jon Rahoi who travels around the world for business and pleasure. One of his hobbies is collecting evidence of Manglish, or mangled English. For example, a special garbage bin in the ladies room with the English sign "Special Reclamation Orifice for Pernicious Garbage".

I think Jon really doesn't have to go overseas to get this stuff; a quick trip to Walmart would probably give him enough material to last a long time.

The following example is totally hilarious. Try to force yourself through the whole thing. It's really quite hysterical. This is from a restaurant in Mainland China, apparently a very good restaurant, but they can't seem to find a good English translator:

As my wife says, these are literal translations. Very literal. For example, cowboy meat simply means veal. You know-- a boy cow, as opposed to a man cow. And if you want to know how the word f*ck fits into all this, there is a Chinese character that means "dried" that has the same pronunciation as the character for the Chinese version of f*ck. They just picked the wrong word. What kind of dictionary were they using, anyway?

March 17, 2009

A Tasty Disaster

Sometimes the Evolution Kitchen is more like the Evolution Laboratory. Often we experiment with recipe conversions and work with new ingredients. And sometimes these recipes are disasters. The worst kind of disaster are those which aren't even edible and end up in the dog food (she'll eat anything) or the trash. Other mishaps have enough potential that simply require some tweaking in the instructions or ingredients. That is the case for this one.

Continuing our tests with no knead Bread (last discussed here), I tried to add more "exotic" flours to the wheat flour. Here is the simple recipe I tried:

1¾ c warm water (100º F)
2 T canola oil
2 T sugar
2 ½ t yeast

2 c whole wheat flour
1 c oat flour
1/2 c rice flour
1/2 c tapioca flour

What happened was the dough was too wet due to the change in the water-absorption characteristics of the different flours. The dough rose as expected, but there was not enough structure in the dough to thwart gravity, and instead of rising "up", it rose "out", spilling over the sides of the pan, as shown in this picture:

When done, the bread also had a very fragile crumb. Slicing it proved difficult without it breaking off into pieces. Despite this, the bread tasted wonderful. Because of this last observation, we will try to tweak this recipe, perhaps adding some egg (or flax seed "egg") to bind it together better, and not make the dough so wet.

March 13, 2009

Black Bean Sausages

My daughter is a sucker for biscuits and gravy. I always thought she liked Florida because of Disney and Sea World, but it was really the biscuits and gravy that are served everywhere.

So I thought I would try to make some healthy biscuits and gravy (and still be edible). Well, the gluten-free biscuits didn't turn out that well and the gravy was too "milky", so I am not ready to share that recipe yet.

However, the accompanying vegetarian sausages I made turned out pretty darn good. These come from Mary Frances over at the Gluten Free Cooking School with only minor modifications. I would like to play around with the seasonings a bit more, but I think these are almost perfect.

Black Bean Sausage Patties


2 t canola oil
½ yellow onion, diced

1½ c brown rice, cooked
1 can black beans, or 2 c. cooked

¼ c brown rice flour
2 t rubbed sage
1 t fennel seed, coarsely ground
½ t red chili flakes
½ t garlic powder
¾ t salt
½ t black pepper
¼ t cumin


1. Heat oil in a large skill over medium heat. Saute the diced onions until they are soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Combine the black beans, brown rice, and onion in a food processor. Pulse until all items are well combined (i.e., no visibly whole pieces of bean)

3. Scoop the bean mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the flour and spices. Stir to combine.

4. To make the sausage patties, divide the bean mixture into twelve pieces and roll each piece into a ball. (A little flour on your hands will help with the stickiness.) Place one of the balls between your palms, and squash it into a pattie shape.

5. Add a little more oil to your skillet and turn it down to medium low. Add the black bean sausage patties to the pan, and brown on each side.

March 10, 2009

"Chicken" and Dumplings

Ah, this is a wonderful wintertime dish. Note the "Chicken" in quotes for the title. That's vegetarian-speak for "fake chicken". If you don't like quotes in your food, then there is no reason why you couldn't use real chicken instead. I could almost put quotes around "Dumplings" too, since these are gluten-free, so they are, uh, fake dumplings.

My wife also has a thing about eggs in food. She will eat eggs as just eggs, but she doesn't like the smell or taste of egg in other things like cookies, bread, and in this case, dumplings. I have to admit I don't like it anymore now that she has drawn my attention to it. A typical vegan trick is to use flax seed "eggs". This is simply ground-up flax seed mixed with warm water. When you let this sit a few minutes it will become slightly gelatinous and egg-like. We have found this is a near perfect substitute and provides loads of omega-3s. Here is the "recipe" for flax "eggs":
1 egg = 1 T flax seed meal + 3 T warm water
1 egg white = 1 T flax seed meal + 2 T warm water
Once you grind flax seeds, you need to use it immediately else it will spoil. We grind up a large batch and store it in the freezer.

But again, you can use a "real" egg in this recipe. Are "you" sick of "all" these "quotes" yet?

For the fake chicken, we use a package of Chicken Style Smart Strips. These are little soy-based strips with chicken-like taste and texture. They are really amazing, and there is a beef flavor as well.

I left salt out of the ingredients because the broth we use has plenty of salt. But if you use a low-salt or no-salt broth, you may want to add some.

Here are the dumplings after they have cooked. They expand a bit and will likely cover the entire top:
"Chicken" and Dumplings


1 pkg Chicken Style Smart Strips
3 T oil
4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), sliced thin crosswise
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 celery rib with leaves, sliced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1 small bay leaf
1 t dried thyme, crumbled
2 t dried French tarragon
¼ t black pepper
5 c chicken broth
½ c apple cider


1 c brown rice flour
1/3 c potato starch
1/6 c tapioca flour
¼ c sorghum flour
¼ c yellow cornmeal
2 t baking powder
¼ t salt
¾-1 c milk of choice
1 egg


1. In a large pan or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over a moderately high heat. Brown the "chicken", about 5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken and set aside.

2. Add the remaining oil to the same pan, add the leeks and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, tarragon, salt and pepper. Cook for another 3 minutes.

3. Pour in the broth and cider. Return browned chicken to the pan. Bring liquids to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Make the dumplings while chicken and vegetables are cooking. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. With a fork, stir in the milk and egg to form a soft dough (a little wetter than biscuit dough).

5. Scoop out golf-ball sized dumplings and place them in the chicken mixture. Simmer covered for 12 minutes. Dumplings are done when a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Discard bay leaf before serving.

March 7, 2009

Chickpea Flour Pizza

Chickpeas (also known as garbonzo beans) are very common in Indian cuisine. This is a very ancient food, first cultivated in the Middle East around 5400 BC, and from there they spread eastward to India and westward throughout the Mediterranean. Oddly, their spread seemed to stop there, as they are rare in Oriental dishes and rarer still in Northern European fare.

As we are huge consumers of Indian food, chickpeas are a staple in the Evolution Kitchen, and so is chickpea flour, which is a main ingredient in our gluten-free breads. You may have trouble finding this in your local Safeway, but health food stores and gourmet groceries should carry it (Bob's Red Mill has it). You can also find it in Indian markets, usually by the name besan.

Or you can buy it here from Amazon: Besan Flour - Chickpea Flour

The following dish is an incredible delight that we have made twice this week. It is actually an Italian recipe called Socca Farinata, a morning food for the working class in Nice and Genoa. We originally got this recipe from the wonderful book "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey, but we have made some modifications to simplify things.

Note that this is not your typical American pizza. The dough is soft, almost like a polenta, and probably should be eaten with a fork. Another important point is this needs a large skillet that can both sit on the stovetop and go under a broiler. We used our cast iron skillet, but we did have some trouble getting the pizza out afterwards.

Chickpea Flour Pizza


2/3 c chickpea flour
1/2 t salt
1 c water
2 T olive oil
1/2 t dried rosemary, finely crushed
1/2 t dried thyme
1/4 t garlic powder, or 1 garlic clove minced
1 small plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped
3 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
ground black pepper to taste


1. Stir the chickpea flour and salt together in a bowl. Slowly add half the water and stir into a fine paste, breaking up any lumps. Add the rest of the water and mix into a thin batter. Stir in the rosemary, thyme, and garlic.

2. Use a 12-inch non-stick skillet that can be put under the broiler. Heat skillet on stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Give the batter another good stir and pour into skillet.

3. Cook the batter for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle on the onion and tomato. Add a good dose of black pepper. Continue to cook until it begins to set, another 5 or so minutes. Get your broiler going.

4. Remove the skillet from the stove and place about 5 inches from the broiler. Broil for another 5-7 minutes, or until it is golden all over.

5. Remove from oven. Gently losen the pizza from the skillet. Depending on how deep your skillet is, you may have to cut the pizza first to get out, or invert on a plate. Serve immediately.

March 6, 2009

Kenyan Mung Bean Stew

Known more by its local name, Dengu is a simple meal from Kenya. The star of the dish is the lowly mung bean. Relatively unknown in the States, mung beans are native to India and Pakistan. They are found commonly in Asian and Indian cuisine, and they are highly versatile that can accompany sweet, tangy, or spicy dishes.

How they got to Kenya is anyone's guess, but dengu is a pleasant blending of mung beans and onions and peppers. It is rather thick and barely passes as a "stew". You can find dried mung beans in Asian markets, health food stores, and in some well-stocked groceries. You want the green mung beans, which are shelled; the whole yellow mung beans take much longer to cook.

Kenyan Mung Bean Stew


1¼ c dried mung beans, soaked overnight

1 bay leaf

2 T olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red onion, chopped

2 T ketchup

1 green pepper, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 green chili, seeded and finely chopped

1¼ c water


1. If you are cooking the beans in a pressure cooker, there is no need to soak them. Rinse them well, cover them with water, throw in the bay leaf, and lock the lid in place. Bring to high pressure and maintain high pressure for 15 - 18 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.

2. If you are not using a pressure cooker, put the beans and bay leaf in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the beans are very soft, about an hour.

3. Drain off any extra water. Using a fork or potato masher, mash most of the beans.

4. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes. Squirt in the ketchup and cook another minute, constantly stirring.

5. Now add the mashed mung beans and chopped peppers. Pour in the water, stir it all up well, and simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Serve hot.

March 5, 2009

Myth Busters: Kneading Bread

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens."
Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet

"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."
M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

"Bread is the warmest, kindest of all words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name."
from a café sign

There are not too many foods out there that have poems written about them. Oh sure, there's is the ode to beans ("Beans, beans, the magical fruit..."), but nothing compares to the countless songs, stanzas, and quotes about Bread. I am especially fond of that last quote above, and will henceforth call bread "Bread".

And yet, the American Bread scene is quite sad. Slowly, the bakeries have disappeared, leaving most of us to wander down the bread aisles of the stores, gazing at the shiny plastic bags and squeezing what seem like Nerf® footballs inside. This is a wholly different food which we can barely call bread, even demoting to a lowercase "b".

I have tried, just out of curiosity, to make bread exactly like the spongy soft stuff that comes from the store. I have concluded it is impossible. There is something unnatural about store-bought bread, something that requires synthesized chemicals and alien machinery to make.

Homemade Bread, then, is the best solution.

But how many of you actually make your own bread? Not many, I gather. Why not? Making Bread the "old fashioned" way is incredibly time-consuming. Bread recipes typically involve long and tortuous kneading, followed by a lengthy rising time, then punching down, then more rising, then baking. All in all, the process could easily take 3 to 4 hours.

I made Bread this way for years. Even though it ruined a weekend afternoon for me, I refused to eat the Nerf® chemical bread.

Then I stumbled upon an article in Mother Earth News by Jeff Hertzberg about a "new" way of making Bread. Basically, it requires no kneading, and pre-mixed hunks of dough are stored in the refrigerator. You take out what you need, let it reach room temperature while it rises, then bake it. I experimented with this technique some and achieved so-so results. There was still something wrong. It took too long to rise.

I then started to think how we make gluten-free Bread. The Evolution Kitchen has been pumping out gluten-free Bread for over a year now, and the biggest difference between it and gluten-full Bread, besides the gluten content, is that the gluten-free dough is much wetter. Also, gluten-free dough requires no kneading, and rises in about 20 minutes.

I began to wonder: is it possible that kneading dough and multiple rises are a waste of time?

Using Hertzberg's ideas and the gluten-free Bread techniques, I came up with a hybrid technique that seems to work. My results poo-poo the strict traditionalists about making Bread. Kneading is not necessary, and multiple risings are also not necessary.

Here are the basic instructions:

  1. get your liquid ready in a mixer. This contains your yeast, oil, and sugar.
  2. Add your flour blend while mixing slowly. Stop adding flour when the consistency is "right".
  3. Mix on high for a couple minutes.
  4. Dump the dough in a greased bread pan.
  5. Cover with a wet cloth and let rise 20-30 minutes in a warm oven.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Write poems about your creation.

They key here is step #2. In order for the dough to rise sufficiently, it must be the right consistency and temperature. Basically the dough must be warm and wet. Using 100ºF water is about the right temperature. Consistency is harder to quantify. Can I say "gooey but not gloppy"? Or "sticky, not stiff"? Certainly it's not as runny as cake batter, but not as stiff as normal bread dough. It is somewhere in between. I can also say that dough of the right consistency is nearly impossible to handle without wet hands.

Further experimentation will allow me to elaborate more on consistency, but for now, you'll have to get by with "gooey but not gloppy".

Check out this loaf:
This is a whole wheat bread, not a terribly good rising flour to begin with. Following the method described above, I had this loaf of Bread in 1 hour, from start to finish. Half of that time was baking and thinking up sonnets.

This recipe is a bit rough around the edges, and I will experiment more and polish it later. But here it is in a nutshell (actually, in a breadpan). Another thing I've learned from making gluten-free bread is that you can toss in just about any kind of flour: tapioca, corn starch, oat flour, ground up sesame seeds, etc. So in this recipe, I decided to toss in some buckwheat flour just for kicks. Whole wheat flour tends to be heavy, so it is best to lighten it up some. Regular flour will also work (although it has little nutritional value).

Evolution Whole Wheat Bread


1¾ c warm water (100º F)
2 T canola oil
2 T sugar
2 ½ t yeast

3 c whole wheat flour
1 c buckwheat flour
1 t salt


1. Put the water in the bowl of your mixer. Add the yeast and sugar and dissolve. If your yeast needs proofing, let it sit there a few minutes to get frothy.

2. With the mixer running on low (use a normal paddle, not a bread hook or whisk), add the salt and buckwheat flour. Slowly add the wheat flour. Stop when the consistency is "about right". The mixer should not be struggling, but you should not see pooled liquid either.

3. Turn the mixer speed to high and let it churn for about 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, prepare your medium-sized bread pan: Spray it with oil, then dust with flour.

5. Scrape out the dough with wet hands and stuff into the prepared bread pan. Smooth down the top and cut a gash across the top with a wet knife. Soak a wash cloth with warm water and place over the pan. Place the pan in a warm spot, like an oven.

6. Let the dough rise to the top of the pan, about 25-30 minutes, depending on your yeast and the temperature.

7. Gently remove the cloth and take the pan out of the oven (if you put it there.) Preheat the oven to 400ºF, then bake the Bread for 30-35 minutes.

8. Pop the Bread out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

March 4, 2009

Back To Basics: Tortillas

One of our mottoes here at the Evolution Kitchen is: "Home-made is better-made". If you can make something from scratch, and you have the time to do so, then you should do it. Homemade food is fresher, has fewer additives, and is usually cheaper. You know exactly what's in it, and it will most likely taste better. Homemade is simply much more appealing. Here is what I mean:

Try this little experiment the next time you're hosting a dinner party. Say you're serving baked beans as a side dish. Your guests take a look at the bowl and say something like, "Oh. Baked beans."

For the experiment, you can try various types of responses and judge their results. Here are some sample responses:
  1. "I just opened a can of beans and heated them on the stove top."
  2. "I had some old cans of rations from the Korean War laying around, and I wanted to use them up. Weird how the cans were starting to bulge. Bon appétit!"
  3. "I made them myself. After pressure cooking the dried organic beans in a flavorful broth, I slow-cooked them in a clay crock with dark molasses, brown sugar, and sweet onion."

I am certain that response number 3 will garner the most favorable reaction. Without even tasting them, just knowing that you cooked the beans from scratch makes them seem better. This is why food advertisements use phrases like "old-fashioned lemonade" and "artisan wood-fire baked bread". (Damn, just writing that has got my mouth watering.) Don't those sound better than "heated in a huge industrial stainless steel vat, and then pumped into metal cans"?

Unfortunately, our society has accepted factory food. We don't know exactly what's in it, who made it, or when. But hey, it was on sale! We are addicted to its convenience. Not only is this unsafe and unhealthy, it is simply unappealing. Think about it: some factory worker, who you don't know, maybe in some other country making pennies a day, is peering into your vat of "Country-Time Baked Beans" and thinking, "I hate beans and anybody who eats them." The opportunities to write many gross scenarios are endless here.

The Evolving Palate wants to encourage people stop relying so much on factory food. For those with allergies, it is necessary to be more in control of the food you eat. But if you simply want good food, it's best to get "Back to Basics", which will be a recurring theme here at the Evolving Palate.

Today's "Back To Basics" recipe is for simple flour tortillas (sorry, not baked beans).

Tortillas are not so special by themselves, but they make wonderful vehicles for getting food into your mouth. Not only are they extremely versatile, but their simple taste and soft texture make them a favorite among kids. Sure, you can buy them in the store in packs of a dozen or more, but even this is factory food. Making tortillas is not that hard, and most of the time it takes is allowing the dough to rest. You do all the work, but the dough is the one that rests.

(These tortillas are not gluten-free. I am working on a gluten-free version, but there are still some kinks to iron out. Hopefully I will post a successful gluten-free tortilla recipe soon.)

You don't need any special equipment to make these, and they require only four ingredients. Don't fret about getting the breads completely round. These are hand-made, artisan breads. Each one should be unique, or as I like to call my imperfections: "Rustic". Only machines can make perfectly round tortillas.

You can cook these in a dry skillet or griddle. I cook mine on a long electric griddle so I can make three at a time. While they are cooking, I am busily rolling out the next batch. With practice you will get into a rhythm of rolling and cooking, and you'll be able to cook a whole batch in about 5 minutes.

Flour Tortillas
Makes 8


2 c unbleached white flour
½ t salt
3 T olive oil
½ - ¾ c warm water


1. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour and salt. Next drizzle in the oil and mix thoroughly.

2. Gradually add the water. Start with the ½ cup and add more as needed. Mix the water in as you pour. What you want is a dough that is not too wet or too dry. You can use your hand and mix it in the bowl. You're not kneading, simply mixing.

3. Once the dough is ready, cut off 8 pieces of the same size. Roll each into a ball and then flatten partly in your palms to a disc about 3 inches in diameter. Lay these out on a plate (don't overlap them, else they'll stick to each other. After all 8 are done, lay a piece of wax paper across the top and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

4. Start heating your skillet or griddle to medium-high. On a lightly floured surface, roll a dough ball until it is 7 to 8 inches in diameter. Flip them over at least once to prevent them from sticking to the board and rolling pin. Once it is flat, drop it on the hot griddle. Cook until little bubbles begin to show, about 45 seconds. Don't let it brown, otherwise it will become stiff and dry. Flip it over and cook the other side the same. Remove and keep warm in a towel. Repeat this process for each dough ball.

March 1, 2009

Hot Sichuan Green Beans

Growing up in Taiwan, my wife ate this quite often. Green beans over there are a little thicker than what we get here, and they typically grew up to 18 inches long. These long beans were a mainstay at the dinner table, and they were usually prepared in this simple fashion, but without the red pepper flakes.

Hot Sichuan Green Beans

1 lb green beans, trimmed and cut in 2-3 inch pieces
2 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
2 t sugar
¼ t red pepper flakes
1 T oil
2 T garlic, minced
2 T fresh ginger, grated


1. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and white pepper. Set aside.

2. Set a 10-12 inch skillet over high heat. When it is hot, add the beans and ¼ cup water. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until beans are slightly crunchy to bite, about 4 minutes. Remove the cover and cook the remaining water away.

3. Add the oil, garlic, and ginger to the skillet. Stir fry until garlic and green beans are slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir soy sauce mixture into the pan and bring to a boil. Cook and stir until most of the liquid has evaporated, another 2 or 3 minutes. Serve hot or cold.