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ANASAZI BEANS AND RICE

The Anasazi were a native people who lived in the Four Corners area of the United States – New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. What they called themselves is unknown, but archaeologists working in the area called them “the Anasazi” from a Navajo word which means “the ancient ones” or “the ancient enemy”. The modern Pueblo Indians, who live in villages throughout the Rio Grande Basin are thought to be the descendents of the Anasazi who abandoned their native homeland during a prolonged drought in order to be closer to a more reliable water source near the largest river in the region. The Pueblo Indians don’t like the name, Anasazi, for obvious reasons, but it has stuck.

The Anasazi began their civilization at least hundreds if not thousands of years BCE, living in pit houses, but they advanced rapidly to live in sophisticated multi-story stone apartments situated in secure areas like mesa tops and huge hollows in stone cliffs There they could pull up ladders leading to the valley floor and ride out sieges from marauding enemies.  When they finally abandoned their homelands in the 1400s, they had built amazing structures like Cliff Palace in what is now Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, the White House in present-day Cañon de Chelly National Park in Arizona, and what may be the most sophisticated population center of all, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, with advanced astronomical observatories, and a web of roads and trails leading in all directions, suggesting that the place may have been the commercial or religious center for the entire region.

Today, there are only a few remaining structural links to the ancient people: Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico, the ruined Pecos Pueblo that I wrote about a while back, other ruins scattered around the Four Corners, and much more modest communities in the existing pueblos.

All of that is a long-winded introduction to Anasazi beans and how they got their name.  The traditional story is that a sealed jar of beans was discovered by archaeologists digging in the ruins of the Cliff Palace. The beans were spotted red and white, unlike any other beans the scientists had seen. To their surprise the beans sprouted, and were subsequently propagated. This story has its detractors who say that beans lose their ability to sprout after 50 years or so. They think that while the beans may have been discovered in the clay pot they could have not germinated, but  they were identical to beans that had continued to be cultivated in the region. Of course, there have been multiple interpolations of the two stores, so we really don’t know the truth. Nevertheless the name, Anasazi beans, was given to the beans and it has stuck ever since.

For a time, the beans were raised commercially only in Colorado, but now they are raised in many places, probably because of their unusual coloration and because of their distinctive, some say sweet, taste.

We bought a big supply of Anasazi beans at a farm stand, so I decided to make a variation on the Louisiana classic, red beans and rice. I know that late summer is way too hot to be making beans and rice, but I had the beans, so why not.

RECIPE

Anasazi Beans and Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Anasazi beans
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 closes garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 6 ounces ham slices, cut into ½ inch squares
  • 8 ounces link sausage, Andouille, bratwurst, or your choice, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled between your hands
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 cups cooked rice
  • chopped scallions for garnish
  • Louisiana hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. Pick over the beans carefully for small stones and shriveled beans. In a large pot, cover the beans with water to at least 2 inches depth. Soak overnight.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cover to sweat for 5 minutes until they are translucent but not browned.
  3. Stir in the garlic, chicken stock, celery, bell pepper,  ham pieces, cubed sausage, oregano, and cumin. Bring to the boil, and then cover and reduce the heat to the simmer.
  4. Cook the beans until they are tender, 2 to 4 hours.
  5. Uncover and raise the temperature to a slow boil in order to reduce the liquid until it is thickened to your taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Place a cup of cooked rice in each serving bowl. Ladle on the cooked beans. Serve with optional chopped scallions and hot sauce.

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MAKING SAUERKRAUT

When I was a little boy, we lived next to my grandparents. It was the Second World War, so everyone had a Victory Garden. We were no exceptions, and we even had a chicken coop where I collected eggs each morning. My grandparents, though, were serious about feeding themselves. In addition to a big garden, they had a small barn and a pond complete with ducks and a hissing goose.  Both grandparents had grown up on farms in the Dakotas, so they were used to putting up quarts and quarts of tomatoes, pickles, string beans, peas, cherries, and peaches beginning in the early spring and continuing until the first frost in the autumn.  

Harsch Steinzeug crock

My grandmother, though, had even more preserving to do when the rest of the harvest was over. She came from a large German family who had immigrated to North Dakota from Russia in the 1880s. German farmers had lived in Russia since the days of Catherine the Great, but when the Russians made it uncomfortable for them, the emigrated by the thousands to the Great Plains – especially to North Dakota. There they continued their German ways, including the production of huge quantities of sauerkraut to see them through the long winter.  

Red cabbage and red onions

Grandma continued that tradition in her back yard, so in the early fall bushels of giant cabbage heads would magically appear between her garden and the garage door. That would then become the place for an organized production line. A big wooden kraut slicer would be hauled down from storage in the garage. Big 25 gallon crocks would be brought up from the basement to be scrubbed clean. Boxes of salt would be brought from the kitchen. A kitchen chair was moved out to sit in front of a huge bowl where the cabbages would be shredded into heaping mounds. Then the packing began: shredded cabbage was layered into the crocks, salt was sprinkled on top, and the process was repeated until the crocks were completely full. Then the crocks would be lined up along a cool wall in the garage, covered with cheesecloth and big plates. Bricks would be placed on the plates for weights, and the real process began.  

Various utensils for slicing slaw

Fermenting the cabbage went on for weeks, and it was my job to check the crocks daily, skim off any scum, and add water if they looked too dry. During those days the garage was not a good place to spend much time because the dense smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air. Finally, my grandmother pronounced the process done. At that point all of the women fired up their canning equipment and filled dozens of quart jars with the fragrant kraut until the crocks had been emptied.  

Slaw and salt ready to go in the crock

To my dismay, the supply of sauerkraut lasted all winter, and at least once a week we had the same meal for supper – sauerkraut, bland mashed potatoes, and a big sausage.  As much as I dreaded that menu, it left a lasting impression and surprisingly fond memories.  

The finished sauerkraut

For that reason, I decided to make some sauerkraut in the butler’s pantry in our home in Shreveport. All of the children were school age, and all of them regularly brought home their friends who wanted to know what was in the crock sitting on the counter.  When the children announced that it was sauerkraut their dad was making, there came a long pause and shoulder shrugs. The episode also became the basis for a favorite family story – one in which Dad gets a lot of laughs.

A bowl of sauerkraut ready to serve

I have never made sauerkraut again, so I was surprised when my Christmas gift from Susan was a beautiful had-crafted sauerkraut crock made by Harsch Steinzeug in Germany along with instructions for how to make sauerkraut. My crock is the five-liter size. You can get them up to 50 liter, but unless you have a big German family and eat sauerkraut every day, the 5-liter size seems perfect for home use.  

Once again, I am making sauerkraut. I have adapted the recipe that came with the crock into the one that follows. 

RECIPE

Ingredients

2 medium heads, red cabbage

2 medium red onions

10 grams coarse kosher salt for each kg of sliced cabbage + 15 grams for brine

water

 

  1.  Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, quarter, and remove the core.
  2. Shred the quartered cabbage as thinly as possible. You may use an authentic wooden slaw cutter, a French-style mandoline, a plastic mandoline, or a very sharp chef’s knife. Each implement has distinct advantages and disadvantages. The wooden cutter is the most authentic, but the blade must be sharp, and it requires a lot of muscle. The French-style mandoline works very well and is adjustable, but with all of its parts it needs a lot of cleanup afterward. The plastic mandoline is inexpensive and usually not adjustable, but the slices are fine, and the blade is very sharp.  Cleanup is easy. The knife must be very sharp, and it is hard to get the cabbage shreds as thin as you would like. I prefer the plastic mandoline.
  3. Shred the red onion and combine with the cabbage.
  4. Weigh the shredded cabbage and onion. Weigh separately 10 grams of salt for each kg of cabbage and onion.
  5. Arrange a layer of shredded cabbage and onions in the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle with salt. Continue the process, alternating cabbage and onions with salt until you have filled the crock no more than four-fifths full. This is important. Otherwise you will not be able to fit the weight stones into the pot.
  6. Press down so that liquid is released and rises an inch or so above the weight stones. If it does not, pour in brine prepared by boiling then cooling 15 grams of salt in 1 liter of water.
  7. Cover the crock with the lid, Seal the lid by pouring water in the groove to that it is above the notches in the sides of the lid, and set in a cool place.
  8. In 2 or 3 days you should hear bubbling as the kraut begins to ferment. This will continue for a week or so. Do not open the crock, but continue to make sure to keep the water seal refreshed.
  9. After three weeks or so, open the crock, remove the weight stones, and dish out your first sauerkraut. Replace the weight stones and reseal to use again at another time. 

Red cabbage sauerkraut, bratwurst, German-fried potatoes, and fresh bread

Around my grandmother’s table, we had sauerkraut, sausage, and mashed potatoes at least once a week. With my first batch of kraut, I tried to reproduce that meal, substituting German-fried potatoes for the mashers. The crispy red sauerkraut was much better than that of my memories, the freshly made bratwurst from the butcher was flavorful, and the meal turned out to be a big success with everyone.

 

 

 

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