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When new beans meet old spices, the culinary stars align


By Murray Schulman

This story demands that I supply some background. Let’s say that we need to start at the beginning.

It started when two events recently took place simultaneously. First, A longtime SCORE client of mine has started a new business importing high-quality natural spices, beans, and pulses from India.His
brand is Daivi Natural Food. Daivi translates to (Divine) and his products are just that. How do I know this? Well, that is part of how this story begins. When the first ship-ment of products under the Daivi Natural Food brand arrived at my friend’s warehouse, I was one of the first to receive samples to test in my kitchen/culinary laboratory.

As I said, the second event that occurred almost simultaneously was Liz arriving at the conclusion that I have more spices than I could use in my lifetime. Plus, I have no more room to store “all this stuff.” The two events together make up the heart of this story.

It was decided that I had to clean out and organize my multiple spice shelves. I don’t have a spice rack as I haven’t found one large enough. I am trainable and experience has taught me that in this type of situation, I simply do as I am told.

I pulled out every spice, herb, and seasoning that I had and began to eliminate items that were old and
combine whatever duplicates that I could. A couple of hours later when I finally completed this task I organized and categorized everything. To my surprise, I counted 68 different seasonings.

I have four basic varieties of salt. Plus, several types of salt blends. There are three different types of paprika, multiple herb blends intended for specific flavor personalities and intended to pair with wine classifications. I have no less than six rubs that I use for smoking different products. There are spices used in a wide variety of ethnic and regional style recipes. I have a category for aromatic and a category for color-based spices, and the list goes on and on.

While I may not use this collection every day, every item does get used. When and how these items get used sometimes depends on the time of year or on the occasion. Most often though, the determining factor is based on my creative whims.

For years, I have been referred to as a “mad scientist of culinary endeavors.” I am obsessed with color, texture, aroma, and flavor in whatever I am preparing.

Rather than getting too deep into my quasi-scientific method tied to creativity, let me give you an example. As I mentioned earlier, my friend who owns Daivi Natural Food gave me some samples to try. Included in these samples were Black Tor Dal and White Tor Dal. These are a type of split bean that is often used in Indian style cooking. He also gave me a sample of small moong beans to work with. I did some research into these strange little green plant members of the legume family. According to Healthline, moong or mung beans are high in nutrients and antioxidants, which may provide health benefits. According to this and other articles I read, Moong beans may protect against heat stroke, aid digestive health, promote weight loss and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

These beans are beginning to be available in ethnic grocery and specialty stores. In some areas they may be found in health food stores.

On their own, moong beans have a slight sweet flavor and readily take on flavors from a variety of recipes. The friend who gave these beans to me is a vegetarian. He told me that if I soak the beans in water for a couple of days, little white sprouts will appear. He then told me that his mother prepares a dish by combining these sprouted beans with crushed apple. He will eat this delicious combination as a main course. As you would expect, I couldn’t settle for this simple traditional recipe. I had to come up with something different.

I washed the beans well and placed them in a container with a dash of sea salt and covered them with water. The ratio of water to beans is 3:1. I soaked those beans for two days plus a few hours. My beans were stubborn
and simply refused to sprout. I was not about to be deterred. I began looking around my kitchen, in the refrigerator, in the pantry and finally among all those spices that I described earlier. I found a couple of quarts of coconut water, some coconut milk, a large, sweet onion, celery, carrots, fresh garlic, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and some smoked ham. For seasoning I chose sea salt, ground white pepper, ginger, coriander, and turmeric (these last two were also among the samples from Daivi Natural Food).

I drained and rinsed the soaked moong beans and placed them in a large stock pot. I added cuts of celery, carrot and onion along with six cloves of garlic that I left whole. I added just enough sea salt to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. I then added the coconut water (double the volume of the ingredients). Yes, I was going to cook my bean mixture in coconut water. I placed this pot on the stove on high heat until it came to a boil. I then lowered the heat to a nice simmer and placed the lid on the pot only covering the pot halfway.

In a large sauté pan, I added a half-and-half mixture of avocado and extra virgin olive oil. When the oil was ready, I added the rest of my chopped onion. As the onion began to sweat, I added freshly chopped garlic and chopped ham. As these ingredients continued to cook, I added a dash of sea salt, a pinch of white pepper, a sprinkle of turmeric, a good sprinkle of ground ginger and a liberal dash of coriander. I stirred the mixture to incorporate the spices into the oil and ingredients to bring out the flavors, color and aromatics.

To this mixture I added my coconut milk while stirring well. I adjusted the heat to allow the coconut milk to reduce by one-third without scorching. At the end, I finished this mixture by mounting with slightly softened whole butter.
By this time the bean mixture that was cooking in my stock pot had bloomed and thickened perfectly. While gently stirring, I carefully and gradually added my coconut milk sauce to the beans. When all the ingredients were combined, I gently stirred the soup while continuing to simmer for just a few minutes. The result was a velvety light green soup with spectacular aromatics and a perfect texture to where the beans and vegetables were identifiable yet matched in the soft texture that makes for an outstanding soup.

Now came the moment of truth. I ladled small servings of the soup into two small tasting cups. One for me and one for Liz. I allowed these to stand for a few moments to cool just slightly. I called Liz into the kitchen, handed her a cup and spoon. Then I observed. Liz was cautious. She tested the aroma and tentatively took a small taste. I waited. She cocked her head slightly and took a slightly bigger taste. Still, I waited. The second hand on the clock ticked off each second one after the other. Liz took a third taste and then it happened. A small smiled appeared. She nodded and declared the soup to be very good. She then handed me two containers directing me to fill them to give to our neighbor. I delivered my offering next door. Moments later, a message was received that the soup was delicious. Things were looking up for my experiment. I had picked up a good loaf of rustic bread earlier in the day. When Liz happily suggested that my soup accompanied by the bread was to be our dinner that evening, I knew that my experiment was a success.

Creating interesting and delicious foods and making people happy with my creations is my passion. The process is always an adventure for me and each success with any single dish is a joy and a rush at the same time. It is an exhilarating feeling that must be experienced. Words simply cannot do the feeling justice.

When was the last time you looked through your spice cabinet? You may be surprised by what you find. Go out and try something new that you haven’t tried before. Find a recipe if you are new to kitchen experiments. If you are a culinarian, expand your reach. Be creative and surprise yourself and those that you care about. This is an adventure that is fun and exciting. Don’t let the possibilities pass you by.

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