Appetite Travel: Touring the Earth’s Pulse
Worse comes to worse, you can live off beans and rice, and a little bit of cumin”, said Juanita, my best friend’s mother, when she found out we were leaving sunny Miami, Florida, and moving to Montana. She knew about my healthy appetite as she’d been feeding me Cuban food since I became best friends with her daughter, Yoly, during our college years.
Back in my hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, my family worried that I kept getting further away from the equator and that soon enough I’d end up in Alaska.
There weren’t many Caribbean and Latin American food options in Bozeman, Montana. But Juanita was right, there were plenty of beans, rice and spices, and if I hit the grocery store during a good day, I would be lucky to find nice looking avocados, coconuts and mangoes.
I was born and raised in a developing country at a time when housewives still purchased their groceries in multiple locations. It wasn’t uncommon for my mother to buy the papaya from the fruit peddler at the corner of the street, while the lettuce and the tomatoes came from the central market in downtown Barranquilla. She purchased the beef and the pork from the butcher and on the way home she stopped at the bakery for fresh baked goods.
Today in Bozeman as well as many other parts of the country, we are going back to those ways of shopping, supporting our local farmers and growers by purchasing produce in the farmer’s market, fruit from the stands or trucks, delicious breads and baked goods from the bakeries, and local raised poultry, beef, pork and lamb from the ranchers or small butcher shops.
When I opened my business, Claudia’s Mesa, in 2008 and began participating in the farmer’s market, I became more involved with growers, producers and ranchers and began coming up with ways where I could still maintain my heritage while at the same time being part of this community. I started experimenting with substitutions for my Latin/Caribbean dishes, like using Montana grown butternut squash instead of plantains, lentils instead of black beans and ancient farro to replace our long, grain, white rice. Little did I know that I’d immerse into the world of pulse crops and ancient grains once I met the farmers from Timeless Food.
A few years back while exploring the aisles of the few local markets we have in town I stumbled on a name that grabbed my attention, “Beluga Lentils.” The tiny, almost black dots, looked tempting in their clear cellophane bag. I purchased a couple of pounds and began recreating family dishes.
I cooked them as I would Cuban Black beans; while the results were alarmingly delicious, the dish didn’t taste like its inspiration. I then cooked them with coconut milk, cinnamon, cayenne, curry and butternut squash and the result reminded me of a dish I once had in Jamaica.
From the beluga lentils I moved to the crimson and the harvest lentils and though I was tempted to go with Indian recipes, I allowed my creativity to expand beyond and created our vegetarian Timeless Tamales, (recipe follows).
From lentils I moved to ancient grains like farro, durum and barley, also from Timeless Food. I cooked the farro as I would cook rice back home. I made chicken and rice, (arroz con pollo), coconut rice, (arroz con coco), risottos and paellas. While the results were not identical to the dishes from my equatorial lands, my family and friends still enjoyed the inspirations.
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting David Oien, farmer and co-founder of Timeless Food. Through this newfound friendship, I have extended my geographical localvore boundaries to Montana’s Golden Triangle, home of Timeless Food.
Timeless Food was created in the late 1980’s when a group of farmers from Montana’s Golden Triangle, David Oien, Bud Barta, Jim Barngrover, and Tom Hastings, who said “no” to agri-business and instead opted to grow a self-reseeding leguminous crop that would aid in reducing erosion while at the same time building organic matter and nourishing the soil with natural nitrogen, thereby eliminating chemical fertilizers.
Dave introduced me to Montana author, Dr. Liz Carlisle, whose book, THE LENTIL UNDERGROUND, RENEGADE FARMERS AND THE FUTURE OF IN AMERICA, just released on February 22, 2015, told the story of these four colorful farmers from Timeless Food.
Montana ranks as the #1 grower of organic and non-organic lentils in the country. It is our hope that next year, 2016, when the United Nation celebrates the Year of the Pulses, creating global awareness on the benefits of these fairly inexpensive yet highly nutritious legumes, that Montana becomes more than just a large dot on the map.
For more recipes and stories on the Lentil Underground and my role as their renegade chef, please visit my website at claudiasmesa.com
These little pockets of corn are traditional to Latin American cuisine; from Mexico to Ecuador to Colombia, tamales come filled with various toppings. In our Montana kitchen, we use harvest lentils to wet the masa. You can make both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions. Double up on portions and freeze. They make for a wonderful breakfast, accompanied with a friend egg “a caballo”, or on horseback. Tamales are also a great food to take on hikes, bike rides, or trips to the office. Do not allow the lengthy cooking time to intimidate you. Using a pressure cooker to steam the tamales reduces the cooking time from 90 minutes to only half an hour! Makes 30-35 tamalitos.
35 corn husks
For the Masa
4 cups masa harina (corn masa)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coconut oil melted
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2 cups of dried, harvest or crimson lentils
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, about 3/4 cup. chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red pepper, about 1 cup, cubed
2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups kale, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced thin
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 large sweet potato, about 1 1/2 cups, peeled, cubed and cooked for topping.
1 cup cooked Timeless Beluga Lentils
1. Place corn husks in a large bowl and fill with warm water for at least 30 minutes or until husks soften.
2. Dry off with towel and cover with moisten towel so they remain pliable.
For the Masa
1. Blend all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside
For the Wet Ingredients
1. In a small pot or Dutch oven, add oil and heat at medium high.
2. Add garlic, cumin, paprika and saute.
3. Blend in the lentils and stir to cover. Add water and salt. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
4, Once water boils, reduce heat to medium and cook until lentil and sweet potato softens, about 15-18 minutes.
5. Transfer contents to a large bowl and allow to cool off.
6. In a small pot, add coconut oil and melt.
7. Place lentil mixture into a food processor with a metal blade and puree. Set aside.
8. Combine lentils and coconut oil. Add water if needed.
For the Topping
1. In a large saucepan, add oil. When hot, saute onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and peppers. Stir in cumin and salt.
2. Fold in the kale and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for an additional 8 minutes.
3. Taste and season if needed
4. Allow mixture to cool off and add cilantro.
5. Save sweet potato on a separate small bowl to use at topping.
To Make the Tamale Dough
1. Bring wet ingredients into the large bowl with masa.
2. Fold and incorporate, mixing the dough thoroughly with your hands, until it comes together into a smooth ball. If too dry, add warm water and incorporate until dough is not longer sticky.
To assemble tamales
1. Find a working area where you can create an assembly line. Ideally you can place the husks in a large bowl or pan, and fit it in the sink. On the counter top, set a cutting board to assemble the tamales. On one side you can have the masa and next to it, the topping mixture. Lay a metal sheet or large cookie sheet where you will set the assembled tamales.
2. Arrange a husk over the cutting board, narrow end pointing away from you.
3. Take a clump of masa, and shape to a 1 inch ball, Place on the wide side close to you and flatten with the palm of your hand.
4. Spoon 1-2 teaspoons of filling ( it depends how large the husk is) and top with a cube of sweet potato. and a teaspoon of cooked beluga lentils,
5. Fold the long sides of the husk, overlapping them to enclose the filling, as if you were folding an envelope.
6. Fold the narrow end to you and over the tamale. It will open at the wide end of the folding.
7. Lay flat on cookie sheet; fold end down. Allow tamales to rest for about half an hour before steaming them. This hardens the masa and makes it easier to set on steamer.
1. Fill a large stock pot, a tamale steamer or pressure cooker with 4 inches of water. Boil water. Add steaming basket making sure the water does not overflow over it as it will cause the tamales to boil instead.
2. Place unused corn husks over basket. Place the tamales on top of the basket with filling faced up, lined up next to each other, following the circumference in the pot or you can lay them flat on top of each other with seams facing down.
3. Cover with additional corn husks. If you are using a steamer or stock pot, wrap foil around the lid to ensure a tight seal. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and allow to cool off for 15 minutes before serving.
4. If using a pressure cooker, follow same directions except cook for only 20-30 minutes.
5. Top with your favorite salsa.