Fine Cooking (February 2011)
Quinoa, Amaranth, Teff and Farro may sound like they're the newest additions to the Jolie-Pitt clan.
But they're really just classic whole grains highlighted in a terrific feature in the February Fine Cooking. (The feature also includes Millet, but that would be a ridiculous name for a baby...)
The Go for the Grain feature includes recipes for a Quinoa Salad with Apples, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, and Gouda, a Swiss Chard, Sweet Potato, and Feta Tart in a Teff Crust, and a mouthwatering Millet and Cheddar Polenta with Roasted Vegetables.
But it was this recipe for Corn and Amaranth Griddlecakes with Spicy Black Beans that really caught our attention. The zesty black beans and the hot, fried corn griddlecakes sounded like a perfect vegetarian supper (in keeping with our goal of de-emphasizing meat in our meals). And we were excited to try out a completely new ingredient -- amaranth flour -- which the recipe said would add a "peppery" note to the cakes.
The other slightly-hard-to-source ingredient in this dish is epazote, which is used to flavor the beans. We had trouble finding it, and since the recipe says it's optional, we left it out. But we're sorry we did. Our black beans ended up fine, but nothing stellar.
If it's new to you (as it was to us), epazote is an herb used in lots of traditional Mexican dishes. It has a strong herbal aroma and a flavor that's been compared to everything from anise and tarragon to mint, camphor and petroleum. It really would have made our beans special, rather than bland.
So how about the griddlecakes? Well, they're fantastic -- hot and buttery and sweet from the roasted corn, with a spicy kick from the jalapeño and the fire-roasted green chiles. The crispy cakes are a terrific accompaniment to the tender beans.
A couple tweaks: If we make these again, we'll double the amount of corn kernels. The half cup of corn left us wanting more. Also, we'd slightly alter the recipe's suggestion of frying these cakes at 3 inches thick. That was a little too thick for our tastes -- they were gorgeously crisp on the outside, but a little too mushy and underdone within. We'd aim for thinner cakes. [UPDATE: As many commenters and emailers have kindly pointed out, we...how do you say?...completely misread this step of the recipe. The cakes should be 3 inches in diameter, not 3 inches thick. Oops! No wonder ours weren't cooked through!]
As for the amaranth, well, it's a little hard to discern exactly what it adds here. Don't get us wrong -- these are top-notch corn cakes. And we do think the amaranth added a heftier, grainier texture. But any extra "peppery" flavor was lost on us.
Still, these black beans and griddlecakes are a very solid, satisfying vegetarian meal. And we loved trying out a new grain.
Now that we've cooked with Amaranth, we're eager to sample Millet, Teff and Farro -- and maybe even run off to form a band with them.
Yields about 8 griddlecakes and 2-1/2 cups beans
For the black beans
- 1/2 lb. dried black beans
- 1 Tbs. crumbled dried epazote, or 2 to 3 fresh epazote leaves (optional)
- 3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
- Fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 to 1 Tbs. finely chopped chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce)
- 1/2 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
For the griddlecakes
- 2-1/4 oz. (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) amaranth flour
- 1 oz. (1/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- Fine sea salt
- 3 oz. (1/2 cup) medium-grind cornmeal
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
- 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 4-oz. can diced fire-roasted green chiles, drained
- 1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts)
- 1/2 medium jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- Olive oil for the pan
Rinse the beans and combine them in a 4-quart pot with the epazote (if using), garlic, and about 6 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce to the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour. Add 1 tsp. salt and simmer gently for another 10 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat and let them cool in their liquid.
Drain the cooked beans, reserving the liquid. Return the beans to the pot and add the cilantro, chipotle, cumin, and about 1 cup of the reserved bean liquid. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. The beans should be very moist; if necessary, add more bean liquid.
In a large bowl, sift the amaranth flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 3/4 tsp. salt. Whisk in the cornmeal and pine nuts.
Melt 2-1/2 Tbs. of the butter. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter. Stir in the chiles.
Melt the remaining 1/2 Tbs. butter in a 10-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the corn kernels, scallions, jalapeño, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring, until the corn shows a few light-brown spots, about 5 minutes. Stir the corn mixture into the wet ingredients. (You can prepare the griddlecakes to this point up to 4 hours ahead.)
When ready to cook the cakes, combine the wet and dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Heat about 2 tsp. of olive oil in a large nonstick pan or on a griddle over medium-high heat. Drop 1/4 cup of the batter at a time onto the hot pan and gently spread with the tip of a spoon to make 3-inch cakes. Cook the griddlecakes until tiny air bubbles begin to pop through the tops, 3 to 4 minutes; then flip them and cook until deep golden-brown and crisp on the bottom, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Repeat until all of the batter is cooked.
Ladle the beans into shallow bowls and top with the griddlecakes.
Make Ahead Tips
You can prepare the beans up to 1 day ahead; refrigerate them in their liquid.