Flavors at Home: Simple Meals, Fete for Feta and Frijoles de la Olla

Big cooking projects are great, but sometimes it's the simple things that bring comfort (Urmila Ramakrishnan / KQED)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

Mom’s style eggs

I love eggs. They’re one ingredient that has so much versatility. Bake them. Boil them. Fry them. Poach, sous vide, baste, coddle, pickle, cured. The list goes on. During this time at home, I’ve made everything from veggie-laden frittatas and burji (Indian scrambled eggs) to three-ingredient fluffy souffle omelets and breakfast tacos.

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But there’s one method I keep coming back to. I call it ‘Mom-style’ eggs, and they’re possibly the simplest and most comforting thing I eat for breakfast. On Saturday mornings growing up, my mom would typically ask what my brother and I wanted for breakfast. Often times, it was savory pancakes or dosa and chutney. My father was usually the one who wielded the egg trophy for his slow-cooked burji, with cilantro, tomatoes, onions and deadly spicy green chiles. They’d take about 20-30 minutes to make, and we’d eat them with Kawan roti canai parathas, onion pickle and daal.

But every so often, my mom would ask, “Do you want it Mom’s style?” It’s a simple runny yolk fried egg on generously buttered pan-toasted bread. That’s it. It’s simple, to the point and delicious. The edges are crisp but the whites aren’t leathery. The yolk absorbs into the bread, and it’s a pure joy to eat.

What’s the trick to the perfect fried egg? It’s all about temperature and timing. While my mom and most people use butter or oil to fry, I love using ghee. It gives you that buttery flavor while also allowing you to crank up the heat. You want to heat the ghee to a point that when you crack the egg in, it instantly starts dancing and sputtering in the pan. That violent reaction, in the beginning, will reward you with those crisp edges, variations in texture, a fully set white and a runny yolk. Another helpful method is to spoon ghee over the whites of the eggs to help them cook through.

It’s not homemade pasta or some huge project, but I’m perfectly content with that. Not everything needs to be Instagram-worthy heavy lifts. I gravitate to these eggs more now because it makes me feel closer to my mom, who lives in Florida. It makes me feel connected to my family while I’m here in the Bay Area. —Urmila Ramakrishnan, KQED Food Editor and Social Strategist 

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Bowl of salad with cheese
Sometimes salad is really all about the cheese. (Ruth Gebreyesus / KQED)

Salad, a Vessel for Cheese

After a long pause on dairy and other animal products, I returned to cheese with open arms. My favorite way to make cheese the star of the show has been through leafy salads that provide non-intrusive texture and refreshing crunch.  I assemble my cheese forward salads with a base of little gems and butter lettuce, the first for their gentle flavor catching ridges and the second for its soft, abundant leaves.

I throw in a few pieces of fresh basil to mingle with the greens before adding in a few shavings of parmesan and a very soft, creamy cheese. This time, it's a mild feta that comes packed in olive oil. I then dress the whole thing with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprig or two of thyme, some freshly ground pepper and a small pinch of salt (the cheeses are packing salt of their own so I’m careful not to oversalt). This entire production, although very simple, is really about the cheese. In this warming spring weather, a cold, crunchy salad turned out to be as perfect a vessel for cheese as a cracker. —Ruth Gebreyesus, Food Reporter and Visual Arts Columnist

 

A breakfast spread of frijoles de la olla, flash-fried egg topped with chile de árbol salsa and served with a side of plantain chips or tostones. (Lina Blanco / KQED)

Frijoles de la Olla, Tostones and Salsa de Chile de Árbol en Aceite

Recently, I've been gravitating toward the flavors of my childhood, including my Abuelita's pot of pinto beans. For me, the perfect meal involves layers of texture—so my shelter-in-place breakfast of champions is simple, strange for some, but divine: garlicky frijoles de la olla in their gravy, a quick-fried golden egg and a side of tostones. 

The combination of melt-in-your-mouth pinto beans, fried egg yolk spill and the shock of salty thick-cut, crunchy plantains make for a perfect comfort meal when the days are long and lonely. 

It’s critical that you let the beans sit in water overnight (12-24 hours) and only add salt to taste once the beans have finished cooking completely.

Keep things lively by letting everything mingle in the same bowl and top your bowl with a fiery chile-de-árbol en Aceite made of charred chiles, olive oil, garlic and salt blended to produce a smokey, lingering burn.

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Growing up, I never knew the exact name of the salsa, but I have memories of my coolest aunt smoking up the entire house making her salsa with a charred chile de árbol and oil base.

When making frijoles de la olla, let your beans sit in water for at least 12 hours. (Lina Blanco / KQED)

Ingredients for frijoles de la olla:
1 cup of pinto beans
4 cloves of garlic
½ white onion
2-4 cups of water (2 cups for soaking, 2 cups for cooking)
salt to taste

 Ingredients for salsa macha/quemada en aceite:
10 chile de árbol
3 cloves of garlic
½ white onion
1/3  cup of olive oil
2 tbsp of olive oil

Egg:
Egg + salt and fried to your liking

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