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Meals with character

By Staff | Dec 4, 2015

MARIAN KUPER does the final steps in preparing to serve the string bean salad with red onion and prosciutto.

IOWA FALLS – Marian Kuper looks at the food she prepares from several different viewpoints.

Nutrition is the obvious one.

For Kuper there is also artistic, ownership, creativity and historical perspectives in food preparation.

Growing up in Waverly, as the oldest of six children, Kuper said her mother was a farm girl who preferred sewing to cooking.

“I learned how to run a household,” she said of her childhood experiences.

THE GREEN and red colors in this salad add to the quality of presentation, Kuper said.

Kuper graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in journalism. While there, she took classes in nutrition, which is where she learned about proper food preparation and eating.

She looks for meals having good nutritional density, where both flavor and nutritional value are taken into account in food quality.

She used the example of adding hot corn bread with butter to a meal for nutritional density.

Her artistic viewpoint is in the presentation of her creations when color and texture are taken into consideration.

“You can set a pretty table and you need a pretty plate,” she said. “We want to express ourselves.”

THIS STRINGBEAN BEAN salad has what Marian Kuper values in a recipe — nutritional density and eye appeal.

Kuper used a salad as an example. Besides its nutritional value, she said, the red and green colors are festive.

Her perspectives of creativity and ownership can be seen in the evolution of a recipe involving trial and error.

“Cooks who have been at it a while know about trial and error,” she said. “There’s a lot of error.”

Her white bean chili is a recipe she used as an example of creativity.

It is versatile enough, she said, that it can be made for meat eaters and vegetarians by the substitution of a few ingredients for meat and meatless versions.

Marian Kuper

“Everybody’s happy,” Kuper said.

The white bean chili is flexible enough that it can be adapted to use leftovers.

Kuper said she learned about food’s historical viewpoint when she moved onto the farm where her husband, Keith Kuper, grew up between Ackley and Iowa Falls.

“The place of women was different in the country than in town,” she said. “Food was a big deal; it was more than a cog in the wheel.”

She recalled a Grant Wood painting of men, probably a threshing crew, sitting at table for a noon meal with several women in the kitchen preparing the food.

There is a competitive side to cooking that existed then and still does today as to who can prepare food that both looks and tastes good.

Kuper said she likes to put thought into planning her meals.

“Sit down once or twice a week and think about the next week and what to serve,” she said.

Decisions can be made on serving beef, pork, chicken or vegetarian. Fruit and vegetables that are in season, plus what is in the refrigerator and any upcoming special occasions are added into the decision-making process.

“It’s like a big puzzle,” she said, “with nutritional needs while being creative with taste and looks.”

She does get asked, “Why do you go to so much trouble?”

But for Kuper, this is not trouble.

“To me, cooking has always been a great hobby,” she said. “Have fun.”

White bean chili

Serves six

1 pound ground turkey (preferably low-fat)

2 teaspoons canola oil

2 14.5-ounces cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained

2 14.5-ounces cans petite diced tomatoes with green chiles

1 4-ounce can diced green chiles

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

1 teaspoon dried oregano

I teaspoon dried cumin

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

3 14.5-ounces cans gluten-free, low-sodium chicken broth.

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1 cup (4 ounces) grated Monterey Jack cheese for garnish

Cook the turkey in the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until browned.

Add all the remaining ingredients except half of the cilantro and hold back all of the cheese.

Cover and cook on medium heat 20 minutes.

Serve immediately, garnishing each serving with 1/4 cup cheese and 1 tablespoon of the remaining chopped cilantro.

Crunchy string bean

salad with red onion

and prosciutto

1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 1/2 pounds fresh string beans, ends snipped

1 small red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

6 thin slices prosciutto di Parma, julienned

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

11/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 11/2 tablespoons of salt.

Fill a large bowl with ice water and set it beside the sink.

Blanch the string beans in the salted water for 2 minutes, until cooked but still slightly crunchy, then drain and plunge in the ice water for 2 minutes.

Drain again, transfer to a serving bowl, and refrigerate. The beans can stay in the fridge for as long as a day.

Remove beans from the fridge 1 hour before serving.

Add the onion and prosciutto. (This can either be done in advance or when you dress the salad.)

In a small bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, rosemary and pepper flakes.

Whisk well and season with salt and pepper.

Just before bringing the salad to the table, add the dressing and toss to combine. (You may not need all of the dressing.)

Season with salt and more lemon juice as desired.

Gingerbread minus

the wheat

1 1/4 cups rye or rice flour

1 1/4 cups cornstarch

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

1/2 cup soft butter

1 cup boiling water

2 well-beaten eggs

Preheat oven to 325 and grease a 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan.

Sift the first six ingredients together several times into a large bowl until very well mixed. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, molasses, butter and boiling water. Then stir in the eggs until well mixed.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and beat until thoroughly mixed.

Bake in the greased pan 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This gingerbread comes out dark and fragrant, and is perfect with a dollop of whipped cream and maybe a few raspberries for color.

A holiday favorite.

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