Here's the slippery truth about salted and unsalted butter

Ask the Chef

January 05, 2003|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

My wife and I were discussing the fact that some recipes call for unsalted butter and others call for salted butter. She asked why, and I said it's strictly a matter of the amount of salt in the overall dish. She said she thinks it goes beyond that, that the type of butter has a greater impact on the dish than just saltiness -- and mentioned texture as a possibility. Who is right?

I really like that word "discussing" when talking about who is right and who is wrong in a "discussion" between husband and wife. I'm sure a fly on your wall wouldn't have heard you politely say, "Yes, dear, you may be right -- as you usually are, Sweetie Pie." And her response probably wasn't, "You wonderful husband and Fabio look-alike, maybe you are right after all." The real discussion probably wouldn't be printable, but enough about matrimony.

There are a couple of reasons for not using salted butter in a recipe. The first one is that salted butter will burn or scorch more easily than unsalted butter. Also, unsalted butter should always be used in a baking or dessert item because salt can "toughen" some products, creating an undesirable texture. Inexpensive brands of butter sometimes hide their impurities (like lesser-quality cream) by adding salt. So why would quality manufacturers ever add salt? Because it extends the shelf life of the butter both at the store and at home. Salted butter is great to have on hand for those last-minute additions to vegetables, breads, potatoes, etc.

I was wondering what to do with mong beans. I can't find a recipe anywhere in my cookbooks. Thanks for your help.

I'm guessing that you are a very good cook, because everyone knows that good cooks can't spell -- just ask my editor. Here's the scoop: the reason you can't find anything on mong beans is because the food is spelled mung beans. I am assuming that you would like a recipe for the actual bean and not mung bean sprouts, which are very common. In fact, when you see a recipe for bean sprouts, it is usually calling for mung bean sprouts. An easy preparation for these sprouts is to quickly stir-fry a cup of them in a tablespoon of sesame oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of sugar.

Mung beans are usually sold dried, so the first thing you need to do is to pick over and rinse them. Don't let people tell you (I know, as though you can actually stop people from telling you something) that mung beans and soybeans are similar, because they're not. While I'm not a huge soybean fan because they don't have a lot of flavor, I do enjoy mung beans because they have a sweet, rich taste. Soybeans are most often processed into tofu, tempeh or soy dairy products. Mung beans are mainly used to grow sprouts, but cooking them on their own is worth trying. A common way to prepare mung beans is with rice. If you want to keep the following recipe strictly vegetarian, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth. Now if you choose to write this recipe down to share, don't make that huMONGous mistake again -- it's spelled mung.

Mung Beans With Rice

2 small shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon chile powder

salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces mung beans, washed

4 ounces brown rice, washed

2/3 pint chicken broth

Saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the spices, mung beans and rice. Stir well over a medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over a very low heat for 40 minutes.

Remove from the heat, leave the lid on, and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

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