Mexican Lime-Pepper Soup by Guest poster Chris

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Inspired by Cat’s flurry of posts, I took the opportunity to document our humble domestic meal tonight. In rainy, low-ceiling, grey Seattle, this meal comes as a real tonic. The best thing about this meal is that it is a total bonus thrown together from leftovers from—eeck—a week ago!

We had had some friends over a week ago for a belated Channukah party, which was totally rad and super fun, but nothing on the scale of Cat and Gary’s soiree (WHOA—wish we had attended—looks amazing!). We served some roasted chickens, which are always wonderful to eat, but what I savor most is gleaning the scraps left on the bird, setting them aside, and making stock. From the stock and left-over shredded chicken, we got a nice enchilada party with our buddies Pete and Jenell, who at the same dinner inaugurated their first Settlers of Catan match. Then tonight this meal happened, and was worthy of a post…

Again, this meal is just killer when it’s cold out, or your feeling under the weather (too much holiday cheer, etc.). Here’s more or less the ingredient list:

Two fistfuls of shredded chicken per person

A bowl or two of stock per person (homemade obviously worlds better than store-bought)

An onion or shallots or something, chopped

Some garlic, minced

Oregano (we had fresh on-hand), chopped

Cilantro (fresh—is there any other kind?), chopped

2-4 corn tortillas per person, cut into thin strips

Fresh cracked pepper, more than you think is rational

Expensive and rare colored salts, to taste

2 limes per person, or more than you think is rational

Grated extra sharp cheddar (Tilamook was on hand)

Optional is cotija cheese (We had it, so threw it in, why not)

Olive oil for sauteeing

Canola oil for frying (1-2 cups)

Recipe

  1. Take shredded chicken and fry it in hot olive oil in a pot that you will make the soup in, tossing the onions and garlic on top, medium-high to high. The goal here is to take cooked chicken and brown it in the pan. The nice auburn crust on the chicken is great for looks, but the brown bits that develop in the pan are important for flavor, and when you see this develop after 5 or so minuted, throw some water in, a cup or two, and deglaze the pan by scrapping the brown bits off on high.
  2. Throw a bunch of stock in and simmer with oregano and a Bill and Melinda Gates generous amount of black pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, heat canola oil, maybe a cup, in a smallish sauce pan until the surface dimples with heat. Throw a test tortilla strip in—if it floats immedately your temp is good. Smoking is bad, here as elsewhere. Throw the tortilla strips in, a handful at a time, and have a slotted spoon or a spider on hand. Fry until blond or golden brown, set on paper towel to cool.

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  1. It’s best to have the cilantro chopped, the cheese grated, and the limes cut into Mexican wedges ahead of time, so that when your tortillas strips are ready to go you throw the whole thing together in the bowl—the tortilla strips will crackle, still being hot with micropockets of roiling oil.
  2. Put strips in bowl, ladle chicken and chicken broth on top, throw some cilatro, sharp cheddar, and cotija on top like Emeril—BAM!Ô —and squeeze the lime on top.
  3. Enjoy with loved ones. Listen to Frank Ocean’s song Pink Matter on Rdio.

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Chipotle Pumpkin Enchiladas with Greens and Beans

You know those times when you have a random can of something on your shelf, and you’re like, what in the world am I gonna do with that? This recipe was borne out of that recent situation: a lone can of organic pumpkin puree sitting in my pantry.

Foodily, my go to recipe search engine when I need inspiration, spit out multiple variations of a pumpkin enchilada sauce, but this version, come across via One Hungry Mama, appealed for its simplicity.

I also happened to have most of a pot of simple Rancho Gordo pinto beans in the fridge, and I knew that they would be great filling. Now let me tell you, I’ve always been skeptical of those who insist that paying a premium for dried beans, the Queen of cheap foods, was a good idea. But I received two bags of beans as a gift from someone, and I was blown away by the quality. And while I won’t be shelling out for shipping on these puppies very often, I can tell you that those Rancho Gordo pintos were amazing: creamy, fat, sweet, and fast-cooking as well. I made a big pot simply with onion, salt, bay leaf, and a pinch of dried oregano to eat with cornbread and then pureed the leftovers with some spices to make the filling for these enchiladas. Seriously though, treat yourself one of these days to some heirloom dried beans…

My modification of the recipe has multiple steps, mainly because I had leftovers that would work as great filling in the enchiladas, but the good news is that canned refried beans or whole black beans, as well as whatever veggies you have in the fridge (greens, carrots, potato) or freezer (corn) would substitute in well. The pumpkin sauce turned out really well–rich, but not heavy, healthy, and a welcome alternative to metallic-tasting canned enchilada sauce.

(Now listen, I know my sloppy plating and photo below aren’t the best, but I challenge you to prettily plate enchiladas without cilantro on hand!) Hope you all enjoy!

Pumpkin Bean Enchiladas

Chipotle Pumpkin Enchiladas with Greens and Beans

  • 1 can pumpkin puree, about 2 cups
  • 1 1/4 C. water or vegetable stock
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper, plus a few teaspoons of adobo sauce
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 Tb. olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large bunch of swiss chard or other greens, chopped coarsely
  • 1 C. refried beans (either canned or made by pureeing pintos with salt, a bit of olive oil, cumin, and chili powder)
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1/4 C. feta cheese and/or white cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the pumpkin puree, water or stock, chipotle, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in the food processor. Whir until thoroughly combined. Taste the puree for salt, vinegar, and chipotle, adding as needed, and mixing again. Heat 1 Tb. olive oil in a small saucepan and add the pumpkin mixture. Turn on low and simmer.

In the meantime, heat the remaining 2 Tb. olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Saute 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Saute over medium until the onion is transclucent–about 5 more minutes. Add the greens and saute for 5 minutes and take off flame..

At this point, the enchilada sauce will have simmered for about 15 to 20 minutes and may be taken off the flame if it is thickened and tasty.

Coat a square Pyrex dish with olive oil or Pam and set aside. Pour 1/3 of the warm sauce into the bottom of the pan. Heat up the tortillas in a water-soaked kitchen towel for 1 minute in the microwave to soften them. Remove, careful of the steam. Fill each generously with some refried beans and greens, roll, and place seam-side down in dish. Pour the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas. Top the enchiladas with cheese, and then place in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until hot and bubbling and cheese is melted. Serve, ideally with cilantro sprinkled on top, and extra hot sauce on the side.

Lentil Cakes with Yogurt, Avocado, and Caramelized Onions

I’m digging the concept of “cakes” as a dinner idea.  Lately, I’ve been tired of pasta and the other usual suspects.  So it feels new and fresh to grind up some healthy stuff, mold it into a patty, fry it lightly, and top it with tasty sauce.  There are endless options- I’ve seen quinoa cakes, sweet potato cakes, and chickpea cakes just for starters, but this, my friends, is a post about black lentil cakes.

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I pretty much followed this recipe.  Mine ended up a little goopy, so I’d recommend going a little heavier on the breadcrumbs, especially if you are using Panko, like I was.  Also, I had a bit of an issue with them sticking in the pan.  I think more oil is the answer- perhaps even coconut oil?  Even a little bit misshapen, and even a little stuck  these were really good.

Lentil Cakes

(recipe from 101 Cookbooks)

  • 3 cups cooked lentils
  • 1 onion diced
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ tsp salt

“Toppings”

  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1/3 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt

I caramelized the sliced onion while the lentils cooked.  Then I whizzed the other diced raw onion in the food processor with the lentils, eggs, and salt.  Place in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs. then let it sit to absorb the moisture.  (In the picture below, you’ll see I goofed and put the breadcrumbs in the food processor, but they are actually supposed to be added later, so do as I say not as I do!) If you have a girlfriend over, this is the perfect time to drink your red wine and gossip.  Then after a few min, heat an oiled skillet to medium high heat.

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Form the mixture into small patties and place in the skillet.  Cover 7-10 minutes til browned on the bottom, then lift the cover and flip to the other side to cook about 7 more minutes.

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I served with a caramelized onion, slices of ripe salted avocado and a quick yogurt dip- combining the yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, and salt. We spread the yogurt over the lentil cake and then added the avocado and onion.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

My sister’s boyfriend, in addition to being an all-around awesome guy, is also the ultimate carnivore.  A vegetarian meal is usually a mere appetizer for him.  Except for these tacos.  After sampling them, he declared that they were the only vegetarian meal he’d ever had that was so flavorful he didn’t miss the meat. High praise.

I’ve also served them at dinner parties, ski trips, and on a third date with a certain someone.  Haven’t failed me yet.

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The flavors work together and except for a little roasting time on the sweet potatoes, they come together easily.  I will say the delight is in the details- the Garam Masala spice elevates the sweet potatoes, the radish adds needed crunch, and the goat cheese kind of binds it all together.   So if you do decide to make ‘em, don’t skimp on the fine print.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

(my own creation through trial and error)

makes 12 tacos, serves about 4 (can easily increase amounts to serve more people)

Taco Ingredients

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 3 T Garam Masala spice
  • 2 cans black beans
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 can of salsa
  • 12 corn tortillas

Taco Trimmings

  • 4 sliced radishes
  • 2 T diced cilantro
  • 1 log of crumbled goat cheese

Oil a baking sheet or roasting pan and preheat oven to 400 F.  Dice sweet potatoes into uniform cubes (hopefully you’re lucky like I am and have a sous chef who will complete this task with exacting accuracy).  Sprinkle garam masala on the cubes and stir to coat all the potatoes.  Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a sweet potato is sweet and crispy to the taste.

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When you are about 20 minutes away from serving, sautee the diced onion in an oiled skillet for about 5 minutes until soft.  Rinse the beans and add them, along with the jar of salsa.  Heat for about 10-15 minutes on low heat.

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Warm the tortillas.  Aya taught me a fun trick once using the flame of a gas stove but it’s tricky to pull off with a lot of tortillas.  For a large group you can cover them and pop them into a low heat oven.

Prep the trimmings.    Then put out the sweet potatoes, black bean mixture, and trimmings.  Allow the lucky eaters to assemble their own tacos with their preferred ratios.

**If you have leftover sweet potatoes and goat cheese, throw them in an omelet for breakfast the next day and top with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Trust me.

Arepas

I’m a huge fan of all things corn: grits, corn on the cob, polenta, you name it. Maybe it’s my Southern heritage, but there’s something earthy, simple, and comforting about corn products (well, with the exception of corn syrup…).

Recently our friend Javier turned us on to homemade tortillas. I always thought that they would be impossible to make, but with a tortilla press, they really are quite easy, and he walked us through the process several times. Even so, I don’t always feel like dragging out the tortilla press, and I’m still working on making them the perfect thickness.

Last night, after much travel, I looked in our fridge and found there was little there. I managed to scrounge together a bean stew, but we both felt like something corny on the side, like cornbread. Unfortunately, a lack of milk and eggs made that impossible, but we did have some masa harina. I figured one of my favorite recipe search engines, foodily.com, could help me find something to make out of our lone bag of masa harina.

Fortunately, we were in luck–one of the first recipes that came up was for arepas–a Venezuelan sort of corn flatbread or thick tortilla. And the ingredients?: masa harina, water, and salt. How easy is that? I first came across arepas in college, when I lived in New York City for a term, not too far from Caracas Arepas Bar where they stuffed the corn circles with delicious meat and vegetarian fillings. They were cheap, nourishing, and delicious, so it was great to come across a recipe for them. We also don’t eat a lot of bread in the house, but I sometimes crave some vehicle for the many vegetarian bean dips or stews that we so often eat, and so these seemed liked a perfect thing to introduce into our repertoire.

Within about 15 minutes from start to finish, we had a plate full of hot arepas to accompany our bean stew. We had them plain, and for me, slathered with butter, but they would be great stuffed or topped with avocado and lime, ceviche, refried beans and toppings, or grilled meat or seafood. I was impressed at how quickly these came together and I think they will become a staple in our home.

Arepas

adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen, makes 8 small arepas

  • 1 1/2 C. masa harina
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • about 1 1/3 C. water
  • oil or cooking spray

Using a fork or a whisk, combine the masa harina and salt well. Add in about 1 C. of the water to the masa harina and salt mixture and combine with hands. Add enough water until the dough comes together and is about the texture of playdough. Divide the dough in half, and divide each half into fourths, rolling them in your hands to make 8 little balls of dough. Flatten each of the 8 dough balls into flat discs. Heat a cast iron skillet on the stove and add a thin film of oil or cooking spray. When the pan is hot, add the dough discs in batches. Flatten the discs with a spatula. Cook over medium high for about 5 minutes on the first side, or until golden and with black spots across the bottom. Flip, flatten the discs again, and cook for about 5 minutes or until both sides are perfectly charred. Serve immediately while hot, or keep them warm in a warm oven.

Don’t keep the uncooked dough for too long before frying, as it will dry out and become crumbly quite easily. If you need to keep it after you make it, keep the dough balls in a bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. These should be about 1/2″ thick, but don’t make them much thicker, and remember to flatten them with a spatula so that they cook through. The outsides should be crispy with a tender, but not doughy, center.